22 February 2011

Food Lab 7: Boiled Doughs

Food labbing during football season didn't work quite as well as we'd hoped, but the season's over now, so it's time to get back to experiments with food!

First up: boiled doughs, aka bagels (and pretzels).

So one of the things that's interesting about boiled doughs is that the boiling process basically super-charges the second rise. Which is a good thing, since immersion in boiling water also kills the yeast.

We decided to do two takes on bagels:

1. Based on the recipe in Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything.

2. Based on a recipe from Emeril Lagasse.

The Bittman recipe was a long rise recipe, so we went with pumpernickel flour (4 parts to 2 parts whole wheat pastry flour and 2 parts bread flour, all King Arthur) and SAF red label yeast. Initial rise there was about two hours.

The Lagasse recipe was a short rise recipe, so we went with Fleischmann's yeast (which is faster-acting) with equal parts whole wheat pastry flour and bread flour. We also substituted barley malt syrup for the sugar, since we had it on hand for the pumpernickel bagels, but you could also use honey or a honey/molasses combo. Its initial rise was about an hour.

(The sugar, of course, helps activate the yeast by giving it something to feed on, and using something other than plain granulated sugar adds some subtle flavors and a little moisture.)

In the meantime, we also mixed up a soft pretzel dough. I can't remember where I got the recipe (although I do promise to reproduce it in another post), but I do remember that I found it while looking for a replacement for the recipe in the CIA baking book, which calls for barley malt syrup (which I didn't have on hand at the time) and...boiling in a lye solution. Not gonna happen. (Although Mama IA is agitating for a liquid nitrogen lab, so perhaps Dangerous Kitchen Ingredients Lab is in my future.)

Pretzels are nice because they're super fast - first rise is 45 minutes, you form the pretzels, second rise is 20 minutes, you boil them, then bake for 20 minutes. From "let me collect my ingredients" to "break out the mustard!" it takes less than 2 hours.

Most recipes for bagels advise dividing your risen, punched down, and re-kneaded dough into 8 (or 10 or 12) pieces, rolling them into logs and then pinching the ends together. That seemed a little silly to us. We formed our bagels by making dough balls, then poking a hole through the middle, and swirling them around on a finger to form a dough ring.

Then it was time for the second rise, about 30 minutes for each set.

Quick pop into a kettle of boiling water - about a minute per side - then baking for about 30 minutes in a 425 degree oven.

Observations: these are nice normal sized bagels, not GIANT bagels, thank goodness. And they taste great, particularly the pumpernickel variety. But they came out sort of flat. I think in retrospect, I'd definitely let the second rise go longer, and possibly the first rise, too. I think the whole wheat pastry flour might be the culprit, as the texture was nice, but we didn't get a strong rise. Perhaps a little more kneading time would be of benefit, too. Also, we had the kitchen door open (you'll see why below), so it might have been a little chilly for dough.

So why was the kitchen door open? Because what goes with bagels better than smoked fish?

Specifically, smoked rainbow trout and smoked salmon.

Chef Spouse and I stopped at Eastern Market on our way to the IAs' pad and bought two beautiful whole boned but head and skin on trout, and a gorgeous piece of wild Alaskan king salmon fillet.

We were going to attempt an outdoor smoking in the IAs' outdoor fire pit, but it was a code red day for fires around here (high winds), so we used The Mad Kitchen Scientist's indoor smoking method:

Line a large saute pan with a tight-fitting lid with foil.

Cover the foil with a thin layer of rice and sugar (aka, "stuff that will burn").

Set a circular rack on some foil ball spacers.

Season your fish as you like, pop it on the rack, and cover with that tight-fitting lid.

Heat the pan on high until it starts smoking (that tight-fitting lid won't completely contain the smoke, which is why the door was open), and leave on the fire for about 25 minutes.

Then turn the burner off and let the pan sit, tightly covered, for about another 20-30 minutes, at which point lifting the lid hopefully will not set off your smoke alarm.

This was delicious and SUPER easy.

Accompanying drink? Manhattans of course. (Get it? Bagels? Manhattans? I kill me!) We all fell in love with Redemption Rye (a recent acquisition) and Fee Brothers bitters, although I remained firmly in my traditional whiskey barrel bitters camp, while Mad Kitchen Scientist definitely preferred the rhubarb. Chef Spouse is a Peychaud's man. Regardless, if you've been mixing cocktails without bitters, shame on you. They add a level of complexity that's impossible to achieve any other way. And they're dirt cheap - a bottle will run you about $6 and probably last you at least a year. You have NO excuse! Go get some!

