Friday, April 30, 2010

Hot Cross Buns!

Well, there is a lot that could be said about Hot Cross Buns, but then, I have a very juvenile mind. I have heard of them, and sang the song as a kid, but to the best of my knowledge I have never actually seen one. My Darling Wife assures me that have seen them in Ireland. I have certainly never tasted one.
Hot Cross Buns were the very first bread in the Mellow Bakers Group. It was their March bread, and seeing that April is nearly over, today being the 30th, I thought it was time to learn the bread that goes with the nursery rhyme. I am attaching the link above so that those of you that are interested in baking can find your way to the friendliest, most laid back site on the web. Also, so that you can see what HCB's are supposed to look like! At this stage, my dough is going through it's first fermentation. I was fortunate enough to read that the recipe in "BREAD" - our bible for this venture - has enough of the cross paste for several armies. So, I will cut way back as well.
This is the yeast and milk mixture, one picture a half hour later than the other.

This is what the dough looks like so far. It just went into the microwave (off, of course) to warm and sit for an hour. On the right, an hour later.

After an hour, the dough was divided. If you look at the picture below, you will see a long fillet knife on the side of the dough. I am pretty fond of that knife. I bought a Gerber fillet knife and liked it so much I bought one of each size. This one is my Halibut knife - a very useful thing for filleting a 150 lb. fish or dividing dough!

I digress...


I went to the SHOT show (shooting, hunting, outdoor trades) in Vegas a few years ago. There was a tent set up in the convention center, and Chuck Buck was in there, taking a dollar donation for charity and giving out small Buck pocket knives. A good deal, and I like Buck knives, but there was a huge line of fans waiting to see 'the' Chuck Buck. I was standing outside when a fellow walked up to me and asked if I was going to get in line for a knife. I replied, no, it seemed like a long line. Plus, I added, I had just bought seven Gerber fillet knives - one in every size they made - and I was really happy with my knives right now. The guy grinned, stuck out his hand for me to shake and said, "That's great to hear. I'm Pete Gerber." as he handed me a beautiful Gerber folding hunter. Whoo Hoo! Score!

Right, I show the second paste I made. The first time I made this recipe I reduced the amounts, but for some reason my math was off and the paste I had was kinda runny. It ended up becoming a surfactant glaze over the whole bun. You could not see any cross at all.

So, we suffered through this tragedy and ate them anyway. The second batch of paste was made of stiffer stock!

Below left are the proofed buns with the paste applied. I did not have a piping bag - I am new to this whole baking world, after all, so I spooned the paste into a ZipLock bag and cut off a corner tip. It worked OK in a pinch!

Below right are some buns before glazing.

And finally, the finished product! Success!

Friday, April 23, 2010

It may not be Heaven, but it's pretty good!

Well, I finally have it all. So far. For now.

Everything I need to start with Paul's Mellow Bakers!

I have 'the book', have the ingredients, and finally, desperately, I had time.

And best of all, Sister gave me a new scale to work by! Whoo Hoo!

Now it is time to start posting, and with a little effort, that fresh bread upstairs will all be eaten by the time I finish this posting stuff. I mean, what is left of it.

(Yes, I am eating some right now.)

I tried the "Light Rye" first, since it was what I was the hungriest for; also, I just had to use some sourdough starter. Have I introduced Gladass yet? I have had some sourdough starter going for a few months now. A few months? Maybe I should give the time in pounds, because they seem to correspond with one another.

I have had my own pet sourdough starter named Gladass for at least ten pounds now, and I try to feed her regularly.

And yes, I did it the hard way. I initially created one of the most foul-smelling things in the house besides my hiking boots. It took a while, but eventually the 'good' bugs outgrew the 'bad' bugs and we started to make some wonderful breads.

Back to the Light Rye, then. Here is what the book simply labels 'sourdough', a combination of water, rye flour, and some mature starter. By the way, Gladass hates that term mature. Don't use that term around her if you expect to get a raise around this house...

It seemed awfully dry, but I remember reading that sourdough does wonderful things with Rye, and sure enough by the time I tasted it the next morning it had developed quite a tangy flavor.

