Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Hier geht's zur deutschen Version dieses Posts

Long time no see - after I baked four breads from my Equal Opportunity Baking list that I wasn't 100% satisfied with, I got a bit burned out on them. The anal Virgo in me didn't want to continue with yet another Fair Baking Bread without having tried to coax and tweak the grade C candidates to a better performance or more satisfying taste.

Slowly I revisited and rebaked (I learned to use the prefix "re" from the creators of our daily crossword puzzle - it is amazing how you can put a "re" in front of any given verb and come up with a new term never heard of before!) the soso breads, Arkatena Bread, Muesli Rolls (both fine now), Camembert Grape Bread, and then the Beer Rye.

I had picked Bill Middeke's contribution to Kim Ode's "Baking with the St. Paul Bread Club" because of the combination stout and rye. In my opinion nothing made with beer can be bad (unless, perhaps, it's made with Bud Light, aka dish wash water, or other beer abominations).

The amount of sweeteners, molasses and brown sugar (both 1/4 cup for two small loaves), seemed a lot, so I reduced them by half, to 1/8 cup each.

The recipe, originally posted in the "St. Louis Globe-Democrat", had called for lard or bacon fat instead of the shortening listed in Kim Ode's book.

As a German accustomed to cooking with lard, and no friend of shortening, I switched back to the original piggy fat.

For the active dry yeast I used instant, my default, and, also worked with the stretch & fold method, plus overnight cold fermentation, instead of making, and baking, the breads on the same day.

Everything worked well, only the baking time was a bit longer. The bread looked really pretty, but even with the reduced amounts of sugar and molasses it was still way too sweet for my taste!

Bill Middeke, an ardent bicyclist, surely needs sufficient carbohydrates to fuel him for his athletic rides, but my bike carries me mostly to the nearby supermarket, and I get plenty of extra carbs from chocolate and desserts.

Not only that, the best of all husbands complained about the caraway. While I like it, Richard doesn't care for the taste and always finds it overdosed.

So I had another go at the Beer Rye Bread, this time cutting sugar and molasses again by 50%, adding a little more water, to make up for the molasses reduction, and using only 1 teaspoon caraway instead of 1 tablespoon.

We were eager to try the new bread - the sweetness was just right, but with less sugar the bread was a bit bland, and could do with more salt. And my spouse, known to be a delicate little flower, found himself OD'd on caraway again....

Relentlessly adapted to the Andersons' preferences, this final version received the stamp of approval: a tasty bread, slightly sweet, with a hint of caraway, and full of the good stuff: black Ruthless Rye.
"Ruthless" Rye Bread

 (2 small breads)

1 ½ cups stout, or other dark ale (350 g)
70 g water
34 g lard (or shortening)
9 g light brown sugar
21 g molasses
12 g salt
1 tbsp. orange zest, (ca. 8 g)
1/2 tsp. caraway seeds, (or more, to taste)
3 g instant yeast
325 g rye flour
320 g all-purpose flour
rolled rye, for topping

DAY 1:
In saucepan, heat beer and water until just starting to bubble. Add lard, sugar, molasses, salt, orange zest, and caraway seeds. Let cool to lukewarm (not more than 95 F.)

Stir yeast into beer mixture, until dissolved. Pour in mixer bowl, and add flour. Mix at low speed (or by hand) for 1 - 2 minutes, until all flour is hydrated. Let rest for 5 minutes, then knead at medium-low speed (or by hand) for 6 minutes, adjusting with more water or flour, if necessary (dough should be soft and still somewhat sticky.)

Transfer dough to lightly oiled work surface. With oiled hands, stretch and pat into square, first fold top and bottom in thirds, like a business letter, then do the same from both sides.

Gather dough into a ball, place seam side down into a lightly oiled bowl, cover, and let it rest for 10 minutes.

Repeat this stretch and fold 3 times, with 10 minute intervals. After last fold, cover and refrigerate overnight. (I divide the dough at this point in halves, and refrigerate it in two containers.)

DAY 2:
Remove dough from refrigerator 2 hours before using, it should have doubled.

Preheat oven to 425ºF/220ºC, including steam pan.

