Thursday, December 16, 2010

Poilane. See the heavy snow.

Poilane cushions, not miche :=)
Poilane backroom with bread chandelier
Poilane slices with Proscuitto de Parma and Meslun assembled in hotel room
Baguette Ancienne
Breads at Borough market
Breads at Borough market

Visit to Poilane and Gosselin in Paris

Ever since I started baking Artisanal bread, I have always wondered what the real stuff tastes like. Although I have had slices of Poilane which has been shipped here, the bread was already past its prime.

I finally got a chance to visit Poilane recently. Despite the heavy snow on that day, I managed to visit Gosselin also. Unfortunately there just wasn't enough time to visit Kayser , Boubsa and Ganachaud.

The people at Poilane were obliging in answering my questions. I requested for a visit to their wood fired oven in the basement but the lady said that they entertained visits only in the Summer.

Trudging in the heavy snow with slush all round with an armful of stuff was worse than an army route march. With one hand holding an umbrella, the other hand holding a map to navigate the streets of Paris and bags and bags of wife's shopping dangling from the arm, it was an ordeal that only a bread fanatic could endure. I had to call it quits after 2 bakeries as it was getting dark.

At Gosselin, I was surprised that the Baguette Ancienne cost less than local baguettes at 1.15 Euro. Baguette Ancienne, which Peter Reinhart described so much in his book selling for less than our local baguette in Paris??? and we are talking about the baguette which won the Parisian baguette of the year.

Over in the Borough Market in London, there were stalls selling the most beautiful breads and the only reason why we don't hear of such bakers is that they don't write books nor do they have on online presence.

It was certainly an eye opening experience and it made me realise that there are many superb bakers and bakeries out there other that those we know from the books. The bakeries in Switzerland were superb and the breads there were exceptionally good. The only regret I had was being unable to carry all those bread home.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Indian wheat flour

I have been baking more whole-wheat breads lately and the inclusion of Indian Maida flour warranted a new post. Maida is the Indian equivalent of all purpose flour. Since the Indian grocery store near my work place carried Pillsbury Maida, I picked up a couple of bags for this flour test.

When I poured it into the flour bowl, I was surprised by the creamy color compared to the Prima bread flour. I would not have noticed the color had it not been placed side by side to the Prima bread flour. In comparison, the Prima flour was so white that it looked absolutely bleached.

For this bake, which is my favorite fruit and nut bread, I made up a formula of 50% Pillsbury Maida and 50% Swarna Chakki Atta. Swarna Chakki Atta is very fine stone ground Indian Atta. You can see their advert on Youtube. The hydration was 80% with 2% Himalayan Pink Salt. So other than the yeast, it was an entirely Indian affair. Even the Walnuts and Giant Raisins were bought from Mustafa although they were imported from California.

The first time I used Swarna Chakki Atta, I was extremely surprised by the flavor. I would say it was the most flavorful bread I had ever made. However, subsequent bakes were not so remarkable. I cannot say that the quality had deteriorated because the law of diminishing marginal utility may have kicked in.

The dough was mixed in, the night before and given a prolonged autolyse overnight. This morning, it was given a stretch and fold with the toasted walnuts and raisins scattered in. After an hour proof, it was baked at 225C for 10min, followed by another 1omin at 200C. I turned the oven down to 190 for the next 10. After the bake, the oven door was left ajar for another 10 min.

The breads were very flavorful when they were taken out from the oven. I brought a loaf to a an Indian food vendor selling Tandoori chicken. He has a Tandoori Oven in his stall where he makes a variety of Naan breads. I had come upon his stall in Bedok Food center by chance and tried out his Garlic Naan breads which I found to be very well made. We chatted about bread(what else?) and I told him about my experiments with Atta flour. Since I had promised to bring him a loaf to try, I had to make good my word. He was surprised when I showed up at his stall with a loaf of bread and some home roasted Organic coffee from Gayo, Indonesia.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Favorite Fruit and Nut Bread

For the past few weeks, I have been making my favorite fruit and nut bread based on a Middle-Eastern stone ground Atta. After trying out a kilo of the flour, I was so impressed by its quality and freshness that I went back to the store and got myself 3 more kilos of it. Somehow, it seem better than the Indian Atta that I had been using.

