Sunday, January 4, 2015

A New Year of Good Breads

We're back! C&C Artisan Breads spent the holidays in Pittsburgh, where (oddly) the temperatures weren't all that much colder than they were here in Redlands. No snow back east either, so the anticipated "white Christmas" wasn't to be. Alas.

While we were in Pittsburgh, we took some time to introduce folks to the easy and fun work of making a simple loaf of artisan hearth bread. We also shared a bit of the C&C starter with people so they could jump right into baking naturally leavened breads. This is not can create your own starter with flour and water, but it takes a couple of weeks so we brought some starter along to kick things off.

Every year at Thanksgiving my siblings draw names from a hat for the Christmas gift exchange. This year, my brother Matt drew my name, and he got me pretty good. When I unwrapped my gift from him, I assumed it was a joke, since it weighed a ton. Turned out it was (and wasn't) a joke. He got me this behemoth of an iron roaster from Cabela's.  I was pretty excited, but thought it might have been better if he'd had it shipped to Redlands. Ha! I ended up baking a giant loaf of deli rye to go with the Christmas ham. It was one of the finest loaves of bread I've ever baked.

Your baker with a 2 kg loaf of deli rye.
Luckily, we had flown Southwest, so we were able to just check the roaster as one of our checked bags at no added expense. Definitely looking forward to using the roaster for special occasion loaves. It worked really well.

Here's the sliced loaf. The crumb was really nice, and it went pretty fast.

Sliced monster rye.
2014 was a great year! Here's a bit of a "best of" set of photos of last year's breads. We're hoping that 2015 is as good a year as last, with even better versions of our current repertoire and some new breads that will keep the bread share folks on their toes. Happy new year!

Pane al Cioccolato
Seeded Ancient Grain Sourdough
Roasted Potato Fendu
Whole Wheat Country Loaf
Jewish Deli Rye
Spicy Cheese Crackers

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Pane al Cioccolato...Finding a Formula and Method

We're finally recovering from owning up to promises made for the Thanksgiving holiday. Ha! On the Sunday before Thanksgiving, we baked twenty loaves of bread! That's something of a record for us, and the oven was loaded with bread from around four in the morning until five in the afternoon pretty much continuously. Wow! It was challenging, and I figure we baked around fifty two-pound loaves in seven days. Needing to take a week off wasn't such a bad thing. :)

Eight of the Thanksgiving Country Loaves proofing.
As luck would have it, our friends Amir and Clara stopped by on their way back from San Diego after the holiday and brought us two loaves of bread from Con Pane in Point Loma. They were both delicious, but one in particular caught my attention...the Pane al Cioccolato. The bread was sweet but not too sweet, chocolaty without being over-the-top, and definitely a bread, not a cake. We liked it. I do not usually seek out sweet breads, but I thought that this one was pretty nice, so I set about trying to make my own version of it. Three or four attempts later, I'm at something I think merits sharing.

Duplicating a bread you find you enjoy isn't as tough as you might think. For starters (pun intended), you can usually find a formula that people like to begin with. In this case, that formula was one from Carol Field's "The Italian Baker." This formula is for a direct-dough bread, meaning that you mix everything at once. It also used commercial yeast. I would rather use a natural levain, but I thought I'd stick with the program with a small modification; I used a poolish instead of a direct method. Poolish is a preferment. You spike a fraction of the formula's flour and water with a tiny bit of commercial yeast and treat it as a levain. The results were nice.

Pane al Cioccolato with poolish.
But it could be better.

The next version of the loaf, we swapped out honey for sugar, added some whole wheat and vanilla, then began with our natural levain instead of commercial yeast. A tiny bit of yeast was added at the final dough mixing stage. This dough was very slack and sticky, and the bread proofed very slowly, but the results were more tasty than the first iteration (I thought) though it was sort of hard to handle.

