Wednesday, October 28, 2009


I never saw the movie. You know, the one with the rat. Now, I'm a fan of Pixar, but I just wasn't attracted to the story. Rat wants to be a cook. Right. I did, however, find joy in thinking about all of those children who, when they got home, begged their parents to make Ratatouille. Only to find out that it is a stew made entirely of vegetables.

As a kid, I never liked veggies. The problem with them was that they were either canned or frozen. And they tasted exactly the same. In Mexican Cuisine, vegetables are something that usually accompany a dish of carne asada and frijoles. And they are usually the garden variety canned kind. Aside from theses, you have Chayote, Jicama, and Nopalitos. Jicama is actually good, and it's been years since I've had a Chayote, but I remember them being not so good at the time, but with a flavor that I would now enjoy. Nopalitos, on the other hand, are made out of a flat cactus and are, and always will be, vile.

It really wasn't until college that I discovered different vegetables. It wasn't that we didn't have other-than-canned growing up. We did, but we always prepared them the exact same way. I never really paid much attention to them until this year, though, somehow glossing over them in my bread-and-cheese vegetarianism.

So this year, we've been cooking more and more vegetables. My younger self would be shocked to read this, but vegetables are tasty. Even more so when mixed together and cooked.

Now, before the film came out I had heard of Ratatouille. Don't get me wrong. I knew about it, I just didn't know what it was. I had once had cold Ratatouille with even colder Couscous, and my dislike for couscous somehow automatically extended onto the vegetable stew.

However, it took a trip to Paris and a cookbook to really rediscover Ratatouille. The trip inspired an interest in French cuisine. Oh, the food. The food was so good.

The cookbook is Ginette Mathiot's Je sais cuisiner in the English translation: I know how to cook. I heard about it from Clotilde over at Chocolate and Zucchini. The book is amazing, the illustrations beautiful and the pictures, though they are too few, delicious. I'm actually working my way through it as bedside reading. Although I don't eat fish, I'm currently struggling through that section. I'm on Trout, if you want to follow along.

So, the book follows a simple does it approach. The ingredients are mentioned, and then the procedure is explained in a simple paragraph. In a way, it dispenses with precise cooking techniques, assuming some familiarity with the kitchen. On the other hand, it also just sort of explains what to do in the most simple terms so that anyone, even anyone that has never stepped in a kitchen, would be able to follow along. Okay, maybe that last part is a half truth, but the book takes a simple and direct approach. Trust me, you can make these dishes.

Basically, because Ratatouille is just a vegetable stew, you just slice all the vegetables and throw them into the pot. You don't even need to blanch the tomatoes!

I sliced everything and packed it into the largest normal pot we have. I do have bigger pots, one of which holds 20 quarts, but that is used exclusively for brewing beer.

Add in about 150 mL of water so that the veggies don't stick to the bottom. The odd thing here is that I found an error in the cookbook. 500mL does not equal a quarter pint. Though finding one mistake in a cookbook of 976 pages is quite the needle in a haystack. But have no fear, I've read the first 250 pages and there seems to be no other errors.

After half an hour of covered simmering, the vegetables were really soft, and, thank goodness, definitely fit in the pot.

Not that it has gone awry or anything, but, after an hour, I left it uncovered in order to get rid of some of the water, and simmered for a total of two hours before I called it "done".

I served the stew the next day for dinner during Tatort. I had some Pain a l'Ancienne dough on hand. Although this bread is not officially part of the Bread Baker's Apprentice, it is the bread I make the most. You basically knead it with cold water, refrigerate it for a few days, take it out, let it sit for two hours, and then bake it. The oven spring is fantastic, as you can tell by the ears on my very deep slashes.

The bread even exploded out of the side. I didn't bother with the steam pan, so the crust set before the inside was done, and the bread- well- it has to go somewhere.

No, this isn't the same picture as above, this is from the following day.

I couldn't get a good shot of this, but this is a Saison that I brewed two years ago. Now, to pre-answer any questions I know are burning- No, the beer was not bad. Though it had mellowed with age, the beer is 9% ABV and bottle fermented. That means that the alcohol and the yeast preserve it. If it had more hops, it would definitely keep, but the hop flavor would diminish with age. I do have to be honest, though. The beer had not improved with regard to flavor. It had mellowed out a bit too much. The beer was modelled after Saison Dupont, which is one of my favorite beers of all time, though I can't get it in Germany. Oddly enough, my second favorite is Hennepin Ale from Ommegang brewery. I also can't get it over here. I also can't get my third favorite, Matilda Ale from Goose Island brewery. I can, however, get my fourth favorite, Orval, which oddly enough, is the beer after which Matilda is modelled.

