Last weekend, I made bread and cheese. The bread is a whole wheat loaf and I tried making a smaller round than usual. I have a large and small Dutch oven and cooked this one in the small one. I used the basic recipe from Tartine Bread cookbook but instead of forming two large loaves I made three rounds. The smaller loaf is better for a two-person household.
The cheese is the second time I’ve used the mild goat milk from local Felton Farms. The curd formation was much better this time, which was due to my paying more attention to stirring in the rennet thoroughly. The curd formed a solid round when previously it formed stringy layers that separated. The taste was the same but the shape of the resulting cheese was smoother this time.
The cheese makes a nice spread on this bread so the two go together well. In the previous batch of cheese, I added minced garlic and integrated into the cheese. I made it and then went on a trip. It was all gone when I returned so I’ll take that as a “thumbs-up.”
Over past year or so, I’ve been baking bread in various ways. I’ve tried moving from making bread once in a while to making bread more regularly, which is to say, I’ve wanted to get in the habit of making bread so that it could become easier to do and the results more predictable. And I hoped to learn more about the whole process. While making any loaf of bread is really not that difficult, the more you do it and the more recipes you try (and some of the mistakes you make along the way), all are important to understanding what you’re doing and acquiring new techniques that yield subtle improvements. So I’ve had a number of bread baking sessions, particularly over the last couple months, gravitating around a series of three books.
The first book, “Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day”, whose title is a bit misleading, has the great virtue of not requiring too much work to produce a loaf of bread. It eliminates kneading from recipes. More importantly, the book encourages you to make a batch of dough and then let it sit in the refrigerator until you are ready to bake it. This allows you to break up bread baking (say that three times) into two separate task: the preparation of the dough, which can be done ahead, and the shaping and baking of a loaf, which be done in an hour or so when you want to eat bread. I could prepare the dough on the weekend, and then let it sit in the refrigerator until a night when I wanted to bake bread for dinner. Otherwise, bread baking is an activity that requires you to be around all day.
This book has an appealingly “revolutionary” promise that it is changing the way you can bake bread. There is some sense that the authors have figured out which common practices are unnecessary such proofing yeast and kneading the dough. However, there’s still plenty of techniques to master and get good at. One challenge I had was, prior to baking, moving a loaf from a pizza peel to a hot baking stone in the oven. Corn meal is used on the pizza peel to make it easy to shake the loaf off on to the baking stone but I would nonetheless find that there was some sticky part of the loaf clinging to the peel. At this critical stage, you can disturb the shape of the loaf.
The “5 minutes a day” bread recipes were reliable and the loaves had good flavor. I did find the bread to be dense. Sometimes the loaves didn’t rise as much as I expected, resulting in a flattened, round loaf.
The second book I began using was “Essentials of Baking by Williams-Sonoma”. (The book just happened to be in our house, and had been mainly used for its cake recipes.) I got interested in the book’s sourdough recipe. I acquired a small batch of starter from a friend of a friend and started feeding it regularly. Then I was ready to try my first recipe, using the leaven instead of store-bought dry yeast.
The one technique I learned from this sourdough recipe was forming a loaf and letting it sit in a towel-lined basket for the final rise. This helps the loaf keeps its round shape. When the final rise was completed, I’d flip the loaf on to the pizza peel and then into the oven. I baked these loaves on a baking stone, as I did the previous loaves from the “Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day” book.
The issue with using starter is that the process takes longer than a day to make bread. First, I need to start the sponge, adding flour and water to a portion of the starter and letting it sit overnight. Then I start the dough, adding the bulk of the flour to the sponge and kneading it for 5 minutes. Then I let it sit overnight (6-8 hours) for the first rise. (I could do it all on a Sunday, after making the sponge the night before, but I had to get up early to make it all work.) Then I form the loaf, putting it in the basket and letting it rise 2-4 hours. (If I wanted to do it in a single day, I used the shorter time.)
Baking the bread in our oven, I found I had to decrease the heat from 450 to 425 and shorten the duration from 50 minutes to 40 minutes. I really liked the recipe and the bread was always delicious. As sourdough, the loaf has more flavor. Again, maybe a little dense but a good crust and crumb. I used this recipe to make bread for our Christmas dinner, pictured below.
At Christmas, I self-gifted a present of a new bread book, “Tartine Bread,” which is a beautifully designed book with lots of photos. I’ve spent the last month trying to learn its techniques for making a sourdough country loaf. While the basic Tartine recipe differs from the Williams-Sonoma loaf, doing the other recipe was good preparation for learning this recipe, which is more complex and much more hands-on. Time-wise, it’s about the same to make, but I’ve found it easier to do in one day, as long as I start the sponge the night before.
The Tartine bread process is centered on developing the starter, not allowing it to get too sour. I learned a lot about the starter culture from this book, and I can’t help but be amazed by how a tablespoon of starter activates the flour and water overnight.
“When making bread with nothing more than flour, water and salt, aspiring bakers should apply their attention to learning how to control the process of fermentation.”
