Kneady good kick in the arse

Where did it all go wrong? Six month ago I was averaging an astonishing ‘9’ views a day. And now look at the site.  It’s flatter than a chapatti rolled out on Nicole Kidman’s chest.

Part of the problem is that  I’ve made the jump from ‘beginner’ baker to   ‘mediocre’ baker. I don’t suffer amusing, blog-able disasters but neither am I producing wonderful artisanal loaves that I want to show-off to my world (all 9 readers of it).

I’ve got some fun bread projects planned for the next few weeks but  first  of all here’s a quick recap of the last 6 months of my life. Rock and roll!

Rosemary Focaccia – Baker’s Illustrated
Focaccia
A nice recipe courtesy of w. It tasted a bit plain on it’s own. However when combined with the wife’s amazing Curried Apple and Potato soup this bread tasted amazing.

Pane Siciliano – The Bread Baker’s Apprentice
Pane Siciliano
An interesting recipe, the dough has semolina flour as a main ingredient. The dough is rolled into a long tube like rolling out playdough. Then you coil it back into a dollar sign and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Playdough is fun. Unfortunately, I had a bit too much fun and over handled the dough resulting in some loss of rise. The loaf had a slightly grainy texture due to the semolina. I don’t much like semolina so I can’t really judge whether this was a success.

Foccacia with Goat’s Cheese and Parmesan – The Bread Baker’s Apprentice
Focaccia Fail
When I said that I no longer suffer amusing blogable disasters, I was being only partially truthful. The foccacia recipe from Baker’s Illustrated lacked a really good ‘olive oil’  wallop. The Bread Baker’s Apprentice recipe is much  more sinful with the dough left to rise in what can best be described as a pool of herby, olive oil.

I made a serious error when shaping this loaf. Instead of folding and sealing the wet dough to give it strength, I was lazy and just plonked it on a tray. The yeast became active but the bubbles of gas floated to the surface of the dough and popped. As you can see the eventual bread was  flat, mushy and completely saturated in olive oil. The oil stains are running down my chopping board. My choice of goat’s cheese and parmesan topping was sickening. Epic fail (but kind of yummy).

Pain de Campagne – The Bread Baker’s Apprentice
Pain de Campagne
My favorite everyday type of loaf. I bake this regularly. It’s a simple  rustic, white loaf but with the addition of some fermented dough. Great crust, great airy texture and an interesting but not overpowering flavour.

On this occasion I was using the bread to make brushetta. Check out all them  juicy, tomatoes in my girly,  mixing bowl. Nice!

Potato Rosemary Bread – The Bread Baker’s Apprentice
Potatoe Rosemary Bread
I made this bread for a family party.

Me: “This is an Italian style bread with olive oil, rosemary and potatoe. Help yourself to the olive oil and….”
Brother in law: “Potato! I don’t see any potato. Where’s the potato?”
Me: “It’s in the bread.” (?)
“So yeah, there’s some balsamic vinegar and….”
BIL: “Where? I can’t see it.”
Me: (Swallowing my irritation). The potato has been mashed and  mixed with the dough. You can’t actually see it. But you should notice a difference in the texture and taste of the bread”.
BIL: “Humph!” (Uses his fork and spoon to pull apart his slice of bread, peering at it suspiciously)
“What about this spot here! Is this potato?”
Me: “NO! (Head it hands). ….No, it’s just a spot of flour.

Italian Bread with Mushroom
Italian Bread with Mushroom
Garlicy mushrooms in an Italian loaf. Delish.

Of Purity and Purpose and Pizza

This blog is about bread. There shall be no posts on raspberry meringues nor recipes for choco-licious biscuits. It will be a cold day in hell before I bake a tiramisu or post pretty pictures of fairy cakes with frosted pink icing.

That being said I do occasionally compromise these principles in some vain attempt to win over the wife. This week I’ve attempted to impress her with home made pizza. We share happy memories of Italy and only last year passed through Naples and Sicily on our honeymoon. An educated palate however is not the same as a discerning palate. Her favourite purvayor of pizza remains the pizza delivery guy from our local Pizza Hut.

