Grape rosemary and lemon zest focaccia

On the same day I made the alpine baguettes and a few loaves of my regular sourdough (I think my family’s a little exhausted from my constant experimenting!), I also tried out Daniel Leader’s grape harvest focaccia. I threw in the meyer lemon zest because we had it and I thought it would work well with the other flavors.

For this recipe you will need:img_6565

For the dough:

300g tepid water

500g all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon instant or active dry yeast

1.5 teaspoons sea salt

60g olive oil

This recipe is great because most of it occurs in the bowl of the stand mixer.

Pour the water in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Add the flour, olive oil and salt and stir just long enough to blend into a dough.  With the dough hook, mix the dough on medium speed until it is supple, smooth and very elastic, about 9 minutes.img_6561

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise for about 1 to 1.5 hours.  img_6563

While the dough is rising, lightly grease a baking sheet or dish.img_6586

Perfect looking dough!img_6587

Turn the dough out into the baking dish and let sit for five minutes before shaping.img_6588

You’ll also want to prepare the toppings.  Chop the rosemary, zest the lemon, and wash and chop the grapes in half.img_6589

With well-oiled fingers, gently press the dough into the shape of the pan.  It should be very oily.img_6590

Now spread the grapes on top, and sprinkle the lemon zest, rosemary, and sea salt on top of the grapes.  Cover and let rise 30-40 minutes.  15 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.img_6591

After 40 minutes, the dough looked like this:IMG_6594.JPG

I slid it into the oven and baked for, I dunno, maybe 50 minutes?  Way longer than the 20-30 minutes Daniel Leader suggested and I wonder if it’s because it was baked in a larger, glass dish.

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The afternoon light was perfect, so I brought it outside.img_6599

I cut into it after letting it rest for an hour.  Probably should’ve let it rest longer, but it smelled heavenly.img_6598

The grapes were caramelized and super sweet.  Delish!  Just wish the dough was a bit thinner.  I didn’t like the toppings to bread ratio. img_6600

Some of the grapes were eaten off by Little Bread Toddler so I used the focaccia to scoop out some leftover ratatouille.  It was awesome!

Daniel Leader’s Corn-Rye Rounds

IMG_6517.JPGThis is the last, for a while, book in my most recent push of baking book reviews.  For my review of Dan Leader’s book, Bread Alone, click hereimg_6510

Of the recipes I flagged from this book, I was most interested in this one that combines corn and rye.  The recipe comes from Leader’s chapter on local Italian breads. It made me wish I had access to European flours and small-batch wheat berries.img_6503

In making this recipe, I made the decision to include a bit of sourdough along with the commercial yeast.  I did this because it has rye, and rye is always improved with a bit of the lactobacillus present in a starter.  I discovered, of course, that I wasn’t alone:img_6504

For this recipe, you will need:img_6500

350g lukewarm water, possibly more

1 teaspoon commercial yeast

75g active starter

200g bread flour

200g fine-ground or nixtamalized corn flour

100g rye flour

1 1/2 teaspoons saltimg_6501

This recipe did not have enough water, and I had to add between 50-100 additional grams of water to make a ball of dough.img_6502

This dough, after a bit of kneading, became mostly smooth but I wasn’t expecting it to get much smoother because of the low gluten content of the corn and rye flours.img_6505

After 1.5 or 2 (or 3!) hours, divide the dough in half and put them in separate banettons.  This differs from Leader’s instructions.img_6506

At this point, the dough was extremely sticky and not smooth at all.  I tried my best to shape it into a ball but I wasn’t overly concerned about it.img_6507

After half an hour, I preheated the oven to 450 degrees F with a pizza stone and baking sheet inside.img_6509

I flipped the dough onto the pizza stone and scored it with a razor blade, then closed the oven door as I collected a 1/2 cup of ice cubes.  Then I opened it again and poured the ice cubes into the baking sheet.  I baked the dough for about 35 minutes until it was completely baked.img_6511img_6512img_6513

The bread didn’t rise very much, but I already expected that because of the low gluten levels of the corn and rye flour.  What I wasn’t prepared for was how SOUR this bread was.img_6516

Looking back, I should’ve known.  The corn flour I used was treated with lime, and I did use rye flour which also has a sour taste.  My sourdough starter typically isn’t very sour so I don’t think that was the culprit, but the lactobacillus also didn’t break down the starches sufficiently enough to release any sweetness from the flour.  It’s possible that because I didn’t soak the flour overnight before mixing up the dough, I contributed to the sour taste.  When I asked Mr. Bread Maiden if he thought I should start over and soak the flour, he shrugged.  I think he thought it wouldn’t change the flavor enough.

