Thursday, April 24, 2014

Baking Brioche and Cheater Bostock

Last weekend, in my continued adventures with baking with a bread starter, I attempted a recipe from Chad Robertson's Tartine Book No. 3 for golden brioche. "This is a very forgiving dough" he promises. But not simple. It calls for three forms of yeast: the starter or leaven, an overnight poolish (a sponge inoculated with a small amount of instant yeast), and some instant yeast added at the time of mixing. It also calls for flour from kamult, an ancient grain that is a relative of durum wheat; I substituted in Red Fife. Most importantly, it calls for an ingredient almost impossible to procure in our modern world: uninterrupted time. I tried to attend to my dough's various needs for risings, turnings, and shaping, but it was given short shrift to dance lessons, karate birthday parties, and soccer games. By the end of a long day, the dough had not reached its growth milestones, but I needed to stick it in the oven, just as I needed to send over-exhausted and sugar-ramped children to bed despite the unlikelihood of their falling asleep. Bread baking, I decided, is not unlike parenting and one can only do one's best.

The resulting bread was decided more squat than the lofty brioche loaves pictured in Robertson's book, but it had a beautiful crumb and delicious flavor. I was excited to try it in the recipe on the next page for Bostock, which Robertson explains is simply "twice-baked brioche." It looked easy enough when I scanned the recipe (making a mental note not to trim the crusts as instructed, because discarding even a millimeter of my hard labor would be too painful). But when I began to assemble the ingredients, my heart sank. Not only would I need to make an orange syrup, to be layered underneath marmalade and sliced almonds, but I'd failed to notice the additional ingredient of "Pistachio Frangipane (page 325)." Leaven and polish had been asking a lot, but this was the last straw. Instead, I simply slathered a brioche slice with apricot marmalade, sprinkled on some sliced almonds, and stuck it in the toaster oven. It was scrumptious. And so, below I give you the recipe for Cheater Bostock, made with brioche that you can bake or procure by whatever means possible, because unlimited time is even harder to source than ancient grains.

Cheater Bostock
slices of brioche
orange marmalade or apricot jam
sliced almonds

Slather your brioche with orange marmalade or apricot jam, sprinkle with sliced almonds, and toast in a toaster oven until the almonds are golden and fragrant. Enjoy and savor your free time.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Bread Starter Waffles

Like a microbial cultural anthropologist, I've continued to try to study the habits of my bread starter. And like my co-instructors, I've been wondering what to do with all the leftover starter generated by a regular regimen of diluting my culture into fresh flour paste. Great minds think alike and so, like them, I resorted to breakfast fare; in their cases pancakes of one kind and another, in my case waffles. I started with a sourdough waffles recipe from King Arthur Flour, which I melded with these yeasted buckwheat waffles from Deborah Madison. The dough made with the starter had significantly more integrity than those I had made with an overnight sponge from commercial yeast, and the waffles had a more complex, tangy taste that paired nicely with tart, stewed rhubarb and fresh strawberries. I'm thinking that it might work well to keep my culture growing slowly in the refrigerator during the week and revive it on the weekends for bouts of bread baking and breakfasts. The microbes in my culture are likely studying me as well and learning to understand the habits of their human cohabitants who dash out of the house five mornings a week and lounge around the other two.

Bread Starter Buckwheat Waffles
(makes about 6 waffles in a Belgian waffle iron)
overnight sponge
1 cup sourdough starter, unfed
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup buckwheat flour
1 tablespoon honey
2 cups buttermilk

waffle or pancake batter
all of the overnight sponge
2 large eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil or melted butter
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

1. To make the overnight sponge, stir down your refrigerated starter, and remove 1 cup. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the 1 cup starter, flour, honey, and buttermilk. Cover and let rest at room temperature overnight.

2. The next morning, finish the bater. In a small bowl or mixing cup, beat together the eggs, and oil or butter. Add to the overnight sponge. Add the salt and baking soda, stirring to combine. The batter will bubble.

3. Pour batter onto your preheated, greased waffle iron, and bake according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Serving suggestion: a dollop of plain yogurt, a drizzle of stewed rhubarb, fresh strawberries, and maple syrup.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Marbled Tea Eggs

This year for Easter, in addition to our regular colored eggs (including these sauerkraut soaked beauties), we made some Chinese marbled tea eggs.

When we visited China last fall, I was struck by the ubiquitous displays of various eggs, like these in Tong-Li.

To make these marbled eggs, the strategy is to cook them, then crack them all over,

and then soak them in a delicious brew of tea, soy sauce, star anise, cinnamon, sugar, and Szechuan pepper corns. We followed a recipe from Steamy Kitchen.

The resulting eggs have a beautiful marbled pattern. The prettiest part are the shells. We ate these in a pan-Asian hodgepodge of kimchi fried rice and a kinpira made with rutabaga and carrots. A tasty and fun way to celebrate the return of spring.

