When I was in College, or, as I am now accustomed to say, in University, I worked at one of the University-run snack bars. I worked Friday Nights because I really had no social life, and working allowed me to talk to random strangers while their food was cooking. While I enjoyed working the grill and making omelettes for very cute women, my true love was making pizzas. The only drawback was that I actually didn't get to talk to anyone except for whoever was making pizzas along with me. So I had to switch every other week in order to get the best of both positions.
The thing here, though was that we had copious amounts of cornmeal to dust the peels, so they slid beautifully into the oven. Taking them out, however, was a different matter. There was always this fear that the pizza would wobble on the peel, and fall to the floor, cheese side down, of course. I did drop a few, but, in truth, perhaps only two out of the hundred or so that I made in my time there.
Growing up, however, we never made pizza at home. Our home oven was actually unused for most of the time I was growing up, and, since Mexican cuisine doesn't really have much that requires an oven, it became the de facto storage for our pots and pans. As for delivery, we had the Pizza Cart, always a phone call away, and Domino's, which I hated because it never tasted good and the pizzas were always way too small in comparison with those from the Pizza Cart.
In New York, there was always the debate as to who had the best pizza, and which Ray's was the first with the name. For best pie, however, my vote went to Grimaldi's, partly because it was delicious, and partly because it was a bit of a ritual, whenever it happened. We would begin by walking across the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan to work up a hunger. Then, we would wait in line outside the restaurant (there was invariably a line) and then scarf down an olive-and-roasted-red-peppers-topped pie. We would head over to the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory for a scoop before watching the lights on the Fulton Ferry Landing. Though I've done this countless times, I never got tired of it.
In Berlin, however, Pizza is a different matter. There's mini-pizzas, often available for a single Euro, but they're usually about four or five inches in diameter, or they are a rectangular piece of about the same size. Slices don't exist here except at a few places that claim NY-style pizza, but even their pizza leaves one craving good pizza.
Having said that, there are a few places that make excellent Pizza. Clärchen's Ballhaus, which is actually a ballroom, as well as Toros, near where I work are two good examples. Toros actually has a wood-fired brick oven, which you can see when you walk in. Don't even mention that place in Prenzlauer Berg because I hated the experience of being in the place, though the pizza was pretty good.
My favorite place in Berlin, though, is the Pizza Klub, which, coincidentally, is just a Katzensprung away from us. There had been a string of pizzerias in the same location before they opened up, so when the last one closed my expectations were at Zero. When they removed the paper on the windows after remodeling, however, the entire neighborhood was shocked. There were nice lamps. Wooden tables. Rock star posters on the wall. It looked so... inviting. We first went there on a Sunday after a weekend trip. I really don't remember which pizza I had, but since then, we've had dozens of pies from there. It's even become our favorite place to watch Football, which we do every two years for the European Cup or the World Cup.
I have been making pizza as long as I have been making bread, and while the pizza was always acceptable, it was nowhere near the pizzas I would eat when out.
This is a picture of my Electrolux Assistent model AKM4110W, known to most as the DLX. I actually got it after getting my bonus from work last winter, and after researching it on Jeff Varasano's excellent Pizza Recipe site. My whole intent was to make pizza. I never dreamed I would be participating in the BBA Challenge or getting back to making bread.
For Peter Reinharts recipe, there really isn't much in the way of prep. You sort of chill high-gluten flour as well as water, and just mix it up. I added a little bit of olive oil for texture, but aside from that, there's really nothing to it.
Here's a picture of the dough just before shaping and baking. I have to confess to not reading the directions all the way through. Instead of forming six balls and refrigerating them. I just put the entire dough in a bowl and stuck it in the fridge. I also sort of forgot about it. You see, I had wanted to make pizza during the week, and, as fate always has it, I only got to the dough six days after preparing it. On a Friday. On this day I took the photo above and then froze three of the balls of dough.
The other three were flattened out for a dough rest.
The first pizza was a resounding success! The only thing I didn't like was that I was using a 17% low-fat mozzarella, just to see how the cheese would melt. I've never had much luck with low-fat cheeses, and this one was a bit stubborn as it cooled. I had to wrestle my teeth around it.
It made for a beautiful pie even if the crust was a bit pale.
Pie two also had fresh mozzarella, but this time I used Mozzarella di Bufala, which I traded for an arm but not a leg at Galeries Lafayette.
