Friday, July 27, 2007

Beth: Italian Breads From Local Breads - Filone

L et's start with the obvious confession: I'm off my game. Way off my game. So far off that I don't even have a razor blade in the house to make a decent slash in an unbaked loaf of bread. Look at that picture! <hangs head in shame..>

Seriously, it has been almost five weeks of one handed cooking, baking, driving, and sitting on the couch with a good book (no, not that book, I'm swiping theKid's copy this weekend) — although, truth be told, there's been a lot more sitting on the couch and than cooking and there's been virtually no baking. (In fact, I'm back to using speech recognition for my writing, and in its usual slightly ironic take on reality it just wrote "virtually no drinking" instead of "virtually no baking" and that's just wrong, because there has been drinking.)

On the one hand, taking a break from a common, almost daily, activity is a sure way to remind you that absence truly does make the heart grow fonder. And it's been very easy to restrain myself from rushing into the kitchen because I usually have a pound or so of neoprene, Velcro, d-rings and let's not forget those lovely pieces of metal strapped to my wrist as a reminder of what I'm not supposed to be doing. Plus, pain as a backup reminder.

So when my copy of Daniel Leader's Local Breads: Sourdough and Whole-Grain Recipes from Europe's Best Artisan Bakers arrived I was conflicted, some might say of two minds. (others might say I'm always a bit schizophrenic so two minds is a slow day inside my head... but I digress.)

Local Breads: a mini review

Leader's journey across Europe in search of local bread specialties opens with a brief primer on ingredients, followed by a walk through of the stages of baking bread. A chapter on sourdough and other starters is followed by a collection of frequently asked questions about bread baking. These are particularly useful for beginning bakers who may be unfamiliar with the science of baking bread.

Each of the nine regional chapters opens with a bit of context, history, and local color as Leader invites you along on his quest for the taste of each place—the terroir, if bread can be said to have such. (I am enchanted by his description of Amos DeCarlo's dream-inspired Ferris wheel for biga!) Leader examines what sets apart one area's bread from another, and then offers some general advice about how to reproduce a particular type of bread, including things like how to blend flour to approximate European flours not commonly available here in the states. After the recipes, a brief FAQ about that collection of bread recipes wraps up each chapter.

Information about tools and techniques, such as instructions on shaping loaves, are accompanied by lovely sketches, which add an appropriately artisan charm to the book. The photographs, while straightforward and simple, actually show what the bread should look like rather than how esoterically artistic the photographer could get. I kind of like that.

On the downside, there are some inconsistencies in measurements that leave me wondering. In a single recipe, this recipe in fact, 1/3 of a cup of water weighs either 2.3 ounces or 2.6. (It's 2.66) I suspect this is due to Leader's stated preference for weighing everything in grams and the subsequent rounding during conversion back to volume, but it's confusing and I wish it had been addressed directly—as is, it looks like bad editing, which I am pretty sure is not the case. I would recommend using the metric weights, which seem to line up with the baker's percentages and which are, in any case, seemingly what Leader used when developing the recipes.

But the true test of any cookbook is the recipes: are they any good?

On that score, I am giving this book fairly high marks. Susan has been thrilled with the two recipes she has tried and Kevin says the focaccia is the best he's ever made. While I am at a loss to explain the gap between the glam shot of the filone in the book and what I made, I am also willing to take some of the responsibility — and since we're interviewing Leader soon, I have a chance to ask him about it.

I adore new cookbooks, especially baking books, which I am somewhat more likely to actually use rather than simply drooling on while browsing. Bread books are at the very top of my list and Susan has been talking about this one for months. (Confession: I have somehow never laid hands on a Daniel Leader book prior to this one.) Susan has been a happy acolyte of Leader, however, she raves about him, is a one-woman Bread Alone selling dervish — she was also darned adorable the first time she got actual e-mail from him! Now, I must go buy a copy of Bread Alone and read it while I finish healing.)

