NOTE: If you use the small Bundt pans you will have to reduce the baking time by half, more or less---keep a close eye on the oven and use the "toothpick test".
As most of you Breadheads know by now, my baking is most often inspired by leftovers: most often by mashed potatoes, but occasionally by expired Halloween candy, a picked-over cheese tray, a cup of creamed corn, or some other food item that has seen better days. This time, two cartons of sour cream made me tie on an apron. Evidently the admissions office of our high school had some kind of Mexican food delivered for a meeting, because the fridge had several containers of salsa, guac dip and the like, along with the aforementioned sour cream. I had spent the past week teaching a theatre camp for 16 Chinese students on their winter break (and you thought monastic life was dull, didn't you?) and hadn't had time to bake. My campers were off on a Chicago field trip with some other faculty members, and I was itching to try out a pair of small Bundt pans I had recently acquired ($2.49 each) at the local Salvation Army, so I thought a sour cream coffee cake was in order.
Bundt pans weren't very common in the United States until 1966, when someone entered their "Tunnel of Fudge Cake" in the 17th Pillsbury Bake-Off. It took second place, and spurred sales of the fluted aluminum pan with the center post until nearly 70 million household kitchens have one today. They come in 12, 9 and 6 cup increments, the latter being my most recent purchase.
So I mixed up a sour cream coffeecake recipe called "Coffee Cake Exceptionale" which I have written about in a previous post and shared the recipe. It had been snowing all weekend, so warming up the kitchen with the aroma of a cinnamon-flavored cake made the whole first floor seem cozier. The recipe was the perfect size to make two coffee cakes in the six cup pans---one for the brethren and one to share with a friend who spent the weekend plowing snow for 12 hours a day. If you need a treat to reward someone who shoveled your walk or to cheer up a friend with the winter blahs, this coffee cake is a great choice. If you are one of the few people without a Bundt pan, a 9" x 13" cake pan will do just as well.
NOTE: If you use the small Bundt pans you will have to reduce the baking time by half, more or less---keep a close eye on the oven and use the "toothpick test".
It has been so long since I posted that I feel I should apologize to my loyal Breadheads! I'm not sure what has kept me from blogging, but I suspect that at least part of the reason is that I haven't done much of anything new lately. I've bake a lot of potato rolls and made a few waffles, baked cookies once or twice. But no new recipes, nothing exciting---until this past weekend, when I finally had the chance to make pizza in an authentic wood-fired oven. To a pizza lover like me, that's like getting free play-off tickets!
I often am assigned to hear confessions and celebrate Mass at a parish about 45 minutes from the abbey, Immaculate Conception Church in Morris IL. Every year they have an Oktoberfest auction (a fundraiser for their grade school) and for a few years now I have offered "Baking Lessons with the Bread Monk" as an item up for bid. (I have no idea how much money it generates.) I had done a pizza fundraiser at the parish on behalf of the Knights of Columbus, so my dough tossing skills were well known. As a result a couple of years ago I was asked by the auction winners to have a pizza night in their home. I brought all my stones, pans and peels, along with a Mason jar of my own sauce, homemade sweet hot Italian sausage, and a double batch of pizza dough. We had a big crowd of family and friends enjoying some excellent pizza. In fact the the evening was such a success that the family had a wood fired pizza oven installed on their patio!
I got an invitation to bless the oven and bake in it, and let me tell you I was excited! I've been reading about wood-fired ovens for years and have high hopes to put one in at the abbey eventually. When I arrived with my supplies, Greg had had a fire going for several hours, so the interior temperature of the oven was just under 800 degrees, perfect for making thin crust, Italian-style pizza. I used a very simple dough recipe---flour, water, yeast and salt---kept the toppings to a minimum as well. One appetizer pizza was simply mornay sauce, sun dried tomatoes, and sliced almonds, the other a bruschetta topping with diced tomatoes, onion, kalamata olives and some grated cheese. Later on we enjoyed a meat lovers' (lots of teenage boys around!), a Four Cheese Tomato Top (a perennial favorite), and a supreme pizza that developed some lovely light char around the edges of a thicker crust.
