Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Sunday, May 24, 2009
I’d had enough, enough of chemical and egg-white-based leavening. I wanted critters. I wanted microscopic reproduction, organicity. I wanted myosis-mitosis, water-flour-and-yeast all mixed together in an sticky orgy of single-celled reproduction. I wanted life, life I say, no matter how small and unseen. So the other night, late in the night, with dark clouds looming o’erhead, I dove back into the hidden, wonderful world of yeast…Yeast…YEAST! IT’S ALIVE!! Bigas, poolishes, pre-ferments, liquid levains…it was a natural fermentation paradise. Ahhhh. I went to bed that night knowing that in the morning I would awaken to be met by fecund, aromatic, bubbling containers of hungry, wheat-fed life.
Ahhh, the shadowy, black-and-white dreams I might have had that night…my stainless-steel mixing bowls as petri dishes, plastic-wrapped cocoons, lining the dusty shelves of a dungeon laboratory/kitchen, where the gamut of yeast-friendly mixtures were fermenting and oozing and seething with life, just waiting for the right formulas and that magic kneading touch to activate their gluten and release them to realize their springy, perfectly hydrated, whole-grain potential. Well, in fact, I didn’t have that dream, instead I think I dreamed about Hugh Jackman, but the next morning my bowls of preferments were ripe and ready for the next step on their journey to achieving breadness.
Preferments are exactly what the term implies…a portion of a recipe's flour is mixed with water and a tiny amount of yeast and allowed to ferment (while also allowing the yeast critters to reproduce like a bowlful of bunnies) for a period of time (2-24 hours, usually) to improve flavor, improve strength, and decrease the amount of commercial yeast that is added to the final dough. Preferments have a long and varies past...Italian breads have their bigas, eastern European and French breads often use a poolish (poo-LEASH), and the French also have their pate’ fermentes and their levains. And each type of preferment, with its varying ratio of water:flour, has its own personality, each bringing something a little different to the party when it’s time to mix, bake and finally taste the bread.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Thursday, May 7, 2009
But then you get to work, and you step into a small airless elevator, or somebody does something stupid, or you feel defeated, or whatever...and The Next Big Thing is gone...without leaving so much as a cloud of pixie dust in its wake. Gone, until summer turns to fall, or winter eases into spring...but not this time. I was not about to let that uplifting on-edge anticipation go that easily. When I got home I sat in the sun and enjoyed the heat, and I turned on the sprinkler for Roy and let the water hit me too. Jack and I splashed around in the pool for this first time this year, and Mercedes learned to swim...and Summer began...and The Next Big Thing is still out there...I won't let it vanish this time, at least not so fast...the potential is always there. I gotta remember that.
Saturday, May 2, 2009
You know…balls of enriched dough (usually), coated in butter, cinnamon, and brown sugar (usually), layered in a pan, baked, and served to barbarians (or monkeys) who pull apart the balls of gooey dough without benefit of utensils. Some people call it Bubbleloaf…but, come on, why would you call it Bubbleloaf when you could call it Monkey Bread?
So…Nik was in the family room watching a well-known southern cook/former agoraphobic make a savory Monkey Bread (cheese and herbs rather than sugar and cinnamon). Fine…I have no problem converting recipes from the sweet to the savory side of life; it actually sounded good. Hmm, interesting, she was using tube-based biscuits for the dough. No, I’m not getting all this-and-that about tube-based biscuits…what did it, what pulled the rug out from under me was that Nik suggested I make it that way too - using a store-bought, whap-against-the-counter short-cut like that! “Biscuits? Biscuits? Tube-based Biscuits?!” Yes...I realize, it probably would be good. And yes, it would be fast. But…but…but, it’s not about that.
Deep breath...When it's Process vs. Product, Process always gets my vote…doesn’t he know that by now? He’s surely eaten enough food from our kitchen where, with one bite and effortful swallow, he knew it was obviously a process-based experiment, as the product left something to be desired. And really, where is the process with tube-based biscuits? But over the next couple of days I thought about Nik’s gross oversight regarding my approach to both Monkey Bread and to life. After 19+ years I fear that Nik knows me pretty well, so I started to wonder…am I really all about the Process/Journey and less about the Product/Destination (as I like to think I am), or what was he implying? (I don’t mean to implicate Nik in my neuroses, in truth probably he wasn’t implying anything – he just thought that the Savory Monkey Bread sounded good.)
So I made Monkey Bread my way…sweet, from scratch, without the biscuits.
The Journey…bring the butter to room temp, start the dough, autolyse, finish mixing the dough, let it ferment in the ‘fridge for a few days, roll it, cut it, dip it, let it rise, bake it...and thus arrive at the Destination, which is briefly appreciated, tasted, and plans for an improved Journey immediately occur.
Milk.............................1 1/2 cup
AP Flour........................2 2/3 cups
Salt.............................1 1/2 tsp
Butter..........................4 oz, room temp
White Sugar...................3/4 cup
Brown Sugar...................3/4 cup
1. Scald milk and let cool to room temp.
2. Combine yeast and milk in mixer bowl. Add flour and eggs. Mix with dough hook until combined. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 15-20 minutes.
3. Add salt to dough. When incorporated, add half the sugar. When almost incorporated add the remaining sugar. Add the butter in Tablespoon size pieces - continue to mix with dough hook until dough is smooth. It will be sticky and will not clean the sides of the bowl.
4. Put into clean bowl, cover and let chill overnight (or up to 3 days).
5. Combine the white sugar, brown sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.
6. Roll the dough into a rough rectangle. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, spritz with water (if dry), and roll up into a log-shape. Cut into 16 pieces.
7. Lightly butter a loaf pan. Cover the bottom with pecans and sprinkle with some of the cinnamon sugar. Slightly round each piece of dough, quickly dip into a bowl of water and toss in the bowl of cinnamon sugar, to coat. Place 8 pieces of dough in the bottom of the loaf pan, cover with some of the pecans, top with remaining 8 pieces of dough. Sprinkle with additional cinnamon sugar and pecans. Cover with plastic and let rise until it is above the rim of the pan.
8. Preheat oven to 325. Bake 50-55 minutes, until brown on top and baked throughout. Cool slightly, then turn out onto cooling rack. (I found that when I re-inverted it, it fell apart, so serving it gooey side up may be required.)