Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Whole Wheat Bread

Wheat is an interesting thing. Most anything at the bottom of the food pyramid that I grew up with is made with wheat. I think it is taken for granted, but there is a lot going on in this incredible ingredient. There are three parts of wheat that are commonly left in flour. These parts are the germ, bran, and endosperm. When working with something that calls itself a "whole wheat flour," you are working with all three parts of the wheat. A commonly used flour is "all-purpose flour" this is a flour mixture where most if not all of the germ and bran have been removed. The endosperm is the largest part of the wheat berry, and contains all of the protein. In baking it is most useful for absorbing the gasses released by the leavening agent. I prefer yeast to leaven my breads, but have played a little bit with baking powder and baking soda.

I am not really here to write an essay on wheat. Though it seems I could write that essay if pressed. I am only trying to set the table for my latest success. I have made whole wheat bread. And I have done it in a way that I find to be delicious. Whole wheat is somewhat difficult to work with. By volume it is less percent protein, so it reacts proportionally less with the yeast. Having played with both whole wheat flour and all-purpose flours I have to admit that all-purpose flours are easier to use.

They do not taste nearly as good. Fact.

Getting to the final product is the real test. I spent some time thinking about how yeast reacts within the dough. Yeast is basically a fungus that needs to feed to have any affect on the bread. Yeast needs sugars, water, and warmth to feed. When yeast feeds it releases a combination of carbon dioxide and alcohol. The carbon dioxide is captured in the protein structure of the endosperm and causes the dough to grow in size. I wanted to make sure that my whole wheat bread rose a lot, which would cause it to have a nice spongy feel and taste, so I used a little extra sugar to allow the yeast to feed like crazy. I also spent a little extra time kneading the dough to make sure that all of the parts of the flour were evenly distributed with the yeast and sugar. Before this try, I had never been able to get a whole wheat dough to feel springy in my hands. This dough felt springy and light. I had gotten it right. It was a little sticky while working with it, but I wanted it that way. This is how I knew it would be moist enough to allow the yeast to feed. I allowed the dough to rise as usual. Then I followed the steps from the pan to the knife as usual. It baked up really nicely. I only have a small amount left from the loaves made on Sunday.

Who said science isn't fun?

And delicious!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Mom's Viz...

My mom was in town this past week. We had decided to go to a concert in the area. So she took a couple of days off to travel to Wisconsin to see Ben Folds in concert. The amazing thing about my mom is that she is always absolutely willing to do whatever it is that I am into at the very moment. She is willing to turn a blind eye towards her normal conduct, and join in whatever it is that interests me.

I have always appreciated this about my mom.

Of course, on this occasion - the thing I am into is bread. My mom gave me the excuse to make both a loaf of water-proofed bread and Bishop's Pizza. Quite the day. (This is the kind of day off that my dad would be proud of.) I took the day off of work, and we both slept in. When we woke up and had our requisite cups of coffee, we made our plan and went to it.

The plan: Make the pizza dough and set aside to allow to rise, make the dough for water-proofing, allow dough to proof while getting ready to go, put dough in pan to rise a second time, while it is rising run to the cheese pantry (yes, it's Wisconsin) and the grocery to make sure we have the correct toppings for pizza, come home and bake bread, use bread for lunch, and hang out until it is time for pizza. We did a whole lot of nothing that day, but we were also very productive.

Aside from how much fun the day was, I was amazed at my mom's willingness to stray from dietary caution and eat bread and pizza by the fistful. It struck me that as much as we need motivation to start something like a hobby or art, we need motivation to keep doing the same thing.

My mom may not always be the reason for me to start something - but she has always encouraged me to keep doing whatever it is that I have been motivated to try.

I hope she never stops.

Monday, January 24, 2011

January's Bread 2

The finished product: Water-Proofed Bread

This bread strays from the form that I am comfortable with as far as preparation goes. I have become rather adept at making breads with the 4 common ingredients: Flour, Water, Yeast, and Salt. The bread I am used to making is made of firm dough and kneaded in the way most people think of kneading dough. The dough then sits in a bowl and rises until it has doubled in bulk.

The dough above required me to do something completely different. The bread calls for eggs, sugar, milk, and butter in addition to the other ingredients listed above. This creates a sticky dough that does not knead in the fashion we are all used to seeing. It is a delicate technique in which you spread the dough flat on your surface and fold in on itself over and over until it reaches the desired feel. This is a little bit more time consuming. Given the stickiness of the dough I was in favor of the method. The rising for this bread is completely different from what I have come to know. The dough is covered in fresh flour and wrapped in a towel, then submerged in a water bath. This is called a water-proof, or water-rise. The dough will sit down in the water, and you know it has risen when the dough floats in the water. A science experiment for the kid in me. Lo! and Behold! The dough floated and I was on my way. After kneading a little more, I put the dough in the loaf pan and allowed it to rise again. Once it has doubled in bulk, place in oven. Same test as before: rap knuckles against each side of the bread. If it sounds hollow, your bread is done.

The recipe I used gives us a brioche-like bread. Sweet and light with some larger pockets, but dense everywhere else. I enjoyed it with a little jam and turkey with swiss cheese broiled for lunch.


The dough in towel ready for it's bath
The dough will float once it has risen

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Pizza Thirst

It is a real thing, Pizza Thirst. No, it is not a thirst for pizza. It is thirst brought on by eating pizza. We have all eaten pizza that does not give us Pizza Thirst. In fact, I have only ever had one type of pizza that does. I have affectionately begun to know it as Bishop's Pizza. It is the pizza that I grew up on, and is the brain child of my dad. Anyone who has had this pizza undoubtedly knows how good it is. Aside from the taste of the pizza there are many traditions to talk about when it comes down to this pizza. This time, I am going to pick on Pizza Thirst.