On the other hand... there's the other hand, the left one to be precise. When turning the pages the wrong way hurts, the gap between tempting recipes and hand in dough looms large. Fortunately for me, I had a deadline pushing me in that direction of the kitchen and a Kitchen-Aid mixer waiting for me on the counter when I got there.

My month on the couch with my copy of Local Breads left me with about a dozen recipes I really wanted to try: sourdoughs, whole wheat sourdoughs, German rye, even a dark Silesian (Polish) rye that just be one of those lost breads of my youth, and a number of Italian breads, including the famous saltless Tuscan bread. Susan shined up her pointy hair and made an executive decision that we were going to make Italian breads, which mostly use a biga starter that takes just a few minutes to make and ferments in less than twelve hours.

Once the parameters were narrowed, my choice became fairly obvious, apparently to everyone. When I told Susan and Kevin that I was making Rosemary Filones, they both said "of course you are". (Hmm, was it the herb garden that gave me away?)

In some ways this was a great choice of recipes, I think one of the best things you can do to homemade bread is add rosemary and olive oil. Really, try it sometime. Almost any non-sweet recipe is improved by adding fresh rosemary and olive oil. In that department this bread did not disappoint, chopped fresh rosemary and a healthy dose of olive oil helps produce a loaf of bread that tastes like a summer afternoon in Italy. We served it to visiting friends two nights in a row, at their request.

But the crumb... Well, I said I was off my game.

I made this bread twice and both times produced a loaf that I would be happy to use for sandwiches. The crumb is evenly dense with a lot of small holes and the crust is distinct yet not too chewy. Sadly, this is not supposed to be a sandwich loaf.

Click to enlarge

According to the picture in Local Breads, this bread should have a gorgeous open crumb and a substantially thinner crust. See my bread? See the photo in the book? Do they look the same to you?

Tasty enough but just not it.

I think that this is due to a combination of the recipe and my inability to do my usual hands-on approach to a new bread recipe and in this case a new cookbook author as well. The inability to manipulate the dough by hand really gets in the way of making all of the tiny adjustments that go into making any bread recipe work in real life. (The book also seems to have some inconsistency in the conversions of measurements and maybe this is a recipe where that is a factor.)

So this morning I made one last batch with bread flour, which should better support that hugely open crumb — but which also absorbs more water than AP flour and I didn't really adjust for that — and it was a bit better. Not better enough to make me grab the camera, just a little bit.

I think that I can do better with this, and when I can use both hands again, I shall try. Next time: More water, a hotter oven for better oven spring, and real slashes. In the meantime, I want to see what the rest of you do with it. Please bake some and show me what you make.

Rosemary Filone
This is the original recipe from Local Breads in its entirety, with my baking notes [in brackets].

Allow 9 to 17 hours to mix and ferment the biga;
10 to 15 minutes to knead;
1-1/2 to 2 hours to ferment;
45 minutes to 1 hour to proof;
30 to 40 minutes to bake

Makes 2 loaves (~20 ounces/560 grams each)

baker's peel or rimless baking sheet
parchment paper
bench scraper or chef's knife
baking stone

Ingredients | US volume | metric volume | US weight | metric weight
water tepid (70 - 78F/21-26C) 1/3 c | 80 ml | 2.3 oz | 65 g
instant yeast 1/2 tsp | 2.5 ml | .1 oz | 2 g
unbleached all purpose flour 2/3 c | 160 ml | 3.5 oz | 100 g

Click to enlarge

Prepare the biga
Nine to 17 hours before you want to bake, prepare the biga. Pour the water into a small mixing bowl. With a rubber spatula, stir in the yeast and flour just until a dough forms. It will be stiff like pie dough. Dust the counter with flour and scrape out the dough. Knead the dough for 1 to 2 minutes just to work in all the flour and get it fairly but not perfectly smooth. (This is a very small amount of dough, about the size of a plum.) Lightly oil the mixing bowl. Round the biga and place it back in the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Leave at room temperature (70 - 75F/21 - 24C) for 1 hour, then refrigerate it for at least 8 and up to 16 hours. The biga will double in volume (to about the size of an orange) [Mine came to slightly above the one cup line on a pyrex measuring cup], becoming glossy and porous, and will smell mildly acidic.