I sliced the bread and poured my beer. It was golden and crystal clear, as in the opening shot.

We sat down at the table and chowed down.

I must say that I had the left-overs for lunch two days that following week, and each time it was even more delicious.

Ratatouille Provençale from I Know How To Cook (UK edition):
750g Eggplant
1kg Zucchini
120g Onions
1 garlic clove (but don't go beyond two!)
750g Sweet Peppers, either Red or Orange
600g Tomatoes
125mL (Delicious) Water
75ml Olive Oil (aka 5Tbsp)
Salt and Pepper to taste

Slice all the veggies about a centimeter thick. Put them in a heavy pan, pour the 75ml oil over all of it, add salt and pepper and add 125mL water. Cover and simmer for an hour until everything comes together. Stir and simmer uncovered for an additional hour. Tastes delicious hot, nice cool, and best just a tad hotter than lukewarm.

Friday, October 23, 2009

BBA Challenge #19: Marbled Rye Bread

So, I've actually been baking bread for about 12 years now. My first loaf was in high school. Imagine that! I was not even 18 and already baking bread. Unfortunately, that loaf didn't come out at all. In fact, it didn't even rise, as I had no idea what I was doing, and the yeast I used was more than two years expired.

Still, I soldered on, and by the time sophomore year of college rolled around, I baked again. I don't remember how where I learned to make bread. There was no bread book that I discovered all dusty and tucked away in a remote corner of the library. I think I just sort of remembered that high school loaf and just dug my hands in to water and flour again, determined not to fail.

My bread baking had actually dropped off in the last few years. Since coming to Germany, I think I had perhaps baked two or three times, and despite having eating a lot of rye bread, I didn't really think that much about bread. In part, it was because the bakery across the street is so amazing, so I could just pick up a Landbrot whenever I wanted. Plus, on almost every street in this city there is a bakery. On the street where I work, there are three, the last one having just opened about six months ago. Not all bakeries are good, but most halfway decent ones will have a great selection of mostly dark bread.

The thing is, though, that when you have a baking culture that is fairly reliant on rye, you sort of start to get sick of it. In every good bakery, I ask what percent of the flour used is rye. Most of the time they answer without thinking, but at Soluna Brot und Öl on Gneisenaustrasse they got all uppity, particularly when I corrected their comment that sourdough can only be made with rye flour. Maybe in the Deutsches Brotfachbuch or something. They do, however, make the absolute best bread in Berlin (aside from yours truly, of course), so I will forgive them. Maybe it's that charming German service I've been hearing about.

So, it is with heavy feet that I dragged myself to the nineteenth loaf in the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge.

The bread consists of two loaves. Rather, it consists of making two loaves that are exactly the same except for coloring. Hold on. It consists of making two batches that are the same except for coloring, then rolling them together into two separate loaves with a swirl. Got that?

I don't drink coffee. At university I tried getting into it, honest I did. But it didn't work out. Coffee and me- we don't mix. I have often said that I have an iron stomach, but this iron stomach just does not like the acidity of coffee. It makes me double over. In addition to that, I don't drink any caffeine. Yup, you heard me. I don't need caffeine. When I wake up in the morning, I have trouble getting out of the warmth of the bed, but once I'm awake, I can't go back to sleep.

While the recipe suggested coffee as a colorant, I didn't have any on hand. I did, however have the can of joy pictured above.

At various points in Germany's history, coffee was scarce. Not all the time, just at certain points. During wartime and during the time of the DDR, people had to improvise. What resulted, is a small market for Malzkaffee- coffee made out of roasted barley. In recent history, however, they added malted barley and chicory for flavor.

So that's what I drink every now and again. Though Malzkaffee is popular amongst the elderly, younger people tend to snub their noses at this coffee ersatz. For me, however, it is a warm yummy drink as well as the colorant to my bread.

The mise en place was the same things, but doubled. I doubled my use of bowls because I didn't want to re weigh everything and half it when it came time to do the bread. The only difference is the bowl on the upper left with the Malzkaffee.

Two batches were made in the exact same manner. Peter Reinhart warns here about overkneading the rye and making it gummy. Because I've never actually baked with rye, I freaked out and didn't really knead it for more than four minutes. I theoretically could have thrown it all out and started again. After all, rye flour is super easy to get here. I got a bag at the grocery store near work. Next to the spelt flour.