This was one weirdest things when I first got here. Mozzarella is sold by the Kugel, floating in brine, in its own plastic pouch. In Brooklyn, I used to head to the Italian Market on Graham Avenue and pay a pretty penny for fresh Mozzarella which they would weigh out for me before taking a leg but not an arm. Here, each pouch of 125g Mozzarella can be had for just over fifty Euro cents. The downside to so much fresh, is that the aged variety is impossible to find. Even when you try to buy "Pizza Cheese" here, it is mostly all Gouda, with no Mozzarella at all.
The second pie did not fare well. Hesitation will do the opposite of wonders when you are baking. In this case, I am not sure what happened other than the pie spilled itself onto the oven stone, causing a fair amount of smoke the next day when I was baking my loaf of bread for the week. I flipped the stone over and forgot about the blackened parts.
Pie three gave up a crumb shot. I just had to take it because I can't let a BBA item go by without showing the holes.
Pie four was eaten before I could even get a picture of it. I know, I know. Bad me.
Pie five had parmesan, cheddar and fresh mozzarella. It looked just as toxic as the picture above, but only because I found an cheddar from England that was bright orange, just the way I like it.
This crust was was one of the most flavorful crusts I have ever had, by my hand or otherwise. It really took me back to the Pizza Cart as well as certain pies in New York. Ever since I began seriously appreciating pizza I've been focused on the crust. However, I would never dare eat a pie without tomato sauce. White Pizza? For me, it's not pizza.
Once, my sister and her husband attempted to order Extra Cheese on a thin crust pie at Grimaldi's. Sacrilage! I shouted. I told them to trust me, and just order a maximum of two toppings. The pizza had the right amount of cheese on it. It was just a thin layer, but it was the perfect foil to the crust. After the pizza, we headed over for some ice cream and took in the lights of the city before descending back into the subway and heading home.
When I was living in Brooklyn, I would often come across these gigantic boxes of Panettone that had been imported directly from Italy. I dreamt of one day buying one of these boxes, taking it home, opening it up, oh-so-carefully, slicing myself a huge slice, and biting into sweet, sweet heaven.
My dreams were always dashed by the $16.99 price tag. Because of this, and my stroking of boxes whenever we found them in gourmet stores, Amy once gifted me a mini-panettone. I actually don't remember anything about it. My excitement overshadowed any flavor memory I might have created.
So, I was very much looking forward to making this recipe, conquering it, and laughing at my past, drowning myself in slices of cheap, cheap self-made Panettone.
But this bread is not cheap. To say it cost me 16,99 € would be an overstatement. I actually didn't count how much it cost, but it creeps up when I include the Orange and Lemon Extracts as well as the fruit and almonds. Not to mention the Scotch. But I was going to get rid of that anyways.
Now, some of you might gasp in horror at this first photo. I know, I know. But I had no other choice. Vanilla Extract is just not found in this country. After much searching and asking, I asked my mom to send me Vanilla beans. I cut them up and put them in 500mL of cheap Vodka and waited. Amazing that I still have some, but I don't usually bake sweet things. When I do, however, there is no replacement for real Vanilla Extract.
Oh, you're gasping at something else. The Single Malt Scotch that I got at Duty-Free a couple years ago? Ha! I actually won't miss it. I never drink it because it is too mild. Ever since discovering Lagavulin and then Laphoraig and then Ardberg and then obtaining a bottle of a '99 Cask Strength bottling from Caol Ila- to say I'm on an Islay kick would be putting it too lightly. I love peat and smoke. I'm not too fond of Bowmore, though, and I would love to get an older bottle of Ardberg. A 15, perhaps, but the distillery re-opened only about 12 years ago, so I'll have to wait a couple more years. I even tried getting into Talisker, which I'm actually sipping right now, but I'm doomed. I need that punch-in-the-gob-peat-flavor.
I actually used to like Macallan before I discovered the Islay Single Malts. I actually even tried giving this bottle away, but the friend, another Single Malt connoisseur, said to hold on to it. I might decide that I like it later on. Yeah, fat chance.
This is candied Orange. I love how it's called Orangeat, like Orange eat. The only other time I've ever bought candied fruit was when I made Stollen. It actually came out dry and crispy, so I never made it again. But every time I pass these things I get the urge to make it again. We actually will be making Stollen later in the challenge, but it will be in late January. I know everyone I know will be laughing at me, saying it's a month late. Good thing I can eat the evidence.
I'm not even going to go into how good this tasted. i kept plucking raisins and sour cherries out of the mix just to taste it. I even mixed it with my fingers just to be able to taste the sweet, sweet nectar of the fruits. I even considered just eating the mixture and calling it a day. I could say I couldn't resist and that I knew I would never get further because of the flavor of this concoction.
Here's where things began to go wrong- I bought some Type 550 flour especially for this recipe. Now, I know Type 812 and Type 1050 pretty well. We go way back, you could say. But Type 550, I very rarely use it.
