17 October 2011

America's Best Raisin Bread

I entered my Currant 'Seed'uction Bread into a national competition hosted by the California Raisin Board.  First I mailed in an entry form with the formula, process and a photo.  Last month, I got a call telling me I was a finalist in the competition.

Last week I went to the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas to bake my bread along with the other finalists.  We had 3 hours on the first day to set up and mix bigas, sourdoughs, etc.  The next day , we were given 6 hours to complete our breads.  After all the breads were baked, we stood in line to wait for judging.  The judges asked questions about our breads, our formulas, our inspiration behind the breads and about how we plan to sell/market the loaves.

The winners were announced at a banquet later that evening.  My little loaves won the Grand Prize!!!  Aside from bragging rights, I won an all expense paid trip to California to tour the wine/grape/raisin growing region.

31 August 2011

Currant 'Seed'uction

When I was pregnant with my daughter Josie, my midwife told me to stop eating bread.  I tried the whole "good breads, bad breads" approach but she didn't want to hear it.  She said I need to eat lots of protein and veggies.  Of course I had to find a way to continue eating bread and still have a healthy pregnancy, so I created Josie's Bread, a sprouted grain bread.

Now I have two toddlers and I'm pregnant with my third munchkin.  I don't have quite as much time to sprout grains and grind them into a paste to bake into a bread as I used to but I still want to eat healthy breads.  Currant Seeduction Bread is a new, lower labor, pregnancy friendly loaf.

I used the same levain I use for my miche.  It's rather stiff and comprised of 90% wheat and 10% rye flour.  The final dough is mostly coarse wheat flour with a little white to lighten it up.  Then I packed in toasted seeds: sunflower, sesame, flax, pumpkin and hemp.  I also included a hefty amount of currants for extra zing.  Finally, I topped it off with black strap molasses which is loaded with iron and helps to prevent leg cramps (if you've ever carried a baby, I'm sure you'll understand).

After running the formula through a nutrition analysis, this bread qualifies as an excellent source of energy, fiber, protein and iron.  It is a good source of vitamins B6, potassium, iron, folate (naturally occurring folic acid), zinc, omega 3's and omega 6's.  I think my midwife will approve!

If you would like the recipe, please email me!

I am submitting this bread to YeastSpotting.

My friend Hani was kind enough to take the photos of these loaves.  Visit her blog, Haniela's, to see more beautiful photos of her yummy creations.

12 August 2011

Hazelnut Raisin Baguette

One of my customers requested a baguette with hazelnuts and golden raisins.  After several trials, this is the end result.  My first dough was a basic baguette dough with pre-soaked golden raisins and chopped, toasted hazelnuts.  It didn't pack the flavor punch I was hoping for.  Next, I ground a portion of the nuts and introduced them to the dough in the very beginning of the mix.  I could be making this up, but I think the heat generated during the mixing process helps to pull all the oils out of the ground nuts which imparts more flavor into the dough.

I was much happier with the results after adding the ground hazelnuts but the formula still wasn't quite where I wanted it to be.  I switched from a white poolish to a wheat poolish to add even more nuttiness and texture to the dough.  I also soaked the golden raisins in apricot juice to add more complexity and sweetness to the bread.

The golden raisins disappear into the dough.  Normally, I would want to see them when I cut into the baguette but I like that, through the soaking process, they plump up and burst apart during mixing.  This helps distribute the flavor and it keeps the bread super moist.

The baguette tastes like an upscale peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  The grape flavor from the juicy raisins is the first taste, followed by the earthy, nutty crunch of the toasted hazelnuts.  I drizzled honey on my baguette for breakfast this morning.  It would also be the perfect addition to a cheese plate and it would make an ultra-classy turkey sandwich. 

If you're wondering why there's a stick in the photo, it's because my 3 year old woke during my photo shoot and insisted I take a picture with the stick she brought home from the park yesterday.  How could I turn down that request?!?

After the stick entered the photo, I thought it would be fun to get Josie's help getting one last shot of the whole baguette.  So, in addition to the stick, here are two of the cutest, most helpful, three year old hands in the baking business!

