Saturday, September 10, 2011

Food: Mr. Hitz's recipe for bread and psychological battery

To begin, a butterfly from the Toronto Islands (visited today and perhaps the source of a later post):

And now to the subject of the post:
I do love to cook/bake/make things in the kitchen, so perhaps one facet of this blog will be the odd--as in infrequent, though perhaps also strange--recipe. Those of you who have witnessed me in action (or know my dad's cooking) understand that recipes do not form the core of the Fitz Gibbon repertoire. My specialty, random things in a pot, generally turns out pretty well and doesn't require trips to the grocery store for extra ingredients.

Side note on random things in a pot: Dinner two nights ago. Ryan requested peanut sauce and noodles for dinner, I countered with peanut sauce and noodles on whatever cheap vegetables I could find. Enter: "Economy Fruit" and the $0.49/lb eggplant, plus the "No Frills" $1/head cauliflower. Exit: Stir fried eggplant with cauliflower, ginger, cilantro, garlic, onions, and peanut sauce/peanuts.

Anyway, there are some items for which recipes are useful, like saag paneer and cookies and bread. My mom gave me this neat bread cookbook a while ago and I made bread for myself last year. I don't eat much of it, so the whole wheat recipe I followed was perfect because it made three easily-freezable loaves and one batch lasted me each semester. Ryan, on the other hand, likes it a lot. That's good because I still like to make bread and making it more often means more experimentation. I was slightly dissatisfied with the results last year, mostly because the bread was always a bit bitter--and I don't even particularly like sweet things!--but I was rather pleased with this iteration and thought I might post it for those interested.

The recipe is adapted from Baking Artisan Bread by Ciril Hitz. The nice and also frightening thing about the book is that Mr. Hitz includes advanced techniques and explains everything very well, but he also INSISTS THAT EVERYTHING YOU DO WILL FAIL BECAUSE YOU DON'T HAVE THE RIGHT INGREDIENTS AND YOU DON'T WEIGH THEM AND YOU DON'T HAVE A SPECIAL STEAMING RACK but if you want you can do these other less-good things and maybe your bread will be okay. BUT NOT AS GOOD AS IF YOU DID IT THE RIGHT WAY! But then you make the bread, fearing the entire time that your efforts will be in vain, and in the end it's pretty tasty despite the dire warnings. Anyway, hence the psychological battery.

Once I conquer the most debilitating of my breadmaking fears, I do the following:
the night before, mix together the following ingredients in a big bowl to make the biga:
1 1/3 c. + 1 tbsp white flour
1/2 c 70ºF water
1.5*+ tsp instant dry yeast

*I say 1.5+ because Mr. Hitz wants you to use some special yeast that I don't have, and he says it will fail if you don't use it... but it won't. The only problem is the conversion isn't exact (it should be 1.56 tsp) so I fudge a little. And it still works out.

Anyway, mix it in a dough stand or get a strong spoon and combine all the ingredients. They will be sad and not want to mix together. You may need to add a little extra hot water if the flour or air is very dry. Put it in a bowl, or keep it in the bowl, coated with a little olive oil or something so that it can expand without drying out or sticking to the sides. Cover it with a dishtowel and let it sit out for 1 or 2 hours before going to bed. Press down on it to degas the dough before putting it in the fridge, loosely covered with some plastic, and wait until morning. Or tomorrow night, or whenever you have time to bake the bread itself.




Now that it is some other time after you have made the biga, you can make the rest of the bread, which goes like this:

Take your biga
and the following ingredients, which can be altered to suit your fancy provided that the general proportion of flour to other ingredients stays the same, but which at this moment reflects the bread I made on 9/6/2011:
3.5 c whole wheat flour (at the moment I'm using white wheat, a sweeter wheat)
1 c buckwheat flour
2/3 c spelt
1/3 c flax
1/4 c honey
1 tsp instant dry yeast
3 tsp salt
2 c+ 95ºF water (I often have to add a little more than 2 c)

Mix these ingredients for a while. Mr. Hitz says to use your bread stand and mix on low speed for four minutes and medium for two minutes. I generally mix until it is combined, which will probably take a little while longer if you're doing it by hand.

At this point, add the following nuts and seeds and things (unless you don't like them, in which case you can skip this step)
1/3 c sesame seeds
1/3 c chopped walnuts
1/3 c rolled oats
and mix some more until everything is combined.

Now, make sure that your bowl has a little olive oil or something coating it and roll your ball of dough around a bit to make sure it's sufficiently moist and happy. Cover it with maybe a slightly moistened towel or something and let it sit. Mr. Hitz wants you to check that the temperature is between 75º and 78ºF using your digital thermometer. I have no digital thermometer. It will be fine. Anyway, let it sit for 45 minutes.


Come back! Check on your bread, which by now should have risen some. Stretch it out a bit, fold it up a bit, and let it rest again for another 45 minutes. Mr. Hitz suggests preheating your oven to 450ºF at this point. That's probably not necessary.

Now that another 45 minutes have passed, you are ready to divide your dough into two or into sizes that are sufficient for filling the bread pans that you have. Make sure they're coated with some olive oil or something, or the bread will stick. Shape the pieces of dough into loaves. Generally I tug them out until they're flatish and then roll them up a bit. Don't handle them too much, of course. If you want, you can coat them with more rolled oats. Or you can just put them in the pans. Cover those loaves again with your slightly moistened dishtowel or plastic wrap or whatever you're using and let them proof for 1-1.5 hours. (When they're ready, apparently they should recover almost--but not entirely--from being pressed gently with your fingers. This never makes any sense to me, but if you wait an hour or so, I think it will be ready.)

While the loaves are proofing, you can start figuring out the oven stuff. Mr. Hitz suggests injecting your oven with steam, which can be achieved by putting a funky cookie sheet or something in there while you're preheating the oven and placing a wet dishtowel on it when you put the loaves in the oven. This will release a lot of steam and so you should definitely be careful that you don't hurt yourself, or fall in the oven because you can't see when your glasses are fogged up. Mr. Hitz thinks you will boil your arms off. I haven't done that yet, but you never know. I'd hate to create an army of armless breadmakers by suggesting this technique, so do be careful. Truthfully I have no idea if it actually helps, but I haven't tried not including it because I worry that it is the last step saving my bread from DISASTROUS FAILURE (Mr. Hitz really gets to you). In theory, the steam should allow the bread to rise more because the crust will not form as quickly. In reality, this is a dense bread that doesn't rise much to begin with. (Maybe it's because I'm not using the special yeast? I like dense bread, though, so I don't mind.)

Anyway, put your loaves in the oven and either do or don't include the wet towel. Bake for 20 minutes at 450ºF. After 20 minutes, remove the pan with the towel and reduce the temperature to 380ºF. Bake for another 20 or 30 minutes. If they start browning too soon, try covering them with aluminum foil. If, after this last baking time, you remove the loaves from the pans and they seem like they could use an additional firming-up, you can put them back in the oven--pan-less--and bake for another five minutes. Or you can just leave them for done! And let them cool.

This bread, as mentioned, freezes quite well when wrapped in plastic. And I hope you like it! And emerge unscathed from the process.

Here are some pictures of the finished bread from the 9/6/11 batch:

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