p3: Bagels

#24, Bagels

fresh-baked-bagels-4268-lgI’ve been wanting to do a recipe for bagels for quite a while, we’ve been stocking them more often in the pantry again, always a favorite breakfast snack! But there have been two distinct notes of opposition preventing me from doing this: first, of course, find a couple day period to spend making them, a pain when one keeps getting distractions or days that make you just not want to do anything. But the second, and bigger issue, is my recipe book’s requirement for “High Gluten Flour.” And no, this doesn’t mean just bread flour, high-gluten is a step higher than that and apparently instrumental to making those perfectly chewy bagels.

But apparently no one has it in stores, at least not the ones I’ve tried near me, and it is flipping pricey to buy online JUST for a bag of flour. So the thought was doomed, left to be procrastinated on for who knows how long. Thankfully, though, I ended up catching an episode of America’s Test Kitchen where they made, gasp, bagels! In it they DID use bread flour, or mentioned it was still a viable substitute for their recipe, helping get my brain back on track to the idea of making these holey goodies. Found a recipe online that actually STARTED with the ATK recipe but made his own manipulations to get an end result that was a little more classic and refined [plus without all those extra little odd steps they do in the show, which makes an awesome recipe yes but not a very classic one].

20160217_002101A few notes, this IS one of the bread recipes where, much like pretzels, the proofed dough is dunked into a boiling water solution mixed with baking soda to gelatinize the outer layer for an even thicker and distinct crust after baking. The dough itself is made VERY firm and stiff; it is highly advised you do NOT try to man up to knead it and just use a stand mixer instead. Because even THOSE will be struggling to whip it around. And I mentioned the special ingredient of high gluten flour, but there’s another one: Malt Powder or syrup. Apparently they’re used as the sweet aspect in lots of bagel recipes, both for the yeast to eat and to add an additional edge of flavor to the final product [likely a continued nod to the older times where some bagel makers just used some cheap available leftover materials from their or other beer making]. The powder itself is sort of in the same category as the flour, likely needing to order it, but one can find Barley Malt Syrup rather easily in stores, which I LOVE using by the way. For anyone who’s made beer and had to start out using the syrups and powders alongside the malt, they know the concentrated almost-molassasey goodness that this offers! Need to find some other cool things to mix it into… oh, and fair warning, this mofo is STICKY as all hell. No matter what it will not just fall off anything naturally, so be warned with pouring!

Recipe 20160217_001752 6 cup High Protein/Gluten or Bread Flour
2 ¼ tsp Dry Yeast
1 Tb Kosher Salt
1/3 cup + 1 Tb Barley Malt Syrup or 2/3 cup Barley Malt Powder
2 cup Hot Water [88-100F]
1 Tb Baking Soda
Desired Toppings, if any
Egg White Wash [if topping]

Directions

  1. Combine Flour, Yeast, Salt, and Barley Malt Powder [if using] in stand mixer20160217_002316
  2. If using 1/3 cup Barley Malt Syrup, mix with Hot Water to dissolve, slowly streaming into the flour mixture while mixing on low speed [using paddle attachment]20160217_002608
  3. Once all loose flour has come together into a single mass, exchange paddle for dough hook and start beating around the dough on medium speed20160217_002739
  4. Mix for at least 10 minutes, and yes your mixer WILL be working hard to do this, until your sturdy dough is smooth and elastic20160217_004341
  5. Plop this on counter, loosely covering with plastic wrap or damp towel, and let rest at least 5 minutes to relax20160217_011256
  6. Divide into 12 even-sized pieces. Placing a piece between your palm, fingers bent like a claw, and the counter surface [or if it has NO traction like my counter, your other palm], roll the dough rapidly in circles until it forms a smooth boule. It can help to tuck parts of it into the back like with regular boule-making technique at first
  7. Take each ball, gently pushing a hole straight through the center with your finger/thumb, and begin working this hole out to at least 1½” wide by slowly turning and pressing evenly with your thumb [that whole “spinning around your finger” trick probably DOES work, but only if the dough is absolutely perfect to start out with]. Alternately, one can roll the dough into an even log and wrap around your palm, re-connecting the ends into a perfect circle. Good luck20160217_013512
  8. Transfer to cornmeal-dusted pan, cover with plastic and move to refrigerator overnight20160217_115621
  9. The next day, take dough out and prepare your water bath. Combine 1 gallon water, the 1 Tb Malt Syrup, and Baking Soda, bringing to a boil20160217_120518
  10. Dip 3-4 doughnuts into the water at a time, leaving to boil on one side for one minute before turning over for another minute20160217_121003
  11. Transfer to a cooling rack to drip for a bit and then to another cornmeal-lined baking sheet and repeat with remaining dough. As this is going, preheat oven to 450F20160217_122514
  12. If sprinkling any toppings [I myself used a Lemon Flake Sea Salt on some], brush the tops and sides of your bagels with Egg Wash [1 tsp of water mixed w/ one egg white vigorously], then sprinkle as generously as desired, patting ingredients down and into it afterwards20160217_124754
  13. Move into oven, baking at least 15-20 minutes, turning 180 degrees halfway through cook time
  14. Once deep golden brown and baked through, remove20160217_124805
  15. Let cool half an hour before use or, if you’re cool, cut open immediately and cover those hot insides with butter and/or a schmear of cream cheese
  16. Enjoy

20160217_154230What Have I Learned This Time?

