Category Archives: baking

Soft Pull-Apart Wheat Rolls with Sourdough-Starter and/or Active Dry Yeast

the whole sheet of rolls can be turned out onto a cooling rack, and when cool, can be stored in a 2-gallon "jumbo" zip-top plastic bag for up to 3 days before serving

Classic Do-Ahead Dinner Rolls

Here’s what I want from dinner rolls: They should be slightly sweet, perhaps with a hint of honey. They should be a little wholesome—not like a fiber supplement, but not as cake-like as brioche or challah. And they should be pillowy soft. Also, I want to be able to bake them a day or two in advance. Especially for elaborate meals like Thanksgiving, there are always more important things to do on the day of whether you’re travelling or hosting. Bread is something you ought to be able to make ahead of time.

A couple of years ago, I made the mistake of taking Rose Levy Beranbaum’s sacarduros to Thanksgiving. Sacaduros are made by wrapping small pieces of her “hearth bread” dough—which makes a rustic, crusty, free-form loaf—around tiny pieces of butter and a sprinkle of coarse salt. You gather the ends loosely together on top so they unfold a bit while they’re baking like petals, and when you rip them open, you reveal the salty, buttery core. Fresh out of the oven, they’re lovely. But like most kinds of crusty bread, they’re best the day they’re made. If you leave them out very long, they’ll get stale and if you store them in an air-tight container, the crust gets soggy so instead of being crisp and appealing, it’s so chewy it’s hard to eat. Also, when they’re cold, you lose the hot buttered roll effect and instead they just seem unevenly risen and peculiarly salty inside.

after the second rise they're often just barely touching, but they'll rise more in the oven This year, I used Martha Stewart’s “Everything Thanksgiving” rolls. They’re placed in a 9×13 pan to rise and bake, so they form two big continuous sheets. The reduced surface area means they stay fresher longer. You can pull them apart just before serving or let guests pull them apart themselves. I modified the recipe for my sourdough starter and my other dinner roll preferences—honey instead of sugar, approximately 1/3 whole wheat flour, and half canola oil instead of all butter (to help keep them soft).

These were everything I want from a dinner roll—soft and slightly sweet. They’re rich enough to eat plain, but even better with butter, and they’re perfect for mopping up extra gravy. I made two batches on Wednesday, stored them in “jumbo” two gallon zip-top bags, and they still seemed fresh and soft when we were tearing into the second batch on Friday.

See Stewart’s original recipe or the note at the asterisk if you want to use active dry yeast instead of a sourdough starter. Or, if you want to use a sourdough starter but don’t have time to wait for two rises of 3-12 hrs each, you can use both starter and active dry yeast. The starter will give the rolls a little more flavor, like using old dough, but the active dry yeast will do most of the leavening and each rise will only take a little over an hour.

Recipe: Soft Wheat Rolls (adapted from Martha Stewart)
Makes 30 rolls

Ingredients:a double-batch for 60 rolls required 2 bowls

  • 1 cup refreshed 100%-hydration sourdough starter*
  • 1 cup warm milk (100-110F)
  • 1 T. sugar (only necessary if using active dry yeast)
  • 3 cups all-purpose or bread flour
  • 2 1/3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 3 t. kosher salt
  • 1/3 c. honey
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus more for coating bowl
  • 1-2 t. butter for greasing pan
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten plus 1 egg for brushing
  • 2 packages, or 4 1/2 t. active dry yeast (optional)

*If you don’t have a sourdough starter, increase the milk to 1 1/2 cups and increase the all-purpose/bread flour to 3 2/3 cups. Use the active dry yeast.

1. Heat the milk in the microwave or saucepan. If you don’t have a thermometer, test it by dabbing a bit on your wrist—it should feel hot to the touch, but not like burning. Whisk in the sugar and yeast, if using, and let sit 5-10 minutes or until frothy.

after whisking together the warm milk, yeast, and sugar, the surface will be smooth after 5-10 min it should be frothy. if not, the yeast is probably dead

2. Combine all of the ingredients except for the oil/butter and egg reserved for later, and stir until the dough begins to come together. Scrape onto a lightly-floured surface.

3. Knead for 10-15 minutes. If the dough is too sticky to knead, let it rest for 10 minutes underneath the mixing bowl and continue, adding bread flour 1/4 cup at a time until it sticks to itself more than it sticks to you.

4. Coat a mixing bowl with oil. Place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover the bowl and let rise for 1 1/4 hrs (active dry yeast) or 4-12 hrs (sourdough starter).

once most of the flour is moistened, kneaded until it's a smooth ball of dough

double-batch, ready to rise you can tell when it's risen if you can make a small depression in the dough and it doesn't "heal" automatically

5. Butter two 9×13 pans.

6. Divide dough into two equal pieces. Divide each piece into 15 equal pieces, each of which should be 50-55 grams (1.75-2.00 oz). Cover with a piece of plastic wrap to prevent them from drying as you shape them.

7. Press each piece of dough into a disc, gather the edges and pinch them together. Place each ball pinched-edge down in the prepared pans, 3 x 5.

if you want to know exactly how big each ball should be, weigh the whole ball of dough and divide by 30the pinched together disc method makes a smoother ball than just rolling a lump of dough in your hands

before the second rise after the second rise

8. Cover the pans and let rise for another 1 1/4 hrs (instant yeast) or 3-9 hrs (sourdough starter).

9. Preheat the oven to 375 for 20 minutes. Before placing the rolls in the oven, brush the tops of the rolls with beaten egg. Bake for 20 min, or until the tops are golden brown and the interiors are 190-200F.

10. Let cool on wire racks for 5 minutes. Turn out of pans and serve or let cool completely (approx. 3 hrs) and store in a an airtight container.

uh...something martha stewartish. "home is calling"?

Sourdough-risen Sandwich Bread

Does anything look homier than homemade bread?

My first, My last, My all the times in between

This is the first recipe I made with my (primary) sourdough starter. It’s the recipe I lean on when I don’t have any other bread ambitions, like bagels or naan or challah. It’s the recipe for the loaf in the banner, and the only recipe featured on the #1 google hit for “sourdough starter recipe” (a page originally written in 1997 by S. John Ross that has apparently attracted so many questions over the years that he eventually declared it a “closed topic” and ends every sourdough question in the FAQ with “A friendly reminder: Sourdough is a closed email topic.”) John Lennon's 70th birthday edition screenshot

It’s the recipe I think of as the most “basic” bread in my repertoire, even though I rarely make it “as is.” Most of the time, I use a cup or two of whole wheat flour, melted butter for the fat, 2 T. honey for the sugar, and depending on what I have on hand, 1/2 cup rolled oats, about 1/4 cup flax meal, and/or 1/4 cup sunflower seeds for extra flavor and texture. That makes a mildly sweet and nutty honey-oat bread that’s perfect for sopping up runny egg yolks or classic PB&Js (my favorite is sunflower butter + apricot preserves) or basically anything else you ever use wheat bread for.

another classic: deli turkey and tomato with Hellmann's and romaine

Variations

The recipe is also a great base for all kinds of other additions—for sundried tomato bread, use about 1/4 cup finely minced sundried tomatoes; if using oil-packed tomatoes, reserve the oil when you drain them and substitute that for the oil or butter in the dough or soak the tomatoes in boiling water for 15 minutes or more and then use the soaking liquid for some of the water. You could also add some chopped fresh herbs, a few tablespoons of pesto or tomato paste, diced up pepperoni or salami, and/or 1/2 cup finely shredded cheddar or gruyere. You can also add any combination of dried fruits and nuts. I especially like finely diced figs and toasted almond slices (about 1/2 cup of each per loaf) with just a little extra sugar than normal (about 1/3 cup per loaf). For cinnamon-swirl bread, shape the dough by rolling it into an 8” x 18” rectangle and then sprinkle it with 1/3 cup brown sugar mixed with 3 t. ground cinnamon and 1/4 cup raisins (if desired), leaving a 1/2” border all around. Roll the rectangle up jelly-roll style starting with one of the short ends, pinch the edges to seal, and bake it seam-side-down in a loaf pan. You can also do that with any other sweet or savory filling, like spiced pumpkin puree, which is great with chopped walnuts, spinach-artichoke dip, or a paste of softened butter mixed with garlic and herbs and a little Dijon mustard.

Sammich Season

tomato slices directly on the generous mayonnaise layer, always, so the juice and mayo mingle and drip onto the plate, making a delicious sour-salty sauce to be sopped up with the crustsThe variations tend to turn the bread into more of a star, but sometimes bread is just meant to be a supporting player. This loaf was designed to be a platform for the last BLTs of the 2010 tomato season. Frost has been threatening, so even though it hit 80F this weekend, I decided it was time to pull all the tomatoes out of the jungle, ripe or no. The green ones will eventually get dipped in egg and seasoned cornmeal and pan-fried, or chopped and baked in a tomato mincemeat pie, but they’ll last for a while yet on the counter. This week, we feast on the last of the ripe ones.

I leaned again on my old stand-by, using 1 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour, butter, and honey. I didn’t have any oats on hand, though I would have used them if I did. I did add 1/4 cup flax meal, and 1/4 cup sunflower seeds. The result is soft enough that it won’t cut up your mouth but stable enough that it won’t fall apart. The whole wheat flour and sunflower seeds give it lots of flavor and texture, but there’s still enough white flour and gluten to get a good rise and prevent it from being a dense brick. The honey adds just a little sweetness and I let it rise long enough to have just a little sourdough tang. 

No elaborate history or etymology or personal story today, just a simple recipe for sandwich bread, which anyone with a sourdough starter ought to have. There’s a note about how to substitute active dry yeast if you don’t have a starter, and I’ve included the ratios for both one and two-loaf versions using 2 cups of starter. If you only have 1 cup of starter to use, halve the 2-loaf version. Slashing didn't seem to affect the rise at all, so it's basically an aesthetic choice.

Recipe: One loaf of sourdough-risen sandwich breadclockswise from the empty bowl: refreshed starter, honey, melted butter, dry ingredients

  • 2 cups refreshed sourdough starter (100% hydration)*
  • 3 cups flour (all-purpose or bread flour or a combination of flours)**
  • 2 t. kosher salt (1.5 t. regular)
  • 2 T. liquid fat (oil or melted butter or lard)
  • 2t-2T sugar or honey (2 t. for savory breads, up to 2 T. for sweeter breads)

Recipe: Two loaves of sourdough-risen sandwich bread

  • 2 cups refreshed sourdough starter (100% hydration)*
  • 2 cups water
  • 6 cups flour (all-purpose or bread flour or a combination of flours)**
  • 4 T. liquid fat (oil or melted butter or lard)
  • 2 t. kosher salt (or 1.5 t. regular)
  • 1-4 T sugar or honey (1 T. for savory breads, up to 4 T. for sweeter breads)

*or substitute 1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 t.) per loaf and 1 1/3 cups flour and 1 1/3 cups water; if you want to mimic the sourdough flavor, add 1-2 t. apple cider vinegar per loaf; if you have time, make a “sponge” by combining the yeast with 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup warm water (110-120F) and letting it sit for 5-10 minutes before adding the rest of the ingredients
**if using a low-gluten flour like rye, you may wish to add ~1 T. vital wheat gluten per 1/2 cup of flour, whisked into the dry ingredients before mixing them with the wet ingredients or it may not rise well or turn out a little crumbly

Optional additions, amount recommended per loaf:
1/2 cup
rolled oats, shredded or crumbled cheese, chopped nuts, or dried fruit
1/4 cup flax meal, wheat germ or bran, oat bran, sunflower or sesame seeds, minced sundried tomatoes, bits of cured meat (especially pepperoni), fried onion or shallot, minced roasted garlic, finely chopped crystallized ginger, or chopped olives
2 T. pesto, tomato paste, tapenade, chopped fresh herbs, or caraway or fennel seed
cinnamon-swirl bread filling: 1/3 cup brown sugar + 3 t. cinnamon with 1/4 cup raisins (optional)

Method:

1. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and stir until most of the flour is moistened and it begins to form a dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

2. Scrape the dough onto a rolling mat or lightly-floured surface and knead, adding more flour if necessary to prevent it from sticking to you too much. If it’s very sticky, let it rest for 10-15 minutes, which allows the flour to absorb more moisture, and then continue kneading. Knead for 10-15 minutes total, or until the dough forms a smooth ball with a taut surface and a small piece of dough stretched between your fingers forms a membrane that you can see light through(i.e. a “baker’s windowpane”).ingredients just combined, shaggy and stickyscraped onto a rolling mat with a little extra flourafter 10-15 minutes of kneading, surface of the ball should be smooth and tautcoated in olive oil, ready to rise

3. Place in lightly-oiled bowl, turn to coat, cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 3+ hours, or until doubled in volume. Rising time will vary based on your sourdough starter. I often just let it rise overnight, although if you don’t want any sourdough flavor, you might want to limit it to 5-6 hrs. One way to test if it’s risen enough: if you make an indentation in the risen dough with your finger, it should take more than a minute to “heal.”

the next morning, overflowing the bowl4. Punch the dough down to deflate it, turn it onto a clean surface and knead a few times. Then, shape in free-form loaves or place in loaf pans greased or lined with parchment paper. Let rise another 2-3 hours, or until doubled again. If using loaf pans, it should be rising above the rim of the pan.