Here’s my attempt at New York style pizza following a recipe from American Pie by Peter Reinhart.

American Pie
[An excellent book. I recommend it highly]

Pizza No. 1

New York Style Pizza

My review
A very tasty pizza. It’s about the standard of a decent independent pizzeria. However, it’s miles away from being an outstanding pizza.

Pizza No. 2
This attempt didn’t turn out quite so well.
I spent too much time pulling and dragging at the dough. In the end I achieved a thin base but also squeezed out most of the gas. But my really big mistake was in not waiting for the oven to fully reheat. I tried to compensate with a little extra cooking time but this just turned the crust to cardboard.

I gave this pizza to the wife. I’m not always Mr Nice Guy.

Wife’s review
When you’ve got nothing nice to say it’s better to say nothing at all. I think she had a hard time chewing the ‘cardboard’ base and an even worse time swallowing the $20 I’d spent on cheese. A regular pan from Pizza Hut only costs $14 bucks so I’d lost the battle before I even began.

[Kneadyguy’s two cents on pizza: For me, the difference between good pizza and awesome pizza is the crust. Great pizza is bread-like at the rim with charred, cracking skin and big pockets of air. It has a mild, rustic taste and a sweet, smoky aroma.
Or, in the case of Pizza Hut it’s stuffed with processed cheese. Either type is great]

Kneadyguy’s Pain de Crap-agnard

A fortnight ago I received a comment from W. This was remarkable because it was the first comment from someone who isn’t either family or a close friend. It’s starting to feel like I’ve got a proper blog going on here.

W and I have been corresponding back and forth and she has generously lent me two interesting books on the subject of baking.

I’ve started with Pain de Campagnard from The Bread Bible. This is a wholemeal and rye loaf built from a three day old sponge starter.

Kneadyguy’s Pain de Campagnard
kneadyboy's

My review
A floor tile of uneatable crap!
End review

Sigh, this was meant to be a normal round rustic loaf. My dough was just very, very wet. I couldn’t knead it, fold it or shape it. It regressed into a gloopy puddle whenever I tried to handle it. You can see from the picture what happened when I put it onto the baking tray.

I’m guessing that I made a mistake somewhere with the amounts. It’s an American recipe so everything is measured in those God damned American cup measures.

Perhaps I could pretend it is a very large homemade biscuit.

Pain de Crap-agnard

Isn’t that just pizza dude?

I’m turning 30 this year and I’ve started to notice certain lifestyle changes; baking bread, growing herbs, socialising at dinner parties. I’m a pretty dull guy. That’s not to say that sex, drugs and rock and roll featured prominently in my twenties, but they did at least seem like more pressing concerns.

Lately the wife and I have become part of the dinner party circut. If you are in a relationship, don’t have kids and recognise brand names like Waitrose, then you’ll be familiar with this scene. The evening begins at around 8pm when you and your partner arrive to find the hosts nervously stirring a giant pot of stock made from the gizzards of French organic chickens, stuffed with virgin shoots of blue mountain tea and a generous cup of extra virgin olive oil pressed by the thighs of Fidel Castro’s youngest daughter. (All ingredients can be sourced from Waitrose.) Everyone drinks too much cheap Australian cabernet sauvignon, smokes Marlborough Lights and somehow $40 worth of Sardinian sheep’s cheese is forgotten about and quickly turns rancid on the coffee table.

So, this is where I am now socially, and I wanted to prepare a few flashy loaves of bread that I could store away in my freezer and then magically conjure up to impress my middle class chums. I opted for Richard Bertinet’s recipe for olive oil bread, stuffed with tomatoe, garlic and basil. I was suitably humbeled by my last disaster so I choose to follow the recipe as given.

Tomatoe, Garlic and Basil Bread
Loaf 7

My review
Appearance: It looks fantastic. Bertinet uses a slightly unusual shaping technique to help ensure that the ingredients are spilling out from the centre.
Crust: Nothing much to speak of but that’s kind of typical of these olive oil breads. Perhaps a little salt would have improved the flavor.
Texture: About medium. Like a normal sandwich bread.
Taste: A bit dull to be honest. The semi sundried tomatoes, basil and caramalised garlic are all delicious but the bread itself is nothing to write home about. I’m getting a bit bored of all these gimmicky breads. I could buy something just as tasty and superficial from one of the crazy local bakeries like Breadtalk.

