breaking bread

baked loavesHave you ever wanted success so badly that you were certain failure wasn’t even a remote possibility? I was on cloud nine all last week thinking about my upcoming weekend bread baking project. Dreams of freshly baked sourdough loaves coming from my oven wiped all traces of pessimism from my mind. I had visions of myself delivering delicious, rustic loaves of bread to family and friends. Bread nirvana was in my future.

Little did I know that I was in for a huge slice of humble pie.

Saturday morning started out with promise. I re-activated my starter. Remember the starter? Measure 13.85 ounces of starter and discard the remainder. Add the feeder mixture (1 cup water and 1 cup flour) to the 13.85 ounces of starter and mix well. Let the mixture sit out for about 6 hours. It should look nice and bubbly. My starter was still alive!

active starter

With my starter alive and happy I moved on to make the dough. In a stand-mixer I combined:
200g starter
600g flour
14oz water

I mixed on low until everything was incorporated and let it rest for 40 minutes so that the flour could absorb the water. Then I added 10 grams of fleur de sel and mixed with the dough hook on low for about 5-6 minutes.
mixed dough

The dough needed to rest for about an hour, covered with a kitchen towel. After the hour passed, I began folding the dough.
dough folding I let it rest for an additional hour and then repeated the folding.

Up to this point, things were going well. I covered the dough (which was warm to the touch) with plastic wrap and placed the dough in the refrigerator with the hope that it would double in size in the next 12-24 hours. However, after 12 hours there was no change in the size of the dough and I was very concerned. I removed the dough from the refrigerator and started to knead it gently, hoping to warm it up and rally the yeast. I placed it back in the bowl and covered it with a towel by the heater. After a few hours passed my dough continued to rebel. It would not rise.

If dough doesn’t rise, what are you left with? And after all that hard work… I was frustrated and disappointed. I desperately needed a pep-talk. I called Bee. Who else could I call at 8am on a Sunday morning about dough failing to rise? She insisted that hope was not lost.

So, I got back in the saddle and shaped my little loaves. They looked so sad.
dough loaves They wanted to sleep in on a Sunday morning and I was begging them to wake up. Rise and shine already! I prayed for a miracle. But no, divine intervention was not on the schedule for me or my loaves. I was left with flat bread. Oh, the irony of this as Passover quickly approaches!

loaves final

As with all things in life, there is a silver lining to be shared. The loaves smelled terrific. I wish I could have captured the smell of the baking bread. And although they were too chewy and dense for a true sourdough loaf, the taste was spot on. I’m not sure what went wrong but I suspect that the problem was the refrigeration. Any suggestions? Feel free to leave me a comment with any tips or tricks. I’m going to continue to experiment with my starter again next weekend. Until then, I’ll dream of freshly baked loaves of sourdough all week long. Yes, I see bread nirvana in my future!

XOXO, Em

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march madness? starter madness!!!

main starter pictureMy New Year’s Resolution this year is to create a loaf of bread each month. This naturally resurfaced a long-time curiosity of creating a starter. I began my research and found the variations to be great. One recipe claimed their starter to be ready in just 3 days while another recipe said starters need 15 days to mature. Some starters used fruit while others did not. My research provided a decent amount of “how to” (even if it did vary) but much of the information was uber-scientific and didn’t provide pictures or further explanations of how to know if things were going right. I assumed that if I was still left with more questions than answers, other people probably felt similarly. I decided to keep a journal while I tended to my starter. Here is the result:

Starter Journal I’ve wanted to start a starter for a while and finally decided to just do it already. What’s the big deal, right? There are plenty of starter recipes out there on the web but I want to create my own concoction and see what happens. If this seems a bit cocky, you are right. But I’m not boasting that my starter will start. I’ve never done this before. This is science! I’ve read a few cook books and blogs to try to wrap my mind around the process. I thought about following the Bread Baker’s Guild Guidelines since it seems so darn official. In the end, my rebellious nature wins. I’ve decided to just wing it. Is that even possible in baking? We are going to find out.