Shape dough into 2 small boules or bâtards. Place on parchment lined baking sheet, seam side down, and score. Mist or brush with water, sprinkle with rolled rye, cover, and let rise until doubled, ca. 60 minutes or longer (finger poke test, an indentation should not fill up again - if this soft bread is under-proofed, it bursts open in the oven)

Bake breads at 350ºF/180ºC for 20 minutes, steaming with 1 cup boiling water. Rotate breads 180 degrees, remove steam pan, and continue baking for another 20 - 25 minutes, until deep golden brown and registers at least 195ºF/91ºC.)

Cool on wire rack.

Whether oval or round - Beer Rye Breads are very attractive

Submitted to YeastSpotting

Sunday, November 18, 2012


Hier geht's zur deutschen Version dieses Posts

When we traveled for the first time to the Yucatan, I wanted (of course) to try some typical Mexican breads. The bakeries in Cancun and Tulum had beautiful displays, and we were very eager to purchase a selection of those pretty little breads and pastries.

But what a disappointment! The attractive exterior was misleading - everything we bought tasted more or less bland and sweet.

Breads and pastries in Tulum - a pretty disappointment

I couldn't believe that this was all there is to Mexican breads. Moreover, I remembered having seen once a ghoulishly decorated bread for Halloween, and, back at home, consulted with my trusted advisers on all things food - "Fine Cooking" and "Cook's Illustrated".

Fany Gerson's recipe for Pan de Muerto in "Fine Cooking" seemed promising, and had already some good reviews.

This Bread of the Dead is traditionally baked during the last weeks of October, before the Dia de los Muertos (November 1 and 2), and eaten at the cemetery, at the grave of a family member. The bone decoration is a reminder of the deceased, and the little roll on top represents a tear of grief.

I made some slight changes to the original recipe, substituting 10% of the white flour with whole wheat, and changing the technique to my preferred stretch and fold (S&F), with a slow overnight rise in the refrigerator.

A detailed instruction for S&F you can find in my earlier post here. This elegant do-ahead method requires less kneading, ensures better flavor development, and, also, fits better in my schedule.

Since other reviewers of the original "Fine Cooking" recipe warned that the actual baking time was shorter than stated in the instruction, I checked early, and found that my breads were done in approximately 36 minutes.

PAN DE MUERTO  (2 Breads) (adapted from Fany Gerson's recipe in "Fine Cooking")

127 g/4.5 oz whole milk, (1/2 cup)
  78 g/2.75 oz unsalted butter (5 1/2 tbsp.), cut into small pieces
3  4x1-inch strips orange peel (without pith)
1 tbsp. orange blossom water (or more)
       3 eggs, lightly beaten
    6 g/0.2 oz instant yeast (2 tsp)
400 g/14 oz all-purpose flour
  47 g/1.75 oz whole wheat
  50 g/1.65 oz sugar (1/4 cup)
    2 g/0.1 oz salt (1/2 tsp)
  14 g/0.5 oz butter (1 tbsp) melted, for brushing
  22 g/0.8 oz sugar (1/8 cup) for sprinkling

Peeling the orange with a vegetable peeler is easy
1. Put milk, butter, and orange peel in small saucepan over medium heat; stir until butter melts, 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool until warm. Discard orange peel, add orange blossom water, and whisk in eggs.

Heat milk, butter and orange peel, until butter is melted

 2. In mixer bowl, stir together flour, yeast, sugar, and salt. Add milk mixture, then mix at low speed until dough comes together and all flour is hydrated (1-2 minutes). Let dough rest for 5 minutes.

3. Resume kneading at medium-low speed for 6 minutes, dough should be smooth but still slightly sticky. (Resist the urge to add more flour, it is not necessary!)

4. Place dough on lightly oiled work surface. With oiled hands, stretch dough into a square and fold it in thirds like a business letter. Repeat this folding from both sides. Make a ball, pulling edges underneath, and place it in lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rest for 10 minutes. 

Starting the stretching and folding

5. Repeat this stretch and fold (S&F) 3 times, in 10 minute intervals. After last fold, place dough, tightly covered, in refrigerator overnight. (Remove from the fridge 2 hours before using.)

6. Cut a piece about 120 g/4.2 oz off the dough and reserve. Divide remaining dough in halves and shape pieces on lightly floured surface into 2 rounds. Place rounds on parchment lined baking sheet and flatten tops with your hands.

