Thursday, October 28, 2010

Challah time!

Sweet, buttery, wonderful challah.  There's not really a lot to say.  

Bonk appétite

3 1/2 cups flour (plus extra for if needed)
2/3 cup warm water (plus extra if needed)2 whole eggs + 1 yolk
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 tsp sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp salt
1 packet active yeast
1/2 tsp baking powder
1-2 Tbs vegetable oil (for coating the bowl)

Mix the flour, salt, and baking soda together in a large bowl and make a well.  Pour 1/2 cup of the warm water into the well, add yeast and sugar.  Mix thoroughly and try to incorporate as little flour as possible.  Let sit for 5-10 minutes, or until foamy.

In a small bowl whisk together the two whole eggs, butter, and honey.  When the yeast has activated, add the egg mixture to the yeast mixture in the large bowl along with the rest of the water.  Stir thoroughly and incorporate all the flour.  Add extra flour or water as necessary to get a dough that is slightly moist, but that does not stick to your hands or table top.  Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes or until indentations in the dough take several seconds to spring back.  I found that challah dough takes very little kneading, this batch only took about 5 minutes, whereas most of my other bread doughs take a good 10 minutes of kneading.  Turn the kneaded dough into a well oiled bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place.

I have a very idiosyncratic way of handling the rising process with challah.  My friend Laurel and I made challah often the summer after I graduated from college and this rising technique was recommended by her.  Let the dough rise 3 times: first, for 30-45 minutes (a little under doubled in size) then punch down and re-knead briefly; second, again for 30-45 minutes, punch down and re-knead briefly; third, for 90+ minutes (until more than doubled in size).

After the dough has risen for a third time, turn out onto your work space, divide the dough into thirds and form the thirds into rounds.  Now is a good time to preheat the oven to 375.  Roll or press out the rounds so that they are relatively flat, then roll the flats into cylinders.  Stretch and roll the cylinders into ropes 10-12 inches long.  Let these sit for a few minutes while the oven finishes preheating.  

In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolk and some warm water together to make the wash.

Braid the ropes together.  I've read that it is best to start from the middle, working out and that 5 twists is plenty, but as you can see from the picture, my braiding advice should be taken with a very large grain of salt. Once you have the loaf formed, brush the egg wash evenly onto the loaf, making sure to cover all the twists and corners.  

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown on top.  You can try reapplying the wash to the loaf in the first 10-12 minutes of baking as the dough rises, though you might need to increase bake time depending on how quickly your oven recovers to 375.  If you are using a baking stone, make sure to use plenty of corn meal as the wash may make the loaf stick.  If you are using a baking sheet, grease it very well.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Pizza Dough

I love pizza as much as anyone.  Maybe more.  So it only made sense to try my hand at making pizza.  I'm happy to say that it has been a successful venture marked by me berating myself for eating too much pizza in one sitting.  The dough recipe is pretty standard and can be modified by adding a 1/4-1/2 cup wine or beer, 1-2 Tbs herbs (oregano or whatever else you have lying about that is savory), or changing the flour content to include some whole wheat (though I have found that this makes for a more difficult time in stretching the dough.)

I have no doubt that my baking technique will leave practiced pizza makers aghast, but hey, I'm working without a peel and have a finicky oven.  Also, I can't seem to find the pictures documenting this venture except for one post-baked and sliced.  Will add more the next time pizza is made.

Bonk appétit!

Basic Pizza Dough

3 cups flour (a finer ground flour will give you a stretchier dough, but all-purpose works just fine.)  If you are adding wine or beer, add 1/2 cup flour per 1/4 cup liquid.
1 cup warm water
1 packet dry active yeast
1 tsp sugar/honey
1 tsp salt
2 Tbs olive oil
1/4-1/2 cup wine or beer (optional) (Again, if you are adding extra liquid to the recipe, you will need to add more flour.)

Makes 3 12 inch crusts.

Add the yeast to the warm water, mix in the sugar and 1Tbs oil and let sit for 5 minutes.  Pour the liquid (and any beer or wine you are using) into a large bowl along with half the flour.  Since I don't mix or knead with a food processor, I usually make a basic sponge and let it sit for about 10-20 minutes before working in the rest of the flour.  To do this, once you have your liquids incorporated into half the flour, stir the mixture vigorously in one direction for about 1-2 minutes.  This will develop the gluten and give the crust some springiness that I find makes it easier to work with when forming the crusts.  Alternatively, you can simply add all the liquid to all the flour and mix throughly to form the dough.  If using the sponge method, add a little bit of flour at a time after the sponge has had time to sit and incorporate to form the dough.

Aim for a dough that is slightly moist.  If your dough is crumbly, add water.  If it is sticky, add flour.  When adding extra flour or water, do so 1 Tbs at a time.