If someone does decide to make this recipe, here are my tips:

Don’t use lime-treated (masa or nixtamalized) corn flour.

Use more sourdough starter.  Someone online used nearly two cups of starter for two loaves.

Soak the flour overnight so the enzymes in the flour start to break down the starches.

Let me know if you do decide to make this bread, and how it turns out.  For me, it was interesting but I just don’t think I’ll make it again.

Michael Pollan’s Whole Wheat Country Loaf

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One quibble about the name of this bread: it’s not a whole wheat bread.  It has rye flour.  I dunno. Anyway, I thought I should try it since I did review Michael Pollan’s book, Cooked.img_6317

Since I was making two different doughs at once (Pollan’s and Sam Fromartz’s Turkey Red Miche) I labeled them so as not to get confused which bread I was taking a picture of.img_6430img_6431

I did an overnight starter for Pollan’s bread and Fromartz’s bread.  Look at the difference!  One is a loose, high hydration leaven and one is a stiff leaven.img_6432img_6318

Here is my dough the morning of the day I planned to bake.  I still had the starter separated, but I mixed up the whole wheat flour, AP flour and rye flours of the final dough and did a short autolyse before adding the salt and starter to it.img_6444img_6445Here is the final dough immediately after adding the salt and starter.  Each time I did a stretch and fold to Fromartz’s dough, I did one to Pollan’s dough.img_6452img_6319

After one stretch and fold:img_6453

After the second stretch and fold:img_6454

I did two more stretch and folds.  I could really feel the gluten developing.  Certainly more than my home-ground flour dough right next to this one!

This made me laugh.  I guess I’m not the best at dividing without weighing the doughs.img_6469

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This is the inside.  You can thank sourdough starter for the light, airy crumb of an otherwise dense bread.    The only improvement would be to give the flours a longer autolyse.  The book tells you to soak the flours overnight, but since I lack reading comprehension I didn’t realize this was a step until this morning.  I did a short, one-hour autolyse which was ok but didn’t provide enough time for the starches in the flour to convert to natural sugars.

Overall, though, this was a delicious bread.  Bravo, Michael Pollan.

Samuel Fromartz’s Turkey Red Miche (adapted)

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As my book reviews have gone on, I haven’t been able to find the time to make more than one or two recipes from each book.  Sometimes I skip the general recipes or the sourdough recipes; I know what my sourdough tastes like.  I may make the baguette recipe in Sam Fromartz’s book In Search of the Perfect Loaf, but mostly it was the Turkey Red Miche recipe that intrigued me:img_6412

I still have some whole wheat berries left over that I bought in Texas a long time ago, so I decided to try making them into flour.  img_6413

This was easier said than done.  img_6422

Here was my set-up with the spice grinder, sifter, and bowl to collect the flour.  It took a long time and only resulted in barely the amount (120 grams) I needed for the leaven.img_6423img_6424img_6414

Here is the leaven.  I let it sit overnight.  It really sucked up the water and made a very stiff leaven.img_6428img_6415

On the second day, you grind up another 480g of flour for the final dough.  I ran out of wheat berries (and patience!) so I mixed it with whole ground bulgur, store-bought whole wheat flour, and flaxseed meal.img_6436img_6437img_6439

The one thing that was interesting about the recipe is making a little indentation in the dough with flour and measure the salt and add 25 g of warm water to dissolve the salt.  Then mix the salt water into the rest of the dough.img_6441

I was doing two doughs at once, so to keep my photos from getting confused I labeled them with post-its.  Every 30 minutes for four hours, do one stretch and fold to the dough.  I was actually surprised by how cohesive the dough felt, with only a minimum of AP flour (20% of the total flour by weight) to provide a gluten boost.  The other thing I was surprised about was how much stronger the dough smelled.  Fromartz talks about freshly-milled flour as more assertive than store-bought grain and it was true in this case, even with wheat berries that were nearly 10 years old.img_6438

