Sunday, October 26, 2014

Apple-Walnut Tea Cake with 100% Spelt

Spelt is ancient heirloom variety wheat first cultivated in 5000 BC and can be traced back to Mesopotamia. Spelt is high in protein and contains sufficient gluten to make bread with reasonable volume. But the character of the gluten is more delicate than the common wheat. Nutrition wise, it is similar if not superior to wheat. Some people with gluten sensitivity may tolerate spelt because protein in spelt is easier to digest.

Using 100% whole-grain spelt flour while maintaining a tender and open crumb in breads or pastries can be challenging. Whole-grain baked items tend to be dense and heavy because the flour contains flakes of bran and germ of the wheat kernel which impedes dough development. Baking with whole-grain flour requires measured adjustments to the conventional recipe. The key in mitigating the undesirable texture of whole wheat, as this recipe from Tartine No. 3 has shown, is in the blending method. What a revelation?

Most quick breads involve mixing butter or oil with the wet ingredients before combining them with the dry ingredients. In creamed batters, fat and sugar are blended together before the dry ingredients and liquid are added alternately. Following Tartine’s technique, olive oil is mixed with the dry ingredients first before combining with the wet ingredients. That makes sense since cutting fat into flour creates tiny air cells in the batter and facilitates the leavening process while it bakes, resulting in a lighter and loftier texture. To develop a more complex flavor, this recipe calls for cultured dairy, such as kefir cream or Crème Fraiche, and natural leaven.

I used Crème Fraiche and 100% hydration sourdough starter built with equal weight in whole-wheat and all-purpose flour as a natural leaven. The resulting teacake comes close to its true promise.  It has the nutty, complex, delectable flavor, a light and tender crumb and, above all, the full health benefits of whole grain. Refined white flour and butter are nowhere to be found in this recipe. I can’t be more pleased. It helps in fulfilling the goal in my everyday baking of substituting whole-grain for refined white flour, which is nothing but endosperm almost entirely devoid of nutrition, as much as possible. This recipe exceeds my expectation and this is how I’d make my cakes going forward, whole grain all the way!

My journey in exploring ancient grains led me to Cooper Gristmill, a restored water-powered mill along the Black River in New Jersey. Built in 1826 during the Industrial Revolution, it is listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places. The knowledgeable and friendly staff there took me on a guided tour and actually operated the mill’s machinery, which encompasses a massive steel water wheel, huge grinding stones, and an elaborate elevator transport system. The millstone machinery hummed in a low, heavy and powerful baritone while the spelt and wheat grains I ordered was being milled into flour. I find comfort in it, in the idea of a restored mill, of a narrative of my culinary journey unfolding, like a photograph in a dark room, a story that slowly emerges, and affirms the joy in developing time-honored techniques in baking/cooking, in putting healthful food on the table and in preserving cultural and historic treasures for all to enjoy.

Note: I submitted this posting to yeastspotting.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Olive Bread with Walnuts and Sunflower Seeds

You can make a meal with this olive bread or dip the bread in your favorite olive oil together with some cheeses as a side. For some reasons, olive has not been a staple item in my pantry for that long. I guess olive has not been part of my culinary heritage. But it is one of those things that once you’ve found it and gotten hooked on it, it never leaves. My culinary journey is richer for it. I used a mixture of oil-cured olives in a myriad of sizes and colors: red, green and black. This bread is another variation of the basic Tartine country bread recipe that I have been obsessing about in the last few months. Together with olives (pitted and coarsely chopped), the recipe calls for walnuts or hazelnuts (toasted and chopped), dried herbs de Provence and lemon zest. For an even more substantive bite and texture, I piled on one cup of toasted sunflower seeds. They were added to the dough during the initial stage of bulk fermentation when the first stretch-and-fold turns were made. Please see the cheat sheet below for details on the master recipe. (Notes on the use of the cheat sheet can be found here.) The recipe makes two loaves. Fifty percent scaling or half of the recipe would make one. Considering all these delectable additions, no wonder the olive bread is such a sensation – to the eye and to the taste bud – and fun to make. This glorious bread is not to be missed.

Note: I submitted this posting to yeastspotting.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Cinnamon-Apple Twist Bread

Cinnamon-Apple Twist Bread with Egg Wash on top
I’ve baked apples in many forms: in tarts, galettes and pies but have never put them in a loaf of bread. The apple twist bread is ABC’s challenge for October. Skepticism aside, I plunged in and baked the bread. The diversity of apples available in the fall is enticing enough for me to use apples anyway I can. I used Honey Crisp apples for this recipe because I had them in my pantry to be eaten fresh.

I ate a piece of this bread, which I made yesterday, for breakfast. This is a sweet bread, not my usual healthy breakfast item. The sweet tooth in me approved and, well, I had until the end of the day to tackle those extra calories. Then the doorbell rang…. Making a long story short, I offered the cinnamon-apple twist bread to the unexpected guests. They loved it. That made my day!

I made a few changes to the original recipe from King Arthur Flour. That included the usual suspects in making food more wholesome: swapping out a third of the white flour with whole wheat flour, and substituting and reducing granulated white sugar with Demerara raw cane sugar. I also added some pecans to the fillings to impart some textural elements. The glaze in the original recipe was over-the-top in my book ­­­– adding more sweetness to sweet bread. No glaze, but maybe some egg wash for looks. With the test-kitchen's cap on, I experimented with a different approach to see whether I can do away with any kind of glazing entirely. Now a trickier substitution: I used pastry flour instead of pastry blend or all-purpose flour called for in the recipe. I knew what I got myself into by using a lower-gluten flour. My bread would be soft and tender, like pastry, but won't rise as much. For good measure, I sifted all the flours, leaving out the bran in the whole wheat flour.

Cinnamon-Apple Twist Bread - Interior
I shaped the bread dough two ways as suggested in the recipe: a twisted loaf and a bunch of rolls. The issue I encountered was not having enough of the cinnamon, apple and pecan filling at the end.  I slathered a generous amount of the filling on the first piece of dough (which became the twisted loaf) and short-changed the second piece of dough (which became the rolls) with just a thin smear. After the bake, I knew I paid the price of my heavy-handedness with the filling for a less-than-optimum rise of the twisted loaf.

The operating manual of my combi-steam oven recommended baking bread rolls and puff pastry in two stages to get that shiny finish on top. Maximum moisture, low temperature in stage one and low moisture, high temperature in stage two. Sounded like a good idea to test out (for both my bread and the oven). I followed this two-stage recommendation and baked the first tray of rolls without any glaze or egg wash on top. The rolls browned evenly right on cue but where’s the shine? Furthermore, the lower initial oven temperature may have contributed to the lack of oven-spring; hence the lower rising rolls. See the picture below.

I proceeded with the second tray of rolls. No steam, just egg wash (by whisking together one egg yolk and one teaspoon of half-and-half) on top. Instead of using a baking sheet, I placed the rolls inside a muffin pan so that the rolls would rise upward and not sideway. Baked them in a regular oven at 350°F without convection. That yielded some surprisingly handsome rolls that can be grabbed on the go. They make perfect bite-size, easy-to-pack finger food. No filling or glaze sticking to your fingers.

Pecans added to apple filling

Baked in a muffin mold
The twisted loaf was the last to bake. I placed it gingerly on a baking sheet. Brushed the loaf with egg wash prepared earlier. This dough benefitted from a longer than two-hour final rise while waiting for the rolls to finish baking. The loaf spread wide and not tall as I’d like. But it tasted delicious. The sweet and tangy flavor of apples, the crunchiness of pecan and the rich aroma of cinnamon spelled autumn harvest in the air.

Baked with steam in two stages