Collage1Day 1) 7:15pm
Ingredients
1/2 cup organic Braeburn grated apple
1 and 1/2 cup flour
1 and 1/3 cup room temperature bottled water
1/2 tablespoon honey
Mix the ingredients in a stainless steel bowl. Place bowl on top of fridge with a piece of wax paper or parchment paper loosely on top of bowl. I’m keeping the mixture on top of the fridge for several reasons. One, it is out of range from my pup. Inquiring noses know no boundaries! Two, it’s a teeny bit warmer on the fridge. I need the mixture to rest in a temperature of about 71 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit. And three, it’s out of the way.

Day 2) Resist all urges to check on my little starter. Starter must sleep and rest!

foamy starterfoamy starter with feederDay 3) Observations: Hmmm…. bubbling and foamy. It’s alive alright. But oh my stars does that smell horrible!? The most awful and irrational thoughts cross my mind. What if I die of botulism? How long can I hold my breath for? Is it supposed to smell this rancid? I’m going to be sick from this stench! Why did Lucy (my dog) leave the kitchen? Does she know this thing is lethal? Should I really be feeding this monster?? Yes, we need to feed the beast. Our daily feeder is a mixture of 1 cup flour and 1 cup room temperature filtered or bottled water. First things first… I need to whisk the “mother starter” so that the watery gross mixture looks somewhat normal. Second, I need to mix the flour and water mixture (the feeder) in a separate bowl. The last step is to add the feeder to the mother starter. The good news? The feeder dilutes the mother starter a little and absorbs some of the rancid smell. Now I let it sit for another day.

mother starter with liquid separationDay 4) I’m still observing a weird separation of liquid layer on top of mixture and it smells fierce. Now I need to reduce the starter by half. Using a food scale, measure your mother starter. Discard half of the mixture. Feed the remaining half of the mother starter with the daily feeder mixture (one cup flour and one cup room temp water). Mix and let it sit for 2-3 hours. Cover with loose wax paper and put in fridge. Note: half of my starter is about 13.8 ounces (not including the bowl).

Day 5) Wine at happy hour turned into cocktails and then into a very later dinner. Suddenly, it’s 11pm and my starter hasn’t been fed. Don’t judge me! Anyway I did the routine… reduce by 1/2 and feed. The starter still needs to sit out for a few hours so I set my alarm to wake up and put it in the fridge. Gosh this thing is needy!

Day 6) Hmmm. I’m still observing the watery layer on top. Is my starter ever going to start? And how will I know if it does? Am I just wasting flour and time? On a positive note, I think the grated apple has finally disintegrated! Yay, for one small victory!

Day 7) Normal feeding.

Day 8) The starter seems to be coming together a bit. Very exciting. I feel like we have turned a corner. The watery layer on top is much reduced. Hooray!

Day 9) Disaster has struck in my kitchen. Part of my starter is frozen. This is terrible and I’m not sure what happened to the fridge. It’s not frozen solid, just part of the top. I’m going to separate it out. Will report back.
Okay. I’m back. I was able to weigh out about 13.6 ounces of non frozen starter so I’m going to use it. It’s been fed and needs to sit out for 2 hours. After all my hard work I hope it can be saved.

Day 10… Day 11… Normal feedings. Drama free, thank goodness.

Day 12) The daily feedings are going well. Perhaps it’s recovered from the day 9 disaster.

Day 13… Day 14… Normal feedings.

final starterDay 15) This is the final daily feeding for the mother starter. I tested the pH levels and on the acidic scale level it’s about a 4 or 4.5 which is right where it should be. I’ve read that at this point I can cut back the feedings to once a week. Is it possible that I’ve created a wild dough? I’ll test it out and let you know!

