25 November 2011

Starting a Starter

I finally decided to tackle sourdough. I've wanted to try it for a long time, but I was intimidated. It seemed like a lot of work, and I'm not great at babysitting things. As it turns out, it's really not a big deal. I used the starter recipe in Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice, and after a week or so, I had a happy, bubbly starter. Maybe even a little too happy.

The first recipe I tried with my new starter was the basic sourdough from the same book. Despite some issues with my dough sticking to my proofing towels, and a totally awful scoring job (must get a lame!), my loaves still turned out pretty decent looking for a first attempt! They tasted great, too. The sour flavor really came through. I was actually a little surprised; I expected them to fail.

Reinhart's starter recipe is annoying in that you end up with an unreasonable amount of starter once you've finished building it up. I can eat maybe one loaf of bread a week, so keeping a gallon of starter in my fridge at all times makes no sense. After I got my starter up and running, I decided to scale it back and only keep about 5 oz. of starter. I also froze a little chunk of it, just in case I manage to kill what I'm keeping in the fridge or accidentally use it all up or something.

Since I had a lot of starter I wanted to discard, and no desire to actually discard it, I decided to try a couple of other recipes.

Whole wheat sourdough bagels were my first experiment. I googled and picked a recipe pretty much at random. I've made bagels a few times before (always using the excellent recipe in The Bread Baker's Apprentice), and these were easily the most disappointing I've ever made. They had no sourdough flavor at all, even after spending a night in the fridge. The texture also wasn't quite right. Next time I'll try another recipe, or just go back to the tried and true BBA yeast bagels. These did use up quite a bit of starter, though, which was the goal.

Next up, sourdough tortillas! I had beans in the fridge, so these were meant to be. I followed this recipe, subbing in some whole wheat flour, and vegetable shortening instead of oil. They turned out really delicious, with a distinct sourdough flavor. They stayed sort of anemic looking, but they would have turned into crackers if I'd cooked them any longer. Maybe my pan wasn't hot enough. I don't cook with cast iron much, and I think I might not have let it preheat long enough. I was still really happy with these, though. I will definitely come back to this recipe next time I make tortillas.

I still have excess starter to discard, and it just keeps building up with my weekly feedings! I'm working on using it up, but my freezer is getting really full. I will eventually have to accept that I just need to throw some of it out, but until then, it's bread city around here.
Go to post >>

11 November 2011

Soy Nog Bundt Cake

I replaced all of the liquid in the Coconut Lemon Bundt Cake in Veganomicon with Silk nog, eliminated the shredded coconut, and added some nutmeg. Nog cake!

Unfortunately, I didn't love it. The flavor was good (although more vanilla than noggy), and my substitions seemed to work well, but I didn't like the texture of the cake. It came out sort of spongy and almost bready. I may have overmixed the batter and overdeveloped the gluten. Maybe I overbaked it. Maybe both! It was midnight and I was tired.

Not bad with a cup of coffee, though. Not bad at all.
Go to post >>

07 November 2011

Dave's Killer (Homemade) Bread

I really don't like to buy bread. It's usually full of weird preservatives, and there's something gross about a loaf of bread staying "fresh" for weeks. I once had a completely insane roommate (her insanity has nothing to do with anything, but she was seriously nuts) who would buy loaves of Wonder bread and promptly forget about them. They would sit around on top of the refrigerator for months, until I eventually got irritated enough to throw them out. That stuff honestly looked as fresh at the two month mark as it did the day she bought it. Yeah, no thank you.

Sandwich bread in particular is a label-reading headache I prefer to avoid. I can only pick up and put down so many honey-laden loaves before I get frustrated and just give up. There are a handful of vegan options available in the grocery stores here, but I've only found one I thought was worth buying again (and again, and again): Dave's Killer Bread. It's made with organic, vegan ingredients, and is absolutely delicious. It's also $4 a loaf, which is frankly totally worth it, but expensive nonetheless. Upon searching for a copycat recipe, I found one provided by Dave himself! There is, in fact, an instructional video of Dave making this 100% whole wheat bread on Everyday Dish. I had to try it.

