Beer Brioche

12 04 2013

Which came first, the bread or the beer? And what happens if you use beer as the liquid in bread? I can’t answer that first question with any certainty, but I can tell you that the second is a worthy experiment.

shapingbrioche

Curious about the flavor that a beer might impart to bread – whether the hops would be discernible, what the yeast would think of the alcohol, how gluten development would be affected, etc., yes, I’m kind of science-nerdy sometimes – I went about adapting a brioche recipe because I had a hankering for fresh hamburger buns and also because I like the way it sounds: beer brioche. It’s just as nice in French: brioche à la bière.

after proofing, round 2

My first attempt was not a success. I waited and waited, but the dough simply refused to rise. I worried that I may have killed the yeast with the alcohol in the beer, but then I told myself that beer doesn’t usually reach the alcohol concentrations required to kill yeast. So it probably wasn’t that. But it was definitely something. The yeast were there, they were moving, but so slowly that even after four hours in a warm, humid space created just for their liking in my oven, my rolls had barely puffed at all. I went ahead and baked them, and ate them, but they were heavy and dense and nearly cakelike. I considered that too much butter may have been the culprit – brioche is notorious for making life difficult for yeast with all that added fat requiring heavy lifting – and made a mental note to adjust the amount.

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On Yeast and Starter

7 12 2011

In every family and group of friends, I believe there is one person everyone else turns to when they have questions about food and cooking.  In my circles, that person is often me.  I love fielding such questions and recipe requests – I take it as a supreme compliment and it feels good to know that my friends and family (and even some strangers, via the blog) have confidence that I will be able to help them out in the kitchen.  It’s also a great excuse to have a chat with people I might not communicate with as much as I’d like.  By way of food questions, I also get news of babies becoming children, moves and new houses, and all sorts of other small talk that I miss having with faraway friends.  So I’m grateful and humbled to be your friendly neighborhood (or not) food guru.

One such question I received recently involved yeast:

I made some fresh bread recently, and I was very pleased with the result. However, I was a little put out by the buck fifty I had to drop on a tiny cube of Flieschman’s active yeast. I know that you can keep yeast cultures living for an extended period of time. do you have any techniques to share with me on that? Is it possible to keep a culture in a mason jar in the back of my fridge and take from it when I want to bake a loaf of bread? Seems like it would be a lot simpler, and would require less planning than a trip to the store each time I want to bake a loaf.

Yeast is such a multifaceted topic, a primer seemed to be in order.

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Super Natural Every Day

15 11 2011

…Or most of them, anyway.

I was delighted to receive the news, several weeks ago, that I had won a copy of Super Natural Every Day from The Kitchen Illiterate.  Since receiving the book, I’ve been cooking from it quite a bit, as well as finding myself inspired by it while doing my food shopping.  (“Yellow split peas?  I think there are a couple of recipes for those in that new book!” “I should probably be keeping quinoa and bulghur on hand…” “How could we possibly be out of miso?  To the Japanese store, posthaste!” Sometimes I talk to myself in an old-timey fashion.)

I’ve made mention of the book a few times on Seasonal Market Menus, my other blog devoted to CSA eating and menu planning, because the recipes are great for using whatever vegetables you happen to have around, given a few pantry staples.  I certainly haven’t followed any of the recipes to the letter, but that doesn’t stop them from being a fantastic source of inspiration.  Like this soda bread:

soda bread from Super Natural Every Day

I’d never really considered soda bread as a legitimate thing before, but Heidi’s photos convinced me to give it a try.  I substituted leftover pickle brine for half of the buttermilk in the recipe, to no ill effect.  The dough was delightfully springy, and any rye bread that doesn’t insist on caraway is a good thing in my book.  It baked up nice and crusty, with a slightly biscuity or scone-like texture in the crumb.  The bread resisted staling longer than a yeast bread would, which is good because the loaf was huge.  We ate it for almost a week, and then I took the remaining half and turned it into some of the crunchiest croutons I’ve ever made.

