Category Archives: baking

Baking at King Arthur Flour, Part 1: The things I learned in baking school

A scraper is your best friend, especially if you have two

First, we bakers need a white, plastic scraper with King Arthur Flour’s logo embossed on the surface. It’s light and flexible, a strong yet perfectly calibrated plastic that bends in the grip while its curved edge scrapes clean each bowl of messy dough we mix. We find it tucked inside our red recipe folders, compliments of KAF. My bench partner leans over and whispers, “Complimentary now, huh? I think I stole one before. Can’t bake without it.”

Instructor Geoffrey intones, “Dough is always sticky” and demos a clean scrape, lifting a mass of Multigrain with Biga dough in big chunks to the bench (a.k.a. our working surface). Once this dough hits the wooden bench it does exactly as expected. It sticks.

Enter scraper number two. It’s a big piece of stainless steel with a wooden handle and a straight, six-inch edge, sharp and strong enough to cut bulk mounds of dough in clean strokes or measure rolled-out rectangles of dough to the required specs. Better still, it cleans off that ever-present mixture of flour and water that accumulates on our wooden benches incessantly.  Wet dough leaves scat. We bakers obsessively scrape it away (following the wood’s grain if your bench partner suggests). If time permits, we use it to scrape clean our white plastic scraper, too.

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A docker has nothing to do with boats
.

A mysterious tool is on display at the front of the classroom. We are watching Geoffrey demonstrate “Caraway Rye Crisps”. It’s our first baking venture on Day One of the KAF course and Geoffrey doesn’t touch the docker, leaving me curious. I drag this massive white roller flecked with nails across a sheet of freshly rolled-out cracker dough. Instantly, this torture device tears my carefully rolled out dough into shreds.  I opt to make lavash and use a fork to finish the work

Dough has muscle.

According to Jen, our Day Four instructor, dough muscle can vary in strength from loosey-goosey to weightlifter tight.  Day Four happened to be Halloween and Jen is dramatically dressed as a pre-Industrial baker in a floor length dress and apron, her long hair wrapped beneath a layered scarf. Jen points to her clenched fist and dabs the pad below her thumb.

“That’s firm,” she says authoritatively.

“But this,” she says pointing to her flabby underarm muscle that’s impossible to see under the billowing waves of her costume’s fabric, “is absolutely not!”

Geoffrey’s approach to dough muscle did not include his or anybody else’s body parts.

Pushing a bowl full of dough towards us, he says “touch it, feel it.”  After another mix, he beckons again “touch it, feel it.” He chants these four words like a mantra all through the course.

“Touch it, feel it,” after a proof. “Touch it, feel it,” after a pre-shape.  We dip thumbs and forefingers into every mass of gunky dough he offers, pulling messy strands, pinching and prodding, disgusted by the gummy residue that clings like glue to our nails and knuckles.

“Dry, never water-wash your gooey hands,” instructs Geoffrey as he dunks his fingers into a nearby bin of flour, a cloud of flour lifting up. He pulls them out slowly, and methodically rubs off all the gnarly bits into a waste-bin below. He waves his dry, but still visibly floury and crusty hands in our direction and chuckles.

“That’s a bakers’ patina.”

Baker's Patina

Dough texture – and dough muscle – changes all baking day long.  Once fermented or proofed, we poke it again to test strength. Geoffrey calls this “the doorbell ring.” Depending on the bread type, we see that poke spring right back up, leave a deep indent, or something in between.

A baker’s touch is as vital as a tasting spoon, worth every sticky, messy, floury imprint it makes on our minds.

Scale it and tare it.

Baking relies on precision. Flour measured by volume (with measuring spoons or cups) is not recommended. Our individual baking stations are each supplied with a big black scale. Geoffrey says he prefers metric since “the math is easier and grams are more precise.” Bakers are constantly making computations, whether it is tripling a recipe or cutting an industrial mix into one-fortieth of its original size. Those 16 Imperial ounces in a pound just add confusion to the tally.