That I still need more work with shaping, these bagels were a pain trying to keep even and ‘perfect’ looking. At least those rough edges softened up by the final product through proofing and baking, but I may have to try the ‘roll and wrap’ technique for shaping if I ever do this again.

Bagels definitely do NOT need egg wash if there’s no topping; I much prefer their color when baked as-is, the others made me nervous of being in too long.

The benefits of using a slightly damp towel when resting certain doughs; the bagel dough definitely started to get one of those firm skins on parts of it before shaping, which made the process itself that much more difficult. I feel like it developed one rather fast too. Sadly I hadn’t noticed the ‘damp towel’ instruction in the recipe [and it might have just been in another one that I read earlier actually], but it definitely would have helped here.

Any Thoughts?

The end result comes reminiscent of pretzels… not surprising given the similar boil-bath before baking. Big, chewy, and for once with a crunchy exterior when eaten close to fresh, it’s a good version of a bagel. Can’t wait to try one in New York in a month or so to do a proper comparison.

Does the Dough Like Me Yet?

It still thinks I need to work on my massage technique…

 

p3: Challah

#22, Challah

saffron-challah-loavesThere are two classic breads whenever one looks into the ‘enriched varieties;’ you know, the ones that have extra butter, milk, and/or eggs to make a richer and tender-crispy product. Of course Brioche is the first, and I gotta love making and eating them. Then there’s Challah, the braided wonder famous for its importance in Judaith traditions, eaten purely on the Sabbath. I mean, unless you’re like me and just want to eat it whenever you want. For instance, when I need something awesome to make an Almond French Toast for my Mother’s Birthday Brunch. I’ve bought it before from a store [and lucky for me I didn’t realize they only sold it on Friday, which is the day I HAPPENED to make it in and got the last loaf], but now I get the chance to make it myself!

Note that the recipe which follows will be for a simple 3-braided style loaf shape; there are quite a few others, including 4-braid, 5, and even higher which all have their own specific techniques to making the braid. I’ll probably try them out in the future should I ever attempt any other challah or braided loafs [hopefully!], but just letting you know for now.

I’d write more but I’ve been so busy with other things lately I don’t have anything else I really want to say here…

Recipe
4 cups/18oz Bread Flour
2 Tb/1oz Sugar
1 tsp/0.25oz Salt
1 ½ tsp/0.18oz Yeast
2 Tb/1oz Vegetable Oil
2 whole/3.3oz Eggs
2 whole/3.3oz Eggs, Yolks and Whites separated
7/8 cup/7oz Water, Room Temp
Sesame, Poppy Seeds, or anything else desired for Garnish

Directions

  1. Combine Flour, Sugar, Salt, and Yeast in bowl of stand mixer20160102_112732
  2. Separately, mix Oil, the 2 Eggs, 2 Egg Yolks, and Water until consistent, pouring into the dry mixture20160102_112841
  3. Mix on low speed, with paddle attachment, until everything congeals and forms into a ball; add more water if needed20160102_112854
  4. Switch to dough hook and let mixture run on medium speed around 6-8 minutes, adding more flour if sorta sticky, until it forms a smooth, supple mass and passes the windowpane test20160102_113626
  5. Roll into ball and toss in a lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and bulk ferment 1 hour20160102_113750
  6. At that point, punch or knead the dough down to de-gas, reforming into a ball and returning to covered bowl for another hour or until doubled in size20160102_135231
  7. Divide dough into 3 equal pieces, form into a Boule as shown Here and let rest on counter about 10 minutes20160102_135634
  8. Roll out each ball into as long and thin of a log/strand as desired, simply making sure that it’s somewhat thicker in the middle and thinner on the ends20160102_141810
  9. To shape loaves, lay each strand parallel to each other, and ideally vertical to you to discern a ‘right and left’ side. Take the end of the outer right leg, crossing it over the one to the left so that they’re crossed in the middle and the end is between the other two. Now take the outermost left strand and cross it over the now middle strand. Repeat where the end of the outer right is going over the middle and then with the left, until the ends meet up20160102_142156
  10. Do the same pattern with the OTHER half, only crossing underneath instead of over. Finish by pinching the ends closed20160102_142410
  11. Take egg Whites, beating well until frothy to make an egg Wash
  12. Transfer braid to parchment-lined sheet, brushing with wash and lightly spraying with oil before giving a loose cover of plastic or cloth. Proof 60-75 minutes or until doubled in size20160102_143244
  13. Preheat oven 350F
  14. Brush loaf once more with a coat of egg wash, sprinkling with Seseame/Poppy Seeds [or in my case, crumbled almonds]20160102_154743
  15. Bake for 20 minutes, turn 180 degrees, and then 20-40 minutes more depending, until it’s achieved a rich golden brown color and sounds hollow when thumped20160102_163051
  16. Remove and cool on rack at least an hour before serving. Enjoy

20160102_163120What Have I Learned This Time?

Apparently I need to find instructions on bread braiding that actually goes into proper detail on it. As you can see from my pictures, my loaf didn’t quiiiiiiieeete come out as pretty as a classic braid does… it has a cool shape, mind you, but not a proper braid. Figured out the reason though; the book I based this off has you label the ‘ends’ of each dough log 1, 2, 3. It says cross 3 over 2, then 1 over 2, then repeat. What it DOESN’T say is that when you cross one over the other, it then turns into 2 and the numbers switch so it’s always 1-2-3. So I kept trying to cross things over the main one and it didn’t turn out well for half the loaf.

