English Muffins on Griddle

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From the way I’ve been blogging about bread lately, you might think I spend every day in the kitchen kneading up these carb-y lovelies.  I wish that were the case but unfortunately it’s not.  It’s been a crazy hot, and uncomfortably humid, summer and the last thing I want is to convert my apartment into a sauna.

I did make English Muffins recently but that was because the recipe didn’t require me to keep the oven on for hours (they cook on a griddle!) and I was in the mood for some homemade breakfast sandwich with fried eggs or toasted ones smothered in Bonne Maman strawberry jam.

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The English Muffins was the third creation from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice (first was Baguette, and the second was Focaccia).  I’m not sure if I should call this book a cookbook or a text book but either way, it’s excellent with detailed instruction and explanation.  During my Konmari decluttering phase, I got rid of almost all the cookbooks I owned, but, of course, this one stayed.  It was no brainer. I truly think this is the best bread-making book ever written.

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I think one of the most valuable tips I got from my recent bread-making adventure at Surfas Culinary District was mise en place, or “putting in place” in French, to have all the ingredients measured and prepped beforehand to ensure a smooth maneuver around the kitchen come cooking time.  I had the yeast, flour, and all the equipments ready to go and I’m amazed at the amount of time I was able to save!

And I’m so in love with the items that I picked up from Surfas Culinary District — plastic dough rising container, bench scaper, yeast, and a can of Vegalene.

I can’t wait for the weather to cool down so I can do this more frequently.

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English Muffins
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It’s still way too hot to write a detailed instruction, so … please enjoy these photos!

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Yep, strawberry jam!

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Surfas Breadmaking Class: Bread #5: Brioche

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I think it was my mother who once told me that if I want to quit eating sweets, I should make them myself. She said that if I see, first hand, how much sugar and fat are in it, I will surely quite eating it. Her point was valid because I no longer consume buttercream frosting after learning how much artery-clogging butter went into making the frosting during my cupcake-making days.

Because of that reason, I was very hesitant to bake Brioche at the bread workshop at Surfas Culinary District in Culver City. I just wanted to forever stay in a sugar-coated world where I was completely oblivious to the amount of butter and eggs that were packed in those cute, seemingly innocent French pastry.

But I suppose I can’t stay sheltered forever. It was time for me to face the music.  Here I go!

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A stand mixer definitely comes in handy in making the dough. I can’t imagine trying to do this by hand.

First you need to dissolve the yeast by whisking it with milk. Then add the flour and mix in a stand mixer with a dough hook. Add eggs and mix for 4-5 minutes.

Increase the speed to medium, and slowly add the butter (BUTTER!), tablespoon or two at a time. Continue to mix for 15 minutes to develop the gluten for a light, airy structure in bread.

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Now add sugar and salt and mix for 5-8 minutes. Conduct the “window pane” test (spread a tiny dough piece with your fingers into a thin translucent layer). If you can see through the layer without it ripping, you are ready to transfer the dough onto a buttered sheet pan and cover it with a plastic wrap.

Let it sit for at least 6 hours, or overnight.

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After the dough has rested for at least 6 hour, or overnight, turn the cold dough onto a greased pan. Divide the dough in half.  Then press one portion of dough into an even rectangle about 2 inches thick.

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Take the rectangle in half lengthwise and cut it crosswise into 6 equal portions. The recipe makes a total of 12 equal pieces.

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Roll the dough into balls.

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You have many option to shape the Brioche (i.e. in a loaf pan) but we made many small ones with little 2-3 balls per baking cup.

Place the Brioches in a pan.  Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap and set them aside for about 45 minutes until the dough has risen to the level of the pan rim.

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Unwrap the dough, brush them with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar.  Bake at 350 degree F for 30 minutes, rotating the after 20 minutes.  Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degree F and continue to bake or 25-30 minutes, or until they are golden brown on top.

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Transfer to cooling rack and let them cool completely.

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Look at these cute little Brioche!  They look like baby’s little bums!

So making Brioche wasn’t as scary as I thought.  Yes, there are quite a bit of butter (almost two sticks, to make two 8-1/2 inch loaves) and eggs (three altogether) but it’s not that bad as long as you just eat only one or two of the little ones.  It’s difficult to stay disciplined though because these little morsels are lovely, so lovely that you really can’t decide if they are bread or actually pastry.

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I ate one in class while it was still warm, and another one with a cup of coffee when I got home that afternoon.

Everything about Brioche was a music to my ears … and my tummy.

