Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hot Times on the Prairie

There's nothing like a 110F heat index to help you count your blessings for central air. The high temperature today was somewhere around 97F so I decided to catch up on watering my garden before finding work to do inside.

The garden is interesting if not fascinating these days. Usually, I pick my first tomatoes by 4 July but this year doesn't look promising, maybe by the 7th or 8th. For some odd reason, my chile de arbol plant has kicked into gear. I could pick a few right now but I want to let the plant go a little further. The Italian sweet pepper, a Giant Marconi, has decided to set fruit now that some heat has been thrown its way. I have a Goliath Jalapeno that has some action going on but nothing worth picking.

The first variety of garlic that I've picked, a siverskin type, didn't grow to any size this year. I did do a fair amount of soil prep before planting, such as fertilizing and adding a seaweed solution for micro minerals but no luck this year. I may order some seed garlic of that variety from Filaree Farms to ensure that next year's bulbs will start from larger cloves. There is some hardneck garlic that looks promising in two different strains. In any case, we'll have enough to eat and enough to plant for next year. I just like to have enough to do all that and then give away the rest.

The current loaf  being served is one my "house" breads. It's 70% bread flour/ 30% whole meal flour. The starter build did go faster as is typical of the season. While the appearance doesn't scare children and horses, it's not brag shot material. I did manage to get a nice open crumb this time around. I'm not sure if that was due to soaking the whole meal flour or an overnight proofing in the fridge. It worked and that's enough for me.

I've done some research on Anadama Bread and bought the supplies I needed to keep it close to authentic. The thing is that there is no definitive recipe out there so I have a very loose framework to use to develop my formula. Some recipes show a very wet or high hydration, over 70%, while others barely get to 65%. Right now, I'm considering 68-69% so I can bake a free standing loaf such as a boule or batard. One thing that shouldn't have surprised me is that there are recipes that include rye and whole wheat flours in a small proportion, no more than 10-15% of total flour. I even saw a recipe that included lemon juice. So far, I plan to use some kind of preferment to make sure that the tastes are featured rather than a yeast presence.

Overall, it will be a two day bread process. The preferment and soaking the corn meal, maybe a little bit of WW, will start the night before. The second day will contain the rest of the work since I don't plan on doing a retarded proof. The molasses used will contribute some flavor and color to the crust, but I don't think that it will be too different in taste from my Pioneer Bread. Time will tell.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Variation on Pioneer Bread, Again

A brief rain has rendered the lawn too wet to mow safely, so with the house finches outside at the bird feeder as company, I'm going to finish my post with the promised pictures and improvisations on the formula.
This is a much better looking loaf. I thought it deserved a brag shot. The flavor is really good as well despite not having had a long retarded proofing.

There really weren't many changes to the previously posted formula. In my first attempt, I used some Norm's White Winter Wheat Flour which I mixed in dry with the bread flour. This time around, I used Heartland Mills Golden Buffalo which, as I've posted previously, is a thirsty flour. To work with that characteristic, I soaked the 66g with 66g of water. The 35g of yellow corn meal was soaked in 35g of water this time. Both were stirred up, covered, and refrigerated while the preferment went to work.

My choice of white flour was Dakota Maid AP rather than DMs BF. Analysis of the flour from the mill states that there is little difference in the two other than ash content and perhaps a slightly lower protein level. I'm not a professional running a business so I didn't get too wound up about it. Once the math is done, everyone has already figured out that the water for the dough changed to 100g.  Everything else as far as ingredients stayed the same.I didn't do a long retarded proofing, only about 1.5 hours, which meant that my on the counter time to warm up the loaf shrank as well.

There was a change in the baking procedure that helped my effort. I warmed the oven to 475F to get my baking stone ready for work. After loading the loaf, I turned the oven down to 450F with the idea of creating a "slacking oven" effect. That's an idea I read about in Elizabeth David's thoroughly entertaining, "English Breads and Yeast Cookery". After 10 minutes at 450F, I turned the oven down to 425F for 5 minutes, and pulled the parchment paper before turning the loaf around. Five more minutes at 425F led to 400F for a final 15 minutes. At the 35 minute mark, I used my digital BBQ thermometer to check for internal temperature. When the thermometer hit 202F, I called it a day for the oven and shut it down.