I have to apologize for the relative lack of beautiful photos, as we were also preparing a Mexican feast for a guest at the same time I was making the bread. Mexican Feast post will have to wait until we do it again, as it was too hectic to take photos. Which means the rye bread got short shrift.

The loaves came out squished. There wasn't that much rise, and virtually no oven spring.

Also, the dark part of the rye wasn't very dark, even though I added about a half cup of the "coffee".

And! I also got a hole in the top of my crust. Usually this is a sign of overproofing, but in my case, probably not. These are the two loaves cut, by the way, as we made our way from one to the other. Just in case you were wondering why the swirls didn't match up.

I have to say that I was very underwhelmed with the flavor and texture. It was just. Well, dense and oddly flavored.

And. But.

Something changed in the course of the week.

I ate slices every day for a week, thinking it was unfair that I had to eat it, and trying to think of someone, anyone, who would take the bread. On maybe Wednesday I bit into it. Toasted. And was amazed. I don't know it it is a flavor thing or even a decomposition thing, but the bread tasted way better. Maybe I just had to adjust my taste buds. Or maybe it was the Poiret fruit spread.

Other Rye Bakers who haven't lost their Marbled are:

Deb at Italian Food Forever

Paul at Yumarama

Sally at Bewitching Kitchen

Janice at Round The Table

Cindy at Salt and Serenity

This post is part of the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge. Thanks again to Nicole from Pinch My Salt for the challenge.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

BBA Challenge #18: Light Wheat Bread

So I'm not going to make excuses and say that my life got in the way of blogging. Of course, from the frequency of my blogs anyone could have figured it out. I would love to be able to cook and blog every day, but alas, I have to run reports and ship packages most days, and either cook or meet friends. I know, I have it hard.

Living in Germany, though, does have its drawbacks. Although I'm extremely proficient in the language, there are some things I just can't figure out, no matter who I ask. The first is why there are no proper loaf pans here. Loaf pans run the gamut from skinny and long, for Kaiserkuchen, or wide and very long, for huge loaf breads. Which is odd, because the loaf breads that they sell at every bakery are the right width and length.

That's the thing. If you want loaf bread, you just up and go to the next bakery, and you have a loaf that usually beats anything you get in the States. Pumpkin Seed Bread, Sunflower Seed Bread, Whole Wheat with Rye, Five-to-Seven-Grain Mehrkornbrot. So there are loaf breads.

So how do the bakeries do it? Well, they don't bake with single loaf pans, but with loaf pans that are connected to one another. So you have about five or six pans welded together for easier baking. You just load them all, and then shove them as one unit into the oven.

There are, however, shops here that do sell them online, but at the cost of 15 € plus shipping, you might as well just be baking batards to use as sandwich bread.

So, if you're a the only thing you really can do is wait for a trip to some foreign land where you can walk into any kitchen store and get the things you need. Or, wait until someone visits, like our lovely friend L. and have them bring you a bunch of kitchen supplies.

It was just in time too, because as soon as I had my grubby mitts on the loaf pans, it was time to bake the first loaf bread from the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge. For this one, I used our small point and shoot to take pictures, partly as a picture challenge, and partly because I just didn't feel like bringing out the light stand and all the cables.

There's this odd recommendation in most German language bread books I have come across. When baking with whole wheat flour, they recommend using Biomehl, or organic flour, as the outside of the grain is used, and this is the part that comes in direct contact with pesticides. It's actually a bit odd to read that because there are very few whole wheat flours available that are not Bio.

I guess they figure that if you're crazy enough to be using whole wheat flour, then you must be some organic foods freak as well, so there's no point in having whole wheat that isn't organic. Or it could be that because stores that carry whole wheat tend to lean organic then it would make sense. The flour I bought, however, is from the Edeka in Tempelhof, one of the huge supermarkets, so I guess my theory is nonsense.

I- er- sort of, ran out of pre-ground sea salt for this bread, but I had some large grain sea salt so I just used that. The butter is normal Deutsche Markenbutter, and the honey is Rosemary honey that I got at La Maison du Miel in Paris. The rosemary flavor is very subtle, so I don't think I'll be using it again in bread, but, rather, just on bread.

I used to sift a lot when I baked by cups. But since graduating to weighed measurements, I rarely do it. I just sort of don't see the point, as flour will weigh the same whether it's sifted or not. Although, I have been told that it relaxes the flour and aerates it. Um, yeah. If I'm autolyzing, the both those points are moot since the water will completely absorb itself into the flour, and then relax it, no?

