Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Modern Baker Challenge: Butterscotch Scones

I, like many of you out there, have had a love affair with Butterscotch all my life. As a child, I used to snatch up those little Butterscotch hard candies from Brach's in the yellow wrapper that no one else liked. All buttery and- well, certainly not Scotch-y, as I later would find out.

The thing is, I don't really like butter. Okay, okay, I don't like butter on bread, since the butter just takes over the taste of the bread, and I really dislike how Germans put butter on sandwiches that you get at a bakery. It's funny, because, in the States, you would probably get mayonnaise. When I make sandwiches, I tend to counterbalance the flavors. Mustard on one side, and either Tomato Jam or Fig Jam on the other. Just to get a half-savory sweetness to cut the mustard.

Butterscotch, on the other hand, is almost the polar opposite of mustard. Sweet and buttery and- well- you can't really describe the flavor. It's almost as though you made candy out of butter. Although I'm not a straight-butter fan, I am a fan of butter in things. Pound cake, muffins, a very light coating of butter on sourdough pancakes? Butter caramels, Lemon curd, Butter Pecan Ice Cream? Vegetables sauteed in butter and thyme? Broccoli soup where the ingredients are butter, water and Broccoli? Yes. Yes to all of them.

So, when I found out that The Modern Baker Challenge was making Butterscotch Scones, I jumped on them. I mean, who doesn't love Butterscotch in things?

In case you're wondering, the Butterscotch flavor comes from the butter, cream, and the brown sugar. Though I doubt that creaming them together will give you Pure Butterscotch Heaven (as found on the Smitten), you can certainly try. In the case above, and on the advice of other Modern Bakers, I also added a handful of Butterscotch chips, imported into Germany from the States, just to up the ante.

I have to let you in on a dirty little secret of mine- I don't sift the flour. I used to when I used measuring cups, but now, I just sort of throw the dry ingredients together and just stir with my Zeigefinger. Part of the reason is that my old, really good sifter gave up the ghost, and I replaced it with a really cheap one from IKEA. Unfortunately, you really do get what you pay for, since the sifter can't handle more than a handful of very white flour.

After following a lifetime of recipes, I also tend to skim recipes instead of reading them, unless I'm reading them for fun, in which case I tend to visualize the process. Here, for scones like for many cakes, you mix the dry ingredients together, cut the butter into the flour, and then mix in the almost dry.

Since I don't have a food processor, I tend to do most things by hand. In this case, the eggs and cream are whisked together separately, then poured into the dry-ish ingredients instead of pulsed in a food processor. I have, however, been thinking of getting one, just for the singular purpose of making killer hummus.

When the batter dough looks like it's remotely coming together, you turn it out on to a floured board. You're actually supposed to fold the dough over on itself to give it a final mixing, but, because my bread habits tend to sneak into everything, I kneaded it just a little bit.

The only problem I had with this recipe was the size of the scones.

It makes twelve, where it really should make eighteen.

But since I actually managed to read this part of the recipe, I decided to trust Nick Malgieri and divide each third of dough into a further four.

The flavor was amazing. Though when you compare the scones to Butterscotch hard candy, the concentrated flavor of the candy always wins.

But if you can't get Butterscotch candy, and, like me, you never eat ice cream at home, which sort of precludes you from making Butterscotch sauce in any form, these are definitely what you need.

Although on second thought, some Butterscotch sauce drizzled on these might not be half-bad. Would that be overkill? Well, considering there is a recipe for Triple Chocolate Scones in the book, I would say that Triple Butterscotch Scones would fit right in with the rest of the quick breads.

For more of these wonderful scones, check out these other Modern Baker Lovers (though no Jonathan Richman, so don't ask!):

Phyl from Of Cabbages and King Cakes

Andrea from Family & Food & Other Things

Heather from Tease-spoon of Sugar

Renee from Every Pot and Pan is Dirty

Abby from Stir It! Scrape It! Mix It! Bake It!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

BBA Challenge #37: Swedish Rye (LImpa)


Is impossible to find in Germany.

