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endless experiments with small things that bring joy to life


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My Stollen Adventure: The Making

This post has been sitting on the dashboard since 2014, and for some reason, I never got around to edit and publish it.  It might sound odd but it has become my little tradition to make a Stollen from scratch for the past three years, and I am glad to report that the bread has improved as the time lapses.  Since I have many fond memories associated with this bread, it is only fitting that I contemplate on which dried fruit to put in each year.  Traditionally, Stollen contains currants and raisins, but knowing me, a rule breaker, I often make substitutions.  Here are the fruits and nuts for my 2015 Stollen:

  • In lieu of black raisins (usually Thompson), I opted for green raisins
  • Zante currants (raisins made with seedless Black Corinth grapes) instead of currants
  • Candied citrus peels consisted of pomelo, Meyer lemons, and satsuma from my coworker’s backyard
  • As for nuts, I stayed with classic almond

I started making the dough Friday after Thanksgiving, and for some reason, the dough was very cooperative to the extent of “happy.”  Once all the fruits and nuts were incorporated, the aroma became more apparent.  One thing I did differently was not to overfill the Stollen hood (yes, there is a special mold for Stollen for it to achieve its nearly triangular shape), so I wound up with four instead of two Stollen.

The Stollen dough is extremely sticky.  While kneading it, I felt as if my hands were just swimming in a puddle of goo.  Because it is a rich bread with a high percentage of butter, the dough requires good kneading before it starts to shape.

Stollen in the making

The dough becomes even stickier after adding the zest, fruits, and nuts, thanks to the sugar and moisture.  At this stage, the Stollen will maintain its amorphous state but keep kneading, it does make a big difference.

Stollen dough

The bread was wrapped in foil and parchment paper, and sealed for three and a half weeks, and by the time the “unveiling” of the Stollen took place, there was a faint whiff of fermentation from the fruit, which reminded me of rum-soaked sweets.  The layers of butter and powder sugar preserve the bread and maintain its moisture.

stollen sans sugar

sugar iced stollen

What will I do differently in Stollen 2016?  I might be adventurous enough to incorporate marzipan.  Stay tuned!

Until next time…

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Pflaumenstange mit Marzipan, finally a success!

For those of  you who know me well, I bake when I am stressed.  That does sound like my baked goods are full of vengeance and aggressiveness, but fortunately, they do not.  The motion of creaming the sugar and butter together and kneading are very relaxing, and I usually do those by hand.  I have a mixer, but for some reason I am very dubious of it.  As I grew up, my father prepared our meals and he is a firm believer that “you can make whatever that they sell outside.” I remembered once I cajoled my mom to take my sister and me to get some Chinese version of popcorn chicken from a street vendor (not the KFC variety, flavored with white pepper, salt, and fried basil).  When we returned, I saw my dad’s face darkened.  The next day, he walked out from the kitchen with his version of the same popcorn chicken.  While serving his creation, he murmured “this one is healthier for you.  Why eat out when you can make it at home?”  In addition, he is a tea-maker; he processes the tea leaves by hand, so as you can see, I have fond memories of handmade and homemade goodies.

Part of my morning e-mail routine is reading a daily newsletter from Küchengötter, the Kitchen Gods. Thanks to my friend Marianne’s suggestion, the ewsletter contains of recipes for three meals.  What usually attracts my attention is bread, since Germany is famous for rustic variety.  The challenge is that the newsletter is in German, so it is also a good way for me to maintain/ improve my German reading proficiency.  

One of the recipes I perused recently is Pflaumenstange mit Marzipan, Marzipan Plum Bar.  Honestly, it is the word Marzipan that caught my eyes. I have this odd fascination on Marzipan, sweetened almond paste.  I first tasted when the Baker brought home some of his baked goods while he was in culinary school.  It was almost love at first sight; the tender sweetness of the almond enhanced the delicate cake.  I was so distracted by Marzipan to the extent that I forgot which cake is it.  