Also, need to find a better way to make those dough logs/ropes… god it didn’t want to co-operate at all…

Any Thoughts?

20160102_175244I wish I hadn’t forgotten to take pictures of the awesome-as-hell Amaretto French Toast that I made with this… I mean damn it was good. Though, on its own, having a bite with just that bit of toasted almond on top was just nutty goodness. Oh, and I absolutely love this fresh from the oven; the crust is delightfully crunchy and toasty, perfect with that slightly-enriched center. I forgot how much lighter it was compared to brioche, so a bit of butter definitely brings it to awesome heights [I don’t care if it’s kosher or not! And I’m too lazy to find out!]. I sort of want to make it again as a fun all-purpose bread, especially to practice my braiding techniques, and use different oils and things to see how it affects the final outcome.

Does the Dough Like Me Yet?

The dough? Yes. In fact, I think it loves me like family now. The whole braiding technique thing isn’t impressed though… I’ll have to bring it chocolate and flowers next time.

p3: Hoagie Buns

#20, Hoagie Bun

Hoagie-RollsSo this particular installment of the ‘bread battling project’ had an interesting inspiration and twist. Had a plan for a Sunday night dinner+shows evening with sis and friend, to which she shared the idea of this ‘philly cheesesteak lasagna’ recipe beforehand with notes saying how we should make this for our night of fun! So, in figuring out what I could make that would go along with it, and while keeping to one of my project needs, I came along what I still think is a rather brilliant idea. Why not make garlic bread… out of Hoagie Buns/Rolls!? Still have the cheesesteak theme, but it’s also a typical side with lasagna, win-win!

But of course the steaky-cheesy-pasta casserole didn’t get made, apparently it was an idea for ‘some potential weekend’ and not THAT one, so I had leftover hoagie buns that needed to be used before all going stale. Which is fine though, because we made sandwiches with them anyways… some pretty damn good quiznos-style griddled ones too.

It’s always nice playing with simpler bread styles every now and then I find, don’t have to think about making sure that I add in a new ingredient properly, worry over degassing too much in some intense shaping process, or all the hassle of trying to hearth bake perfectly in my home oven setup. Just yeasted water, flour, other stuff, knead it right and make sure I shape it to what it should look like and don’t over bake. Lets you get more used to basic techniques and also see where you REALLY may need work, and where you’re doing well so far.

As for the hoagie recipe itself, there’s not much to say. There are various ones which shift in proportions back and forth, as practically all bread recipes tend to do depending on who’s making them. But what stood out to me was the addition of sugar and butter; nowhere near enough as a fully qualifying ‘enriched dough,’ but still more than other bread can be. The sugar itself really seems to play a role here, with enough to kick that yeast into high gear, definitely a one-day bread designed for the quick and easy requirements needed by sandwich makers everywhere. Also, this particular recipe was listed officially as “Soft and Chewy Hoagie,” which I’m not sure if that’s supposed to distinguish it from OTHER hoagie recipes out there or if that’s simply the natural aspect to the bread. What I CAN say is that it’s basically the same as a white dinner roll… in all the best ways.

Recipe
1 Tb Dry Yeast
2 Tb Sugar
1 3/8 cups Warm Water
4 cups Bread Flour
1 tsp Salt
3 Tb Butter, cubed and soft

Directions

  1. Mix Yeast, Sugar, and 3/8 cup Water in stand mixing bowl, leave for about 5-10 minutes to bloom20151018_101206
  2. Once bubbled up noticeably, add in Flour, Salt, and remaining water20151018_101708
  3. Using dough hook, mix on low a few minutes, until everything mostly comes together20151018_102029
  4. Increase speed to medium, whipping and mixing for at least 5 minutes, adding any further butter or water as needed to get a soft, smooth dough, working until it can pass the windowpane test20151018_103649
  5. Add Butter a bit at a time, mixing until it’s fully incorporated and dough comes back together20151018_103938
  6. Transfer to oiled bowl, covering tightly with plastic wrap20151018_104014
  7. Leave to bulk ferment 30-60 minutes, or until doubled in size20151018_114303
  8. Remove, kneading or pocking down to de-gas, and divide into 8 pieces, or more/less depending on desired final size20151018_114426
  9. Shape into Batards as described Here20151018_115605
  10. Transfer to sprayed, parchment-lined tray, mist top with spray oil and cover lightly with plastic20151018_145408
  11. Proof for 30-45 minutes, or until about doubled in size
  12. Heat oven to 375F and when ready, uncover buns and move inside, cooking on tray 20-30 minutes, or until browned nicely from end-to-end and sounds hollow when bottom is thumped20151018_160822
  13. Remove, transferring bread to cooling rack, and let sit at least 20 minutes before use [or enjoy like hot rolls from the oven and slice immediately to drown in butter!]
  14. Slice horizontally down the middle and fill with whatever you desire!20151018_193642

What Have I Learned This Time?

Intensive de-gassing after the fermentation period won’t affect how much it proofs, so I should feel more confident in letting myself do this with other future breads in the hope of getting a more ideal structure.

Need to work more on my shaping skills for consistency, wish I knew some proper ‘tricks’ to it… maybe I’ll google it some on my next project. But more realistically, it’s probably going to have to come through repetition and practice. So whenever I start making more than one loaf of bread every week or so.

