Surfas Breadmaking Class: Bread #4: Ciabatta

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When I was making Ciabatta in the bread-making workshop at Surfas Culinary District in Culver City, I felt a sense of dejavu, like I’ve been here before. It was a new experience but everything somehow felt so familiar.

After thinking about it for a bit, I realize that I have been here indeed, when I made Focaccia several years ago. The process was almost identical so when I got home that night, I Googled “what the #@#% is the difference between Ciabatta and Foccacia?” and found this explanation from America’s Test Kitchen’s website:

Focaccia has a moist, tender texture and tooth-sinking chewiness. “Ciabatta” — Italian for “slipper,” a reference to the bread’s broad, flattish shape — is subtly tangy with large air pockets and has a pleasantly chewy texture.

Oh, now I know why Ciabatta goes so well as a sandwich, while Focaccia makes a lovely accompaniment to soups!

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Before starting the recipe, you must prepare the sponge, or a pre-fermented dough.  Luckily, it was already prepared for us.

To start, mix the yeast mixture, sponge, water, oil, and flour in a stand mixer fitted with dough hook, at low speed until the flour is just moistened.  Continue to beat the dough, this time at medium speed. for 3 minutes.   Add salt and beat for 4 more minutes.

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Turn the dough into a large oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap and let it rise for about 1-1/2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.

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Turn dough onto a floured work surface.  The dough is very wet and a bit difficult to handle.

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Cut the dough in half with a bench scraper (an amazing tool) and transfer them onto a baking pan lined with parchment paper.  Now the fun part — dimple loaves with your fingers!

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Let the loaves rest for about 1-1/2 hours or until it doubles in size again. Cover with dampened kitchen towel.  Bake for about 20 minutes or until they sound hollow when tapped with fingers.

I went shopping (the test kitchen is inside a professional kitchen supply store) while Ciabatta cooled on the rack, which was a bad idea.  I wanted everything in the store!  I had to hurry up to get out of there before I ended up buying the entire store!

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One great takeaway from baking Ciabatta is learning about pizza stone.  It apparently helps absorb moisture for crispier bread … and crispy and flavorful it was.  I ate it when I got home and loved it.  I smeared insane amount of mayonnaise on the bread and devoured it.  Man, it was delicious!

Next up is, last but not least, Brioche!

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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!

“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.” 🙂

Third Time’s A Charm

I’ve been pursuing the best recipe for banana and other autumn-inspired bread loaf lately, hoping to concoct the best combination of spice and fruits / veggies to create the fluffiest loaf fit for this beautiful fall weather. I’m open to any combination, as long as the loaves do not contain white flour, white sugar and butter. I would like to someday create a recipe that are completely plant-based (no eggs) and oil free (perhaps replace the oil with apple sauce) but I’ll settle for the hybrid version of the old classic for now.

Pumpkin Bread

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I have a go-to banana bread recipe that I’m very happy with. It gives me wonderful results every time, so of course my logic is that if I substitute the mashed bananas with pureed pumpkin, I’ll be able to recreate the same, amazing result, right?

That would be too easy.

The loaf came out more pumpkin pie filling than pumpkin bread, and since pumpkin puree doesn’t have the same sweetness ripe bananas naturally bring, the loaf lacked the cloying punch. Unfortunately, even the generous amount of chocolate chips weren’t enough to emulate the dessert-like sweetness. It wasn’t at all terrible and a big red “fail” stamp might be a little too harsh but this recipe definitely needs some fine-tuning.

Zucchini Walnut Bread

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I go nuts for zucchini walnut breads. I still remember the first time I bit into one from Starbucks, which went ridiculously well with my cup of café soy misto during the long commute on the 101 freeway. It was incredible, but as in all good things, I had to bid farewell to it when I discovered that the seemingly innocent-looking muffin contained 28 grams of fat and 52 grams of carbohydrate (28 of them sugar).  The muffin has been discontinued since, by the way.

Anyway, my attempt to recreate my favorite loaf, bread, muffin, or whatever, was a big fat fail as well. I played around with flour to make it denser and increased the amount of maple syrup, etc. but the result wasn’t as extraordinary as the ones I remembered from the mega coffee joint. I’m really going to need to study up on the science of baking so I’ll be able to create the fool-proof version of this yummy delight!  But I’ll get there.