At least I got the mise en place right. You probably can't see the writing on the candied fruit soaker, but I wrote "Fruit with Scotch- Awesome!" on the plastic wrap. That's how excited I was about it.
I'm going to skip to the chase and just say that here is the point where things began to go horribly wrong. The dough was not really coming toghether when I dumped the fruit in. As soon as it hit the dough I realized that not all of the liquid had been absorbed.
I scraped down the bowl several times, but the dough wasn't having it.
I did pull some out, and had good gluten development, however. It stretched out about 30cm before breaking, so I decided it was good and poured it into the rising bowl. It barely rose.
I was very careful in creating the Panettone molds out of parchment paper, particularly since i didn't even try to look for them here.
I even did some very fancy origami work with the parchment paper.
But there was still no rise.
Nope. Nothing to see. Move along now.
I gave this one small loaf away, and the two recipients absolutely loved it.
Although it looks like it's not burnt at the top, the bread actually did burn.
So I did the only reasonable thing I could think of. I doused the bread in Calvados and snacked on slices for a week. It helped moderately, but the texture was too dense and it just didn't seem right. I decided that I had tried and the bread came out not so good so, oh, well, right?
Wrong- A few days later, I was on the amazing site: The Fresh Loaf, and someone mentioned that their Panettone had not come out right. Later in the thread, someone recommended using fresh yeast, as the high sugar content of the dough will shock normal instant yeast.
So I planned a re-do.
This was the very first thing I ran out and bought. Though fresh yeast can be had here for about 10 Euro cents per 30g cube, I have never actually used it. Every time I have had it around, it's sat in the fridge, unused, slowly creeping into a brown shade. I also made sure to refresh my sourdough starter and the barm was much more active when I added it.
The rise was incredible.
When I went to split the dough, it was sticky and fluid but you could totally feel the strength in the dough. It was also light and airy, if you can describe fluid strong dough that way.
The small one overbrowned on the top, but was definitely not burnt. I took this one on a hike, and people loved it.
The bread ended up moist, and though I was not a fan of the flavor, I did keep cutting slices and breaking chunks off and popping them in my mouth. While not the most delicious bread, it was really good for what it was.
Here the crust is also quite brown, but it was definitely not burnt!
Even the bottom was beautiful. I was so proud.
The loaf was light, fluffy, and quite moist. I actually used the minimum amount of water in the recipe, but it still came out wetter and goopier and moister than the other one.
Would I make this one again?
No. Absolutely not.
I often come across certain breads in my daily life, and this Challenge has given me a greater appreciation of bread. I always take note of how it was baked, what the crumb looks like, and, in particular, the flavor of the bread itself. If I see an interesting bread, I'll buy it and say I'm doing research. I did come across a Panettone in the supermarket the other day for 3,49€, but couldn't bring myself to buy it as I was on the verge of making Panettone. It doesn't make sense to buy more of the bread you are baking, does it? In any case, Panettone is plenty cheap here, so if I ever want some, I can easily just buy it.
There's this word in German, lassen. You may recognize it from its similarity to laissez in the word laissez faire, which, incidentally, comes from the French, and in turn, probably from some old Latin word. So, the word is usually used in the sense of when you have someone else do something for you. When you say Ich habe das backen lassen, you are saying "I had that baked". When you say Ich habe das gebacken, then you're saying "I baked that".
So sometimes bread just goes automatically. I keep saying that bread is really forgiving when I really mean that dough is really forgiving. I've kept batches of dough around in the fridge and by the seventh day, they were just as fine. Okay, maybe they weren't optimal, and maybe it's not the best bread I could have baked, but it still rose and allowed itself to be baked.
When I just go on auto pilot, the results can be- well- great! And there is no easier way to go on auto-pilot than with bread that you don't have to babysit.
Pane Siciliano, the twenty-third bread in the challenge is a three-day bread. While some may groan and think that Peter Reinhart has lost his marbles, the three days are justified, though it might be better to make it a two-day bread and start early on the morning of the second in order to finish that night.
For this bread, I was baking with two-ingredients which are difficult to get in Germany. Elite Weizen is the high-gluten flour from the local specialty flour store, and Semolina rimancinata di Grano Duro, which I could not find anywhere. I ended up taking a trip to KaDeWe- Kaufhaus des Westens, or Department Store of the West. There are quite a number of places to go for specialty food in Berlin. If I had been thinking, I could have gone to Mitte Meer near the Hauptbahnhof, and checked out their selection of Mediterranean goods. But no! I opted for convenience, as KaDeWe is only a ten minute bus ride from my apartment.