20151018_193942And finally, that these make the simplest, most satisfying and guilty-pleasure hoagie… spread bread in half, pile with desired meat, veggie, and sauce fillings. Cover it in cheese, making sure BOTH buns get a layer [or at least get butter and garlic on the other bare bread] and broil until… well… you see the picture. Tell me you don’t want to fold that and eat it, I dare you.

Any Thoughts?

Truthfully, I’m rather backed up on blog posts I have to get out, and I’m taking a nine-day-long vacation away from computer-access in a few days, so even if I COULD think of something to say here I’m not sure if I have the time! I swear I’m not trying to brag and sound snotty or anything!!

Does the Dough Like Me Yet?

It adores my appreciation to ‘what’s inside’ but still thinks I need a better fashion sense… ie it wants me to shape it better in the future.

p2: Basque Pumpkin Cornbread

The Sweet

downloadIt’s Autumn in Minnesota, we’re getting ever closer to Halloween and Thanksgiving, everyone is becoming unnaturally obsessed with ‘pumpkin spice’-flavored things, and my sister gathered us together last weekend for a family dinner of grilled pork and potatoes. So what better ‘dessert’ accompaniment for me to make than Basque Pumpkin Cornbread!? Yes, that is apparently a thing, as I found out while searching through the mountain of ‘classic French desserts’ I still had left on my Buzzfeed checklist.

Though, thankfully, my personal embarrassment for not knowing a lick about this particular item was short lived. It didn’t take me long to realize that, apparently, ‘French pumpkin cornbread’ is quite the ‘obscure’ recipe. There is ONE recipe for it online… one. I mean one can find other pages with it, but the recipe used is exactly the same; some blatantly display the fact it came from Lemons and Anchovies, the link which Buzzfeed itself uses (not that they have any other option). Any other recipes that try variations aren’t even relating themselves to the French recipe, or outright state they’re taking it and putting ‘American twists’ towards the bread, bringing it back to a classic US cornbread with pumpkin flavoring. But if you really want to understand just how random, for lack of a better term, this recipe is to French culture… I couldn’t even find any hint of it in my Larousse Gastronomique, THE definitive encyclopedia to French food, terms, recipes, culinary history, etc. And I checked EVERY term that would connect with it, even looking for its French name: ‘Meture au Potiron Basquais.’ Though I only found that in one blog post, of which could have been that particular author trying to make a name through his own direct translation. I would not be surprised if there was no other actual term given to this recipe by the French themselves, besides simply saying what it was not in English.

So that was an interesting thing to go through and realize as I attempted to search for other recipes which to compare to. But that’s not to say it doesn’t have history; for it DID get introduced to the southern part of the country at one point in time, it simply hasn’t had the luck to reach the fame and intrigue as their many other breads and pastries. The idea is that its creation developed after Christopher Columbus returned and introduced ingredients like Corn to the new world; of course starting in Spain and then spreading to Southern France first before the rest of the continent. Those in the shared Spanish-French Basque region turned the grain into a bread much like back in the Americas where they came from. Of course they had to put their own addition to it, mixing with rich seasonal squash while incorporating whipped egg whites, definitely a French introduction, as its sole leavening inclusion. Minimalistic by today’s recipes, but at that point an exceptional addition! Now it’s seeing if I can translate some of this exceptionalness into something that works today.

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

20151010_211450So, I’ve gotta use an actual pumpkin with this one, just for the fun. Which, if you are yet unaware, does NOT mean one of those giant monsters we love to get for carving. Those are NOT food! They taste like crap, back away and save those for Halloween! One has to ensure that their store, which most Whole Foods and decent grocery stores should have, stocks the specific cooking varieties in the produce section. These are smaller squashes, their size and development made to concentrate their natural flavors and sugars. You know, so they taste good.

This solo recipe seems to only use the canned version, but assuming this IS something that was made semi-frequently in the past, it’d be with an actual pumpkin. And I want an excuse to roast a whole one! Though… as I found out, and you can see in my semi-recipe for ‘Roasted Pumpkin’ below, came out rather stringy, like spaghetti squash. So not quite that mashable; attempts at ricing and putting in my mini-processor failed. Should have just boiled the pumpkin instead, but I always prefer the flavor of roasting and thought it would result like a butternut. It’s an easy fix though, solved by re-heating the roasted pumpkin with the milk and blending, where it purees simply.

But it sucks because I originally planned to use a particular technique I learned with my bread-making adventures, whereby one makes a ‘soaker’ by combining cornmeal and water/liquid overnight. This helps to make sure the very dry and crunchy meal actually softens and yields a more tender final result; something I REALLY wanted to make sure happened this time as I was using a stoneground, ‘medium grind’ cornmeal; one I expect is likely bigger than the kind of cornmeal originally used in the recipe.

If taking the recipe like I did, using an actual pumpkin and roughly ground, delicious cornmeal vs the canned pumpkin ‘jello’ and a mass of processed maize flour, as I found out you’ll likely want to re-adjust certain proportions and procedures. You’ll see how I found this out later. Nevertheless, I’ve listed some notes in the recipe on the side if this is the case for your own adventures.

The ‘original’ recipe also called for Rum, which I chose not to use because… okay, I won’t like, I forgot the darn rum. Which I myself didn’t care about at first as it seemed like just a random addition; rum isn’t really much of a French ingredient except on that one Island. It made more sense to consider using an Armagnac, fruit brandy or something. Then I realized… Christopher Columbus, durnit. Of course there would be a connection to rum, it’s a dish that originated from overseas travel! Maybe rum wasn’t QUITE as vital to their crews in those very beginning days of runs between the Americas, but I can’t say it wouldn’t have been used in the dish now as a fun new ingredient. Sooooooo my bad.

