Tuesday, April 28, 2009

If you can't beat them, join them!

My family wanted supermarket bread and they got what they wanted. I have not bought Sunshine or Gardenia breads for a long time but since they wanted sandwich bread (the kind that they were used to), I had no choice but to do some for them. 

I got a Pullman loaf tin recently when my wife and I checked out Phoon Huat's outlet at Sims Lane recently on my day off. I chose the larger loaf tin which measured 13 x 4 x 4 and that required about 46 oz of dough. In a previous bake, I used 36 oz of dough because I followed Hamelman's Pullman recipe which was for a 13 x 3.5 x 3.5 tin. 

For today's bake, I decided to do a whole-wheat version using up what's left of my Shipton WW flour in my freeezer. The WW was 40% so I increased the hydration to 70% from Hamelman's recipe for a white loaf.

The first 2 Pullman bakes that I did was well received by my family. Sad to say, they prefer soft bread to the hard ones I usually bake. Most of the time, I am the one eating up my own bakes. I have to admit that there is a sense of satisfaction in seeing my daughter eat up a complete slice for breakfast. Usually, with those crusty French bread, the crust is left behind, probably as a message to me.

Perhaps it is time for me to be more accommodating to the needs of my beloved daughter and my aging father. He will smile when I asked if he has eaten the bread that I had brought for him. His usual reply was that his teeth are falling out after eating my bread.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Pictures of my Butterfly Pea

I was on my way back from work and passed a house with a roadside herb garden. The owner of the house was weeding the patch and we had a little chat about gardening and the herbs that he was growing. He invited me into his compound where there were more interesting plants growing there. Before I left, he broke a sprig of terragon and gave it to me.

When I got home, I planted the spring in a little bit of soil and capped the plastic container with another transparent disposable container like a temporary terrarium. I figured that since the sprig had no roots, it was necessary to conserve moisture and what better way than to 'seal' the moisture in. The leaves can then continue to make the food that the plant needs while the roots take the time to sprout. It certainly beat soaking the cutting in water. The results was proof that I was correct in my hunch. That little cutting of terragon has since multiplied into a few healthy plants.

After this success, I applied the technique to cuttings of rosemary and oregano given by a friend. These worked equally well. 

However, I am most happy about the Butterfly Pea(Bunga Telang) that I had planted from pods which I found by the roadside. To me, it is the most beautiful flower in the world. When I was a boy, I observed my grandmother extracting a glorious blue color from the flower. I was enchanted by the blue coloring and to this day, my favorite nonya kuehs are those with the blue coloring like Kueh Salat, Nonya Rice Dumpling and Pulut Inti. 

My grandmother was a traditional Peranakan who dressed in sarong kebaya dress with kerosang. She made the most delicious dishes and snacks. The memories of those days are clearly etched into my mind. I recall her feeding me Tapeh, a sweet fermented rice wine and was already a coffee addict even as a child. She was definitely instrumental in making me love good food.

The Butterfly Pea(Clitoria Ternatea) was named by Rumphius. He seemed to have followed the example of Carl Linnaeus, the originator of the scientific classification system of plants and animals(taxonomy). Apparently Linnaeus had this penchant for naming things in this curious manner. Although some of the names are controversial, I am glad that the names have prevailed simply because they show that scholarship need not be dry and dusty. Rumphius was a botanist employed by the East India Company and the flower was probably found on the Indonesian island of Ternate. The rich flora and fauna is documented in The Malay Archipelago by Alfred Russell Wallace who came up with the Theory of Evolution independent of Charles Darwin. 

The Butterfly Pea is a legume and such plants actually fertilize the soil that they are planted on because the bacteria in the roots of the plants fix nitrogen. I intend to verify this by planting the seeds right among the herbs to see if they thrive on the enriched soil.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

One more attempt on the hearth

I was not completely satisfied with my last bake. Although the crumb was what I had been trying to replicate, the overall look of the baguette was dissatisfactory. Since the baking stone is there, I just had to do it one more time. With some mental mise en place and a fewer loaves to juggle, the results were a little better. The 3 shorter loaves were baked on the stone as those were the only ones that fit.

Hamelman showed a series of baguettes which were baked with steam and the use of a baking stone as variables. My results concurred with the pictures shown in the book. Those baked on the hearth had that open crumb texture found in authentic French baguettes as can be seen in Eric Kayser's books.

There are still areas for improvement and one of the obvious one to correct is the shaping. I am shaping my baguettes on a smooth piece of marble. I found this to be a little too tacky when I roll the baguettes. From the videos of the pros, they seem to be using wooden work tops but  I am not sure if I want to acquire yet another piece of baking equipment. 

Many bakers say that the baguette is the simplest loaf but in reality, it is the most difficult bread to bake well. From the fermentation to the handling, it takes many iterations before one gets the feel for it. 

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Mission accomplished?

Today was my final attempt at replicating the baguette from Le Grenier a Pain. I put in the baking stone for this last attempt and that made a great difference in the appearance. Unfortunately, it was also the attempt to bake in a larger quantity that did me in. For this bake, my preferment was 40 oz but the total flour weight was 60 oz. Usually, the total flour weight was 40 oz and that results in a very flavorful baguette. When the loaves came out of the oven, the aroma was more subdued. That's another point to note for my next bake. I had trouble juggling the 10 loaves, 3 of which were baked on the hearth. The other 7 were baked in trays. The handling problems resulted in some snaky loaves and disappointing poor scoring.

The only good thing about this bake was that the crumb was identical to the one I bought from the Grenier bakery. The loaves baked on the hearth also had the ends curling up.