Surfas Breadmaking Class: Bread #3: Cream Biscuits

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The second quick bread we made during the two-day bread workshop at Surfas Culinary District in Culver City (the first was Irish Soda Bread) was Cream Biscuits, perfect vessels to deliver gravy or honey into your salivating mouth. I don’t eat biscuits much at home but I do love me some of those crumbly goodness drizzled in honey, with an occasional (yes, occasional!) fried chicken from KFC.

The best part of it all is that these biscuits come together in a cinch, possibly quicker than trying to figure out how to safely unwrap Pillsbury’s air pressured can without exploding in your face.

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For the recipe, we used White Lily brand flour. According to the recipe, “The soft bleached gluten in the flour results in light, tender baked products.” If White Lily flour is unavailable, you can substitute it by simply adding 1-1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and ½ teaspoon of salt to each cup of White Lily flour.

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To start, make a well in the center of the flour ina bowl and slowly pour in the heavy cream.  Mix by pulling the flour into the liquid.

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Stir to form a sticky dough. The texture you’re looking for here is “shaggy” and “wettish.” These adjectives make me chuckle.

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Turn the “shaggy” and “wettish” (hee hee) dough onto a work surface.

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Fold the dough into half …

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… and roll it into a 1/3 to 1/2-inch thick round.

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Cut the biscuit using your favorite cookie cutter.  Make sure to flour the cutter and work swiftly, as the dough is super soft and crumbly.

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Brush each biscuit with cream.

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Finally, place the biscuits onto a baking pan lined with parchment paper and bake in a 450 degree F oven for 10-14 minutes or until golden brown.

So, a little lesson learned here:

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My group partner Heather and I both fell in love with the square cutter with ridges and made our biscuits using it.  Big mistake.  The biscuits came out thick and doughy, and the finished product wasn’t as cute as we’d envisioned.

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We agreed that our biscuits would have came out crispier and more flavorful using the regular round kind, like the one you see here being used by Chef John.

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Despite our little hiccup, the biscuits were still very yummy.  We smeared the fresh butter and strawberry preserves and devoured them while they were piping hot!  Heavenly!

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All I needed to make these biscuits even more perfect was a bucket (or two) of KFC!

Next up:  Ciabatta!

Surfas Breadmaking Class: Bread #2: Pain de Epi

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I love baguettes. For me, they are the epitome of bread, and Pain de Epi is just another variation, and perhaps the most visually appealing, of the famous French loaf family.

Its shape resembles an ear of grain, thus the name “wheat stalk bread,” and you can just place it in the middle of the dining table for everyone to tear a piece while they gather for supper.  No serving plates necessary. It’s so romantically rustic. Needless to say, I was most excited to bake this crusty bread during the two-day bread-making workshop at Surfas Culinary District in Culver City.

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Making a Pain de Epi can be a two-day process because you need poolish that needs to be set aside overnight. Poolish is the French version of its Italian cousin, biga (or also goes by other names like starter and sponge), a fermented starter made out of flour, water, and yeast. Lucky for us, Chef John had already prepared poolish for us so we were able to go through the entire baking process in less than three hours.

To begin, mix bread flour, warm water, yeast, salt, and poolish in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook for 3-4 minutes in low speed, and speed it up to medium speed for another 2-3 minutes.  Let the dough rest in a greased bowl, wrapped in plastic, for 45 minutes.

Two things I learned during this process is that: 1. Don’t mix salt with the yeast, as it can kill the bacteria, and 2. It takes about six minutes for the mixture to develop gluten.

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Remove the dough from the bowl and turn the dough onto a floured surface. Now, gently stretch the dough and fold it in third, then in third again, like you’re folding a letter. Repeat, this time starting with the bottom edge closest to you.

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Return the dough to the greased bowl, with seam side facing down and let it sit for another 45 minutes covered in plastic wrap.

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Place the dough in a floured surface and divide it into four equal portions (sorry, you only see three here). It’s best to use the scale to create an even portion. Gently pat down each dough to remove any large gas bubbles.

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Shape the dough, according to Chef John’s instruction,” by rolling short edge of dough toward center, then wind dough from the back edge forward to from a short log.”

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Place the dough log on a linen dish towel, with seam side down. Lightly cover the log with plastic wrap or the towel and let them rest for 20 minutes.

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Return the dough to the work surface, seam side up. Gently but firmly press the dough to release large gas bubbles. Shape the dough “by turning up the bottom edge of the dough, then winding the dough from top down to meet the bottom. With heel of a hand, work from left to right to seal the same into the dough. Then using palms, applying even pressure, working from the middle of the baguette outward, roll the dough until it extends to approximately 14 inches in lengths. Pinch the ends of the loaves to taper them.”