Brother in Law’s Review
BiL: “This bread has got…..stuff in it!”
Alec: “Ermm, ……yesss???”
BiL: “There’s too much garlic”. (Poking at a clove of garlic with his knife.)
Alec: “Oh, the garlic was roasted for 40 mins before I added it to the dough. You’ll find that the flavour is quite sweet and mild.”
BiL: “Humph!” (By now, examining his slice of bread like a pathologist examining a decomposed liver on CSI.)
BiL: “Look! This bit is damp and gooey. Has it been cooked properly? Is it safe to eat?!”
Me: “That is a drizzle of olive oil”.

Dilbert

During my surfing of the internet I’ve noticed that this dill bread recipe is very popular. It’s just a straightforward, white bread with the addition of onion, dill and lots of cream cheese. With so many delicious ingredients it would be hard to go wrong. And as luck would have it, I’ve a constant supply of fresh dill growing on my front balcony. The wife and I have recently started a small herb garden. I suspect she is trying to divert my new enthusiasm for growing strange things.

After my last couple of successes, I started this recipe feeling very confident indeed. I cast my experienced eye over the recipe and thought to myself, “No, no. this is all wrong. It’s a recipe for amateurs. There’s far too much yeast. Let’s cut back on the gunpowder and instead grow an aggresive sponge starter. Eh, and what’s this? Just one rising and a proving of one and a half hours each. This is clearly meant for Jamie Oliver fanboys. Let’s give it two risings with one being for 24hrs in the fridge. That will give the bread time to develop an interesting bubbly texture.
Oh and this presentation – euuhhh. Bread tins! God I hate bread tin. So naff and Northern European.”

So, I decide to bake half the dough in a bread tin and the other half as a country style loaf directly on the baking stone. Sexy baking stone = Sexy bread. Unsurprisingly it was a disaster from start to finish. During the first rising, the dough almost exploded due to my TNT sponge starter. The second rising was fast but at least under control. The final proving, well the dough just gave up. The weight of lifting all that cheese a third time was too much for the glutens.

I knew things were going badly but my ego was determined that I would somehow improve the recipe. So for the sake of a little decoration, I decided to cut a slit accross the top of the loaf and dust with a little white flour. There was a slow hissing/farting noise and the dough sank another half inch in exhausted protest.

The end result was, unsurprisingly, a tad heavy. Oh, and that other loaf I cooked directly on the stone, well the cheese burnt and turned black in the first five mins.

Scandanavian Dill Bread
(Sorry. I forgot to take pictures.)

My review
Appearance:
Looks like a yellow brick.
Crust:
None worth speaking of. The burnt pieces of onion tasted quite bitter.
Texture:
Tastes like a yellow brick.
Taste:
Basically a boring white loaf. The nuggets of onion hidden inside are tasty. I can’t really taste the dill.

Wife’s review:
Appearance:
“That’s a lot of bread.” (Looking very unenthusiastic)
Texture:
“It’s too cakey.”
Taste:
“You used a WHOLE tub of cream cheese! How much did that cost? “
“Stop adding cheese to your doughs. The breads always turns out tasting of that artificial cheese flavouring you get with cheesy crackers.”

We only managed to eat about half of this loaf but I’ve processed the remainder into breadcrumbs and stored them in the freezer. With all that cheese, onion and dill they should make a tasty coating for fish.

Bad-guettes

My blogging hasn’t been keeping pace with my baking over the last few weeks. I’m going to quickly describe my three most recent experiments. I worry though that these constant reviews of my breads are become a bit samey. Also it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find good material for my review section. My wife has become wise to my writing style and is now cagier when reviewing my culinary cock ups.

