27 August 2010

The Significance of Bread

Why is bread so important? The bread of life. Make some bread. Make some dough. Bread & butter. The bread-winner. Bun in the oven. Butter my biscuit. The best thing since sliced bread. The Eucharist. Cakes & ale. Peace! Land! Bread! Bread that this house may never know hunger. Salt that life may always have flavor. And wine that joy and prosperity may reign forever. Bread in all its forms has so many meanings in our lives. Ritual. Remembrance. Celebration. Thanksgiving. Offerings. Why climb on the soapbox? I had an epiphany last night. Lightning struck my brain. Bread is the perfect union of the elements.Flour from the Earth. Our grains and many other ingredients used in breads are birthed by our Mother Earth. In a way, vegetation itself is the elements combined--the soil, rains and dew, heat from the sun, and the air that carries seed.
Hydration through Water. Water is essential to life. Our water is older than we can imagine. It lives on and on, continuing through its cycle. The water that we use is the same water that our ancestors used.
When the yeast is activated and eating up precious sugars, bubbles of carbon dioxide are formed. Air. In naturally leavened bread, yeast in the air travels down to eat your starter. I shared a very interesting 1am conversation with Sous Chef Paul from Eastland Cafe about his 5-year-old starter, lovingly named Stewie.Fire is the baking. Originally bread was cooked by fire, and there has been a resurgence of wood-burning ovens in restaurants, bakeries, and homes. The hearth used to be the center of the home, and I still consider it to be vital.The Aether or void is your intentions entering the baked goods. One simply cannot knead by hand without feeling a connection. Some feel that baking is spiritual, just as many approach any task or craft. I can't remember the movie, but a baker is so sad that she cries all day over her dough. The result is salty, inedible buns. If you bake with sadness or anger, it will stay in your products. However, I have never not felt the healing aspects of kneading.
There is also the moment of enlightenment that is like a super orgasm. My husband loves driving, and I know there is that special moment for him. It's when he is so well connected with his car that it is an extension of himself. And when he drifts, he may as well be dancing or gliding over the road. His joy in driving is parallel to my joy in baking. We all find that niche in which we take great pride and joy.

All of these things brought me to this realization. I honestly started laughing with joy. Like the double rainbow guy! I think that video is hilarious, but I also get where he's coming from. I know not everyone will fully understand this. What really matters is that I do.

24 August 2010

Cobbler: This lazy lady's pie

Organic nectarines are on sale this week and, more importantly, smell ah-maz-ing. I had to throw a dessert together in just a few minutes before heading off to work. Pie? No, I'd have to wash my board, and I loathe washing dishes. Plus, rolling would take too long. Aha! Cobbler!
Typically, I do not measure the filling for cobblers. I would guess I had about 4 cups of nectarines, cut into wedges, plus 3/4 cup sugar, 2 tsp or so of cornstarch, pinch of salt, and nutmeg galore. (I love nutmeg. It is so versatile and overlooked. Try it with stone fruits and cheese. I think I'll do a post on overlooked spices. There is more than just cinnamon!) The crust was by eye again, but about 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, 4 Tbsp butter, pinch of salt, and just enough milk to bring it together. I formed the top with my hands. No rolling required! Stab, stab, stab to vent. Brush on a lil egg wash. "Honey, pull the cobbler out when the timer goes off. It'll be golden and bubbly." And I was out the door. It made a wonderful breakfast. Hey, there's fruit in it!
The great thing about cobblers, pies, crumbs, crumbles, and buckles is that the fruit is the star. Avoid too much sugar so you can taste the fruit's natural sweetness. Look for what is in season and what looks good. Smell the fruit! You can tell a lot by the scent. If you go, 'Oh my gosh. I want to eat this now. Is the stock boy looking?' then you have good fruit. The snozberries smell like snozberries! And they will taste even better than they smell.
I wanted to ask my readers how they like their cobbler. Some do a flaky crust. I like a sturdy, dumpling-like crust. And the biscuit top! I love those for berries, so all their juices get soaked up. What do you like best? Does it change depending on what's inside?

