Archive for the ‘the baby’ Category

this morning i brought the baby in from the porch, fed it, and made english muffins.
i can’t remember for the life of me what inspired me, but oh my god they are good.
i guessed on the recipe, looking at a few different ones; i think the only change i would make is to add a bit more salt. i used 1 t and i should have used 1 1/2 t. you need to have baker’s rings to make english muffins.

first i made a sponge in the bowl of my mixer with 1 package of dry yeast, 1 T barley malt syrup, 2 cups of milk, 3 T canola oil, and 2 cups high- gluten bread flour. if i had whole wheat, i would have made a third whole wheat and the rest high- gluten bread flour. let the sponge rest for about an hour, until it’s puffy. the photo is not so appetizing, but you can kind of get a feel for the consistency.

add 2 more cups of flour, 1 1/2 t sea salt, and 2 cups of sourdough starter. if you have read previous posts, this is my “baby”; a starter i made using nancy silverton’s bread book. if you do not have a sourdough starter, i would recommend mixing 1 cup of water (about 78 degrees) and 1 cup of bread flour and leaving it out uncovered for a day.

mix with the paddle attachment until it’s stretchy and wet, but cleans the inside of the bowl. it will take a few minutes for the flour to absorb the water and will initially stick to the bowl. just be patient, you want a wet dough, it will give you better holes in your muffins; you know, to hold the butter!

sprinkle a marble slab or cutting board liberally with cornmeal. dump the dough into the middle, and spread it out with your hands until it has made a large disk about 3/4 ” thick. wet your hands so it does not stick. sprinkle with more cornmeal, then put a towel over it. let it rest until it’s puffy and flabby, about an hour and a half to two hours.

heat an iron skillet on medium- low heat and add a little bit of cornmeal in the bottom. brush the inside of your baker’s ring with melted butter, then cut out a piece of dough as if you were cutting out cookies. slide a metal spatula with a sharp edge or a bench scraper under the ring and dough. keep it tight and transfer to the skillet. try and keep dough from creeping out from under the ring. i scraped the excess off with my spatula. after you have as many as you can fit in the pan, spray the dough with water, then put a lid on the pan. allow the muffins to steam for about 5 minutes. you can check them, and add more water. they should puff up to about double in size and you should be able to tell that the dough is spongy and full of holes. i recommend brushing the inside of the lid with butter or oil, as sometimes when they rise they will hit the lid.

at this point i transferred them to a cast iron griddle [also with a bit of cornmeal] to continue the cooking so i could do another batch in the pan and make more in less time. when the muffins were nicely brown on one side, i turned them over. i gave them about three minutes on this side then removed the rings so i could do another batch.
factory work.

the griddle should not be too hot; you want the muffins to cook through without burning on the outside. you can also bake these in a 400 degree oven for 15-20 minutes, then flip them. i prefer using a skillet; the oven bakes them more evenly all over, like a roll, and the insides get dry. cooked on an iron skillet, the edges (and therefore inside) remain lighter as the top and bottom slightly brown. if you tried each method side- by- side you would observe a dramatic difference (although if you eat them right out of the oven simply slathered with butter the differences seem less significant).

it makes, well, a lot. about 18 or so. and don’t forget to split them with a FORK! don’t cut them.

[on the bay’s english muffin package it always said “fork split”. i always wondered if that meant you should split them with a fork, or they were already fork- split. i spent more mental energy on that then i care to admit. i almost wrote them a note. shouldda]


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it’s time to bake with the new yeast starter. i’m going to continue to feed it to develop the flavor, but i cannot resist baking with it now. it’s fairly stable, and has a good flavor.

to the bowl of my mixer, i add the starter and all of the ingredients. i’m not going to give the recipe, but you can get it from nancy silverton’s bread book. i’m not including it because you really do have to start by making the starter yourself, and for that you need the book and the plethora of guidance and information you get from the book.
to simply give the recipe would be doing a disservice to both you and nancy silverton.

fitted with the dough hook, i mix the ingredients slowly to incorporate the wet and dry ingredients, then turn it up to medium- high to knead. the dough should be stiff enough that your mixer nearly smokes. my kitchen aid mixer is the only one that has ever been able to do it. i went on a quest a few years ago to buy a more powerful mixer, but even the big home hobart one keeled. i wouldn’t try this with anything but the big kitchen aid mixer, unless you have access to a bakery equipment.

after the dough becomes elastic and the gluten has developed well, the dough is turned out onto a flourless surface, kneaded by hand a bit, then cut into 16-18 equal pieces. silverton suggests 18, but i like the slightly larger size i get by dividing into 16. they are rolled by hand and placed onto baking sheets sprinkled with semolina (i prefer polenta).

after they are all rolled out and placed on baking sheets they are refrigerated overnight. i put souffle dishes on the bottom sheet and stack the second on top… less fridge space used. i slip the stack of baking sheets into a kitchen size trash bag and slide it in the fridge. the next day when i remove the bagels from the fridge they are slightly puffy and smooth. the bagels need to warm up slightly so when they are put into a boiling water bath, that they float, not sink.

after a brief dip in boiling water, they are dipped in seeds or salt then transferred onto a baking stone in the oven. my father and i used unglazed tiles and line the whole shelf.

poppy seed (my favorite), sesame with salt, and salt. there are so many beautiful salts on the market now that are great for bagels…

the texture is not as great as in years past. it seems to be better with a more developed starter, but i also left the dough a little more wet than usual, and clearly did not develop the gluten enough in the dough. still… best bagels anywhere!

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the baby, day 5

after five days “the baby” is ready for baking. it’s better after two weeks of constant “feeding”, but it is possible to bake with it now.

there are consistent bubbles and frothing, and it has a mild, very pleasant yeast smell. after just a few hours it has consumed the sugars in the flour and an amber, slightly alcohol smelling liquid appears on top. it’s ready to be “fed” again. to feed it i reduce the amount of starter down to two cups, and add approx 2 cups each of flour and water. if you are not going to bake for awhile, you can put the baby into the refrigerator and bring it out when you are ready to bake; but i am going to keep feeling it for another few weeks to develop the flavor and strong yeast.

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the baby

my father and i always shared a love for the kitchen. in 1996 i lived with my dad for awhile before we moved to tucson to open raging sage. at this time he had already attended the culinary institute in cambridge, mass, where he continued his passion for cooking.

we really had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, but we set out to make our own yeast starter from nancy silverton’s bread book from la brea bakery in california. we called it “the baby” because during the second week of the fermentation process you are required to “feed” it every four hours or so. we set our alarms and took shifts in the night, precisely measuring flour and water temperature. like any new parents, we wondered if we should just throw in the towel and relinquish responsibility to someone else; but we didn’t. we were rewarded with a starter that gave us the most fantastic breads and bagels that we had ever tasted, anywhere.

when we moved to arizona we transported the “baby” in a thermos. i would never get that past security now. i once again transported the baby when i moved to portland ten years ago where it subsequently died after my husband sunk his finger into it to taste, introducing bacteria that would overcome the normally resistant yeast. i’m not sure if that is totally accurate, but that’s how i remember it.

my father passed on november 14th of this year, and today i started a new “baby” in his honor. this is day ONE.

with a precise measurement of flour and water at precisely 72 degrees, i plunged organic, smooshed grapes swaddled in cheesecloth into the flour mixture as i had in 1996. i love you, dad. happy baking wherever you are.

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