7. With some of reserved dough, form 2 small rolls  (à 7 g/0.25 oz), cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

8. Divide rest of reserved dough into 6 equal pieces. Roll into ropes (slightly longer than width of loaves.) Starting in the middle, pinch or twist ropes with your index and middle fingers about 1 inch apart to make knobs (the pinched parts should be really thin, to preserve the bone pattern)

The ropes are quite elastic, you can stretch them to the desired length

6. Arrange 3 ropes on top of each dough round, overlapping in the center and tucking ends under a bit. Mist with baking spray, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm place, about 45 - 60 minutes, or until breads are doubled in size. Poke dough gently with your finger, the indentation should not fill back again (if breads don't rise long enough they will burst in the oven and destroy the pattern!)

7. Preheat oven to 350°F. Adjust rack in oven middle.

8. Dab a little cold water on top of each round where ropes meet, and put reserved dough balls on top, pressing slightly so that they stick.

Pan de Muerto - decorated with bones and tear drops

9. Bake breads for 18 minutes, then cover loosely with tin foil, and continue baking for another 18 minutes, or until they are golden brown (internal temperature at least 190ºF.)

10. Let breads cool for a few minutes on wire rack. Then brush them all over with melted butter. Holding loaves from the bottom, sprinkle sugar over the top, tilting them slightly to help coat them evenly.

Variation: Use 147 g /5.2 oz whole wheat and only 300 g/10.6 oz all-purpose flour. For the whole wheat, adjust with a little more milk, to keep the dough from getting too dry, it should be slightly sticky.

Delicately orange flavored Pan de Muerto - better enjoy it before you are dead!

Submitted to YeastSpotting and BYOB

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Hier geht's zur deutschen Version dieses Posts

When I asked the best of all husbands what kind of cake he would like for his birthday I was pretty sure that he would wish Sachertorte, as usual (he always orders Wiener Schnitzel when we are in Germany, too.) But with an impish grin he retorted: "SOUR CHERRY PIE!".

In principle there's nothing wrong with that - I love pies - but this is a hot button issue in this house. My late mother-in-law was an excellent cook, and, although, like me, an American by marriage only, she mastered this Anglo-American pastry to perfection.

My first trials at making a pie crust ended the same way as my first efforts to bake muffins. As a German used to mix the heck out of cake batters so that no loose flour or (shudder!) lumps of butter remain, my muffins resembled mini pound cakes and my pie bottoms short crust.

Confronted with my first creation, after slaving away for hours in the kitchen, the love of my life uttered the fateful words: "It's not bad, but not quite right, it's not like my mother's. Her sour cherry pie is Thee Best!"

I swore to myself to do better. At my next trial my crust turned out a little flakier, and I wasn't covered in sweat quite as much, but:

"It's not like my mother's - her crust is really flaky!"

After diligently studying numerous baking books and food magazines I finally managed to produce a buttery pie crust that was neither tough, nor too brittle, and didn't get damaged in transition to the pie pan.

"Not bad," conceded my spouse - but somehow the cherry filling of his mother tasted better! That was the last straw - I'd had it. I swore I would never bake another cherry pie as long as stark ingratitude and unflattering comparisons could be expected in this household.

Not that I didn't try to pry the secret of her cherry pie from my wily Venetian mother-in-law when she was still alive. But she eluded easily all sneaky trials to find out, and direct frontal attacks she parried by claiming old age and forgetfulness.

But birthday is birthday, after all, and I had rashly promised the best of all husbands to fulfill his cake wish (are pies really cakes?)

Every baker knows that too much water makes a pie crust tough, but a drier dough is brittle and difficult to work with. Thanks to Cook's Illustrated's scientific approach, this was no longer a problem for me. Unlike water, the alcohol in their Basic Pie Crust with Vodka has the ability to moisten the dough without encouraging gluten development. (Don't worry, you won't taste the vodka.)

I like my pie crusts a little heartier, and exchange a quarter of the white flour with whole wheat or spelt, or, sometimes, substitute 2 tablespoons of flour with nutmeal.

