Cooking Through Ratio: Doughs and Batters – More Bread

The bread bug has bitten me.  After experiencing my first loaf of yeast bread, I’m totally hooked. I even made the sweltering trip to Whole Foods yesterday to pick up some extra yeast in a jar this time so that I would no run out anytime soon. After making a fresh baked baguette, I wanted to employ the ratio to make something a bit different. Michael Ruhlman gives a few suggestions and so I settled on what he describes as a sandwich bread recipe which I could make in my bread loaf tin as a variation.

15 ounces of flour and 9 ounces of water are just the right amount to fill a 9 inch loaf pan while keeping true to the 5 parts flour, 3 parts water ratio. This variation also calls for the addition of 2 tablespoons of butter. I made the dough last night but ran out of time to bake it so it was left to rest and rise in the in the refrigerator over night. Tonight I took it out and let it reach room temperature before forcing out the built up carbon dioxide and redistributing the yeast. It was left to rise again for an hour as I made pasta for dinner.

Just before I filled the bread pan with dough, I removed a small portion to use as a started for a second loaf. Ruhlman asserts that yeast is not a key component of the ratio and that is why it is left out. Given enough time and the right conditions, it will do it’s leavening job, which I intended on experimenting with to find out what my results would be like.

With the oven set at 350 degrees, the bread was put into a greased loaf pan and then put into the oven. What kind of sandwich bread would this make I wondered? As I would soon find out, the answer is the most amazing sandwich bread ever enjoyed by me! Crispy, firm and slightly sweet. Absolutely delicious. The dough variation also calls for applying a light egg wash half way through baking which produced “an appealing crust” as promised. The book is exceeding my expectations already.

Sandwich Bread Loaf
Sandwich Bread Loaf

With my “starter” I worked on the sandwich bread variation again using all the same measurements and procedures. With a little extra coaxing and kneading the dough rose almost as much as the first batch. Not bad at all. For flavoring I opted to add a bit of cinnamon and sugar for a tasty breakfast bread.

After spending a few hours in the kitchen on this hot summer day, the heat was noticeable and yet strangely enjoyable. An hour after I put the second loaf it, it was ready with a crispy brown crust.

Cinnamon Bread Loaf
Cinnamon Bread Loaf

To my surprise, after baking, only the crust was darker with the inclusion of the cinnamon. The inside was unaffected and missing the swirls of cinnamon that I expected to see. Despite my visual disappointment, the taste was all there, not as pronounced as cinnamon loaves I have had in the past, but sweet, subtle and very yummy. I’m now suffering from carb overload. It’s a tough job, but someone must endure the pain.

As an aside, the recent pictures I have taken in my kitchen for this and previous posts are not dim for effect, they just are not working properly after the power company made some “repairs” which resulted in the baking in the dark experience on my birthday. My whole apartment now flickers like a ghetto rental in some old movie. Curse them should these electrical issues extend to affect my stove and/or oven.

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Cooking Through Ratio: Doughs and Batters – Bread

Sliced Baked Baguette
Sliced Baked Baguette

It’s the method that I’m after and so as I mentioned previously, I will be embarking on a journey and cooking my way through Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking in a series entitled Cooking Through Ratio. This post is my first installment in the series.

Bread is one of those things that seems so hard to make. My mother was always “scared” of making bread. She’s a great cook and so making it seemed difficult to me. It’s one of those things that only bakers seem to know how to do. Ruhlman’s  Ratio opens up with bread dough, an interesting challenge for the bread making averse. “Everyone should be able to make bread when they want to, but rarely do we because of the perceived effort involved. When you know the ratio for bread, bread is easy.” (p. 5) I was up for the challenge.

A key component of ratio based cooking is the scale. The reason for this is that it helps produce consistent and repeatable results. It takes the inconsistency out of cooking when dealing with volume based measurements which can vary greatly due to simple changes in aeration or humidity in dry ingredients for example.

The basic ratio for bread dough is 5 parts flour, 3 parts water, some yeast and a bit of salt. This produces a versatile lean dough that can be modified based on the cook’s will to produce many variations.

I had never worked with yeast or bread flour as the basic ratio calls for, and combined with a stand mixer equipped with a dough hook, this was going to going to be a unique experience for me in more ways than one.