I made up a formula using the entire kilo of flour. The rest of the flour used for the bread was German type 550 flour to make up a total flour weight of 60 Oz. The water absorbing qualities couldn't have been more different that the Type 550 flour. I ended up using a 85% hydration. For the past few bakes, the nuts that I used were Walnuts and Almonds. For the fruit, I used Golden raisins.

For this bake, I had to resort to Cashews, Almonds and Cranberries as I did not realize that the Raisins and Walnuts were already used up. The resultant crumb was not too dense as the Atta was only 58%. This made the bread very pleasant to eat. The bread was made over 6 hours with only a couple of hours fermentation. Despite the short time, the bread was very flavorful.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Wonderful book

I was rummaging through a pile of music books, looking for my volume of Antonio Carlos Jobim's Bossanova guitar scores when I came upon this little book, a gift from Dan Lepard. It must have been stuck there by my son who has a voracious appetite for books.

I have always loved books of this nature. They offer nuggets of wisdom which are so appropriate for the situations we get ourselves into. The first time I came upon this kind of book was when I was an undergrad in the University. Someone from the Catholic Students Society lent me a book, The Song Of The Bird by Fr Anthony de Mello. It was a collection of stories which were either original or compiled from masters from the past. That book opened up my mind at a time when I was having a lot of doubt. Ironically, I learned recently that the books by Fr De Mello were actually frowned upon by the current Pope.

I went on to discover the writings of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Lao Tze and the Zen and Sufi masters. What struck me was that they were all so similar. It made me realize that the wisdom passed down through the ages transcended organized religion. As Sri Sri Ravi Shankar once said that Religion is like a banana, the flesh is all the good values that we all treasure, the traditions and rituals that come with the religion is just the skin. Nobody fights over the teachings of love, compassion etc but everybody is fighting over the skin.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The turbo broiler did not work as well as I had hoped.
Bag of Grade 1 Sulawesi Toraja green coffee

Roasted beans waiting to be packed.

Coffee Roasting

It was inevitable. The ideal companion to a good loaf of bread is a cup of good coffee. I have been able to source for good Columbian and Brazillian coffee from an old man in a HDB market. However, my last purchase from him disappointed me. I have to thank him instead because it led me to roasting my own beans. This was a project that has been on my mind all this while but then, green coffee beans are not exactly easy to find unless you are willing to buy hundreds of kilos of the stuff.

However, I managed to get samples of my favorite Mandheling and Toraja coffee recently. My first attempt was in my bread oven. Although the coffee that came out was good, I did not want to see another blizzard of coffee chaff whipping up in the oven chamber ever again. I had thought that a turbo broiler would have been an ideal substitute but to my horror, the highest temperature that it could go up to was 230C, not the 250C on the dial. Now that I am saddled with another red elephant, I decided to bake a bread with it. It turned out pretty good. I am convinced that it is possible to bake good bread with fairly basic equipment. You just need to know how dough behaves.

Since the turbo broiler was out, I had to resort to another basic equipment for roasting my coffee. It turned out better than I had expected. I under-roasted my first batch of Toraja but the subsequent batches made great coffee without the excess acidity of under roasted beans. This morning, I made 2 extra batches for my friends who are fellow coffee lovers.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Flour Test - Turkish Tezcan Un

I was given a kg of Turkish flour at the FHA 2010. My intention was to use it to make baguettes since it was a general purpose flour with 11% protein. However, due to my busy schedule, it did not happen. Instead, I used it to make some sourdough loaves.

The entire kg of flour was in the main dough. The sourdough starter of about 100% hydration was 400g. I used a hydration of 66%, surmising that it was typical of European flour. In the American system of calculation, this would have given it an overall hydration of about 71%.

I was quite happy with the result. The texture and flavor was comparable to the type 55 flour that I was using. Having had the opportunity to use American and European flour, I now have a better understanding of how these flours behave. It is hard to say which is better as both can produce bread with the deep aroma that I like. It all boils down to the process.