So there you have it – the ramblings of a woman on a mission to create wild dough. The process certainly had it’s highs and lows. I’m not even sure if the starter will start but I do have hope. After the diligence of daily feedings I’m going to keep my mother starter in the fridge to be dormant for a few days. I think I need a break from it. When I’m ready to use the starter, it will need to be reactivated and I’ll explain that process in another post. I’ll keep you posted for my first trial of sour dough loaves. Have a great week!

XOXO, Em

macrina’s guatemalan hot chocolate bread

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I truly believe that bread baking is equal parts magical and maternal. Perhaps it’s because I’m making the yeast come alive… letting it grow up… kneading it gently… giving it space to proof and then baking it to create the loaf. Poof! And then you have bread! The whole process from start to finish is a bit of holding my breath and wondering if I’m doing everything right? Sound like parenting?

Baking bread is a perfect project for two. There is a lot of waiting and a friend always helps speed time along. And tea. Get ready to consume copious amounts of tea while chatting about weekend plans, husbands, current book club books, etc. Bee and I couldn’t help ourselves to peek in on the proofing loaf throughout the waiting period. We told the little loaf to “grow up big and strong.” I found myself whispering and tiptoeing around while the little baby loaf was proofing. So much can go wrong but then again, so much can go right. And having a great recipe always helps!

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This recipe is from one of our favorite Seattle bakeries, Macrina. If you’re local to Seattle then you probably know this bakery well. If you’re not familiar with the name – I’m sorry to inform you but you are missing out! The bakery has two locations. I’m a bit partial to the Belltown location because it’s the spot where I first tasted their rustic baguette with butter. So simple but so good. God help me if I ever develop a gluten intolerance. I love carbs but I especially love bread. And I love toast. Toast! So it’s no wonder how this amazing recipe is finding it’s way on to our blog. The Macrina cookbook is phenomenal for anyone who has the desire to create lovely bread loafs as well as other delicious treats from the bakery. My copy was a gift from a colleague who understands my passion for baking. She bought it at the bakery but you can also purchase it on Amazon. We’ve made a few minor adjustments to the recipe so for the real deal you’ll need the book.

Copyright 2003 by Leslie Mackie, all rights reserved excerpted from Macrina Bakery & Cafe Cookbook by permission of Sasquatch Books

Copyright 2003 by Leslie Mackie, all rights reserved excerpted from Macrina Bakery & Cafe Cookbook by permission of Sasquatch Books.

Yields 1 round loaf

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup whole almonds
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons dried yeast
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup dark cocoa powder, sifted
  • 2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate (we used a 70% cocoa bar)
  • Cinnamon, sugar, brown sugar
  • Spray bottle of water

Cut butter into dime-sized pieces and set aside to reach room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350* F. Place almonds on a rimmed baking sheet and toast for 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Set aside to cool.

Warm milk slightly in a small saucepan and pour into bowl of stand mixer. Add yeast, 1 tablespoon of the sugar, and vanilla extract. Whisk to dissolve yeast. Then let the mixture rest for about 5 minutes while yeast blooms. Foam should form around the edges of the mixture and it should puff up a bit.

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Add remaining sugar, almond extract, eggs, cocoa powder, flour, and salt. Using the hook attachment, mix on low speed for about 2 minutes to bring ingredients together. Increase the speed to medium-low and start to slowly add butter to dough. Continue mixing for 12-14 minutes. Dough should look satiny and stringy. Let dough rest for 5 minutes.

While dough is resting, coarsely chop bittersweet chocolate and cooled almonds. Add almonds and bittersweet chocolate to dough and mix on low to incorporate.

Macrina Bread Collage_Chopping

Remove dough from bowl on to a lightly floured work surface. Shape into a ball. Place dough into a lightly oiled, medium sized bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and towel. Let proof in warm room p, 70 to 75*F, for 2 hours. Tell your baby loaf to grow up big and strong! Dough will almost double in size!

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Remove cover and return dough to floured surface. Gently flatten the dough to work out air bubbles. Then pull the edges of the dough to the top. Continue to work the edges to the center, top of the dough until a compact ball of dough is formed. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover with plastic wrap and towel. Let dough proof for an hour.