One of the frequent side effects of food lab is that I discover new kitchen tools I MUST have. This one showed me four:
  1. A circular rack for my largest saute pan so I can stovetop smoke my own fish.
  2. A Danish dough whisk. LOVE! Makes starting a yeast dough MUCH easier than using a spoon.
  3. A SodaStream. Do you have ANY idea how much club soda we go through during mint julep season?
  4. An Appalachian kneading bowl. The Mad Kitchen Scientist has a gorgeous hand-carved specimen he acquired while in Blacksburg, VA that I attempted to steal. Sadly, he noticed. So now I have to figure out where to get one. Any ideas?

21 February 2011

Experiments in King Cake: Take 3

OK, THIS is the one.

I think.

Feedback from Chef Spouse and the office has been very positive. I did a HALF recipe this time so it wasn't so giant, and went a little lighter on the liquids and a little heavier on the eggs.

So here we go:

Times-Picayune/Bain Family King Cake 
(as interpreted by me)

3/4 lb. all purpose flour
1/2 oz. yeast
3/4 c. lukewarm water
1/2 c. lukewarm milk

Combine them all in a big bowl and mix - and it will be mixing rather than kneading, because this is a very loose dough. Once it's all blended, cover the bowl and let rise in a warm spot for about 2 hours.

1/2 lb. unsalted butter
4 eggs
1/2 c. sugar

Use a mixer to beat them all together in a LARGE bowl. I've been just dumping them all in together, but I also want to try beating the butter and sugar first, then adding the eggs. Next time.

So why a LARGE bowl? Because...

1-2 c. flour
1 tsp. salt

Combine the risen dough, the butter/sugar/egg mixture, and 1 tsp. salt in the LARGE bowl. Start with 1/2 c. of flour and add it 1/2 c. at a time until everything's incorporated and you once again have a loose dough. I know I just switched from weight to volume with the flour, but it's hard to eyeball weight.

Confession time: I used the Kitchen Aid with the dough hook for this round. The dough is so sticky it's really hard to work by hand. And the dough hook did great - you just have to stop it periodically and scrape the dough off, otherwise it just spins in the center of the egg/butter/sugar mixture and the two never combine.

OK, on to the next rise, which should take about an hour.

While waiting, empty a can of mandarin oranges, peel off the label, and wash the can. Fill the can with clean rocks and lightly grease the outside. Also grease a 12" springform pan.

Once the dough is risen, dump it into your springform pan and make a hole in the center. Stick the mandarin orange can of rocks into the hole.

One more rise, again about an hour.

Heat your oven to 360 degrees (335 if convection), and bake the cake until it reaches an internal temperature of 200 degrees, which should take about 40 minutes (but start checking it at 30 minutes).

While it's cooling, make your icing:

1 c. 10x powdered sugar
1/8 c. sweetened condensed milk
1/4 tsp. almond extract
a little water

Whisk together the powdered sugar, the sweetened condensed milk and the almond extract, and add just enough water to allow you to drizzle the icing but not so much that it's runny (or it will run right off the cake). We're talking less than 1/8 c. water. Not much.

Once the cake is cooled, drizzle the icing on and decorate with your purple, green and yellow icing.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!


16 February 2011

Experiments in King Cake: Take 2

Take 2: Bossman's family secret recipe. Well, actually, it's not that secret, but they're krewe members, and the recipe dates to 1901, so it's pretty authentic. (Since they are also long-time Garden District residents, I'm guessing maybe Rex or Comus.)

Did I mention the recipe is old? It's also hilariously vague. 

Problem #1: the recipe provides no clue whatsoever about how much liquid to use. Well, OK, not no clue. I quote: "Make a dough that is neither too stiff or too soft."


Fortunately, Bossman had shared a key piece of information: it's "brioche-like."

Brioche! I can work with that! To the cookbooks, Batman!

A little investigation revealed that brioche recipes generally call for about a cup of liquid per 8 oz. (by weight) of flour. Of course, I'm also going to be adding between 6 and 12 eggs (yes, the recipe really says 6-12, which is not s subtle difference), so I need to account for that. And...

Problem #2: the 1 cup of sugar/6-12 eggs/1 lb. of butter combo doesn't get added to the dough until after the first rising. It occurred to me that if the dough were actually a dough at that point, there would be little chance that would happen successfully. Hence: make something that's more of a batter, at least in round 1.

So I mixed up 1 1/2 lb. of flour, 1/2 oz. yeast dissolved in a little water, 1 1/2 c. tepid water, and 1 1/2 c. room temperature milk (no, I did not scald it first). And by "mixed" I mean "with a spoon" because there was no kneading the resulting very soft dough. Well, batter.

Problem #3: the recipe calls for an initial rise of 6 hours to double in size. Fortunately, I realized that that was EXTREMELY unlikely, and checked back in about 2, by which point my batter was a-bubblin'.