Since plums are in season and I happened to have almond paste in the fridge, making the bread should be easy, right?  Well, I underestimated Marzipan.  It turned out that the almond paste was as hard as a rock, so no matter how I tried to mix it with confectioner’s sugar and a bit of corn syrup, it still looked like Dippin’ Dot ice cream.  I added in a bit more syrup then the mixture started to resemble my impression of Marzipan.  Long story short, the bread was fragrant, but due to the high sugar content, the inner was closer to molasses than an actual fruit bread.  


After the first fail attempt, I started searching for Marzipan recipes.  Thankfully I did not have to try it out three times to make it a charm, otherwise, I would probably have phobia toward Marzipan.  I incorporated almond meal, sugar, and egg white for the Marzipan, and make the bread part same as my first attempt.  I felt the trepidation when I put the doughs into the oven, but lucky me, I had a happy ending.  I actually did not know what to expect on the flavor aspect, since this is my first time making a fruit bread.  I thought it will turn out sweeter, given the plum and Marzipan combination.  The bread turns out a bit salty.  Yes, you read it right, salty, which still puzzles me.  The recipe calls for 15g of salt, which I dutifully measured out, but I do not think the amount of salt could render the bread salty.  As of the inside, it has a delicate sweetness to it, along with a bit of wine aftertaste since the plum pieces are slightly fermenting in the process of baking.  


Here are the recipes:


Marzipan

  • 1 Cup of Almond meal
  • 1/2 Cup of sugar
  • 1 eggwhite

Gently incorporate all three ingredients together.  Be careful not to overmix it because you do not want the egg white to separate. Once it is mixed, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.  This recipe should yield 200g of Marzipan.

Pflaumenstange (adapted from Küchengötter)
    1. 150 g Marzipan
    2. 250 g firm plums, quartered
    3. 25 g Yeast
    4. 300 ml water
    5. 20 g sugar
    6. 500 g flour
    7. 20 g butter
    8. 15 g salt
    9. Parchment paper
      • Make or chill the marzipan before you make the dough for at least 1-2 hours, so it will stay in shape.
      • Dissolve yeast and sugar with enough water.  Make sure the water is about the same temperature as the yeast.  Set it aside.
      • Quartered the plum while wating the yeast/ sugar mixture dissolves.
      • Stir the yeast mixture gently.  When most granules disappear (slight bubbling), it is ready to go.  
      Yeast eating happily.  Do you see all the effervescence?  Happy yeast makes delicious bread.
      • Add in the rest of the ingredients, and knead the dough when it begins to form.
      • Knead the dough until the surface is smooth.  You can use to poking test. If the dough bounces back right after you poke, it is ready to rest.  Cover the bowl with a moist towel.  Rest the dough until it proofs twice of its size, about 40-60 minutes. 
      Ready for proofing!
      Dough after first proofing, with many air bubbles, as you can see the blister-like pockets on surface

      • Line the loaf pans with parchment paper.
      • Scrape the dough out of the bowl and portion it in half (or size that you desire).  Flatten the dough and gently stretch the corner to an elongated shape.  Slice the rolled marzipan into smaller size and lay out both marzipan and quartered plum onto the stretched dough.  
      Line them up!
      • Slowly roll the dough, and tuck both ends under.  Lay the dough into the parchment lined pan.  Cover the pan with a moist towel for 20 minutes.
      Almost like a burrito, but not quite
      loaf with tucked ends


      • While the dough undergoes second proofing, preheat the oven to 400 ºF.  Put a boiler pan inside the oven as well.


      • Before putting the dough, carefully put 4 ice cubes into the boiler pan, then place the loaf pans in and quickly close the oven door.  The ice cubes in boiler pan are meant to give more humidity inside the oven, to give the crusty exterior to the bread.  Do not put too many ice cubes in, otherwise the bread will not rise properly.
        • To judge whether the loaves are done is the tricky part.  When the loaves turn golden brown on top, it is usually a good indication that the loaf is done.  Use offset spatula to flip the loaf over to see whether the bottom browns as well.  When the loaves are done, remove it from loaf pan and set them on the rack to cool.




