Monday, February 29, 2016

Bread Baking Day #80: Baking with Sourdough -- Soft Pretzels

When I first read about this month's Bread Baking Day challenge (BBD #80), I was thrilled at the opportunity to see if my nearly-two-year old starter was still viable.  It had been through a lot during the past year -- moving cross-country twice and left almost forgotten in the refrigerator.  The time had come to resurrect it.   

Luckily, it came out of dormancy just fine.

For my first attempt, I made a sourdough boule with cracked wheat and sunflower seeds.  It was ok, but not wonderful, although it did have a nice sour flavor.

Then, I ran across a recipe for Sourdough Soft Pretzels, and that was the winner.  

First, you use the starter straight out of the fridge -- cool and unfed.  Then, the dough is mixed in the bread machine and allowed to rest for about 45 minutes before shaping.  No second rise, either.  How easy is that?

The end result is a chewy soft pretzel that doesn't take forever to make.  I will definitely make these again, and perhaps even experiment with shaping, since the basic dough mixture is delicious.

Thanks to Zorra for a perfect challenge.  Check out her website in the next few days to see other sourdough breads.  And follow this link to the original recipe from King Arthur Flour.  It can be adapted to either weight or volume measures.  


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Babes Bake an Anniversary Onion Bread

When I first read the recipe for this caramelized onion bread, I didn't have high expectations for success.   First, I've never had any luck with using floured cloths for proofing.  The bread would always stick and thus deflate.  Second, the oven temperature is sketchy at best.  Third, while I had the primary recipe, no where could I find details on all the auxiliary steps, so I just had to wing it.  That said, with only a few minor ingredient changes, the bread did turn out fairly well, although clearly not as nice as those from all the other Babes.  (Babe failure?)   

For the ingredients, I used medium rye flour in place of the light rye.   I didn't have buckwheat flour, so I substituted white whole wheat.  And, with only a tablespoon of honey in the container, I turned to Lyle's Golden Syrup instead.  Note, too, that this bread requires three days of preparation, so it's wise to plan accordingly.

(Improvised setup)

I interpreted all the instructions as best I could, and it seemed that the dough cooperated.  Only one loaf would fit on the baking stone, so, I fired up the second oven, which only had one shelf, and took a calculated guess for setting the temperature (all the markings having been erased over time).  The top oven, with two shelves, got the pan with ice cubes, while the bottom one did not, although I did spray that loaf with water several times at the beginning.  Can't really tell which loaf is which.  The top loaf was baked for twice the amount of specified time, hoping for a darker crust, which never happened.  The bottom loaf came out on time.  Again, you can't really tell which is which.

It is a delicious bread, and a good keeper, so it's worth making at least once.  The recipe comes from the book, Bien Cuit.  For details on the origins, the recipe, and a list of Babes, go to Tanna's website, My Kitchen in Half Cups.  If you want to play along this month, send your post to Tanna by the 29th (and remember the 3 days!).



Recipe By: Bien Cuit by Zachary Golper, Peter Kaminsky & Thomas Schauer
Yield: 2 medium loaves
Total Time: about 3 days (but most of that is dough resting)


125 grams (3/4 c + 21/2 tbsp) white rye flour
0.3 gram (generous pinch) instant yeast
125 grams (1/2 c + 1 tsp) water at about 60°F (15°C)
425 grams (3 c + 21/2 tsp) white flour, plus additional as needed for working with the dough
75 grams (1/2 c + 11/2 tsp) buckwheat flour

35 grams ground flax seed
15 grams (21/2 tsp) fine sea salt
1 gram (generous 1/4 tsp) instant yeast
350 grams (11/4 c + 31/2 tbsp) water at about 60°F (15°C)
50 grams (21/2 tbsp) honey
25 grams (13/4 tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
50 grams (1/4 c) Caramelized Onions (you know how to caramelize onions, yes?)
DUSTING MIXTURE for the linen liner and shaped loaves
1 part fine semolina flour
5 parts white flour


Whisk flour and yeast together.  Pour water over.  Using wooden spoon or your hand mix carefully to insure all the flour is wet.  Cover the container and allow to sit on the counter at room temperature for 10 to 14 hours.  The starter will be at peak around 12 hours.

