Saturday, April 30, 2011

Pizza Variations

It was pizza that started my bread baking adventures. I wasn't satisfied with the frozen pies such as Freschetta and the flat bread crusts at the supermarkets were more topping platforms than integral parts. When I compared recipes for pizza dough with bread dough and saw little if any difference, I was off to the races and mixing it up with the flours.
Last week I tried using some rye flour for the bench flour when kneading the Neapolitan style dough. That worked out well and yesterday I took it a little further in the interests of discovery. I used 10% rye flour in the dough, added about 30g of my starter that uses 10% rye, and used rye again as the bench flour.
While baking the pie, I started with 10 minutes at 475F. However, I took the pie out of the oven rather than just rotating the pan and placed it in the broiler section. I expected the oven to kick in to bring the temperature back up after I closed the doors but nothing happened so I just turned the desired temperature up on the control with the idea that it would start the burners. That did do the trick. The results were to add some char to the cheese on top and take some of the moisture out of the toppings. I frequently use sliced roma tomatoes for toppings and previously, I would have to deal with excess liquid oozing out when I sliced. No such thing happened this time.
I used a perforated 14" pan yesterday and using the broiler worked but left me with a small detail to work out. The bottom crust wasn't as well done as we like. The pan doesn't quite match using a screaming hot stone but does a reputable job. The next pie I do will have to cook longer in the oven to get the crust right. Unless I moderate the application of cheese, it may seal in the moisture from the tomatoes. So far, my alternative methods are to put sliced mozzarella on the dough and then top or to sauce, add other toppings, add cheese, and then sliced tomatoes.
I could always delete the tomatoes but this is pizza, a perfect food; you got your carbs in the crust, some meat protein, dairy from the cheese, and the tomatoes are vegetables. When you add the crushed red peppers, you've got a slice of a well rounded nirvana that sustains rather than a merely indulgent finger food. There is a difference.
This week's breads haven't lit the baking world on fire or earned a glamor shot. The loaf that came out of the oven this morning used Dakota Maid bread flour instead of Hudson Cream AP. Using similar recipes, I've got to say that the bread flour worked out better giving me a better oven spring rather than spreading out as much. I also went up to 30% WW flour which should've been a factor in the shape but was a non issue. Next week I plan on picking up around 30# of DM flour in Omaha and that should hold me in good stead for a while. DM AP flour is as strong as KAF AP so I'll grab 10# in Omaha.
I haven't done anything exciting in the yard this past week due to tweaking my lower back. I've resigned myself to going to a PT Clinic to learn stretching exercises to minimize the chance of this back problem recurring. Sitting inside in pleasant weather, thinking about stronger meds to alleviate the pain is no way to spend a retirement. I want a second childhood, not a life of shuffling from point A to point B. Good health will help me live that.
A few pictures may appear next week.

Monday, April 25, 2011

It's a slow Spring out there

The weather is gray and wet today. Fortunately for the KC area, the jet stream is to the south of us. That's not so fortunate for the St Louis area and east. The cool temperatures remain and I'm reluctant to put out my tomatoes and peppers. The soil is much too wet. I have scattered some grass seed to fill in the areas damaged by the moles tunneling through my yard. A hairy woodpecker and a nuthatch have flown into the bird feeder this morning as well as some goldfinches that have been absent over the past few days. I need to buy some nyjer thistle feed for their dedicated feeder. The snow peas have begun to emerge and if the temps go up, I will soon have have to thin them out. I overplanted due to the age of the packaged seeds.
My search for an authentic Pugliese formula was a disappointment. There seemed to be as many recipes as there are Nonnas with access to an Internet connection. Some dictated using a biga that was more of a poolish at 100% hydration than anything else. Others wanted to add 60ml or 1/4C of olive oil to 500g of flour. After all my research, I gathered that it was a foccacia dough that was shaped into a batard. So I decided to develop my own formula for a faux Pugliese.
I started with a 100% hydration poolish with less than 1/16 tsp of yeast that I started on Tuesday night. That set on the counter for about 12 hours. It was peaking around noon on Wednesday when I mixed it as a 1-2-3 loaf. I compensated for using 1 TBS of olive oil in the water. I used about 10% WWW along with the AP to try to get a more complex flavor. Even though I used 10% Heartland Golden Buffalo WWW in the loaf, the flavor was just meh, not offensive but not newsworthy. Despite the 71-72% hydration, the crumb wasn't open and there were no signs of gelatinization in the interior holes. It looked like white bread. While it might have been the short patent AP from Hudson Cream, this bread may need as little handling as possible to develop the Italian openness in the crumb. I don't have an explanation for the indifferent flavor other than using only 4g of salt when I could have added 6g to get the standard 2% salt weight. I usually use a little less salt in my loaves and haven't run into this before to this degree. Perhaps the blandness in perception was due to my preference for a sourdough loaf over a yeast loaf.
The other loaf last week used the same AP and 25% Norm's Flour WWW. I used a two stage build on the starter but only presoaked the WWW for an hour. I substituted 1/2 TBS maple syrup for honey but the flavor wasn't noticeable. It turned out well and we should finish it today. Perhaps I should gather that the AP isn't for all applications.
It does just fine for a Neapolitan style pizza crust. This time around I used rye as my bench flour when doing a very short knead before bulk ferment. That turned out to be good move and worth repeating. Just a little bit of rye does a lot for flavor in my breads so I'll add that to my list of gimmicks and tricks to use when baking.
It's time wander out to the kitchen to start a new loaf and see if I can develop one that merits a glamor shot.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Out of the ordinary

