Baguettes!

I like projects. I like bread. I like bread projects. Case in point: baguettes. While the consumption of the venerated French style baguette couldn’t be easier – simply tear off a chunk, take it plain, slather it with butter or cheese, or dip it in some saucy sauce and then deposit in your mouth for mastication – the making of a good baguette is a bit more challenging.  But I like a good challenge so, a couple days ago I attempted to make baguettes following the recipe and instructions of Chad Robertson’s Tartine Bread book, a book for which I’ve developed rather deep emotional feelings.  I would say love would be an appropriate definition of those feelings.

Since my first attempt at the Tartine country loaf, I’ve made several loaves and while I can’t say I’ve mastered the technique, I have become quite comfortable with it and I’ve gotten a feel for how flour, water, yeast (in the form of the natural leaven) and time interact to produce certain results.

Ah, the good ol' country loaf. It's like sitting in your favorite chair, comfortable and reliable. (spoiler alert: baguettes in the background)

Now here’s where baguettes are different.  In addition to using a natural leaven, Robertson’s baguette recipe also calls for the use of commercial yeast in the form of a poolish (basically a leaven made with packaged active dry yeast instead of natural sourdough starter).  I know that the whole point of instant yeast is to be active and spark that fermentation process , but my God, the dial on on this yeast went up to eleven (that’s a Spinal Tap allusion, for all you non-nerds).  As per Tartine instructions I made the poolish (1.5 gram of active drive yeast + 1oo grams of flour + 100 grams of water) the night before I planned on making the baguette dough.  But within an hour of mixing the poolish, it was already rising over the walls of the bowl.  To slow it down a bit, I stirred out the air bubbles and I put the poolish in the refrigerator overnight which seemed to do the trick.  But that yeasty hyperactivity reasserted itself when I made up the dough.  It was like dealing with a hyperactive kid who’s eaten a breakfast of Honey Smacks in Coca-cola.  The baguette dough rose like crazy through the initial fermentation and during the second rise, after shaping it into three separate baguettes, it continued to bubble with activity.  So instead of the neat, svelte baguettes which I was hoping for, I ended up with rather bloated baguettes like Italian loaves you find in the grocery store.  Nevertheless, they were texturally really good with a nice crust and a chewy and airy interior.

I won’t go into great detail as far as method goes, because as I’ve said before, the Tartine Bread book does a better job of describing it and you should get your hands on a copy.  But here is a basic recipe rundown:

Dough (for about 3 medium sized baguettes):
200 grams of natural leaven (2 tsp of starter + 100 g flour + 100 g of water, mixed the night before)
200 grams of poolish (mixed the night before)
250 grams of water
325 grams of all purpose flour
175 grams of bread flour
16 grams of salt

Following the basic country loaf process, I mixed the dough and let it go through a five hour bulk fermentation folding the dough on itself every half hour for the first two hours (for a total of about 4 turns). After five hours, I split the dough into three sections and gave each an initial shaping. After a half hour rest  on the work surface, I folded the three dough sections into elongated baguette shapes and placed them on a floured towel for the second rise of about three hours.

Baguettes in a blanket: after the second rise, my baguettes resembled fat lazy caterpillars.

Now here’s where it gets a little more complicated. Because the baguettes are so long, I couldn’t bake them in the dutch oven so as per Tartine’s instructions I baked them on a pizza stone. During the first 15-20 minutes of baking, it’s important to have a lot of steam and moisture in the oven because it allows for the expansion of the loaves and the formation of a more delicate crust. So again, following Tartine instructions I soaked a kitchen towel in water and put in on a cookie sheet on a rack underneath the pizza stone to produce steam. A brief tip on using this technique: make sure there’s enough water so your towel doesn’t dry out. Let’ just say I didn’t realize towels could burn  and get charred so quickly.

Shroud of Turin?

No, just a burned and charred towel.

After about 20 minutes I removed the cookie sheet and kitchen towel and let the baguettes bake for another 12-20 minutes.  And this was the result:

Baguettes afer baking: a little bloated but I'm happy that they weren't all flat.

Nice airy structure and crunchy crust. Not bad!

While the baguettes were not as tight as I would have liked them to be, I loved the airy structure and texture.  Flavor-wise, they were good – more like a sweet yeasty flavor as oppose to a sourdough tanginess.  Interestingly, when I dipped the bread into some chile verde that I had made, its porky, slightly acidic and smoky chili flavor brought out a lot of the complexity of the bread’s own flavor.  Toast made with slices of baguette spread with homemade jam was simply delightful.

Day old baguette toast with caramel de pommes (apple butter from France!) and homemade strawberry jam (from Michigan!)

Final verdict: Overall it was a success in that the baguettes didn’t flatten out and retained a nice structure.  Taste-wise, while good, I prefer a little bit more sourness so, next time I think I’ll use less poolish and more natural leaven.  Perhaps that will give me more control over the flavor and yield a less hyperactive rise so that the final shape will look not so much like an overweight caterpillar and more like a true baguette.

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Chinese New Year 2011 (Chinese Lunar Year 4709)

Eating and cooking in the same space. That’s how we do.

As promised, I bring you the Chinese New Year 2011 post. This year, Shef and I were fortunate to make the trip back to sunny California for some 70 degree weather and feasting with friends at the annual West Coast Chinese New Year family dinner. Check out this old post for the background on this event as well as classic recipes.