We start every recipe by measuring out all our ingredients on the scale.KAF Day Four

“The tare button is our best friend,” instructs Geoffrey. “Or it can be the opposite.” As soon as we put an empty mixing bowl on the scale, we tare and the screen returns to zero. We spoon in all-purpose flour and tare. We add rye and tare. We rely on the tare button to refresh the screen and weigh each ingredient separately, but if you inadvertently tare mid-stream, or worse still, your scale times out and goes blank, you can find yourself looking at a huge bowlful of  ingredients containing, God forbid, an unmeasured ingredient that can ruin the whole lot.

Scaling liquids is also tricky. The numbers on a scale just can’t keep up with a fast pour. Better to measure liquids separately and slowly. Scaling gooey blobs of honey or molasses is terminally slow and messy. Handy trick? Use an oiled spoon and honey or molasses slides off effortlessly. Worse still, tiny morsels of instant yeast (living time bombs, in the world of leavening) are so light and airy our scales can’t discern their 1 gram increments. As a result, we bakers sometimes have to ditch science and use our senses instead. It’s that combination of these two forces – one scientific and the other learned by the senses—that creates the mighty and delicious alchemy of baking.

(To be continued, next week)

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Rye Lavash with Maldon Salt, Chili Flakes and Rosemary

Adapted from “Caraway Rye Crisps” this recipe highlights rye’s awesome flavour and is a no-brainer, requiring next to no kneading nor any yeast.  Go ahead and cut these into fussy rectangles for traditional crackers but I prefer baking this out in two large sheets and dubbing it lavash.  Once cooled,  break into long, random sticks and serve alongside dips, paté or cheese.

114g unbleached, all-purpose flour

114g  whole rye flour (we used KAF Pumpernickel)

1 tsp baking powder

¾ tsp salt

25g diced, cold unsalted butter

118g water

20g dark molasses

Maldon salt

Chili Flakes

Dried Rosemary

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine all purpose, rye, baking powder and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter until it resembles coarse meal. Scale water in a bowl, tare, and scale in molasses by drizzling from an oiled spoon.  Add liquids to dry and combine with a curved edge plastic scraper kneading into a rough dough. Wrap in plastic, flatten into a disc and refrigerate for at least 15 min.

Place the disc on a lightly floured surface, cut in half and roll out each to 1/16thinch thickness.

Transfer to parchment lined baking sheets. Sprinkle with salt, chili flakes and rosemary and use the rolling pin to press in gently.

Bake 9-12 min or until golden brown.  Transfer to a rack to cool.  Break into pieces, if desired.

KAF Day One

Sourdough baking with Sarah Owens

It’s because of cookbook author Sarah Owens that this baker has started to travel with her dough. I put it in a big plastic tub in the trunk of my car or strap it into my bike carrier, ready to drive off to meetings or Pilates classes with living, bubbling yeast. I pack water and a cloth so I can stretch and fold the dough with wet hands every half hour and clean up my doughy fingertips afterwards.

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Pulling beet levain dough in the car during a tennis game

My life goes on and so does the ferment. It’s got to! Sarah’s technique requires half a day of fermentation.

If you think that’s crazy, you’re unlikely to want to bake from SOURDOUGH: Recipes for rustic fermented breads, sweets, savories, and more.

But then again, you’d never have the pleasure of taking the lid off a Lodgepan combo cooker in a 500F oven and seeing cheddar cheese ooze out of a hot, chili-spiked bread. Your palate would never notice the delightful zing and bite of both fresh and candied ginger folded into a sweet, buttery cake or enjoy the crunch of poppy seeds in a turmeric-tinged artisanal levain loaded with leeks.

Turmeric scallion leek levain

Seeded Turmeric and Leek Levain

This cookbook has opened a new world of baking for me. Never before had I used sourdough starter to make anything other than bread, but now I’ve tried it in cakes, cookies, popovers, even crackers. The wild yeast adds a depth of flavour to these baked goods and a bubbly crumb. (Besides, I refresh my sourdough starter weekly, if not every few days, and I’d much rather add it to an innovative recipe than throw it away.)

Sourdough bakers believe that good bread needs a very slow rise.  Often, that’s a three-day process that requires more waiting than action. Sarah’s bread recipes are no-knead and include a range of flours, from buckwheat to kamut to emmer.

Beet Bread (found on my copy’s stained page 55) asks you to plunge into a slurry of roasted beet puree, levain and three different flours and “mix with your hands until completely hydrated and no lumps remain.” IMG_6053

I was game. My fingers emerged a bright, gooey pink and my banneton might be stained for life but every cakey, sweet bite of this levain was worth it.  Think velvet cake without the sugar.