My family has been eating this pizza as long as I can remember. Every Friday for as long as all the kids were in the house, we would have this pizza. Late every Friday night would be the elegant dance around the faucet in the kitchen to get to the much-needed water. This pizza is a peculiar devil. The affect of bishop's pizza on the bishop himself is either hidden or absent. Unlike his bread, he is willing to binge a little bit on the pizza. He eats a lot of the pizza. He also avoids the water dance that the rest of the family does all night. It is a true puzzle to me.

I can remember times at midnight running into my mom or siblings in the kitchen. Mom would ask why we were awake. Upon learning that we had Pizza Thirst, she would commiserate with us. She was always inclined to tell us just how many glasses of water she had consumed since we finished our meal. We all have our favorite things to talk about when it came to pizza thirst. My favorite was to curse the last piece of pizza I had. To me, it was always the last piece, not the first six that did me in.

I still wonder aloud why Pizza Thirst can strike so hard. What is it about Bishop's Pizza that makes me so thirsty?

My close friends and I have all started to have weekly get-togethers for dinner and a good time. We call it "The Sparkle-Fingles Supper club. (Maybe someday I will explain that.) We all live in rural Wisconsin and often have little to do on cold winter nights. I enjoy hosting these nights as much as I enjoy being hosted. This past week we had my version on Bishop's Pizza. I made six pizzas for the group, and we ate all but a handful of pieces. I have always hoped that my version was at the very least a close replica of my dad's pizza. This week's pizza was the closest to the real thing I have ever made. How do I know? Pizza Thirst struck hard.

I had made Bishop's Pizza before. The first time we had had the pizza I told everyone about Pizza Thirst. I had gotten a little ahead of myself. Until this past week, Pizza Thirst was just a myth to my friends. They didn't know what was in store for them.

This past pizza night, Pizza Thirst did not just strike me. I did not have any late night run ins in the kitchen. I was awfully alone chugging water at 3:30am. Once I got to work the next day though, I had an email from one of the Sparkle-Fingle-ers. "Worst. Pizza Thirst. Ever. 4am. My mouth was like the sahara in the dry season." I heard through the day that at least half of the SFers woke up with Pizza Thirst. I am curious what my dad and the others SFers have in common that makes them (seemingly) impervious to Pizza Thirst.

I felt somewhat relieved to not be the only one who had Pizza Thirst that night. I also felt reassured in my pursuit of my dad's pizza. This one is for those who have had it before. Here's hoping you will get to have Pizza Thirst again someday!

My version of Bishop's Pizza. It is true to his style to cut directly on the counter. My mom would kill us both if she knew...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

January's Bread 1

This is a picture of my first attempt at a simple recipe. The recipe calls for flour, salt, and yeast proofed in sugar water. After kneading and allowing to rise a first time, you simply put punch the dough down (very satisfying) and place the dough in a bread pan. Once the dough has risen to shape in the pan, the dough is ready to become bread. Place in the preheated oven and bake until it sounds hollow when rapped with the knuckles.

This is a relatively dense bread that can be sliced very thin for toast in the morning. I have been enjoying mine with preserves for breakfast. Another great way to use this bread is sliced a little thicker for sandwich making.

I am happy to say that this bread was quite enjoyable, and I will be making more in the future!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Start of Something Great

As I was growing up, my dad always took Tuesdays off. He would spend the day relaxing and doing a whole bunch of nothing. Except he always seemed to find a way to make bread. He always made it look like he was doing nothing. He would spend 10 minutes here and there making bread. He made it look effortless, like it was an afterthought. Of course, none of that mattered to me by 4 o'clock when the bread was out of the oven. Butter on a fresh piece of bread is by far the best afternoon snack a kid could ask for.

He always made french bread on Tuesdays. He loves to have french bread on hand. This, I am sure, is why he would make it on Tuesday. I don't know when he does it now, but he still makes french bread. The last time my brother, sister, and I went home to visit my parents my dad made french bread. I am sure he didn't do it just for us. Of course he would dispute it, "Of course the I made this bread because my sons and daughter are all home for the holiday." We would sense his tone and move on. He would have us believe that he did all that work for his children. Inconvenient for him that I am on to his ways. This bread is for him.

I would be negligent not to mention that the end product is wonderful. The smiles that grow on the faces of the people feasting on bread are beacons of light. If you are lucky enough to eat the bread in the same room (the kitchen, most likely) that the bread was cooked in, you will be surrounded by the smells and warmth from the baking process. It is truly difficult to avoid eating an entire loaf of bread. Dad always seems to eat a couple pieces and be done. The rest of us do tend to eat closer to a half of a loaf, if not more. It was always hard to imagine how he does it. Again: I am on to him. He doesn't make the bread just to eat a ton of it.

Lately, I have begun making bread myself. This is why I am on to my dad and his clever little ways. He isn't in love with just the taste of bread. I know now that he does love the taste of bread, but that is not the entire reason for making bread. He also doesn't make bread every Tuesday so that he could feed his growing children, though I am sure it made for a nice side effect. The reason my dad makes bread goes back to the beginning of what has become quite a long story: Tuesdays are my dad's day off. When you take a day off you go out of your way to do the things that are most enjoyable for you. This is why my dad makes bread on Tuesday.

The process, from beginning to end, is most enjoyable for my dad. He makes bread because he loves the simple ingredients. How can you ignore that all you put into french bread is water, yeast, salt, and flour? You start with the most basic staples of a kitchen and you end up with something so seemingly complex as french bread. He loves the process, and so do I.

For twenty something years, Dad inspired me with his bread. That was the start of it all for me. I'll keep telling the story of my bread making right here... I hope you enjoy!

My first attempt at my Dad's french bread - about a year ago