If you have any questions about my breads or if you would like the complete recipe for Hazelnut Raisin Baguettes, please email me.

This post is being submitted to YeastSpotting! 

04 August 2011

the Art of Eating: Article Review

I couldn't have been more excited when I saw the cover of the Spring 2011 issue of the Art of Eating. Pop art brioche!  It doesn't get much better. This quarterly, advertisement free, food literature magazine is based out of Peacham, VT.  I first became acquainted with it while baking at The Patisserie in Milford, PA where it regularly appears on their newsstand.  

Upon receiving the this issue, I immediately skipped to the article "Brioche" by James MacGuire...a man after my own heart.  MacGuire included details about the history, travels and types of brioche along with a recipe and instructions to make your own.  Through his text and dialogues with French bakers, brioche was romanticized in a way that would make Proust (and his madeleine) proud.

He writes: "Within the chestnut-colored exterior lies a yielding delicacy.  So complex is the mix of the buttery fermented flavors of the crumb and the contrasting dark, well-baked toastiness of the crust that brioche is often used as a metaphor to describe yeasty, full-flavored cuvees of Champagne - a compliment to both."

MacGuire also discusses how underrated brioche tends to be.  Pastry chefs are too wrapped up in chocolate and cakes to care about baking a yeasty delicacy.  On the other hand, bread bakers are too consumed with baguettes and sourdoughs to work with a fickle, buttery dough.  Alas, the poor brioche gets stuck in the middle...not quite a bread, not quite a pastry.  MacGuire himself fell into this trap.  In pastry school he admits he was too "busy" to learn how to make brioche.  However, he confesses, "When I did learn to make it, I understood Maurice's [the head baker] insistence that something so delicious yet so simple must be perfect."  This took me straight back to my days at The Culinary Institute of America where I was required to present six perfect brioche a tete in order to graduate.

If you haven't had the pleasure of reading an issue of the Art of Eating, order a copy from their website. You won't be disappointed.  I highly suggest ordering this particular issue as "Brioche" was far and away the best article I have encountered to highlight the joys of eating and baking this special bread.

01 August 2011

Fougasse du Temps Perdu

I'm always looking for creative ways to use extra dough.  Laminated Fougasse is a perfect solution for those of you who have a few chunks of French dough lying around.  I learned this technique from Christian Vabret at a Bread Bakers Guild of America event in 2007.  Vabret is the creator and mastermind behind the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie (World Baking Cup).  It was an honor to attend one of his courses.  He, like many seasoned French bakers, glowed with passion and joy when talking about bread.

Fougasse is a traditional French flat bread.  Just like its cousin, the Italian focaccia, it is often used as a means of getting rid of bits of leftovers.  Most often, fougasse is filled with olives, lardons, cheese, and/or nuts.  My fougasse is a throwback to my grandma's raisin stuffing while embracing the traditional roots of the classic French fougasse, thus..."Fougasse du Temps Perdu" or "Fougasse of Times Past."

I should note, I majored in French in college, during which time we spent no less than 3 days discussing the madeleine scene from Proust's A la Recherche du Temps Perdu.

To assemble this loaf, first, make the filling.  I pureed raisins, caramelized vidalia onions, rendered bacon fat, coarse black pepper, fresh sage, rosemary, and thyme in a food processor.  The resulting paste is a little bit sweet and a little bit savory, just like the stuffing I remember.

Use a one pound scrap of French dough for the base of the fougasse.  Roll the dough into a 12" by 6" rectangle, spread four ounces of the paste onto half of the dough and fold the dough over.  If you've ever laminated puff pastry or croissant dough, it's the same idea.  Press the edges of the dough together to seal in the paste.  Roll the dough into a second rectangle, this time 6"x 18" and fold in thirds toward the center as shown above.  You may need to use a liberal amount of flour when rolling the dough but be sure to brush it off before making the folds.  Let the dough rest for 20 minutes and repeat this step.  

Let the dough rest for an additional 30 minutes before rolling into a 12"x 6" rectangle.  Cut through the rectangle using a pizza cutter or dough knife in the pattern illustrated above.  When you pick the dough up to transfer it onto the peel (I recommend using a piece of parchment as it can be really sticky), pull the cuts open to transform the lump of laminated dough into a beautiful fougasse.  I baked mine at 425°F for about 20 minutes.  It should be slightly puffy and crispy but not too dark.  After it is baked, while it is still hot, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with coarse salt.

