Thursday, February 26, 2009

I love you, Olive Oyl

Okay, so I may not be Popeye, but I am loving the ABin5 Olive Oil Bread a lot lately. For instance, just yesterday I had a wonderful little picnic spread right at my desk. What was on the menu you ask? Like many things, it started with a sandwich: crusty olive oil bread moistened with an olive oil/balsamic vinegar dressing and stuffed with salami, Laughing Cow cheese and lots of arugula. All the components were laid out on a paper towel placemat, and I sensed hungry coworker eyes coveting my lunch. Someday when summer comes, a ripe tomato and a slab of mozzarella would be good additions to this sandwich. Oh, and then for dessert, a warm slice of apfelkuchen from my secret stash. My new happy meal!

Olive Oil Bread
adapted from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day

As with other ABin5 breads, I'm assuming this bread's not a good keeper. But in my house it's always gone within a day, so I can't really say. It's great for pizza and other flatbreads, too.

2.75-3 c. lukewarm water
1.5 tbsp yeast
1.5 tbsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
925 g unbleached all-purpose flour

Mix the lukewarm water, yeast, salt, sugar and olive oil together in a 6-qt. container. Add the flour and mix into the liquids with a sturdy wooden spoon or your hands until fully incorporated. The dough will look lumpy. If the dough seems very stiff, add a little more lukewarm water (note: this dough is not as slack as the ABin5 Basic Boule). Cover the container with a non-airtight lid and let sit at room temperature for about 2 hours, where it can do its rising/collapsing thing. Refrigerate in the lidded container and use over the next 12 days.

Sprinkle cornmeal generously on an 8" or so piece of parchment and set aside. Cut off a hunk of dough about the size of a grapefruit. Sprinkle flour on the dough and quickly smooth the surface while shaping it into a round, taut ball -- start by cupping your hands lightly on the top of the dough and bringing them together at the bottom, pulling the surface of the dough into a smooth skin. Do this a few times, giving the dough a quarter turn each time. You may need to twist together the excess dough that's collected on the bottom (like turning a knob). Place the dough on the parchment and let it rest for about 1 hour. Preheat the oven and baking tile at 450°F, 30 minutes before baking.

Make at least two 1/2" deep slashes on the top of the dough. Transfer the dough and parchment onto the baking tile. Cover the dough with a 4" deep disposable aluminum roasting pan, that's large enough to accommodate the dough's expansion. After 20 minutes, remove the pan and slide the parchment out from under the dough. Bake for approximately 25-30 minutes more; it is done when the crust is a beautiful golden brown (also, internal temp. of 210-220°F). Allow the loaf to cool on a rack. Warning: this is when it's most likely to vanish into thin air.

Optional dough additions to try: 2 tsp. of dried Italian herbs, 3 tbsp. of grated parmesan cheese

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Damn good flourless chocolate orange cake

This recipe in various forms has been floating around the internet for a while, but it's still an excellent, can't fail cake that someone with a sophisticated palate will enjoy... and you DO have one of those, don't you? Now don't be put off by my horrid cake decorating -- after all, it was for home consumption and I just could not resist the opportunity to do something fun (see Play With Your Food). The cake has simple but strong flavors, blending the bitterness and intensity of whole oranges with the mellowness of cocoa powder, some tooth supplied by the ground almonds and all of it topped with the satisfying sweetness of dark chocolate ganache. I've been using Pernigotti cocoa powder (it's not Dutch, it's Italian!) and think it adds an extra dimension of chocolateyness. Surprisingly, I make the cake fairly regularly -- in between the brownie and fruit pie seasons. This recipe came from the Esurientes - The Comfort Zone blog (which sadly may be abandoned), and has very good instructions and pictures. Check out the original post, from July 15, 2005 here. I've added my own notes of course, and yes I am a weighing baker, so no conversions for you!

Flourless Chocolate Orange Cake
Inspired by both Claudia Roden & Nigella Lawson

Whole seedless Oranges, approx 375 g (about 2 large)
6 eggs
1 heaping tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
200 g ground toasted almonds
150 g caster sugar
50 g Dutch cocoa

200 g very dark chocolate
200 ml heavy cream

Put the whole, unpeeled oranges in a saucepan with cold water to cover and bring to the boil. Cover with a lid and cook for about 2 hours or until soft (poke with a fork, like potatoes). Drain, and when cool, cut the oranges in quarters and remove anything that won't easily puree like seeds, giant hunks of pithy stem ends, etc. Place the quartered oranges -- peel, pith and all -- in a food processor and process until smooth. Often it's best to complete the cooking of the fruit the day before. I usually boil and process several oranges at once, measuring out 375g for this recipe, then freezing the rest of the puree for future use.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Use cooking spray or grease the inside of an 8" (20cm) dia. springform pan, and lay a parchment circle on the bottom. Add the eggs, baking powder, baking soda, almonds, sugar and cocoa to the oranges in the food processor. Process until you have what looks like a cake mixture with maybe a few knobbly bits of orange. Pour and scrape into the pan and bake for one hour, by which time a skewer should emerge fairly clean. Start checking after 45 minutes, as you may have to cover with foil to stop the surface from burning. Let the cake cool before attempting to remove it from the pan. To make the ganache, heat the cream until scalding hot and add the chocolate off the heat. Mix until combined, then whisk until the mixture cools and becomes thick and glossy. Apply the ganache with a spatula or cake knife, and decorate with pieces of orange peel or whatever else strikes your fancy if you're planning to eat it at home. Sometimes I pipe little dots or swirls with the leftover orange puree, but very sparingly because it's quite bitter (not unlike the cook!).