As usual, Cheryl and Cam were kind enough to host the event. Unfortunately, it happened to coincide with a bout of stomach flu brought home from science camp by my niece, Maia, for the benefit of her little brother, Dylan, who began suffering its ill consequences right as the party got started.  Poor kid. He’s already so skinny.  So, Cheryl and Cam, being great parents, took turns tending to Dylan who was quarantined in their bedroom as the rest of us ate up a storm. The only stomach pains we were feeling were from overeating.  Speaking of overeaters, for the first time, Sari and Jake (of churrusco fame) and their two kids Yuji and Hana made the trip up from LA to enjoy the festivities.  And enjoy they did as you can see from Sari’s photos which she somehow managed to take in between stuffing her mouth.  Or, she’s really good at multi-tasking.

But to be fair, Sari was not alone in her mouth stuffing. We were all doing our part because there was so much delicious food, some of which you’ll see in the video below. Perhaps I’m not the best multi-tasker because I missed out on a bunch of things, most notably, Erik’s delicious faux eel and tofu (the wonders of dried shiitakes!) and the mountain of delicious desserts.  Big thanks to all the featured cooks and eaters whom I will now list in no particular order: Jake and Sari for bringing your stomachs and prepping skills, PK for being Korean,  Cheryl for your low-cal brussel sprouts  with bacon, Jean for her dumpling expertise, Thu for her PORKalicious egg rolls and Vietnamese expertise, Dave for his ridiculously good banh mi, Shalini for her tender lamb curry, Marissa for her delicate adobo and her mad videography skills, Minh for his dumpling cooking and Vietnamese seal of approval, and Matt for the oh so special boiled chicken.  The Lunar New Year would not be the same without all of you. Gong Hay Fat Choy!

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Hana’s Healthy Soba

Hana shows this dumpling who's boss

Here’s the latest and greatest from my youngest contributor, four-year old Hana (seen above sampling a dumpling).  This time, she takes on something a little more involved than ants on a log but as usual, she demonstrates her ease and charm in front of the camera as she guides us through the preparation of this healthy and delicious soba.  Me thinks she might have a future in this business.   Enjoy!

-C. Ting

[From Hana (as channeled by her food obsessed mom, Sari)]

Dear Uncle Clarence,

Here is my favorite meal of all time and I video’d myself for you.  I even take my healthy soba to pre-school in my lunch box sometimes.  My friends think “What the hell is that? It kinda stinks…” but I don’t care–it’s goood!  I make it myself and thought you needed my recipe on your website.  I got confused and called the Japanese yam (which my mom thinks is taro in English but maybe not?) many different things.  It’s real name is “tororo” but I said, tororo, totoro and daikon and something else.  They are all white and weird except for Totoro so it’s all the same.

Hope you like it!

–Hana

Hana’s Healthy Soba

Serves 4

1 package Soba (boiled and chilled in ice water)
3 cups Tsuyu (homemade or store-bought)
Grated Yamaimo (“Tororo”/Japanese Mountain Yam – skin peeled, grated)
Natto (2 packages with tsuyu packets mixed in)
3 Japanese Cucumbers (julienned or chopped however you like)
1 cup toasted Sesame Seeds
2 cups dried nori (in thin strips)
Green Onions (thinly sliced)  and Grated Ginger (optional)

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Taco Time with Matt and PK

Al pastor features prominently on their trailer. That's NOT Matt or PK in that picture though

Exactly one week ago, I found myself flying to the Bay Area in order to enjoy the annual Chinese New Year potluck feast (more on that in a future post) with family and friends at Cheryl and Cam’s house .   Now,  let me ask you this. What is the best way to whet one’s appetite for the mountain of food that accompanies any Chinese New Year celebration?  Why, tacos, of course!  Fortunately it’s become somewhat of a tradition that whenever I fly into Oakland, if Matt or PK is picking me up, the first thing we do is head over to International Boulevard, home to numerous taco trucks, where we gorge ourselves on tacos.  In this case, we headed to Tacos El Gordo #2 (don’t know where #1 is, but I’m glad to know there are two).    According to Matt (and the picture on the side of their trailer)  it’s known for it’s al pastor (marinated, slow spit-roasted pork) which because of it’s spicy seasoning and roasted crunchy bits has always been one of my favorite meats of tacos, burritos or tortas.  But equally delicious at Tacos El Gordo are the suadero, cabeza and (Mexican) chorizo.  But don’t just believe these written words.  Watch the following video because seeing is believing.

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C’s Hot Wings!

My attempt at plating. Anyway, you get the idea. Wings and drumettes with sauce.

Alright, I meant to put this up before the Super Bowl, but I got waylaid by Chinese New Year’s festivities (stay tuned for a future posting).  So football season is now officially over.  But really, who needs to watch grown men running around in skin tight pants, head butting each other in order to enjoy spicy and delicious chicken wings?  I, for one, do not.  And neither should you.  It’s always the right time for hot wings.

Here’s the recipe (as usual, quantities are suggested):

Ingredients:
8 oz chipotle peppers in adobo (or from 1/2 cup to 3/4 – depending on how spicy you want it)
2 – 3 tsp to of fish sauce
1-2 tsp of vinegar
1 tbsp of ginger
1-2 tsp of garlic
2-3 tbsp of plain yogurt
2 1/2 lbs of chicken wings

Here’s how you do it:

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