While loaf is proofing, preheat oven to 350*F.

This is a good time to make a cinnamon-sugar mixture. Take a 1/4 cup measuring cup and fill half way with light brown sugar. Then fill the remaining space with granulated sugar. Put sugars in small bowl. Add cinnamon to taste. Mix with fork.

Remove cover and mist loaf with spray bottle of water. Sprinkle cinnamon-sugar mixture on to loaf. Place baking sheet onto center rack in oven and bake for 45 minutes or until loaf is rich brown and sounds hallow when tapped on the bottom. Let cool on a wire rack.

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End result? This loaf is guaranteed to disappear from your cupboard. It’s sweet but not over the top. And it’s especially delicious when toasted, buttered and sprinkled with the remaining cinnamon-sugar mixture on top. You’ll never think of skipping breakfast again!

celebrate mardi gras with a homemade king cake

slice

I did not know what a King Cake was until last year, when I arrived in the States and decided to have a little Mardi Gras party. I basically had the drink part covered. Having spent some time in New Orleans I knew that Hurricanes and Bloody Marys would be part of the feast. But as far as the food was concerned I wanted to be authentic while avoiding fried nibbles. I guess I’m just not a Southern girl… Adieu, beignets and fried oysters, bonjour gumbo. My husband, who is from Louisiana, has mastered the art of authentic gumbo (but that will be for another post). It’s actually one of the five dishes he can make. Yes, five. The man thinks he can’t cook even though he makes a mean gumbo. Don’t ask…

Now that the main course was under control, we needed to figure out the dessert, because what is a party without a dessert? Again my husband, being faithful to his Louisianan roots, suggested making a king cake. Challenge accepted!

In France we also have king cakes (“galette des rois”) that we traditionally eat on the Epiphany. Depending on where you are in France, North or South, your king cake will either be a puff pastry layers with generally an almond filling (frangipane) or a brioche garnished with candied fruits, the latter being very similar to the New Orleans version. I put a lot of work and effort into the baking process, reading and comparing dozens of recipes, trying to find the right one. A difficult task when you’ve never tasted it before…

kingcake_slice

All in all, the king cake turned out well. My husband was smitten with the result, but, to be honest, I found it pretty underwhelming. I was hoping for something similar to the texture of a brioche – moist, soft and buttery – and ended with something bread-like – rather plain (despite the cinnamon filling) and on the dry side. Em and I took this into account while making this batch and decided to integrate cake flour. I used to be skeptical about it. What can it make that all-purpose flour can’t? Why should I pay a couple of extra dollars for it? For years I simply ignored it, but, to be fair, it really makes a difference. Cake flour is made of softer grains containing less gluten than all-purpose flour, therefore giving more tenderness to your cake.

In the name of science, Em and I also decided to bake a plain cake and a cinnamon-filled one, which is said to be more traditional.

kingcake_slice2

yields 2 king cakes, 1 plain and 1 cinnamon-filled

Ingredients

For the dough

  • 2 (1 1/4-oz.) packages dry active yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm milk
  • 3 1/4 cup bread flour
  • 2 tablespoon honey
  • 1 1/2 cup cake flour
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolk
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 plastic baby trinkets (optional; see below)

For the cinnamon filling (double quantities if you want to make 2 cinnamon-filled cakes)

  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 4 tablespoons of melted butter

For the egg wash

  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon milk

For the icing

  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 2 tablespoons agave syrup
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • purple, green and gold sparkling sugar

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the yeast with the warm milk and whisk until dissolved. We used whole milk and noticed that the yeast became clumpy. We had never seen that before and started to think we might have done something wrong. Not a good sign for the rest of our recipe… After doing a quick Google search we learned that milk fat can prevent water from entering and dissolving the yeast. If you come across the same problem, just keep whisking the yeast every few minutes until it dissolves and starts bubbling.

