Saturday, December 27, 2014

50% Whole-Rye and Whole-Wheat Bread

Rye breads have not shown up in my kitchen often; I’ve heard that it’s a whole different animal to deal with. Why bother with rye bread with all its known liabilities in bread-making quality?  Rye flour has very little gluten to form the open crumb structure we tend to like in our breads. Rye is high in amylase enzyme, known to break down dough structure causing a dense, gummy, pasty texture. At the same time, I believe that rye should be given equal opportunity to show its stuff before writing it off totally. Besides bringing a different wheat flavor to the table, rye bread brings with it the distinct mushroom, potato and green notes typical of the rye grain. Wait, the sourdough leaven adds malty, sweaty and vinegar notes. It is all about flavors!

This recipe comes from Jeffrey Hamelman's Bread. The percentage of rye is 25 percent of total weight of flour, high enough for the character of the grain to shine while minimizing the tendency of rye bread to becoming dense and cake like. The rye-wheat combination totals 50 percent. Bread flour makes up the remaining 50 percent of total weight of flour in the dough. There is sufficient amount of gluten in wheat and bread flour in this recipe to ensure good leavening. Sourdough, with its large amount of acid-forming bacteria, plays a key role here in building the mature rye culture. The presence of sourdough is crucial in stabilizing the baking quality of the final dough by inhibiting the enzymatic activity, the so-called “starch attack,” the culprit for the gummy texture.

Note that a small amount of yeast is used in this recipe. See the cheat sheet below for details. The mixture of sourdough bacteria and yeast shortens the fermentation process. This bread takes about three hours to complete, an added bonus if you are short on time. The bread can be made without commercial yeast. Do expect bulk and final fermentation to take at least 50 percent longer.

What’s working for this rye-wheat recipe? Plenty. The relatively open and moist crumb structure, a gentle tang, a slight whole-rye flavor note, and good keeping quality. It’s well worth taking the time to test drive this 50 percent rye-wheat bread -- the first step towards the more robust rye bread with higher concentration in rye flour.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Macarons with pistachio pastry cream

Red macaron cookies dressed with light green pistachio pastry cream (see chocolate eclair post) are echoing the winsome jolly spirits of the holidays season. For me, there was nothing more memorable than bonding with my lovely niece S., who lives in New Zealand. The jubilation we felt over our success in nailing those finicky macarons when I visited a few years ago was most unbelievable.

Prior to my New Zealand trip, I had no knowledge that S. loves baking and decorating cakes and cookies. S. loves the visual beauty of colorful and whimsical pastries, who wouldn't? She was unwrapping the gift box with the meticulous attentiveness typically reserved for our most priced possession. Inside the box was the pastel green book, Laduree: The Sweet Recipes. This recipe book on macarons clearly has never been used; it was to be admired. I wanted to change that. Instantly, I was on a mission to show her a few tricks up my sleeve in making macarons in the home kitchen before the end of my stay.

I turned to my trusty go-to macaron recipe while in New Zealand. See the cheat sheet below. This recipe has consistently produced wonderful cookies in my kitchen at home in the U.S. It's always tricky to try to replicate it elsewhere in another kitchen. Let alone in another country in the Southern Hemisphere. S. and I were ecstatic to get something close to what I was able to do at home. Producing macarons with good-looking feet, a crispy exterior and a moist interior is always a challenge.

I spent months researching and testing recipes, starting with a macaron class in Paris. I believe I’ve come up with a recipe that is reliable and less intimidating.  It is a variation of the French meringue technique made stable by the addition of dehydrated egg white powder to the mixture of whipped egg whites and sugar. (Please don’t confuse egg white powder with meringue powder.) There is no need to cook sugar to above boiling temperature, commonly used in Italian meringue, which gets me very nervous. Can’t promise that you’ll get everything right in the first round using this recipe, but success is certainly within reach with some practice.

I don’t make macarons frequently; they are reserved for special occasions. They make the most delightful crowd pleasers as they are unwrapped and served up on fine china -- one small bite at a time.

Postscript: I presented these macarons to the hostess at a holiday party in Manhattan. The host took one bite and exclaimed: "it is better than Laduree's." He passed them along to his siblings, who all grew up in Paris. A brother-in-law chimed in nonchalantly in French. He nodded approvingly, "it is fresh, not industrial." This is exactly why and how I bake -- small batch, artisan and not mass produced. It is so gratifying to have a discerning and appreciative audience.

