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.





Ruhlman’s Buttermilk Cluster Rolls

7 02 2010

To answer the age-old question, “Why on Earth would you bother baking bread when you live in Paris?” I say, first, “Because I enjoy it,” and second, “Because it’s something I can’t buy here.” Like jalapeño-cheese bread, for example.  Or these dinner rolls.  Michael Ruhlman posted a recipe for soft, pull-apart, oh-so-American buttermilk dinner rolls a couple of days ago, and since I had just bought a carton of buttermilk for Saturday morning’s carrot cake pancakes, I figured it was a sign.  When I told Nick I would be baking some rolls for dinner on Saturday, and asked him what would go well with rolls, he immediately responded “hot ham water.”  Which is what we call Fergus Henderson‘s boiled ham with parsley sauce - a recipe that sounds horribly English in the worst way, but is actually so simple and so delicious (and you get leftover ham for sandwiches and the leftover stock for cooking beans!) that it became an instant classic in our kitchen.

But I was talking about rolls.  Ruhlman developed his recipe based on one from Saveur magazine, because he didn’t like the volume measurements and wanted to do it by weight.  I agree with him 100% – baking by weight is far more accurate and likely to produce consistent results than baking by volume, plus there’s the added bonus of not having to fuss around with measuring cups, the dipping and sweeping and getting flour all over the counter.

Scaling, scaling
1. Scaling 1, 2. Scaling 2

See?  Tidy as can be.  Flour, yeast, salt, and honey (I ran out of regular honey making a batch of granola and had to use chestnut honey – life’s rough) weighed straight into the bowl, followed by the buttermilk (which I actually measured out into a separate jug so I could microwave it for 30 seconds to take the chill off).

Seeing as my KitchenAid is tucked safely away in storage at the moment, I mix and knead all the breads I make in my Parisian kitchen by hand.  I start with a wooden spoon and proceed to finish mixing and kneading with my hands.

Kneading, kneading
1. Dough, pre-knead, 2. Kneading 1, 3. Kneading 2, 4. Sticky dough

I like to knead the dough right in the bowl for a couple of reasons: one, it keeps the counter clean and all the dough and flour in one place; and two, I can do it one-handed and take pictures with the other hand.  Ruhlman’s recipe, which uses a standing mixer, says it will take about 10 minutes of kneading.  By hand, it took a little over 15 minutes before I had a relatively smooth mass that passed the windowpane test.  I have one little quibble with Ruhlman, though.  One of his complaints about the original recipe he followed was that he didn’t know what the dough was supposed to be like when it was ready – soft, firm, sticky, dry?  And yet his modified recipe gives no indication, either.  While it’s true that using weight measures takes a lot of the guesswork out of baking, there are always the confounding factors of humidity and temperature.  I found the dough to be quite sticky, but didn’t add any additional flour because I figured we were going for a soft, airy finished product, and I know that the doughs for softer breads are usually sticky.  But then, I’m a pastry chef.  The average home baker might not have that knowledge.

Anyway, I transferred the kneaded dough to another bowl (I needed the big one to continue the granola project that I had going simultaneously), covered it with a towel, and set it aside to rise for a little over two hours.

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A Peck of Pickled Peppers… Bread

3 12 2009

I’ve been on a bit of a pickling kick lately.  Ever since Jessica showed me how easy it could be, I’ve pickled cucumbers, garlic, cocktail onions, and long green hot peppers, which will henceforward be referred to as “jalapeños,” even though they obviously are not. 

The jalapeños were purchased by Nick, to make salsa to go with the nachos we served to some French friends who came over for dinner one night last month.  (We wanted to do something really American – and really good – for them.)  I warned Nick against making the salsa too hot, and he acquiesced, on condition that he be allowed to add more peppers to the leftovers.  Of course there weren’t any leftovers.  So that’s how I decided to pickle a handful of peppers, with no real plan as to what to do with them afterward.  It occurred to me, perhaps even as soon as I had them in the jar, that one really good thing to do with pickled jalapeños is to make jalapeño-cheese bread.

Jalapeño-Cheese Sandwich Loaf

Armed with the Ratio, a new batch of starter (my old one died over the summer), and some Tillamook Pepper Jack cheese (thanks, Kiran!), I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.  The only tricky part is getting all the tasty bits to stay in the bread.  Kneading them in is not the best way.  Folding them is.  Like this:

jalapeño-cheese letter fold
1. How do you get the jalapeños and cheese in the bread, anyway?, 2. Step 2, 3. Letter fold complete

Then it’s really just a matter of time while the bread proofs and bakes.

No, it didn't really change color...
1. Before proof, 2. After proof

As you can see, my bread didn’t rise all that much, which I’ll admit gave me my doubts, but I carried on anyway, and am so glad I did!

jalapeños, cheese, bread

We ate it that night with big bowls of chili, and later Nick made ham sandwiches for his brown-bag lunch.  I can’t tell you how long it lasts, because this was gone in two days.

If you’re the recipe-abiding type, here’s what worked beautifully for me:

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Fennel Focaccia

29 09 2008

It kind of looks like an onion, with celery growing out the top, and dill instead of leaves.

I must admit, I was pretty excited when I saw the ingredients for this month’s Foodie Joust: Fennel, Dairy, and Parsley.  I’ve never been a fan of licorice or anise-flavored anything, but sometime over the last couple of years I fell in love with fresh fennel.  The anise-y-ness is mild enough to be tolerable, and it evolves into a subtle sweetness when the fennel is cooked.  So I immediately jotted down four or five recipe ideas – some old favorites, some new inventions – and ran them by Nick.  He wanted to try the focaccia with caramelized fennel, parsley, and goat cheese, so I started working on a focaccia recipe.

Dimpled focaccia dough

I have a little bit of starter going in my fridge for bread-baking purposes, and I thought it would give my focaccia the character that so many recipes seem to lack.  I have also determined that the potato in focaccia dough is by no means optional.  It gives the finished bread an unmistakable texture and helps to keep it moist, too.  And it turns out that focaccia is pretty fun to make.  Sure, it takes a while, but you can use all that rising time to prep your toppings, cook dinner, answer emails, do a little online shopping… or whatever it is you like to do in idle moments at home.

Before...

For this recipe, I essentially braised the fennel:  I sliced it thin, browned it in olive oil, then threw in some white wine and tarragon vinegar and let it cook down until the liquid was gone and the fennel was tender.  I figured the caramelization process could finish in the oven.  As for the parsley, I chopped it up with the fronds from the fennel andmade a sort of paste with a little olive oil.  And the cheese?  Well, I picked up an awesome little fresh raw-milk chèvre at the market.  It had a much fuller and more distinctly goat-y flavor than your average fresh goat cheese, and it stood up well to the bold flavors imparted by the fennel and the parsley.

So head on over to the Leftover Queen’s forum and vote for me!  (The voting should start on Thursday, October 2nd, and ends on the 5th.)  Keep reading for the recipe…

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