This is the perfect bread to present to your host(ess) the next time you're invited over for dinner.  Fougasse is  a very communal loaf.  It's fun to break off pieces and pass around as an appetizer or meal time treat.

If you would like more information about the recipe or procedure for making this fougasse, please email me!

All photos courtesy of my dear friend Hana from Haniela's Food & Photography

I am submitting this bread to The Wild Yeast Blog's weekly YeastSpotting post.

28 July 2011


What could be better than arriving at work to find a plate of warm tamales on your desk?

25 July 2011

Jalapeño Cheddar Corn Bread

This bread instantly became the new staff favorite.  I combined spicy jalapeño peppers, sharp cheddar cheese and whole grain corn meal to make this lovely loaf.  The inspiration came from a traditional Portugese Broa which is a yeasted corn bread.  I've always enjoyed the levity the yeast brings to the texture of the cornbread.  It also lacks the overt sweetness most northeastern cornbread's bear.

The process begins with a polenta-like mixture of boiling water and corn meal.  This sits overnight so the corn can absorb the water and the mixture can cool to room temperature.  I also made a biga eight hours before mixing the final dough.

I tested a variety of different jalapeños: frozen, small diced, sliced, with seeds, without seeds...  I decided I liked the flavor of the fresh, whole peppers while I required the spicy kick obtained by using the seeds and ribs from the pepper's interior.

I cut the peppers in half lengthwise before slicing them into semi-circles.  When I mixed the dough, I combined the flour, biga, soaked cornmeal and water first.  I delayed the yeast addition by 5 minutes and I added the salt 5 minutes after the yeast.  After the dough reached it's full development, I slowly added the shredded sharp cheddar and the sliced jalapeños until they were evenly distributed through the dough.

I rolled the dough into squares, folded the corners into the center and proofed upside down on a bed of cornmeal.  After a couple hours at room temperature, it was ready to flip over and bake in the deck oven.

The interior is soft and flavorful.  This bread is the perfect compliment to chili but being as though it's 100°F outside and I refuse to make chili...I used it for my pulled pork sandwich and it was great.  It also makes a yummy fried egg sandwich in the morning.  Best of all, each serving contains 8 grams of whole grains because of the whole grain corn meal in the dough.  Good for you and tasty - - sounds like a winner to me!

I am submitting this post to Susan from The Wild Yeast Blog for her weekly YeastSpotting segment.  If you would like to know more about my recipe, please email me.

18 July 2011

Another Great Summer Sandwich

I participate in a lunch club at work.  Every Thursday, a different person prepares lunch for the members of the club.  This was last Thursday's lunch.  Grilled chicken, sauteed spinach and marinated peppers on ciabatta bread.   The ciabatta bread worked great because it soaked up the juices in its deep crevices and its crispy crust didn't get mushy.  I highly recommend trying ciabatta for your next summer sandwich.

14 July 2011

Olive Oil Tasting

Alternative title for this post: Yes, Really, I Get Paid for This!  

A few months ago, an olive oil vendor approached us about potentially switching our olive oil to the brand he was peddling.  We use extra virgin olive oil in several of our doughs including a super yummy Rosemary, Olive Oil & Sea Salt loaf.

 If you've never seen a "tote" of oil before, I don't know if you would believe it.  I could never have imagined a tote until I saw one with my own eyes.  We purchase our olive oil in totes which aren't quite as large as a city block but are 100's of times larger than the largest bottle you can purchase at the grocery store.  Our account could make for a decent payday if this particular vendor could land our business.

The oil samples arrived and my collegue, Michael and I were ordered, yes ordered, by our boss to taste them against our current oil to see if they're worth the effort involved in changing vendors.  There were 6-8 different samples in all.  We decided to pick our favorite of the newbies and then compare it to the reigning champ.  Neither of us are experts or even novices in the field of olive oil tasting.  We lined them up and started dipping baguette chunks into each puddle of oil.  I know if we were really serious about this tasting we would have tasted them straight up but we're not that serious and a baguette was as good a base as any.

