Saturday, February 19, 2011

Three Whole-Wheat Breads with Yeasted Pre-Ferments

As part of the Feburary Challenge, three whole-wheat breads made with yeasted pre-ferments were included: Whole-Wheat Bread, Whole-Wheat Bread with Hazelnuts and Currants, and Whole-Wheat Bread with a Multigrain Soaker. I made each of these recipes once making both loaves and rolls. For the straight whole-wheat and for the hazelnut and raisin bread, I made fendus; for the multigrain, a made a oval loaf.

The first picture is the straight whole-wheat, a fendu. The second shows the hazelnut and raisin loaf sliced. The third are some of the rolls I made with the multigrain loaf.

I made two substitutions in the loaves. For the hazelnut and raisin loaf, I substituted dried cranberries for the raisins. This is a substitution I often make and have never run into any problems doing this. And this was again true with this whole-wheat loaf. In the multigrain loaf, the recipe calls for a soaker using cornmeal, millet, oats, and cracked wheat. I was out of cracked wheat so I substituted bulger wheat. I realize this is a bit of a stretch, but seem to be in the spirit of things. And it worked out very nicely. The recipe calls for at least a four-hour soak. I soaked the grains overnight, about 12 hours. A little extra water was need (20 grams), perhaps because of the longer soak.

Each of the loaves was straighforward to make. All baked a little quicker than the recipe indicated. All were solid if unexciting recipes. Of the three, I liked the multigrain best, but I tend to prefer mutigrain breads so this wasn't a surprise. The hazelnuts were an interesting addition. I think I toasted them a bit too long (although I used the shorted time for the range specified by Hamelman). This wasn't a major problem, but something to remember for the future.

All were good loaves, but none are loaves that I'm likely to repeat soon.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Oven Tests

Even with just a casual reading of this blog, it could hardly go unnoticed that I am consistently cooking the loaves for less time than Hamelman calls for. Why is this?

One obvious answer is that my oven is simply too hot. There are several simple ways for the home cook to determine if an oven is running hot or cold without calling in a professional to have the oven recalibrated. The simplest approach is to use an oven thermometer. Based on recommendations from Cook's Illustrated, I've used a top rated thermometer to check the temperature of my oven. In fact, the thermometer showed my oven to be running about 30 degrees too low, just the opposite of what I would expect. Of course, the thermometer could be wrong.

Thermometers can be check by placing them in an ice slurry for 32 degrees (be sure the slurry is at equilibrium) or boiling water 212 degrees (minus 0.9 degree for every 500 feet above sea level). While a great test for your Thermapen, neither of these are very useful for an oven thermometer.

Fortunately, there's another simple test that is reliable if done carefully. Sugar is known to melt at 367 degrees. This simple observation can be used to confirm that behavior of an oven. Simply preheat the oven to say 365 degrees and then place a small bowl of sugar in the oven and leave it for a while (at least 30 minutes). It shouldn't melt although it may discolor. Note, it is extremely important to let the oven stabilize before you put the sugar into the oven since most ovens will initially oscillate around the target temperature. The oven coils should not be glowing, and you should put the sugar into the oven quickly keeping the door open for as short a time as possible.

Next remove the sugar, reset the oven to 370 degrees. After the oven has stabilized, you can return the sugar to the oven. After a bit it should melt. Be patient, this can take a half-hour or more.

If your oven is running hot, then it will melt at a lower temperature. If your oven is running cold, you will need a higher setting before the sugar

Using this approach I found the sugar would not melt in my oven when set at 380 degrees but would melt at 385 degrees. Thus, my oven is running about 15 degrees lower that where it is set. This isn't quite as bad as the thermometer indicated, but I trust the sugar more. (This method is describe in Cooking for Geeks, a interesting but very, very uneven book.)

Temperature only give a part of the picture. Items in an oven heat by several mechanism (induction, convection, and induction). If there is better air circulation, then an item will heat more quickly than the temperature would indicate (as in a convection oven).

Cook's Illustrated (January 2008) has another test that can give an idea about this. The idea is to allow the oven to stabilize at 350 degrees (I used 365). Take a two cup Pyrex measuring cup with one cup of water at exactly 70 degrees. Quickly put the measuring cup into the oven and leave it there for 15 minutes. For a normal, correctly calibrated oven, the temperature should rise to 150 degree over that time. In my oven, it went to 148 degrees, pretty close.

(There is one other test from Cook's Illustrated that is used to test broiler evenness. The idea is to put in a sheet pan and toast it. This will show hot spots. While I was at it, I ran this test as well.)

So, oven temperature doesn't seem to be the problem. There are several possibilities, but I have no definite answer at this time. Perhaps the dough has risen quite enough. Perhaps, it is too warm to begin with. Or perhaps there are some issues with Hamelman's recipe. I'll continue looking for a solution, but this really isn't a big issue with me. Basically, I'll just keep using my Thermapen to check the bread removing it when it is done. In the meantime, I'll keep setting the oven to the temperature specified by Hamelman without making any corrections in my oven. This is what I've been doing in the past, and it would only create confusion to change now.

Normandy Apple Bread

This bread was a very pleasant surprise. Frankly, I didn't have very high expectations for this. But I was definitely surprised.

The loaf is straightforward to make. You start with a simple levain the night before. If you are following the recipe closely, you need to plan time to dry the apples. I made one loaf with dried apples per Hamelman's instructions and a second loaf where I used "Sun Maid", a commercially dried apples. For the home dried apples, I peeled and thinly sliced Jonagold apples, put them on a wire rack above a sheet pan, and baked them at 250 degrees for about an hour. If drying your own apples, be sure to plan ahead. The recipe calls for cider but doesn't explicitly specify fresh or hard cider. (The reference to cider that has gone slightly off seems to imply fresh.) I used fresh in both loaves, but it would be interesting to repeat the process with hard cider.

The baking loaves had a lovely apple aroma while baking. Again, it was necessary to shorten the cooking time. Hamelman calls for 40 minutes at 450 degrees followed by another 15 minutes at 420 degrees. My loaves were at 205 degrees after 35 minutes. In both loaves there were voids around the apples. This is clearly shown in the second picture.

This is a great bread with the apple adding a nice tartness. While I slightly prefer the home dried apples, if all I had were commercially dried apples, I wouldn't let this keep me from making the bread. This really isn't a sandwich bread or a sweet bread. But I find it very pleasant to slice and eat out of hand. I think it would make a nice toast served with apple butter. Another great bread.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Toast Bread

Note: It had been my intention to try to make each loaf at least twice. At this point, I'm inclined to cut back. I still plan to make each recipe at least once, but I'm inclined to limit myself to a single run for many of the recipes repeating recipes only when there is something significantly different to try. Recipes like Toast Bread are too similar to other recipes to make it worthwhile to play around with the recipe.

Toast Bread seems to be a minor variation of the Pullman Loaf that was made last month. It is slightly less rich and has a small amount of malt powder. Without comparing the two loaves side-by-side, it is difficult to see much difference. If memory serves me correctly, (a big "if"), I prefer the Pullman Loaf. But frankly, there really isn't that big a difference.

the recipe was very straightforward with no surprises. Using 2 lbs., 3 ozs., the loaf didn't quite fill the pan, but a slightly longer final fermentation would certainly correct this. As always, I needed to shorten the cooking time a bit. The home recipe gives enough dough for a pullman loaf and a second smaller loaf. In the future, I would probably scale back the recipe to make just the pullman loaf.

This is not a bad loaf, but I'm not sure that this really add that much. Perhaps I should bake the loaves back to back so I can compare more closely.