I really do need a better camera if I insist on displaying crumb shots  but I have to make do with the one I've got right now. The crumb doesn't have the big holes I like. It is tender and tasty so let me drag out an old lyric from that overly dramatic singer, Meat Loaf, "Two out of three ain't bad".

The next dry yeast loaf in my triple attack on the category will be an acknowledgement of my connection to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Anadama Bread. There's quite a story behind that loaf. I've never done an Anadama loaf so I'll do some research first.  In the meantime, I'll go back to my somewhat neglected but never disrespected starter for something sourdough. 

Comments, email, questions, and humor are welcome.

Variation on Pioneer Bread, Second Time Around

I've posted some pictures of my second attempt at this recipe that I'm trying to develop over at The Fresh Loaf website.
I'll also post pictures here and briefly describe what I did differently for this loaf. Mrs PG and I like it quite well even though it's not a sourdough loaf. Good is good. The new pictures should be up by Monday night.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Variation on Pioneer Bread

Usually, I bake with a sourdough starter but since I have a large amount of active dry yeast in the freezer of downstairs refrigerator, AKA the beer fridge, I intentionally set out to bake a threesome of yeasted loaves.
This first loaf is from the recipes that are on the Kansas Wheat Commission web site. Originally, it's given using volume rather than weight measurements. There was also an extravagant overuse of yeast so I modified to use a pre-ferment to cut down to about 1/3 the original quantity. I proofed the ADY in warm water but instant dry yeast could be mixed in with the flour. Since the quantities are so small, just use the same measurements for IDY. I didn't have honey on hand so I used some pure maple syrup. There was no overbearing sweetness in the finished loaf.
I used a towel lined bowl for the shaped dough during proofing because I don't have a round banneton. That bowl may have been part of the reason I had trouble placing the dough on the parchment paper. I've since bought a 1.5 lb bag of Bob's Red Mill Brown Rice Flour for dusting towels and bannetons to eliminate as many problems with the dusting flour as I can. Other Pioneer Bread recipes mention proofing the loaf in an oiled pie pan or cake pan. I'm not sure that would work out if I were to do a retarded proofing but it should work if you proof on the counter.


100g bread flour
72g water @ 85F
< 1/8 tsp ADY or <1g ADY
The idea is to use a small amount of yeast to have a longer flavor building development of the preferment. If your room temperature is warm, say around 80F, a small pinch of salt, <1g, will slow down fermentation. Don't watch the clock, watch the preferment so that when it's ripe, you can start your mixing procedure.


35g yellow corn meal
45g cold water
The corn meal and water should be stirred, covered, and either left on the counter or put in the fridge for at least 3 hours. This is inexact but the soak will soften the corn meal.

200g bread flour
65g white whole wheat flour
35g rye flour
155g water at 85F
1/2 tsp, <2g ADY
7g kosher salt
2 TBL sunflower oil, about 30ml
2 TBL maple syrup or honey, about 30ml

1. Add the ADY to the warm water and proof for about 10 minutes.
2. In the mixer bowl, add soaker, bread flour, white wheat, yeasted water. Mix for one minute at low speed or until the ingredients are a shaggy mass. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and cover for 20 minutes.
3. Add the rye flour, sunflower oil, maple syrup, and salt. Mix at low speed for three minutes to combine ingredients then 4 minutes at second speed.
4. Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface, knead for about 30 seconds and shape into a ball. Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover.
5. Bulk ferment for 1.5 hours with stretch and folds at 30 and 60 minutes.
6. Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface and shape into a ball. Cover the dough and let it relax for 10 minutes.
7. This dough can be shaped into a boule or batard. It's a little big for an 8"x4" pan and small for a 9"x5" pan. As I mentioned above, it can be proofed in a well oiled pie or cake pan when covered, at room temperature, in the style of a pan de Horiadaki. I chose to make a boule and used a  6 hour retarded fermentation.
8. The loaf took about 75 minutes to get up close to room temperature and adequately proofed. Your times will vary, watch the dough not the clock.
9. The oven was preheated to 475F for about 30 minutes and the baking stone was situated in the middle. After placing the boule on parchment paper, I slashed the top and loaded the oven. The oven was turned down to 450F for 18 minutes. At 18 minutes, I turned the loaf around and pulled the parchment paper. I then turned the oven down to 425F and continued baking for another 17 minutes. The loaf was checked for temperature, internal temp was 204F, and pulled from the oven.