So I exaggerate, but this is the ingredient that has given me the most grief in my short German baking career. I knew that any normal store would definitely not have this in their baking department, and yet I persisted. I asked for "Melasse" at every big supermarket, and at every Bio-laden I could find. Yet, I knew I would probably not find it. A few salespeople even referred me to Zuckerrubensirup, but it's not the same. See here (in German).

Molasses are a basically stronger form of the weak beet sugar syrup. Okay, it's pretty much just a weaker version of molasses. But the flavor is different. I assure you. Molasses is heavy and tastes as dark and as rich as it is black. Whereas Zuckerrübensirup is- well, it's not as heavy but still tastes pretty sweet and rich. Kind of like molasses but without those kicking blackstraps in the back of your tongue.

This bread, however, must have been adapted from a Swedish recipe. So, it's fully possible that the original had no molasses, but, rather, the other beet syrup.

After much to-do, and searching of Bioläden- organic food stores- I went to the one place I had found molasses about two years earlier. I actually used those molasses, shortly before their expiration date, for the first bread in the Challenge- the Andama Bread. The store was called a Reformhaus, which is a chain of Health Food stores that carries the odd off-beat products like flax seeds, oat bran, whole hibiscus flowers, coffee substitutes, and organic candy bars.


Bread #37 of the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge is Swedish Rye, also known as Limpa, which, according to Google Translate, simply means "loaf".

On the first day you make a sponge, though, in truth, you probably also need an extra day beforehand in order to get your sourdough starter ready.

By the end, the whole thing looks black and really, really ugly. Still, the molasses should do the wild yeasties some good, since molasses contains not just sugar, but tons other minerals. After four hours, you refrigerate it and take it out the next day.

I don't always follow the directions in the recipe, though. Sometimes I'll make the starter or sponge early in the morning, and then start the bread later on in the day, when the starter looks like it's begun to stir. Of course, my disregard of directions has, on occasion, caused me to miss ingredients or steps.

This particular bread has a high percentage of rye flour- about 30%- so you can't mix it too much, lest the rye become gummy. Despite all the practice with rye in the sourdough section, I still have problems with rye. I don't want to mix it too much, but I also have trouble recognizing when I've mixed it enough.

In this case, the dough held well, and was pretty firm. When the delicate gluten in rye breaks down from overkneading, the dough has a tendency to become sticky. And by then, no amount of stretch and folds can save the bread. Thankfully, this time, it was not the case.

After a very modest first rise, I shaped the loaf and placed it on the quarter-sheet baking pan. The loaves are slashed before the second rise and the whole thing is left to proof until it is time to bake.

Despite all my precautions, however, the bread turned out disastrous. I think this is the period of time when the oven started conking out, way back in March.

Or maybe I didn't steam, the oven- which very well could be, since the loaf has all the tell-tale markings of a loaf whose crust formed first, and then begin to rise after the crust set. The bread looked like a beetle.

And the slices turned into mushrooms. This indicates that the crust baked and set before the rest of the bread. Having nowhere else to expand, the rest of the dough expanded under the bread, broke on the sides, and lifted the whole thing up.

As for the flavor? I didn't really like it despite it's licorice-y flavor. I just couldn't wrap my head around it. The bread all dense and bursting with this flavor I just don't associate with bread. I guess now I can understand people who don't like fruit and nuts in their bread. For them, it's not bread. For me, though, this bread could have been very much improved by a healthy dose of scotch-soaked fruit.

Alas, half of the loaf went into the freezer, and the other half I stuck in the breadbox at work. I recently re-discovered it in there, sealed in a Zip-loc bag, looking about the same as it did months ago when I baked it.

Other bakers who have Limpa'd along with this bread are:

Abby from Stir it! Scrape it! Mix it! Bake it!

Oggi from I can do that!

Phyl from Of Cabbages and King Cakes

Sally from Bewitching Kitchen

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

BBA Challenge #36: Stollen

It now seems like a lifetime ago.

I used to live in Brooklyn. Why there, and not Manhattan? The simplest and foremost reason was the sky. I grew up in California where you have nothing but sky. The highest buildings in my area were about two-stories high, and even then, they were a rarity. So Brooklyn was an obvious choice. Most buildings weren't over four stories and the sky- oh, the sky.