‘Meture au Potiron Basquais’
1 cup Milk (+ ¼-½ when dealing w/ fresh pumpkin)
¼ cup Sugar
½ tsp Salt
1 cup Pumpkin Puree (1 ½ – 2 Fresh Roasted, Recipe Follows)
2 cups Cornmeal (if stoneground, medium grind, maybe a little less)
¼ cup/½ stick Butter
3 Eggs, Separated

Directions

  1. Turn oven to 375F20151011_151428
  2. Warm up Milk, Sugar, and Salt in sauce pot; if using actual Pumpkin, add in and bring to a simmer20151011_152655
  3. Blend until pumpkin is smooth, or whisk milk into puree
  4. Add Cornmeal, whisking in until smooth, ideally in stockpot to keep warm and encourage moisture absorption/softening20151011_152954
  5. Move to bowl, let cool a little, and stir in Butter so it gently melts
  6. Mix in Egg Yolks, making sure batter is only warm at the most20151011_154727
  7. Whip Whites until foamed, fluffy, and formed Stiff Peaks20151011_155013
  8. Fold into the batter, using 1/3 at a time, making sure it’s evenly distributed but minimally handled20151011_154221
  9. Thoroughly butter bottom and sides of cake pan or springform mold20151011_155239
  10. Pour into pan, transfer to oven, and bake 50-60 minutes, until set in the middle
  11. Remove, slide knife around sides, and carefully unmold from pan and onto cooling rack20151011_170226
  12. Let cool 10 minutes, cut into wedges and enjoy! Perhaps with some whipped cream or toasted meringue fluff20151011_201053

Roasted Pumpkin
1 Sugar Pie, or other sweet baking, Pumpkin
2-3 Tb Olive Oil

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 350F20151010_215500
  2. Carefully cut Pumpkin in half, scooping out all the seeds and ‘squash guts’
  3. Thoroughly rub oil over the top and inside of the pumpkin, placing it on a foil-lined tray cut-side-down20151010_220339
  4. Roast 1½ – 2 hours, or until a knife cuts in smooth and easily
  5. Remove, let briefly cool and scoop out inner flesh while still warm. Reserve for use20151011_001350

My Thoughts

Let’s start off with what went wrong. I couldn’t really taste any of the pumpkin, a side effect of using the fresh stuff vs the rather ‘concentrated’ canned paste, so I’d need to use much more next time if sticking to it. It also had that drier, crumbly cornbread-like texture; wasn’t horrible, but not that great for a dessert. Should have cooked it less, ideally found a way to have soaked that cornmeal like I planned, and/or used some more milk/less cornmeal in the final mix. But despite those tweaks, as cornbreads go it was still a rather nice bite, especially for such a simple recipe developed from what would have been made in old America with just corn and water. By the way, do I think the rum would have helped? Flavor wise it would have been a nice addition, though I might personally enjoy soaking it into the cake AFTER baking, get that nice texture and ideal unctuous aroma.

20151011_201348Now obviously a lot of this result was due to how I myself ended up making it today, but still it makes me even wonder why this is in the dessert section at all. Already one debates if it actually has the clout to be on the list of French dishes, let alone on this side of the selection. The rum and a softer crumb would have eaked it closer yes, but still it tastes more like something that should be enjoyed as a Thanksgiving side dish as opposed to end-of-the-meal indulgence. My meringue didn’t help that much, though it was tasty! I swear almost nothing feels better to me in cooking than when a meringue turns out perfectly.

Possible Pairings

Now this is interesting as, I’ve already mentioned, this isn’t really much of a dessert; even if made well, still feels like a side, like a regular corn or other form of bread. So it’s hard to think of a ‘dessert alcohol pairing’ to go along with it, especially sweet items and anything from France. Truthfully I can’t think of anything that would be ‘classic’ to go alongside it.

20151015_105714But if I take it from a different direction, looking not where it is NOW but where it originally came from, the answer makes itself a little more known. I mean, why should a sweet corn ‘bread’ not be paired with that very well known, sweet-ish corn distillate? Yes, Bourbon, I believe, is the answer here. A little snifter glass of a good 9+ year bottle to sip and enjoy alongside the rich, corny baked item. It’s just a mouthful of southern US/American goodness.

Sticking along that route, we could take advantage of those so-favorite Thanksgiving-esque flavor combos, and bring some more sweetness into it, and go with a bottle of Pecan/Pecan-Pie Moonshine/Corn Whiskey. Slightly sweet, whiskey-ish, and with that nice brown sugar-pecan notes that are so reminiscent of baking spices and the we so nostalgically would enjoy alongside pumpkin and baked corn stuff. Just make sure you get a GOOD bottle, from a smaller and preferable non-nationwide, distillery and not the mass-produced moonshines; I myself got turned onto this one that our family friends from Missouri keep bringing up.

p1: Baked Camembert

The Dish

enhanced-buzz-18653-1387650694-0When it comes to the dishes in this French list, my decision for when and why I make particular ones are usually just happenstance with how they fit that week/situation. But a few of them actually have plans built around them, fun ideas I got excited about soon after I began studying this collection of classic recipes. Some of it’s based on occasion/time of year, while others are purely on how I’d make it, or something else.