5. Preheat the oven at 350F for 15-20 min before baking. Slash the risen loaf down the middle with a sharp knife, if desired. Bake 35 min or until crust is golden brown and the loaf sounds hollow when knocked on the bottom.

6. Cool on wire racks. The bread will be easier to slice once it’s completely cooled, but then you don’t get to eat it warm from the oven. Your call.

I usually shape them sort of like footballs, with a pinched seam down one side, and then put them seam-side down into the pansready for rise #2

  

after about 3 hours

if you want the slash, just make a vertical cut about 1/4" deep with a very sharp knife

Sourdough-risen Baguettes, Regular and Whole-Wheat

not quite as long as traditional baguettes, because my oven isn't as long as commercial ovens

A “French” Bread from Austria

There are conflicting accounts about the origins of the baguette—the thin rod of bread with a crisp and chewy crust and soft, yielding inside with large, irregular holes that most Americans associate primarily with France. Indeed, baguettes or at least something baguette-shaped is usually what English-speaking people have in mind when they refer to “French bread.” Nonetheless, according to The Food Timeline and Elizabeth David’s English Bread and Yeast Cookery (1979), the baguette actually originated in Vienna, where steam ovens were invented in the 19th C. “True French bread,” according to David, is “the old round or cylindrical hand-shaped ‘pain de campagne’ [country bread] or pain de menage’ [bread of the household, or common bread], plump, and crossed with cuts so that when baked the crust is of many different shades, gradations and textures and the crumb rather open and coarse.” That explains why in France, and still occasionally elsewhere, things that look very like baguettes are called “Vienna bread.”

large-ish, irregular holesHowever, baguette-shaped loaves were common in France nearly a century before Viennese steam-blasting ovens were adopted. According to Jim Chevallier, the author of a self-published book on the croissant, by the 18th C. “the default shape [for bread] was already long and narrow, and Malouin refers to the round shape as how ‘bread was shaped in former times’.”

Both David and Chevallier suggest that the shift from round balls to long batons was caused not by the steam oven, but instead by the increasing use of soft doughs (molle or batarde, meaning in-between or “bastard”), which relied on two inventions: a more refined flour sifted to remove most of the the fibrous bran and germ and the use of brewer’s barm or dried yeast. The resulting breads were much softer and lighter than the older style of bread made with whole grain flour and leavened with old dough (levain, which is basically a kind of sourdough starter). The older styles, called pâte briée or pâte broyée, were so dense and coarse that they were traditionally kneaded with the feet or pounded with long iron sticks.

the whole grain version has fewer large holes and is just slightly denser, but still soft in the middle, crusty on the outside, and flavorful and pleasantThe shift from hard, whole grain dough to soft, refined-flour dough also prompted a proliferation of interest in crust. Before the 18th C., the crust was considered the least desirable part of a loaf and often grated off and sold separately as bread crumbs. But the lighter loaves, when not burned by the uneven wood-burning ovens of the day, developed a golden-brown exterior with a rich, toasted flavor that was still soft enough to  chew. Instead of getting rid of the crust, bakers started to develop ways to maximize it, including new shapes and slashing techniques, like the fluted pain long, which if not a “baguette” proper certainly looked a lot like one.

Ultimately, whether we believe David that the baguette is a 19th C. invention or Chevaillier that it dates to the 18th C. may come down to the definition of “baguette." If you take the name “baguette” to refer primarily to the shape of the loaf, it seems clear that it pre-dated the Industrial Revolution and Viennese steam-blasting oven. However, if you think “baguette” refers only to the specific kind of baton that’s 2-3’ long and about 2” in diameter with barely-there insides and the kind of crust you can only achieve by blasting it with steam periodically during the baking process, then it’s a far more recent invention.

I No Can Haz Steam-Blasting Oven, Oh Noes!

seriously, how French does this kid look? I mean, he *is* French, but does he have to be SO FRENCH? From Salut! by Stacey in France, click for sourceSo, as suggested above, it’s true that the kind of baguettes that instantly make anyone holding one look impossibly-French get their characteristic crustiness from steam-blasting ovens. I’ve discussed this issue before.

I can’t create quite the same dramatic seam-splitting and crustiness in my standard dry-heat oven, and I imagine the best home results probably rely on a specially-shaped lidded ceramic baking dish like this La Cloche, which traps the moisture from the dough just like the covered pot used in Jim Leahy’s no-knead method. However, I have not been disappointed with the results I get from overnight refrigeration, a pizza stone, a cast iron pot, and a spray bottle. Mine turn out a little breadier than a traditional baguette, but they also last a bit longer without getting stale and still have a nice crisp, chewy crust.

Further blasphemy: even though the baguette was created specifically for the special characteristics of refined flour—the quick-rising, seam-splitting, ethereal insides and shattering outsides that depend on the dough being composed almost exclusively of easily-digestible starches and not a lot of indigestible fiber, I think I get pretty good results even using almost-entirely whole wheat flour as long as I add a little more gluten and sugar. Sure, my whole wheat loaves are a little denser and a little chewier, but not, I think, unpleasantly so. As you can tell from the pictures, they rise almost as much as their refined-flour counterparts, although the crumb isn’t quite as open and irregular. They still seem unmistakably baguette-ish to me.

What follows should be in no way construed as a “traditional” baguette recipe—if anything, it’s probably closer to the 18th C. predecessors than the modern baguette. Nevertheless, it is shaped like a baton, crusty on the outside, soft and flavorful on the inside, and just right for serving alongside a few wedges of cheese or slicing on a bias and topping however you like for canapés.

Recipe: Sourdough-risen Baguette (makes 2 loaves about 2’ long) both batches of dough mixed and ready to knead; I let them rest in the bowl instead of turning them out onto my silpat, so that's always an option too

  • 1 cup refreshed 100% hydration sourdough starter
  • 1 cup water
  • 3-4 cups bread flour
  • 2 t. kosher salt
  • 1 t. white sugar
  • extras: 1/4 to 1/2 cup more flour, wheat germ, cornmeal, rolled oats, seeds, fried shallots or garlic, salt, or a combination

Recipe: Sourdough-risen Whole Wheat Baguette (approximately .78-.83 whole grain)

  • 1 cup refreshed 100% hydration sourdough starter
  • 1 cup water
  • 3-4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 4 T. vital wheat gluten
  • 1 T. malt extract or maple syrup or honey or any other sweetener
  • 1 T. white sugar
  • 2 t. kosher salt
  • extras: 1/4 to 1/2 cup more flour, wheat germ, cornmeal, rolled oats, seeds, fried shallots or garlic, salt, or a combination

Instant yeast adaptation: Instead of the sourdough starter, use 1 package (about 2 1/4 teaspoons) Active Dry or Rapid Rise yeast. Add an additional 2/3 cup flour and 2/3 cup water. The first rise should only take about one hour, and you can take it out of the refrigerator just 30 minutes before baking.

Method

ingredients in, ready to mix1. Combine all ingredients except the “extras,” using the smallest amount of flour called for, and stir with a large spoon or spatula just until it comes together and starts to pull away from the bowl. If using whole wheat flour and added gluten, whisk the gluten into the flour before adding it to the moist ingredients.

2. Turn onto a lightly-floured surface, cover with the mixing bowl, and let sit for 5-15 minutes to let the flour absorb as much moisture as possible.

3. Knead for 10-15 minutes, adding as much of the additional cup of flour as needed to prevent the dough from being too sticky to work with. It should be sticky, just not so sticky that it sticks to you more than it sticks to itself.

4. Place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled in size (2-12 hrs, depending on your starter; 1 hr if using instant yeast)

before rising 5-6 hours later

5. Generously dust a kitchen towel with flour or whatever else you want to use to coat the loaf—you must use something, or it will become permanently adhered to the towel and when you try to unroll it onto the pan, you’ll completely destroy the shape and be stuck trying to scrape the dough off with your fingernails. Sometimes when I’m dusting it with something coarser than flour, I still dust the towel with a layer of flour first just to be sure it won’t stick. Sticking is very bad.

towel generously dusted, dough rolled out; you can see it sticking to the silpat; imagine trying to get it off something other than silicone

hard to see here, but I did dust the towel with flour before sprinkling it with oats

6. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a long rectangle and then roll up, jelly-roll style, into a long tube. Place on the prepared towel and dust the top side with whatever you’re using to prevent the loaf from sticking to the towel.

7. Roll the loaf in the towel, place on a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or up to a week. ready to be rolledall wrapped up and ready to spend the night in the refrigerator

8. Take the loaf/ves out of the refrigerator 1 1/2 hrs before you want to bake it/them. 30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450F with a baking tile on one of the racks and a cast iron pot on the oven floor.

9. Just before baking, gently unroll the loaf onto a piece of parchment paper, and slash diagonally every 3”-4”.

if you wanted, you could just bake one at a time. in fact, if you made up a double-batch of dough on the weekend, you could have a freshly-baked baguette 4 days of the week the oats are a little harder to cut through; a super-sharp knife is invaluable for this

10. Slide the loaf, parchment and all, onto the baking tile and quickly pour 1/4 cup water into the cast iron pot and close the oven. Another optional step that will create even more steam (and thus a crisper crust) is to spritz the walls of the oven 3-4 times using a spray bottle full of water.

11. Bake for a total of 20-30 minutes or until the crust is golden-brown and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. After 5 minutes and 10 minutes in the oven, add another 1/4 cup water to the pot and/or spritz the oven walls again to create more steam.

does this make my blog look impossibly-French? no? bummer

Sourdough starter-risen American pumpernickel and starter maintenance options

"red-headed stepchild" on the right split while rising and that seemed to obviate the need for slashing; "favorite child" on the left obviously got a little better shape and rise 

Devil’s Fart Bread

“Pumpernickel” has the best etymology in baking (sorry, bagel). “Pumpern” was New High German slang for flatulence, and “Nickel” or just “Nick” was a common name for Satan (e.g. “Old Nick”) as well as other off-brand goblins, demons, rascals, and bastards. So the name of the bread literally means “farting devil” or “farting bastard.” Seriously, this etymology is accepted by German philologist Johann Christoph Adelung, Merriam-Webster, the Snopes Language Database, the publisher Random House, and the Kluge, which from what I can tell is basically the German OED.

It apparently got its name because, especially in its original form, it is extraordinarily dense and full of indigestible fiber. Traditional German pumpernickel is made from un-bolted rye flour and whole rye berries, which move through the digestive system like Metamucil (which I will forever associate with Black History Month). The other reason traditional pumpernickel is so dense is that rye contains very little gluten. No matter how much yeast is in the dough, it won’t rise very much because much of the gas just escapes.

from Wikimedia commonsRye flour also absorbs a lot more moisture than wheat flour and has to be very wet in order to rise at all. A 100% rye flour that’s dry enough to be kneaded or shaped by hand will be a dense, unpleasant brick. Instead, traditional pumpernickel is made with a dough that’s almost like a batter and very sticky. It’s stirred instead of kneaded and poured into loaf pans to rise and bake. The gluten network isn’t strong or extensive enough to create the rounded top you get from wheat breads or American rye risen in loaf pans. That’s is why the German-style pumpernickel (100% rye) that you can buy at the store is perfectly square—it can only rise as high as the sides of the loaf pan.