Pane al Cioccolato with Natural Levain
In the final version of the formula, we went back to cane sugar, only somewhat less than the original loaf, went with all natural levain, left the yeast out entirely, scaled back the hydration a tad, and modified the baking schedule a bit.  We're pretty happy with this loaf.

All-Natural Levain Pane al Cioccolato
While this loaf rises very slowly, we didn't see any benefit at all to adding the commercial yeast at the end of the mix. We haven't had a chance to get a stamp together for this one yet, so here's the ingredient list:

Pane al Cioccolato:White and Whole Wheat Flour, Water, Semi-Sweet Chocolate, Sugar, Cocoa, Butter, Egg, Salt, Vanilla, Natural Levain.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Roasted Potato and Roasted Garlic Fendu, and the Holidays are Upon Us!

Last week and this weekend were great days for bread. Well, I like to think so, anyway! I like to source my ingredients as locally as possible. Nevermind the discussions/arguments about the moral/social/economic benefits of using locally produced foods...I just think it's rewarding and fun to take the time to grow or find locally-grown foods for my cooking, bread and otherwise. One ingredient I never figured to find locally-grown was wheat, but I was wrong! Abby and Jason at Three Sisters Farm in San Timoteo Canyon, just a few miles from here, grew some hard red wheat which we traded some bread for a sample of and milled. I replaced the usual portion of whole hard red winter wheat we usually use (from Utah) with Three Sisters Farm wheat and the results were delicious! I thought the flavor was noticeably different (and better) than our regular wheat's flavor. We'll be sprouting some of what's left to try that in some experimental loaves as well, and will report back on that test. Exciting stuff! Here's a video of the wheat being winnowed on some antique machinery. Top notch.

Hard Red Wheat from Three Sisters Farm
We didn't have enough of Abby and Jason's wheat to bake it into this week's loaves, but this week's Roasted Potato and Roasted Garlic Fendu includes organic purple stripe garlic from Three Sisters, and is also made with Red La Soda potatoes from Jacinto Farms, just a couple of blocks from my house. Jacino grows here in Redlands, or at least nearby, as they claim that everything they sell comes from within four miles of town.

Three Sisters Farm Garlic, ready for roasting.
Red La Soda Potatoes from Jacinto Farms
Baking and freshly-baked bread smell wonderful. You can imagine what the kitchen smells like every morning. It's fantastic. What could be better? Throw in some roasted garlic. If you scratch your screen, you should be able to smell the roasted garlic in this photo.

Roasted Garlic
The roasted potatoes and the very small amount of olive oil left over from the roasting of the garlic and potatoes conspire to make for a very tender crumb and a soft crust in this week's loaf.

Monday morning's Roasted Potato and Roasted Garlic Fendu
A bad cell phone photo of some tasty snickerdoodles.
This week's breadshare also includes a little Lagniappe...snickerdoodles! My first adventure in baking was snickerdoodles, and at the Diersen house when I was a kid, I was the defacto snickerdoodle baker. I dare say, they were pretty good cookies. The recipe I used then had Crisco as the fat, and I do think there's something to be said for that, but this time I used a new recipe that uses all butter. Butter's a pretty safe bet.  These came out pretty good, but I've had better. Our memory of how good a food was years ago is always skewed. There have even been studies to quantify this, I guess. In the bagel section of his book "The Bread Baker's Apprentice," Peter Reinhart discusses the debate over what's the best bagel, and theorizes that "...nothing can top the taste of memory, but it is quite possible to find and make bagels every bit as good as in yesteryear, though never as good as those of our memories."  I still think they're pretty good, and any snickerdoodles are better than NO snickerdoodles!

Everyone in the bread share will be hearing from us shortly via email about the Thanksgiving holiday and our plans to ensure that everyone gets a loaf for their Thanksgiving table.

It's going to be a busy weekend in the C&C kitchen.

As a parting shot, I can't resist sharing this pan pizza with you. It's Cam's creation and includes gorgonzola, mozzarella, caramelized onions, pears, and I'm not sure what else.  But it was delicious.