IMG_6059Sarah really understands flavours and how to pair them.  A former rose horticulturist with the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, this woman knows and loves blossoms, buds, roots, seeds and fruits. She bakes like a true artist and luckily for us, she’s written down all of her highly novel, well-tested creations. Who would have thought to make popovers with spring chives and dandelions? Or pair cocoa-spiced pork with rhubarb in a pot pie?

Admittedly, I have had a little trouble with a couple of her recipes. Brooklyn Sourdough is minimalist in terms of ingredients but calls for a five to six minute “slap and fold” method that I was unable to master.  My boule-shaped loaves looked like pancakes when I pulled them out of the oven. Ditto for the Friendship Loaf.

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Honeyed Spelt and Oat Levain

But neither of these disappointments will stop me from raving about the feathery-light, wide open crumb of Honeyed Spelt and Oat Levain.  Or from trying more of Sarah’s out-there ideas.

Sourdough was her first cookbook yet it won la crème de la crème of cookbook awards in 2016: the James Beard. No wonder she has 26,000 people following her on Instagram.

Last Christmas, my son gave me Sarah’s second cookbook Toast and Jam: Modern recipes for rustic baked goods and sweet and savoury spreads. This beauty of a book contains as equally a novel approach to preserves, as it does to sourdough baking.  I’ve got a sumac tree outside my window that I’ve been eying for her jelly recipe not to mention some gnarly organic carrots from my garden, bound to dazzle in her Spiced Carrot Levain.

If it weren’t for this cookbook author’s mighty contribution to baking, neither me nor my dough would be travelling together in such a delicious way.

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Cardamom Biscotti

Sometimes it just has to go cardamom in my kitchen.  I start dreaming about flavour swaps and find my hands magically clutching a baggie of army-green pods from that crazy mishmash called my spice drawer. I hold the bag and … sigh.

No, I start cussing, wondering aloud if I have the cooking mojo in me to ferret out their cache.  Will my cold, stiff fingers find the fortitude to single out each and every one of these tiny seeds that bear an uncanny resemblance to mouse turds?

Cardamom pods aren’t like those happy, smiling pistachio nuts, each cracked and cooperative. These babies are sealed shut like an exotic, perfumed temptress.

Thus, they bring out the pounder in me.

I’ve tried crushing them under my chef’s knife like garlic cloves –  but lo, they slide and slither.  I’ve grabbed a sheet of wax paper and hammered a rolling pin over them a few times, to absolutely no avail, except for a heap of shredded wax paper.

Luckily, an adorable silver mortar and pestle comes to my rescue.

I throw a handful of pods in the bowl and happily clunk the silver pestle down until I hear crunch after satisfying crunch, splitting and cracking, dispersing their wealth.

The very first pod reaps a clump of tar-black seeds.  I can hear my East Indian cooking teacher intoning “Only the black ones are good” as I crack open pod after pod that she’d obviously throw out.  A sliver fuzzy membrane is scattered among my largely brown, verging on beige collection. I drop it all into my spice grinder and grimace, again, because fifteen minutes of finicky fine motor work hasn’t even covered my spice grinder’s blade!

Despite this ominous beginning, the seeds whirl into a satisfying silvery and soft powder that trails up into my waiting nostrils with an explosion of menthol and sweet, peppery perfume that is unmistakably cardamom.

Why don’t I just throw up a white flag and buy it ground?

Because I want flavour. Whole spices that are crushed or ground right before use, release essential oils full of oomph.  And oomph is what I have planned for this special little biscotti  packed with toasted almonds and pumpkin seeds, filled with organic flours, eggs, sugar and vanilla then made perfect thanks to cardamom in the batter. I finish each and every log of biscotti dough with a sparkle of cardamom sugar.

Just a pinch will do it.

 

Cardamom Biscotti

I really can’t live in a house without biscotti. They are my go-to cookie and a welcome gift to friends and family . Thanks to the double bake, they store for weeks, even months in a closed glass container and travel well on airplanes and road trips.

