Saturday, May 21, 2011

Like a Radish

I've had several days off this week at the end of my spring quarter and have found myself with quite a bit of free time. Thursday, I rode my bike to Blue Line Coffee to sip espresso and read a great new book borrowed from my friend Liz. Blue Line has these great windows in the front of the shop, which are ideal for people-watching. Sitting and stealing glances at a group of college-age hipsters playing Scrabble outside, it occurred to me that life doesn't get much better than it is right now.

I had wasted the earlier part of that same afternoon nursing along an onion soup from Mastering the Art of French Cooking and assembling an Italian pear tart. The apartment had this musky earthy aroma, subtle in its sweetness like the sun setting over the plains--you only get it if you look up. It took hours for the onions to caramelize. The pears from the tart were so soft they were very nearly falling apart as syrup pooled on my counter dripping from a leak in the levy of pie crust. Those hipsters, with their ironic facial hair, intentional disarray of personal emsemble and poignant use of props (guitar, cigarettes hanging from lips, archaic novel), were a part of the scene of the cloudy May day that reminded me that I am living the life.

Sure, I'm in a perpetual state of singlehood, I feel a bit lost at sea in my writing at the moment and call either one of my parents (typically my mom) on a bi-weekly basis to cry about my woes. But god, this is the life. One made up of caramelized onions and braised radishes, my first purchase from 2011's farmer's markets. There's something so simple and soothing about vegetables, root vegetables in particular. They're a bit ugly, hidden from sight for so long during gestation. A bit of cooking with water and butter, salt, pepper and sugar, and the radish's bitterness was gone. Reducing the water made a pink glaze more radishy than the softened bulbs themselves. They just reek of the spring earth in the best possible way--light and reddish and undeniable crunch, a portend of the heartier roots to come later. So sweet are the carrots, beets, parsnips, and mysteriously, the potato. It's like the earth's great gift: "See how pretty I am even though I'm so brown." Amid the manure, worms and chemical refuse, the dirt holds us down and gives us sustainence.

I'd like to draw an analogy, but instead I'll just tell you that I solemnly swear to spend moreeffort in enjoying roots in a quiet way.

Braised Radishes:
1 pound radishes
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup water
pinch sugar

Rinse the radishes thoroughly. I soaked them according to Molly Wizenberg's instructions for 20 minutes in water. Melt the butter and heat the water, season with salt and pepper and sugar and bring to a simmer. Add the radishes and simmer covered for 15 to 20 minutes until just softened. Taste the stock and adjust seasonings. Bring to a rolling boil and reduce in volume until the liquid becomes a sauce. Serve sauce over radishes.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Chip-and-dip Time

There is this thing at our apartment that Amanda and I affectionately call “chip-and-dip time.” It’s snack time for grownups. Chip-and-dip time happens around the 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. timeframe. Amanda and I, back for the day from school or work, sit at the kitchen table and spill our guts while stuffing them. The subject matter starts out with drama from boys, friends, co-workers and bosses and then moves more casually into what interesting thing we each heard on NPR. But most importantly chip-and-dip time cannot happen without something smooth and creamy or chunky and something crunchy and salty (tortilla chips, pita crisps, crackers, hard bread, etc.) with which to scoop up the creamy item. The dip has been hummus, salsa is a favorite, cheese, and the other day I made my mom’s bean dip.

Bean anything is a rarity with my mom. She hates beans except in the case of chili. In fact, when I called over to get the recipe and asked if I could replace the black beans with kidney beans she answered an emphatic no before I could finish the question. It’s a vestige from childhood when she was forced to down lima beans before leaving the table. Now that my mom is emancipated and can decide what and how much she eats, what she eats never ever involves beans except in the case of this dip.
The recipe so simple I didn’t even bother to write it down when I talked to her on the phone: one can of black beans in no case to be substituted with anything other than black beans, two tablespoons of pickles jalapenos, some cumin, a crushed garlic clove, salt and pepper, and just enough water to bring the whole thing together in a pot on the stove (so a couple tablespoons tops). Once everything is heated through, you pour the mess of beans into the food processor and pulse until it’s smooth.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Do You Like Pina Coladas?

So I made this brioche recipe, my invention, using part coconut flour, that I am a little bit proud of. The first time I made it, the round loaves were thick and chewy, not the airy texture expected from a brioche. I made some changes, reducing the proportion of the coconut flour, whose smell brings me back to Thailand when I would start my day with a few crunchy coconut cookies purchased a the Walmart-size C Store down the road. The result: a light brioche with a subtle nutty sweetness.

For my artisan bread final, we had to fill and braid a six-strand brioche. Six! Strands! I rolled out the dough and filled them with a coconut-pineapple pastry cream, which came out like a pina colada, and staired at the mass of dough. I may as well have been weaving a rug. Fortuneately, Alexandra knew exaclty how to fold the braids over and under to get an even loaf..

I feel a little invincible in the realm of bread-making. I still got a B on my final and probably bombed the test, but I get it. But the final's resulting bread defied my initial bitterness over having to devote an extra five minutes in the morning to taking care of the sourdough starter while not even getting good bread from all my trouble. Well, now I have good bread, really good bread. I even kept a teeny-tiny dollop of sourdough starter in my fridge, tucked away if I ever get the inspiration to make bread before I forget about it and the bacteria and yeast run out of food and die.