Bread dough
Ingredients | US volume | metric volume | US weight | metric weight
biga about 1 cup | 237 ml | 5.9 oz | 167 g
water tepid (70 - 78F/21 - 26C) 1 1/3 c | 320 ml | 10.6 oz | 300 g
instant yeast 1 tsp | 5 ml | .2 oz | 5 g
unbleached all purpose flour 3 1/4 c | 770 ml | 17.6 oz | 500 g
sea salt 2 1/4 tsp | 12 ml | .5 oz | 15 g
extra virgin olive oil 1/3 c | 80 ml | 2.3 oz | 65 g
fresh rosemary coarsely chopped 1/4 c | 60 ml | .4 oz | 10 g

Mix the dough
Remove the biga from the refrigerator and uncover it. It will be soft, airy, and a bit sticky. Scrape into a large bowl. Pour the water over the biga and stir it with a rubber spatula to soften it and break it into clumps. Stir in the flour, olive oil, rosemary and salt until a dough forms. [I added the yeast too, even though the copy editor did not.]

Knead the dough
By hand: Lightly flour the counter and scrape the dough out onto it. Knead the dough with steady strokes until it is silky, smooth, and elastic, about 13-15 minutes. Check that the dough is well-developed check that the deal was well developed by pulling off a golf ball sized piece and stretching it into an opaque windowpane. If the dough tears, knead for an additional two to three minutes and test again.

With mixer: With the dough hook, mix the dough on medium speed (four on a Kitchen-Aid mixer) until it is silky, smooth, and elastic, ten to twelve minutes. Check that the dough is well developed by doing a windowpane test, as described above. If it tears, knead for an additional two to three minutes and test again.

Bulk Fermentation
Place the dough in a clean bowl, cover and let rise until double in bulk.

Divide and shapes the loaves
Cover a baker's peel or rimless baking sheet with parchment paper and dust it with flour. Lightly dust the counter with flour. Uncover the dough and turn it out onto the counter. With the bench scraper or chef's knife, cut the dough into two equal pieces (19.7oz./560g each). Shape each piece into a log about 12in. long. Place the logs smooth side upon the parchment paper, at least 3in. apart, and cover them with plastic wrap.

Proof the loaves
Let the logs rise at room temperature (70 to 75°) until they spread and look puffy and light, nearly doubling in size, 45 minutes to one hour. Press your fingertip into the dough and your fingerprint will spring back slowly. [Even my oddly dense bread passed the 'puffy and light' and fingerprint tests.]

Prepare the oven
About 1 hour before baking, place a baking stone on the middle rack. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Bake the loaves
Slide the loaves, still on the parchment, onto the baking stone. Bake until the logs are dark caramel color, 30 to 40 minutes.

Cool and store the loaves
Slide the peel or rimless baking sheet under the parchment paper to remove the loaves from the oven. Slide them, still on the parchment, onto a wire rack. Cool the loaves briefly, then peel off the parchment paper. Let them cool completely on the rack, about one hour, before slicing. The olive oil in the dough will help to keep them moist. Store in a resealable plastic bag at room temperature for three to four days. [Or freeze.]
Recipe reprinted from Local Breads: Sourdough and Whole-Grain Recipes from Europe's Best Artisan Bakers by Daniel Leader (c) Copyright 2007 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Kevin: Italian Breads From Local Breads - Focaccia

I was about 12 or 13 the first time I tried baking bread. I produced two whole wheat bricks. I tried again a number of times over the following few years but without any great success. I did produce some decent English muffins — although nothing as good as those I made using the No-knead Bread Dough.

Then in 1981 I'd just gotten out of school and while I was trying to find a real job I decided to make sandwiches and sell them door-to-door at offices. Not content to do it the easy way, I elected to make the sandwiches using croissants. — homemade croissants. Croissants are one of the most labor-intensive breads you can make. After mixing and kneading the dough, you roll butter into it, then fold it and roll it out again, then do it again. The next step is refrigerating it, not because you've finished but because the butter needs to harden again. The process of folding and rolling is repeated at least twice more, maybe three times.