Unfortunately, fresh sour cherries are hard to find in Maine - my own harvest was still a bit too meager this year. Therefore I use lightly sweetened Morello cherries from a glass.

Our little sour cherry tree had 5 cherries this year!
For the filling I adapted a recipe from William-Sonoma "Pie & Tart", but reduced the sugar content and added some lemon zest.

The pie has a decorative lattice top that is easier to make than it looks. Here you find instructions on how to weave it.

You can prepare the crust using a food processor or stand mixer. But keep in mind: for the food processor the fats have to be ice cold, but for the stand mixer fat at room temperature works best.

Weaving a lattice crust is easier than you think

355 g (2 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour (I exchanged 2 tablespoons flour with toasted almond meal.)
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. sugar
170 g (1 1/2 sticks) cold*) butter, cut in 1/2 cm/1/4" slices
  80 g (1/2 cup) cold*) vegetable shortening, cut in 4 pieces
  1/4 cup/60 ml cold vodka (required, don't substitute)
  1/4 cup/60 ml cold water

*) if you use a mixer instead of a food processors, the fats have to be at room temperature!

65 g sugar
2 tbsp. corn or potato starch
1 pinch salt
750 g pitted sour cherries (glass), drained (reserve 40 ml of the liquid)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2-1 tsp. lemon zest

Instructions for food processor
Briefly pulse 200 g (1 1/2 cups) of the flour with salt and sugar. Add butter and shortening, and process, until uneven clumps (like cottage cheese curds) start to form, and all flour is coated. Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly.

Add remaining flour and pulse 4 - 6 times, until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and has been broken up. Empty mixture into medium bowl.

Instructions for stand mixer:
(Butter and shortening have to be at room temperature.) Briefly mix 2/3 of the flour, salt and sugar at medium-low speed, until combined. Add butter and shortening and mix just until dough forms rough ball around paddle.

Scrape bowl with rubber spatula, and add remaining flour. Mix very briefly at medium-high speed, until dough has just broken up in smaller pieces. Transfer to medium bowl.

Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on mixture until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together.

Divide dough into 2 equal balls and flatten each into 4-inch/10 cm disk. Cover each with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes (or up to 2 days.)

Remove 1 disk from refrigerator and roll out on generously floured work surface to 12-inch/30 cm circle about 1/8-inch/3 mm thick.

Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll into pie plate, leaving at least 1-inch/2.5 cm overhang. Ease dough into plate by gently lifting edge of dough, while pressing into plate bottom with other hand. Refrigerate until dough is firm, ca. 30 minutes (or freeze for 15 minutes.)

For the filling, stir together sugar, starch and salt in a small bowl. Place drained cherries in large bowl. Sprinkle with sugar/starch mixture, and toss around until evenly distributed around cherries.

Add vanilla and reserved cherry juice, stir until well combined. Immediately spoon filling into pie crust, and top with butter pieces. Place in refrigerator.

For the lattice crust roll out second piece of dough in the same way to 12-inch/30 cm circle. Using pizza roller or sharp knife, cut into 16 stripes (1 1/2-inch/2 cm wide). (See here for instructions.)

Place one half of the stripes horizontally across cherry filling (starting with long stripe in the middle).  Fold the 2., 4., 6. and 8. stripe in the middle, and over to the left side. Then place a long stripe vertically in the middle of the pie, (across stripes that are not folded over.) Unfold stripes back, so that they lay over the vertical stripe.

Fold over 1., 3., 5. and 7. stripe to the left. Place another stripe vertically on filling. Unfold stripes back, so that they lay over vertical stripe.

Continue weaving this way, until half of the pie is covered. Then start weaving the other side, folding every other stripe to the right. When the lattice crust is done, shorten overhanging stripes, until the are level with rim of the pie pan.

Put rimmed baking sheet, upside down, in lowest position, and preheat oven to 425ºF/220º C.

Place pie on hot baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350ºF/180ºC  and continue baking for 40 - 50 minutes, until crust is deep golden brown, and filling is bubbling at the rims.

Let pie cool on wire rack.

TIP: To warm up pie, bake for ca. 10 minutes in preheated oven at 350ºF/180ºC. You can also freeze the pie, wrapped in plastic foil, in a zipLock bag.

Cherry Pie - fresh from the oven