Another advantage of the Tartine book was its reliance on adding ingredients by weight. Once you get used to it, weighing ingredients seems smart and you can compare recipes more easily. I have a book on bread ovens, The Bread Builders by Daniel Wing and Alan Scott that introduced me to measurement by weight.
The dough produced by the Tartine bread recipe is wet, much wetter than the two other recipes. Wet means sticky. Sticky means it gets on your hands and doesn’t want to come off. However, I think I enjoyed making the Tartine bread because of the ways that you do use your hands to mix and work the dough, although the recipe is technically a no-knead method. The problem I faced with the first few loafs was shaping the dough into rounds. There are some techniques in doing it right and it’s a little hard to see it from the pictures. However, once the loaf comes together, with just enough flour to remove the tackiness, it’s a pretty sweet feeling all around — a light, puffy loaf that seems much different than the dough you’ve been working with.
In the Tartine recipe, the bread is baked in a dutch oven at 500 degrees (dropped down to 450). The main benefit is that the dutch oven holds moisture and steams the bread so that it rises nicely. After twenty minutes, the top of the dutch oven is removed and the bread bakes for another 25 minutes and develops its deeply colored crust.
In 2006, the NY Times published Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread recipe, which I read at the time and tried. I recalled using the dutch oven before, but until I started writing this post, I had forgotten about it. The Lahey recipe shares many aspects of the above recipes.
I’ve really enjoyed the bread I’ve made with the Tartine recipe, and it is a much different bread to eat in terms of its texture and crust. I thought it took following the recipe about five times before I felt pretty comfortable with each of the steps. The photographs in the book are great but even they don’t provide all the information you need. I’ve served the bread at several meals and everyone is pretty surprised that it’s homemade.
One final reason to like the “Tartine Bread” book is that it conveys a love of bread baking and goes into a lot more detail explaining how and why its basic recipe work. You aren’t just following the directions; you are exploring and learning and maybe getting in over your head. Yes, it does take a full day to make this bread but the warm loaf at the end is the reward.
I’ve created a slideshow of the steps I followed, after having already made and added the starter:
I got started on the end of summer tasks such as canning and pickling over Labor Day. I also baked a loaf of sourdough bread from a starter I’d been nursing for weeks. I was particularly pleased to get the first batch of tomatoes canned. The tomatoes are coming in late this year. I also made a batch of fresh chevre. Since I had the tomato sauce on the stove, I made a delicious tomato soup, adding fresh corn and chives.
It’s kind of a triple play for the kitchen — pickling, canning and baking.
Persimmons are the last fruit of the season, coming late in the fall and staying around through December. The trees lose their leaves but the fruit remains on the branches, hanging like ornaments. We are fortunate to have two kinds of persimmon trees, the Fuyu (left below) and the Hachiya (right below).
The acorn-shaped Hachiya is so astringent that it cannot be used until it is ripe and softened. I have not started using ours yet.
The Fuyu can be eaten directly from the tree. Dice a persimmon as a salad topping, which is especially nice when mixed with pomegranate seeds. However, like many fruit, you simply have too many of them, if you have your own supply.
I made a holiday bread substituting persimmons for candied fruit. I don’t like anything about candied fruit and I had fresh persimmons.
I modified a recipe for Bara Brith, a Welsh “speckled bread” that uses currants and golden raisins. It’s in the family of fruit cakes but I think it’s more like raisin bread. I found the basic recipe in Bernard Clayton’s “New Complete Book of Breads.” There are versions online that use self-rising flour and no yeast. Mine had yeast but it was slow to rise. In fact, I thought the recipe had failed.
In a mixing bowl, add a cup of flour, a teaspoon of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 cup of sugar and one packet of dry yeast. In a pan, warm a half-cup of milk and 1-1/2 tablespoons of margerine. Then, after removing the pan from the heat, add two eggs to the liquid and stir. Add the liquid into the flour and begin beating with a mixer — I used the dough hooks. Add up to another cup and a half of flour and knead for ten minutes. The dough is a tan color and seemingly dense, a bit like taffy.
Set aside the dough in a greased bowl and cover it. Let the dough rise for at least an hour. I allowed two hours because I didn’t see much change. It was a cold and rainy day outside. In writing up this recipe, I found this account on the Food Glorious Food blog of a similar experience. Next time, I plan to try adding the yeast to the warm milk and letting it proof.
While the dough is rising, put a cup of diced persimmons and a half-cup of golden raisins in a bowl to soak in a half-cup of apple brandy (or sherry). Let them sit while the dough is rising.
Turn out the dough on a floured surface and knead for a few minutes. Now it’s time to mix in the fruit. (The Clayton recipe called for 1/2 cup of candied fruit but I omitted it.) The persimmons and raisins had been soaking in brandy for a couple hours. I drained off the remaining brandy and began working them into the dough, which is not easy. It really does seem as though there is too much fruit for the size of loaf. I wondered if the recipe underestimated the amount of dough to use.