American Deli-style Pumpernickel

The almost-black color of traditional pumpernickel is due to an incredibly long baking time (16-24 hours at 250F), which apparently causes Maillard reaction browning throughout the entire loaf. Maillard reaction is the same thing that makes toast brown, so traditional pumpernickel is sort of like bread that’s been entirely toasted from the inside-out, which gives it a deep roasted flavor reminiscent of chocolate and roasted coffee.

American bakers who didn’t want to spend the time and resources on that kind of baking process found they could mimic the color and flavor produced by a long stay in a low-heat oven using cocoa, molasses, and/or instant coffee granules. As packaged dry yeast became more widely available, that was substituted for the sourdough starter to shorten the rising time, and vinegar was often added to mimic the traditional tang. Additionally, American bakers used a high proportion of wheat flour to rye flour, which gave their version enough gluten to be shaped by hand and rise like other wheat breads. That’s the version that became popular as part of American deli cuisine. It’s still dense, richly-flavored, and dark brown or almost black, depending on how many darkening agents are used. However, the texture is much lighter and springier than traditional pumpernickel, which makes it far better-suited to sandwiches.

The Ruben: corned beef, gruyere, sauerkraut, and a dressing made of mayonnaise, ketchup, and sweet pickle relishEgg Salad: hard-boiled egg, mayonnaise, mustard, minced celery, grated onion, and a little celery salt, with a few pieces of crisp lettuceTurkey Ruben: smoked turkey, gruyere, homemade coleslaw with celery salt

Rye Sourdough Starter Conversion

I made a rye sourdough starter about six months ago, when I was under the mistaken impression that it was possible to make a 100% rye dough that would rise like wheat bread if you just added enough gluten. You can make any kind of starter with any kind of flour by following the process outlined here, but if you have a starter going already, you can also convert it to a different kind of flour by simply feeding it with the new flour. I didn’t actually want to convert Ezekiel, I wanted a separate rye starter, so I just used a tablespoon of Ezekiel and fed it with rye flour about every 24 hours as follows:

Day 1: 1 T. rye flour, 1 T. water

Day 2: 2 T. rye flour, 2 T. water

Day 3: 1/3 cup rye flour, 1/3 cup water

Day 4: 2/3 cup rye flour, 1 cup water

The reason I started giving it more water than flour is because rye flour absorbs a lot more moisture, and I realized that feeding it at a 1:1 ratio would produce something that would eventually be more like a ball of dough than a batter. That would will still work— “old dough” style starters are basically the consistency of dough and must be kneaded into new batches of bread gradually. I think wetter starters are a little easier to incorporate, and that’s what I’m used to using, so I decided to keep my rye starter at 150% hydration (2 parts flour: 3 parts water).

Day 3: a few tiny bubbles, just after feeding. Hard to tell in this shot, but the bowl was just under half-full After 8 hrs, the starter had bubbled up high enough to touch the plastic wrap covering the bowl. Done: active rye starter.

The first day, there wasn’t a whole lot of action. On Day 2, there were a few bubbles. By Day 3, the starter got bubbly within a few minutes of being fed and doubled in size within 8 hours. I used it to make a loaf with 100% rye flour, which didn’t rise much, but did get sour. Previous loaves I’d made with mostly rye flour using my wheat starter rose about the same amount, but didn’t get sour. So the rye starter clearly contains more of some strain of yeast that prefers rye flour.

this was dinner one night in February--quartered slices of a brick of traditional-ish pumpernickel with 1) hummus, cheddar, cucumber, and grape tomato, 2) apricot jam, camembert, and apple slices, 3) egg saladI thought about killing it after a few more tries convinced me that it just wasn’t possible to make a soft, sandwich-style or free-form loaf with 100% rye flour. Even after adding 1/2 cup wheat gluten, I couldn’t get enough of a gluten network going for it to rise like a wheat bread. So I can only make 100% rye as tall as my loaf pans go, basically like a traditional pumpernickel. I don’t dislike traditional pumpernickel, but it only really seems suited to being cut into canapé-sized squares and topped with canapé-style toppings, and there’s only so many of those I can eat. There’s nothing wrong with breads that contain less than 100% rye flour, but I don’t need a separate starter for that—Ezekiel will happily rise anything that contains at least 1/2 cup wheat flour.

Keeping a Once-a-Month Starter

The only reason my rye starter is still alive—although haven’t named it yet, so clearly I’m not that attached to it either—is because I’m maintaining it in a way that only requires me to bake with it about once a month instead of once a week. I only save 1-2 t. starter every time I bake, and then feed it weekly until it’s threatening to overflow its jar, which usually takes at least four weeks. I use almost all of it when I bake and save just another 1-2 t. 

You can keep any kind of starter on that kind of feeding schedule if you want to make sourdough-risen bread, but don’t want to do it every week. Once your starter is active, only save about 1 tsp. fed with 1 tsp. flour and 1 tsp. water (or 1.5 tsp. water if using rye flour). Then, about once a week, add just enough flour and water to double whatever is in the jar. A sample feeding schedule for a 100% hydration wheat starter might be:

Week 1: 1 T. flour + 1 T. water

Week 2: 2 T. flour + 2 T. water

Week 3: 1/4 cup flour + 1/4 cup water

Week 4: 1/2 cup flour + 1/2 cup water

Week 5: 1 cup flour + 1 cup water OR bake and start from the beginning again

Sometimes I forget about it for a week, and nothing bad seems to happen. Once I’ve built it up to 1-2 cups again, I make a mental note that I should bake with it sometime in the next week or two. The night before I want to bake, I “refresh” it by pulling it out of the fridge, dumping it into a bowl, adding 1 cup flour and 1 cup water and letting it sit at room temperature for at least 8 hrs before mixing the dough. The next day, I measure out as much as I need for the recipe I’m using, and if there’s a lot left over, I either add it to the recipe and reduce the amount of flour/water I use (baking really isn’t a science), double the recipe, or make another loaf. I suppose I could also just throw the extra away, but I hate to do that. I reserve just about a teaspoonful of the refreshed starter to put back in the jar with a teaspoon each of fresh flour and water, which makes a total of about 1 T. starter. Refrigerate. Repeat. 

I could also save a little more starter, say 2 T. or 1/4 cup, and feed it for just two or three weeks between baking. Not to get all self-help lit, but how empowering is that? You don’t have to be controlled by your yeast culture. You can have sourdough-risen bread as often, or infrequently as you want it. You are the master of your own sourdough starter!

Of course, you can also just use active dry yeast, too, and I’ve included modifications for that and a version that uses a wheat-sourdough below the ingredient list.

Recipe: Rye-starter-risen American Pumpernickel (makes 2 large loaves, adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups refreshed rye starter at 150% hydration (roughly 1.5 cups rye flour and 2.25 cups water)
  • 1 1/2 cups dark rye flour
  • 3 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup vital wheat gluten (optional but highly recommended)
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 4-8 T. butter
  • 3 t. salt
  • 2 T. malt extract, maple syrup, or sugar (optional)
  • 1/2 t.-2 t. caraway seeds (optional)
  • 1/2 t. fennel seeds (optional)
  • 1/2 t. coriander seeds (optional)
  • 1 T. shallot, fresh or dried, or onion powder (optional)
  • 2 T. cocoa (optional)
  • 1 T. instant espresso or coffee powder (optional)

Wheat Sourdough Starter Substitution: Use 2 cups of 100%-hydration sourdough starter made with all-purpose or high-gluten wheat flour, like Ezekiel (~1.5 cups flour and 1.5 cups water), increase the dark rye to 3 cups, reduce the bread flour to 2 cups, and increase the water to 1 cup. The rest of the ingredients and steps stay the same. If the dough is too sticky to knead, add more wheat flour. If it’s too dry to form a smooth ball and cracks as you knead it, add more water.

Active Dried Yeast Substitution: Combine 2 packages or 1.5 T. active dry yeast with 1/2 cup warm water (110-120F) and 1/2 cup all-purpose or bread flour. Let sit for 10 min, and then add 3 cups rye flour, 2 1/2 cups bread flour, 2 cups warm water, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar and the rest of the ingredients from the gluten on down in the same amounts as above. If the dough is too sticky to knead, add more flour. If it’s too dry and cracks as you knead it, add more water.

Method:

1. If using fresh shallot, mince. If using dried shallot and/or any of the spices, grind them in a coffee grinder, mortar and pestle, or by putting them in a zip-top bag and crushing them with a rolling pin.

I discovered the motor in my coffee grinder was dead, so opted for the ziploc bag route Some people like the seeds whole--if you do, skip this step and just add them to the dough

2. Whisk together the flours and the gluten, if using. The gluten will start to form long sticky strands as soon as it is moistened, so you want it to be distributed throughout the flour and the dough well.

3. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and stir just until it starts to come together. black bread 009black bread 010

3. Turn onto a lightly floured surface or rolling mat and knead for at least 15 minutes. It should be slightly sticky, but stick to itself more than it sticks to you and you should be able to form it into a smooth ball.

4. Lightly coat the bowl with oil, put the dough in the bowl and turn to coat the whole surface lightly with oil. Cover and let rise 6-8 hours (or more) until doubled in size.

~midnight~7am

5. Punch the dough down and divide into 2 equal pieces. Shape each into a smooth round ball or oblong, or place in a loaf pan. Cover and let rise again until doubled in size (probably at least 2 hrs, perhaps as much as 6 depending on how active your starter is).

punched down as they rose, they ended up being too close to each other and too big for the same pan, so I cut the parchment in half and separated them

6. Preheat the oven to 350F about 30 minutes before you want to put them in the oven.

7. Slash with a sharp knife—diagonal cuts for oblong loaves, a cross or square for round loaves, a slice down the middle for loaf pans. You can also let the loaf split naturally—one of mine did as it was rising. There must have been a small tear in the gluten network on the outside, which grew into a massive split as it rose. They just look a little more “rustic” that way.

8. Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until the loaves sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

The combination of caraway, fennel, chocolate, coffee, molasses, and onion or shallot probably isn't for everyone. I'm not a huge fan of caraway so I tend to use very little or leave it out. But there is something about the combination of caraway-infused American Pumpernickel, corned beef, and sauerkraut that just seems "right."

Sourdough English Muffins: Of nooks and crannies and double-entendres

hot, buttered muffins

“Oh, no, my muffin hasn’t had a cherry since 1939.”
Betty White on SNL

Not to belabor the SNL references too much, but the “English muffin” presents us with a quintessential Coffee Talk paradox: the “English muffin” is neither English nor a muffin. (Discuss! By gum, I think I will…)

Do you know the muffin man?

The words “English muffin” appeared in print for the first time in 1842 in Great Western Magazine, a publication of a British railway company:

"In the deep well of a blue-edged plate..is disclosed that dream of farinaceous enjoyment, the *English muffin.” (from the OED, which does not explain the asterisk)

The fact that it shows up for the first time in a railway magazine may suggest that no one thought to specify its national origin until they were taking it outside of its supposed “home” country. But the only place outside of England that the Great Western Railway went was Wales, which is, coincidentally, where the type of bread represented by the “English muffin” probably originated sometime in the 10th C. Perhaps the increasing continental interconnectedness represented by the railway prompted a bit of mistaken culinary nationalism?

when you place them on the hot griddle, you can actually watch them rise up as the yeast frantically pump out gasthen you flip them, they deflate a little, like you've crushed their little yeasty ambitions. I must have some kind of bread schadenfreude--I really love watching them poof and then fall.