So from next week you should see some changes to this blog. Hopefully I’ll find a half decent photo to use as my banner. That would make a colossal improvement right away. I’d also like to create a section dedicated to the baking techniques that I’ve acquired, so that you my readers can emulate my mouldy, half risen, crustless, arse shaped wonders. Perhaps I’ll also post some material on bread culture in Singapore. I’ll be out on the streets testing whether my appreciation of pre-ferments can earn this lame white-boy some respect in the backstreet bakeries of Joo Chiat and Geylang. But for now…..

Baguettes with Fermented Dough
TV dinner
TV dinner par excellence. Crusty bread served with the wife’s home cooked carrot, orange and cumin soup.

For this loaf I’ve followed Richard Bertinet’s reipe for french baguettes. However my oven is barely long enough to bake a french breadstick. So instead I’ve shaped the dough into batards as per normal. Like my last loaf this recipe is another long, drawn out affair with lumps of dough left for long periods in our family fridge to grow, become smelly and change colour. Happy husband, unhappy wife. The major difference is that this time I’ve used a ferment instead of a poolish. The result is a loaf almost identical to my previous attempt but with a darker chestnut brown crust. It has the same light texture and a delicious dept of flavor.

Into the bread bin – Loaf 4

I FOUND A BAKING STONE!!!!!!

For baking bliss just go to Spotlight in Plaza Sing and ask for a pizza stone. You read it here first. Unless, of course, you read about it on the Singapore Expat forums just like I did. I couldn’t wait to try out my new, sexy baking stone so I decided to experiment using some of the crap dough still sitting in my fridge since my last post. “If the dough is unworkable I can always cut it into rolls.” I reasoned.  

White Bread from a Hoegarden Poolish.

Loaf 4

And somehow I’ve been saved.
Unbelievably, yesterday’s dough came together beautifully during the twenty four hours it spent in the fridge. If God turns out to be as forgiving as strong white bread flour then we’re all going to rise on the second day.

My review:
Appearance: Another set of conjoined twins. I slid the first loaf into the centre of the baking stone, paused to savor the magic, and then realized I’d left myself little or no space for the second loaf.  F#$%!! I squeezed the second loaf alongside as best I could and shut the door to prevent it from falling out. Still, overall I’m quite happy with the final results. The loaves are an appealing golden brown hue and have split along the center just the way I hoped for.
Crust: The loaves emerged from the oven with a thin but crunchy crust. The baking stone helped with crust formation on the base. However, after thirty minutes of cooling the crust had already softened. I expect that this was due to the warmth and humidity which blights every aspect of life in Singapore. If anyone has a suggestion on how to maintain the crisp crust then please let me know.
Loaf 4b
Texture: Fantastic. Look at those lovely large gas pockets. The bread is airier than my views on the American presidential elections. The baking stone seems to have given a nice bit of extra oven spring but the big difference came from the use of a poolish. I’ll describe poolishes at greater length in a future post. The one I used was a simple mixture of flour, yeast and Hoegarden all left to ferment together overnight.
Taste: The extra fermentation also improved the flavor of the bread. It has a faintly sour taste just like you get with the good quality baguettes or rustic loaves.

Wife’s review:

Context: The night before making the dough, I prepared the poolish. In my nerdy enthusiasm, I happily prattled on to my wife about the benefits I was hoping for:

Me: “….and then you leave the poolish in the fridge to ferment over night. This slows the growth of the yeast thereby giving more time for lactobacillus and other bacteria to grow and develop the flavors….”
Wife: “Deeeeeeaarrrrrrrr. I don’t want you growing stuff in our fridge.”
Me: “Nonsense. It’s perfectly safe, I’ve read about it in a book. When it comes to our kitchen, I know exactly what I’m doing.”
Wife: “Where is our stove top lighter?”
Me: “I don’t know. I seem to have lost it.”

Her review comments and their meanings.
“It tastes like those fancy artisan breads”. (It’s tasty but I refuse to encourage further biological experiments.)
“I liked the olive bread”. (…..which didn’t involve growing yucky things in our fridge.)
“How about a fruit smoothy?” (God, I’d better use up all the fruit in our fridge. Christ only knows what’s started growing on it by now.)