Normally, I probably wouldn't notice subtleties in olive oil but when you taste several back to back, their differences or flavor notes are, well, notable.  Our observations included, woodsy, earthy, tangy, bitter and mild.  Our favorite oil had the clear flavor of olives with no subtle hints.  Subtle hints of flavor would not come through after the oil is mixed into the dough and the bread is baked.  We really need a strong olive flavor to burst out of the loaf.  When we tasted our pick against our current supply, we were delightfully surprised to find that ours was much better than any of the new oils being proposed.

For now, we'll stick with our current extra virgin olive oil supplier.  We had a great time learning and tasting all of our options.

11 July 2011

Summer Sandwich

This has to be my all-time, favorite summer sandwich.  I have to admit, when it's 90°F outside, I don't do much cooking.  I do spend a lot of time thinking about what to fix for dinner that requires little to no cooking.  This sandwich is my twist on a BLT.  The tomatoes and bacon are present plus I've added roasted turkey and guacamole.  Lettuce doesn't keep well in my house so unless I know we're going to use the whole head in our meal, it rarely gets thrown in the mix.

I prepare the guacamole using minimal ingredients.  This one has jalapenos, avocados, sea salt and lime juice. I mash them together using a mortar and pestle I purchased from Ikea.  I never use a recipe, I just add everything to taste.  If you like your guac spicy, go heavy on the jalapenos.  I did try to dice the jalapenos pretty fine so I wouldn't bite into a chunk of heat while eating my sandwich.

Next, I spread the guacamole on a whole grain bread.  I made this 9-Grain loaf but you can find similar, yummy specimens at Wegman's (7-Grain Sourdough Loaf) or at Super Target (Archer Farms Artisan Harvest Grain Loaf).

I try to build the sandwich so the tomatoes are in the middle.  Layering the roasted turkey first, helps to create a barrier and prevents the bread from getting soggy.  This turkey was thin sliced from the deli counter at my local grocery store.

Next, I add the tomatoes.  These tomatoes were fresh from my local farmers' market.  The tomatoes really make this a seasonal sandwich.  I'm very picky about my tomatoes.  I will only eat them when they are the reddest ripe at the height of the season.  I sliced these as thin as I could.  All the layers create a tall sandwich and I wanted to make sure it was easy to eat.

Finally, I piled the crispy bacon on top.  This bacon also came from my local farmers' market.  It's a lightly smoked, thicker cut.  I like to bake my bacon on a cookie sheet in the oven.  Frying bacon on the stove top with toddlers underfoot is a little cumbersome and nerve-wrecking.  I lay the slices on the sheet so they are just barely touching, put them in the oven at 375°F, and turn them every 6-8 minutes until they're nice and crisp.  Then I make sure to save all the bacon grease for a later recipe (bacon fat makes everything taste better!).

That's it.  To finish, I put the lid on the sandwich and cut it in half.  This is a highly requested item in my house. My kids tend to steal everyone's bacon before they eat the remainder of their sandwiches but the rest of us enjoy the complexity of textures and flavors created in this easy summer treat.

29 June 2011

Name This Bread

Every couple of weeks a new bread is conceived.  Imagine how difficult it would be to pick names for your children if there was one born 25 times a year.  Some are easier than others....a baguette is a baguette.  The loaf pictured above has been particularly difficult for us to moniker.  This is our newest creation...hot out of the oven.  I would love to know what you can come up with because I am at a total loss.

Here are the specifics:

Major Ingredients: Wheat Flour, White Flour, Water, Honey  

Minor Ingredients: Cracked Grains: Red & White Wheats, Spelt, Rye, Corn, Barley; Salt, Yeast, Sourdough Culture

Attributes: Sweet and nutty; soft, slightly open crumb; crisp, caramel-y crust.  Made with a biga.   Retarded for 3-4 hours before baking.  It weighs 14-16oz, is 7-8" in diameter and stands about 4" tall.

Names in the Running: Farmhouse Honey Grain, Country Honey Wheat

I will let you know which name is selected by the end of the week.  I'm sure this is the first of many "Name This Bread," posts to come.