Yeah, I tasted raw starter.

How else are you going to know?

So, let's just say that I had my doubts about this recipe being anything but another loaf of bread. But, when it was mixing
it really showed some significant strength.

It started out looking too dry, but soon the gluten developed and everything just kinda came together. Looked right, felt right, it was really kind of cool. I sealed it up in a bowl for the 1 hour bulk ferment period called for by Hamelman. And yes, there is plastic wrap on there, and yes, my photo skills are mediocre.

After the hour was up, I folded and shaped it into two small loaves. Frankly, I folded it more than once, because it was kind of fun. Also, I have been making so much sour dough, that I did not assume for as much 'oven spring' as I got. This left me with rather short, but very tall loaves:

Have I introduced my stove, Luke? It started out as 'Mephistopheles', but I could never spell that in a hurry, and 'Lucifer' seemed overworked, so Luke it is. Luke tends to run about 30 degrees hotter than the indicator dial says... ...and once again, he scorched the tops a little bit.

But the girls did not seem to mind...

Friday, April 16, 2010

And so it begins...

Er... ...Hi.

I am now joining the millions of bloggers out there.

This is intended to be a blog about my interests, opinions, hobbies, and life.

If I offend anyone, well, sorry about that; I do tend to rant on occasion!

One of the first hobbies to be explored is bread baking.

In the 1960's my mother was a well known bread baker in our little town, and I have vivid memories of how she hand made the bread that we sold on the sidewalk every Saturday morning. This was done primarily because she wanted to buy a Kitchenaid mixer, which seems a little crazy to me at this point. But, she hand-kneaded a lot of bread and sold it at 50 cents a loaf to buy a mixer that would let her stop kneading bread by hand.

Before she died, my mother became a towboat cook. This was a job that brought her immense satisfaction and purpose, along with some requisite grumbling rights. It also taught her that there are lots of foods and lots of food ideas in this world.

But my Sister is an excellent baker and cook as well. Her siblings and friends all knew she was an excellent baker; it was expected, after all. For some strange reason, most everyone who knew our mother was singularly unimpressed at just how good my Sister is; I guess, because they think that she 'comes by it naturally'.

Do not let me mislead you; my Sister did not get a great deal of training from my mother. In fact, our mother was pretty good about not passing on information like that. "Here, use this much." she might say as she tossed a bare handful of ingredients to the mix. "Uh, how much was that?" we would ask, and she would smile and say, " ...a handful." My Sister learned on her own.

I will talk lots more about my Sister later, because I adore her, and she is an incredibly complex and interesting woman, but I told you all of the above just to explain some of my motivation in starting a blog.

While I can be normally be obsessive, nothing motivates crazed activity like fear. I was laid off from work last year, like so many others in the US. While I was off, I built decks, patios, a drive in parking spot for my boat, and then one day I simply ran out of purpose.

In frustration and hunger, I learned to make a lemon pie. I watched Alton Brown's excellent You-tube video several times, and biked back and forth to the local grocery stores, buying lemons and butter and lard. When I got to the point of making a dozen pies a day, and the neighbors were starting to close their blinds when they saw me coming, pie in hand, well, I guess that is when I realized that I liked making food. A lot.

Odd thing, though, was that when I made food, friends and neighbors were somehow shocked and surprised. "That is pretty amazing - for a guy." Not sure how my sister felt about that, but she never stepped on my ego. She requested pies for the holidays, gushed about my crusts, and never let on what everyone knew: She had already been there and done that. Better than I could, too.

My wife kept my ego at bay, though. Once, when I ran short a quarter cup of fresh lemon juice, I substituted bottled lemon juice in with the fresh squeezed. She bit into a slice of pie that night, spat it out, and said, "What? You are using chemical lemons now?"

So with that glimpse at my background, this first post is dedicated to three women in my life. First, my mother, for showing by example that recipes do not control cooking. Second, my Sister, for showing me that unsung heroes are heroes all the same. And to my wife, for gently but firmly keeping me honest, and for buying a "Grown-ass Man" a Kitchenaid mixer!