Sunday, July 15, 2018


When I started my first blog, Google’s was a good choice. But, alas, Google (the company that promised to “do no evil”!) stopped supporting their Blogger app for newer Apple devices.

Trying to write or edit posts on my new iPad was fraught with frustrating snafus, and on my new iPhone my blog looked really weird. To avoid further damage to my teeth – constant gnashing wears them down – a major change was needed.

Like many fellow bloggers, I chose WordPress. Fortunately, it provided me with a tool to easily import all the content from my two blogs. 

My older posts, transitioned from Blogger, might look a bit strange on WordPress. So, please, bear with me, I’m still learning how to maneuver my new site. The name remains the same, only the URL is different.

I hope you will follow me to my brand new site "BROT & BREAD".

Wednesday, April 25, 2018


Hier geht's zur deutschen Version dieses Posts

Two weeks ago, I flew to Columbus/Ohio, to visit my daughter. In my carry-on I had a freezer bag with sourdough, hoping it wouldn't cause suspicion and confiscation at the airport security.

Valerie had asked me to show her and her co-workers at "Two Caterers", how to bake a high hydration bread à la Chad Robertson of Tartine fame.

"Tartine"-breads are known for their "holyness", and their excellent taste. They are great favorites of mine, and I bake them in all possible variations (Brewer's Bread, Acorn Levain)

The next day I walked to a nearby "Giant Eagle"-supermarket to look for ingredients. I wanted to bake a porridge bread (the grain mush makes it especially moist). And it should have nuts in it.

The fancy salad bowl was barely big enough for mixing the flours

The different flours I needed were easy to find, and, also, rolled oats for the porridge. For the nuts I opted for almond slices. Fortunately, my daughter owned a scale. A polka-dotted salad bowl and a large pot at my little studio Airbnb could serve as mixing bowls.

I made use of all vessels my Airbnb had to offer

I cooked the porridge, toasted the almonds, mixed the dough,  and carried the whole shebang to the kitchen of "Two Caterers", where, for the next two days, I baked bread with baker Zeek, pastry chef Cheryl, and manager James. And had the chance to peek into pots, pans and woks of all the cooks. 

Cheryl making desserts

Sampling Cheryl's delicious dessert creations was, of course, strictly for continuing education purposes! 

Cheryl and Zeek proudly present their loaves

The two breads turned out to be a great success! One loaf, still warm, was quickly devoured - everybody in the kitchen wanted to try a piece. (The second bread was carried off to a safe place before it could vanish, too.)

Everyone wanted to try a piece, and one loaf was gone in no time

Soon as I got home from my trip, I baked another Oat Porridge Almond Bread for us - it was so delicious.

I tweaked the basic formula from "Tartine: Book No. 3" a bit, the original contains less sourdough (only a third of the starter, the rest is supposed to be discarded - something I would hate to do) and very mild. I prefer a slightly tangier bread, and use the whole amount. 

From Ken Forkish ("Flour Water Salt Yeast") I learned a few tricks: later additions to the dough can be better incorporated by "Pinch and Fold", instead of just folding it (see Einkorn-Hazelnut-Levain.)

We can never wait for the bread to cool completely

OAT PORRIDGE BREAD WITH TOASTED ALMONDS  (adapted from "Tartine: Book No. 3")

Feeding (2 x the day before)
10 g of starter (discard rest, or use for other purposes)
20 g of flour blend (1/2 bread/1/2 whole wheat)
20 g water (80-85ºF/26-29ºC)

10 g/1/2 tbsp. matured starter (discard rest, or use for other purposes)
50 g bread flour
50 g whole wheat
100 g water (80-85ºF/26-29ºC)

Oat Porridge
69 g old-fashioned rolled oats (or cracked oats)
181 g water
1 g salt

Final Dough
250 g high-extraction wheat flour (or 103 g bread flour + 147 g whole wheat)
250 g all-purpose flour 35 g wheat germ (raw)
430 g water, divided
210 g levain (all)
14 g salt
250 g cooked porridge, cooled to room temperature
100 g almond slices, toasted
rolled or cracked oats, for coating

Feed starter 2 x daily (to increase activity).

6:00 - 8:00 am: Mix levain. Cover, and leave for 6-10 hours at warm room temperature, or until a teaspoonful starter floats in water (swim test).

Swim test: the starter should float in water

For the porridge: cook oats with 3/4 of the water over low heat, stirring constantly until all water is absorbed. Add remaining water and salt, and keep stirring, until porridge is creamy and soft. (Adjust with a bit more water if needed). Let cool.