In particular I’ve been looking forward to a good period to go through with an idea I had for the highly simplistic, royally rustic meal that was ‘Baked Camembert.’ Grab a really good wheel that I’ve wanted to have for a while, put together a baking dish of it, then bring it to a wineI know which would bake it for me and enjoy with family, the people at the bar, all accompanied by their personal garnishments and some wine we’d order. So I finally found a good time to do that this weekend… and of course the place was unexpectedly closed with no warning or reason given. Well that’s my luck. But I still had the cheese, so might as well just put it together at home!

The cheese itself is a Normandy or Pays d’Auge creation, supposedly developed by farmer Marie Harel in the town of Camembert during 1791 after following advice from a priest from Brie who she had given refuge, it being the French Revolution and all. Though most of its origins, at least towards what we know of it today, came through the industrialization process of the 1800’s, like the creation of the signature round wooden box in 1890, the container ‘sponsored’ by Napolean III, used to help it ship and travel to different countries and continents like America, where popularity boomed. Though it really centered itself into French culture during WW1, when issued to troops as part of daily rations.

Proper camembert, traditionally and legally speaking, is always made with UNpasteurized milk, which is remarkedly seen to always taste better than the convenient and ‘safer’ (damn US laws, literally making it illegal to obtain any proper, delicious form of fresh milk unless you’re squeezing the cow yourself) pasteurized versions.

Ok, done with the textbook description, let’s get to baking the stuff!

A W20151004_160142ord On…

The Cheese: Well, I’ve already talked about the cheese itself, and finding it shouldn’t be too difficult for any proper artisan cheese section/shop; I’m sure you have a favorite to get the good stuff from. I’ve actually been dreaming about doing this dish for a while though, because there’s a local farm that makes a camembert-style cheese that I’ve had on my mind ever since I saw this on my list of must-makes. So I had to finally get a whole wheel to bake into melted hot cheesy goodness.

Accompaniments: baked rind cheeses are always good with some garlic and onions, that’s how we do our brie, but I want to stick to something more countryside, so garlic and rosemary on top like one of the recipes I glanced at. As for what to eat it WITH, besides bread of course, I’m not sure what all is traditional, if anything. Usually freshly minced shallots, some capers, cornichon pickles, and other similar items are seen on the side for a variety of simple French dishes like tartar, fondue, and that dish of Raclette I made a while ago. I personally had this ripe tomato from my own pot that begged to be used soon, so I just had to use it, cut through the funky-creamy fat of the cheese with some natural umami-assisted acidity. Plus it’s classic; melted cheese, crunchy bread, and tomatoes, sound familiar? But you can always use whatever you fancy and have lying around, if not just eat it plain with bread! That IS the wonder of meals like this.

Recipe
1 Wheel Camembert
1 Garlic Clove, thinly sliced
1-2 tsp Fresh Rosemary, very briefly chopped
1-2 Tb Olive Oil
Tsp Sea Salt
French Bread, for service
Ripe Tomato, for service (optional)

Directions

  1. Turn oven to 375F
  2. Lightly score top of the Camembert and place in ovenproof ramekin/casserole/bowl20151004_160916
  3. Cover with Garlic and Rosemary, lightly rubbing in20151004_163134
  4. Pour over Olive Oil, making sure to evenly spread along the top and sides, followed by sprinkles of Sea Salt
  5. Place in oven, cooking until top is crusty and inside is warmed through, 15-25 minutes at most20151005_135730
  6. Move loaf of French bread in oven about 5-8 minutes before service to toast and crisp up20151005_141241
  7. Remove from oven, let cool on counter about 5 minutes while you slice bread and any other additional accompaniments20151005_141357
  8. Place in center of table, and enjoy! Best eaten spooned over warm, crusty bread

20151005_141200The Verdict

Okay, so I just looked at the Buzzfeed recipe to double-check procedures, I’m quite used to simply baking brie ya know so there’s nothing in-depth I should need, and that’s when I saw the directions for scoring the cheese. They also have you remove the top lid for service. Well you know what? That recipe creator can go screw himself, cuz you can see the result. And yes I probably overdid it a little bit, but that was well after it turned into a cheese pool; if my guess is correct and their ‘ideal’ is to bake until just warmed throughout, then that’s just plain stupid. If you’re going to bake cheese, then you need to BAKE it; that means a hot, gooey center, rind that has gotten that crispy golden look to it, something really sinful, and that needs time. It should thus be scored very LIGHTLY on top, probably just in the center (did some research, apparently it is important so as to let the air/steam out while cooking), but that should be it.

20151005_141543Now I simply know that I need to leave the cheese completely untouched so as to ensure it stays in one piece during this process. Not that it really changed the experience in the slightest. Because it was just soooo good… like brie but with more of that fatty cream flavor, and surprisingly enough a little more subtle on the funk and knutty-herb-farmhouse flavors, a ‘fresher’ cheese flavor that had yet to get to that really ‘aged’ feel. It took me and my mom quite some effort to make sure we left even a bit for dad, because once that cheese got on bread, especially with a piece of just-ripened tomato from my pot, that just ended up an almost perfect afternoon treat. Everything I love about baked brie dinners but a little more concentrated.