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Let them eat apfelkuchen

Sorry, there are no luscious pictures of my cake. Remember my ABin5 challah/brioche dough sitting in the fridge? Well, I was wondering what to make with it when I came across this post for Apfelkuchen (das Apple Cake) at OnlinePastryChef's terrific blog, Pastry Methods and Techniques.

I made two apfelkuchens, one for home and one for the office. Coworkers passed by, murmuring "it was to die for" and "mmm... apples, cheese" in their sugar-butter-yeast-fruit-cheese induced stupor. Nothing I've brought in has ever disappeared so fast (except birthday cakes, which is more akin to force feeding). And as you might guess I think I'm a pretty good baker. Let's see, I've brought in cinnamon rolls, sticky buns, fruit pies, all kinds of breads, cookies... and not those crappy kitchen mistakes, either. Are you getting the idea? This apfelkuchen was gone like it never even existed. But I knew it did, because not too long after setting the plate down in the kitchen, someone was bringing the clean plate back to me.

So I don't have any pictures of the apfelkuchen because it's all gone. You'll have to wait until I make it again. But I urge you, don't wait to make it. And if you want any for yourself, for pete's sake don't take it to work!

Restrained Apfelkuchen
from Pastry Methods and Techniques blog

The Dough
* 2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
* 1.75 oz. sugar (about 1/4 cup)
* 1/2 tsp salt
* 4 oz. whole milk
* 3 oz. butter
* 1 egg, at cool room temperature
* 8-12 oz. unbleached all purpose flour

The Apples
* 3-5 smallish Granny Smith Apples
* 1 TBSP lemon juice
* 1/4 tsp salt
* 1/2 tsp apple pie spice (or cinnamon, nutmeg and a tiny bit of clove)
* 1/2 oz. flour (2 TBSP)
* 2 TBSP sugar

The Cheesecake Part
* 8 oz. cream cheese (1 block), softened
* 1 egg, at cool room temperature
* 1/2 tsp vanilla
* 1/4 tsp salt
* 4 oz. sugar

Lots of parts, I know, but it’s pretty straightforward. Honest. Here’s how it goes:

1. Lightly spray a 9″ spring form pan with some non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.
2. Mix yeast, sugar, salt and about 4 oz. flour in the bowl of your stand mixer.
3. Heat the milk and the butter together. Don’t let it boil. You want it to be decidedly warm, but not hot. If it’s hot, let it cool off a bit. You’re looking for about 125-130 degrees, F.
4. Add the milk mixture and the egg to the mixer and mix with the paddle attachment for a couple of minutes.
5. Add another 4 oz. of flour, a bit at a time, and mix for another couple of minutes. You should have a pretty thick batter/soft dough. Change to the dough hook.
6. With the mixer on medium-low and the dough hook doing its thing, add flour, an ounce at a time until you have a soft dough. It might stick in the bottom of the bowl a bit, but it should clear the sides.
7. Set the mixer on medium and let the dough hook develop the gluten in your very rich dough for about seven minutes or so. At this point, you may wander off to check your email.
8. Once the dough is silky and stretchy, cover it and let it rise for an hour or two, depending on the temperature of the room. Like I said, there’s a lot of fat weighing this dough down, and it’ll take hours to double. I didn’t wait that long, and the dough did not double in size. Too bad; I had a dinner to get to.
9. Once the dough has risen, take it out and press it into the bottom and about 1-11/2″ up the sides of the pan.
10. Prep the apples. Peel and core them, and slice them into 1/4″ slices. Sprinkle them with lemon juice (to prevent browning, and also to add a little extra tartness)
11. Mix all the dry ingredients together, and toss with the apples.
12. Arrange the apples in a moderately attractive manner no more than 2 apple slices thick.
13. Mix the cheesecake portion together. With the paddle attachment, cream the cream cheese until smooth. Add the salt and sugar and cream on medium speed for about a minute. Scrape the bowl often. Add the egg and vanilla and mix until smooth.
14. Pour the cream cheese mixture over the apples, spreading it around with the spatula and making sure that it oogies down into the apples. Don’t let the cream cheese mixture flow over the lip of dough around the outside of the cake.
15. Cover and let rise until the dough is somewhat puffy. I let it hang out for 2 hours. If you were more patient during the first rise, you might only need 45 minutes to an hour.
16. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
17. Bake in the middle of the oven until the sides are a lovely golden brown, most of the cheese mixture is set and there’s just a little wiggliness in the center. The recipe said 30 minutes. The recipe lied. The recipe was a lying liar. I left mine in for close to 50 minutes.
18. When it’s done, take it out and let it cool to warm. Slice and serve.