I knew in theory that pizzas in a wood-fired oven bake more quickly and need to be rotated more often, but in practice there was a bit of a learning curve! But I'm feeling a bit more confident and the next time I think I can avoid a burnt crust like this one on the bruschetta pizza. A little hint: in the winter when tomatoes are from the hothouse rather than the garden, a splash of balsamic vinegar can brighten up the flavor.
Started on your New Year's resolutions yet? "Make more pizzas in a wood fired oven" is definitely at the top of my list for 2018!
Br. Luke has been bringing in tubs of tomatoes from the abbey garden, so I decided it was time to put up my yearly supply of pizza sauce. Although I have a recipe for "Big Ol' Batch of Pizza Sauce" I let the herb garden decide on the seasonings for me. As you can see, it's a banner year for garlic chives, and since they tend to self-sow rather vigorously it seemed best to harvest the abundance before they had a chance to take over a portion of the lawn. The other standout in the herb garden this year is the oregano. I already had one variety of it growing in abundance, and I planted two more varieties after our herb guild plant sale in May. So garlic chives and oregano were the primary flavorings, along with seasoned salt and a bit of thyme. The tomatoes were so sweet that I had to add red wine vinegar to give the sauce enough acidity. We had plenty of mason jars to choose from and the kitchen's giant steam kettle, normally used for big batches of spaghetti, makes a sizable container for the hot water bath. I'm blessed to live in a monastery with a long history of food preservation---we've got all the equipment!
I also had plenty of practical, professional know-how, thanks to a recent program from Illinois Extension at my herb guild's monthly meeting. The demonstrator showed us how to can peach preserves, but gave us plenty of resources for other kinds of canning. Find out more: web.extension.illinois.edu/foodpreservation/tomatoes.cfm I learned a lot about canning and freezing produce by exploring all the resources they have available.
Unfortunately, I didn't use a proper jar on one of the pints of sauce and it didn't seal, so I had to put it in the fridge to use as soon as possible. Oh, darn.
Recently I posted a picture on my Facebook page of a chocolate babka I made using leftovers. We had mashed potatoes for supper, and about 3 cups remained, which is enough for a triple batch of Best Ever Crescent Roll Dough, which I find makes outstanding dinner rolls and coffeecakes. As I mixed the dough up I remembered that we also had some candy that was beginning to go a bit stale and was best used for baking. So I chopped up some walnut penuche and small pieces of dark chocolate and put them in a sauce pan. In another saucepan I heated up some half and half, then poured it over the candy and stirred it over very low heat until it was smooth. The result was a rich chocolate caramel ganache that made the perfect filling for babka. I had enough for two babka, one of which was devoured by the brethren at breakfast. The other I took as a treat for the staff at the doctor's office where I go for my diabetes---the irony was not lost on me or the secretaries!
When I shared the picture on Facebook, one Breadhead posted the comment "Another creation from 'Father Waste Not Want Not'! accompanied by a smiley emoticon. Seems that my love for using up what's in the pantry has been noticed by my fans! The abbot has commented on this tendency once or twice as well, with paternal approval for my monastic frugality, which I actually inherited from my Depression era grandmother. I hate to see anything go to waste, especially food, and I'm more likely to be inspired by what's in the fridge than what I see on Pinterest. Leftover corn goes into cornbread, an abundance of spinach from the garden means spinach pesto for pizza, stale bread is transformed into croutons or crostini.
The same compulsion fuels my love for thrift stores and flea markets. You may have already seen Bread Blogs about the bread quilts I make out of vintage dresser scarves and embroidered linens, or how I accessorized my monastery room with reclaimed oak and old rolling pins. I even made my trash receptacle out of an oak desk that had been water damaged. I'm grateful that in addition to learning how to bake from my mother, I was taught woodworking by my father, who was an amateur (but talented) carpenter. In my shop there is a lot of lumber rescued from pews, kneelers, desktops and bleachers, waiting to be transformed into a treasured piece of furniture or funky accessory.