KaDeWe is a huge department store that begins the Ku'damm one of the busiest shopping streets in Berlin. Though, technically, it is on Tauentzienstrasse, this street turns into the Kurfürstendamm, so all shops on this long street are generally understood to be on the Ku'damm. If you've ever been to Harrod's in London or Galeries Lafayette in Paris, then you can probably picture KaDeWe.
On the top floor they have a food hall, where you can find all sorts of food from around the globe. Their selection of goods from the US is also quite extensive, not to mention, expensive. They have Root Beer for about 2€ per can, as well as Jiffy Pop and that BBQ sauce with the guy screaming on the label. Oh, they also have canned pumpkin, but at 7€ per can, I think I'll make my own again this year.
As is the case, the kitchen is mad busy on the weekend, so I occasionally have to make room for other projects while I'm baking. In this case, I was waiting for the pâte fermentée to wake up and de-chill. I stacked all the ingredients to get them out of the way. From the bottom on the left, Semolina, flour, salt, yeast, and on top, the honey and oil mixture. You don't actually mix the honey and oil for any particular reason- I just poured them into the same container because it was more convenient for me. Though I could have just as well poured them in with the water on the right.
After some kneading in the trusty ol' DLX, the dough was ready for rising.
I plopped it into the bowl, covered it with plastic wrap and zoned out into automatic land.
I should interject here and say that I am a notoriously bad shopper when it comes to clothing. Usually if I find something I like, I will resolve to buy two in anticipation of the day the first gets worn out or damaged or starts to look ratty. Of course, this never happens. And so, I end up looking like a bum that other bums don't want to hang around with. I don't want to shatter your impression of me as a dapper young gentleman who runs around in button down shirts and a monocle, but it's true. I hate buying clothes.
So, I reluctantly went pants shopping. And after much to-do and trying on of pants-that-no-respectable-person-would-wear-but-I-had-to-because-I-don't-know-my-size-in-German-measurements-and-of-course-they-don't-go-by-inches-but-also-not-by-centimeters, I bought three pair. We were out of the house for three hours and not once did I think about the dough. Until we got home and jumped like a madman to the rescue of the dough.
I poured it out and began to shape it. There it is, a 60cm baguette in all its deformed glory.
German sheet pans are actually very odd. They are all designed to fit the slots in the oven, but are not designed for air circulation. Perhaps for this reason, almost all new ovens here switch from conventional to convection at the touch of a button. Of course, our stove is a plain electric stove that looks like it was purchased when the Wall fell.
However, this particular sheet pan fits perfectly on a shelf in my refrigerator, with nary a centimeter to spare. So, this is the sheet of choice when I have to put something in the fridge. It's actually mighty convenient for bagels.
The next day, I woke up to find the dough quite puffy. I had a nature hike, so I woke up particularly early to get the bread done before I left. Note that I actually had to separate some of the loaves. I did this very gently by taking a pair of scissors to the parchment paper where the dough stuck and then very very gently prying the loaves apart. I wanted to slide parchment paper under the whole thing, but worried that it would disturb the loaves too much, so I decided to take my chances with stuck bread and went ahead and baked them.
The loaves came out golden with a crispy, chewy crust, and oh so puffy in the middle.
The crumb was beautiful. I wasn't expecting huge holes, but the crumb was still amazing. irregular holes and golden-tinted.
We had this bread for Sunday Dinner (just before Tatort) with a mushroom stew from the French cookbook I Know How To Cook. It was a little bit too much mushroom, plus I added onions, which weren't in the original recipe, so It was a bit too weird, even for me.
As a bonus, I would like to introduce the first breads from my first self-birthed sourdough starter, Beatrice. This first loaf was made Thursday night before even starting the Panettone. I did an overnight bulk rise and baked it in the morning. At first, I thought I would get no oven rise, but the thing just leaped up as soon as it hit the hot air of the oven.
The second loaf from Beatrice was this fruit and walnuts loaf which took forever to bake- partly because I baked it in a springform pan. It was, however, quite yummy. Unfortunately, I didn't write down the recipe, but it's basically raisins, dried cranberries, dried sour cherries and walnuts along with whole wheat and Type 812 flours. Maybe next time I'll write a post about breads of my own creation. Or maybe I'll bake my way through another bread book like Leader's Local Breads and start my own challenge. You never know.
Every Sunday, on ARD, they show the longest-running series show in the history of German television. It's called Tatort, which roughly translates to "Scene of the Crime". It is shown in a 90 minute stretch, without commercials and otherwise uninterrupted starting at exactly 20:15.