Things to know:

* If you serve it without letting it chill and then reheating it, the center will still be a bit liquid-y. It will have gotten hot enough in the oven to get rid of pesky bad guys, but if you’re concerned, use pasteurized eggs. The good thing about the liquidy center is that it is like a thick sweetened cream–sort of a self-saucing dessert.
* This isn’t an overly sweet dessert. You can add a little more sugar to the cream cheese mixture and/or to the apples, but I didn’t think it needed it.
* If you do chill this, let it come to room temperature and then warm it in the oven before serving. This dessert is Very Good warm.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

It's Madness I Tell You... More Artisan Bread in 5

Light Wheat Boule, Olive Oil Loaf with Parmesan Cheese, Deli Rye with Caraway & Poppy Seeds
Due to last month's shock-and-awe gas bill, I wanted to try making better use of the oven and baked these three loaves at the same time. Sadly, the two of us weren't able to consume them quick enough, but boy did we give it our best shot. One thing about the ABin5 method is, it's about having your bread on a daily basis. The loaves will not really keep for more than two days after baking. Old bread can be refreshed by placing it in a dampened paper bag and set in a hot oven for a few minutes. But it's probably better to bake only what you need for 2 days' time, freeze the loaves right away, or give some away. Still, it's pretty cool to be able to bake all these different breads at once, don't you think? My new strategy for energy saving is to bake something, anything, before putting the bread in, essentially using the preheat for baking. I've been doing frozen pizza (400°F deg) and brownies (325°F deg) a lot lately. Gods help me.

The oven with a 14" x 26" kiln shelf replacing one standard rack
I love my Bluestar oven. Do you see how nicely it accommodated this latest breadbaking insanity? Rather than having molded-in rack tracks, it has rack guides that just screw into the sides. I was able to buy a kiln shelf from a local pottery supply store that fits into its cavernous cavity just right. It bakes like a mutha, too. Just doesn't have self-clean, a minor drawback.

The fridge with 3 different dough batches going
I just noticed last night that I've gone through a 25 lb. bag of flour lickety split. Hmm, my symmetrical soul thinks one more Cambro container of dough is needed here...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The CatGenie's in the closet

A while back I wrote about how we'd converted a closet into a cat bathroom. Did I forget to mention that the closet was the only substantial storage area in the house, other than the attic? Yes, we (all right, who am I kidding, it's just me) must truly be insane to put cats before storage. In addition to the CatGenie, I ended up caving in to the oldest cat, Cleo (reflected in the mirror). Either she's not keen on using the CatGenie, or doesn't like to share, or decides she needs to go just when the CatGenie starts a cycle. For any of these reasons, she will then proceed to use the bed as her toilet. Thus the Return of the Old Litter Box.

The closet also provides access to the attic for our wild girl Frida, who loves to play up there (we call it "Attica"). I designed the "ladder", and Jim built it with some leftover 3/4" MDF. The 9.5" x 16" shelves were attached by nail gun and wood glue, staggered and set at about 30 deg. angles, to a back panel of MDF. I later de-angled the lowest shelf and Frida seems to like that better as she can pause before for heading up (also, as you can see, the old litter box fits better underneath it). The shelves are topped with a cheap, rubber-backed coir doormat that was sliced up. It took Frida about 30 seconds to figure out the new way to get up into the attic. The coir provides good traction as she leaps up the shelves and through the cutout in the ceiling, and she loves to stretch and scratch it.

The unit only cost about $10, which was for the doormat, and perhaps 2 hours to cut the pieces and assemble it. The sheet of MDF had been purchased for another project, a flip-down notebook computer holder/bookcase that's now installed in front of the treadmill. It's been very rewarding to make these small custom projects. Not only does it give me an opportunity to design something, usually as simply as possible, but the price can't be beat!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Learn a new language this year

This is from a thread on LOLspeak:
so... who actually chooses to talk like this?
Aug 18 2008, 2:07 PM EDT
1) 12 year old adolescent girls?
2) 40+ something or other women who are destined to become the crazy cat lady down the street?
3) Patients from mental Institutions who are granted internet access for taking their meds?
If you guessed I was number 2, you'd be right! But if you're like me, who wasn't good in any language but English, you can resolve to learn a new language this year. May I humbly suggest LOLspeak, Klingon, or even the ancient language Nadsat (from A Clockwork Orange)? Look here, there are handy online translators to help you: English>LOLspeak, English<>Klingon, English>Nadsat. So don't just sit there being all down with your monolingual self -- get out there and learn, especially if you're unemployed. I mean, you never know where this great new skill can take you. Perhaps a job at the new intergalactic penal colony with the ultracool employee milk bar (which naturally attracts cats)?

And speaking of languages... A word to direct marketers: HELLO! It's not the 50s or 60s even. Please, do not assume because my first name is Spanish and my last name is Japanese, that I know either language. It's a waste of paper, printing and postage.