I added a bit more water because the dough was just so stiff.img_6455

After a few hours of periodic stretching and folding, I flattened out the dough on a floured counter.  I divided it in two pieces.  Then I folded the edges together to make a seam.img_6456img_6457

I placed the dough in a floured banetton (you could also use a bowl with a floured towel inside).  I preheated the oven to 500 degrees F with a pizza stone inside for an hour.img_6458

At this point, I was a little confused.  I mean, I always thought a miche was an enormous, pounds-heavy loaf.  After some research, I found I wasn’t wrong – a miche is typically a large round loaf.  But it can also be defined as “a round loaf made from a natural leavening that also has a high percentage of whole wheat flour in it.”  This definitely fits the bill in that sense.img_6416

Overall, I was pleased with the rise and oven spring of the loaves.img_6460img_6462

You can even see the gluten formation in the bottom loaf in this picture:img_6465

When I couldn’t take it anymore and cut into the loaf, I was pleased to discover a nicely textured crumb that wasn’t dense at all.  The flavor was spectacular- very hearty but not bitter at all.  The bread had no sweetener added but had just a touch of sweetness from the wheat itself.IMG_6468.JPG

Unfortunately this dough used up the last of my wheat berries and I’m not sure where I can get more, but once I do track some down (hopefully milled this time!) I would be interested in making this bread again.

A Bread Library book review: In Search of the Perfect Loaf

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This is the second-to-last book I plan to review during this spate of book reviews.  I’ve definitely hit a wall, and they are starting to run together so I’m not sure which book is which.  That said, I thought Sam Fromartz’s book, In Search of the Perfect Loaf, was an entertaining and thought-provoking book. img_6376

I’ve read so many bread and baking books that I thought I knew everything there was to know about bread, but this book surprised me with its in-depth treatments of the evolution of wheat flour and yeast. img_6377

He’s also able to tap into a wealth of baking and culinary connections he cultivated as a journalist including Peter Reinhart, Chad Robertson, Dan Leader and Alice Waters. img_6378

What is neat is that Fromartz seems to know all the big bakers personally.img_6379

Ok, the discussion of yeast in wasps’ bellies was pretty disgusting.img_6381img_6382

I also liked that the author’s travel destinations were unique. He starts in Paris and goes to San Francisco which are well-worn territory, but moves on to Germany, the US midwest, and even a grain farm in Maryland. img_6383

I’m going to have to make this lemons, rosemary and olive oil bread soon.img_6385

Sorry people who have kept their sourdough alive for hundreds of years.  It doesn’t make a difference.img_6386

Even when Fromartz visited Tartine bakery, his questions and observations were more probing and revelatory than other authors I’ve read. img_6387

At his visit to Tartine Bakery, Fromartz documents a kneading technique that he says is so intricate he couldn’t even begin to describe it.  He’s right; you need to see it to believe it (kneading is at 3:10 in this video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIIjV6s-0cA)img_6388

Unlike other similar books with authors who admittedly do not bake, it is clear Fromartz is an accomplished home baker. img_6389

And once again, Peter Reinhart shows up to review a baking book!  It seems to be a rite of passage.img_6390

Fromartz did a super deep-dive into the history of grains, which was fascinating but not the first time I’ve read about it.  I do like each other’s take on the topic.img_6391

Ok, as someone who likes etymology, I was particularly fascinated by the roots of the word “flour,” which he discusses below.img_6392

The magic spell sourdough casts on rye and whole wheat breads is one I wish I had discovered earlier.img_6404

If someone had told me early on, “here’s a tip: if you ever make gummy bread, which can be quite common in whole grain baking, increase the amount of sourdough in the recipe” I wouldn’t have given up on rye bread so easily.  I honestly just thought me and rye bread didn’t work well together.