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More Football Baking

26 10 2010

It’s getting to be a bit of a thing, this football-watching.  I’ve really taken to baking or cooking up something delicious to share with my friends on Sunday, and it’s really nice to have something fun to look forward to on Sunday night – a nice cap to the weekend that lets you forget about Monday morning for a few more hours.

Gotta love the muffin method!

Two Sundays ago, Melissa was hosting, and she wanted to make a big pot of chili.  She requested that I whip up some cornbread to go along with it, and of course I was game.  But I didn’t want to stop at just plain old cornbread.

Jalapeño and cheddar make everything better!

No, only the best in home-pickled and hand-imported ingredients will do.  That is to say, I found a half-full jar of pickled peppers lurking in the fridge, and the Baby Loaf of Tillamook cheddar needed to be put to good use, because moldy Tillamook is not an option in my house.

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It’s About Time!

20 05 2010

For all my moaning about the lack of cheeseburgers in Paris, I’ve never written a single post about them.  Sure, I’ve gone out for them a few times, but they tend to be either outrageously expensive, downright mediocre, or both.  But the fact is they are not really a difficult menu item to come by in Paris – in fact, just last Sunday the brunch special at the café downstairs from my apartment was a bacon cheeseburger with a coffee and a fresh-squeezed orange juice.  For eighteen euros.  Now, the dollar is getting stronger and everything, but that still seems pretty steep.  That cheeseburger sounded mighty good, though.

burger patties, handmade by Nick

So what happened?  Well, I ventured a little further down the street, to my nearest Turkish butcher/convenience store and the closest open vegetable shop and picked up everything I needed to make some top-notch burgers, as well as some chicken and vegetables for dinner, for less than the cost of one brunch special.

Steaming and sizzling

As delectable as that bacon cheeseburger sounded, bacon (and cheddar, for that matter) is a bit thin on the ground in this neighborhood on Sunday afternoons, what with the French butchers being closed and the Muslim ones not so into swine.  The consolation prize was mushroom-swiss burgers.  (Although, strangely, the Emmenthal was hard to find, too.  If I’d wanted a feta burger, I’d have been all set.  Note to self.)

White on white on white

Nick and I have been known to make burgers from time to time.  He makes the patties, mixing the ground beef with Worcestershire sauce and whatever else strikes his fancy – onions, cumin, herbs – and I make brioche for the buns.  This time, what with the last-minute craving, there was no time to wait for dough to rise.  So we made our burgers on thick slices of “Turkish bread.” It’s a big, soft loaf sold at all the Turkish stores on our street, and is extremely reminiscent of the “French” or “Italian” bread sold at most American supermarkets.  We grated the cheese for maximum meltability, and spooned sautéed mushrooms over the cheese piled on the bread.  then came the burgers themselves, and a quick toast in the oven.

Mushroom-Swiss Burger

Obviously, we served them with plenty of ketchup, and washed them down with Cola Turka.  Yeah, nothing like cooking the American classics in Paris.

On this day in 2009: The Basque Cheeses That Shall Remain Nameless

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Eating Locally

6 04 2010

The weekend before last, our neighbors Celine and Jesse invited Nick and I to accompany them to a cheese and wine festival being held in Coulommiers, about an hour’s train ride from Paris.  (Why is it that we’ve lived in this apartment for two years and only just now make friends with the neighbors?  Granted, they only just moved in this year, but still it’s a bummer to have to move now that we have friends in the building.)  Anyway, we all had a great time at the festival, tasting wines, cheeses, and an awful lot of sausage considering it was a cheese festival.  One of the coolest things about this particular fair was that many of the companies represented came from the immediately surrounding area.  We tasted hard apple cider from Île-de-France, which was good enough that we bought a case, and were amused to hear that many French people don’t accept their cider because it’s not from Normandy or Brittany.