Despite my procedural errors that caused the dough to stick and some deflation, the loaf did have oven spring. The flavor is quite good and merits another attempt with better procedural discipline. When I get that right, I'll post a picture or two and then get to work on developing a sourdough variation for sometime next month. Questions and comments are welcome, especially from bakers who try their hand at this formula.

BTW, the first peppers are now on the plants. I have a couple of jalapenos and at least four chile de arbol have shown up for work.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Chasing the Yeast Beast or Riffing on a Recipe

I keep the Kansas Wheat Commission's website on my bookmarks list. Because my wife and I live in Kansas, Rock Chalk Jayhawk!, I have a curiosity about the wheat business. Currently, they have a daily copy of their wheat harvest report that goes out to radio stations on the site. The copy also includes a map graphic that tracks the daily progress of the harvest and the towns that are reporting.

Just to stay in practice and to get a new bread in the book, I made an effort at trying one of the recipes that the commission put up on their site. They use recipes from the loaves that win at the State Fair. The formulas are given in volume measurements but for my first effort, I converted to weight measurements and used a pre-ferment as well.

I made a mistake in the proofing stage by not using enough flour on the towel that I used to wrap the boule. When I attempted to place the boule on some parchment paper, I had a problem with dough sticking to the towel.  After wasting enough time, I cut the offending section to resolve the problem. Obviously, I need better prep procedure on that aspect. The end result isn't picture perfect but it does taste good.

Look for the Pioneer Bread recipe. This time around, I bothered to write down my formula so you can expect a posting by the end of the week. If you want the rough draft right now, leave a comment to that effect or email me. I can scan the draft and email it relatively easy.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Some Links to Pictures and Articles about the Missouri River Flood

This is a big flood. While the Gavins Point Dam is already releasing a record 150,000 cu ft a second, they may have to break that record in the coming week by going up to 165,000 cu ft a second. The dam is capable of releasing over 565,000 cu ft a second which puts its capacity in perspective. At 150K, the dam is releasing more water than the flow over Niagara Falls which averages 64,750 cu ft per second.
Since the flooding is expected to last into late July and quite possibly into August, it will affect the prices of commodity grains produced in the US Midwest and Great Plains. When we recall that food prices drove the popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, it makes sense to keep our eyes on the Middle Eastern and Asian countries that are dependent on making large commodity food purchases. There will be turmoil in the world's poorer countries for a long time.

Friday, June 17, 2011

OK wasn't good enough

My first 50% WW flour loaf wasn't a failure so much as it didn't seem to be an improvement on what I've done in the past.
I did what I thought appropriate to get a better result. The WW was Arnold's White Whole Wheat, an organic flour from a small Kansas town near Wichita. The flour is really good to my taste buds. 200g was soaked in cold water for about three hours during the elaboration of a fresh starter. This time around I watched my quantities carefully to fit within the 1-2-3 formula. Normally, WW flour requires more water than a white flour so I expected an easy to handle dough.
The next steps were consistent with my usual procedures. By the time I rounded up the mixed dough, I thought it to be a little bit sticky considering it was around 71% and half WW but I plugged on into the new territory. There were a couple of stretch and folds during the 2 1/2 hour bulk fermentation. At the end, I figured a free form loaf would spread like a flat bread so I went with a pan.
An overnight retarded fermentation was just what was called for since it was closing in on midnight and I had to clean up before hitting the rack for some serious Zs. I pulled the loaf around 8Am and let it warm up at room temp. Two hours later, as I loaded the loaf into the oven, the crown was barely above the edge of the pan. The bake was 17 minutes at 450F and then, after turning the pan, 18 minutes at 425F. Final internal temperature was 205F, my standard.