Tropical Brioche:
Pate Fermentee:
4.2 oz. bread flour
2.7 oz. coconut milk
.1 oz. salt
.01 oz. yeast

Final Dough:
23.4 oz. Bread flour
4.2 oz. coconut flour
.28 oz. vital wheat gluten
5 oz. coconut milk
13.7 oz. eggs
.07 oz. agave nectar
.3 oz. yeast
14 oz. butter (cold)
7 oz. pate fermentee

Yields 77 oz., enough for three large loaves

Prepare the pate fermentee the night before by mixing all the ingredients together and letting it sit, covered in plastic wrap, for 12 to 18 hours.

Mix together all the ingredients minus the butter in a bowl of an electric mixer. Pound the butter with a rolling pin to make it maleable. Add the butter one tablespoon at a time to the dough while still mixing it. Continue until the butter is completely incorporated and the dough can be stretched pretty well without breaking. Place the dough in a bowl to ferment. If the butter is melting, place brioche in the refrigerator for 15 minutes or so to come to temperature. Brioche can actually be retarded overnight in the fridge at this point. Let ferment an hour or so. Form into loaves. Brush with mixture of eggs and salt. Proof another hour. Brush with egg wash again and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes until golden brown and finished through.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Wheat Beer Sourdough

It has been 95 degrees the past couple days, which is the ideal temperature for yeast and bacteria production (note: body temperature is 98). My sourdough culture has reached new levels of growth. This is a photo of the starter a mere two hours after a feeding, exploding with growth all over the counter, floor anything it get its grubby hands on. It may as well enjoy its few remaining days in my kitchen. My bread final exam is tomorrow, after which point this yeast is going down to Chinatown.
We were charged with making our own formula for bread for tomorrow's final, and I'm going to go ahead and toot my horn and say that my bread is pretty good. I'm pleased. The bread pictured above is a wheat beer sourdough with a bulgur wheat soaker. It's got a little spelt flour, just cuz, and yeasty beer for the flavor. It's nutty and has little sour kick to it. And with the weather the way it is, it took no time to rise.

I have somehow, in only 10 days of class and under the tutelage of a great chef, gotten the hang of breadmaking. There are 12 steps that didn't seem straightforward at first that I now more-or-less understand. I know what the bread feels like when it's time to move to the next stage. It's not something you can teach or talk about, it's just known. Once it's mixed, the dough feels this certain way with this certain stickiness that then gets worked out when you ferment and proof it. I mastered the art of shaping at work after forming 200 little pitas into perfect round balls before rolling them out. I do still get impatient and I mess things up a little (notice the exploding portion of the finished loaf above), but I know where I went wrong. I had to run and the bread wasn't quite finished proofing, so I baked it anyway. (I didn't learn any patience in this class unfortunately.) I don't have a spray bottle at home, so the crust of my bread was a little thicker than I'd like. But I know. I understand the process. I can work with the ingredients instead of trying to force them to work for me. That's something.
Wheat Beer Sourdough:
Levain Build:
6.1 oz. whole wheat flour (93.5%)
.5 oz. spelt flour (6.5%)
4 oz. wheat beer (60%)
1.2 oz. sourdough culture (20%)

2.1 oz. cracked (bulgur) wheat (33%)
4.1 oz. water (66%)

Final Dough:
32.9 oz. bread flour (85%)
5.8 oz. spelt flour (15%)
26.7 oz. wheat beer (69%)
2.2 oz. water (5.8%)
.9 oz. salt (2.3%)
11.8 oz. levain build (30.6%)
6.2 oz. soaker (20%)

Build the levain 12 hours or so before you're ready to start the rest of the process by mixing it together, covering it with plastic and letting it rest overnight.

Make the soaker by boiling the water and then pouring it over the wheat and letting it set for 10 minutes.

Assemble the rest of the ingredients. Mix the ingredients until shaggy, let sit for 20 minutes. Work the dough by kneading it until its surface is smooth and the gluten has just about fully developed. Let ferment in a covered bowl for 2 and a half hours, stretching the dough out and folding it over twice during that time. Divide the dough into 20 or 22 ounce portions. This recipe makes 88 ounces, more than enough for four loaves of 20 ounces each. Shape the portions into rounds or batons. Proof for another two hours. Bake at 440 degrees for 40 minutes.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Brioche Recycle

A lot of bread has gotten stale on my counter as a result of this bread class I'm taking. I get so excited to take some extra bread home to try later, but I can't seem to get around to finishing it before it physically transforms into a brick. Not even with my roommate Amanda's help. A week or so ago I had a loaf of challah and a loaf of brioche from school plus a loaf of challah from work that was going to get thrown out during passover. I made French toast a couple times before I discovered a recipe for something called bostock in my trusty Tartine Bakery cookbook.

Bostock is billed as better than French toast, which I'd say is arguable at best--the only similarity is the use of old bread. Slices of rich dough get slathered in simple syrup and coated with apricot jam and the rest of my apricot pastry cream from Easter weekend and topped with almonds. Amanda and I ate several slices for dinner the other night, still steaming hot from the oven (we could really wait until they cooled). The bread had regained its lost moisture, and with crunchy outside edges, the bostock was a bit pastry-like.
Apricot Bostock:
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons orange liqueur (skipped this)
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon orange zest

day old brioche slices
apricot jam
apricot pastry cream (or frangipane cream)
sliced almonds

Combine syrup ingredients in a saute pan and heat until sugar has completely dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool.

Slice the brioche and arrange on a parchment paper-line baking sheet. Brush with simple syrup. Spread on the apricot jam and pastry cream. Sprinkle on the almonds. Bake at 375 for 20 to 25 minutes until the bread is toasted.