That's why there is a large plastic tub in my shop filled with vintage rolling pins in need of restoration. I'm pretty particular about which ones I buy. They have to be less than $10, without plastic or ball bearings (preferably made entirely of wood) and in need of TLC. I or one of stage crew will strip off the old grime and stains with coarse sand paper, refinish the barrel with a finer grit, and repaint the handles as necessary. Then they get treated with Boos Block Mystery Oil to restore the wood. I've done a few this week, now that the weather isn't so beastly. My shop is attached on the stage in the (un-airconditioned) gymnasium, and it gets plenty hot and humid back there---last summer it got so hot in the stage right stairwell that the heat sensor went off and summoned the fire department!
My most recent restoration was a small rolling pin, only 9" across with a narrow barrel and red handles---because it's in the foreground of the photo, it looks larger than it is. It has a long stain down the length of it and some chips along the edges of the barrel, all of which are too deep to sand out. If you look carefully, you can see that it has a metal rod and one of the handles is slightly bent. But it still works just fine, and in spite of its faults I can't bring myself to throw it out. I keep thinking of a line in the poem "To Be of Use" by Marge Piercy: "The pitcher cries for water to carry." In the same way, the rolling pin, bent handle and all, longs for the grip of the baker and a slab of dough to work over. But, I already own a number of rolling pins of various sizes and purposes. What to do?
The obvious answer is to give it away, but I am reluctant to use it as a door prize, in case the winner is not so enamored with the charm of its imperfections. So here's the deal, Breadheads. If you think you would be willing to give this wounded warrior a good home, click on the button below ("Enter Here") or in the comments (which will display your email address ONLY to me) to send me an email with a short explanation of why your kitchen is the place where it belongs. (This reminds me of those Facebook posts with the pictures of unwanted shelter dogs!) On August 8th, the feast of St. Dominic, I will choose a winner and send it to you free of any charge (not even shipping and handling, unless you live outside of the continental United States, in which case we'll negotiate!)
Please note: By entering, you are giving me the right to quote from your entry in my Bread Blog without using your name, and if you win I have your permission to post your entry and your name in a post on this blog page. I promise, I won't use your email address for ANYTHING other than to contact you if you win. Enter now---the little rolling pin is waiting for your hands.
Now if you will excuse me, I have dough rising. We had deli sandwiches for lunch and there are a lot of leftover onions which are now minced and mixed into dough with herbs from the garden for dinner rolls.
If you’ve never baked before, you might wonder what equipment you’ll need to get started. Obviously, you'll need an oven that can maintain a consistent temperature, whether it's gas, electric, or wood-fired. You may have almost everything you need in your kitchen right now, but here’s a helpful guide for choosing other equipment and utensils to make your first baking experience a success.
Five-quart mixing bowl
You’ll need bowls in other sizes in which to beat eggs or mix wet ingredients, but your mixing bowl should be large enough to hold two loaves worth of dough. I prefer one with high sides to keep the ingredients from escaping during mixing. Glass, glazed stoneware, Pyrex or plastic will all do the job, but a heavier bowl is a little easier to work with because it remains more stable during mixing.
I love this vintage set from Pyrex. The pattern is called "Autumn Harvest" and it was produced from 1979 to 1986. I use my set whenever I have to shoot a video.
Accurate measuring cups and spoons
You’ll need measuring cups for both dry and liquid ingredients, and yes, there is a difference----about 5% between the two. For liquid measure your best choice is the classic Pyrex glass pitcher, both a one cup and a two cup. For dry measure, consider spending a little more for the heavy duty metal measuring cups and spoons---they’re often on sale at Marshall’s and TJ Maxx. I also like the measuring spoons with a long handle and a narrow bowl that can easily fit into spice jars. If you have recipes written in the European style, a scale will also be essential.
These are Cuispro measuring cups and spoons, which were rated as the best by America's Test Kitchen. The most important thing in my view is that the labels are stamped--the painted ones on cheap sets wear off in a short time.
A large wooden spoon
This is the hand tool of choice for most Breadheads, and this is another utensil you might want to spend a little more on---I’ve snapped 8 or 9 cheap wooden spoons in half over the years. There is also an unusual mixing tool that is specific to baking called a dough whisk that mixes and aerates batters and doughs better than any spoon in the drawer.