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I was excited to see when Fromartz visited an organic grain farm in Maryland.  The CSA we had in Alexandria, VA gave us bags of Next Step Produce flour and wheat berries.img_6407

Finally, I loved how Fromartz categorized his baking book recommendations to new, experienced, and advanced baker levels.img_6408img_6409

I knew I said “finally” before, but this really touched my heart.  He took some of the wheat kernels from a seed farm he visited in Germany and gave them to the grain farmer in Maryland to carry on the genetic diversity.  How amazing is that!img_6410

This book has the same basic set-up as 52 Loaves by William Alexander, but the texts themselves could not be more different.  William Alexander admits he did not begin his bread baking journey as a proficient baker.  As such, he travels around but doesn’t really know the questions to ask.  Michael Pollan has a similar problem when he visits Tartine Bakery.  Because Fromartz is focusing his entire book on baking rather than just a chapter of a larger book, he can visit multiple bakeries of a similar size and see how they differ rather than comparing the Wonder Bread factory and Tartine as Pollan does.

I thought the excerpt below was a funny confluence of William Alexander and Sam Fromartz’s books.  Alexander visits the Kneading Conference in Maine and attends the same session on building your own earth oven.  Whereas Alexander complains about how much time it took to build, Fromartz actually built an earth oven during the conference and then builds one again on the beach.  Pretty neat!img_6411

Is this book good for the beginning baker?  I would say no.  Beginning bakers should pick up 52 Loaves by William Alexander.  I think more advanced bakers would appreciate this one more.  When I found out he lives in DC, I thought I might convince him to do another baguette contest, this one with only home bakers!

My hopefully award-winning 2017 chili cook-off recipe

img_6375Every year for Superbowl Sunday, my church has a chili cook-off.  I enter every year, and I’ve never won.  But I think that’s about to change this year.  I can feel it.

Most years, I use a traditional chili recipe.  I like one from the Joy of Cooking 1997.  Last year I took inspiration from Mexican mole sauce and added chocolate and cinnamon.  People really liked it, and I came in second place.  But I want to clinch it this year.

This year, I’m taking what I’ve learned in previous years, and combined two non-chili recipes to get at a recipe I think takes the best from both.

Ok, here’s what I’ve discovered:

  • Not too spicy.  Kids and adults are tasting and voting.
  • Ground beef is too fall-apart-y.
  • Not too greasy.
  • A little sweetness is nice.
  • Even though Texans would disapprove, people tend to like beans in their chili.
  • Not too crazy.  Keep the flavors traditional, even if you’re using influences from other cuisines.

Ok, with all that said, here’s what my thought process was:

When I thought about my chili last year, my biggest disappointment was with the decision to use ground beef.  The texture wasn’t right for chili, and it fell apart to the point it looked more like Bolognese sauce than chili.  When I thought about what I wanted the meat to be like, I envisioned ropa vieja, a dish popular in Puerto Rico and Cuba.  In particular, I wanted the chunky strands of meat.ropa-vieja-22-editedWhere do those long strands come from?  Most ropa vieja recipes use flank steak.  But as this blogger points out, flank steak is problematic for low and slow cooking like, say, chili:IMG_6398.PNG

This blogger decided to use chuck in her ropa vieja, but for my chili I decided to use brisket instead.  It is easier to cook for a long time but doesn’t fall apart like ground beef.  I seared the brisket on all sides, cut it into big chunks the size of two fists, then cooked them in a slow cooker on low with sliced red onions and beef broth overnight.  The next morning, the meat was incredibly tender and shreddy, and the beef broth was super flavorful.

The other recipe I used was one I found on Epicurious.com when I searched for chili.  This recipe came up for some reason:IMG_6394.PNG

I liked the idea of a tomato and black bean sauce, so I nixed the meatballs and made the rest of the recipe mostly as written.  At the point where you are supposed to add the meatballs to the sauce, I shredded the brisket and added it instead.  I particularly liked the addition of crispy chorizo at the end.img_6395IMG_6397.PNG

Ok, that’s enough introduction.  For a big ol’ pot of chili, you will need:

1/2 a beef brisket, the fatty half

1 liter beef stock

1 liter apple cider

1 red onion, sliced

2-3 jalapenos, sliced

1 yellow onion, sliced

3 cloves of garlic, smashed

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

28 oz chopped tomatoes

28 oz black beans, drained and rinsed

1 tablespoon paprika

1 large dried chorizo, roughly chopped

salt to taste

pepper to taste

  1. In a large cast iron dutch oven, sear the brisket on all sides.  Let cool slightly, then cut into four or so large pieces.  Slice the red onion and place on the bottom of a slow cooker.  Place the brisket pieces on top, then pour over one cup of beef broth.  Let cook overnight on low.  Remove the brisket from the slow cooker but reserve the concentrated beef stock.
  2. The next day, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  In the dutch oven, pour 1 tablespoon of oil.  Saute the sliced yellow onion until translucent, then add the tomato paste, sugar and vinegar and cook for one minute.  Add the beef stock left over from the slow cooker, tomatoes, garlic, beans, chopped jalapenos, paprika, salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, shred the brisket and add it to the pot.  Transfer to the oven and bake 15-20 minutes until sauce is reduced.
  3. Place the chorizo in a food processor and process until finely chopped.  Heat some oil in a frying pan over high heat.  Add the chorizo and cook, stirring frequently, for 5-6 minutes or until golden and crispy.  Top the chili with the crispy chorizo.  Add more beef broth or alternate apple cider and beef broth if your chili is too dry. If possible, let the chili rest a day or two before eating so the flavors have time to meld.

Wish me luck, people!  By the time this is published I’ll already know the results from the cook-off, so I’ll let you know how it goes.

Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day: master recipe

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If you are looking for my review of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, you can check it out here: A Bread Library book review: Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day.

I made their master recipe, mostly because I was skeptical that it would really work out the way they said it would.  Surely, with as much yeast as they include in the recipe, they would exhaust themselves before I got a chance to bake the dough, right?  I wanted to see.

I also wanted to see if this was a good book for beginning bakers.  And I couldn’t very well recommend it if the master recipe didn’t work, could I?

Sorry for all these rhetorical questions.  Let’s get to it, shall we?

For three loaves (recipe says four, but I doubt that) you will need:img_6337

6 1/2 cups AP flour

3 1/2 cups water

1 tablespoon yeast

1 1/2 tablespoon saltimg_6338Mix the salt and yeast into the water in a large bowl.  Then pour in all the flour.img_6339

I knew from reading the book that the dough is supposed to be wet.  My dough was not wet, so I added another 1/2 cup of water.  While I recognize that the book is trying to be accessible to beginners, it would’ve been nice to have the weights of the flour and water and baking percentages to get a sense of ‘how wet is wet enough.’img_6340img_6341

The recipe says to mix until the flour was fully incorporated, but then you’re done.  No more kneading!  Usually I let the dough rest for 15-20 minutes then reshape it into a ball, but the recipe doesn’t say to do that.  So I left it for 2 hours as indicated.  It was very difficult to resist the temptation to futz with the dough!img_6343

After two hours, the dough looked like this:img_6344

After that, you cover the dough and place it in the oven until you plan to bake.  The next morning, the dough looked like this:img_6345

The second morning (two days after I mixed the dough) it looked like this:img_6347

On the day you plan to bake, set up a pizza stone and cast iron skillet thusly.  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.img_6348

Flour a pizza paddle.img_6349

Pull off a piece of dough and fold it into a ball shape by pulling the sides underneath so the gluten strands form a “gluten cloak” around the dough.  Brush the outside of the dough with flour and place it on the pizza paddle. Let sit for 45 minutes to an hour while the oven is preheating.img_6351

Put the rest of your dough back in the fridge if you plan to bake it another day.img_6352img_6354

After an hour, use a sharp bread knife or razor blade to score the top of the dough.  The recipe suggests a cross pattern so that is what I did.img_6361

Place the dough from the pizza paddle onto the pizza stone, and pour a cup of hot water into the skillet.  Bake the dough for 20-30 minutes until very golden brown.img_6356

The first loaf I did, I followed the recipe which seemed to say to only let the dough proof for 20 minutes before baking.  This was clearly not enough time to take the chill off the dough, and it pretty much exploded in the oven.  The holes were ok, but not great.  The proofing period after being in the fridge for days needed more time. img_6364

My second loaf of dough was given an hour-long proof, and it turned out much better.  It still exploded in the oven, but it wasn’t deformed.img_6367

You can also see the holes were slightly bigger and more distributed within the crumb.img_63681

I thought the recipe made a nice loaf of dough.  My concern, which I mentioned in my book review as well, was that keeping enough dough for three loaves of bread for days and days takes a lot of space in the fridge!  Maybe for some people that’s a small price to pay for convenience.  It’s up to you.  It’s nice to know if I do plan to make bread in the future, I shouldn’t be afraid to leave it in the fridge for days; the yeast won’t get exhausted and the flavor won’t suffer.