Oat porridge

12:00 - 18:00 pm: When levain is ready, transfer it to a large bowl, add 400 g of the water, and whisk to dissolve. In a second bowl, mix flours and wheat germ.

Dissolve levain in water...
Mix flours

...then stir flour mixture into dissolved starter (I use a Danish dough whisk)

Add flour mixture to dissolved levain and stir (Danish dough whisk, large spoon, or hand) until all flour is hydrated.

Cover, and let rest (autolyse) for 30 minutes (and up to 4 hours) in a warm place.

Folding and pinching the dough to incorporate additions

Add salt and reserved (lukewarm) water to the dough. Pinch and fold to combine: using your hands, pull up dough around the bowl, fold it over to the center, then pinch it several times. Repeat pinching and folding procedure until most of the added water is incorporated.

Working in porridge and almonds

Cover, and let dough rest for 30 minutes. Stretch and fold it, leave it for another 30 minutes, then add porridge and toasted almonds, pinching and folding 4-6 times, until roughly incorporated (see above).

Ferment dough for another 2 hours, stretching and folding it 4 more times at 30 minute intervals. (In the end the dough should feel billowy, with 20-30% increase in volume. If not, let it rise for another 30-60 minutes.)

Dough after 3 times S&F

Transfer dough to floured work surface. Lightly flour top. Using oiled spatula(s), work into a round by drawing the spatula(s) around it in circles to create surface tension, while rotating it. (Dough ball should be taut and smooth).

Pre-shape dough into a round

Lightly flour dough ball again, cover (I use the mixing bowl), and let it rest for 20-30 minutes (it will spread out again).

Generously flour rising basket (a 50/50 wheat and rice flour mixture works well to prevent sticking.) Sprinkle the bottom with rolled oats (killing two birds with one stone: the bread will look nice, and, even more important, it will not stick to the basket.)

Prepeared rising basket

Using floured, or oiled bench knife, flip dough around, floured-side down. With floured hands, fold up the bottom side by a third, then pull and fold both sides to the center, and the top down to the middle, gently pressing seams to seal.  Finally, fold bottom up over top fold, leaving the seam underneath.

Folded dough package (here an ancient grain loaf)

With floured hands, rotate dough ball until taut, dusting it with more flour if necessary. Place it into the rising basket, seam-side up.

Gently lift dough edges a bit and slide more oat flakes between dough and side of basket (to further prevent sticking). Sprinkle top of dough with flour.

 Shaped bread (here an ancient grain bread)

Place basket in plastic bag, and refrigerate overnight. (No warming up necessary).

Risen bread

3. TAG
Preheat oven to 500ºF/260ºC, with Dutch oven in the middle. Keep a large piece of parchment paper and scissors at hand on your counter.

With an energetic smack, turn (cold) bread out onto parchment paper (if you are too timid, it might stick to the basket.) Cut paper around bread, leaving two longer handles to make a sling (Uncut, it will crinkle in the pot.)

The paper sling ensures a painless transport to the Dutch oven

Score bread about 1/2-inch/1-cm deep in a # pattern (or as desired.)

Take hot pot out of the oven, remove lid (I place my oven mitt on top so that I don't forget how hot it is) and transfer bread with paper sling to Dutch oven. Replace lid.

Bread in Dutch oven

Bake bread, covered, for 20 minutes, reduce temperature to 450ºF/230ºC, and bake for 10 minutes more. Remove lid, and continue baking for another 20-25 minutes, until loaf is deep golden brown and registers at least 200°F/93ºC.

Take bread out of Dutch oven (tilt pot, grab paper handle and slide loaf out onto wire rack.) Peel off paper. Let bread cool completely before cutting it (if you have more self-discipline than we do!)

Freshly baked Oat Porridge Bread

Monday, April 2, 2018


When I first learned of genius entrepreneur Nathan Myhrvold's endeavor to create THE Ultimate Work on Bread Baking, pouring thousands of dollars in his state-of-the-art scientific laboratory plus baking station, I was rather skeptical. After Modernist Cuisine now molecular baking?

But a presentation last summer at the Kneading Conference in Skowhegan/ME, with stunning photos of the process, was so convincing that I overcame my doubts (and qualms about spending so much money), and ordered my copy at Amazon.

The massive metal box set (History and Fundamentals, Ingredients, Techniques and Equipment, Recipes I and II, and a spiral bound kitchen manual with formulas) arrived in November, too heavy for one person to carry. Totally awed by those gorgeous, atlas-sized tomes, I asked myself the obvious question:

"Am I good enough for this Rolls Royce of baking books?"

"Am I good enough for this?"