Whisk together white and buckwheat flours, salt and yeast.
Use approximately a third of the water to pour around the starter edges to release it from the sides of the bowel. 
Mix remaining water and honey in large bowl and add the starter; mix starter into water with wooden spoon.
Because you may not need all of the flour, reserve a small amount (arbitary, maybe 1/2 cup).  Mix the dry ingredients into the starter to combine then switch to a plastic bowl scraper.
The dough will now be sticky to the touch.
Note: At no point in this process of resting did my dough double in size.

Some Babes, like some Buddies, are sticklers for following directions and amounts.  Perhaps, over the years I've become jaded by too many crazy mis-reads and just down right mistakes and breads that are just good.  When I read this recipe roll and tuck just morphed into stretch and fold for me which is what I did.  You'll find several Babes who were very particular and followed the technique.
*** TUCK in my experience has always been cupping hands around a dough and tucking/pulling the dough under.  The result you're looking for is a strong smooth finish.

"Push the dough to one side of the bowl. Roll and tuck the dough (see Rolling and Tucking), adding the reserved flour mixture and a small amount of additional flour to the bowl and your hands as needed. Continue rolling and tucking until the dough feels stronger and begins to resist any further rolling, about 10 times. Then, with cupped hands, tuck the sides under toward the center. Place the dough, seam-side down, in a clean bowl, cover the top of the bowl with a clean kitchen towel, and let rest at room temperature for 45 minutes."

Dust the counter and your hands lightly with flour.  Release the dough from the bowl and place it seam-side down on the counter.  Stretch into a rough rectangular shape then, as you would fold a letter to place into an envelope, fold the rectangular into thirds.  Using cupped hands again tuck the sides under toward the center of the dough ball.  Give the ball a slight turn with each tuck and work your way around the ball at least once.  Return the dough ball seam-side down back to the bowl and cover again with the towel.  
Allow to rest again for another 45 minutes.

Repeat the step 4 and return the dough to the bowl, cover with the towel, and let rest for 45 minutes.


Third stretch and fold encorporates butter and onions.  Stretch the dough into a rectangle.  Drop small pieces of butter across the top the rectangle.  Spread the butter across the top then top the smeared butter with the onions.  
Roll the dough tightly and press to flatten slightly.  Turn seam side down.  Fold into thirds and roll again; roll and fold until the butter and onions are completly incorporated into the dough.  Mine took about 7 times.
Turn the dough seam side down and tuck around the ball.
Cover with the towel and let rest another 45 minutes.

Fourth and final stretch, repeat step 4, then return the dough to the bowl, cover with the towel, and let rest for about 20 minutes.

Lightly dust the work area and hands with the dusting mix.
Divide the dough in half.  I divided mine unequally as I wanted one loaf larger than the other.   Roll into two loose tubes.
Let rest 5 minutes.  Press each again and shape how you choose.

Quote from Bien Cuit:  "Transfer to the lined pan, seam-side up, positioning the loaves lengthwise. Dust the top and sides of the loaves with flour. Fold the linen to create support walls on both sides of each loaf, then fold any extra length of the linen liner over the top or cover with a kitchen towel.
Transfer the pan to the refrigerator and chill for 12 to 18 hours."

I placed my shaped loaves onto parchment paper and covered.  Let them rest for 15 hours in the refrigerator.

Pre-heat oven with baking stone and cast-iron inside to 500°F (260°C).
Cast-iron skillet is for creating steam with ice cubes.

Because my loaves were on parchment I simply lifted the parchment onto the baking peel. If you followed Bien Cuit directions above you'll need to turn the loaves seam side down at this point.
Score the top of each loaf.  The cover of this book pictures a gloriously scored loaf that I hope to one day truely capture, until then this is a good try.
Transfer the loaves to the baking stone.
Add 3 cups ice cubes to the hot cast iron skillet.  
Immediately lower the oven temperature to 460°F (240°C).
Bake, rotate the loaves 3/4 way through the baking time, until the surface is a deep, rich brown, with some spots along the scores being very dark (bien cuit), about 25 minutes.  My loaves registered 205° at that time.

11. Using the baking peel, transfer the loaves to a cooling rack. When the bottoms of the loaves are tapped, they should sound hollow. If not, return to the stone and bake for 5 minutes longer.

Let the bread cool completely before slicing and eating, at least 4 hours but preferably 8 to 24 hours.


Monday, February 1, 2016

Bread with Biga (BBD #79)

The 2016 edition of Bread Baking Day is underway!    Founder, Zorra, challenged us to bake a bread using biga.  I chose a recipe from Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads, a whole wheat pizza dough.  

