Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Oat Porridge Bread – Tartine Book No. 3

This is my first attempt at porridge bread, a method of cooking grains, such as barley, oats and rye, into a porridge that gets folded into the dough. Porridge breads add a depth of flavor and a lighter texture to whole-grain breads. More importantly, it has been an ongoing pursuit (or obsession) on my part to increase the nutrient density of the food we eat. This is one way to add a larger percentage of whole grains in a loaf of bread. I just bought Chad Robertson's latest book Tartine No. 3 after baking a variety of country breads, with some successes, from an earlier book, Tartine Bread. A big bag of rolled oats has been sitting idly in my pantry for a while.  When I came across the oat porridge recipe in Tartine No. 3, I knew instantly that this was the first bread to experiment.

If you are familiar with the process and procedures in baking Tartine country breads (which has taken me a few months to master or to get comfortable with), making porridge bread involves just one extra step of preparing the rolled oats. Nothing complicated. Although I had to add more water (three parts rather than two parts) that the master recipe called for in making the porridge.

  • The cheat sheet below outlines the necessary ingredients, the step-by-step procedures, and the timeline of the entire process. It is more than a recipe. Why? Timeline is an important aid for bread-making. I want to be able to structure the work flow so that I could be more efficient in and out of the kitchen. Although the actual time involved working on the dough is not that long, there is definitely an extended time commitment when it comes to baby-sitting the dough through the fermentation process. In addition, there are always the unexpected. The clock may suggest that time is up, but the dough may say otherwise. I've learnt to be patient; bread-making feeds and is good for my soul!

  • I made one loaf or 50% of the original Tartine recipe. The amount of the various ingredients I used are highlighted in green under the 50% "scaling" column in the cheat sheet. Feel free to apply any percentage to the "weight" column of the original recipe to derive at the amount of ingredients you need for your project. Scaling the recipe up or down is such a useful tool in adjusting to your particular baking needs. I always scale down the recipe for my small family and up when I entertain a bigger crowd. Using grams is the best way to go; it's more accurate. Volume in units of cups or teaspoons are not scalable. Fraction of an ounce is often not small enough for certain ingredient, such as dry yeast, when accuracy is key. Go metric; it works better for baking.

Starting with feeding the sourdough starter twice on day 1, on day 2 I prepared the leaven in the morning and mixed the dough later in the day. After four hours of bulk fermentation, I proceeded with the shaping and then let the dough finish its final and slow rise in the refrigerator overnight. The oat porridge loaf was ready to be baked in the morning on day 3.  The loaf was transferred to a preheated cast-iron Dutch oven, covered to create a steam-saturated chamber, and placed in a 500°F oven.  Please see the cheat sheet for more details.

The sweet heavenly aroma wafted from the oven after I removed the lid (or the pan using the inverted Dutch oven technique discussed in an earlier post) of the Dutch oven was both satisfying and affirming.  This three-day workout was well worth the time and effort after all.  If I could bottle this particular aroma, I would.  It’s like nothing I’ve smelled before!

The crust and crumb structure of the bread was everything I’d have expected from any Tartine bread recipe: airy and open. The porridge gave the bread a lighter and softer texture. The oat flavor was hardly present, although the oat porridge was 50% the amount of flour. Yes, the crumb can be a bit more open. (My techniques needed more work!) One thing I know for sure: I’m on the right track in this healthful whole-grain journey and there is no going back. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Tartine Brioche -- with Natural Leaven

As perfect combination goes, there is no better one than bread and butter.  The brioche, made in the notable French tradition of incorporating butter to the lean dough and exquisitely enriching and transforming them, is bread heaven.  Brioche is my all-time favorite, period, eaten at anytime of the day.

This recipe calls for natural leaven (a technique dating back over a century) and active dry yeast, and makes an extraordinary brioche in many ways. Using natural leaven is such a brilliant idea. Well, it's not a bad deal for my sourdough starter colony to work a little harder for me since I've been dutifully feeding it for about two years. The use of leaven also extends shelf life for most bread, naturally. A sprinkle of active dry yeast makes the dough more freezer friendly. I am happy to have extra brioche dough on hand. Bring it to room temperature gradually, then shape and ready to bake in short notice, relatively speaking, in the age of instant gratification.

The brioche is not coyly sweet like most sweet breads. The taste is subtle and nuanced with a touch of sweetness. Leftover brioche, if you are lucky to have any, can be used for French toasts, croutons or bread puddings. This recipe is a keeper.

Note: I submitted this posting to yeastspotting.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Almond Tart with Seasonal Fruits and Gluten-Free Crust

The Almond Tart

I have baked the almond tart several times this year using the King Arthur Flour’s (KAF) recipe.  It has proven to be a crowd-pleasing dessert that brings great pleasure to our dinner table. It’s a good starting point.