It's actually somewhat of a joke with us, as we tell people that we can't do anything on Sunday evenings during Tatort. Though it is one of the highest rated German shows, it is a bit unusual for young people, and even more unusual for non-Germans, to watch the show.
Nevertheless, I love watching it. Each week you have a different city and thus different Kommissare. You do see each pair about twice a week, and over the years get to know a bit about them. My favorite team is Frank Thiel from Münster with partner, Forensics Professor Boerne. Together they are a hilarious pair, though the comedy always black.
On this Particular Sunday, we were at our friend's house. We switch off sundays and either we cook, or she cooks. That Sunday, two Sundays ago, Thiel and Boerne were solving a very odd case, and my friend called asking if I happened to be baking bread, as she didn't have time to run out and buy some.
The mise en place is rather simple- pâte fermentée, a mixture of whole wheat and bread flour, yeast, Guerande Salt, as well as bottled water.
One of the great things about having a mixer with an 8L capacity is that you can just do the ferment in the bowl, covering it with a damp towel for the first rise.
I had originally decided to shape the dough into a couronne, but then changed my mind. I was shaping the dough into a batard when inspiration struck. Well, you could say it struck me down.
You see, when I began the challenge. I marvelled at everyone's creativity. Everyone was doing crazy things with their dough or changing the fruits and nuts around. So when I got a crazy idea, I decided to just go with it and see what came of it later.
About a year ago, a friend introduced us to Das Museum der Dinge (Museum of the thing) tucked away in the punk/alternative enclave of Oranienstrasse. It's more of an archive of- well- things. In their Museum Shop I found this cakemold, designed by Konstantin Slawinski. What caught my eye was the amazing design. It looked like a modernist building. Of course, Amy saw the practical use of the mold- to create different sized portions of cake.
What compelled me to plop a bread into a silicon ring mold? Or what compelled me to make long dough strips and then lay them into the mold? I dunno. All I know is that I wanted a couronne, and I didn't want it to be ordinary.
I also made a few other shapes. From left- a bunch of bananas, an Épi, and a twisted baguette in a U-shape.
The Épi was a lot of fun to do. You just take a pair of scissors, snip, and push the piece to the side.
You do, however, end up with rounded ends, just like with a baguette.
The botom-side of the shape reveals that my mad Épi-making skills have yet to be developed.
However, the lucky recipients of this bread flipped out over it. We gifted it to the parents of our French Canadian friend. I have personally never seen this shape in real life, but they had, and they went on about how it looked just like the ones in France. They probably didn't take a look at the back of the thing.
As for this thing, I took the inspiration from some twisted baguettes from Switzerland that I saw in a bread book. I don't remember which one, however, as it was a bread book I ended up not buying.
So. In case you are still reading. Here is how the couronne turned out. This modernist leveled shape is actually the bottom of the cake mold, but the top of the cake proper. I not only turned the bread 180 degrees mid-way through baking, but I also flipped it over to get the top to brown nicely.
Normally these divisions would indicate different portion sizes. The portions are of differing widths as well as differing heights.
The only problem with the bread was the inconsistent browning. The higher pieces tended to brown faster, leaving me with a multi-browned couronne.
One thing I do regret, though, was making several long snakes of dough and piling them in. I think the next time I make this- and there will be a next time- I will try to keep it to one piece, or maybe form rolls and put them together in the cake mold.
For those of you interested, here is the "bottom" of the loaf. This was originally the top before it was flipped over. You can see some of the portion markings on the sides.
Because I was bringing the couronne to the Tatort dinner, I cut apart the U-twist baguette to get a nice crumb shot. The holes were okay, and the crumb was relatively tight. However, that did not detract from the moist crumb and dry, crunchy crust. Oh, yeah, it tasted good too.
At dinner, we sliced it up according to the portion markings. It was almost like having rolls.
Of course, it was three(!) different kinds of pasta and this bread. I couldn't help myself and had about four or five rather large pieces. I couldn't help it. The bread was so good. I rarely say that, though, because I've had tons of bread, and sometimes it all tastes the same to me. Hold on- let me rephrase. I usually eat good bread- In this country it takes a bit of effort to get bad bread, though it exists. However, I am usually rarely wowed by my own breads. Perhaps I'm too critical. But this one was soft and crunchy and the flavor of the pâte fermentée. It wasn't himmlisch, but it was certainly lecker.
I'm an expat living in Berlin, Germany. I started this blog to keep track of my breads in the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge. If you have any questions about German flour, especially Type 812, or the Electrolux DLX, contact me.
Mail me at misterrios (of course, at) gmail (again, of course) dot com