Banana Chocolate Chip Walnut Bread

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It’s true what they say – third time’s a charm!

I just made some small tweaks to an already-delicious banana bread recipe, but those little things made a huge different in the finished loaf. I might have perfected the recipe for the best banana bread!

Here’s the 2.0 version of the banana bread (See other posts on banana breads here and here).

1-3/4 cups whole-wheat flour
1/3 cup agave nectar
1 teaspoon baking power
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 large eggs
1/3 cup olive oil
3 ripe bananas
1 teaspoon vanilla

The changes I made from the original recipe are:

  • I replaced the all-purpose flour with whole-wheat flour. I no longer keep the white flour at home.  You can definitely taste the different but not enough to turn you off.  I actually like the nuttiness of the whole-wheat more.
  • I reduced the amount of flour from 1-3/4 cups to 1-1/4 cups.
  • I changed the oil from canola to olive since that’s what I have in my pantry almost always.
  • I blended the bananas in a Magic Bullet blender instead of mushing them with a fork. I initially did this because the bananas I was using weren’t as ripe and it was hard to mush them by hand.  I think it resulted in a fluffier loaf.
  • I also put the eggs, agave nectar, oil, vanilla extract, and cinnamon together in a blender. Again, I think this helped create an airy texture. If you have a large blender, you can mix everything, including bananas, together at once.
  • I increased the amount of cinnamon from 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon.  I just can’t get enough of the warm spiciness!
  • I added ¼ cup each of milk chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, and coarsely chopped walnut. It’s no longer healthy banana bread but the combination makes the loaf so desert like and satisfying!
  • I slightly under-baked the bread for a less-dense texture.

I’m loving this fall weather!

Waiting for Anpanman …

anpanmanThere is a kid’s cartoon character in Japan called “Anpanman,” translated in English as “Bean Bun Boy.” He’s a superhero version of a popular Japanese confection anpan — a sweet bread roll (pan) filled with red bean paste (an) — dressed in a dandy cape. He helps the needy by letting them eat a part of his head (don’t worry, the new head is subsequently replaced by his creator and baker, Uncle Jam). His friends are Currypanman (curry bread man) and Shokupanman (white bread man), and his enemy is Baikinman (bacteria man).

I once heard that many Japanese baby’s first word is not “mama” or “papa” but is “anpanman,” because kids respond to all things round, like Anpanman’s perfectly circular face. lol  I’m not too certain how scientific that study is, but I can totally believe it.  Go up to any kid in Japan and show them the picture — they’ll definitely know who he is.

I’m excited to find out what Pon Pon’s first word would be. I hope it’ll be mommy or daddy, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if it’s food related, considering who her parents are.

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I tried making this popular Japanese sweet from scratch the other day, by making the bread and red bean paste at home.  I must admit that the baking universe is extremely complicated and often humbling.  The moment you think you’ve got the hang of it, the yeast God drops you down to earth and make you modest.

My anpan came out a-okay but certainly didn’t have the light fluffiness and the golden surface that make this confection so special.  Mine came out pretty dense and flat, and totally pale.  I don’t know what I’m doing wrong here (my other bread attempt came out pale as well ) but it never comes out the way I like.  cry  It’s not that my bar is high – it’s just that bread-making is a complex art that takes years to master — and I’m still a complete rookie.  But I think that’s why I’m so intrigued by it.

You can find the recipe for Anpan bread from Runnyrunny999’s Youtube video!  My breads didn’t come out perfect, but his did on the video so the recipe must be good!  I won’t re-post the recipe, but here’s the recipe for the homemade red bean paste instead!

Homemade Anko
Inspired by another wonderful online cooking show, Cooking with Dog

Note:  What you see in the following pictures are for a larger batch. I tripled the below recipe so I can freeze the rest and use it later. If you’re not a crazy anko lover like me, the single portion should suffice your sweet tooth.

Ingredients:

200 g dried azuki beans
180 g sugar
700 ml water
A pinch of salt

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Put the azuki beans in a large saucepan or pot and cover with water.