Biga (on the left) and Soaker (on the right):

Resting balls of dough:


No difficulties to report, thankfully, although I did have a momentary doubt when making the actual pizza.  The dough is very slack, so I rolled it onto parchment paper, then slid the whole thing into the oven.  The pizza baked up beautifully and tasted delicious, with the crust having that yummy, firm pizza pull.  

Now, I have four more pizzas to make and consume in the next few days. For the first one, I opted for a pizza bianca, using mozzarella, prosciutto, oregano, and spinach.  We'll see what toppings I can devise for the remaining ones.

Be sure and stop by Zorra's website in a few days to see all the biga-based breads.

Whole Wheat Pizza Dough
(makes enough dough for 5 personal pizzas)

Whole Wheat Soaker
227 g whole wheat flour
4 g  salt  (
½ teaspoon)
198 g. water

Mix everything together in a medium bowl for about 1 minute until flour has absorbed all the water and the dough starts to form a ball. Cover with plastic wrap. Leave at room temperature at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours. If you need to hold it longer, it can be refrigerated up to 3 days. 

227 g whole wheat flour
1 g  instant or rapid-rise yeast (
¼ teaspoon)
198 g filtered or spring water, at room temperature

Mix everything in a large bowl until it forms a ball. Using wet hands (it's very sticky), knead in the bowl for 2 minutes until the flour has fully absorbed the water and there are no lumps. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes. Knead for another minute with wet hands. Transfer to a clean bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to 3 days.

Final Dough
1 whole wheat Soaker recipe
1 whole wheat Biga recipe
7 tablespoons whole wheat flour + plus more for rolling/shaping
⅝ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast
2 ¼ teaspoons honey or 1 tablespoon brown or coconut sugar
2  tablespoons olive oil

Make sure to remove the biga (and soaker if it was refrigerated) from the fridge 2 hours before mixing the final dough. Using a metal bench scraper or knife dipped in flour, cut the soaker and biga into 12 chunks each. Toss in flour to keep from sticking back into one blob. Toss chunks into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the 7 tablespoons flour, salt, yeast, honey, and 2 Tablespoons olive oil. Using the paddle attachment, mix on slow speed to combine all the ingredients. When the dough is combined, knead for 2 minutes with the dough hook on medium-low speed. Add more flour if the dough seems very wet, or a bit more flour if the dough seems too dry - it should be slightly sticky so resist the temptation to add too much.

Continue kneading with the dough hook for another 3-4 minutes. The dough should be soft and "tacky," on the verge of sticky. Let it rest for 5 minutes. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicon mat, and drizzle the remaining ½ tablespoon oil on the parchment or mat.

Knead the dough for another minute, adding flour (or water) to prevent sticking or if it seems too dry. You know you have developed the gluten sufficiently when it  passes the windowpane test, but it should still be soft and slightly sticky. Divide the dough into 5 equal pieces (between 6 ¼ oz. and 6 ¾ oz. each) and form into tight balls. Place on the prepared sheet plan and roll in the olive oil. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let sit while you get your pizza stone hot, about 1 hour. If you can't use all the dough at that time, you can refrigerate it, well wrapped to prevent drying out, for up to 24 hours before it must be used*.

Turn on the oven as hot as it will go on bake (usually 500 to 550°F). If you have a pizza stone, put it in the oven and let it heat up for an hour. If you don't have a pizza stone, put a flat sheet pan (or an upside down rimmed pan) in the oven for about 10 minutes to get it really hot. Roll out a ball of dough until it is about 12" in diameter. (I rolled it on parchment paper, since it was very soft, then transferred the dough and parchment paper onto the heated stone.  I removed the paper for the last few minutes so the bottom crust could firm up.)  Place on a floured peel or another flat sheet pan. Give it a shake to make sure it isn't sticking. Top with your preferred toppings. Slide the pizza onto the hot sheet pan or stone in the oven. Bake for about 7 minutes. The bottom and edges should be nicely browned. A small bit of char is OK. Remove it with the peel or by sliding it off onto a plate.

Allow pizza to sit for a few minutes before cutting to allow the cheese to set up. Repeat process with the rest of the dough balls. 

*If you have refrigerated the final dough, allow it to warm up for 2 hours before rolling out. When you take it out of the fridge, gently press it down to remove the bubbles that formed in the dough, and cover it with plastic again so it doesn't dry out.