Knead the dough for 10 minutes or until it has lost a bit of its springiness.  I usually test by pushing two fingers into the dough and seeing how quickly it springs back.  I prefer my pizza dough to have more plasticity than bread dough, but not so much that it will be frustrating to form the crusts.  Form the dough into a ball.  Once you are done kneading, coat a large bowl with the remaining oil and turn the dough in the bowl, covering it evenly with oil.  Cover the bowl and let the dough rise in a warm place for 1-2 hours.

You can punch down the dough and let it have a second rise, or form the crusts after a single rise.  Form the dough into a cylinder and cut into 3 equal pieces (if you added extra liquid and flour, you may find that the recipe is better suited to making 4 10inch crusts.)  Cover the pieces and let sit for about 10 minutes.  This short rise usually makes the dough easier to work with.  Pre-heat the oven to 500 degrees.

Roll, pull, or toss the dough to shape.  work on a lightly floured surface so that you may easily transfer the dough to a peel or sheet and then into the oven.  Aim for a crust that is about 1/8 thick.  Even thickness is the goal.  Lightly oil the formed crust, transfer it to a peel or sheet, top and toss it in the oven for 12-15 minutes.

Notes on baking

A hotter oven gives you a nice, crisp crust, but you may find that the pizza is a bit squishy in the middle depending on what your toppings are.  Since I don't have a pizza peel, I've found that transferring a fully topped pizza to the oven results in me cursing a lot and winding up with burns.  So, I sometimes will bake the crust on its own for 5-7 minutes at a lower temperature (450), take it out of the oven, top and then bake at 500 for 5-7 minutes.  I'll report back on how things work when I get my peel.

White/Flax loaf

Bread bread bread

Recently, I've been basking in the joys and smells of bread baking at home.  I'm still learning the ins and outs of amateur bread making, but so far all of the loaves have been tasty (though not always pretty.)  I think a lot of this has to do with my unpredictable Brooklyn apartment oven: runs hotter or colder depending on the alignment of the planets, not incredibly well insulated so heat recovery time is a little weak, etc. etc.

So what I thought I'd do is write a little about my kneading and raising techniques, post a basic recipe or two that I use and then give the rest over to pictures add pictures in later posts.  Comments, critiques, tricks are all welcome.

Starting and Kneading

When I start a loaf, I've been doing one of too things: I either add the activated yeast and water to 1 cup of flour and stir it vigorously for about a minute to develop the gluten, let this sponge rise for about 30 mins, and then add the rest of the flour and knead.  The other way I start a loaf is simply adding the yeast and water to the flour, give it a thorough mixing and a quick knead, let it rise for a few minutes and then get on with the kneading.  

These are both techniques I have read about, though I really have no idea how they affect the final product.  Thoughts?

As far as kneading goes, I'm a fan of working with a moist dough and adding flour throughout the kneading until I have a dough ball that is still slightly moist, but doesn't stick to the work surface or my hands.  I knead for about 10 minutes or until I can push a couple of fingers into the dough and it not spring back immediately.  

Kneading goes thus: flatten the dough with my left hand, stretch the dough with my right (just stretching, no tearing), pull back the dough, quarter turn, repeat.  When the ball has the right amount of springiness, I form a sphere with the dough and work it into a quasi-round shape (great description, I know.)  Basically, I pull the dough with my thumbs and work the dough to the bottom of the ball and knead it back into the center.

Then I let it sit for a couple of hours, covered in a lightly oiled bowl, until the dough has doubled.  Punch the dough down and knead again for a few minutes.  I turn it back into the bowl and let it rise a second time.  


A few weeks ago I decided that it was time to invest in a baking stone.  I don't regret it.  Worth every penny.  

When I bake bread, it is usually a basic loaf and I start it at 450 degrees and may or may not lower the temperature depending on how the loaf looks after 10 minutes.  

I've tried a couple of different baking techniques to get different crusts.  Our oven is not huge and we don't have a large steaming pot, so I haven't yet tried a simulated steam bake.  But I have put a pan of water in the back of the oven to increase the overall humidity.  I also tried spraying the loaf with water every couple of minutes for the first 20 minutes.  As I understand it, a more humid oven simulates a wood burning oven and gives you a crustier loaf.  Again, thoughts, suggestions, tips are always welcome.

Dough Cutting

I've read a lot about cutting the top of a loaf before baking to give the bread room to expand.  This certainly seems to work, though I always wind up with weird alien head loaves rather than a nice round.  Any tips?


Basic White
3.5 cups all purpose or baking flour, plus extra for kneading
1 Tbs butter, softened
1.33 cups warm water
1 packet active yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt

Basic White with flax
Same as above, but substitute .5 cup flax meal for .5 cup flour.

Basic Whole Wheat
Same as above, but substituting some whole wheat flour for the all-purpose.  The more whole wheat that is used, the denser the loaf will be and possibly will require longer baking times.