Being the anal Virgo, instead of undisciplined rushing at the recipes, I started reading the first volume, History and Fundamentals. Though I'm generally not a great fan of non-fiction, remembering with a shudder the all-night-cramming before my final medical exams, I found the book a very pleasant read, interesting, full of fascinating facts, and beautifully illustrated.

My husband, a Vietnam veteran, travels to Asia every year, Singapore, Cambodia, and, always, Vietnam. Whether in Saigon or Danang, his favorite food are Banh Mi sandwiches, and he misses them here in Maine.

The toppings, meat, pickles, cucumbers, chili and cilantro, are not hard to come by, but the Banh Mi breads are a totally different matter. Though French baguettes are their ancestors, Banh Mi rolls are different, with a thinner crust and softer, fluffier crumb.

With Richard just back from Saigon, I decided on Banh Mi rolls, my first loaves to bake from Modernist Bread.

I had tried to make them before, using the only recipe (from Andrea Nguyen) that appears to be circulating in the internet. It wasn't bad, but, according to my husband (and my own memory from my trip to Vietnam years ago), it wasn't right, either, no crackly crust, and too chewy.

For many of Myhrvold's breads you can choose between two or (even three) different formulas, a classic version, a "best" version, and a "modernist" approach (with unusual enhancements, like gelatin).

But for Banh Mi, there is only one recipe.

Banh Mi recipe page

Though I often tweak formulas according to my own preferences, this time I didn't not stray from the Modernist's path, awed by the expertise of the authors. I wondered a bit about the shortening (or lard) in the bread - no fat in French baguettes, and why would bakers in a poor Asian country add a costly enrichment to their dough?

Instead repeating the mixing procedures and different steps for shaping, and proofing in every formula, Modernist Bread refers to detailed instructions in volume 3 (Techniques and Equipment). Fine.

But would it have killed them (or taken up too much space) to put oven temperatures and baking times into the recipes? You had to look under "filone entry in French Lean Bread Baking Times and Temperatures", several pages back, to find them - or not, since there was no filone in the list!

And why is cold bulk fermentation only very briefly and cursorily mentioned as an option? Instead, the Techniques section offered retardation of the shaped breads, along with fermentation at different room temperatures. Great, if you bake only one loaf - or have a walk-in refrigerator!

I started my mixing process, following the Modernist Bread's instructions - and was confronted with my first question: "add salt and mix on medium-low speed to low gluten development; add melted shortening or lard, and mix on medium speed to full gluten development."

How do I gauge low gluten development? I added the shortening after I mixed in the salt, drizzling it slowly into the mixer bowl. But, alas, my gluten development was faster, my dough did not welcome the greasy addition, resisting its incorporation, and, instead, swishing the liquid fat all around in the bowl.

It took a long time of mixing, until the dough looked somewhat homogeneous - but it was still coated in grease!

The dough resisted the incorporation of fat

No help for that, I had to trust in the mitigating effect of long fermentation (I did the cold bulk), especially since my 7-qt Kitchen Aid, deciding, "enough is enough", switched itself off to avoid overheating.

Everything else, shaping and proofing, went according to plan, until it was time to bake.

Modernist Bread pooh-poohs every steaming measure we poor hobby bakers are able to employ, except for using a Dutch oven or a covered baker. Tough luck for home-based micro-bakeries like mine that need to process more than one loaf at a time!

I guess I have to live with my guilt of using my modest, pebble filled steam pan.

In the "French Lean Bread Baking Temperatures and Times" table I found only temperature for baking (470ºF/245ºC), not for preheating the oven. I remembered having come across it somewhere in the Technique volume, but couldn't find that paragraph again.

Assuming 500ºF would be okay, I preheated my oven (which keeps the correct temperature), with baking stone and steaming device in place. According to the time table, the small baguettes should be baked for 15 minutes with steam, and 10 minutes without, at 470ºF.

But when I checked after 15 minutes, to remove the steam pan, they were already fully baked, with an interior temperature of 211ºF.

Not a Banh Mi at all!

The baguettes looked okay from the outside, though the crust was not crackly. But when we cut the baguettes in halves to make sandwiches, we were in for a big disappointment. Instead of airy and fluffy, the crumb was dense and chewy.

And worse - they didn't taste like Banh Mi at all, more like brioche (made with shortening instead of butter).

We ate our sandwiches, grumbling, and I was sorely tempted to throw the remaining two loaves in the trash - something I hardly ever do with my bread, even if it's burnt, or otherwise malfatti.

In the end the frugal housewife prevailed - I cut off the bread crusts and ground them into crumbs. And worked the loaves into a really nice bread pudding!