15 August 2010

The Croissant

I always think it's interesting to see products made start to finish. It's kind of like a behind the scenes exclusive. I don't have the complete transformation for you today, but it is the best part. I currently do the night bake for Provence here in Nashville. That means I proof and bake all the pastries in addition to other tasks. The croissants are so adorable, resembling cross-armed men.
Here we have a tray of proofed croissants ready for the oven. To the side is a frozen croissant. How cool is it that a wee baby croissant grows into a big papa croissant? Double rainbow cool.
The finished croissant, all golden brown. I highly recommend that you toast previously baked croissants to reenact that crispy, flaky goodness. The sound of delicate layers snapping under my fingers, or better yet between my teeth, is music to my ears. Just look at all those lovely layers! That, my friends, is all thanks to butter. In the earlier stages, butter is wrapped by the croissant dough. It goes through many rolls and folds before being cut and shaped. This spreads the butter evenly (hopefully), and the result you see here.
Bravo, Shanny Shan!

Grapefruit Poppy Seed Muffin

I wanted to try out a new poppy seed muffin recipe, but I was out of the traditional lemon. Other citrus in my fruit drawer: lime (eh), orange (maybe, but not zingy enough), and a red grapefruit (bingo!). I just used the zest, so I could eat the insides for breakfast later. These turned out great! The oils give a slight numbing effect, less so than cloves. The flavors really compliment each other well, and I may try to up the grapefruit next time. I'm also not completely satisfied with the crumb. Perhaps some cake flour, replacing a portion of the all-purpose, would work well here. A light streusel may be a good choice as well. Overall, it was still a great success. Moist. Doesn't fall apart. Not overly sweet. The biggest victory here is finally recognizing that grapefruit does have a place in baking. I wonder what other ingredients I have overlooked?

05 August 2010

My best buddy, the bench scraper

Combine one of these: Bench. Pastry. Dough. Board. With any of these: Scraper. Lifter. Cutter. Knife. I've heard every single combination to describe this handy tool, but I stick with bench scraper. I find it to be the most versatile tool, and therefore the most valuable. Even though the blade is dull, it is able to cut many things. I love it for nuts and butter. It can slide over or scoop up ingredients. Use it to whack things, like garlic. Divide and cut dough, or use it instead of a wheel. It can be a measuring tool, and many models have inch marks right on the blade. When you're all done, it scrapes off all the gunk on your bench with only the aid of hot water. Many different handles are available, including wood, metal, silicone, and plastic. There are straight, rounded, and curved blades. I prefer the plain Dexter version. It doesn't wear out my palm, is sturdy, dishwasher safe, and just feels right. You will find this easily in every bakery for a reason.

02 August 2010

Struan Bread

Yesterday was Lammas, Lughnasadh, or Loaf Mass Day. Pick your name; it's all the same. Simply put, it is a day to celebrate the grain harvest. Last night, the kids and I made my beloved Struan bread. It contains wheat bran, rolled oats, polenta, and rice, so that covers a lot of appreciated grains. We mixed and kneaded by hand, which is the most rewarding method of bread making. The dough starts off sloppy and kind of chunky. You start to wonder if you did this right, even though you've made the same recipe for years. Then, as if by magic, it becomes bouncy, smooth, and even. You really just want to snuggle with it.

It only gets better with the rises. The honey aroma becomes more pronounced, and sometimes you can actually hear the gases swelling inside. I actually did a happy dance as I formed the dough into loaves, anticipating the scent of baking bread that would soon fill the room. There aren't many scents that match it.

Next to handling dough, my favorite part of baking is thumping loaves to ensure they are ready to be pulled. Testing readiness by sound is kind of silly. Sometimes I feel like a tuner, plucking the piano's strings. After baking comes the hardest part, waiting. The bread continues to bake for awhile, allowing the crust to achieve perfect, well, crustiness. The reward for your patience is great. Fresh, hot bread is amazing. Orgasmic even. Whoever started the term "foodgasm" surely thought of it while nomming on freshly baked bread.

This bread is hardy yet light. Sweet and nutty. Bright and rich. It's great for rolls, sandwiches, toast, and of course noshing. I adore this bread, and it will forever be special to me.