27 June 2011

Polka Dots

My daughter has been talking about her birthday non-stop for quite some time.  She'd wake up every morning and exclaim "today's my birthday," to which I'd reply "no yet."

Then she started asking me when I was going to make her a polka dot cake.  I'm not really sure where the idea of a polka dot cake came from but sure enough the subject came up every single day for the last three months.  It actually made me a little nervous...can I deliver on my soon-to-be-three year old's expectations?  What if I make the polka dots the wrong size or the wrong color?

Finally, June 26th came and Josie's polka dot cake was unveiled.  She was ecstatic to say the least.

After the festivities were over and the atmosphere calmed, I asked "what was your favorite part of the day, Jos?"

"My polka-dot cake, Mommy!"

It's the best feeling in the world to know that all the presents and hullabaloo didn't live up to a little flour, butter, eggs and polka dots!

15 June 2011

Artisan Sliders

Angus Burger with Caramelized Onions and Cheddar

Working overnight leaves few options for food.  Working overnight in a bakery means that you either bring food from home, eat lots of bread, or if you're baking in Chelsea Market, send the new guy to Pop Burger with the bakers' orders.  Pop Burger packages two mini burgers in a little cardboard box.  Their burgers are quite a few notches above what one would purchase at White Castle.  This was my first experience with the slider craze.  Prior to Pop Burger and overnights at Amy's Bread, I never knew sliders existed.

Mini-Tuna Melt

According to Food Channel , mini menu items have increased by 400% from   2007-2010.  American consumers continue to look for smaller, more affordable portion sizes.  Practically speaking,  I enjoy sliders because I can offer my guests several sandwich options.  They are a portion of the commitment an entire burger represents.  My kids love the little guys, too.  I can make them with a whole sandwich they will be able to finish rather than cutting a burger in quarters or, more often, wasting 1/2 a meal.  Finally, they are as cute as can be...affordable and adorable!

Tribeca Oven recently released packaged Artisan Sliders.  I've always been told that adding a pre-fermented dough such as sourdough, poolish, or levain, to the final dough helps to extend shelf life.  During the course of the slider development, this theory was proven to be true.  Adding a "biga" to the challah dough extended the shelf life from two to three days.  Tribeca Oven's slider buns are made using all natural ingredients...flour, water, yeast, salt, egg and oil...the cleanest label around.  These buns are currently for sale at Kroger, nationwide...$2.99 for an 8-pack!

13 June 2011

Conchas Americanas

Normally, I stick to French and English but given 90% of the people I work with speak only Spanish, I figured I should learn sooner rather than later.  My Spanish is broken at best, totally incomprehensible, at worst.  I make an effort to get my point across.  When in doubt, I just replace English words with French words in hopes that the Spanish equivalent is close enough that someone will understand me.  There's definitely a lot of pointing and miming throughout my days.

Food can instantly break down language barriers.  Everyone understands the smiling face of someone who has just eaten a yummy dish.  Bakers the world over, strive to put this grin on the faces of everyone who tastes their breads.  This baker is no different.

My Mexican friends often bring me amazing tamales for lunch.  They watch in awe as I savor every last spicy bite of pollo, masa y chiles.  I guess they figure a girl as white as me can't handle picante!  I thought it would be nice to thank mi amigos the best way I know how...bake them bread.

Conchas are traditional Mexican sweet buns.  They are made with a buttery, milky dough and topped with sugary crusts.  The crust is cut to resemble a sea shell.  "concha" is the Spanish word for shell.  Typically, the shell-shaped crust is brightly colored and it may be flavored with cinnamon.  My version of the Mexican favorite was made with a brioche dough (of course) and a chocolate crust.  I ordered a concha topping cutter but it did not arrive in time for me to use it for my treats.  I cut scallop-edged rings of chocolate sugar dough to top the brioche.  The dough is topped right after the rolls are shaped.  As the buns rise, the crust seals to them.  As you can see in the photo, the crust cracks during the baking process, giving each concha a unique appearance.  Though they may not have been the most traditional buns, my Conchas Americanas were a big hit with the staff.