Marbled Tea Eggs 
6 eggs
3/4 cup soy sauce
2 star anise
2 tablespoons black tea (or 2 tea bags)
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorn (optional)
2 strips dried tangerine or mandarin orange peel (optional)

Gently place the eggs in a medium pot and fill with water to cover the eggs by 1-inch. Bring the pot to a boil, lower the heat and let simmer for 3 minutes. Remove the eggs (leaving the water in the pot) and let cool under running cool water. Using the back of a teaspoon, gently tap the eggshell to crack the shell all over. The more you tap, the more intricate the design. Do this with a delicate hand to keep the shell intact. To the same pot with the boiling water, return the eggs and add in the remaining ingredients. Bring the mixture to a boil and immediately turn the heat to low. Simmer for 40 minutes, cover with lid and let eggs steep for a few hours to overnight. The longer you steep, the more flavorful and deeply marbled the tea eggs will be. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Bread Starter

Teaching is the best way to learn, and this term I have the great pleasure of teaching a class on the science of bread, which I hope will make me more knowledgeable not only about the theory but also the practice of bread making. This breakfast spread of fresh breads at a recent conference in Germany offered further inspiration for bread baking.

And so, along with my students, I have been tackling the challenge of cultivating and nurturing a bread starter, following the detailed instructions from Chad Robertson’s new book on whole grain baking, Tartine Book 3.

The process involves a certain degree of precision (flour and water doled out in grams) and a great deal of chance, as one hopes for wild yeast and lactic acid bacteria to alight in one’s bowl and set up shop fermenting the complex polysaccharides of the grains. 

Magically my flour paste started to produce bubbles after a day (can one fault the proponents of spontaneous generation?)

Rather than leave it all to chance, I took my starter out for a bit of wild yeast hunting at Noisette Pastry KitchenI can't be sure whether this inoculation helped along the starter, but over a matter of days, I had an actively bubbling culture with a somewhat pleasant yogurt smell. 

How is it it that time and again, when people offer up a flour paste to the air, they are able to produce a leavening for bread? What we consider as the generous efforts of yeast and lactic acid bacteria to aerate our bread and fill it with delicious flavors, is, from a microbial perspective, quite antisocial behavior. The yeast strains that humans have selected over our history for their utility in bread, wine, and beer making, are unusual among microbes in their metabolic choices. When confronted with an abundance of simple sugars and plenty of oxygen with which to burn this fuel through aerobic respiration, Saccharomyces cerevisiae instead chooses to gobble these up in the sloppy and wasteful process of fermentation. Their voracious devouring of resources, spewing fermentation products in the process, inhibits the growth of other microbes who are outcompeted and repulsed by the yeasts' greedy and sloppy eating habits. Only the like-minded lactic acid producing bacteria will set up shop with the yeast, using a similar wasteful fermentation strategy once oxygen is depleted from the environment. And thus bread starters, although possessing individual nuanced flavors, are remarkably similar in their composition of microbial boors, who can produce the most refined breads.

Stay tuned for experiments with baking with this starter. And you can read more about my co-teachers' adventures with starters here and here.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Barley Flake Porridge

At a recent visit to Camas Country Mill, I picked up a bag of their streaker barley flakes. This barley variety, developed through a barley breeding project at OSU, gets its name because it is naked, or hull-less. From its local seed selection, to its production on the Huntons' farm, and processing at Grain Millers, this is a local product.

I tried these barley flakes in lieu of Scottish oats in my favorite weekday porridge with teff grain and flax seeds. These flakes need a little less liquid and they keep their shape more than oat flakes, resulting in a deliciously hefty and satisfying breakfast. 

Barley Flake Porridge
(1 serving)
1 tsp butter or coconut oil
1 scan Tbsp teff grain (or chia seeds)
1 scan Tbsp flax seeds
1/4 cup barley flakes
generous pinch of salt
2/3 cup boiling water
1/4 cup cow or almond milk

The evening before, boil a kettle with 2/3 cup water and set a small saucepan over medium heat. In a 1/3 cup measuring cup, sprinkle in the teff grain and flax seed (you can eyeball these) and fill to the top with barley flakes. Melt the butter or coconut oil in the pan, add the grains and salt, and cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes until they give off a nice toasted aroma and the seeds begin to pop. Turn off the heat. Carefully add the hot water (it will splatter), stir, and cover. The next morning, add about 1/4 cup milk, and cook, stirring frequently, until the porridge has reached the desired thickness (about 5 minutes). Serve with nuts, dried or fresh fruit, and a sprinkle of brown sugar or maple syrup.

For a more leisurely morning meal, this can of course be prepared all at once. The grains will need about 15 to 20 minutes to cook.