Dissecting the Results

There was oven spring after all with the loaf at the same height as my previous effort. The taste was good, not great- Mrs PG hasn't commented on it yet- and despite appearance, the crumb feels heavy. There's no air in the texture, the lightness that lets the flavor speak freely. At 71% hydration, I expected a more open crumb structure. I rolled the top of the dough in some rolled oats before baking but I'm not really sold on the appearance. I definitely don't like their propensity to fall off onto the counter at a moments notice.
The next time around calls for some changes to be made. First thing to be done is to tweak the formula. The hydration should drop to somewhere in the neighborhood of 68% to help make shaping into a boule or batard possible. I've been playing with 71% dough lately with reasonable , if not always spectacular, results. This 50/50 loaf doesn't call for that unless I can figure out how to develop the sough and shape it into the "artisan" efforts that bring on the "oooohs" and "aaahhhs". It's done in bakeries everyday so, eventually, I'll get there too.
The other tweak will be to shift from using dry malt extract to using honey. Honey has some properties that seem to lend its use in WW breads. Besides the sweetness and coloring the baked crust, honey is reputed to help retain moisture in the loaf. There's a local farm in Easton that sells wonderful organic honey that is worth the cost.
There's no brag shot called for in tonight's post. The next few loaves won't get up to the 50/50 mark but that's not indicative of quitting. Please, don't cry heresy but I'll probably venture into a couple of small yeasted loaves just to stay in practice. I bake bread because I enjoy it and get a sense of satisfaction when things turn out right. There's no need to turn it into work.
We were fortunate to get a little of rain, just under 0.5", last night and may see another thunderstorm tonight. Some of our old friends have found their way back to the feeders this week. Goldfinches, cardinals, titmice, and a wren called "chippy" have been raising a racket with the house finches. When they're fighting, maybe playing, at the feeder outside my window, I can't type much.
That's why I post at night.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Eccentricity in Baking

I don't think that I qualify as an artisan baker, but the description of eccentric does seem to fit. This is the latest out of the oven. As usual, I used the 1-2-3 formula as a starting point and then wandered across the lines and fell back inside just in time.
Most whole wheat recipes aim at a hydration of 65-68%. My estimation for this was around 73%. I was overconfident and didn't write down the formula so I ended up with about 12g too much water. Fortunately, I included Golden Buffalo flour in the soaker and, as I've noted before, it's a thirsty flour.

The dough turned out reasonably easy to handle for a high hydration batch. The rest of the results were equally pleasing. I had never used a soaker of three different whole wheat flours before- give me a break here, I have them so I use them- and the flavor of the finished loaf is just fine. The crumb isn't too defined here in the pictures but it is relatively open for a pan loaf. Just right for jam, peanut butter, and mustard. If there's any one that wants my formula for the loaf, I'm just vain enough that I'll email it when requested.

This loaf was a 30% WW/70% AP but the real goal for the next month or so is get back on track to a 50/50 loaf.

Outside in the yard, things are happening. The roses, including a David Austin, are blooming well with bright colors. Day lilies are stepping out on display with many yet to debut. We've lost count of how many different varieties are planted in the yard.

This is an old, in a tomato's life, picture of the year's first tomato. More have joined the company so I think it's about time to put up some anti-deer fencing that won't injure me when I go to pick some fruit. The cucumber plants are setting blooms but I don't see many bees in the yard yet so production has hardly gotten off the ground. It doesn't help that we haven't seen any measurable rainfall this month. We get predictions but the rain seems to go north or south of us. Local farmers and gardeners blame this effect on the "Tonganoxie Split", which the the TV forecasters describe as folklore. Supposedly, the  earth formations around the town of Tonganoxie, KS will cause the weather patterns to be less than generous with us. Maybe, maybe not, but I know that I'm not to blame for this situation.

Currently, the Missouri River, a few miles east, is just below flood stage of 23 feet. The latest large scale release from the Gavins Point Dam should be reaching us Friday to early Saturday. Predictions so far are for a river level of up to 33 ft which should cause some damage. We live far enough away that when we worry about flood levels, Noah will have gathered his pairings for a brand new ark.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The tomatoes are coming, the tomatoes are coming!