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Bring the pot to boil in high heat, then reduce it to medium-low heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

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Dump the water using a mesh colander.  Return the beans to the pot and add enough water to cover.  Bring the pot to boil again in high heat, then reduce it to medium heat and simmer for 5 minutes.  Repeat this one more time.

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Add the measured water and cook the beans until tender.  You should be able to smush it with your fingers.  The Cooking with Dog’s instruction directs to use a drop lid while cooking the beans but I skipped the step because I was too lazy to make one … lol

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Drain the water, reduce the heat to medium-low, and add in ½ batch of sugar.  Stir constantly until the sugar melts.  Add the remainder of the sugar and stir.  Add a pinch of salt.  Be careful not to burn the beans (or yourself, as the beans are piping hot from sugar).  After the beans soften, turn off the heat and let it cool completely.

Optional:  After the beans cooled, I mushed the beans using a hand-held blender.  If you like anko strained with no lumps (koshian), blend completely.  I like mine with some texture left (tsubuan) so I left half of the beans unmushed.

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Make anko balls by taking a small amount and rolling it in your hands.  Make eight anko balls to be used for anpan.  I froze the rest of the balls, along with the leftover anko in a freezer, for future use.

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(Please follow the video’s instruction for the next steps!)

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Still waiting for Anpanman to rescue me …

Leek and Potato Soup with Homemade Roll

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I spent a wonderful afternoon with my friend D who I call the future mother-in-law for Pon Pon.  She has an adorable son born just two weeks after our daughter and we are hoping that they’ll get married when they grow up.  lol

On the way home, Pon Pon and I took a field trip to Whole Foods Market in Pasadena.  A trip to this giant farmer’s market for mommy is like a trip to Disneyland for kids — it’s an ultimate adventure.  I think she knew this because she slept in her stroller the entire two hours that we were there and gave me the freedom to roam through each aisle for unique finds (LOVE her).

This particular Whole Foods is pumped on steroid, a two-story affair packed with amazing things you never knew we needed but you suddenly can’t live without, like organic leeks.  I brought home two stalks of these green onion-looking vegetable (among few other items which cost me $100) and made leek and potato soup for dinner.

Leek and Potato Soup
(Serves 4)

Ingredients:

2 large leeks, chopped (Only use the white part.  Make sure to wash thoroughly.)
2 medium-size potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 garlic clove, chopped
4 cups water
1 cup milk (I used 2% fat)
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper
3 teaspoons all-purpose flour (optional)
1 teaspoon green onion, chopped (for garnish)

Direction:

Saute the leeks and potatoes with olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until the leeks become translucent.

Add water and bring to boil. Let it simmer for about 5 minutes. Turn the heat to medium low.

Using an immersion hand blender, puree the vegetables until completely smooth. If you don’t have a hand blender, you can use the regular kind. Be careful, as the liquid is piping hot.

Reduce the heat to low and add milk. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Optional: Since this recipe doesn’t use cream, the soup is a little on the smooth size … but you can use flour to thicken the soup, if you like. Simply temper the flour by adding a ladle-full of hot liquid to it and stir. Stir quickly and make sure to get rid of all lumps. Add the liquid back into the soup slowly while stirring. The soup should thicken up a bit after a few minutes.

Sprinkle chopped onion before serving.  Serve with crusty baguette or a roll (recipe follows).

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Homemade Dinner Rolls
From Esse, March 2008
(Makes 6 rolls)

Ingredients:

300 g bread flour
5 g dry yeast
100 g granulated sugar
5 g coarse salt
195 g water (at 35 degrees celcius)
10 g unsalted butter (at room temperature)

Direction:

Combine the sugar, salt and water in a bowl, and stir until everything is dissolved. Add the flour and dry yeast and mix with hands. When the mixture thickens a bit (and not too watery), pound it on the side of the bowl until you’re able to form a dough.

Take the dough out of the bowl and knead it on a floured kneading board for about 10 minutes.

Rub butter onto the dough. Fold the dough and slap it onto the kneading board. Repeat several times.