Primary Pairing – Mead

Camembert and honey are certainly a match made in heaven, though so is honey and most cheeses if you get down to it. The distinctively cloying fat and somewhat salty properties of cheese get balanced beautifully with anything sweet, thus its often inclusion in or close to the last course of a proper French meal. So why not take advantage of this affinity to highlight a nice bottle of classic Honey Wine, letting its usually rather simple flavor, aroma, and body contrast the camembert’s properties while letting its own complexities shine through. But one needs to ensure they get one of the lighter, slightly sweet and refreshing meads; avoid ones 20151005_140917like that which I used for Raclette, which was rather thick and heavy and would be too heavy for any but the rich and more pungent cheese.

My Bottle: Winehaven Stinger Honey Wine

So far, probably my favorite Minnesota winery, Winehaven celebrates the colder Northern US history of fruit wine, made long before we found ways to grow decent wine grapes or developed hybrids for the right areas, with a small selection of bottles like raspberry, rhubarb, and of course Honey Wine. They’ve got a lot of reds and whites made from California and Minnesota-exclusive varietals too, and not done too badly either, but that’s a discussion for another day.

I got this bottle as a Christmas gift from the Sis, not too exciting as I’ve had it before, but have been saving it for the right occasion nonetheless. And here I was, being forced to bake the camembert at home instead of these other plans I had, with no bottle pre-picked out at my disposal… and yet one of the almost perfect combos are right at my feet! Chilled, it was a little lighter, still sort of medium-bodied with the thickness, which was just within the edge of acceptable when eaten alongside a big, hot glob of cheese on bread. And I love the expression it has with that musky, spicy-floral side of honey that comes through, a sign of decent honey and clean, quality attention to the winemaking. Was it the greatest thing ever? No, probably not, but for Mead it was rather good and refreshing, and didn’t clash with the cheese when the two combined on the palate.

Secondary Pairing – Bordeaux Blancbb

What I was HOPING to have this evening by sharing the dish with family at a friend’s restaurant, but alas had to rely on what was in house! But something young, clean, without any particularly ‘distinguishing’ features like chardonnay and Riesling can carry, a pure white wine with enough body to match the cheese and a refreshing nature to cleanse the palate. For me I think a decent Bordeaux Blanc would fill those qualities, along with some little green, white fruit notes from the sauvignon used that would cut nicely through the subtle funk of the rinded cheese to compliment its grassy qualities, without being too strong and overpowering. It may not be a proper regional pairing, but right now it peaks my cravings; though on that note, a nice snifter of Normandy Calvados wouldn’t be too bad either…

p3: Focaccia

#19, Focaccia

Ffocacciainally! It’s taken some time to build up the desire to set about making this, since there’s surprisingly more steps and factors with making it than I actually expected, but I’m finally getting to go for what is ultimately my absolute favorite bread: Focaccia. No matter what I can think of, how it’s baked, what it’s flavored or stuffed with, when it comes to eating hot and crispy, as-is, there is no bread that beats that rich and crunchy flavor/texture, fatty personality, and especially that extra addition of garlic/herb personality that is this classic Italian creation.

The book offer two methods to produce this so as to get the ‘perfect honeycombed texture,’ one being to rely on an overnight Poolish dough to use as a starter, while the other starts from scratch but leaves the bulk fermentation to occur in the fridge, stretching it out over a looooong period of time overnight, thus developing more of those flavors and ideal textures we want in our final bread. I’ll be doing the latter, since it seems more rustic and natural to the region… and I feel if I WERE to use a starter for an Italian bread, it should be biga, not poolish… but that’s probably a stupid reason.

Of course it’s not focaccia without oil and toppings! You always want to start off with an herb/garlic/spiced oil which is used to cover and push into the dough during the shaping/fermenting/proofing stages; this mass of Italian fat gets sucked straight in to give that almost buttery flavor and texture we so crave. After that though, one can basically put about anything on it they want; it basically is the Ligurian cousin to the Neapolitan Pizza. But there are rules! As things go, there are three designated times in which one can put toppings on top of their dough, mainly depending on what kind of ingredients they are. Those toppings are as follows:

Pre-Proof toppings: done right after the night of fermentation and a bit of extra oil adding/shaping, these include sturdy items that can stay out for hours as needed, like Nuts, Fresh/Dry Herbs, Sun-Dried Tomatoes [or other dried things], sautéed Mushrooms/Peppers, Roasted Garlic, etc.

Pre-Bake Toppings: as the name suggests, right before popping in the oven. These are mainly your really Moist Cheeses [goat, blue, fea, mozzarella, etc], Fresh Tomatoes/Veggies, Coarse Salt/Sugar and other Spices, etc.

During-Bake Toppings: halfway through cooking, you can add harder, melt-focused cheeses like Cheddar, Parmesan, Swiss, etc so they don’t burn from a longer, high temperature bake; and also any potential sauce one might want [I assume adding earlier would have it soak in more, which wouldn’t mainly be the goal for most].

I myself went with an Herb Oil that infused garlic and a lotta dried basil I had left over from my herb pots, some really good oil-packed Italian Green Olives I got from work, some Pine Nuts we had in the pantry, and Lemon Sea Salt that I got as a gift from the sister and want to put to more use! Should turn out quite num!