 15 April is the average last frost date around here. Just once in the 21+ years we've lived here has the last frost gone past that. So it was particularly surprising to see a butterfly in the yard on Saturday. It was feeding on the dandelion blooms which aren't among the endangered species in my neighborhood.
We did miss the system that delivered the tornadoes this past weekend. There was about 3/4"  of rainfall but nothing of note, especially in comparison to what happened in Oklahoma that same day. It will happen close to home someday but I'm in no hurry to see a tornado up close and personal. Despite the attention paid to tornadoes by the press, not everyone out here in Kansas will see one in their lifetime. For the most part, they're buried in the fury of our rather exciting and vivid thunderstorms. The majority of us here in Kansas do experience heavy hailstorms that cause damage to cars parked outside and roofs on our houses. My present car has been dinged heavily by hail twice in the past twelve years and my previous car went to the body shop once. I can do without ever experiencing that for the rest of my days.
I managed to coordinate two of the little gimmicks I've learned about baking better bread this weekend. My slashing still remains a work in progress but I enjoyed the results of this one. It was a combination of soaking the white whole wheat flour for about two hours and a two stage build for the sourdough starter. The WWW is from Norm's Flour, an organic hard winter white wheat flour from Kingman, KS, that is my favorite WWW due to its sweet flavor and excellent baking qualities. Two stage sour builds are a PITA due to the need to build a small initial stage that takes as much work as a larger build. Perhaps the nuisance value only matters when you build for a single loaf. This starter used KAF AP and some Hodgson's Rye. The first stage developed at about the usual rate for OCT-APR but the second got rolling much faster despite being kept in the basement. As a sidenote, my starter will pick up speed in doubling and tripling volume in May and during JUN-mid SEPT, it roars. Part due to temperature and I suspect part due to it's makeup. After all, it is a living organism.
Back in the real world, the loaf was a standard 1-2-3 loaf procedure that turned out to be light in feel. The crumb wasn't quite as open with lots of holes but it wasn't dense, with a sweet flavor- I only used 1/2 TBS of honey for a 825g loaf before baking, and great oven spring. The pictures will be added in a day or two.
I've already added the soaker thing to my procedure but the two stage build will be for the days I have the scheduling right and ambition to spare.
I'm thinking about making a pesto and chicken sauce to be served with penne and probably pine nuts for Wednesday so I may dig into the dry yeast tomorrow to start something vaguely Italian in the way of bread. If the rain doesn't dampen my attitude, there may be something in the line of a Pugliese loaf for Wednesday night.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

I See Green Everywhere!