Did you know I have a whole series of these videos? Check out my YouTube Channel! And you can buy dough whisks on our abbey website: www.monksmarket.com.
An instant read thermometer
Get the electronic kind rather than one with a conventional dial, since they produce a precise temperature reading more quickly. You’ll use it to test the temperature of liquids before adding yeast (100° to 110° F.), and to check the interior temperature of a loaf of bread to ensure that it is fully baked (190° to 195° F.).
I'm using a dial thermometer here, but a digital one will give you more accurate results quickly. They costs less than $20 at stores like Target and Walmart.
To start out, you’ll need a baking sheet (like for cookies), loaf pans (I recommend the medium size, 8½” x 4½” x 2½”) and a 12 cup muffin tin. If you intend to make cinnamon rolls, a rolling pin and an 9” x 13” pan would be in order as well. As you explore the world of baking, you may start thinking about brioche pans, cast iron skillets for scones, and stoneware casserole dishes for deep dish pizza. But the aforementioned three or four pans will be adequate for most recipes.
If you are just starting to equip your kitchen and you're on a tight budget, I recommend shopping for pans at thrift stores. You'll be amazed at what you can find!
You can cool your loaves on a clean dishtowel, but a wire rack allows for air circulation on the bottom of the loaf, resulting in a superior crust. You can easily drop $20 or more on a heavy-duty stainless steel rack, but the less expensive ones do the job just as well, and once again thrift shops and flea markets are a great source for them. If they are slightly rusty, you can easily clean them up with steel wool, but don't try to rescue something that's clearly been put away wet and allowed to rust all over. You can also buy a multi-tier rack that can be used to save space both in the oven and on the counter top.
In a pinch, an extra oven rack can serve as a cooling rack as well.
A reason to bake
I briefly considered making this last item "one of my cookbooks" but then I realized that I have maintained for many years now that people don't need recipes as much as they need reasons to bake. You can get literally millions of recipes from the Internet. I typed in "white bread recipe" in Google Chrome and got over SIX MILLION web pages in .47 seconds. But what will make you try one? A sense of adventure? The desire to recapture happy memories of a beloved grandmother, or to make new memories with your own grandchildren? Interest in your family's ethnic culinary heritage? Frugality, simplicity, the desire to slow down? Or just a longing for the taste of real bread? Whatever your reason, bake with courage and conviction, be willing to fail and to learn from your mistakes, and remember what I've said since my public television days: "It's bread---it's gonna forgive you!"
Regular readers of this blog know that I am an incurable shopper at thrift stores, garage sales, and flea markets. I have found a number of genuine treasures for myself (my most recent being a Wusthoff chef's knife for 50 cents!) but mostly I'm shopping for vintage or unusual kitchen items to give away as door prizes at my bread demos. At a recent pizza demo I gave away three pizza stones and a brand new pasta machine imported from Italy, and I spent less than a total of $20 for them. When I know I'm going to demonstrate particular breads or techniques, I keep an eye out for items that will go with that theme.
Twice last month I gave a presentation on homemade multigrain baking mix and I'll be doing the same demo later in the year, so I've been on the lookout for vintage biscuit cutters, rolling pins and gently used-waffle irons. You might be surprised how many of the latter show up at Goodwill and Salvation Army (almost as often as those canape molds from Pampered Chef) and last week I came across a Frozen-themed waffle iron that makes waffles in the shape of Olaf the Snowman. It was a whopping $4.99, so I bought it eagerly, well aware that often times these sort of trendy kitchen implements and appliances are heavy on licensing and light on actual usefulness.
However, I was delighted to discover that this waffle iron worked pretty well. Even before I got it back to my kitchen I realized that it would be difficult to clean, so I picked up a color-coordinated scrub brush at the Dollar Store on the way home. I also knew that it would be easier to dispense the waffle batter using a squeeze bottle, so I got one out from the storage room. I made a quick batch of waffle batter and put it in the squeeze bottle, heated up the iron, and then got to work. As you can see, the waffle iron makes all the parts of Olaf individually, so you can assemble him on the plate. A batch of batter with two cups of Bisquick makes EIGHT of these waffles, so you might consider dividing the recipe in half unless you have a large family or run a daycare. The surface of the iron is completely non-stick, but the waffles are hard to remove if you don't let them cook long enough. I wait until the steam stops coming out of the sides---the blue snowflake indicator light just tells you that the iron is on, not when it's hot enough. It's best to fill the sections from largest to smallest (lower body, head, middle body, stick arms) so the arms don't over cook.