Pan pizza with deliciousness.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

A New Loaf in This Week's Share

Happy Sunday!

We hope that this past week's rye was a big hit. We actually managed to sneak a loaf of it in the oven for ourselves, since we'd pretty much run out of bread! What a concept. A morning without toast is the start to a pretty sad day, indeed.

This week we'll be introducing a new loaf! It's still a work in progress, but I figure it's ready for release into the wild for testing and evaluation. We're going to call this one the "Ancient Grain Seeded Sourdough." But it's a lot more than that. It's made with five different flours; unbleached all-purpose flour, high-protein bread flour, and three whole-grain flours that we mill ourselves; hard red winter wheat, organic dark rye, and emmer farro. Emmer farro is the "ancient" part of the bread, as it's an heirloom wheat, which just means that it's not a grain that's been optimized for mega-farm production and mega-mill processing. This particular emmer farro is the last of the Bluebird Grain Farms stuff I picked up when we were in Twisp, Washington a couple of month ago.

These grains are supposed to have all sorts of benefits depending on who you ask. I generally don't trouble myself with the details...I just want to see if it adds something to the bread that makes it worth adding to the mix. I'm sure that emmer, einkorn, spelt, etc. all have unique nutritional benefits. I'm also pretty sure that the "modern" grains, hybridized to be most productive and efficient for the world's white flour demands, are still pretty good for you, especially when milled with the entire grain berry. It's fun to try new things.

Here's what to expect this week!

Ancient Grain Seeded Sourdough
 This loaf was left to open on it's natural seams, per the method popularized of late by Ken Forkish. I think that I'll probably score most of the loaves this week instead of using this approach. It's more fun.

Yesterday we paid a visit to Honeyville in Ranch Cucamonga. I can't tell you how fortunate we are to live near one of only four Honeyville stores in the world. They have a pretty interesting story, which you can read here. They carry a wacky range of stuff that fits into two themes; bulk flour and grains, and emergency preparedness. The two seem to go hand-in-hand. In any event, they are purveyors of truly high quality grain products. Here's 200 pounds of flour to add to what's left of last month's 250-pound order.

I've not had a lot of time to update the blog here this past week as we're in the midst of a massive space-optimizing exercise here at the C&C Ranch. The big project we've been working on lately is creating more space in the garage, which is alternately "somewhat clean" and "impossible to move in" depending on how long it's been since we last organized it. Well, we just finished the second set of shelves, and these are the "big ones" which will up the total shelf space in the garage to soemwhere near 250 square feet. It's hard to get a good photo of these shelves, but here's an attempt. You can actually see the disassembled Berkel Bread Slicer in the foreground. Found a lot of hidden issues with this machine when it was finally fully disassembled, including some truly dangerous electrical jury-riggings. Sigh. At some point, I anticipate that the bread slicer will live right at the front of the base of the "T" section of these shelves. It's going to be a hot one today, so we're going to try to get these shelves populated before the mercury gets up to 90 today. Gads! Isn't it November?
The BIG shelves.

Oh, and I had to share this photo of a happy customer and a snapshot of some bread-related deliciousness. It's gratifying to get cell-phone snapshots of what people are doing with our breads. It's also gratifying to see people capturing people's excitement about the bread. I know I've said it early-on in this blog, but I never tire of people's excitement about the bread. Your opinions about the quality of our product really matters to us. Criticisms are welcome. They might not change the end product, but they're definitely given due consideration. Accolades are also welcome, of course. Your stories about how you, your family, and your friends enjoy our breads are the highlight of my day. Really. I never tire of it. Bread is such a simple, fundamental pleasure to make, eat, and share. Sharing and facilitating that experience with all of you is very rewarding.

Ben's Country Loaf with Avocado
A (perhaps somewhat too) happy customer with her Country Loaf. Ha!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Back to the Country Loaf, and the Lagniappe...