I wish I can paraphrase it to make a simpler explanation but I’m not even going to attempt.

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Now, place the baguettes onto a baking pan. To create the Epi design, make a 3/4 cut through the baguette at a 30 degree angle and turn each piece of dough to alternating sides.

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Place pan filled with water on the bottom of the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the baguettes become golden brown. Let them cool to room temperature before serving.

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Aaah, look at these beauties! The freshly baked Pain de Epi was absolutely incredible.

Up next: Cream Biscuits!

Surfas Breadmaking Class: Bonus: Fresh Butter

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I used to think that the only way to make fresh butter at home was by shaking the jar filled with cream vigorously until your arm falls off, but thanks to the bread-making class I took at Surfas Culinary District in Culver City, I now know that churning a melt-in-your-mouth spread is as easy as turning on the food processor!

In addition to five amazing breads I baked in class, I also learned how to make fresh butter from scratch during the two-day workshop!  There are only two ingredients you need here: fresh heavy cream and crushed ice cubes. That’s it! You’ll need some sea salt or herbs if you like to add a dash of flavor, but those are optional.

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To make butter, simply pour the heavy cream into a food processor and “process the cream until the butter begins to separate from the buttermilk and the butterfat granules are about half the size of pea,” according to Chef John’s instruction. “With the machine running, pour in the ice cube.”

You can also listen for the changes.

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Once the large mass is formed, turn off the machine.

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Then transfer the entire content into a container lined with a cheesecloth.

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Let the mass drain for a few minutes.  Just a quick caveat here.  We took out the mass slightly too early from the food professor, hence the white color.  If you let it process a little longer, the mass will produce a more, yellow hue that’s much closer to the actual butter.  Ours ended up tasting pretty good but was definitely a little too watery and too “fluffy” in texture.

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Squeeze out all the water.  The strained liquid is buttermilk.

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Optional:  If you want additives, like salt or herbs (or even fruits and preservatives for sweet butter), this is the time to add them in.  We added a generous amount of coursed sea salt in ours.

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Tada!  The fresh butter is made!  As I mentioned, ours wasn’t the best (and our group ended up going to other tables to sample other’s creations frequently) but it was still pretty darn good.

And I’m happy to report that my arm is still intact!

“Everyday” Caramelized Onion Muffins

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First came the Smile Biscuits, then the Sesame Sticks, and now, the Onion Muffins! I can’t tell you how much I’m enjoying the “everyday” cookbook series by Shiho Nakashima. They’re definitely two of my favorite book purchases of 2014.

The Onion Muffin recipe is in the book, “Mainichi (everyday) Tabetai (want to eat) Gohanno (meal) Youna (like) Keiki (cake) To (and) Maffin (muffin) no (of) Hon (book) まいにち食べたい”ごはんのような”ケーキとマフィンの本.” Instead of cookies and biscuits, this book focuses on cakes and muffins.

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So, savory caramelized onion in sweet muffins, you might ask? I was a little confused at first too, and even more confused that the author named this as her “basic” recipe. I would think the basic would be something like blueberry or chocolate chips, but she wrote that she chose this particular recipe because it just tastes fantastic. I guess that’s a good enough reason!

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I must admit that I didn’t love the muffins. I liked the lovely balance of sweet and savory, and they were actually delicious (and fluffy, considering there’s no eggs in them), but they tasted more like cornbread than a muffin. I think I might like to serve these on a side of soup or salad, and not necessarily eat them as dessert with a cup of tea.

Oh, and I actually tried the banana muffins from the book and those were pretty awesome. They were so good, they disappeared even before I had the chance to take photos. Maybe it’s a good thing so I don’t have to change my blog name to “Baking My Way Through the ‘Everyday’ Bake Books.” 🙂

“Everyday” Sesame Sticks

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Another recipe from the “Every Day book. Another big success. I can’t stop eating these sesame sticks and neither can my 21-month old toddler!

I didn’t have black sesame seeds so I replaced them with white.  It’s so nutty, subtly sweet, and the crunch is irresistible.  My daughter is begging me for another one while I type this … and I don’t blame her. The batch I just baked is almost gone now.

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Black Sesame Sticks

黒ゴマスティック(「まいにち食べたいごはんのようなクッキーとビスケットの本」から。)

80 g cake flour
20 g whole wheat flour
20 g cane sugar
20 g black sesame seeds
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons soy milk (you can substitute with water)
A pinch of salt

Here’s the detailed information on how to make these yummy sticks. It’s in Japanese but there are plenty of pictures to help you along the way!