It's official. The first tomato of the year has shown up in the garden. I doubt that it's larger than a ping pong ball, more likely the size of a marble, but it's a start. When It is finally large enough for my camera to pick it out of the background, I'll post the brag shot. The 90+F temperatures have been good for the garden. Everything has really started growing much better. On the other hand, all the rain that we've been threatened with has passed either north or south of us so I've had to use tap water which my plants don't take well. Mrs PGs Shasta daisies have started to bloom and continue to spread. That's one of those things that I never found out about until the plants had taken root. Beware of perennial flowers.
We seem to have lost the company of the cardinals in the past week or so. At least they're not showing up for their free meals. There is another woodpecker that has shown up, or at the least I've learned how to identify, a female hairy woodpecker. They don't have hair, just some feathers that look like hair around their nostrils to filter dust. More hawks seem to be flying overhead lately. One possible explanation is the crops in the field are hiding their usual rodent prey from sight so a town or city with its small gardens and expanses of lawns makes for better pickings.
The Missouri River is currently just over flood stage. The low lying areas by the river have been blocked from traffic and the industrial buildings shuttered. The local animal shelter has closed and there's a huge push to place all the dogs and cats that are still in custody. We may have to deal with flood conditions through July in that the containment dams further up the river are still at high levels. There's usually a lot of rainfall in the upper Great Plains in the summer so the problem will persist for us and the people downstream into the Gulf of Mexico. Anyways, the river may be somewhere between 7 and 10 feet above flood stage by the end of next week. A word to the audience, Don't Be Surprised If Food Prices Go UP!. Don't blame President Obama over that, the Midwest has had a few weather related problems that have affected crops lately.
I haven't done any bad baking in the past week but haven't done anything noteworthy either. I'm still watching the videos and learning the details so when it happens, it'll happen.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Suddenly Summer

After a cool and wet spring that meant late flowers and a slow garden, full blown summer has arrived and it's just as hot as it usually is at the end of June. The A/C was called into action on Thursday and will probably stay that way until the middle of September. It's good for the tomato plants though and when they finally produce, we'll momentarily forget today's weather. I did check my plants this afternoon and there are no little green tomatoes yet. There are snow peas now and in another day or so, enough for me to use in a meal. There are quite a few romaine lettuce heads that show no sign of being affected by the heat.
I've already used some of the basil, oregano, and rosemary but the garlic draws my attention again as it always does. The top picture is a scape from one of my bulbs that are hard neck garlic. I have at five different varieties of hard necks and one soft neck. From past experience, I expect to be digging up my first bulbs around 10 July but after the strange spring time weather, I can be flexible. The scapes should always be trimmed back to help the plant direct its energy back to the bulb. After trimming and a quick cleaning, a young scape can be cut up for use in a stir fry. If left too long, the scapes get woody. When left longer than that, the false flower will produce tiny, little bulbs that can be planted,
harvested, and replanted once more for a full size bulb. That's a lot of work to prove something I've only read about. I grow more than enough to keep for next year's seed stock, eating here at home, and giving away the rest.
No one should mistake me for an artisan baker or craftsman baker, I'm really just an eccentric baker because while I have some of the craft down well, I never keep working on one aspect long enough to learn more than what I need to know. Today's loaf serves as an example of that. It's a sourdough wheat loaf that started as a basic 1-2-3 loaf but I decided to soak the whole wheat and throw in some malted wheat flakes after I saw them during an expedition into and through the downstairs freezer. Then I added some sunflower seed oil into the dough and some maple syrup to help the color of the crust. Then there was that 14 hour retarded proofing. I may not have followed a classic formula but it sure does taste good.
Having used AP flour and that oil, I got a tender crumb. Due to a high hydration, over 72%, I got a more open than normal pan loaf crumb. While I still haven't gotten the right percentage of wheat flakes for a loaf, I do have an idea about how to apply the sunflower seeds on the top for appearance and a nice little roasted flavor. Using a small pinch, <1g, of salt in the soaker can add a flavor note of salt in the crust that is much greater than you'd expect. I hope to use that the next time I top a loaf with sunflower seeds.
The Leavenworth County Fair is about two months away so it's getting close to decision time about how many and what kind of loaves to submit for judging. My Green Light Rye that I made back in February is a likely candidate as well as a classic sourdough-pain au levain loaf. The recipes aren't broke so I won't have to fix them.
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