It's the last week of the first month of the bread share, and as a thank you to the charter members of the share, we're throwing in a little something extra; the lagniappe. I was always familiar with the concept...the little something extra, a thank you of sorts. The "baker's dozen," for example. But I never knew it had a name until I got to the end of Ken Forkish's book "Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast," where Ken describes the concept, more of which can be read here. I don't even know how to correctly pronounce the word, but I like it.

When I tried to think of something that everyone would like, the first thing that came to mind was cheese crackers. I admit it, I'm a big fan of CHEEZ-IT crackers. They have powered me up (and been the reward atop) many a mountain. They're great food for climbing and hiking; lots of carbs, fat, and salt.

Spicy Cheese Crackers
But they could be better. I've made probably a couple dozen batches of these crackers, a variation on the theme that can be found on Joy the Baker's site here, and on Chef John's blog here. These are a truly simple food. Cheese, flour, butter, spices, a drop or two of water. Quality ingredients are only half the battle though, as like biscuits, good crackers are mostly all in the method.
Hard living outside the Chimayo store.

I used three cheeses this time, extra sharp cheddar, longhorn colby, and asiago. You can use whatever you want. You'll probably notice a little kick in the crackers! That's from one of the spices, a ground chili from a trip I took with my friend Amy to New Mexico that included a visit to Chimayo, a place famous enough for its chiles that it has chiles named after it. If you find yourself in New Mexico with some time to kill, Chimayo is a great place to visit, not only for it's chili peppers but for the Santuario de Chimayo, a Catholic church which has a small room where people can pick up a sample of holy dirt (no joke) which has been known to cure all manners of ailments. The walls of the little room are adorned with dozens of pairs of crutches, which I have to assume were left there by people who were cured by the holy dirt. Santuario de Chimayo is also a destination for penitentes, who crawl there from great distances. It's a crazy world.

But the chili pepper is delicious, and has lost most of its bite in the couple of years since we were in Chimayo. Don't throw away "old" spices. They're not what they used to be, perhaps, but what they are is something different that flavors your food in a unique way. Try it.

Scientific study of bread alveoli. :)
We've come full-circle to the Country Loaf here, and we certainly hope that you enjoy this loaf, since, really, we plan to make it more often than others, despite the variety so far. Time has been tight for trying out new loaves, but there's a Sesame Seeded 3-Day Mild Levain in the works. Not there yet, but it's close. Here's a picture of the crumb from the latest version. This is going to need a bit more work, but it's promising.

Three-Day Mild Levain
A  nice loaf, but a significant departure from our plan to work as much whole grain into the bread as is palatable. It's certainly a pretty loaf though, and tasty. Last week's roasted potato and onion bread inspired us to make our first hamburger buns, mostly because we fired up the smoker and cooked up a shoulder for making pulled pork, and it just seemed like it would be better on homemade buns. It was.

The buns were a little dense, but they were a nice, understated platform for what turned out to be the best pulled pork I've ever made. What a treat! We also cooked up some thrice-cooked french fries (parboiled, parfried, then fried) that are pretty much one of the most amazing food items you'll ever have, to be eaten infrequently of course. We whipped up a chipotle garlic aioli for dipping the fries and a Carolina BBQ sauce for the sandwiches, and coupled with a really nice cole slaw that Cam put together, we had us an old-fashioned feast.

I didn't manage to get a photo of the whole feast assembled, but even the leftovers look tasty, as you can see in this photo from the next day's lunch.

Pulled Pork with Carolina BBQ Sauce on Roasted Potato Roll
That makes me hungry just looking at it. Ha! And here's a preview of Wednesday's loaves, having their bench rest before final shaping. Such potential!

Country Loaves at Rest

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Busy Week, Roasted Potato and Onion Fendu, More Pizza!