Successfully recycled - Leek Bread Pudding, made of Banh Mi rolls

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


Hier geht's zur deutschen Version dieses Posts

To mathematicians the Greek letter π (Pi) is the symbol for the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. This number is so important that it has its own holiday day: Pi Day.

Pi Day is March 14, since π starts with 3.14... and continues, irrationally, ever after. (But don't despair: for your daily use you can get by with just the first six numbers: 3.14159).

Not only mathematicians observe Pi Day, bakers honor it, too. After all, the Greek letter sounds in English like pastry and, with the help of a little "e", it easily turns into pie.

Though never a great ace in math, I'm all for celebrating such a meaningful holiday.

No spring in sight!

Here in Maine we still have one snowstorm ("Nor'easter") chasing the other. Therefore, only a cozy comfort-food-pie would do. (My husband's provocative suggestion, Cherry Pie, faced an instant rebuttal).

But Coconut Cream Pie met with wholehearted enthusiasm from all sides.

The custard filling takes a little effort, but it is soooo worth it! Cook's Illustrated's classic is by far the best Coconut Cream Pie we ever had. Highly satisfying, but not so rich that you feel stuffed for the whole day.

In fact, we had to pull ourselves together not to devour the whole thing!

The animal crackers in the crust don't contain a lot of fat or sugar. Graham crackers are a possible substitute, but don't use richer cookies. I reduced the amount of sugar in the filling by 25% - the pie is sweet enough.

Since we are empty-nesters, I made two small pies (with 2/3 of the recipe amount) in 6-inch/15-cm ø aluminum foil pans. If you take those thin-walled pans, you have to place them on a baking sheet to avoid over-browning.

The best Coconut Cream Pie we ever had!

COCONUT CREAM PIE  (adapted from Cook's Illustrated)

(One 9-inch/23-cm pie or three small (6-inch/15-cm) pies)

170 g animal crackers (or graham crackers)
12 g/2 tbsp unsweetened shredded coconut
13 g/1 tbsp sugar
57 g unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 (13 1/2-oz) can/404 g coconut milk
246 g/1 cup whole milk
51 g/½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
75 g sugar, plus
12 g/1 tbsp sugar
⅜ tsp table salt
85 g/5 egg yolks
42 g cornstarch
28 g unsalted butter, cut into 2 pieces
1 tsp vanilla extract

Whipped Cream Topping
357 g/1 ½ cups heavy cream (cold)
24 g/2 tbsp sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
6 g/1 tbsp unsweetened shredded coconut, toasted golden brown

Kekse, Kokosraspel, Butter und Zucker für die Piekruste

Preheat oven to 325ºF/160ºC, adjusting rack to lower middle position.

In food processor, pulse animal crackers, coconut and sugar until finely ground. Transfer to medium bowl, add melted butter and stir well, until all crumbs are evenly moistened.

Stir melted butter into crumbs until no dry spots remain

Transfer crumbs to a 9-inch/23-cm ø Pyrex pie pan (or 3 small 6-inch/15-cm aluminum pans). Using a measuring cup or small ramekin, press crumbs evenly into bottom and up sides.

Press crumbs evenly into bottom and up sides of the pie pan

Place pie pan(s) in the oven (put aluminum pans on a baking sheet!) and bake for about 15 minutes, rotating pie(s) halfway through, until crust is fragrant and medium brown.

Let crust(s) cool on a wire rack (about 30 minutes).

Coconut milk mixture

For the filling, bring coconut milk, whole milk, coconut, 75 g sugar, and salt to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring now and then.

Mix egg yolks with cornstarch and sugar

In a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks with cornstarch and remaining 1 tbsp sugar until well combined.

Whisking constantly, gradually pour 1 cup hot milk mixture over yolk mixture until blended. Gradually whisk in remaining milk mixture in 3-4 additions until well combined.

Egg yolk/milk mixture

Return egg yolk/milk mixture to sauce pan, and cook, whisking constantly, until it thickens and comes to a boil, about 1 minute. (To determine whether a full boil is reached, stop stirring; you should see large bubbles bursting on the surface.)

Off the heat, whisk in butter and vanilla

Remove pot from heat, and whisk in butter pieces and vanilla until butter is melted and fully incorporated.

Pour filling into crust...

Pour hot filling into cooled pie crust(s), smoothing surface with rubber spatula. Press a pieces of plastic wrap directly against surface (to prevent a skin from forming).

...then cover with plastic foil, pressed directly on surface

 Refrigerate pie(s) until firm, at least 3 hours or overnight.