There are surprising number of novelty waffle designs out there: Mickey Mouse, Captain America's shield, Hello Kitty, the Star Wars death star, even one that makes a wide waffle shaped like a computer keyboard. If any of them show up at a local flea market or yard sale, I'll probably bring it home and give it a try. But I'm especially looking forward to a future bread demo when I can give this treasure to a mom with Frozen-obsessed daughters---I'll throw in the squeeze bottle and the scrub brush, too. Sometimes people express surprise that I can give away such wonderful kitchen items at my appearances, but when you're a monk who is supposed to remain unattached to material possessions, it's best just to "Let It Go."
Go to the kitchen aisle of any second hand shop and chances are you'll find at least one canape bread mold, perhaps several. Pampered Chef used to sell them, and I'm told that people often bought them because they were a relatively inexpensive item, rather than because they intended to make fancy canapes. They no longer carry them, but Norpro still makes them and they are available on Amazon. But check the Goodwill and Salvation Army stores first, believe me. I own about a dozen of these and have never paid more than $2. In addition to these shapes, Norpro also sells one shaped like a five-pointed star, available separately.
I hosted a holiday gourmet pizza party last night and wanted to serve a soup course. I made a spicy minestone with homemade sausage, and decided to use the star bread mold to make toasted garlic stars. I used the same dough as for the pizza crusts, and made two loaves with the five-pointed star and two with the six-pointed. It's really simple: spray the inside of the mold and the lids with pan spray, drop in a portion of dough (enough to fill the mold about one-third) put the lid on and stand it upright to rise. I prefer to keep upright in the oven as well, but you can bake them on their sides,too. At 375 degrees F., the loaves are done in 12 to 15 minutes, and slide right out of the tubes. If you stand the loaves upright to cool, they don't get any weird hash marks from the wire rack.
For the garlic stars, I sliced the bread and spread the slices with butter mixed with garlic powder and a little Parmesan. Back on the pan and into the oven for 1o more minutes, (set the timer or you'll forget about them as I almost did!). The result is festive toasted garlic stars to adorn your Christmas buffet (you can use the six pointed star mold for celebrating Hannukah). You can easily bake the bread a day or two ahead of time, and the shaped loaves can easily fit in a packed holiday freezer if you make them even further ahead of time.
And time is the issue during the holidays, isn't it? Even monks can feel the pinch, especially since we don't do any decorating until December 23 or so. Do don't hit yourself with the guilt hammer if you don't have star-shaped garlic toast for the family buffet. Save the heart-shaped mold for Valentine's Day, or the flower-shaped one for Mother's Day. Store the idea for a rainy day when the kids are bored, and keep your eyes open at garage sales for the bread molds.
God bless and happy baking!
P.S. Be sure to go to my home page and get the link for a 50% off coupon for my Craftsy online baking class "Bake Your Best: Sweet Yeast Breads, Challah and More." No matter which holiday you celebrate this time of year, you'll learn a recipe and techniques to make a special holiday btteat for your family.
Pinterest is one of my favorite social media sites, not only for bread recipes (although that is reason enough to register!) but also for craft and DIY projects as well as woodworking, as I wrote in a previous Bread Blog. Some time ago I came across a pin of this lovely quilt made with squares cut from vintage dresser scarves and embroidered pillow cases. If you're interested in the quilter's story and want to see more pictures of her exquisite work, you can find her blog HERE. Regular readers of this Bread Blog know that I spend a lot of time in antique malls and thrift shops, and I regularly have come across antique and vintage embroidered linens, often with a rip or a stain which might keep them from display---but what good are they kept languishing in a drawer? I thought this quilt was a glorious way to upcycle them.