Cheat Sheet

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Savory Gougères

The chocolate pistachio pâte à choux I wrote about in the previous post piqued my interest in a savory version, hence the gougères. They are made combining dark rye flour with unsweetened cocoa powder and loaded with cheese. Dark chocolate brown in color, with melted cheese on top, these gougères may just be the perfect treats for the holiday seasons. Marvelous for the eyes and the palate. I found this recipe in Tartine Book #3, no surprise there! This book has been the primary source of my baking adventure of late.

With and without additional cheese toppings


The Cheat Sheet


  • Suitable to use 100% whole-grain spelt or kamut flour for the dough.
  • Use a mixer to add eggs into the dough for a better rise.
  • Sprinkle cheese evenly and lightly atop each mound.
  • Don’t open the oven door while baking or the puffs will deflate.
  • The puffs stay crispy for a few hours. The pâte à choux paste can be made ahead.
  • Freeze the shells and bake them fresh for a delicate exterior.

Taste test

The light and crispy crust is the best part of the gougères. They are small bites with a tinge of cocoa and cheese. Best served when they are fresh as a side.

What I’ll do next time

Intensify the herb flavors by adding some dry herbs, like herbes de Provence or use more assertive fresh herbs, like rosemary. For variety, use your favorite cheese, like Parmesan. Split and fill with cured meats and bitter greens to make a quick and delicious lunch.

Gougères without cheese toppings are puffier

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Chocolate Pistachio Whole Grain Eclairs

Cream puff dough or pâte à choux paste is one of those coolest preparations and I wonder why I don’t use it more often. The list of ingredients and the process are simple and universal enough that they can be made into choux-based wonders in many forms: cream puffs, éclairs, profiteroles or doughnuts. Flavored with cheese, you’d end up with a savory treat of gougères served in many bistros in Paris. Those are my favorite bites.

Whatever the end products, the dough/batter roughly adheres to a ratio of two-part water, one-part butter, one-part flour and two-part egg (plus salt for flavor) by weight. Should you be stuck without a scale, the alternative ratio of using one cup of water, 1/2 cup of butter, one cup of flour and one cup of eggs also works. Combining water, butter and flour with heat on the stovetop until the starch gelatinizes, the mixture quickly becomes stiff and dough-like. Eggs are beaten in gradually until the dough thins out and forms something more like a batter. A mixer (fitted with the paddle attachment) is preferred in beating the eggs into the dough for a better rise.

Eggplant or eclair?
Pâte à choux is so well behaved; it reminds me of the freshly baked cream puffs that were my rewards for studying long hours and making the grades as a child. Where did dad go and buy these puffy goodies at the end of the day, beyond everyone's bedtime, when I finally finished studying and the midnight snacks magically appeared?

I used King Arthur Flour’s (KAF) whole grain cream puff pastry recipe as the base for the chocolate éclairs.  ABC bakers are enlisted to make chocolate eclairs for the month of December. This will be the last recipe from KAF before ABC starts baking from recipes in “Scientifically Sweet.”  I’d miss the many glorious trusty recipes and helpful support hotline that are the hallmarks of this venerable privately-held enterprise from Vermont. I remain a big fan!

The KAF whole grain cream puff pastry, using a combination of roughly 50/50 whole-wheat pastry flour and bread flour, is unsweetened, making it ideal for both sweet and savory applications. I baked half of the recipe. Since pâte à choux is well suited to whole-grain flours, next time I'll go 100% whole grain. In addition, there are more cracks on the eclairs than I'd prefer, maybe I would lower initial oven temperature to 400°F and add some steam in small measure next round.

For the chocolate ganache, I skipped the corn syrup outlined in the KAF recipe and kept it simple (and less sweet) by following the classic ratio of equal portion in weight of bittersweet chocolate and cream. It always works. The key is in choosing a good brand of chocolate such as Scharffen Berger or Valrhona.

Here comes the sweet filling: pistachio pastry cream made from pistachio milk in the test kitchen. I used a Bismarck tip to fill the eclairs. The recipe came from Tartine Book No. 3. This refreshing pastry cream alone is well worth the price of the book. While almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk, kafir cream and the like are gaining foothold on supermarket shelves, there are no reasons for not using these nut- or plant-based milks more often. It appears that this would be an exciting area to explore healthful substitutes to animal-based milk.

“Good grades from the doctor, dad, no need for cream puffs!”