Spread topping over the pie, then sprinkle it with toasted coconut

Just before serving, whip heavy cream with sugar and vanilla, using handheld mixer, until soft peaks form, 1 1/2 bis 2 minutes. Spread topping over pie filling. Sprinkle with toasted coconut.

Coconut Cream Pie

TIP: Pie leftovers keeps, covered, for 2-3 days in the fridge. If you bake several small pies, like I did, add topping to each pie just before serving.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018


Hier geht's zur deutschen Version dieses Posts (folgt noch)

"Would you like to see my new book?" was the message from Heike Kevenhörster, a friend and former colleague from Public Address Press Agency in Hamburg (where I counseled students for many years, as online-"Dear Abby").

"Craft Cocktails by Val"
Two weeks later I found my copy of "Craft Cocktails by Val: Drinks Inspired by Hillary Rodham Clinton", Heike's self-published book, in the mail.

Bartender "Val", the alter ego of Hillary Clinton, played by herself in an episode of "Saturday Night Life", doles out drinks and sympathy to a full-campaign-mode, hyper (and slightly tipsy) "Hillary Clinton" (played by Kate McKinnon).

This hilarious skit, and the catchphrases thrown at us during last year's presidential election campaign, were the inspirations for the cocktails Heike presents in her book.

Hillary fans will appreciate the "Glass Ceiling" (with St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur and lemon balm), "Woman Card" (with raspberry liqueur and cream) or "Shoulder Shimmy" (with gin and cranberry juice)

But her opponents can have their cocktails too: "The Swamp" (with gin and caperberries) and "Bye, bye, Bernie" (with vodka and Blue Curaçao).

Heike, who studied British literature, journalism and history, loves cooking for family and friends, but, also, worked for several years as weekend-chef at Karo Ecke, in one of Hamburg's trendy quarters. One of her hobbies: creating new cocktails.

Heike Kevenhörster (photo: Public Address)
Like many Europeans, she didn't miss a beat of the innuendos of our (seemingly never-ending) election campaign.

Heike dedicated her book "to the 65.844.610 people who voted for the first woman to win the popular vote for President of the United States of America".

Whimsical photo collages, created by American artist Sarah Sole in real time during Clinton's campaign, capture the spirit of each of the 47 cocktails, and make the book a fun read.

Normally, this blog is devoted to my love for baking, especially breads. But "Craft Cocktails by Val" tempted me not only to spend (an outrageous amount of) money on fancy liqueurs, but, also, post about one of Heike's crafty cocktails.

Though I mostly drink beer - the best of all husbands gets migraines from wine, but can split a Dos XX or Guinness with me - I do like a cocktail, when we are in a restaurant. The liquor bottles in our pantry are almost solely used for cooking or baking, and last for a long time.

(This was not always the case: when I was still living in Germany, the growing pile of oversized juvenile sneakers in my mudroom was mysteriously connected to a shrinking level of cooking liquors in my kitchen!)

For Heike's delicious take on a "Long Island Ice Tea", I only needed to buy a bottle of gin, everything else I already had in my pantry. And we drink Earl Grey tea every day.

Grey Gardens

GREY GARDENS (adapted from "Craft Cocktails by Val" by Heike Kevenhörster & Sarah Sole)
(2 servings)

2/3 oz (2 cl) vodka
2/3 oz (2 cl) gin
2/3 oz (2 cl) white rum
2/3 oz (2 cl) tequila blanco
2/3 oz (2 cl) Cointreau (I used triple sec)
1 tsp Earl Grey tea leaves
1 oz (3 cl) fresh lime juice
2/3 oz (2 cl) simple syrup*)
2 oz (6 cl) Coca Cola (or to taste)
ice cubes
2 lime slices, for garnish

*) In small sauce pan, bring to a boil 1/2 cup water with 1/2 cup sugar, stirring, until sugar has dissolved. Let cool. The syrup can be stored in a jar with lid for at least 2 weeks in the fridge.

Vodka, gin, white rum and tequila are infused with Earl Grey tea leaves

In a small teapot (or bowl), combine vodka, gin, rum, and tequila. Add Earl Grey leaves to a tea filter or small strainer (I used the filter of my regular teapot), and let them steep in the liquid for 4 minutes.

Tea-infused alcohol mixture

Remove the filter or strainer, and pour the infused alcohol in a shaker. Add Cointreau, lime juice, and simple syrup, and shake on ice. (Or, like I did, simply refrigerate the teapot with the mixture until using).

Fill two Collins glasses (high, straight glasses) with ice cubes, add the tea-infused alcohol and top with coke (to taste, depending on how sweet you like your drink.)

Serve, garnished with a slice of lime.