I've studiously avoided quilting for decades, if for no other reason than I know that once you've been stung by the quilting bee there is no turning back. There is ample evidence of this in my mother's home: venturing into her quilting fabric stash in the sewing room closet requires a life line and signal flares to find your way out. Just about the last thing I need is another hobby which requires ample storage space. But this quilt proved too much of an inspiration---or was it temptation? In any case, I knew I didn't have the skills or the time to create an entire queen size quilt. But a little bread quilt to cover the dough while it's rising? That I could manage.
I collected pieces over the course of several months, never paying more than $4. There were some glorious embroidered pillowcases that went for upwards of $15, but my thrifty monastic heart couldn't bear to spend that much. I looked for signs which read "50% off everything in booth" and scoured the piles of linens at Goodwill and the Salvation Army. Soon I had a tote bag full, which I then washed in hot water with OxiClean and ironed carefully.
I cut a 4.5" square out of plexiglas to use as a template so I could actually see what I was cutting and used a small rotary cutter to get good clean edges. I won't bore you with the details of my stitching adventures, but let me say that I made a few mistakes along the way and had what my Grandma Tootsie used to call "a rippin' good time"! I used one of her damask napkins as a backing but without any batting---I didn't want the piece to be too heavy. And may I add that whoever invented the technique known as "stitch in the ditch" obviously did not wear bifocals.
So here is the finished product, puckers and all. It has any number of technical and design flaws and wouldn't take any prizes at the county fair---but I couldn't be happier with it! I'm sure I'll be making more--my mother gave me some of Grandma Tootsie's embroidered linens, which means I know what my sisters are getting for Christmas this year. I figured I'd work out the kinks on this one before I used the family heirlooms. I finished the this morning and went straight to the kitchen to make a batch of white bread so I could put it to use.
I've always been a firm believer that having beautiful and meaningful tools in the kitchen makes the act of baking more meaningful as well. The dough whisk my mom bought for 50¢ at a rummage sale, the rolling pin made by my father, the antique mixing bowl a friend gave me--having these treasures in the kitchen drawers and cabinets inspire me to take time to bake more often, which is good for my busy soul at the harried end of a school year. Did my bread turn out better as a result? I'll let you be the judge.
In my last post I wrote about having obtained a Romertopf terra cotta baking dish. These unglazed clay vessels are the descendants of the first clay cooking pots developed millennia ago. A covered clay dish can be used to produce moist, flavorful meats and exquisite steamed vegetables, as well as lofty loaves of bread with a delicate, crisp crust.
These baking vessels are pricey--the one pictured above (which can hold a small turkey) sells for around $80. I received mine as a gift from a friend who had located it in a resale shop for a fraction of that price. The instructions call for you to soak the pot in water for 20 minutes prior to use. The dough is allowed to rise to nearly doubled, the soaked top is put on, and then the whole business goes into a cold oven. The oven is then turned to 475 degrees F. and the bread is baked 45 minutes covered, then five or ten minutes uncovered so the top can brown. The steam in the enclosed vessel is what produces the crisp crust.
I discovered that the pot I have is really too large to make a single loaf of bread in it. But I got good results overall and the crust really was exquisite. Serendipitously, I found a smaller version by a different manufacturer in our local resale shop Lily Pads (one that supports providing shelter for the homeless). It was still $15, but I was happy to support the cause for the chance to do some more experimentation.
A recipe for two loaves of bread fit the vessel perfectly, and I kept things simple: water, yeast, flour, salt, a little honey, a splash of vegetable oil. The instructions said to slash the loaf before baking, which can be a dicey operation if you don't have a sharp knife. I find I get great results with an inexpensive sandwich knife with a wavy blade.
Here it is about to go in the oven, soaking wet. Because I have a con-vection oven, I reduced the temp to 425 degrees, but kept it in the oven the full 45 minutes before removing the lid. As the instruction booklet predicted, the loaf had hardly browned at all (except on the front edge--I think I should have rotated the pot halfway through), so I left it uncovered for another ten minutes before removing it from the oven.
Here is the highly satisfying result. The slashes opened up beautifully, the crust was crisp but not overly hard, and the interior of the loaf was soft with a tender crumb. The loaf is still quite large compared to your average grocery store sandwich loaf, but based on how much was devoured at breakfast this morning, I don't think the brethren had any serious problems with that! I was glad to have an extra long bread knife to cut across such a wide loaf.