Last night, ingredients and hardware ready, I measured out the flour and water inside of the mixing bowl, added yeast and salt and set the mixer on the correct speed (2 in my case) for mixing dough. The mixer went to work and a little over 10 minutes later my dough was mixed and ready to rise. After about an hour, I tended to the dough which had doubled in size, needed it a few times to rework the gluten and redistribute the yeast all inside the mixing bowl. I then covered the bowl with plastic wrap and placed it in the fridge to rest over night.

Tonight I took my dough out and made sure my oven was pre-heated to 450 degrees which was easy and quick to do after just having made stuffed green peppers. I wanted to make a baguette for my first attempt, so I rolled it out on the non-stick cookie sheet I planned to bake it on which was generously floured. I covered the bread with a moist towel and let it rest for 10 minutes while I placed a cast iron skillet into the oven on the lower rack to warm up. This would be used in the next step to create steam.

After 10 minutes, I poured a cup of water into the skillet to create the steam which as the book instructed would help produce a nice crispy, crunchy crust. The sound and amount of steam created was much more than I expected. The kitchen always has its surprises.

For 10 minutes, the bread baked at 450 degrees before lowering the heat to 375 degrees for the remaining 50 minutes. I took the bread out of the oven and knocked on it a few times listening for a hollow sound. The bread delivered.

Baked Baguette
Baked Baguette

Set to cool on my counter a few minutes, I sliced it open and tasted it. This is heaven. The warm slice was so delicious I was actually upset that I did not make more dough for bread later on in the week. Overall I was surprised that something that seemed so hard was actually so simple to make. For a collective 15 minutes of actual work I was able to enjoy fresh bread at home, a pleasure all should experience.

Cooking through this series is going to be a fun endeavor, one which I am glad I took upon myself.

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Luck of the Irish with Soda Bread

For St. Patrick’s day (and my birthday) I wanted to test my skills with something traditional and Irish and with something that I could share afterward. Last night after I got home from the gym I did some searching on the internet for easy Irish recipes and decided on a traditional Irish soda bread recipe, although  technically it was  a recipe for a  “spotted dog” since it had raisins in it.

I setup my work area, preheated my oven and got to work on mixing my dough. Soda bread is interesting because unlike traditional bread where yeat is use to make it rise, bicarbonate of soda (baking soda), an alkaline,  in combination with buttermilk, an acid produce a chemical reaction that creates gas that makes the bread rise. I mixed the dough in a bowl and once kneaded, I placed it into a loaf pan.

Irish Spotted Dog Ready For Baking
Irish Spotted Dog Ready For Baking

With the temperature set at 450 degrees F, I placed my loaf inside the oven and set my timer to countdown to 15 minutes. At 15 minutes I lowered my heat to 400 degrees F where it was to remain for 30 minutes. At 25 minutes to go the power went out in most of my apartment. Mysteriously the bedroom lights worked and the stove was still on. Something tells me I should have paid more attention to the the electric company trucks parked on the street with works moving about. With 13 minutes to go all of my power went out; the timer continued to count down. At this point I didn’t know what to do. I wondered, was my bread ruined? Would it bake correctly or even bake all the way through? Would I have to conceed to defeat? I decided to let the timer count down and after the 30 minutes were over I decided to leave the bread in for another 15 minutes as the temperature continued to fall. I hoped this would be enough to compensate as I had nothing to lose.

When I pulled the bread out, I slid it out of the loaf pan onto a cooling rack. Once cool enough to touch, I picked it up and tapped the bottom and heard the hollow sound that I was looking for. I kept it in tact until morning and then sliced it before bringing it into work to share and get opinions. Overall I and my co-workers were impressed. The flavor was delicious and I was very happy with the result.

Sliced Irish Spotted Dog
Sliced Irish Spotted Dog

Incidentally, the recipe is so easy to make, I was able to whip up another loaf in no time with the lights out that using candle light. A chef is never deterred.

Mixing By Candlelight
Mixing By Candlelight

I wasn’t able to bake it of course since I was without power and so I put the loaf in the fridge to keep with the hope that I might be able to bake it in the morning before work. This wasn’t meant to be and I had to bake it tonight before heading out to dinner. Amazingly I was able to produce another loaf equally as delicious.

Spotted Dog #2
Spotted Dog #2

While I was fortunate with my first loaf, it was a clear reminder that not everything works out as expected in the kitchen and that surprises do pop up. Remaining calm while willing to find a solution to my problem proved to be rewarding.

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