Thad, high on Tahquitz's Maiden Buttress
Gads! It's been a hectic week here at C&C! Normally, I like to get something up there to let the bread share know what to expect, but I got busy this weekend, climbing with Rob and Thad, working on the house, and testing out a variation on the Roasted Potato Fendu we made a few weeks ago. Pretty exciting stuff!

This week's loaf, the Roasted Potato and Onion Fendu has been a hit, at least if the early reviews are any indication. In keeping with the first two loaves, this one has a portion of whole grains that we milled ourselves. This loaf also incorporates some local ingredients. There's a good portion of Redlands-grown Yukon Gold potatoes from Jacinto Farms, and just a touch of oven-roasted onions from our own garden. I built this formula from some ideas gleaned from other formulas, but adding the onion was a bit of a challenge because I didn't was to overpower the bread with onion flavors. That would be fine if this were a pull-apart roll or something meant to be consumed by itself or with a little butter. It's a good loaf for that, but with the mild onion flavor, it's also excellent for what potato bread is best for (in my opinion); sandwiches. Most sandwich breads have ingredients in them to condition the dough and make it softer. This is usually some sort of fat or milk. Potato accomplishes the same thing (almost) while still leaving the loaf "lean," as there is nearly no added fat, just the tiny bit of olive oil that the onions and potatoes are coated with for roasting. The crust, you'll find, is more tender than the toothy crust you normally expect of an artisan bread.
Roasted Potato and Onion Fendu

This loaf is nicely shaped as a fendu (which I guess is French for "split" or "cleaved"). A fendu isn't scored before it goes in the oven. Instead, the formed loaf is split nearly in half by pressing a floured rolling pin right into the middle of the loaf. After proofing upside-down in a banneton, the resulting loaf spreads when it springs in the oven, resulting in a unique loaf that cuts up nicely into sandwich slices or toast. 

As the bread share rolls through week three, I have to say it's going at least as well as I had expected. We've made some small changes to our goals and approach, but largely it's going as planned (knock wood). The bread has been coming out nice, even though the formulas have been gaffed in small ways here and there. Natural levain is very forgiving. Delivery has been fluid. The oven hasn't collapsed under the strain, and our starter has never been so lively! For years it was stored in the refrigerator between bakes. Baking daily, it now lives on the counter, where it's most happy. The microorganisms that make everything happen do different things at different temperatures. At room temperature, the starter has a bouquet about it not unlike apple cider. There's no hint of the "sour" that dominates the starter when it's kept in the fridge. I'm reading "In Search of the Perfect Loaf" (a great read if you're into bread) and I like how Fromartz likens maintaining a starter culture to farming. It's actually a fitting analogy. The livestock are pretty tiny though. :)

Last night we had pizza with a friend (and Cam's former student). It's not got anything to do with the bread share, but I can't resist sharing pictures of these delicious all-sourdough margherita pizzas.

Another Delicious Pizza!
The Second Pizza's Toasty Crust


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Enjoying the Rye

This week's loaves are coming out particularly well. Yesterday's four Ryes had a very pretty oven spring, I though.  Here's a picture.

Jewish Deli Rye. Look at those ears!
 So what do you do with your loaf? I really, really like this bread toasted. If you're looking to make a classic pastrami sandwich, I recommend using the approach detailed here, and I'll reproduce it below, verbatim, after sharing a picture of the sandwich I just enjoyed for lunch.

Pastrami on Rye with Provolone and Spicy Mayo.
4-5 slices pastrami
2 slices rye bread
4 slices provolone cheese
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons honey mustard
1 tablespoons horseradish
black pepper to taste
Mix mayonnaise, honey mustard, horseradish and black pepper in a small bowl and set aside. For the sandwich, smooth on the spicy mayonnaise, then layer on provolone cheese and meat. Top with other slice. Melt a small pat of butter in a warm skillet, then place sandwich in skillet to warm, flipping once. Remove from heat when cheese is melted, slice in half, and serve.
I might have a heart attack before the end of the day today,  but at least I'll have had a good lunch!