         PS.  This post is dedicated to my friend Marianne, who inspires me to attempt bread making.  This Pflaumenstange was actually made on her birthday 🙂


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            An Experiment with Müslibrot

            Remember the müslibrot I made months ago?  I decided to conduct some experiments with the recipe, since I have nuts and dried fruits that I need to consume.  As I mentioned in other post, I am horrible at following directions.  For those of you who know me well, I have tendency to learn better from mistakes, or from the path that is “less traveled by.”

            What I did differently in this attempt is to use both apricot and cherries into the dough, and use half bread four and half whole wheat flour.  I figure an already wholesome bread might be more rustic with wheat.  During the mixing/ kneading process, it did not go as I expected.  Normally, I would assume the dough start to form into a ball by the time I mixed all the dry and wet ingredients together.  Not for this one.  The combination of faulty scale and wheat flour set my exploration off chart.  The dough (if you can even call it that) was extremely tacky and I had to urge to keep adding flour in the mixture, until my baker-half pronounced, “if you keep adding flour, the dough would be dead.” I simply could not form the dough in a nice round ball.  Part of the reason is that any dough that has wheat will be tacky and it requires more liquid than plain bread flour mixture.  In essence, the bread dough feels like more like a pizza dough.

            Thankfully, the dough did rise after resting and the bread did turn out well.  It was a lot softer and moist than last time and the cherry added a bit of tartness that complimented well to the mild flavor of apricot.  Unfortunately, I did not push out all the air after the initial proofing, so there were more air pockets than usual, but it did not upset the taste or the texture of the bread.

            Will I try this recipe again?  Most definitely.  Now I am on the quest of searching for a new kitchen scale.

            Müslibrot with cherry

            Müslibrot with just apricot

            Fresh out of the oven!


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            Grape mother sourdough

            Here I present the grape mother sourdough.  I essentially use the same recipe as the potato mother sourdough.  The stark difference between the progeny of two mother doughs is flavor.  While potato mother is more robust, grape mother is more delicate and subtle.  Both bread’s texture are very similar (it is because I knead both bread), and more distinctive flavor will release as you chew.  Again, the progeny for both mother doughs only smell like sourdough, but does not taste like it, given how young both mothers are. 

            Mix all ingredients together, with salt goes in last

            When all ingredients are incorporated, without much kneading

            After about 5 minutes of kneading

            Ready to rest

            After shapinig

            After a night in the refrigerator

            Ready to bake!

            Sourdough rolls

            Cross section of the roll


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            Not-too-sour sourdough

            Do you recall all those boring posts on the mother doughs?  Now they are paying off.  Recently I used part of the potato mother to make sourdough rolls.  They did not turn out as sour as I imagined, which I was pretty disappointed.  The baker explained that since the mothers were just developed, so the flavor will not be as pungent.  The main reason why I use the potato instead of grape mother was that potato mother was happily expanding, oozing out of the jar.  The rolls definitely smell like a sourdough, but once biting into the roll, it only has a faint fragrance.  Hopefully as the mother develops, the flavor will intensify.

            Ingredients

            • 1 cup “fed” sourdough starter
            • 1 3/4 cups lukewarm water
            • 2 teaspoons dried yeast
            • 1 tablespoon sugar
            • 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
            • 5 cups bread or all-purpose flour
            •  Adopted from King Arthur Flour’s sourdough recipe, with some modifications.  Original recipe can be found here.  