Biscotti Batter:

1 cup whole, raw almonds

½ cup pumpkin seeds

1 ¼ cup organic all purpose flour

1 ¼ cup organic soft whole wheat flour

1 1/4 cups organic granulated sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp ground cardamom

1/2 tsp salt

4 large eggs

3 tsp vanilla

The Finishing Touches:

1-3 tbsp flour (for rolling out logs)

½ tsp ground cardamom

1 tbsp organic granulated

Preheat oven to 350 ° F.

To toast almonds, arrange on a baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes. Add pumpkin seeds to the sheet and bake another 5 minutes. Allow nuts and seeds to cool completely.

In a large bowl, combine flours, sugar, baking powder, cardamom and salt. Use a whisk to mix thoroughly.

Whisk eggs and vanilla in bowl of an electric mixer until frothy. Use the paddle attachment to mix in flour and sugar mixture.  As soon as the dough clumps around the paddle, add toasted almonds and pumpkin seeds and mix until just combined.

Dust countertop with flour. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Spoon out one quarter of the sticky dough, dust lightly with flour and working quickly, roll into a 8-10 inch log. Transfer log to baking sheet. Repeat 3 times.

In a small bowl, mix sugar and cardamom.  Sprinkle over logs with pinched fingers.

Bake for 30 minutes or until biscotti logs are golden and firm. Completely cool logs on a rack for at least 30 min.  Using a serrated knife, cut crosswise into 3/4 inch wide slices.  Arrange cut side down on baking sheets and return to 350 oven for 10-15 minutes or until golden-brown and crisp.

Breaking West Coast Bread

There are few things I like to do more than visit bakeries. Good bakeries, that is. And I knew Victoria, B.C. was going to oblige.

It all started with this faction of folks I know who all either live in Victoria, or wish they did. They are all foodies. And they keep bragging about Victoria’s great coffee and artisanal bread.

IMG_8339Fol Epi (398 Harbour Rd #101,
(250) 477-8882) was on the top of their list. The French name was unforgettable. Fol means “wild” and epi is a classic, long and narrow loaf shaped like a branching wheat stalk.

“Look for the silo,” advised Victoria resident Kent Green when he heard I was coming into town. “They grind their own flour!”

I never found the silo but I did see the huge stone grinder through the window of this unique destination. Fol Epi is located at Dockside Green, a 15-acre sustainable, LEED-certified development in Victoria’s inner harbour and the perfect venue for this organic bakery where baker Cliff Leir has installed not only a flour mill, but a wood-fired oven.IMG_8338

He’s using only two, organic, Canadian-grown grains at his bakery – Red Fife and rye – yet outputting a large variety of breads including the namesake epi, baguette, boule, rye round, whole wheat, and ciabatta. Not only is Leir grinding flour daily but he is also sifting his Red Fife into a more refined flour suitable for the baguette and ciabatta.IMG_8406Not surprisingly, this chef is a member of Slow Food Canada and while “artisanal” is a label many use with abandon – Leir defines the term. His breads are all leavened with wild yeast (aka natural starter) and often take up to 24 hours to ferment. Humidity and temperature affect these breads immensely. Factor in the fluctuating heat of a wood-fired oven and this becomes an ultra-challenging place to bake consistently high-quality loaves.

I’d say Leir revels in it. I spoke to him briefly when visiting Fol Epi this month and when I suggested his bread baking routine presented a few hurdles, there was a knowing twinkle in his eyes. Then he simply smiled and nodded.

He does, however, have a very modern four-deck electric baker’s oven where he produces a variety of high-selling pastries, from croissants, to canel cakes to macaroons.

Then there’s the rich aroma of Caffe Fantastico wafting through his bakery. He shares the building with one of Victoria’s top espresso shops, where they roast their own beans, of course!

IMG_8310Coffee and pastries go hand in hand. And that same special synchronicity happens in “Vic West” at Fry’s Red Wheat Bakery (416 Craigflower Rd; (250) 590-5727 ). Equipped with a cafe latte from The Spiral Coffee Co. next door, I ambled into this quaint little bakery owned by Byron Fry who started his bread-baking career with a mobile oven, visiting farmers’ markets. In 2012, he finally settled and opened this shop only to learn that in 1897 his great grandfather had established a bakery right across the street. In tribute, Fry uses his family’s historical logo and name. And he doesn’t veer too widely from the artisanal methods employed more than a century ago.IMG_8315

Like Fol Epi, he bakes out of a wood-fired oven that he had custom built on the site. He also uses organic grains, heirloom wheat and natural starters to create loaves that are rich in taste, such as IMG_8311Whole Wheat Country, German Rye, Pain Rustique, Cinnamon Raisin Rye, Flax Rye, Sunflower 100% Rye, Focaccia (Olive-Rosemary-Roasted Garlic) and baguettes.

