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