From Punch, or the London Charivari, Volume 103, December 24, 1892 ed. Sir Francis Cowley Burnand via WikipediaAside from that one instance, yeast-risen rolls griddled on both sides to create two flat, browned sides and a pale band about the waist were generally just referred to as “muffins” on both sides of the Atlantic until the end of the 19th C. The word derived either from the Middle Low German word “muffe” (pl. “muffen”) meaning “little cake” or the Old French “moufflet” meaning a soft or tender bread. It was probably the kind of bread peddled by the “muffin man” of nursery rhyme fame and along with its close relatives, the crumpet and cross-bun, was  customarily served with butter and jam at mid-day tea, a tradition that began in the 17th C. and reached its height in the Victorian Era.

Hannah Glasse included a recipe for small, griddled yeast breads in The Art of Cookery (1747) titled “Muffings [sic] and Oat-Cakes” which instructed that they be split with a fork rather than a knife so “they will be like a Honey-Comb” instead of “heavy as Lead.” Thomas Jefferson’s granddaughter recorded a similar recipe for “Monticello Muffins” in her unpublished cookbook manuscript. It calls for a dough of flour, water, and yeast to be shaped in “little cakes like biscuit” and baked on a griddle “before the fire” rather than inside the stove. Those were probably the same muffins Jefferson was referring to when he wrote to his daughter Martha from the White House:

"Pray enable yourself to direct us here how to make muffins in Peter’s method [referring to Peter Hemings, the head cook at Monticello]. My cook here cannot succeed at all in them, and they are a great luxury to me.”

One of Jefferson’s great-granddaughters recorded an anecdote regarding their proper consumption echoing Glasse’s warning not to cut them with a knife. The Benjamin Franklin in the story is one of Jefferson’s grandsons, not the bespectacled founding father, and Mrs. M is Dolley Madison, the fourth First Lady:

"On one occasion little Benjamin Franklin  . . . seated next to Mrs. M. found himself unequal to the management of his muffin. Mrs. Madison’s aid being invoked, she took the knife to cut it, but a little hand was laid on hers, and an earnest voice exclaimed, ‘No! No! That is not the way!’ ‘Well, how then Master Ben?’ ‘Why, you must tear him open, and put butter inside and stick holes in his back! And then pat him and squeeze him and the juice will run out!’ Mrs. Madison, much amused, followed his directions. Any lover of the English muffin will appreciate their wisdom!"

Notably, the story also seems to mark the transition from “muffin” to “English muffin.” What for the late 18th C. or early 19th C. Master Ben was just a “muffin,” was for Jefferson’s great-granddaughter, Ellen Wayles Harrison, who lived from 1823-1897, an “English muffin.”

American Muffin

The need for a distinction was probably prompted by the growing popularity of quick breads, which was facilitated by the increasing availability of chemical leaveners. The New World turned out to be a great source of potash, which could be refined into pearlash, an alkaline salt used in some bread and cake recipes in Andrea Simmons’s 1796 American Cookery. Chemically-leavened breads really took off after the first factory to produce baking soda was established by two New York bakers in 1846. A 1879 domestic handbook titled Housekeeping in Olde Virginia includes two recipes for “muffins,” the first of which would have produced something like an English muffin, and then:

“Another recipe for muffins…make the batter the consistency of pound cake, and bake in snow-ball cups as soon as made” (foodtimeline.org).

Although a butter and egg-rich cake called “pound cake” was also made in England, the one that’s traditional to the American South is lighter specifically because of the inclusion of baking soda. As quick breads became more common, especially in the American South, the older, yeast-risen style of “muffin” may have been associated with the Old World. It was apparently sold as a distinctively “English” bread at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. A recipe in Richard Baxter’s Receipt Book for Bakers (1896) claimed: “These are the genuine English Muffins that were introduced into Chicago during the World’s Fair.” Furthermore, the first person to mass-produce them was an honest-to-God Englishman. 1950s Thomas' ad--before "nooks and crannies" were their slogan--the small print describes the "wonderful texture of ridges and valleys that toast to a golden perfection...eagerly soak up butter, jam or marmalade"

Samuel Bath Thomas emigrated from Plymouth, England to New York in 1875 and began selling yeasted, griddled rolls at his Ninth Avenue bakery in 1880. An article on Wolferman’s website claims that Thomas invented the “English muffin” and the fork-splitting technique that preserved their “nook & crannies” better than knife-slicing, which seems to confuse Thomas’s advertising campaigns with history—the phrase “nooks and crannies” actually comes from 1970s Thomas English muffin ads. But Wolferman’s does have the essential Americanness of the term right—when Unilever bought the S.B. Thomas brand in the 1990s and began exporting “English muffins” to the UK, consumers there were totally bemused by the name.

So the “English muffin” is essentially American—or, traditionally, Welsh—and it’s completely different from the other kind of bread Americans typically call “muffins.”

Just bluffin’ with my muffin

Lamenting the substitution of “English muffin” for “crumpet” in the American versions of the Harry Potter books, Michael Quinion of World Wide Words argues that “crumpet” has unique cultural associations, even though young Americans might not know them. In particular, he mentions the crumpet’s slang connotations:

In the 1930s, the word became British English slang for a woman regarded as an object of sexual desire. No doubt men remembered their schooldays and associated female pulchritude with something tasty….

is "muffin" really not a slang term in the UK? is this cheeky smile really just for the American audience? or does Michael Quinion live under some kind of rock where women can be crumpets but not muffins?But of course, “muffin” has a similar connotation in America. It can refer to attractive people of both genders, usually preceded by “stud” for men, and is also used to refer to female genitalia—although as a primary rather than secondary sex organ, it’s a matter of some dispute whether that counts as “an object of sexual desire” (see Civilization and Its Discontents p. 63). In any case, it’s probably the perfect substitution for “crumpet” for American readers.

The usual explanation for the slang use of “muffin” has less to do with the tastiness of muffins or “female pulchitrude” than the phonetic similarity between muffin and “muff,” as in the winter accessory made of fur. “Muff” was adopted as a slang term for vagina in the late 17th or early 18th C. for anatomical reasons highlighted by this lyric from the 1707 Merry Songs & Ballads: “The Muff between her Haunches, Resembl’d..a Mag-Pye’s Nest” (OED).

By way of unfortunate synecdoche, it eventually became a slang term for a woman or girl, especially if considered promiscuous or a prostitute. According to Cassell’s, the extension to “muffin” as slang for either woman or vagina in the U.S. happened in the 1960s, at which point its primary culinary referent would have been the quick bread baked in a instead of the griddled, yeast-risen roll.

That just makes it all the more curious that “crumpet” would have acquired the same slang meaning overseas without the phonetic tie to “muff.” Is it just the fact that that both crumpets and muffins—both English and American—are round? I guess the words bun, pie, tart, cupcake, and dumpling all have similar slang meanings. Even biscuit is apparently a slang term for a young woman—who, if unappealing, is a “cold biscuit.” Not so for the toroidal bagel, twisted or rod-shaped pretzels, square petit fours, crackers, and brownies,* or flatbreads—there are no entries in Cassell’s for pita or naan, and pizza’s associations are primarily dermatological. I’m left, somewhat uneasily, with the conclusion that round breads and pastries are just inherently yonic. A question for you, dear readers: Are there any round baked goods that haven’t become slang terms for women and/or their genitalia?

*The Girl Scout level is taken from the mythical fairy-like creature known in Scotland and parts of England as a brùnaidh popularized by Canadian author Palmer Cox not the name of the baked good, which refers to the color of the chocolate bar cookie-cake. And even when deployed colloquially it refers primarily to someone being naive, not necessarily female.

What are you waiting for stupid? Eat it!

Even if all round breads are yonic, I guess I’m just more sensitive to the slang meanings of “muffin” than I am to biscuits or pie. It seems ridiculous, for example, to tell you how much I think you will delight in eating these muffins. Or, worse, how much I like eating these muffins. Or to exhort the delights of yeasty muffins.

But it’s the truth. These are some tasty muffins. (See? It’s terrible!)

A few notes on the recipe:

My starter alone doesn’t have enough rising power to create “nooks & crannies” in 10 minutes of baking time, which is why I use a recipe that calls for active dry yeast on top of the starter. If your starter will rise a loaf in less than 2 hrs, feel free to leave the packaged yeast out.

The sourdough flavor will depend on your starter and how long you let the dough rise. If you want a pronounced sourdough flavor, let the dough rise 8+ hrs. If you’re just trying to use up some starter, 2 hrs for the first rise should be plenty. If you don’t have a sourdough starter, double the amount of yeast and add 2/3 cup water and 2/3 cup flour.

When I make larger muffins, I sometimes bake them for 10-15 minutes after griddling them because otherwise they’ll remain doughy inside. To test them for doneness, you can try tapping the browned edges—if they sound hollow, they should be done all the way through; if they sound dense, they may be better if they’re baked. My preferred “testing” method is just to rip one open while it’s still warm off the griddle. If it’s doughy inside, I toast it. If not, I just butter it and go to town.

Recipe: Sourdough English Muffins
makes 12 smaller muffins (~68 g or 2.4 oz) or 8 larger ones (~100 g or 3.5 oz)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup sourdough starter (100% hydration)* 
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose or bread flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour (or more white flour)
  • 1 t. active dry yeast (or about 1/2 packet)
  • 2 t. salt
  • 2 T. softened butter or oil
  • 1 T. sugar or honey
  • 2/3 cup lukewarm milk
  • 2-3 T. cornmeal for dusting the pan

*If not using starter, double the amount of yeast and add 2/3 cup water and 2/3 cup flour.

Method: 

1. Make a “sponge” with the instant yeast by combining it with a pinch of sugar, 1/4 cup flour, and 1/4 cup milk warmed to 110-120 F (or 1/4 cup flour and 1/4 cup warm water). Let sit for 5-10 minutes—it should get bubbly and increase in volume.

a "sponge" tests to make sure the yeast is aliveit's not strictly necessary--if you know your yeast is active, you can just mix all the ingredients together after 5 minutes: bubbling up nicely

2. Add the rest of the ingredients, except for the cornmeal, and mix until it starts to pull away from the bowl and form a dough. After I’ve heated the milk for the sponge, I add the butter so it will melt while the sponge is blooming.

this makes it softer and richer than dough made with just flour and water, although based on the Jefferson stories, you could try that too  all the ingredients together--I doubled the recipe, which is why this looks like so much more than the recipe above would make.

2. Scrape the mixture onto a lightly floured surface and knead around until it’s a well-defined ball that’s tacky but not truly sticky, adding more flour if necessary. I love the way the Jefferson daughter’s cookbook manuscript describes this step, and the process of making bread by feel rather than measured amounts: “Mix . . . the flour up with water so thin that the dough will stick to the table. Our cook takes it up and throws it down until it will no longer stick.”

 in-process kneading pictures are complicated by the sticky, floury hands problem ready to rise

3. Lightly oil a bowl—I usually just use the same bowl I mixed the ingredients in with as much of the dough scraped out as possible. Place the dough in the bowl, turn to coat with oil and cover with plastic wrap or a towel.

4. Let rise until doubled in size, about 2 hrs (or more if you want a more pronounced sourdough flavor).

more than doubled is fine--even leaving it overnight isn't going to hurt anything deflated for the first time: foreshadowing

5. Punch the dough to deflate, remove to a clean table and knead gently until most of the air pockets have been released.

the first four--I weigh the dough to make sure they're even, which isn't necessary but does make for perfectly equal muffins16: again, a double batch

6. Divide into 8-12 pieces and form each one into an even ball by rolling between your hands or on the table. If they’re sticky, dust with a little flour. Cover them as you make them and set a timer for 30 minutes after you finish the first four (they’ll be ready first, so they’re the first ones you’ll two batches of 4 done and cooling, one on the stove, the last 4 on deckgriddle).

7. If making only 8-10 muffins, preheat the oven to 350 F because you’ll probably need to bake them. If making 12, I’d skip this—griddling will probably be sufficient.

8. With about 5 minutes left on the timer, preheat a skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Just before adding the first four muffins, sprinkle it with cornmeal.

9. Starting with the first balls you made, gently put them in the skillet. They should puff up visibly. After about 5 min, flip them and cook them for about 5 min more on the other side. Adjust the heat if necessary—if they’re not browning much after 5 minutes in the pan, turn the heat up. If they’re browning too quickly, turn the heat down. If the “on deck” balls start to rise too much, you can pat them down a little bit.