This book is very good for the beginning baker and I would recommend it.

A Bread Library book review: Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day

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I’m kicking myself because I know I took pictures for this review before returning the book to the library but I can’t find them on my camera or on my phone.  So here are my recipe testing pictures which will have to do.  Despite the pictures, this is still a review post.  I’ll publish the recipe in a different post.img_6337

I decided to read and review this book based on a recommendation by a friend.  She said she really liked this book and had learned to bake from it.  Since I’m always looking for books for beginners, I checked it out.img_6338

From the first page, the book really had a lot going for it.  The writing style was very friendly, and it immediately eschewed many of the points of worry for beginning bakers: measuring, fermentation, kneading, etc.  The recipe claims to not need any of those techniques.img_6339

The book revolves around a single ‘mother’ recipe, and the rest of the book is variations on that first basic recipe.img_6340

As with most baking books, the introduction describes the purposes of flour, water, yeast and salt and why their techniques work.  By keeping the dough in the refrigerator, you can mix it up one day and bake it in a few days’ time.

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By using a wet dough, it allows the yeast to move around more freely, also the gluten isn’t fully formed so the yeast doesn’t rise the dough quickly.img_6343

You should be aware that the title of this book is a misnomer.  On the first day, you have to mix the ingredients, then let the dough sit on the counter for two hours.  Then on the baking day, you have to give it a good second rise to take the chill from the refrigerator off.  So you’re dedicating two hours on mixing day and two hours on baking day.  Maybe it’s five minutes a day average, over the course of two weeks?  I can’t be the only person to notice this.img_6344

My one critique of this recipe is that, while keeping dough in the refrigerator does keep it for several days, I just don’t have the space in my fridge to keep a multi-loaf ball of dough for 14 days.  My bowl took up a whole shelf. img_6345

Ok, I did have one other complaint.  I hate this baking set-up.  I get much better results from baking with a dutch oven.  Some authors think the average bake doesn’t have a dutch oven, but they assume that same average baker has a pizza stone and cast iron skillet?  I don’t know.  Maybe they do.  But I always hate pouring water into the pan because I got a bad steam burn a year ago.  One of the books I read suggested pulling the skillet out slightly to pour the water, then let the oven door push it back in as you close it.  img_6348img_6350img_6351

One of my other issues, which I know is a nod to the non-baker people, is not weighing ingredients.  That includes not measuring the individual dough loaves when you cinch it from the rest of the dough.  I don’t know what a 1-lb loaf feels like, and I think all of my loaves were smaller than 1 lb. img_6352

I will say, I was satisfied with the way the dough came out.  Not bad for a recipe for beginners, that required zero kneading.  img_6357img_6361img_6364

The holes were decent.  They would’ve been better if I’d given it a longer second rise.  This loaf had an hour rise, not the twenty-minute rise they suggest in the book.img_6367

I wish I had had more time to peruse the recipes in this book before returning it to the library.  But I had a backing backlog and I’m just catching up.  So my verdict on Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day:  I recommend it!

Rose Levy Beranbaum’s sweet potato bread

This is my first recipe out of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s tome of a cookbook, The Bread Bible.dsc03750

I have five recipes flagged to try out.  My review of her book is here.

