Take me home, country loaf

Sorry.

As I’ve mentioned before, a few years ago I took a baking course through the New School of Cooking in Culver City.  It was a great course for all levels and the instructor was fantastic (it doesn’t appear she teaches through New School any longer).

With the exception of the laminated doughs, I’d already made nearly everything on the syllabus prior to taking the class.  What I was after were a boost in my technical skills.  For instance, I understood that using butter or oil in baking created different outcomes–I just didn’t know why.  I also didn’t know that in addition to Italian and Swiss, there are also German and American buttercreams.  How great is it to live in a world with so many kinds of intercontinental buttercream?

One of the best recipes (in my opinion) from this course is a simple country loaf.  For this recipe, patience far outweighs technique in creating a chewy, airy crumb.

Three things make this bread really good.  The first is an overnight fermentation of the sponge.  You can do it in an hour (and this is how we did it in class).  However, through my own trial and error I’ve learned that allowing the sponge to develop in a warm kitchen and then throwing it in the fridge for a sleep really develops the flavor.

The second is waiting until the last couple of minutes of kneading to add the salt. Salt and yeast are sort of like Tom and Jerry so you want the yeast nice and developed and protected by lots of flour before you add the salt into the mix.  I now use this method any time I’m making yeasted dough.  Wait to add the salt.

The third is the pan of steaming water.  As I learned in the baking course, many professional baking ovens have a steam function that helps put the “crust” into crusty bread.  A pan of steaming water helps do the same.

If you have any interest in playing with yeast, this is a great fist step.

Country Loaf

New School of Cooking

Ingredients

for the sponge

  • 1 TBS active dry yeast
  • 1 C warm water
  • 4 ounces (1 C) bread flour

for the dough

  • 20 oz (5 C) bread flour
  • 1 1/3 C warm water
  • 2 TBS honey
  • 1 TBS kosher salt
  • cornmeal for sprinkling

Directions

for the sponge

  1. Dissolve the yeast in warm water and stir in bread flour.  Cover and let rest for 1 hour, but, best case scenario, refrigerate over night.  Return to room temp before using.

for the bread

  1. In a bowl, combine the sponge, flour, water and honey.  Knead for eight minutes or so.  Add salt during the last three minutes. Return to bowl if you’ve kneaded by hand.  Cover bowl and allow to double in size (about 1 hour).
  2. Sprinkle a liberal layer of corn meal onto a baking sheet.
  3. Lightly flour hands and work surface, dough will be sticky.  Turn out dough and knead lightly.  Rough form it into a ball and place on top of the cornmeal dusted baking sheet. Flour the top of the loaf and cover loosely with plastic wrap.  Let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Place a small pan filled with steaming water on the bottom of the oven.  Place baking tray on lowest rack.  Back 35-40 minutes until the crust is very dark brown and the internal temp is 210 degrees.  If you don’t have a thermometer, flip the bread, and thump the bottom.  If it sounds hollow, it’s done.
  5. Cool to room temp before slicing.

Dog Days

I know what you are thinking.  You think I’ve been slacking off all summer, what with the post here, another there and multiple weeks in between.

Actually, the opposite is true.

The last couple of summers I found myself teaching a pretty intense graduate course.  As much fun as it was (really, it was), come September I found myself exhausted and not really ready to start the academic year.

So this year I said no to teaching and instead became the student.

Of baked goods.  I just finished up a phenomenal 10 week baking course through the New School of Cooking in Culver City, CA.  Every Monday night the class convened for lecture and hands-on practice. The instructor, Chef May Hennemann was fantastic: incredibly accomplished, knowledgable and patient.   I’m not exaggerating when I say I think I smiled the entire 40 hours.  We covered everything from quick breads to laminates and I feel like my technical skills have greatly improved.

As an adult so many things I do are driven by need or purpose–means to an ends.  It was an incredible luxury to do something with the sole aim of enjoyment.

In fact, I enjoyed myself so much that I working on negotiating additional coursework.

But here is the rub.  Each weekend following the Monday night class I would practice the previous week’s lessons.  This hasn’t left me with much time or motivation for blog posts.

But, I do have lots of stuff to share.  Some is directly from the class but most of it derivative from the concepts I’ve learned and played with on my practice days.

I many even have to double up some weeks.

I

We didn’t actually make ice cream in class.  But, the base of ice cream is very similar to creme anglaise, custard and pastry cream.  Like I said, derivative.  My very favorite chocolate cake includes a healthy dose of stout beer in the ingredient list.  So, when a friend brought us a Tabasco sauce meant for serving over ice cream I immediately thought of this combination.  It’s a good one!

Stout and Bittersweet Chocolate Ice Cream

adapted ever so slightly from David Lebovitz

makes about one quart

Ingredients

  • 7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 C whole milk
  • 1/2 C sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 C heavy cream
  • 3/4 C stout beer (Guinness or another favorite)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Put the chocolate pieces in a large bowl and set a mesh strainer over the top.
  2. Warm the milk, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan.
  3. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm mixture into the egg yolks (you don’t want to scramble your eggs), whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.
  4. Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula.
  5. Pour the custard through the strainer over the milk chocolate, then stir until the chocolate is melted.
  6. Once the mixture is smooth, whisk in the cream, then the Guinness and vanilla. Stir until cool over an ice bath.
  7. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.