10. Option: if they’re not done after being griddled, transfer them to a baking sheet and put in a 350 F oven for 10-15 min.

11. To serve: perforate the edge with a fork and gently tear open. Toast (or don’t, your loss).

split with a genuine fork light as honeycomb instead of heavy as lead

Apple-Berry Crumble with Pouring Custard: Baking with neglected, non-baking apples

for reasons that may suggest themselves to you, in the U.S. pouring custard is more commonly known by the French name "Creme Anglaise" even though that just means "English cream," which, as you'd expect, the English have a perfectly good English name for

I’m apparently sort of an expert at letting fruit go bad—not meaning rotten, just completely unappetizing when raw. With pears, that’s easy to do because they’re usually harvested when they’re mature but still green and you have to babysit their ripening. Not all fruits are like that—citrus fruits and most melons and berries are as sweet as they’re ever going to be when they’re harvested. But pears are climacteric ripeners, which means they store some of their sugars as starch and even after you pick them and they can’t suck any more sugar out of the tree, they will get sweeter as their enzymes will break some of those starches into sugars. However, they also contain enzymes that weaken their cell walls, so you have to catch them at just the perfect moment when they’re optimally sweet but haven’t yet turned to mush. Depending on when they were picked and how fast the different enzymes are working, there might not even be a perfect moment—they might dissolve structurally before getting very sweet.

You can sort of control the ripening of climacteric fruits a little by storing them in paper bags with something that emits ethylene gas, like a banana. That’s basically a DIY version of the synthetic industrial process used to ripen almost all tomatoes destined for grocery stores and lots of bananas and pears too. And according to the wikipedia article on ethylene, the ancient Chinese used to ripen pears by storing them in closed rooms and burning incense, presumably containing ethylene or something like it. But this is what I’m talking about with the babysitting—they demand attention and inspire elaborate ritual.

I’m working on ways to turn this into a superhero costume for next Halloween.Apples are significantly less fussy even though they’re also technically climacteric ripeners. They’re usually sweet enough to eat when they’re harvested and best when crisp and they’ll stay that way for weeks in cold storage. It takes a special dedication to fruit neglect to let perfectly lovely apples get so mealy and bruised and wrinkled that they can’t be enjoyed raw. Given how many great uses there are for cooked apples, that wouldn’t seem like much of a problem, but the kinds of apples I like to eat are not the kind of apples I’d normally choose to cook with. So over the last few months, I had gradually relegated nearly 3 lbs of Galas, Honeycrisps, and Red Delicious apples to what I began to think of as the Forgotten Apple Drawer, all of them totally unsuited to either eating or baking.

I could have made a sort of lackluster applesauce and just hidden it in some muffins or a quick bread, but I got to thinking that the main difference between tart baking apples and sweeter eating apples is acid. Perhaps, I thought, I could make something tasty and apple-centric even with suboptimal apples just by adding a little extra lemon juice. And perhaps some tart berries. And then, in the spirit of the kind of laziness and inattention that leads to having a refrigerator drawer full of 3 lbs of neglected apples, I decided to make the simplest of apple desserts: a crumble. Crumbles are in the same baked-fruit-with-topping genus as cobblers and crisps, but is its own species…I guess meaning it can’t reproduce with any of the others.

I know the terms vary by region and tradition, but as I understand them, a cobbler is topped with a layer of biscuit dough dropped on by spoonfuls that bake into something that might resemble a cobblestone road, a crisp is topped with a thin layer of a rich streusel or butter crumb topping, and a crumble is has a thicker crumb topping that usually includes oatmeal. Put a rolled pastry crust on top either in pieces or with some holes poked in it so the juices can seep through and it’s a pandowdy; use buttered bread crumbs and brown sugar and it’s a brown betty. I’m sure there are others, too. The beautiful thing about all of them is that you don’t really need a recipe—you just fill a baking dish most of the way with fruit, top it with whatever combination of sugar and fat you can throw together—starch optional—and bake it until the fruit is done and the topping is brown. 

April 2010 Part I 008I actually had too many neglected apples for the large souffle dish I decided to use, so I threw about 1 lb of the cut pieces in a saucepan pot with a cinnamon stick, 1 T. brown sugar, and some water and simmered them until they were tender, adding more water now and then to prevent them from burning. I’ll probably use them sometime soon as a filling for buckwheat crepes, possibly with some homemade ricotta, as I’ve been meaning to try that.

For the crumble, since it’s not quite berry season, I used a dried berry mix I had picked up at Trader Joe’s with the intent of using it for polenta porridge. Normally when I bake with dried berries, I soak them in some juice or liquor first, but this time I didn’t bother. I just threw them in the dish with the peeled and diced apples, sprinkled them with a few tablespoons of sugar and the juice and zest of a lemon. And then I looked up a few recipes for crisps and crumbles and used those as general guidelines for the topping.

While it was in the oven, smelling lovely, I decided it what would truly compensate for any deficiencies on the part of the apples was something like ice cream. You can make ice cream without an ice cream maker if you break up the ice crystals by hand periodically, but that is kind of a pain. Given that what I wanted was a sweet, creamy substance to pool all around the hot apple crumble the way ice cream does as it melts, the freezing seemed like an unnecessary intermediary stop. If what you want is melted ice cream, why freeze it in the first place, right? So I made a simple pouring custard, which is the sort of thing you can turn into ice cream if you want to, but is a great dessert sauce on its own.

And it worked. Utterly redeemed. Tart and applicious with the occasional pop of berry and the rich perfume of the vanilla bean custard. You’d never know it started off as a drawer full of wrinkled, bruised Galas and Honeycrisps.

any ideas for turning my fruit neglecting powers into a superpower costume for next Halloween?

Recipe: Apple-Berry Crumblethey call it the "golden berry blend" as it also contains golden raisins (adapted from Joy of Baking)

Filling:

  • 4-7 apples or enough to fill a large baking dish (I used ~1 1/2 lbs, peeled and cored)
  • 1/2 cup dried tart berries (cherries, cranberries, blueberries, raspberries, or a combination)
  • 3 T. sugar
  • zest and juice of one medium lemon

Topping:

  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 t. ground nutmeg
  • pinch of salt
  • 7 T. butter, cut into 1/4” pieces
  • 1/3 cup rolled oats

1. Butter the baking dish and preheat the oven to 375F.

2. Peel and core the apples and cut into 1/2”-1” pieces. Toss in baking dish with sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest.

3. Throw all the topping ingredients in a food processor and give it a few pulses to just combine. Or, whisk everything but the butter together and then cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or two crisscrossing knives until the it’s crumbly and the largest pieces of butter are the size of small peas.

 topping mixture a few pulses later

4. Sprinkle topping over fruit evenly.

5. Bake for 30 minutes to an hour, or until you can see the juices bubbling under the topping and the top is golden brown.

ready to go in the oven just out of the oven--juices bubbling at the edges, topping golden brown

Recipe: Pouring Custard (adapted from Food & Wine and Joy of Baking)

  • 4 or 5 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 cups milk, half and half, or whipping cream
  • 1 vanilla bean or 2 t. vanilla extract

1. Place a mesh strainer in metal bowl set inside another bowl filled with ice water. When the custard is ready, you will want to stop the cooking process immediately and strain out any clumps, so it’s good to have this ready before you even start.

the second bowl doesn't need to be metal. doesn't even need to be a bowl--a stock pot or 9x13 baking pan would work just as well for the icewater Curdling Stops Here!

2. Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until they begin to aerate—they should become a pale, lemony color (I know some sad battery hen eggs start that way but even those should lighten a little) and will increase slightly in volume.

I separate the whites directly into freezer-safe storage, always forget how many whites there are, and eventually have a vaguely nerve-wreaking meringue or angel-food cake experiment where I don't really know if I'm following the recipe. a smarter person would label the tupperware to tell her future self how many egg whites there are. paler an increased in volume

3. Put the milk in a saucepan, scrape the vanilla bean seeds into the milk, and heat just until steaming and there are little bubbles around the edges of the pan (about 5 min over medium heat). Turn off the burner—you don’t have to immediately remove it from the heat, you just don’t want it to get any hotter for the moment.

4. Temper the yolks by adding about half of the hot milk to them in a thin stream while whisking constantly. Another pair of hands or a stand mixer might be useful for this part. I managed by whisking with one hand while using the other to slowly adding milk with a soup ladle and focusing very, very intently on being ambidextrous. Basically what you’re doing in this step is warming the eggs gently so they cook without scrambling, so the key is to keep them moving as they come into contact with the hot milk.For obvious reasons, I have no pictures of this process in action. 

here's the set up after I've added about half of the milk

4. Pour the tempered egg mixture into the pot with the remaining milk, whisking constantly.

5. Turn the heat back on low or medium and cook for 5-7 minutes, whisking constantly, until the mixture just begins to thicken. You want it to be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon—but that’s not very thick, it will not be like a starch-thickened pudding or baked custard. As soon as it begins to thicken, pull it off the heat, still whisking constantly and immediately strain into the cold bowl to stop it from cooking any more. If using vanilla extract (or another extract or liqueur), add it now.

If it starts to look curdled you still have a minute to save it. Pull it from the heat immediately, whisking vigorously and immediately strain it into the cold bowl.

 no matter how vigorous your whisking, there will always be a few clumps it will thicken a little more as it cools, but will definitely still be a sauce, not something like a starch-thickened pudding

Sourdough-Risen Whole Wheat Bagels and the Sweetness of the Old World

Happy day after St. Pat's! Can I offer you some carbohydrates? Perhaps slathered in some fat?  

“Authentic” Bagels: Boil, Bake, and Bluster

There are three things that distinguish bagels from other breads:

The first, perhaps obviously, is the shape. There are at least four different theories about the origin of the word “bagel,” and all of them refer to the shape (etymology notes below the recipe for fellow word geeks). However, you can’t just make a standard bread dough into rings, throw it in a hot oven, and expect it to develop the glossy crust and dense, chewy interior that most people associate with bagels.

The second difference is an issue of method: bagels are traditionally boiled before they’re baked, which causes the surface starch to gelatinize, producing their characteristic smooth, shiny crust. The same is Or maybe the bagel married in, likely to the tacit (if not explicit) alarm of some of the older members of the Christian family.true of pretzels, which originated in the same region and, according to Maria Balinska, who wrote a 2008 book about the history of the bagel, are probably related. She specifically calls them “cousins,” whatever that means in terms of food history. She also notes that the Polish obwarzanek—another boiled, ring-shaped bread often sprinkled with sesame or poppy seeds—is an “older and Christian relative,” so perhaps that’s the spinster aunt who devoted herself to Jesus. Google translates the Polish entry on “Obwarzanek” to “Bagel,” and this travel guide refers to them as “pretzel rings.” I’m sure different people have different ways of distinguishing between the three, but the boil-then-bake method they share probably makes them more alike than different. So, for example, some people might think pretzels have to be shaped like folded arms whereas other people accept rods or rings as “pretzels,” but either way they’re formed from ropes of dough that maximize the surface area exposed to the boiling water, just like their relatives.

The third difference is an ingredient—bagels are the only bread I know of whose recipes frequently call for malt extract. Pretzel recipes occasionally include it, but not nearly as often as bagel recipes, many of which claim that the malt extract is the key to making “authentic” bagels or achieving a truly “bagel-y” flavor.

The idealized referent of bagel authenticity is usually the “New York bagel,” rather than their Polish-Jewish ancestors. However, when I lived in New York City, I ate plenty of bagels—even at delis on the Lower East Side—that were indistinguishable from the ones available at chains like Brugger’s and Einstein’s nationwide. Perhaps that’s just further evidence of the declining standard described here (accompanying a recipe that demands malt powder):

I can’t count how often expatriate New Yorkers would stop me on the street with tears in their eyes, telling me that mine were the best bagels they’d had since they left "The City," and that they were better than most in "The City" these days. The reasons are simple. I didn’t cut corners and used good ingredients. I don’t know why so many bakeries cut corners on making bagels these days, it’s really NOT that hard!