I did not plan to use a loaf pan but instead hand-shaped the loaf. Now the loaf is set aside to rise again for about an hour. I had the same problem — that it didn’t seem to rise much. And I was nearing a deadline when I was having to leave the kitchen. Thinking the room was cold, I slid the loaf into the oven. Unfortunately, I went out for the evening and did not get back that evening in time to bake the loaf. So it sat overnight in the oven. When I removed it, the loaf had maybe tripled in size. Finally, it seemed to be alive, in the bread sense.
I reshaped the loaf and let it sit out while I pre-heated the oven to 350 degrees. I cut a slash down the top of the loaf before putting it in the oven. When I took it out a half-hour later, it looked and smelled wonderful. I could hardly wait to taste it — such that I didn’t get a good photograph of the untouched loaf.
My wife thought this bread was outstanding. I was amazed that Bara Brith had such a deep brown crust, almost as though I had glazed it. the bread was lighter than I thought it would be. The persimmons were a nice subsitute, adding an unusual color. I could taste both the sweet persimmon flavor and a bit of the brandy but none was overpowering.
For Christmas, I’m going to follow a James Beard recipe (from David Lebovitz’s site) for making persimmon bread from a puree of ripe Hachiya persimmons.
Next up: Drying Persimmons
We had eighteen people for Thanksgiving — a big feast for family and friends. It’s a lot of work to organize and prepare but then the dinner goes by so fast. It’s wonderful having everyone together, year after year.
I wanted to write down the menu for my own keeping.
Cheese — I made a crottin-style cheese from goat milk but this turned out more like a brie. Very tasty. Others brought cheese as well. I also put out this year’s quince paste with manchego cheese.
I warmed mini-sausage links in a homemade chili catsup.
Hard cider. The first batch of hard cider was on tap. It has a distinctive sweet-sour taste, which everyone enjoyed.
Turkey. The featured dish, of course, was an eighteen-pound organic Willie Bird Turkey cooked outside in the Big Green Egg. I did not brine the bird but applied a herb-salt rub and filled it with cornbread stuffing. The turkey took about five hours to cook at 275-300 degrees. I ended up deciding by time over temperature, which is not necessarily a good thing. The temperature gauge was reading 150 but I felt it was done. (The suggested reading is 170-190.) I let the turkey sit for twenty minutes before removing the stuffing and starting to carve. It was done perfectly — the white breast meat was very moist.
Kiwi-rye stuffing (vegetarian). A week earlier we bought kiwis at a farmer’s market in Davis, and they had a recipe for dressing. Nancy made this dressing, adding apples and diced rye bread, left over from a loaf I made earlier in the week.
Cornbread stuffing (cooked w/ bird). This was a simple stuffing, made from prepared bread crumbs. I added fennel, sprigs of rosemary and sage leaves.
Kale. I picked literally all the kale in my garden and prepared it. I braised it in batches and then put in a casserole with sauteed mushrooms and topped with romano cheese. I kept it warm in the oven. Kale is good in that you don’t have to treat it delicately like spinach.
Green beans. My own green beans are gone (except for a few that I pickled and canned). I braised several pounds of green beans and served them very plainly.
Corn pudding. A tribute to Southern cooking, I made this corn pudding with frozen corn and diced peppers from the garden. I thought the dish turned out well.
Roasted julienned parsnips and carrots. I love parsnips, and along with the kale are the new dishes this year. I found a hand-tool for making julienne strips. I ended up with very thin strips of carrots and parsnips, over which I drizzled oil and sprinkled salt and pepper. I roasted them in the oven, flipping them over to get them to dry out a bit. Everyone liked them, as they are kind of crunchy like fries or chips but have a lot more flavor.
Purple mashed potatoes. I had saved purple potatoes from the summer. I made mashed potatoes but I didn’t have enough of just purple potatoes so I made both white and purple variations.
Buttermilk mashed potatoes. I bought a five-pound bag of potatoes and mashed them with buttermilk and threw in diced chives from the garden. I like the slightly sour taste that buttermilk adds.
Hubbard squash. I had three hubbard squash from the garden. I cut them in half and baked them and then cut them into cubes. I made this the night before and heated the squash in a casserole, adding a little bit of butter and sprinkled cinammon on top.
Little Lemon Biscuits. This recipe comes from Deborah Madison’s “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.” Glenda helped me make these light, yeasted biscuits. They didn’t rise as much as I’d like but they were good.
Cranberry sauce. Making your own cranberry sauce from a bag of cranberries couldn’t be easier. The result is more flavorful than canned, and you can vary the ratio of sweet to sour.
Salad. The salad was greenleaf lettuce cut into strips (Argentine-style) with diced persimmons, pomegranate, and fennel root, which are ripe in the garden now.
Ben solved the problem of too much food by stacking in layers.
Apple Pies. Nancy made two apple pies from the apples in our orchard. She threw in a couple of slices of quince, which I could taste. She made these pies in advance and froze them.
Pumpkin Pies. Glenda made two pumpkin pies and served them with whipped cream.
I should mention that we had such beautiful weather. We spent some time outside and got a nice group photo of everyone.
We have a lot to be grateful for, but especially for the leftovers.