Recipe
2 cups/16oz Water, room temp
2tsp/0.22oz Dry Yeast
5 cups/22.5oz Bread Flour
2tsp/0.5oz Salt
6Tb/3oz Olive Oil + ¼ cup
¼ – ½ cup, or more, Herb Oil

Directions

  1. Mix Water and Yeast, leaving to bloom at least 5 minutes20150927_134626
  2. Mix Flour, Salt, and 6 Tb Oil in stand mixer, adding in yeast and water mixer before turning on low until it all comes together in a big, sticky ball20150927_134808
  3. Switch to dough hook and knead 5-7 minutes, give or take, until it’s smooth; it will still be sticky, and should clear the sides of the bowl but still stick to the bottom, may still need to add extra flour20150927_140517
  4. Sprinkle clean counter with a 6×6” square of flour and transfer the dough on top, using a scraper/spatula dipped in water. Generously dust top with more flour and press into a rectangle. Let rest 5 minutes20150927_140603
  5. Pick up by the ends, letting the dough naturally stretch until about doubled in size. Lay back down, fold each end over ‘letter style,’ spray with oil and give another generous flour dusting, let rest for 30 minutes, covering loosely with plastic wrap or a towel20150927_140832
  6. Repeat twice, letting it rest another 30 minutes after the second time and a full hour after the first; the dough should swell and almost double in size after each, and especially the last, time20150927_140938
  7. Line sheet pan with parchment paper, pour remaining ¼ cup olive oil on bottom, spreading it around evenly before placing dough on top.20150927_153426
  8. Pour over half the amount of Herb Oil you’re using [don’t be afraid to go up to if not over ½ cup in total, it will absorb it all easily], and press into focaccia with just the tips of the fingers, using the motion and pressure to spread it as far to the edge as you can, ‘dimpling’ the surface20150927_153541
  9. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and move to refrigerator overnight20150928_114713
  10. Remove, pour remaining herb oil over top and dimple it in, which should fill the pan completely with bread now. Sprinkle with any desired ‘Pre-Proof Toppings,’ making sure to lightly press in any that need it, and leave to proof, covered with plastic, until doubled in size/1 inch thick, up to 3 hours20150928_141145
  11. Preheat oven to 500F
  12. Place any ‘Pre-Bake Toppings’ on your bread and slide pan into the oven, immediately turning down to 450F and leaving for 10 minutes20150928_142312
  13. Spin pan 180 degrees, quick sprinkle on any last-minute ‘During-Bake Toppings,’ and leave an additional 5-10 minutes, or until evenly golden brown20150928_143420
  14. Remove and slide onto a cooling rack, leaving at least 20 minutes to cool before slicing… I personally can’t claim I was able to wait before cutting off a small corner
  15. Enjoy!

Herb Oil
3-4 Fresh Garlic Cloves20150927_135333
½ cup Fresh or ¼ cup Dried Herbs of your choosing
½ Tb Kosher Salt
½ tsp Black pepper
1tsp-2Tb additional Spices, if desired
¼-½ cup Olive Oil

Directions

  1. Chop Garlic and Herbs, toss in sauce pot along with Oil and Seasonings
  2. Heat to 100F, take off heat and let slowly cool. Reserve for use

What Have I Learned This Time?

20150928_143433I don’t care what the book says, Pine Nuts are a big no-no with this kind of focaccia recipe; unless you’re making a small-ish loaf that only takes up to 10 minutes to back, those bastards gonna burn.

Once again, I seriously need to double-check and plan some details out more; not only did I put it in the oven after only 2 hours of proofing instead of 3, which I don’t think actually affected it but is still something I shouldn’t have done, and I didn’t notice that it said 5-10 minutes after baking after turning, thought it was just a full 10; thus the noticeably darker-than-desired top areas. Actually, I just looked over the recipe a third time, and realized I missed the bit where I was supposed to turn the oven down to 450F after starting. God I feel stupid. And why on focaccia!? I love it so much… I don’t want to make it suffer, I swear!

Dimpling technique and what it’s used for; the actual effect of letting the non-compressed parts rise and poof and brown while any of the excess air is pushed out. It’s an interesting effect to see, considering no other bread I’m aware of actually applies this technique; if anything I’d say it’s heavily visual but does make a distinctive eating texture for the final product, not sure if I’d like it so much if it was an even, risen landscape.

It really can soak up a lot of oil, and I think I’m definitely going ¾-1 whole cup of the herb oil next time, just to see how it’d end up! I did at first think there wasn’t enough, when it was hot, but interestingly the rich fattiness of the oil came out more when cooled, another learned item; but I still wanna see how far it can go!

Speaking of which, it tends to soak through the paper bag I keep my bread in for storage; after a few days it sorta looks like a philly cheesesteak to-go bag.

Any Thoughts?

20150928_143943I’m rather sad that I didn’t complete it ideally, it deserves more respect than that… especially since the dough was doing really well all the way to the proofing stage! God, almost nothing in bread-making feels worse than putting all the effort to making a dough that looks really good and almost perfect and then screw up the baking… though at least it wasn’t that big of a screw up. It still tasted awesome, the inside was soft, flavorful, oily in all the right ways… mmmmm. Didn’t go in the toaster all that well, but I wanna find a good way to transform… maybe buttered, insides of course, and griddled, like grilled cheese? That’s an obvious.

Can’t wait to try different toppings too. I really wanna get some slices of tomato and chunks of goat cheese on before-bake, get that roasted tomato-cheese pizza feel… ooooh! Speaking of which, I so have to use this for pizza one day, press it into a pan or something, cuz it totally has that distinctive buttery, crunchy-soft-ish chew type sensation of the typical Dominoes/Pizza Hut crusts, and deep dishes.

Does the Dough Like Me Yet?

It’s recognized my nervousness with sticky doughs and has responded slightly in kind… plus I think it’s perturbed that I didn’t pay enough attention to it while baking.