Since I’m going to be a little occupied tomorrow, I decided to make a recipe that didn’t require a long rise or a poolish to start.  One of my flagged recipes, the sweet potato bread, would be ready in approximately 7 hours.  I’m off work today, so that’s what I picked.IMG_6154.JPG  Another bonus is that it uses up some of our million sweet potatoes (thanks CSA!).img_6156

For this recipe (makes one loaf) you will need:

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For the sponge:

170g sweet potato (one medium)

117g AP flour

132g room temperature water

13g honey

1/4 teaspoon instant yeast

For the final dough:

180g AP flour

20 grams dry milk powder

3/4 teaspoon instant yeast

18g melted butter

125g mashed sweet potato

Prick your sweet potato all over with a fork.  Bake in a 375 degree oven for 50 minutes until soft.  Remove from oven and let cool, then peel and mash.  Mix up the sponge in a large bowl and let rise for one hour.img_6157

I totally messed this up and instead of measuring out my water, I dumped in a whole glass of water without thinking.  So my sponge was the consistency of a very thin batter, and I ended up having to add a ton of flour to the final dough to make up for it.img_6158

Now add your final dough ingredients to the sponge.img_6159img_6160

I probably added an additional two cups of flour to my dough.  I transferred it to my stand mixer and used the dough hook for 15 minutes or so.  Then, when it seemed like it just wasn’t going to have good structure, I kneaded in another half cup or so of flour on the counter with my hands.  When it was finally feeling like a good consistency and holding together, I let it rise for 2 hours in an oiled bowl.img_6167

It rose very well, considering there was no observable activity in the sponge.img_6168At this point, the recipe calls for gently folding the dough a very times and returning it to the bowl for a second rise of 1.5-2 hours.img_6169After that rise:img_6170

Then I gently rolled up the dough and transferred it to a large buttered bread pan for an additional 1.5-2 hours.  I covered it with a tea towel.img_6171After 1.5 hours, I preheated the oven to 550 degrees F with a pizza stone on a low rack and a cast iron skillet on the floor of the oven.  After 2 hours, the dough looked like this:img_6177Beranbaum does not have you score the bread.  I put the bread pan on the rack with the pizza stone and threw about a cup of ice cubes into the cast iron skillet.  img_6179img_6180img_6181Then I bumped the temperature down to 475 degrees F and baked for five minutes. Then I bumped it down to 375 for 15 minutes, after which time I rotated the dough and baked an additional 25 minutes until it was golden brown and the top was hard.img_6182img_6184img_6186

Sadly, I guess I didn’t take a crumb shot before it all got eaten.  Which is a shame because this bread was nice and golden inside.  It had a tight crumb and was very soft.  There was no hint of sweet potato flavor.  I used it for Little Bread Dude’s peanut butter and jelly sandwiches this week with no complaints.  If you have sweet potatoes to use up, this is a good recipe for that!

A Bread Library book review: Cooked by Michael Pollan

I’ve been a bit busy with book reviews, as you may have noticed.  A friend of mine has inspired the quest for the perfect baking book for the beginner.  After several in a row, I was hitting the wall.  Then that same friend recommended I read Cooked.  It served as a chaser of shorts, cleansing the palate of the repetitive baking descriptions and recipes.img_6187

A few months ago, I watched the Cooked documentary on netflix, which left me a little disappointed.  Michael Pollan, one of my favorite authors, appeared to be very awkward in the kitchen.  We wondered, does this food writer not know how to cook?

According to Pollan’s latest book, that does seem to be the case.img_6322

I appreciated his recognition here, which he didn’t make in the documentary, that the slow food movement and the wide availability of home-cooked food assumes the privilege of time and money, and individuals to do said cooking, which often falls to women.  img_6323

The original question that let me to read Cooked was about Pollan’s admiration of Wendell Berry.  I haven’t read any of his writings, but maybe that’s the next step.img_6324

Even though I was less than impressed with the baking episode of the Cooked documentary (do you even knead, bruh?), his chapter titled “Air” is very good.  Comprehensive but accessible.  I adore Pollan’s writing, finding connections between the physical processes going on in the foods we manipulate and what they mean to us as a culture.img_6325

I used to go on thefreshloaf.com a lot.  I still recommend it as a resource to home bakers.img_6326

This is not the first book I’ve read where the protagonist visits a monastery to learn some spiritual mysteries and be introspective.  But I really liked Pollan’s treatment here.  The idea of including cheese in the eucharist is subversive, unexpectedly meaningful, and awesome.img_6327

I will be making this recipe in a few weeks.  Right now I have a backlog of bread that I need to eat.img_6316

Overall, I really enjoyed Cooked, and it’s a worthy successor to Omnivore’s Dilemma and Botany of Desire.