Click to enlarge

Once you've made enough folds, you roll the dough out one last time and cut it into triangles, which are rolled up and shaped into crescents. Then back in the fridge until 4:00 the next morning at which time I'd get up and move them into some jury-rigged proofing ovens. Back to bed until 6:00 when I'd get up and start baking them while making the various sandwich fillings. I've never worked so hard in my life and I haven't made a croissant since. But I did start occasionally making bread again.

In 1995 I bought a Kitchen Aid specifically for making bread and sausage and at the same time I bought Daniel Leader's Bread Alone, which I proceeded to read cover-to-cover. I learned a lot, so, like my confreres, I was pleased to get a review copy of Local Breads: Sourdoughs and Whole-grain Recipes from Europe's Best Bakers (and I confess, I haven't read it cover-to-cover) and was equally willing to feature it here this month (with no promises that anyone would be happy with the results). Although we'd decided to do breads involving a biga, I decided instead to do focaccia from the same section of the book. I'm fond of flat breads and it's a simple straightforward recipe. Given how busy this month has been, simple and straightforward seemed like a good idea.

One note, the recipe calls for 3 1/4 cups of flour and I ended up using almost 4 cups. I should have weighed it to see how close my cups came to Leader's, but by the time I realized how much flour I'd used I'd used up the last of that bag — and weighing flour from a different bag wouldn't have told me anything.

Click to enlarge

Grape Harvest Focaccia (Schiacciata all'uva)
Adapted from >Local Breads.

Ingredients | US volume | metric volume | US weight | metric weight
water — tepid 1 1/4 c | 296 ml | 10.6 oz | 300 g
instant yeast 1 tsp | 5 ml | 0.2 oz | 5 g
unbleached all-purpose flour 3 1/4 c | 770 ml | 17.6 oz | 500 g
extra-virgin olive oil 1/3 c | 80 ml | 2.1 oz | 60 g
sea salt 1 1/2 tsp | 8 ml | 0.4 oz | 10 g
red seedless grapes 1 1/2 c | 355 ml | 7.1 oz | 200 g
fresh rosemary — chopped 2 tbsp | 30 ml | 0.2 oz | 6 g
coarse sea salt 1 tsp | 5 ml | 0.2 oz | 5 g
additional olive oil

Pour water into the bowl of a stand mixer bowl and add yeast, olive oil, salt, and 3 cups of flour. Mix the ingredients on low (2 on a KA) using the paddle attachment on a Kitchen Aid until shaggy, then swap to the dough hook. Add additional flour as needed until a dough forms. Increase speed to medium (4 on a KA) and knead for 9 to 10 minutes.

As I mentioned above, I needed about 4 cups of flour. I'd added about 3 3/4 cups and thought that was fine, and then a strange thing happened. In the last 3 minutes of kneading the dough fell apart. It lost it cohesion as a mass and became something like an exceptionally thick batter. I've never seen this happen before. I added about another 1/4 cup of flour and it came back together.

Scrape dough out onto a lightly-floured board and shape into a ball. Note: I always knead the dough a bit by hand at the end to make sure it feels right. In this case the dough is moist, but not sticky (the oil accounts for this).

For this amount of dough, I typically use the mixer bowl for the fermentation phase. I wash it out and dry it, then lightly spray it with oil, shape the dough into a ball, lightly spray the top with oil, cover with plastic wrap and set aside to rise for 1 1/2 - 2 hours until doubled in bulk.

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and brush lightly with olive oil. Scrape dough out onto baking sheet and let rest for 5 minutes. Oil your hands and then stretch the dough out on the baking sheet, if it resists, allow to rest for another five minutes and continue. The dough should end up about 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) and form a rough rectangle about 12 inches by 16 inches (30 cm by 40 cm).

Click to enlarge

Using the balls of your fingers, press indentations into the dough, then drizzle a bit of olive oil on the top and, using your fingers, coat the top with oil. Press the grapes into the surface about 1 1/2 inches (4 cm) apart. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and chopped rosemary. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise until double the height (45 minutes to an hour).