I tasted the pain rustique and was floored. This bread contains 30 per cent whole grains and has a faintly sour, layered flavour with a wide open crumb. The cinnamon raisin rye travelled back to Toronto with me and continued to satisfy for days, with its rich rye flavour and raisin-studded interior. Fry bakes his loaves dark, resulting in a caramelized, crackly crust flecked with deliciously burnt notes.IMG_8340

I wish I had tasted his pain au chocolate. His Tumbler account reads: “You can see the gorgeous layers created by this amazing butter from Jerseyland organic milk produced by 100 Jersey cows in Grandforks B.C .where the farmers know all their cows by name, not number. We are the only bakery in town using this butter and it makes all the difference!”

That’s something to shout about.

And me, I’ll be pouting in despair until my return back to Victoria where I plan to visit five more artisanal bakeries on my list.

 

I want a cardamom bun!

IMG_8452It wasn’t until Instagram that I came to know a cardamom bun. Not only is this pastry fun to repeat rapidly as a culinary tongue twister but it’s drop dead gorgeous, too. I found myself staring longingly at the photos posted by Bakery 47 in Glasgow, Scotland considering the sweet mystery of it all.

I wanted it.

I needed it.

I would serve it at teatime (the way those Scots must?) in all its cardamom glory. I could smell its perfume wafting through the bun’s heart and soul intoxicating each of its dainty, egg-brushed strands all buried in sugar and butter.

Something about its knots and twists kept me happily delusional until one day I shook myself into action and created my own, using my basic challah recipe as the core.

© 2014 Madeleine Greey

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Cardamom Buns

Mado’s Basic Challah Dough

It’s basic because you can use it in various ways, from cardamom to cinnamon to hamburger buns to challah loaves yet it veers from the norm with the addition of whole wheat flour and the development of a sponge starter, first.

Sponge Starter

2 cups warm milk

¼ cup canola oil

¼ cup liquid honey

2 eggs

2 cups organic, unbleached all purpose flour (I like President’s Choice)

1 cup Red Fife whole wheat flour

1 tsp SAF instant yeast

In the bowl of a large KitchenAid mixer, using the whisk attachment, combine milk, oil, honey and eggs until smooth. Add flours and yeast and mix until combined, using the paddle attachment. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for two hours until the mixture is bubbly and puffing up about 20 per cent. (With a little imagination, the surface should look like a sponge.) If desired, you can make the sponge ahead and store in the fridge up to one day in advance.

3-4 cups organic, unbleached all purpose flour

1 tbsp kosher salt

Remove wrap and add 3 cups of the flour to the bowl and salt. Using the dough hook, mix the flour for about 6 minutes at med-low speed, gradually adding more flour, tablespoon by tablespoon until the dough no longer pools at the bottom of the bowl and gathers around the dough hook.

Transfer the dough to an oiled, large bowl or dough container, cover and let rise at room temperature for 2 hours or until doubled.

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Make the filling

1 stick room temperature unsalted butter

½ cup packed brown sugar

2 tbsp ground cardamom

In a small bowl, mash the butter, sugar and cardamom until smooth.

Once the dough has finished its first, two-hour rise, transfer to a lightly floured surface, shape into a loose ball and leave to rest 5 min. Dust with flour and roll out to a 24 in x 24 in square. Spread the filling evenly over rolled out dough, then fold in half, pulling the far edge toward you to cover the butter mixture.

Cut two thin (1/4 in) slices of the dough, gently twist together and lengthen like a rope then knot. Place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and cover with a tea towel. Repeat. Preheat oven to 400F and let rise, covered with a tea towel or oiled plastic wrap for 45 min.

Baste with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse or pearl sugar. Bake for 15-18 min, or until golden brown, turning baking sheets halfway through the bake.

© 2014 Madeleine Greey