Friday, April 23, 2010

My prized catch of green Indonesian coffee from 4 different regions
Joseph Grenier's loaves baking in the Wachtel oven
Joseph Grenier in action
French baker from a Vietnamese flour mill
Baguette shaping in progress
Rolling the baguette
The baker from Ireks shaping baguettes
Pre-shaped Baguette dough resting in a tray
Miche from the same baker

FHA 2010-Part 2

I was fortunate to be able to attend FHA for the entire 4 day event. Here is the second installment, focusing on my 2 loves, bread and coffee. I had a first hand look at how a baguette was shaped by the baker from Ireks. Unfortunately, the bakers were often very busy and it was not possible to talk to them at length. However, a picture speaks a thousand words and just seeing them in action spoke volumes. I was happy that they were willing to share about the composition of the flours used in the breads that they were baking. It seems that they almost never use pure white flour.

Coming to my second love, coffee. I got myself a stash of green Indonesian coffee. 4 types were available at the booth that I visited. They were all organic grade 1 coffee from Lintong, Gayo, Timor and Toraja. I am looking forward to roasting them since nothing beats freshly roasted coffee. My experimental batch of Brazillian Santos coffee given to me by a kindly gentleman. He is a coffee expert whose whole life revolved around coffee and has been in the business for decades after learning from a Dutch Master Roaster. I gave a batch to my good friend and colleague and his comment was that he liked the beans because there was no harsh burnt note in them.

I fell in love with Indonesian coffee after trying out Mandheling and Toraja coffee. All these beans have interesting stories to tell but it is the full bodied richness of the coffee made from these beans that gets one hooked. So when I chanced upon a booth offering green Indonesian, I was delighted and they were equally happy that I had brought my trolley on the last day to scoop off my babies. This was because they came to the trade show without a trolley and the boss had to lug the 60kg of beans and spices as the rest of the staff were petite ladies.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

King Crab
Live Abalone
Red Scorpion Fish
Gigantic Moon Fish and lobsters
Salmon, Cod and other treasures from the sea
Kopi Luwak, the most expensive coffee in the world retailing at $62 for 100g
Fine seafood selection

Jamon Iberico
Surprise, surprise. Real good bread from Delifrance.
Dean Brettschneider
Selection of breads made by Dean
More breads from Dean
The friendly people from Tuksei Tezcan Flour, Fatih and associate.
The flour given to me to be tested soon.
Maasi Orimo San from Japan Salt Corporation

FHA 2010-part 1

Food Hotel Asia 2010 was finally here. Although I was expecting tickets, they arrived at the very last minute. This kept me on tenterhooks as I had promised to pass some to my group of dear baking friends. I was glad that I was able to fulfill my promise. The appreciation from this group of friends was reward enough.

I had a chance to see many bakers in action. I discussed the merits of different fermentation strategies with a German baker, Joseph Grenier and he told me that a recent trend was to have a prolonged final proof. He showed me the final proofing trays complete with lining and cover that facilitate stacking. From his explanation, there was no doubt that there was an advantage where logistics was concerned and the bake at the point of sale would guarantee that the customer gets the freshest bread.

A beautiful array of bread caught my attention and when I went to find who the skillful baker was, it turned out to be none other that Dean Brettschneider, the author of The Global Baker. Other celebrity chefs I met was the talented and funny Ryan Hong of Bespoke Dining. I was pleasantly surprised by the breads at Delifrance. The breads there were vastly different from those found in the retail outlets. It's a real pity that the breads at FHA are not available at the Delifrance outlets.

FHA was a great chance for me to talk to some Turkish millers. One miller I spoke to was Yuksei Tezcan Flour Co. The friendly Sales and Marketing Executive, Fatih Karabay gave me a kilo of flour to test when I told him about my bread baking passion. There had been some discussion on Turkish bread flour in the forums and I was very happy to get hold of some to do some testing on.

I am always on the lookout for top quality ingredients for my bread and since salt is such an important component of bread, I was happy to chance upon the Japan Salt Corporation. I had a fun time talking to Masaaki Orimo San, the General Manager of Saitama Branch. I had initially thought that it was all Japanese salt. I realised that the company carried special salt from all over the world, ranging from my regular Himalayan pink salt to Truffle flavored Guerande salt. I also recognized a bottle of Utah salt given to me by a friend.