Unfortunately, with a simple point and shoot, you can't see how the bread looks as it is being kneaded.

I kept taking bits of dough, checking for a windowpane, but after a while, I just let it be and formed it into a rough ball, slipped it into an oiled bowl and let it rise.

When I came back after 90 minutes, the dough had risen higher than I had expected.

I laid it out and flattened into a round shape.

To form the rectangular shape I folded the rounded ends over and formed a perfect rectangle.

It looks like it will fit, but it looked odd. Maybe I should have tucked the ends down and underneath.

And into the pan. It fits perfectly.

After an hour, it rose quite a bit. The top had so much surface tension that it even tore.

I had to bring it over to the window to photograph it. Note how the ends are higher. That's from folding over the dough.

I miss photographing the undersides of bread. This loaf was actually darker than how it looks in the photo because I forgot to take the baking stone out and I just baked the loaf on the stone itself.

The required crumb shot is a bit dark. It's from all the fiddling with the camera, and because I took this picture in less than optimal light. Despite the bread being really high, the crumb was fairly tight. It was okay plain, but when it was toasted- like they say over here, "Es war der Hammer."

Now, remember the salt I used at the beginning? If you don't, then scroll up. I'll wait right here.

So, I usually add the salt after the gluten has a head-start on development, and for this bread like the others, I added the large salt at the end. However, I had a lot of trouble integrating it into the dough, even by hand. The odd thing is that it completely dissolved and there were no salty patches to be found in the finished loaf. That was a close one.

We ate this loaf within a few days and toasted every slice. It was amazing. However, with the plethora of good loaf bread around here and the amazing Oat Bran Broom Bread from Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads book, I'm just not sure if I'll be making this again. Perhaps it's just too light for me.

Other Light Wheat Bread Heavyweights include:

Susie from Susies's Home and Hobbies
Carolyn from Two Skinny Jenkins
Cindy from Salt and Serenity
Paul from Yumarama
Oggi from I can do that!

And of course, the customary shout out to Nicole from Pinch My Salt.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

BBA Challenge #17: Lavash Crackers

Do you see it? Do you? Up there at the top of the photo is my very own flour wand! Many thanks to L. for bringing it for me from the States!

I actually wasn't too thrilled about making these. Crackers. Great. Who wants to make crackers? While I'm still not convinced about these, and am not sure that I will make them again, they were pretty tasty considering.

I made these the same day I made the Kaiser Rolls, but had started the Kaiser Rolls first before starting on the Lavash Crackers, so technically they are still in order, even though the crackers were done before the Kaiser Rolls. (An aside: I did find a Kaiserbrötchen here- at Kaiser's no less! Apparently they do exist!)

Here is the dough shortly after kneading. I hand kneaded for this one, something I very rarely do, since I love watching the dough spin round and around in the DLX.

I placed the dough in a square 1L container for the first rise since there was so little of it. This is what came out.

I cut the dough into four pieces over two pans for easier handling. If I'm going to cut these apart anyways, it won't matter what the dough looks like before I bake it, no?

When I was in college, I couldn't get any decent tortillas, so I used to make my own. When I first got to Germany, I couldn't find any tortillas at all, so I used to make my own. Luckily, most markets sell them nowadays, but rolling out tortillas really made a difference in my rolling skills. Unfortunately shaping still leaves something to be desired, as my tortillas are only indistinguishable from the cracker dough above by color.

I decorated with dried basil, paprika, caraway seeds, and popyseeds, though not necessarily in that order.

The other two were decorated with black pepper and sea salt, as well as Herbes de Provence with sea salt. Those were cut into strips instead of broken apart.

Though I wasn't too thrilled with the crackers, they were pretty good.

Even the crumb was awesome. Haha. What kind of a post would this be without a crumb shot?

I'm torn about this recipe. While the crackers certainly were good, it just seemed like a lot of work compared to the results. Maybe I'm just biased because I expect a piping hot loaf of bread to come out of the oven whenever I work with though.

Don't get me wrong, though... I thought these were pretty good. It's just that in case I make them again, I'll be tripling the batch. Just to get my time and work's worth. Oh, and the taste? Well, we ended up eating the entire batch in one sitting for a spontaneous dinner. Eggplant caviar, mustard, and cheese served as accompaniments.

I am actually behind on reading posts, so no links this time!

Thanks again to Nicole from Pinch My Salt for the Challenge.