But I think it’s more likely that the idea of the superior New York bagel is primarily the product of nostalgic fantasies and social decline narratives—it’s something that never was and tells you more about contemporary anxieties and desires than anything real in the past. The tears in those expatriates’ eyes say more about contemporary feelings of depthlessness and transience, the desire for connections to the past and a sense of community, and the myriad dissatisfactions that make people want to think everything was better in the “good old days” than what makes a bagel delicious or “authentic” to anything.

Malt Extract: the Ancient Sweetener in your Bud Light

Given how the same bakers describe malted barley extract on their ingredients page, its presence is probably one of the so-infuriatingly-cut corners they’re talking about:

We wouldn’t dream of making bagels or kaiser rolls without barley malt extract, and neither should you! Barley malt extract improves the taste and texture of the breads it is used in. It goes by a number of names. barley malt extract and malt extract among them. If a malt extract doesn’t specify what grain it is made from, chances are pretty good it was made from barley. Barley is a grain used mostly in brewing beer and making Scotch Whisky. IBarley makt [sic] extract adds a nice taste to breads where it is used. For our recipes, you can either liquid or dry, diastatic or non-diastatic malt extract and not worry about changing the recipe, any combination of these will work just fine. The important things to avoid are hopped malt extract which is really only useful for making beer and the malted milk powder sold in many grocery stores as a milk flavor enhancer which has too little malt in it and too much sugar.

From an 1896 Harper's Magazine @ http://danshuihistory.blogspot.com/2009/11/li-hung-chang.htmlMalt extract is basically just sugar made from grain, usually starting with barley. According to Harold McGee, it’s “among the most ancient and versatile of sweetening agents, and was the predecessor of modern-day high-tech corn syrups.” Just like corn syrup and agave nectar, malt extract is produced by breaking starches into their constituent sugars. Rather than adding enzymes or acids, malting works by simply germinating or sprouting the grain. As a grain germinates, it produces enzymes that digest the grain’s starch to fuel its growth. Those enzymes can be dried and mixed with cooked grains (usually rice, wheat, and barley), which they can also digest, producing a sweet slurry containing lots of glucose, maltose (glucose+glucose), maltotriose (glucose+glucose+glucose), and some longer glucose chains.

It’s not as sweet as sugar, but before sugar colonialism, it was one of the primary sweeteners available in Europe and Asia (the other two were honey and molasses made from sorghum). According to McGee, it was the primary sweetener in China until around 1000 CE, and is still used in China and Korea for confections and the sweet, caramelized gloss on dishes like Peking Duck. Malt extract is also still frequently used in beer brewing—a friend who does home brewing told me recently that American brewers are especially likely to use it to adjust the alcohol content of their beers midway through the brewing process. Apparently the laws regarding how closely the alcohol percentage matches what’s on the label are fairly strict and as the sugars in malt extract are highly available to yeast, it’s a good way to increase the yeast activity quickly and reliably.

cocktails to anyone who knows the mug's year

Possibly-Heretical Baking Substitutions

I'm not 100% sure what the label means. Is it malted wheat? Malted barley that was fed with cooked wheat? Malted wheat fed with cooked wheat? McGee claims that malt extract is “frequently used in baking to provide maltose and glucose for yeast growth and moisture retention,” and that might be true for commercial bakers, but it’s not available at most grocery stores, where home bakers get their supplies (it can be found anywhere that carries home brewing supplies and many “natural foods” retailers, including some Whole Foods). However, before sugar was readily available and cheap, it seems likely that malt extract was used the way other sugars often are today—to speed up yeast activity, enhancing rise and oven spring—in many kinds of bread, not just bagels. 

Some bagel recipes call for other sugars in place of the malt extract in bagel dough—the first recipe I tried called for maple syrup, perhaps because of it’s phonological similarity to “malt syrup,” the liquid form of malt extract or because they’re both liquids, though malt syrup is much thicker—closer to unfiltered honey. Recipes that call for “malt powder” but also recommend a sugar substitution generally call for brown sugar. And I found at least one that suggests malt powder, malt syrup, honey, and maple syrup are all interchangeable. Of course, they all have slightly different flavors, but most recipes only call for 1520 g for ~8 bagels so any affect the sweetener’s flavor has on the final product is bound to be minimal.

It’s been a while since I made the maple syrup batch, but I honestly didn’t notice any major flavor difference in the batch pictured above, which used malt extract. Perhaps part of the problem was that I used a “wheat” malt, which may not have as malty a flavor as barley malt. But, again according to McGee, even when it starts with malted barley, “malt syrup has a relatively mild malt aroma because the malted barley is a small fraction of the grain mixture.” In short, despite what some recipes say, you shouldn’t let your lack of malt extract stop you from making homemade bagels.

Nonetheless, it’s still a mystery why bagel recipes would be more insistent about using malt extract than any of the other breads descended from European varieties developed before sugar colonialism. Why are people so willing to substitute sugar in everything from soft, buttery brioche to pretzels, bagels’ closest cousins, but fanatics about the importance of using this particular Old World sugar to certify the authenticity of the bagel?

A Fetish for the Old World

My theory is that it has to do with the bagel’s iconicity and association with Jewishness. One story about the origin of the bagel that seems plausible (though Balinska lumps it with the story about stirrups—explained in the etymology note at the end—as speculative at best and possibly fictitious) is that it’s another version of the ubiquitous roll-with-a-hole developed by Jewish bakers in Krakow after a decree limiting baking or trade in flour to the bakers’ guild was lifted. Even in Poland, which from its founding was more tolerant to Jews than most countries in Europe, Christian trade and craft guilds in many cities excluded Jewish merchants and artisans, who sometimes formed their own guilds. The travel guide’s description of Obwarzanek claims that King Jan Sobieski lifted the ban in 1496, but he didn’t rule until the 17th C. Other claims that Jan Sobieski lifted the ban in the late 17th C. are problematic because the Yiddish word “beygel” was already in widespread currency in Krakow by 1610. There was a different King Jan in 1496—Jan I Olbracht or John I Albert—whose reign was also notable primarily for wars against the Turks. Perhaps he lifted the ban, and Jan Sobieski’s greater fame and friendliness to Poland’s Jews sort of absorbed the earlier Jan’s bagel-inspiring or enabling acts? 

Regardless of precisely when or why Jewish bakers in Krakow started making their own version of the obwarzanek, it’s probably the strictness of Jewish dietary laws that made it so popular and caused it to spread to different Jewish communities, whereas the obwarzanek has remained basically a Krakow specialty. It’s leavened, so it’s not kosher for Passover, but it doesn’t contain any dairy so it is parve. Additionally, the thick, solid crust keeps the interior soft and moist better than a split or craggy crust would. So while bagels, like most breads, are tastier when enhanced with fatty spreads or toppings, they’re not bad plain. I suspect that’s also why the Jewish bagel is traditionally shaped into a smooth round whereas obwarzanek look like they’re usually twisted and supposedly do stale quickly:

On leaving the oven the baked goods have a sell-by date of about three hours. As such, finding a hot one is essential. Enjoyed by people of all ages, obwarzanki also feed Kraków’s entire pigeon population when in the evenings the city’s 170-180 obwarzanki carts essentially become bird-food vendors.

Of course, soft pretzels also have a smooth crust that protects the soft interior and makes them tasty with or without added fats, but the pretzel was never associated with Jewishness. The popularity of bagels in America and canonization of the “New York bagel” has everything to do with Jewishness. According to We Are What We Eat: Ethnic Food and the Making of Americans by University of Minnesota historian Donna Gabaccia:

It is true that in the 1890s in the United States only Jews from Eastern Europe ate bagels. In thousands of nondescript bakeries—including the one founded in New Haven around 1926 by Harry Lender from Lublin, Poland—Jewish bakers sold bagels to Jewish consumers. The bagel was not a central culinary icon for Jewish immigrants; even before Polish and Russian Jews left their ethnic enclaves or ghettoes, their memories exalted gefilte fish and chicken soup prepared by their mothers, but not the humble, hard rolls purchased from the immigrant baker. As eaters, Jewish immigrants were initially far more concerned with the purity of their kosher meat, their challah, and their matzos, and with the satisfactions of their sabbath and holiday meals, than with their morning hard roll….

They became firmly identified as “Jewish” only as Jewish bakers began selling them to their multi-ethnic urban neighbors. When bagels emerged from ghetto stores as a Jewish novelty, bagels with cream cheese [which, as she elsewhere notes, was initially developed by English Quakers in the Delaware Valley and Philadelphia in the eighteenth century] quickly became a staple of the multi-ethnic mix that in this century became known as “New York deli,” and was marketed and mass-produced throughout the country under this new regional identity.

As she also notes, in Israel bagels are considered “American” not Jewish. However, their widespread association with Jewishness in the U.S.—both as a marketing tool and as the basis of legit cultural practice and memory—puts greater demands on bagels and bagel bakers to legitimate their authenticity and historicity. Whether it was a continuation of the pre-18th C. practice of using malt extract in many breads to speed up yeast action or a a re-introduction of the ingredient from some centuries-old bagel recipes, using malt extract has become one way for people to differentiate their bagels and lay claim to greater “authenticity.” 

Making Your Own

Authentic or not, this recipe is delicious and fairly easy. Like most yeast breads, it takes time, but not a lot of active time. You can use any combination of flours you want, but if you want a really chewy crust and crumb, you will need a high proportion of protein. Some recipes suggest “high-gluten” bread flour, which has an even higher percentage of protein than bread flour. King Arthur claims their “Sir Lancelot” flour is the highest-protein flour currently available for retail sale at 14.2% protein. I just used regular bread flour (10-12% protein), whole wheat bread flour (up to 14% protein, although the additional fiber seems to limit gluten action which is also why I didn’t make them with 100% whole wheat flour), and added approximately 1 T. vital wheat gluten per cup of flour (including the flour in the starter). Even if you just used all-purpose flour, they would probably still be good, just less chewy.

You can add more of any kind of sugar or whatever else you might want in them—dried fruits, nuts, chocolate chips, chopped spinach, grated cheeses, etc. And you can top them however you like—I used kosher salt for some, sesame seeds for some, and a combination of bits of fried garlic, fried shallot, black sesame seeds, and kosher salt, kind of like one version of an “everything” bagel. I think they’re best fresh out of the oven, slathered with butter, but true to form, they’re also good plain (and easy to stow in a bag for a convenient snack) and on days 2 and 3, they’re great toasted.

 and all the delicious bits that fall off can be pressed into the soft side 

Recipe: Sourdough-Risen Bagels (to substitute instant yeast see this entry)

  • 2 cups refreshed starter (450g)
  • 3 1/4 cups flour with 12-14%-protein (550g) I used:
    • 4 T. vital wheat gluten (50g)
    • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat bread flour (250g)
    • 1 1/2 cups bread flour (250g)
  • 4 t malt extract (20g)—optional
  • 2 t kosher salt (15g)
  • 3/4 cup water (170g)
  • 3 T oil (35g)
  • 1 T maple syrup (20g)
  • toppings—sesame or poppy seeds, salt, fried garlic or shallots, finely grated hard cheeses, etc.
  • 1 tsp. baking soda (for poaching water, not for dough)

1. Whisk together flours, gluten, and malt extract if using. Add starter, water, salt, oil, and maple syrup.

incredients combined enough of a dough to begin kneading

2. Mix until they begin to form a dough. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 15 minutes. If you have a mixer or processer with a dough hook, you can use it for this step. Gluten development is pretty important if you want chewy bagels, so it’s worth checking for the baker’s windowpane.

after 12 minutes of kneading, close but not quite after 15 minutes, it's smoother and stretchier

3. Cover and let rise 3-4 hours, or until doubled. You can let it rise longer and nothing bad will happen, although the sour flavor will become more pronounced over time, and positively sourdough-like after 12-15 hours. You can significantly retard the rise by refrigerating the dough.

bagels 035 bagels 036

4. Divide the dough into 8-12 equal pieces. If you want to be especially particular, use a scale. Eight will be ~155g each, ten will be ~125g each (the size I made), twelve will be ~105g each. Shape them either by poking a hole in the middle of a round and stretching it out or rolling the dough into a rope 9-12 inches long, and pinching the ends together. In my experience, the latter makes for a slightly more consistent thickness.

the poking method the rope method two lumpier ones on the top right were shaped by stretching a hole, the others were all made with the rope method

5. Let rise another 3 hours (30-45 min. if using instant yeast) or cover and refrigerate overnight or up to a week, and remove 1 hour before you’re ready to bake to let them come back to room temperature (so if you want fresh bagels in the morning, you need to make the dough by the afternoon before).

6. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 400F, boil a large pot of water with 1 tsp. baking soda dissolved in it, and put a couple tablespoons of any toppings you want into bowls.

clocwise from the top left: kosher salt, "everything" mix of fried garlic and shallot and black sesame seeds and salt, and plain roasted sesame seeds

7. When the water is boiling, carefully place 2-3 bagels at a time (more if the pot is large enoguh that more can float in the pot without touching) and poach them for 1 minute on each side. Remove them to a colander and then, while they’re still wet, place them in one of the bowls of toppings.

poaching side 1 poaching side 2 collecting toppings

ready to bake 

8. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until browned. Rotate pans half-way through if your oven is uneven.

Fun With Etymology

Leo Rosten’s Joys of Yiddish (1968) says the origin is “beugel,” the German word for “a round loaf of bread,” although it’s a little perplexing why that would have been used to describe a bread that, unlike the ubiquitous round loaf, is ring-shaped. And also, Wiktionary is all “beugel? I don’t know no beugel.”

Several sources, including a 1993 New York Times article and a 2006 book titled Bakery Products: Science and Technology, refer to a popular myth that bagels were invented by Jewish bakers in Vienna as a tribute either King John (Jan) III Sobieski or a King Jan (John) Cobleskill of Poland after he saved the city from Turkish invaders in 1683. The King’s favorite hobby was horse riding, so they shaped the rolls like stirrups, the German word for which is “bugel” (the Austrian word is “beugel” which may be the origin of the first faux-etymology). However, a letter to the editor demanded that “that piece of fakelore be laid to rest,” noting that Yiddish word “beygl” appears in the communal rules promulgated by the leaders of the Cracow Jewish community in 1610: “The rules stipulate that bagels are among the gifts which may be given to women in childbirth and to midwives.” Furthermore, the word appears in the rules without any definition or explanation, suggesting that it was already well-established by the early 17th C.

Two that seem more likely: According to FoodReference.com, the Oxford Companion to Food (1999) says the word comes from “bugel,” not the German word for stirrup, but the Middle High German word for “ring or bracelet.” And in Jewish Cooking in America (1994), Joan Nathan claims that the word derives from “biegen,” the verb meaning “to bend.” Both “bugel” and “beigen” are derived from the Old High German “biogan,” meaning to bow, bend, or curve and the related root “boug-,” which in turn is descended from the Proto-Germanic “beugan” (which, incidentally, also gives us the Old English root “beag” or “beah” which also refers to a ring—“usually meant for the arm or neck; but in one case at least used of a finger ring” OED). So that Germanic root for all things bendy and ring-like is likely the origin of the Yiddish word that was in wide use in Poland by 1610.

Cheddar-garlic Biscuits: In Defense of Garlic Powder

Lobster not included 

I have been carefully trained to look upon garlic powder with great disdain.

S.J. Sebellin-Ross

At the third Ann Arbor Ignite last Thursday, the audience cheered and applauded when the last speaker exhorted us to use fresh garlic instead of dried or powdered (about 41:40 here). And sure, in a recipe like the bolognese he was describing, I’d probably use fresh garlic, too, but that’s hardly a reason to cheer. The crowd’s reaction instead seemed symptomatic of the emblematic status fresh garlic has achieved. Its superiority has become one of the central commandments of the “food revolution,” and no wonder, it hits all the right notes: seems more “natural” and more “authentic,” supposedly better-tasting, and possibly healthier (although, as that site notes, it’s possible to dehydrate garlic without deactivating the enzymes with therapeutic value, which cooking can destroy). It also has the added bonus of a built-in villain in the form of its dehydrated, powdered counterpart, which for many people is associated with the industrial food system, bland mid-century midwestern cooking, and laziness.if you're afraid of losing foodie cred, click on the picture for instructions on how to make your own powdered garlic (assuming you have a dehydrator) from The Deliberate Agrarian

But aside from being slightly more convenient for busy or novice cooks, garlic powder really works better for numerous applications—it dissolves in dips and gravies, it keeps dry rubs dry, and it can be sprinkled to taste on popcorn or pizza or whisked into the dry ingredients of any bread recipe. Instead of thinking of it as a bad substitute for the fresh stuff, I prefer to think of it as a pedestrian version of the powders made by bleeding-edge chefs like Alinea’s Grant Achatz and WD-50’s Wylie Dufresne. Sure, they often taste different than the non-powdered versions, but they open up a whole array of different uses. Of course, you could make biscuits with a garlic-infused fat or stud the dough with chunks of raw or roasted garlic, but neither of those options is going to give you the same intensity of flavor or evenness of distribution as garlic powder. And these biscuits definitely challenge the notion that powdered garlic can’t be delicious.

Most recipes for cheddargarlic biscuits, even Paula Deen’s, simply suggest adding garlic powder and grated cheddar to a baking mix like Bisquick. That would probably be pretty good too, but I don’t have enough uses for Bisquick to keep it around (especially given that rumors about toxic molds developing in expired pancake and biscuit mixes turn out to be true, if somewhat overblown). So instead, I added garlic powder and grated cheddar to the recipe I use for rich, buttery biscuits. The recipe has a higher proportion of fat : flour than most baking powder biscuit recipes, so it makes biscuits that are rich enough to eat plain (and too rich to make a very good vehicle for gravy or butter). Whatever fat you use, it must be solid so chunks of it will remain in the dough. Those chunks melt during baking to create the flaky layers. Lard or shortening work slightly better than butter or margarine because they don’t contain water. However, butter is delicious, so I used half butter and half lard. If you don’t eat butter or lard, margarine or vegetable oil shortening should work equally well (although if you’re avoiding trans-fats, you should stick to ones composed largely of palm oil or produced by fractionation).

Recipe: Cheddar-garlic Biscuitsfats cut into pieces before chilling

  • 1/2 cup solid fat—I used 4 T. butter and 4 T. lard
  • 9 oz. all-purpose or cake flour (about 2 cups)—I used bread flour with 2 T. replaced by cornstarch
  • 2 1/2 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1 t. kosher salt
  • 1 pinch sugar
  • 1 1/2 t. powdered garlic
  • 1 T. dried parsley and/or chives (optional)
  • 4 oz. grated sharp cheddar (about 1 cup)
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk (or regular milk soured with 1 T. lemon juice)
  • extra flour for dusting
  • extra milk for brushing biscuit tops

1. Preheat the oven to 500F. Cut the fat into pieces and chill while you prep the remaining ingredients.

2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, garlic, and herbs if using.

3. Toss the chilled pieces of fat with the flour and and combine them with a pastry cutter, crisscrossing knives, a food processor, or your bare hands—just don’t melt the bits of fat. You want the largest pieces of fat to be about the size of small peas.

Criss-crossing knives = less dishwashing even if it takes a little longer than the food processor. My hands tend to be too warm for the bare hands method. Just a minute or two later: big chunks of fat remaining, but fat relatively well distributed throughout the flour

4. Mix in the grated cheddar and the buttermilk or milk. Stir just until most of the flour is moistened—you don’t want gluten to form so the goal is to handle the dough as little as possible once you’ve combined the wet and dry ingredients.

the sharper the cutter, the less it will squish the edges, which can prevent rising brushing with milk isn't strictly necessary, but it does promote nice browning

5. Dust a table or countertop with flour, dump the dough onto it and press or knead together just enough to form a dough. Flatten the dough to between 1/2” and 1” thick and cut desired shapes—if you don’t have a biscuit cutter, a glass or empty jar will work, or you can just cut the dough into squares or triangles.

6. Place on an baking sheet (ungreased) and brush the tops with buttermilk. Place in preheated oven, and reduce the oven temperature to 450F and bake for 7 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet and bake another 5-7 minutes, or until the biscuits are golden brown.

neglected, sprouting rutabega in the background warm, garlicky, cheese-studded biscuits. kind of hard to beat.

Baking Crusty Shaped Loaves at Home with Sourdough or Instant Yeast

Ezekiel vs. Red Star Rapid-Rise

The primary difference between the kind of bread that you can buy in plastic bags for as little as $.99 a loaf at most supermarkets (exemplified, of course, by Wonderbread) and “artisan” breads that go for $5+ at bakeries isn’t actually the kind of yeast or flour or any special oils or add-ins. Usually, it’s the crust. And the key to the crackling, chewy crust that says “artisan” to most people is moisture.

When a loaf is exposed to the dry heat of the oven, a couple of processes are set in motion—the yeast start to go crazy and produce gas much more rapidly, which is what creates more holes in the dough (sometimes called “oven spring”), and the starches begin to gelatinize. In a regular, dry oven, the starches on the outside gelatinize really quickly, which can retard the rise a bit and create a smooth exterior. Steam slows the gelatinization process for the crust, which changes the texture.

Bakeries usually achieve their result with special ovens that blast loaves with steam in the early stages of baking. The no-knead method popularized by the NYTimes achieves similar results with a wet dough and a preheated, covered pot, which creates a mini-sauna for the loaf. I use the no-knead method a lot, adapted for my sourdough starter, and it probably has the best reward/effort ratio of any recipe I use regularly—the only thing I can think of that would even compete is roasted garlic. But sometimes I want a shaped loaf with the same kind of crust—a baguette or something with an interesting slashing pattern. Those are hard to achieve if you’re just dumping a dough too wet to knead into super-hot pot.

Bittman makes it sound nigh-impossible to achieve bakery results in a home oven any other way:

I have tried brushing the dough with water (a hassle and ineffective); spraying it (almost as ineffective and requiring frequent attention); throwing ice cubes on the floor of the oven (not good for the oven, and not far from ineffective); and filling a pot with stones and preheating it, then pouring boiling water over the stones to create a wet sauna (quite effective but dangerous, physically challenging and space-consuming). I was discouraged from using La Cloche, a covered stoneware dish, by my long-standing disinclination to crowd my kitchen with inessential items that accomplish only one chore. I was discouraged from buying a $5,000 steam-injected oven by its price.

But I have a method that I think works pretty well. It’s somewhere between the La Cloche method and the pot of stones method—it does require specialized equipment, but a baking tile is far more flexible and affordable than a La Cloche. Alton Brown says you can use any “unglazed quarry stone” and according to this post at The Fresh Loaf, “saltillo tiles” that fit the bill were selling for $1.50 at Home Depots in Southern California in 2006. For the steam, I set a cast iron pot on the floor of the oven, and just after I slide the shaped loaves onto the baking tile, I pour 1/3 cup warm water from the tap into the pot and then quickly close the oven. Five minutes later, I pour another 1/3 cup water into the pot. None of which seems especially dangerous, expensive, space-consuming, or challenging, and gives me crusty loaves in whatever shape I please.

windows live writer's photo-editing capabilities are cool, but just short of fix-your-cockeyed-framing cool

For these loaves, I used a basic baguette recipe, which I got from Brian’s grandmother. I had some whole wheat pastry flour and medium rye flour to use up, both of which are low-gluten flours, so I added a little vital wheat gluten, which you can get at most “natural food” retailers (it’s the primary ingredient in seitan). Gluten is the protein in wheat, which creates long stretchy chains when combined with water, and those capture the gas bubbles created by the yeast. If you use more than 1 cup low-gluten flour (which includes all-purpose wheat, whole wheat, and any kind of rye or spelt) you will definitely need to add gluten to get results that look like the pictures. I also threw in some flax meal, oats, and sunflower seeds.

A few days later, I was invited to a friends’ house later that evening and decided I wanted to take them some bread, but obviously it needed to happen fast, so I used packaged yeast. The dual recipes below the jump demonstrate the interchangeability of starter/instant yeast (I also explain how to substitute either in any recipe here). There are some slight differences—the sourdough version takes longer to rise and will contain more lactic acid which gives it a slightly more sour and “bready” flavor. Since the instant yeast version rises faster at room temperature, depending on when you slash it, the oven spring might not be as dramatic so the slashes will look deeper in the final loaf (like they do in the picture on the right at the top).  But either way, I think the result is lovely—a moist, chewy interior and crisp, shattering crust, great flavor and aroma.

