From the kitchen: bread #39

Baking updates! Bread #39 followed the same recipe as #38, but I had to be creative with flours, as I discovered after making the Vorteig (pre-dough, with flour, water and yeast, left to rise for a few hours before adding all ingredients) that I had too little wheat flour left. I added Roggen and Dinkel flours, as well as a good amount of durum wheat semolina, and the resulting bread was brown and fluffy, with one of the best crusts ever!

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I had made a few changements in the cooking part, namely baking directly in the casserole dish. The downside is that the upper crust gets crisp and brown, while the lower crust and the sides remain soft – a bit too much. This is because I let the bread rise in the casserole dish, heated the oven, and put the casserole dish in the oven together with the bread, without pre-heating it. It took a while to get to temperature, therefore did not cook the lower part of the bread that much.

I hope you are inspired by my experiments and that you soon will try (or resume) baking too! I’ll be glad to hear back from you, and maybe I can start answering your questions about baking? Let’s try 🙂

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From the kitchen: bread #38

Yesterday I ran out of bread and decided to bake it myself, summoning my courage to overcome the bad experience of bread #37, which I had to throw away (it was underleavened and partially raw after one hour in the oven, and no further toasting could save it).

I followed precisely the steps of Weizenmischbrötchen recipe in the Brotbackbuch, took half a day from start to finish, and I obtained two light, fluffy loaves:

I am a bit sad that I used only dry yeast, but I’m so happy for such a nice result 🙂

Food blogs I follow

I wish to thank the food bloggers that inspire me with their stories, recipes and pictures, I hope you find joy from their posts too. It’s a long post, because I wanted to show a picture from each blog, I hope you enjoy them!

I start with Papaya Pieces: admire her wonderful berry cupcakes…

BBC Food Programme: 28-minute podcasts, funny, interesting, about ingredients or places or people, all around food. There are gems like: The Apple – how British a fruit?

Cookies and Chemistry: I love Cindy’s motivational posts, food photography tips, and life thoughts:

Charismatic Baking: nice balance of recipes and meditations around life!

Der Brotdoc (in German): worth a visit, even only for the pictures:

Cooking without limits: clever food photography tips and wholesome recipes:

The Little Vegan: lots of ideas for vegan versions of common recipes, and many vegan-from-the-start recipes:

frauke’s delicious fritid: mostly dessert recipes, simple and tasty:

My Lighthearted Kitchen: bilingual posts (English and French) about cooking and motivational thoughts:

Ricette Veg: my friend Madi’s food blog, where she posts traditional Italian recipes:

Green Cooking Blog: a 17-year-old foodie shows a great mix of creativity, cooking and photo skills:

Happy food-blogging everyone!

From the kitchen: pumpkin slices and bread

Short post about my recent kitchen activities. Let me start with butternut squash slices:

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It’s a very simple recipe. Slice the squash in slices around half cm thick, sprinkle with salt, chili, nutmeg, thyme, oregano and oil, and bake at 170 degrees for around half an hour, or until the skin starts to wrinkle and the edges start to brown.

It is nice to cook a meal (or part of it) in the oven, because there is some preparation to do, but most of the time you are free from cooking duties, except from monitoring the oven very closely:

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And last, my bread #24, with the best crust so far:

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I baked it in a casserole dish, on top of an upturned casserole dish which stayed in the oven from the start and is therefore already hot. I think I’ll keep this setup, given its great results!

Book recommendation in the kitchen – “Ratio” by Michael Ruhlman

I knew about this book from Enrico, but until yesterday did not consider it really interesting for everyday cooking. From the cover and the short description, it appeared to me a funny way of writing down recipes: 3-2-1 Pie Dough (3 parts flour, 2 parts fat, 1 part water), and so on.

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But when I read the introductory chapters, it became clear that Ruhlman unveils a more fundamental, deep layer of culinary knowledge. Ratios among ingredients belong to the core of each recipe, no matter how complex. This book takes ratios out in the light, so that the reader can spot them in recipes, and can make the important connection between the ratios of ingredients and the recipe’s outcome. You can still read this book as a set of simplified recipes and follow them blindly, but you would miss its core message: aim at understanding the ratios and how they relate to each other when they share the same ingredients, and you will be freed from following recipes closely. You will be able to improvise your own dishes, because you have learned the ability to predict the outcomes of a combination of ingredients.