Things are seriously green outside. The trees are filling in and the lawn will soon shift from needing mowing every seven days to a five day schedule. The much ignored string trimmer will have to be put back into rotation. Zoysia grass is making more invasions into the yard and borders. Don't believe the ads in the gardening magazines, you don't want this stuff at all.
I moved some clumps of our prairie grasses into the right of way behind our house. We don't own the property but if I don't take care of it no one else will. So, there are clumps of both little and big blue stem grasses out there. I found a lot of large rocks just at and under the surface. I suspect that someone dumped them there when the area was being developed and tried to cover the rocks with leftover dirt. I'm tired of scraping the mower blade on the rocks and won't keep goats for yard maintenance so it was time for transplanting. Once the grasses take hold, they'll be there for quite a while. Big blue stem grasses have root systems that go down more than 25 feet so they survive droughts, grass fires, and the no longer existent buffalo herds. The little blue stem isn't quite as tough but it has survived Kansas weather longer than recorded history.
I finally figured out how keep track of my daffodil plantings. I just photographed them and downloaded the pictures into a file. As long as the computer doesn't crash, I'll be OK. As an alternative to depending on this old computer, I can always store the pictures at Photobucket and hope their storage never crashes and burns. This autumn, when and if the motivation strikes me, I should be able to dig and divide the bulbs. Yeah, it's work but when they start blooming at the end of March, they're always a welcome sight.
Mrs PG and I hit another nursery yesterday to see what kind of strangeness from the plant world could be found. I added an Early Goliath and a San Marzano tomatoes to my menagerie of nightshade plants. Three tomato plants are too many for us but I'm a glutton for punishment and anxiety when it comes to tomatoes and their care. I may add a cherry or grape tomato plant just because they're good for salads and roasting for my pizzas. I should know better about these things but don't do anything to stop. Sad, isn't it?
It looks like the lettuce is starting to come up. It's either that or I'm deluding myself.
The work is starting to back up already so if I get the part time job at the local library I may have to get back to figuring out time management again. Oh, the library gig is just a circulation desk clerk at minimum wage and hopefully, low stress but OTOH, it would pay for some new toys, camera, computer, stereo gear...
The difference between men and boys is the cost of their toys.

Baker's Bail Out Loaves Do Boffo Bake Sale Biz

I didn't start out with the intention of baking three loaves for the bake sale at Cushing Hospital. However, as Woody Allen is alleged to have said, "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans". The original intention was to do two loaves, shape and proof them in my bannetons to give them that nice "Artisan" appearance and tell the nice ladies that price the goods to mark them at an exorbitant $8 each. I was confident. I had the formula sketched out in my head, had some basic math to check the formula, soaked the whole wheat flour overnight in the fridge, built a two stage sourdough starter, and had all the ingredients on hand. That's where the mistakes started.  
I should have written down everything and done a mise en place before launching into the procedure. As I started into mixing, I decided that I'd use my water to loosen up the starter as I always do. Fortunately, I held back some of the water from the mixing bowl. I knew I could add it later as needed. This is where the second mistake occurred. I had forgotten to account for the water in the soaker so there was now an extra 104g of water and I hadn't added the planned maple syrup or sunflower oil yet. After turning on the mixer, I noticed that the dough was really wet when it should've been slightly tacky after a minute of mixing. It was time for an autolyse, so I covered the bowl, set the timer, and headed for the calculator. The dough was at 79-80% hydration, almost ciabatta dough territory and almost impossible to handle. Baker's math told me that I had to add at least 150g of flour to bring the dough down to where I could work with it I used a mix of whole wheat, because it absorbs more water than white flour, and all purpose, hoping that intuition would pull a rabbit or some loaves out the mixing bowl.
Mixing the dough wasn't fun. There was too much and I had to stop the mixing frequently because the dough kept climbing the hook. I hadn't ever had a problem like this before but there was 1950g, almost 4.3 lbs, in the bowl. I finally got the nerve to pour the dough on my floured work sheet, gave it some quick kneading to get it into a ball, and put it into the bulk fermenting bowl. I knew I was baking by the skin of my teeth or seat of my pants.
I managed to do a couple of stretch and folds over 2.5 hours and by the end of the bulk ferment, I knew I had to do pan loaves rather than using bannetons. I have three 8"x4" pans that I don't use on a regular basis but this was their time. I scaled out the dough, shaped it, and then wet the top before rolling the dough in some rolled oats. After covering the tops with oiled plastic wrap, I took the loaves downstairs where the temp is still around 64F for a slow proofing. I hoped for 3 hours which did work out. I brought up two loaves and preheated the oven to 475F. As the pictures demonstrate, the slashing wasn't all that good. The dough was still on the wet side due to hydration and I hadn't figured out how to overcome that. I still haven't. The first two loaves took about 35 minutes to bake to an internal temp of 205F. The third loaf only took 30 minutes to reach 205F internal. I just used a wire rack to cool them.
Before I bagged the loaves, I used my Open Office software to prepare a label to be placed in the bag with the loaf. I listed all the ingredients and gave them the name of "Yankee Farmhouse Loaf". It must have been the maple syrup that lent me the creativity for the name. It was either that or eccentricity.
Mrs PG took the loaves down to the hospital around 9AM. When she dropped by later to talk to a friend at noon, the loaves had already been sold for the less than exorbitant price of $6 each. Not only had I bailed myself out of what looked like a massive fail at first, I also learned something from the experience. Even if it was the second time I had to learn the lessons. I'll get you, my few and faithful audience, an update on what is going on outside later on after some sleep and some judicious editing.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Gnome Patrol