One other problem I discovered has to do with bio-chemistry. When dough rises in a too-warm environment, the yeast and its accompanying bacteria produce enzymes that are slightly acrid, or at least odd tasting. When you put the terra cotta baker with its dough in a cold oven and let it heat gradually, you create conditions ideal for producing these "off" flavors. (A slow rise in a cool environment, by contrast, produces better flavor and texture.) I noticed the odd aroma/flavor when I sliced into the bread this morning. Toasting helped alleviate this problem, but if you make a PBJ or other sandwich you may notice the difference. Putting a soaking wet, unglazed vessel into a hot oven, however, might be a recipe for a small explosion, or at least a cracked lid, but I suspect I'll give it a try nonetheless.
I'm sure there will be plenty of other terra cotta experiments to come, which I promise to share in this Bread Blog. Does anyone else use a terra cotta making dish or cloche of some kind? I'd love to hear from you. In the meantime, God bless and happy baking!
Some time ago I posted on Facebook that I had obtained a Lékué silicon baker, a new product that allows you to mix and bake bread in the same vessel (Click HERE to see the video from the manufacturer). Since I tend to use tools and pans that are decidedly "old school" (anything designed after the 1800's is considered "new-fangled") I wasn't immediately attracted to it, but I had an Amazon gift card and thought maybe I should test it as a service to my loyal Breadheads.
In order to make a fair test, I carefully followed the directions for one of the bread recipes that came with the bread mold, including weighing the ingredients European- style (Lékué is headquartered in Barcelona). I used the recipe titled "Easy-to-Make No-Knead Bread" in part because it requires a long slow rise (6 to 8 hours) which suited my schedule for the day. I mixed the dough at 12:30 p.m., right after midday prayers. The mixing process was not enhanced by the floppiness of the silicon mold, and the suggested spatula became increasingly useless as the dough got stiffer, so I switched to a wooden spoon. As directed, I mixed the ingredients, closed up the little tab and covered it with a towel.
I checked the dough throughout the afternoon, and found it had risen to the top of the rim by 4 p.m. and it never rose any further. I followed the instructions for baking: 425 degrees F. for 40 minutes, then I removed the loaf from the pan and baked it 10 more minutes on the open rack. The result was an oddly-shaped but definitely crusty loaf of bread, not very browned, but that's what I expected with a recipe that had no sugar and a long rising period.
As you can see, the dough was over-risen, because it didn't get any "oven-spring"--extra loft you get in the first 10 to 15 minutes of baking. Notice too the holes in the surface of the dough which was next to the pan. I suspect that's a function of the wetness of the dough, which was really more like a very thick batter. The finished result, when toasted, reminded me of English muffins.
I'll be doing some more experimentation with this new gadget. I did find the "mix and bake in one vessel" aspect appealing, and the mold can be wiped clean with a damp cloth in about 30 seconds. If I do the wet dough recipe again, I think I'll try letting rise only four to six hours and see what happens. There are several more recipes in the booklet to test as well---stay tuned.
This week I also received a Romertopf unglazed clay pot. The company has been around since 1967 (check out their website HERE) but the technique of cooking or baking in a clay pot goes back to the very origins of of cooking itself. There are plenty of advantages to baking in unglazed clay vessels: more even heat, better crust, and the bread never fails to come out of the pan, among others. The advantage to baking in a covered unglazed vessel is that you can soak the pot in water before the dough goes in, which produces steam during the baking process. The steam allows the dough surface to remain soft during the period of oven spring, making for loftier loaves. The moisture also dissolves sugars on the surface of the dough, so after the steam evaporates, the sugars caramelize and create a glossy, golden brown crust. Read more HERE. There is a style of clay baking pot with a lid called a cloche, but they are a little pricey (as is the Romertopf pictured above--$80+!) and I could never afford one. But my friend found one (virtually unused) at a second hand store for a fraction of the cost, and gifted it to me. I'll be baking with it this weekend and give you a further report next week.
God bless and happy baking!
Fr. Dominic Garramone AKA