But I’m opening this book with doughs and batters because these are where ratios really shine and help any kind of cook, from novice to expert, understand the way the fundamental building blocks of cuisine, flour, water, and eggs behave given varying proportions of each. Indeed there is a dough-batter continuum that runs from thick and elastic to thin and delicate to soft to pourable that became a revelation to me when viewed through the lens of ratios.

I came to this book after my experiments with baking bread (that I am quite proud of) and biscuits (that I am not). Digging for more biscuit recipes did not help much, because I was missing the ability to collect feedback from intermediate steps. Such a book sheds light with a different angle, that enables me to take the step (back?) that I need to make any reliable progress.

This is also a good argument against persistence, as in “repetition of an action without understanding the differences between repetitions”. I could have resolved to attempt baking biscuits until I had found out ratios on my own, or some other trick. But I prefer to get a lesson that I can understand and apply without waste of time and ingredients.

You can follow Ruhlman on his website and Twitter.

Happy cooking everyone!

From the kitchen: baking with sourdough

Hello all, let me introduce you my experiments around sourdough in my weekly cooking post!

Two weeks ago I went shopping and the baking dry yeast was out of stock, so I decided to try a package of dry sourdough. I baked a bread with half of the package and put the rest in a big glass jar with some water and flour. As expected, it bubbled and grew and developed a nice sour, fruity flavour. (The bread was very good, but I will focus on the sourdough culture.)

This is how it looks today:

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I took this picture after adding a small amount of mature sourdough (around 20g) to a small glass of lukewarm water and an equivalent small glass of flour. I mixed them well, so that the mixture reached a fluid consistency. I read that such watery mixture is the one that is more ready to use, but also more prone to go bad; but as I monitor it every day, and bake once or twice a week, it is not a big risk.

Sourdough maintenance is an art, that however starts very simply. What I gleaned from the Internet and books (especially Das Brotbackbuch n.1) is that you need to periodically “refresh” the sourdough with new water and flour, i.e. food, otherwise the micro-organisms start developing unwanted acidic and alcoholig compounds, that are unsuitable for baking. What I do after four or five days is to take a small amount of the mature sourdough and put it in a new container, with fresh water and flour. With the rest of it I bake my bread. I find it a very convenient arrangement, because I obtain a good amount of sourdough for my baking necessities, while at the same time I reboot the culture every few days.

Baking with sourdough has been a wonderful discovery. The bread gets a fruity, slightly sour flavour that I really love, plus a lovely fine texture of bubbles in the crumb:

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and a crispy crust:

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I hope this inspires you to try baking with sourdough!

 

From the kitchen: khichdi

For this week’s cooking post I chose a dish I like a lot: khichdi, a rice and lentils dish, very popular in South Asia. This dish has endless variants and names, according to the region where it is prepared and the ingredients that it contains.

My recipe of today aims to be a sort of blueprint, that you can adapt to the ingredients in your cupboard and to your taste.

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Ingredients:

  • rice (basmati or jasmine do fine)
  • lentils, dal or small pulses in around the same quantity of rice
  • spices:
    • turmeric powder
    • one or two bay leaves
    • coriander
    • cumin
    • fenugreek (optional)
    • salt
    • chili (optional)
  • a fat: olive oil, or butter, or ghee, or coconut oil
  • coriander leaves, and/or basil, and/or parsley (fresh would be the best)
  • yoghurt (optional)

Preparation (~2h soaking + ~30min cooking):

Soak the lentils if needed (check instructions on the package, or rely on your experience). Wash lentils and rice together, until the water comes out clean. Optionally let both soak in water for 1 or 2 hours before cooking.

Put rice and lentils in a pot (a pressure cooker would speed up cooking, but is not required; any wide pot will do), cover them with warm water, add cumin and bay leaves and let cook until tender but not yet cooked. In the meanwhile, crush coriander, cumin and fenugreek in a mortar. (You can roast them before crushing them, using a small pan and no fat.) Slice some ginger, at your taste. When rice and lentils are halfway cooked, add the spices and let simmer for another 10 minutes or until tender. Add water if needed – more water will make the khichdi more soupy and easier to digest, while less water will make it more firm, risotto-like.

Add salt as the last thing, in the pot or in each dish.

On each dish, add crushed or minced coriander/basil/parsley leaves, your preferred fat, chili if you like, and/or pepper. A touch of yoghurt makes the dish deliciously creamy and enhances the spices’ flavours. Enjoy!