Much to my chagrin, though, most people I knew who lived in Manhattan would very rarely come to Brooklyn. When I would throw parties, they would sort of look at me funny like "You expect me to go where?" and then confess that they had been to Brooklyn only once or twice. Me, on the other hand, I preferred to stay in Brooklyn, and would try, as much as I could, to spend time all my there. My favorite bars were in Brooklyn and I just loved the way it looked. Though I have to confess that I did do most of my food shopping at the Union Square Farmer's Market and Whole Foods in Union Square. Chalk it up to convenience.

Still, I was always on the lookout for shops to visit, and without the infrastructure of Twitter and food blogs- which I never knew existed until I found The Smitten Kitchen- I had to pretty much hear of them through word-of-mouth or random walking.

I don't remember how I discovered Schaller und Weber on the Upper East Side. Perhaps I was visiting my only friend that lived up there, or maybe I just stumbled up on it on the crazy mammoth walks I would undertake just to look at the different architecture. I once walked about 12 miles through three boroughs, just for fun. My favorite thing to do while visiting said friend was to pop into Schaller und Weber and just inhale the smell of the sausages. I know, I know, being a vegetarian and all, what was I thinking? But I just loved the way the place smelled, all meaty and salty and cured.

The thing I most remember about the store was looking at the strange products in German, before I could read and write it. Mustards and Tomato Paste in tubes, strange boxes full of potato powder ready to be made into Kartoffelklöße. Well, the same things that you can get in any good supermarket here.

One cold January morning, I picked up something heavy. It was Stollen, and a kilo of it, at that, all wrapped in a plastic bag with a best by date of March. I don't remember where I had heard of Stollen before, but I seemed to have seen it somewhere before. I picked it up, put it in the basket along with various mustards and German candy.

As part of the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge as hosted by the lovely Nicole of Pinch My Salt, stollen would be showing up on the schedule sometime after Christmas, which is a bit funny because most Germans avoid Stollen anyhow, so I thought I'd have a tough time trying to get rid of it.

Here's the mise en place. Just in case you're wondering, I did the same as with the Panettone and soaked the candied fruit in some Macallan single malt Scotch. It was amazing in that, so I decided to do it again.

Once again, the Electrolux Assistent comes to the rescue. I wish I could make a video of how it works just to show people how amazing this thing really is.

Here's the mixture with the almonds and the fruit included.

And as a ball together. The dough was pretty wet on this one for some reason. Perhaps I didn't mix it enough before I added the rest of the bits.

After the first rise, it's not as pillowy as the Panettone, but it's still on this side of firm.

I rolled it out into a rough rectangle. Rough here being a very key word.

Sprinkled the almonds. Actually, I wanted to spread some marzipan in the middle just like the Marzipan Stollen you get here.

I folded it over and...

Um. No, wait. I folded it over and folded the other part over. Somehow I got really confused with the shaping, wanting to make it like the ones here. The funny thing is that many recipes I've found here call for a Stollen pan in order to make that perfect Stollen.

I did no such thing, but thought it came out pretty good.

I sort of winged it with the almonds and just stuffed them into the "mouth" of the Stollen.

Now, you might ask when exactly I made the Stollen. Well, it was three months ago in March. Some friends had been trying to pin us down for the Christmas get-together we never had, and, well, Stollen had been the next bread in the book so it all worked perfectly to plan.

Or, it would have. Somehow in my haste and in trying to get ready to leave the house I sort of... burnt it. Not wanting to trash it and not wanting to re-do the Stollen, I decided to do something I thought I'd never do.

Once we got to the party, I decided to cut off the bad parts of the Stollen and move forward.

I decorated it with powdered sugar and brought it out. The thing is that the Stollen was so delicious, I couldn't help but shave off slices. Among the four of us, we polished off half of the thing. I cut half of what remained and left it there.

One of the things you can do with Stollen is to leave it out for weeks to dry it out. Unfortunately for this one. It didn't even last another day. It was that good.