The KAF almond tart is the Avid Bakers' Challenge (ABC) of the month.  Visit ABC to see postings from a community of like-minded bakers for their special offerings of the tart.

The biggest challenge for me is how to improve the nutritional profile of this delicious tart recipe in ways that my health-conscious family would eat it – instead of just staring at it. Even the most tempting desserts got a lot of stares in my kitchen.  It took me quite a while before I stopped taking the stares, as well as the untried and uneaten desserts I made, too personally.

Pear Almond Tart

Since fruit is a perfect dessert for the healthful diet-style, I want to make it the star.  Almond and pear is excellent pairing. I chose Forelle pears. Peeled, halved, cored and then poached them in a combi steam oven at 350°F and 50% humidity for 40-45 minutes. (There are many ways to poach pears on the stovetop other than in the steam oven. This just happens to be a convenient method for me.)  No liquid was added since the intention was to concentrate the flavor of the pears. If you are not poaching the pears immediately, squeeze some lemon juice on them.  What joy to see the ovalish outline of the smallish pear came through so beautifully on the tart!

The picture on the left shows the compressed and moistened interior of the yummy poached pear in the heart of the tart. Do you realize you are eating half a pear in one tart for dessert? It is well worth the time and effort poaching the pear to intensify its fruity taste and melt-in-your-mouth tenderness.

I used the KAF recipe for the almond filling (with almond flour being the key ingredient) and reduced the amount of sugar by 30%. About one to two tablespoons of the filing were enough to fill each mold in the 4-tart pan since the pear took up most of the space.  The KAF recipe calls for more filling than is needed for my version of the almond tart – with more fruity goodness and less filling.  The good news is: the leftover filings can be quickly used up making tarts with fruits that are in season and in the pantry.

Fig Almond Tart

Fresh fig, any varieties, is among my favorite fruits.  They are sweet to eat alone or in a salad, and to bake atop tarts or financiers. For tarts, figs are delicate and require no poaching.  I had a few black Mission figs on hand the other day, together with some leftover crust mixture and almond filling. Why not bake some fig almond tarts?  I cut the figs lengthwise to show their amazing flesh. Then simply pop one piece on top of the filled tart shell right before they go into the oven – as easy as ABC.  The fig caramelizes nicely and adds a distinct sweet deliciousness to the almond tart.

The Final Reveal: Gluten-free Crust

There are three major components of a fruit almond tart: the fruit, the almond filling and the crust to hold everything together. The crust was where I departed from the KAF recipe.

The gluten-free crust was what I came up with in meeting the health and wellness requirements of my family.  This crust packs a super nutritional punch with only three ingredients plus water: almond flour, dates as sweetener and chia seeds as egg substitute.

I made a few measurement mistakes with the ingredients.  But the crusts did not seem to care what I did and how I messed up. They all turned out well – just differently in texture.  The crust recipe is very forgiving and I love it for that.  Mixing together all the ingredients produces a dark and coarse dough. It is not sticky; it is quite easy to handle with your fingers. Although this was my first attempt working with the crust recipe, the anxiety-ridden process in making a decent crust turned out to be – fun and rewarding.

This tart crust presents a mild nutty flavor and a chewier texture than the KAF crust. It’s hard to imagine how a crust using all healthy ingredients, without any butter or sugar, could taste so wonderful.  If you’ve never tasted a wholesome vegan crust before, you’d be impressed by the robust, nutty and firm counterpoint of this crust to the tender and smooth sweetness of the almond filing.  It’s a winsome combination.  Biting into the crust is like eating a thin and crunchy power bar, only better, and without the graininess.  One other bonus: the leftover crust mixture can be stored for a long time in the refrigerator.  This may become a regular item in my pantry. 

Tart crust ingredients:
1 cup almond flour/meal
2 tablespoon ground chia seeds
1 cup pitted dates
2 tablespoons water

Combine almond flour/meal and chia seeds in a food processor. Pulse until finely ground.  Add dates and water until the mixture comes together.  Press the mixture into a lightly greased tart pan.  Parbake the crust at 350°F for five minutes.

Note – This crust recipe is adapted from Eat to Live Cookbook and Super Immunity by Joel Fuhrman, M.D.  Huge thanks to a dear physician friend of mine who kindly loaned me this book and introduced me the approach in eating my way to incredible health.

With some modifications to the original KAF recipe, I’ve found a way “to make a cake and eat it too.” The pear almond tart with gluten-free crust has earned the seal of approval among my family and friends. Stares averted!