At this point I also began heating my oven to 375F (190C) and positioned a rack in the center.

Bake focaccia for 20 to 30 minutes, but do take your own oven into account. My oven tends to cook slowly for some reason (and yes, I have verified the temperature with a thermometer) and I baked the bread for 40 minutes until it was a golden brown and the grapes had shriveled slightly.

Cool for about 5 minutes on a rack, then dive in.
This was absolutely the best focaccia I've ever made. The bread was delightfully sweet (and look, Ma, no sugar), moist, and chewy. The rosemary is a perfect flavor pairing with the sweet grapes (an added burst of sweetness), and the coarse salt provide both textural and flavor contrast.

Adapted from a recipe in Local Breads: Sourdough and Whole-Grain Recipes from Europe's Best Artisan Bakers by Daniel Leader (c) Copyright 2007 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Beth: Weights & Measures

There is a reason that, though injured, I wanted to write this article. You see, here at A Year in Bread HQ, we have weighty discussions and a fundamental disagreement that seems destined to remain eternally unresolved. Fortunately for our friendship, we each know that we alone are correct and we are happy to let the other two believe what they want to believe. So we continue to be good friends even across this divide.

Fortunately for you, however, I get to give you my side of the argument first and with any luck, educate you on something that has been weighing heavily on my mind lately before Susan and Kevin arrive to tell you what they believe (which is wrong, remember, but we can humor them — they are so much easier to live with when they think they are right).

What is the great argument here? Only the one true weigh, I mean way to bread happiness!

The question is: How much does a cup of flour weigh? The answers:
· Beth 4.5 ounces (126gr)
· Kevin 5.2 ounces (145gr)
· Susan 5 ounces (140gr)
How is it possible that three experienced, passionate, and sometimes downright geeky bakers can fail to agree on such a basic number? More importantly, what does that mean for people who just want to reliably make good bread?

Sadly, I have no simple answers. The weight of a cup of flour depends on many variables: the exact type of flour, whether it is sifted (and when), how the flour gets from container to measuring cup (scooped or spooned), and (my favorite) the weather.

What I can offer you is a collection of our thoughts on how we deal with the inexactness of measuring flour in real life (and a few related matters) with the hope that you will find your own answer for how much your cup of flour weighs.

"A pint is a pound the whole world 'round." This refers to the fact that a pint of water (or beer) weighs one pound. This means that one ounce of liquid also weighs one ounce and it's the only case where converting from weight to volume or vice versus is painless.

Did you know that a level tablespoon of table salt weighs more than a level tablespoon of kosher salt, and that a tablespoon of sea salt has yet another weight? These issues matter tremendously when working at commercial quantities and when scaling from a relatively small amount of something to a much bigger amount. That's why professional cooks (and bakers) prefer to use weight to measure things.

I prefer to use volume measurements when baking bread — cups, quarts, tablespoons, and so on. The reason for this preference is convenience and accuracy. I have a decent kitchen scale, but its accuracy is imprecise when measuring units below 1 ounce. So although my scale tells me that a tablespoon of yeast weighs 3/8 of an ounce it might actually weigh 5/16ths. However, a tablespoon is always a tablespoon and is always 15 milliliters. At the quantities a home baker works at that's close enough -- even when measuring salt.

The hardest measure, and least precise, is flour. Flour is hydrophilic — it absorbs water. In a precise formula where water is a key element, such as bread, it isn't simply the weight of the flour that matters, it's the weight of the flour in relation to water that is critical. If the flour contains more water you should add less and if it contains less water you should add more.

Creepy Crawlies
Nearly any flour or grain (oats, etc.) will have some kind of insect eggs in it. Even if you can't store your flours in the freezer, just putting them in there for 24 hours will kill any future creepy crawlies.

As a home baker this is getting far too complicated. What matters is the proportion of water to flour, and you can learn to feel and taste and smell that. And once you learn to do so, then the precise measurements become less important. Feel your dough, taste it, and smell it at every step.