The recipe lacks the seeds and grains and fancy stuff I really love about the storebought loaves, but this simple loaf looked like a good starting point. I figured I'd try it plain the first time, and then experiment with add-ins later on.

I should mention that this dough tried to kill my 6-quart KitchenAid Professional stand mixer. The thing is a beast with a pretty hefty motor, but this dough was stiff enough and required so much kneading that the mixer just stopped after 13 minutes on level 2 (the recommended mixing speed when using the dough hook -- I wasn't trying to break it!). The mixer is smartly equipped with an auto shut-off feature to save the motor from overheating, but I had never actually seen it happen until I tried this bread. Well, now I know it works! I stressed out about it, but it turned on again just fine after cooling down for an hour or so. Lesson learned. The dough was fine, too. I kneaded it for a few more seconds by hand and called it good.

Despite its density, the dough rose nicely in the pans. I probably could have let it rise longer to get a fluffier texture (Dave makes this suggestion in the video), but I had to hurry and get the loaves baked before work. They rose for an hour and a half, which seemed like a long time, but it was pretty cold in my house at the time. Didn't get much oven spring.

The verdict? Well, I like it. It's a fairly dense bread (no surprise, given the stiffness of the dough), but it's soft and chewy. I don't think the flavor is particularly interesting, though. It's quite sweet (half a cup of sugar will do that), but the molasses flavor gets totally lost. It does make some pretty good toast, with an ideal ratio of crunchy-toasty to chewy if you cut thick enough slices. I've been eating it for breakfast with peanut butter. I didn't get a crumb shot until half of the first loaf was already gone, so I guess that means I didn't hate it!

I guess I expected more from this bread because I'm such a big fan of the the storebought stuff. I don't know if I'd call it a diappointment, but it didn't wow me. I think I'll try it again and add some seeds to make it more, well, seedy. I need a recipe to stop me from wanting to buy my favorite Good Seed bread. As written, this recipe is not it, but it has potential. Thanks anyway, Dave! I know you really just want me to keep forking over $4 every time I go grocery shopping. It's okay. I still think you're great.
Go to post >>

04 November 2011

Baked Brown Rice

I almost feel silly posting a recipe for plain rice, but this method seriously changed my life. It's absolutely foolproof, and it comes out perfect every time. I haven't bothered to cook rice on the stovetop once since I tried it in the oven, nor have I pulled out my rice cooker. I can't believe I ever felt compelled to purchase a rice cooker, anyway. I think I just wanted it because it was cute and red and on sale at Target.

If there was ever a doubt, Alton Brown proved his genius here. I altered the quantities in his recipe a little bit, but it's largely just copied from the Food Network web site.

Baked Brown Rice
Adapted from Alton Brown's recipe

1 1/2 cups brown rice (any variety)
2 1/3 cups water or vegetable broth
2 tsp. olive oil (try sesame oil instead!)
1/2 tsp. salt (omit if using salty broth)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Bring water to a boil on the stove. Combine rice, oil, and salt in an 8" oven-safe dish. Pour boiling water into the dish, stir, and cover with foil.

Bake for 1 hour.

I usually double the recipe and freeze some of it in individual portions. It makes meal prep really easy when I'm short on time (which is basically always).
Go to post >>

02 November 2011

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Walnut Butter Cookies

I made a batch of chocolate walnut butter a couple weeks ago that I wasn't happy with (cocoa powder in nut butter = grainy nut butter), so after it sat in the fridge forever, I finally decided to bake it into something. It already sort of looked like cookie dough, so I just went with it. The cookies came out pretty good, considering they were totally improvised. I just threw a bunch of stuff in a bowl and hoped for the best. That's usually a recipe for failure for me when baking, but I got lucky this time. They came out crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside: ideal qualities in a cookie.

I ate three tonight, so I now need to get them out of my house. I'm sending them to my mom's office tomorrow; I hope her co-workers enjoy them! I wish I'd written down the recipe because I would probably make these again.

I have learned not to cheap out on chocolate chips, though. I bought some from the WinCo bulk bins because they're considerably cheaper than the packaged brands, but they're just not as good.
Go to post >>