On to beating together the 6 eggs, the cup of sugar, and the pound of butter. I let the Kitchen Aid do the work there, and thank goodness I did, because the butter wasn't quite as softened as I thought - the centers of the sticks were still just this side of frozen. Oops. So then I combined the egg/sugar/butter mixture, my bubbly dough, and the last 1/2 pound of flour and 1/2 oz. of salt.

Problem #4: at this point, I really needed to knead this, and there was just no way - the dough was WAY too soft.
Me: kneadkneadknead

"Chef Spouse, can you add some more flour?"


15 seconds later: "Can you add some more flour?"


40 seconds later: "I need more flour."


23 seconds later: "More flour over here!"


30 seconds later: "NEED. FLOUR."

You get the picture.

We're now switching from weight to volume, because I was eye-balling quantities (there's a scary phrase in baking), but if I had to guess, I'd say I added between 1-2 additional cups of flour.

On to the next (1 hour) rise.

Then it was time to form the cake.

Problem #5: brioche, when formed, really needs something to be formed IN. Like a pan. No such luck here. I had a cookie sheet - I did my best to form a ring on said cookie sheet.

Another 1 hour rise.

Then bake at 350.

Problem #6: the recipe says to bake a 350 for AN HOUR AND A HALF. Um, no. Spotted that one in time, too, and set the initial bake time for 30 minutes.

Julia says that baguettes need to reach an internal temperature of 200 degrees, and I figured that what's good for the baguette is probably good for the brioche. It reached 200 degrees internally in about 40 minutes.

I also tried something different with the icing that I won't bother to recount, because it was distinctly unsatisfying. It turned out more like a glaze, which tastes fine, but it doesn't hold the colored sugar, thus messing with the whole purple, green, and gold thing. Not kosher.

I thought the last King Cake was Godzilla? I guess that means this was one Mothra, because it was GIANT. Seriously. We ate some Sunday night, I took 2 big pieces into the office Monday, I took 2 more big pieces to friends we had dinner with Monday night, I've been eating it every morning this week for breakfast, and there's still a big hunk left. I probably shouldn't have been surprised - after all, the recipe required 2+ pounds of flour. That gonna big a BIG cake.

So how did it taste?

Divine. Seriously, seriously, seriously amazingly awesome.

Bossman actually asked me today if I had any more. I quote: "I haven't had King Cake in years. You nailed my family recipe. And now I'm craving it."

Conclusion: I have definitely found the right recipe, but the technique needs a little work. You guessed it - this weekend will see ANOTHER King Cake, using the cake recipe from round 2, the icing recipe (minus the lemon) from round 1, and this great idea I have using a springform pan...

10 February 2011

Experiments in King Cake: Take 1

So one thing you need to know about me is that I have a passion for all things New Orleans. The music, the food, the culture - all of it speaks to something deep in my soul. So, although it is not my official New Year's resolution, I set myself the goal of learning how to make a proper King Cake from scratch this year.

If you've been reading this blog at all, you know I'm the baker, and Chef Spouse is the cook (although I definitely cook, too, but he does not bake). So the techniques for yeast doughs are not going to be a problem - it's all a matter of finding the right recipe. Given that many of them are closely guarded krewe secrets, that's easier said than done.

Round one: Restaurant August's John Besh's recipe from Epicurious.com.

One thing you'll notice right away, if you pop over and take a look at the recipe is 3 teaspoons (aka 1 TABLESPOON) of cinnamon.

You may find yourself thinking, as I did: "That is a LOT of cinnamon."

So I cut it back to 2 generous teaspoons.

Honestly, it was still way too much cinnamon.

The problem was compounded by the fact that the icing recipe calls for enough lemon that you actually taste it. The LEMON icing did not go with the CINNAMON cake.

The dough had a really nice texture, though - very easy to handle and it baked up nice and tender.

But it was GIANT. I expected it to be 12-13 inches in diameter.

Not exactly.

It barely fit on my largest circular platter, which was a problem for cooling it, since it was WAY wider than my cooling rack.

It was the Godzilla of King Cakes, assuming Godzilla was made of tasty pastry and not Tokyo-leveling rage.

In other words: I'm still searching for Mr. Right King Cake.

Next up: the delightfully old-skool and vague recipe from the Times-Picayune cookbook, hopefully this weekend.

07 February 2011

Not Dead Yet!

Don't worry - we're not out of commission. Things just got really busy with the end of football season. Next Food Lab goes down in just under two weeks. Subject? Boiled doughs and smoking. Trust me, it will make sense.

Although, as Chef Spouse points out, if we don't do a duck confit lab soon, Mad Kitchen Scientist is probably going to spontaneously combust.