            Direction

            1. Mix together all ingredients, with salt in last.
            2. Knead the dough until it bounces back within 2 seconds when you poke it.
            3. Let the dough proof, until the size doubles (between 60-90 minutes).
            4. Divided the dough into equal parts.  (I usually divide the dough in half, then keep dividing it into 2).  
            5. Lightly knead each roll to release the air.  Gather the side toward the center to form a roll.
            6. Leave it on a cookie sheet to let it proof again.  You may leave them in the refrigerator overnight, with a sheet of plastic wrap on top to prevent them from drying out.  By doing so, the sourness will intensify.
            7. While shaping rolls, preheat oven to 475°F (250°C).
            8. Before placing the rolls into the oven, make two slashes in shape of “x” (This is to expel the air, otherwise, the bread will be in an interesting shape 🙂 )  Meanwhile, place a handful of ice cubes in a container that is suitable for oven (I use the toaster oven pan).  
            9. Place both the bread tray and the container of ice cubes into the oven.  The steam will help create a nice crust.
            10. Bake the rolls until they turn golden brown, about 10-15 minutes.

            Tips:

            1. Coupe days prior to baking, take the mother out of the refrigerator and let her wake up.  This is also to ensure that the mother will be in room temperature, in the same temperature as the water and yeast that you use in the recipe.
            2. While the mother is out, do not forget to feed her.  
            3. As soon as you retrieve the portion of mother you need for the bread, put her to hibernation by returning her to the refrigerator again.

              Before baking

               

                Potato mother sourdough


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                Portuguese Sweet Bread– A sticky affair

                Couple weeks ago I saw an Apricot Strudel recipe in my daily Küchengötter newsletter and I was tempted to try it out.  My baker other-half shook his head and said, “in order for you to make a strudel, you will have to make sweet bread first.” I figure, what is so special about sweet bread?  Well, I have seen it today. 

                I am not a big fan of sweet bread; bread supposed to be savory and not sweet in my perception.  This recipe turns out decent.  It has a faint and not overpowering sweetness.  It reminds me of a brioche, so if that fits your flavor profile,  it is a wonderfully fluffy and rich bread.

                Portuguese Sweet Bread


                Ingredients:

                1. 2 Tbsp dry yeast
                2. 1/4 C warm water
                3. 6 C flour
                4. 1tsp salt
                5. 5 eggs
                6. 1 C warm milk
                7. 6 Tsp melted butter
                8. 1 C sugar

                Directions:

                1. Combine yeast and water with a pinch of sugar.  Set aside to let yeast dissolve.   (Since the recipe asks for 2 Tbsp of yeast, it will not completely dissolve in 1/4 C of water.)
                2. While the yeast is dissolving, measure out all the dry ingredients and combine them together.  Set it aside.
                3. Beat 4 eggs and set it aside.
                4. Combine warm milk, sugar, and melted butter in a large bowl.  
                5. Add eggs and mixture from step 4 into the yeast mixture.  
                6. Slowly add in flour, a little bit at a time.

                Step 5-6:  Combining all liquid and some flour together

                 7.  When the dough somewhat forms (will still be very sticky!), place it on a floured surface and knead in the rest of the flour.

                After adding about four-cup of flour in, still sticky!  

                 8.  When the dough becomes tacky and smooth, but not sticky, then it is ready for proofing.

                Finally a dough!  Right before first resting  

                After first proofing.  Still tacky, but not sticky

                 9.  The dough should become double in size after resting.  Shape the dough into desired form and let it rest again.

                Shaping

                 10.  Preheat the over to 350˚F (approximately 180˚C).  Beat one egg and wash loaves or rolls generously with it.

                Washing the loaves with egg

                 11.  For the loaf, bake it for 10 minutes or until it becomes golden.  Rolls will take about 5-7 minutes, or until it browns.

                Sweet bread loaf

                Sweet rolls baking in the oven

                Sweet bread rolls


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                What happen to the mother doughs?

                Do not worry, Auggie did not get to them 🙂 

                They are now refrigerated, or now hibernating.  Once the mother doughs are confirm alive, after several feeding that provide necessary nutrients, they can be put away.

                Before use, I just need to remove it from the cold, add another cup of flour, and take a small portion of it to start my bread. 

                Of course, please stay tuned for the first bread I will make with these curious doughs!