Just for comparison, though. I'm very much used to Stollen that is pretty dry. When the first ones start appearing in early October, I usually buy a mini-Stollen- for the sake of research, of course. They're pretty dry, but not dry enough that a glass of milk can't make it better. As the season progresses, I get to sample all kinds of Stollen. But once Christmas is over, it's gone. As though they know they won't be able to move the loaves of sugary coated goodness once the holiday season is over.

Most people I know here hate Stollen. I have no idea why. Though, if you look at the Christmas Bread situation in the States it's no better: Fruitcake. We once received one and it was awful. All candied fruit and dense. I vowed never to touch it again. But something dawned on me when eating a similar and very small loaf of fruit bread here. Fruitcake, the kind you get in the US would be so much better swimming in some kind of scotch or rum. I can just imagine it now.

Other Stollen Bakers include:

Phyl from Of Cabbages and King Cakes

Sally from Bewitching Kitchen

ap269 from Family and Food

Oggi from I can do that!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

BBA Challenge #35: Sunflower Seed Rye


Sometimes I think I'm running out of steam since my baking has basically halted. Part of the reason is that I want to catch up. That is- synchronize what I've baked with what I've posted in order to not forget what the breads were like.

It now seems that by the time I get to the actual post, I've completely forgotten what the bread looked like, or even tasted like. Such is the case with this one. Though I remember the bread being good- slightly dense, chewy on the outside with that slight rye taste, and just a wee bit dry, even. Though I don't remember much else.

I do think that this bread, for me at least, was not really that special since sunflower seeds are used in almost all German Breads. You can buy rolls with them, and even loaves of bread, the seeds themselves baked onto the top crust, and the crumb itself full of the yummy seeds. Whereas this one, yes, it had seeds, but it was not the chock-a-block seed-fest of Sonnenblumenkernkastenbrot (Sunflower-seed loaf bread) that you normally get here.

It's funny that this bread concludes the Sourdough chapter in the Bread Baker's Apprentice. It's another one of those with yeast in it to help the bread rise faster. I would have thought there would be a wider variety in the survey of bread that is the book, but I believe that Peter Reinhart didn't want to overwhelm any beginning bakers, some of whom would probably have had no sourdough experience to begin with.

Still, having had years of normal yeasted-bread experience under my belt, and only a few months of sourdough experience, I have to say that the Sourdough section was quite tame. Yes, you have to wait for the bread to rise on its own. Yes, sometimes you have yeast to help it along. Yes, it's like regular bread, but, really, I didn't find any real surprises, aside from the sheer enormity of the Poilâne-style Miche.

So, without further ado. Into the frying pan...

Actually, a cast-iron pan. The recipe begins with toasting sunflower seeds to unlock their flavors and aromas.

The mise en place reveals a starter (upper left) and a soaker (left). I have to admit that I actually didn't use coarse whole-rye, again, since I was hoping my whole rye flour would be coarse on its own. The specialty flour store where I get my flour has coarse-ground whole wheat flour, so I was actually expecting the whole rye to follow suit, but, alas, it was not to be.

All ingredients take a whirl in the stand mixer...

And come out in a firm blob of strengthened proteins, networked gluten, and sunflower seeds taut within the mixture. This particular dough looks like a pillow because of the stretch and folds I did during the rise.

After the first rise, the dough is shaped into a boule.

And then poked.

And prodded into a ring. The only thing about it is that the opening of the ring really should be that huge. In a fit of doubt that seizes me every now and then, I decided that the hole was way too big, and then padded back inwards.

Normally, one would use dowels to separate the sections, but I reached for the first thing that struck me, the handle of a wooden spoon. Twice for each line- pressing it down a total of eight times for four clear impressions.

So, imagine my disappointment at the risen product. The lines were pretty clearly defined, but the hole in the center had almost completely closed.

Still, I can't deny the memory of the bread being simply delicious when I ate a full third of it (as soon as it cooled, of course) with various cheeses and mustards. Now, if I could remember just how it tasted...

Other Sunflower Seed Rye bakers:

Janice from Round The Table

Abby from Stir it! Scrape it! Mix it! Bake it!

Anne Marie from Rosemary and Garlic