One of the last tables we visited was selling bags of locally-grown legumes and flour.  I couldn’t resist, and bought a bag each of brown lentils, green lentils, and freshly milled flour.  I explained to the salesguy that I was really interested in cooking with local ingredients, and that I like knowing where my food comes from.  Upon hearing my accent, he asked me where I was from.  When I responded “Les Etats-Unis,” he quickly replied (in French) “Well, you’re not very local, are you?”  Touché.  I explained that I live in Paris now, and he threw in a free bag of split peas.  Hooray!

split peas from Brie

I love split peas, in part because split pea soup is so easy to make, yet so filling and tasty.  So a few days later, I boiled up the peas with a smoky Alsatian sausage (also purchased at the festival – and not exactly local, but still only 2 hours away on the TGV) and some carrots and leeks (which came from the Loire Valley via my CSA).

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A Sourdough Attempt, and Why I Cook

23 02 2010

Michael Ruhlman recently posed the question, “Why do you cook?”  I believe I touched on a bit of the answer in my post about his rolls, and I definitely remember having to write an essay in the topic towards the end of my tenure as a culinary student.  I’d like to go back and read that now, seven years later – I’d be interested to see how my answers have changed, and in what ways they remain the same.

Why do I cook?  Well, that’s actually a complicated question, as cooking is both my job and my hobby.  But it was a hobby first, one I developed a passion for to the point of making it my career.  I guess the most interesting question, to me anyway, is “Why do I still cook at home when I do it all day at work?”

I know plenty of chefs, cooks, and bakers who don’t do any cooking at home, which is perfectly understandable.  Me, I come home and cook because it relaxes me, believe it or not.  After a day filled with deadlines and production goals, it’s nice to come home and cook what I want to cook, not what the schedule or the orders or the inventory say I need to cook.  I like being able to make all the decisions, and making last-minute changes when the mood strikes.  I cook because it’s relaxing and fun.

Another thing I enjoy about cooking, that I don’t always get to enjoy at work, is the creativity.  Being able to cook at home keeps those creative muscles in shape.  From coming up with dinner every night, to the challenges posed by the CSA grab-bag, to the wacky ideas that I simply must give shape because they won’t leave me alone, cooking at home prevents me from getting bored with food.  I cook to stretch my imagination.

In any given cooking job, there are always tasks you do more often, and ones you don’t do at all, and these change from job to job.  When I cook at home, I practice those techniques that I am not using at work, because you never know when you’re going to need to butcher a chicken, bake bread, or chiffonnade some basil in a future job.  I cook to hone my skills.

Finally, I love to eat, and I love to eat well.  I certainly can’t afford to dine out every night, and cooking at home is a much cheaper option.  (The downside to this is that after a certain price point, I get irritated if the food is nothing better than I could cook myself.)  I also like knowing where my food came from and what’s in it, and I feel good serving lovingly made food to my family and friends.  I cook because I care what goes into my body.

All of which ties in nicely with my attempt to bake sourdough bread last weekend.  I got it in my head Saturday night that Sunday would be a good day for bread baking.  I asked Nick what kind of bread he wanted (“You can have ANYTHING you want!”) and he asked for sourdough.  My starter was healthy, so I fed it to bulk it up and while it waited on the counter, I looked into some recipes.

I ended up winging it, using Ruhlman’s ratio (5: 3 flour to water), assuming that my starter was 1:1.  I didn’t use any commercial yeast, only the starter, and it didn’t take nearly as long as I thought it would.  (Must finally be getting warmer out!)  But here’s the thing: I had no idea if this recipe I had slapped together would work the way I wanted it to, but I did it anyway.  I paid close attention to the development of the dough – I didn’t let it get too excited because I wanted a fairly dense crumb, something good for sandwiches.  And you know what?  It worked.  It didn’t taste very sour, but the texture was just what I was looking for.  In fact, it tastes a lot like French pain au levain, which I guess it technically is.

fresh-baked bread

But there you have it: I experimented, I learned something, and I was rewarded with tasty homemade bread.  Plus the immense sense of satisfaction I get from turning ingredients as simple as flour, water, yeast, and salt into something as wonderful as a loaf of bread.

On this day in 2009: When in Alsace…

Originally published on Croque-Camille.








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