These recipes are also completely flexible—you could use any combination of flours and add other seeds or nuts or dried fruits or grated cheeses or cooked alliums. You could shape it differently to make a baguette or a classic boule. If you can dream it, you can bake it.

the loaf of my dreams

Recipe and instructions, with pictures, below the jump.

Recipe: Sourdough-risen Multigrain bread (1 big loaf—I doubled this to make 2)

  • 1 cup refreshed starter
  • 1 cups water
  • 3 cups flour (I used 2 cups bread flour, 3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour, and 1/4 cup dark rye)
  • 1 T. vital wheat gluten (optional)
  • 1/4 cup oats
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 2 T. flax meal
  • 2 t. kosher salt
  • 1 t. sugar

Recipe: Instant Yeast-risen Multigrain bread (1 big loaf)

  • 1 2/3 cups lukewarm water (not over 115F or it’ll kill the yeast)
  • 1 package granulated yeast
  • 3 2/3 cups flour (I used 2 2/3 cups bread flour, 2/3 cup whole wheat flour, and 1/3 cup dark rye)
  • 1 T. vital wheat gluten
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 2 T. flax meal
  • 2 t. kosher salt
  • 4 t. sugar

1. Prepare yeast: If using sourdough starter, measure out the amount required. If using instant yeast, combine the yeast with the sugar, 1/4 cup of the water and 1/4 cup flour, creating a “sponge.” Let the sponge “bloom” for 5-15 minutes.

Ezekiel 8 hrs after a feeding, refreshedan instant yeast sponge, just mixed after 10 minutes, activated

2. Combine all ingredients. Dump it all in a bowl and stir it together until a dough begins to form.

 February bread 064

3. Knead. Dump the ingredients onto a lightly-floured surface and treat it like a muscle you were trying to massage. As Harold McGee explained in yesterday’s NYTimes, the more you knead, the more even and consistent the crumb will be (more gluten to trap the gas => more smaller holes, rather than a variety of different-sized holes). So if you want a loose dough with big pockets, all you need to do is get the dough into a vaguely coherent loaf-like object and then let it rise a long time. If you want a very even, consistent crumb or don’t have the time to let it rise, knead the dough for about 10-15 minutes or until the surface doesn’t tear anymore as you knead it—instead, it’s a smooth, round ball. If you’re going for the lots-of-kneading method rather than the lots-of-rising method, you can test the gluten formation by making a “baker’s windowpane.” Pinch off a bit of dough and stretch it as thin as you can—if you can get it thin enough to see light through it, there’s enough gluten.

4. First rise: place the dough in a lightly-oiled bowl, cover it, and let it sit for 3+ hrs (for the sourdough) or 1+ hours (for the instant yeast). You want it to be doubled in size. You can leave it alone for longer than that and nothing bad will happen—though I wouldn’t let it sit out more than, 12 hours unless I wanted a really sour, sourdough flavor. Basically, you can just let it rise until you feel like dealing with it again. One way to test if it’s risen enough: if you make a depression in it with your thumb, it should not “heal” immediately, meaning you should still be able to see the depression a minute after you made it.

Ezekiel double-batch pre-rise Ezekiel double-batch 5 hrs later

Red Star single batch pre-rise Red Star single-rise 1 hr later, the condensation on the plastic is from the yeast breathing

5. Shape: Flour your hands well and scrape the dough out of the bowl, onto a lightly-floured surface. Fold the dough over itself a few times, and then create a round, oblong, or baton. Pinch the bottom together gently—it doesn’t need to be a smooth seam.

pictured on my Silpat, which no dough, no matter how sticky, can stick to. Without one, you just have to be more generous with the dusting flour.

6. Second rise: Sprinkle a towel with flour. I generally use the towels my grandmother made from rice sacks in an act of early-20th C. frugality, but I have used pillowcases in the past. Just nothing terrycloth. Gently wrap the loaf or loaves in floured towel(s)—I generally wrap them a bit like a starlight peppermint, twisting the edges and then loosely piling them on top. If you want to bake it the same day, let it rise another 40 min (for the instant yeast) or 1-2 hrs (for the sourdough). Otherwise, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 4 days and remove 1 1/2 hours before baking to let it come back to room temperature.

placed on the floured towelwrapped up like a hard candy stored in the refrigerator, next to the ketchup and pickles 

7. Pre-heat the oven and slash the loaf: 20-30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450F with a baking tile on an oven rack in the middle of the oven and a cast iron pot or broiling pan placed on the oven floor. When ready to bake, invert the dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper so the seam from shaping is on the bottom. The baking sheet is just used to transport the bread to the oven, like a pizza peel, so if it has edges, invert it–you want it to be able to slide the loaf onto the preheated stone. Using a sharp knife, make 3-4 cuts about 1/2” deep in the top. The slashes prevent the crust from splitting randomly during the oven spring and affects the final shape of the loaf. For oblong loaves, diagonal slashes are the norm. For a round boule, crosses, squares, or slashes like rays of light emanating from one side of the loaf seem common. Slide the loaf onto the preheated baking tile, and pour 1/3 cup warm tap water into the preheated pan.

from The Global Gourmet, picture links to source

8. Bake: Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until the crust is a deep golden brown and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped. After 5 minutes of baking, add another 1/3 cup warm tap water to the preheated pan.

9. Cool. Remove to wire racks. When you first take the loaf out of the oven, the cool air will make the crust audibly crackle, or “sing.”

it was suggested to me that these look like maggots. i disagree. you decide.

Neglected Pear Bread or When Pears go Pear Shaped–ha! I kill me! or Okay, so it’s not that funny but the bread was nice

just a bit past their prime...

“Pears are just so stinkin’ elegant.” –Half-Assed Kitchen

There are few things I love more than a perfectly-ripe pear—just soft enough that you could cut through the flesh with a spoon but not yet grainy or worse, mushy. But that moment seems to come and go so quickly. They sit there on the counter for a week after I buy them, flesh completely unyielding. If I dare to cut into one, it’s inevitably crisp as a good apple, but not nearly as sweet, not at all what I’m looking for in a pear. But then I  look away for a minute—check my e-mail, perhaps, or dare to fall asleep. And that’s it, I miss their few perfect hours. Next thing I know, I have three pears dissolving in my fruit bowl, just barely held together by their increasingly bruised skin.

Usually, at that point, I cut them up and throw them in a basic muffin batter with some powdered ginger. The bits of pear give the muffins an almost custardy consistency, like little pear and ginger-flavored bread puddings. But I got a little busy this week and ended up leaving them to degrade beyond the point where I could even dice them up.

feeling less neglected now, it seems!So I realized that if I was going to get any use out of them at all, it was most likely going to be as part of the moist ingredients, more like the mashed banana in banana bread than the blueberries in a muffin. But most of the recipes I found for baked goods using pears asked for them grated or chopped or shredded, all of which would have required a starting structural integrity far beyond what these pears had. I thought about just substituting them in a recipe for applesauce bread until I came across this recipe which called for canned pears, but involved pureeing them in a blender or food processor. It also called for almond meal, which reminded me of the traditional French tart with thin slices of pear layered over a frangipane base. And although I’m sometimes a little skeptical about advice and recipes I find on About.com, the ultimate selling point was the note about how the recipe had been improved by the addition of baking soda to promote browning and off-set the acidity of the lemon juice. What can I say, I’m a sucker for science.

Which is not to say that I think baking is an exact science. I didn’t have quite enough almonds, so I substituted some ground flax meal. IMG_0166Even after I’d cored and peeled my three sad pears and pared away some of the worst bruising, I had a lot more pear than the recipe called for, so I left out some of the lemon juice. I added a little almond extract, in part to compensate for using less almond meal and in part because I just really like almond extract. And I added just a little cinnamon and nutmeg—not as much as I would have wanted in an applesauce bread, but just enough to give it a hint of spice. I only had one 4×8 loaf pan, so I used a 9×13 for the second loaf and had to leave that one in a little longer. Next time, I’ll probably substitute brown sugar for some or all of the white sugar.

It turned out lovely—the delicate flavors of pear and almond melding with a little brightness from the lemon and warmth from the spices. It’s moist and tender, not too sweet for breakfast or afternoon tea, and definitely better the  second (and third and fourth) day. Not, perhaps, quite as sublime or as elegant as a perfectly ripe pear, but not a bad result at all for pears so badly neglected.

Recipe, including explanations for some modifications in the method which are applicable to all quick breads and butter cakes, and pictures below the jump.

Recipe: Neglected Pear Bread (adapted from Linda Larsen)

  • IMG_01563/4 c. butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 c. sugar (white or brown or a combination) 
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. kosher salt
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 t. ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup ground almonds
  • 3 large overripe pears, cored, peeled, and pureed (~20 oz.)
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 1 t. almond extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350 and butter and flour two loaf pans, ideally 8”x4”. Or whatever pan you plan on baking it in—you could use bigger loaf pans or make something more like a cake in one or two round, square, or rectangular pans, or use muffin tins.

2. Cream the butter and sugar until smooth and fluffy. Then, add the eggs one at a time.

The original recipe called for creaming the butter, sugar, and eggs together all at once, and you would probably get a decent result that way. Creaming the butter with the sugar first cuts through the fat and aerates it, making sure there aren’t any lumps of fat in the batter, which would melt and create large holes rather than an even crumb. The reason I suggest adding the eggs one at a time is that the goal is to create an emulsion, and just like in mayonnaise the emulsifier is the egg yolk. If you add all the eggs at once, you’ll have to beat the mixture longer to make it smooth, and there’s a greater danger of beating the egg whites into a partial meringue. Over-aerated egg whites will tend to migrate towards the top of the batter and create a slightly tougher, cracked crust that might have a tendency to break away from the rest of the cake. So, just like it’s better to add the fat to the egg yolks gradually in a mayonnaise, it’s better to add the egg to the fat gradually in a cake batter.

 action shot! let this go too long and you'll have almond butter, which you might want to add to the moist ingredients rather than the dry

not quite 3/4 cup sliced almonds: about 1/2 cup ground almonds, so I used about 1/4 cup ground flax seed3. Grind the almonds. Once I realized I didn’t have enough sliced almonds (never mind ground), I just topped the measuring cup off with flax meal and threw it all in the food processor bowl.

4. Whisk the ground almonds (or any nut or seed meal substitutions) with the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

5. Core, peel, and puree the pears. Add the lemon juice (will prevent oxidation/browning) and almond extract.

 yes, they're gross, that's the whole point of the entry another thing to do with far gone pears: cook them until this happens and have pearsauce

6. Add about a third of the flour to the creamed butter and sugar and mix until just combined, and then mix in about a third of the pear puree. Repeat until all of the fat, flour, and liquid are combined, mixing just until the batter is smooth and even.

The reason for alternating is to prevent the creation of gluten. Gluten forms the proteins in wheat flour combine with water. Mixing the flour with the butter mixture first coats the proteins in fat, which prevents gluten from forming. Doing as little mixing as possible also helps prevent gluten from forming (the whole purpose of kneading bread is to promote the formation of gluten), while still getting the batter evenly blended. If you added all the dry first, the batter would be too stiff and lumpy and you’d have to mix it so much, you would likely get gluten formation. If you added the liquid first, you wouldn’t get the protein coated in fat and would lose the smoothness and aeration in the emulsion. Alternating gives you the smoothest batter with the least gluten and most even leavening.

7. Pour into prepared pan(s) and bake until the bread is browning and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. In 4”x8” pans, the bread should take 45-55 minutes. In the 9×13 it took an additional 10 minutes. I’d start checking muffins at 25 minutes, and a cake pan at 35.

 not clean! clean!

8. Cool in the pan(s) on wire racks for about 10 minutes, loosen from the edges with a knife and turn onto racks to cool completely. Nice warm, but better the next day. If you want to freeze it, wait until it’s entirely cooled and then triple-wrap in plastic.