Add 3/4 cup of bread flour and the honey and mix on low speed using the paddle attachment for about 1 minute, until the preparation is smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in volume, about 25 minutes.

Add 1 1/2 cup of the remaining bread flour, the cake flour, eggs, egg yolks, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and almond extracts, and salt. Mix on low speed until combined. Switch to a dough hook and beat until smooth for about 2 minutes. Increase the speed to medium and begin adding the stick of butter 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing well between additions. Continue to knead until a soft dough forms. If necessary, add up to 1/3 cup of the reserved bread flour using a spoon.

Grease a large bowl with some of the remaining butter and place the dough into it, turning it so that all of the surface area is coated with butter. Cover the bowl with a plastic wrap and a hand towel and place it in a warm, draft-free area until the dough has doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Yes, for an hour we became dough-whisperers. I like to think that it’s like taking care of plants: It’s said that the more you talk to them, the better they grow. Yeast is a living organism after all; there’s nothing crazy about talking to it: “Rise, little prince, to become a king someday…”

dough

If you decide to make a cinnamon-filled cake, take the opportunity while the dough is rising to prepare the cinnamon filling. Mix the melted butter, cinnamon and sugar in a medium bowl and stir to fully combine. Double the quantities if you make 2 cinnamon-filled cakes. Skip this step, obviously, if you’re just making the plain version.

Once the dough has doubled in size, generously flour your work surface with the remaining  bread flour. Punch down the dough and divide in half. Place on the work surface, sprinkle the top with flour and roll into a 24×6-inch rectangle and roll it, jellyroll-style, making a long, thin rope. Pinch the ends to seal and bring them together to form a circle. Press the edges together to seal.

dough_rectangleLine two baking sheets with parchment paper greased with remaining butter and carefully transfer the dough to one of them. Cover with plastic wrap and allow it to rise in a warm, dry spot for about 1 hour, until it doubles in size.

Again, flour your work surface with what’s left of the bread flour. Transfer the other half of the dough onto it, sprinkle with flour and roll into a 22×12-inch rectangle.

Spread the cinnamon sugar mixture evenly over the dough, leaving a 1-inch border around the outside of the dough. Roll up, seal the ends, form a circle and pinch the edges together. Place on the other baking sheet, seam side down, and cover with plastic wrap. Let it rise for 1 hour. Again, I would highly recommend talking to your dough. Not that it helps but it’s certainly entertaining.

cinnamonfilling

Heat oven to 375 °F. Prepare the egg wash by whisking the egg and the milk together in a small bowl. Brush the egg wash over the top and sides of the cakes, and bake them one after the other in the upper third of the oven for about 25 minutes, until golden brown. Immediately transfer to a cooling rack, wait 5 minutes and make a small incision in the bottom of each cake to insert a baby figurine. Let cool completely before icing the cakes.

To make the icing, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, agave syrup, milk and vanilla in a medium bowl until smooth.

Spoon the icing evenly over the cake and, before it has a chance to set, sprinkle colored sugar, alternating colors to form strips. If you’re a purist, use purple, gold and green as they’re the colors of Mardi Gras and symbolise justice, power and faith. This is exactly the kind of trivia that will impress you guests during your Mardi Gras party.

kingcakeicing

By the way, did I mention that whoever gets the baby has to host the next King Cake party? Talk about pressure for the guests, huh?

Judging by the small quantity left, the cakes were a hit. While I might be slightly partial to the cinnamon one, which reminds me of a softer, less gooey cinnamon roll, Em preferred the plain version. I think that outside of Carnival season it would actually make a perfect breakfast treat – minus the glittery icing. This King Cake recipe is our new favorite way to celebrate Mardi Gras, and now that we have a good base, we might try next year to be more creative with the filling. Possibilities are endless…

Celebrate Mardi Gras as if you were in New Orleans and, as they say in Louisiana, laissez les bons temps rouler

Bee

miniature_baby