Put the dough in a greased bowl and cover with a plastic wrap. Let it rest, until the dough doubles in size, about an hour.

Insert a finger into the dough. If the hole closes up, you need to let it rest a little longer.  Release the gas by pushing down on the dough.

Divide the dough into six portions using a pastry cutter or a knife. Roll each dough into a ball and line them on a floured surface.  Cover with plastic wrap and let them rest for about 25 minutes. Insert a finger into the dough. If the hole closes up, you need to let it rest a little longer.

Roll each dough into a ball again and line them on a baking pan, an inch apart. Bake at 390 degree F for about 15 minutes until golden brown.

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Okay, I will admit – these finished rolls aren’t supposed to look like this.  They were supposed to have a lovely golden brown crust … but instead, I got these pale-looking things. I was so bummed when my rolls didn’t brown properly, and they became as hard as a hockey puck!  cry  I still haven’t figured out why that happened, but I’m going to try this recipe again to troubleshoot!

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Other than the outside, the rolls came out pretty good!  Once you slice into it, the crust was perfectly chewy and the inside pleasantly moist.

Azuki Mushi Pan

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During our first few weeks of parenthood, many veteran moms and dads reminded us that tough times will eventually pass, and we’ll be rewarded with better days in the near future. My husband and I trusted those words and kept our eyes on the prize … and after many stressful days and sleepless nights, I think the day has finally arrived!  biggrin

I’m not sure if it’s because Pon Pon is a lot more low maintenance now that she’s 3.5 months old, or we parents have gotten used the routine (or maybe it’s a combination of many things, like not sweating the small stuff anymore), but our days are much more manageable now. The baby sleeps through the night (she goes to sleep at 8:00 p.m. and doesn’t wake up until 6:00 a.m. on most days), she’s happy during the day, and she’s just so fun to be around. And when she smiles … oh my, those giggles make all those early struggles worth it.  I know that there will be many more sleepless nights to be had, but all in all, we’re in a really good, blissful place.

We’re so incredibly lucky.

My kitchen mojo has returned as well. It has become somewhat of a routine for me to go into the kitchen in the morning a few times a week and bake, before the baby wakes up. I’d turn on Today’s Show, say hello to Matt Lauer, and start mixing. I wouldn’t make anything too intricate or time consuming — just something that I can whip up in less than 30 minutes – but I really look forward to this quiet, tranquil “me” time in the morning.

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Today’s sweet – Azuki (red bean) mushi (steamed) pan (bun). I posted a similar recipe before, but I think it’s worth repeating!

Azuki Mushi Pan (小豆蒸しパン)
(Makes 5)

150 g flour
40 g granulated sugar
4 g baking powder
150 ml milk
2 tablespoons prepared azuki
Sprinkle of salt

Instruction:

① Measure and mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add milk and azuki and mix, just enough to incorporate all ingredients. Be careful not to over mix.

② Divide and pour the mixture into 5 cupcake linings. Steam over high heat for about 15 minutes, or until inserted toothpick comes out clean.

➂ Cool the buns on a baking rack for a few minutes before serving.

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Few pointers:

  • Don’t worry if you don’t have a steamer at home.  Simply use a large saucepan with a lid and put a steel colander basket that you use to wash vegetables with inside.
  • Don’t over mix the dough. It really makes a difference in the fluffiness of the buns.
  • Don’t steam the buns too long and make sure that your steamer is really hot before putting the buns in.
  • If you put too much water, the buns will become wet and sticky.

These little fluffy buns are one of my favorite Japanese snacks.  I like them so much better than cupcakes and have less calories since there are no oil or butter used here.  The combination of airy bun and sweet aduki beans are exquisite.  I’m going to try making the green tea flavor next time.

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I’m realizing every day how important it is to maintain a good balance in life.  Although the baby’s well-being is our upmost priority (and will continue to be), it’s still very crucial to put aside some quality time for myself … and that’s not being selfish.  On a contrary, that’s what’s best for the baby too.  Happy mom equals a happy baby.  smile

Update:

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A delicious variation of this confection is a green tea mushi pan. Simply add 2 tablespoons of matcha green tea powder with dry ingredients. They’re seriously good.