Although I love my scale, which is great for weighing out dough when shaping loaves and rolls, when I make bread I usually use cups & measuring spoons because the amount of flour is almost never the same, so I don't need the precision of weights. What I do is always use the same amount of water and yeast, then add more or less flour to make the dough feel right.

That said, I've been converting all my recipes to weight, because when I start baking on a large scale for the wholesale bread bakery we're slowly building here on the farm, I will have to weigh all of my ingredients.

I tend to make the same recipes over and over so I can get a good feel for what "right" is. I've been using the same brand of flour for over 10 years so I'm familiar with it.

I buy 50-pound bags of Heartland Mill Organic Unbleached All-Purpose Flour and Heartland Mill Organic Strong Bread Flour (High Gluten). During the summer, if I have room I store the flour in a chest freezer; in the winter our pantry literally turns into a walk-in refrigerator so everything is fine in there.

I buy organic whole grain flours (white whole wheat, whole wheat, rye, etc.) in smaller amounts because they go rancid faster. These are best kept in the freezer if possible to keep them fresher.

I store my flour in the original 50-pound bags which I store in large plastic tubs. I fill 2-gallon size commercial plastic tubs with all-purpose and bread flour from the big bags. I just scoop the flour into the tubs with a 2-cup s/s measure. When I'm baking, I take a s/s measuring cup and scoop up enough flour so that the cup overfills in one scoop. Then I scrape off the extra flour with the lid of the tub.

For the longest time I only measured things by volume, using my long practiced kitchenMage sense (sort of like Spidey sense but without the precipitating radiation) to tweak doughs that looked a bit off somehow. One day, after measuring 7 cups of flour for my usual batch of baguettes again, I decided to give in and spend the 50 bucks for a shiny metal box that would magically tell me the correct amount of flour each and every time.

As they say in Minnesota, "Ya sure, you betcha."

I am not saying I stopped weighing things, actually I use the scale all the time. Weighing ingredients, especially flour, is convenient and, once you figure out the correct amounts for a recipe once, reasonably reliable. But you need to figure out what the person who wrote each recipe meant when they said "1 cup" because, as you can see with the three of us, it's probably not what you mean when you say 1 cup.

When I have to measure flour by volume, I shake the plastic container that I store it in, scoop a measuring cup full and level it with the lid — pretty much like Susan. But I seldom measure that way. I usually weigh flour, figuring 4.5 ounces per cup) and leave out about a cup when I am mixing the dough. That flour, and more if needed, gets added once the dough has been mixed a bit and I have a feel for what it needs. The actual amount of flour I use (by weight) gets written in the margin of the cookbook so that after I have made a recipe a few times I know how much flour I need to use.

Usually after I have done this with a few recipes in a given book, I can generalize the weight to the rest of the book. When I can't, it makes me wonder what sort of committee wrote the cookbook — I can deal with high variance from one person to the next but not from one recipe to another in the same darned book!

What does this all mean for you? Well, a couple of things.

First, if you bake something and it doesn't come out quite right — heck, even if it is a total failure — don't blame yourself. Measuring a cup of flour is dirt simple stuff, yet the experts can't even agree amongst themselves. Even beyond that, all books have typos, the rigor of recipe testing varies from book to book, and, as anyone who made meringue on a rainy day will tell you, even environmental factors matter.

More importantly, you need to find your own path through this uncertainty. Susan's approach is a solid one: a cup of water weighs the same amount almost everywhere (I just know someone from Denver will be here to say it's different there). My approach of determining what a given author means in their cookbook will help you a lot as you bake using a variety of recipes. That last bit of advice from Kevin is perhaps the most useful: feel your dough. Once you know what a stiff dough feels like compared to a soft one, you will gain confidence in your baking that goes far beyond certainty as to the weight of a cup of flour.

But I am still right: a cup of flour weighs 4.5 ounces and don't let those heretics tell you otherwise.

Further reading: Weighting to measure

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kitchenMage is working on the next post, but is running late due to digital damage (a broken finger).
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