We had a little taste of summer out here at our little house on the edge of the prairie, yesterday's temp got up to around 84F and today hit 89F. The old ratty cargo shorts came out again and I got into the garden for some minor work. I emptied out the contents of our compost tumbler into a section that will probably used for cucumbers and pole beans and then covered it up with the soil and straw. There was also enough time to plant some leaf lettuce. There will soon, I hope, be romaine and some multicolored varieties emerging to fill us with the good vitamins and that stuff. It can't be worse than the lettuce coming in from California and Arizona. I have lots of left over seed packets of snow peas that seem to do well in the neighborhood of lettuce so the peas will be put in tomorrow, about 9 inches away from the loose leaf lettuce. The lettuce should emerge in about seven days and the peas in ten days.
We also had the chance to stop in at a couple of nurseries in Lawrence yesterday. The plants aren't really that big and they're not ready to plant either. I couldn't resist buying a few though. next to our grow light are a chile de arbol-bright heat and lots of flavor, a Goliath jalapeno, a Big Jim New Mexico chile, and a Park's Whopper tomato. I want to add an Italian sweet pepper, two Super San Marzano tomatoes, and possibly another tomato of a vintage not yet determined.
Just as a follow up to my post from 7 April 2011, I've figured out that my flour conundrum was most likely caused by the Hudson Cream AP flour. I baked another loaf using the AP on Saturday and shaping the dough before baking was a pain. The flour is lower in protein and most likely gluten than the Dakota Maid that I've favored lately. the dough was extremely slack and really didn't want to shape into a pan loaf. I just shaped it into a very "rustic" batard, proofed overnight in the fridge, and baked on Saturday because I had nothing to lose. All I have to do is adjust my hydration when using that flour. I've been smitten with the results from 70-72% lately but that's using the DM flours. I have to bake a couple of loaves for a bake sale at Cushing Hospital for delivery on Thursday morning so I'll take my chances with a maple wholewheat formula using the HC AP and some authentic Vermont maple syrup.
Next up are the aforementioned gnomes. They haven't been given names and probably won't ever get one. I don't know of any gnome names. They're small, sitting on plastic mushrooms, and have small solar cells that charge a lithium AA battery. The mushrooms glow at night. They're definitely tacky and still dreadfully appalling. Only $10 at Costco, such a bargain. I intend to move them around the yard every now and then when the fits of eccentricity strike me.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

An unremarkable week

The trees around here are starting to fill out nicely. Mrs PG's favorite, a fruitless pear tree is has lots of snow white blossoms on it presently. In a few days, those petals will start to fall and, you guessed it, look like snowflakes. The hack berry tree out front is starting to bud out about two weeks earlier than normal. The juncos have left for cooler climes but the goldfinches are now true to their name and are really distracting me from the keyboard when they fly up to perch on the feeder just outside the window. Things could be worse. I could be a journalist trying to get a straight answer from the members of Congress about solving the budget squabbles.
Last week didn't result in any spectacular breads. I did try to use a Pane Francese formula for a meal of pasta. Instead of simply stretching the dough out (Stiratto) in a long rectangular, crudely shaped loaf, I tried my hand at a baguette shape. That's going to take more practice. The bread tasted fine but there wasn't any open cell structure to speak of. Maybe it was the shaping and maybe it was the less than admirable slashing in the high hydration-73%- dough but it will have to take more practice.
I'm eating a pan loaf of a light whole wheat now. It's a good, not great technically, bread. The oven spring was much better than I expected but the crumb is too soft, almost fluffy. I used Hudson Cream AP flour, a Kansas product, so the oven spring is bonus. The fluffy texture of the crumb may or may not attributable to the overnight soak in the fridge for the whole grain flour. The loaf used 25% home milled hard red winter wheat so I expected more chewiness. I'll have to check for an answer over at TFL. The AP flour may be the cause due to lower gluten and protein properties but there is a possible solution by using a biga.
Bigas are a type of preferment that's really popular in Italian bread making. It's a low hydration, 60% water to flour ratio, preferment that helps develop the dough strength when using typical, low gluten Italian flours. They can be made with dry yeast or a sourdough starter. Either way, the biga requires a long, slow overnight build. I understand the requirements of the technique but I haven't applied it often.
I know that if I used bread flour that I could bypass the experimentation and get the results I want more easily. But what's the fun in doing that and how would I learn anything new?  I already know the minimum about the flat breads I intended to explore so the biga trials will take precedence.