Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tea With The President

I was going to pull a fast one on you, but Barack Obama stopped me dead in my tracks. I know what you’re thinking, but Prezzie and I, we know each other on a deeper level than those silly fools who believe face time over tea is a requirement of friendship. We know each other… in spirit. Here’s what: we share the same race(s), we both believe ourselves qualified to run a nation of scalawags; and he must really love Tavern’s Larder just like me because when I made my way across Lolo (my sobriquet for Los Angeles, remember that) the windows were parchmented over and serious-looking people clad in black and white were flitting about the premises as though they were up to something of great import and secrecy. When I asked the locals what sort of scoundrel had the nerve and the clout to shutter up Tavern on the very day I needed bread, I discovered that my good friend Prez was serving up vittles at thirty-five large a plate. And how!

But, what does this have to do with ill-doings between you and me? Here, let me explain.

It all began when my beloved sourdough starters – Bianca and Mulatto – lollygagged around for yet another day, teasing me with their tepid show of quarter-inch rises.  In retaliation to their indolence, I decided that I should munch on some movie star pain au levain in front of their big fat faces to see if it would light a fire under their bums and get them to rise in a jealous rage. Sometimes a mother must highlight her children’s deficiencies by flaunting another’s eminence. It’s probably a good thing that I’m only the mother of paste.

My plan was two-fold and brilliant: I would remind my starters that they could easily be replaced (my poor future flesh-and-blood children), then photograph the Tavern-bought loaf for the blog and pass it off as my own. Just kidding. I would never do a thing like that. But I was anxious, and impatient, and I needed them to do their thing so I could get on with this business of baking bread.

Yes, it is true, I did take up bread making for the Zen of it all. I, the grasshopper, am being taught patience by it, the dough. But there has not been any dough to date because my lazy starters are dawdling away in their tranquil little Tibet above the fridge. Frankly, I think even Buddha would be a little pissy by now.

Questionable parenting skills, swiftly degrading Zen, and bad ethics aside, Tartine will not Fed Ex (don’t bother, I already asked), and Tavern’s Larder is the next best thing to fulfill my weekly pain quotient. They have a bread schedule, you understand, and this day was cherry cashew.


If you’re an Angeleno like me, newfound or seasoned, you will agree that the hike from Hancock Park to Brentwood is an applaudable feat, not just for reason of distance and cloggy old Wilshire Blvd., but in view of the utter danger. Too many grizzly murders in that wing of town for my taste. Have you forgotten? But I think I made it clear the gravity of my situation, so I knotted a scarf around my carotid artery for safety's sake, cursed my children for their shiftless ways, and hoped for the best in Murder Town.

When I arrived far west, the hubbub was in full swing, yellow tape and all, angry cops bellowing at children and old people to keep their strollers behind the fluttering line, for Prezzie was slated to whiz by in exactly three minutes and a half.  Before long, an airborne cavalcade was circling Tavern like vultures, his heli, white and blue, how stately, sandwiched between gunmetal gray military choppers whose pointed beaks had been accented with bloody red mouths plugged with ferocious looking shark teeth. Mon Dieu! Lo, they deposited him on a rooftop mere blocks away, and within moments a big black blur (the car, not the president) whipped on by as I sipped my steamy Earl Gray. This was the very first time that we lingered over tea, Prez and I. And I must confess, it felt a little warm.

Needless to say I never did get my bread, cashew or otherwise. But the whirlwind of the day inspired me to make this fragrant ‘herb slab’, a signature bread from Acme Bread Co. in Berkeley, CA, which uses commercial yeast. It’s really just focaccia, only flatter, and with an admittedly ungraceful name that’s probably trademarked, so I won’t dare try to pass it off as my own.

Here’s how I did it.

This recipe makes two ‘slabs’, so you can give one away or be a pig and eat them both yourself. Guess which I chose to do?

The dough begins with a poolish, which is a fermented starter that you begin the evening before you plan to make the bread. This will ferment for 12 hours. The next morning you will mix the dough and let that ferment for another 6 hours. Then you will shape the dough and proof for 3 1/2 hours. Finally, you will bake the slabs for 25 minutes, give or take. Note: You can make one big slab, but that may prove a little unwieldy when you try to jerk it off of the peel. I say go for it.

As you can see, given the time commitment, this is not a project for the temporally deficient. Might I suggest a Sunday afternoon.


Make the Poolish

Here's what you will need:

-1/4 tsp instant yeast
-1 cup 110˚-115˚ water (yes, this would be the time to break out your out-of-commission thermometer. Be sure to calibrate it in boiling water, that would be 212˚, in case you've forgotten)
-300 grams unbleached A/P organic flour
-295 grams lukewarm water

Whisk the yeast into the 110˚-115˚ water and let stand for 5 minutes. Add 1/4 cup of this yeasted water to the flour (pitch the rest), this will measure 1/16 teaspoon of yeast to the poolish. Next, beat in the 295 grams lukewarm water to make a gloppy batter.

Cover this poolish with plastic wrap and let it ferment on the counter overnight for 12 hours.

The next day the top should be all bubbly and starting to wrinkle and foam.


Make your Dough

Here's what you'll need:

-450 grams unbleached A/P organic flour
-16 grams salt
-One TB plus a tsp of chopped rosemary leaves
-1/4 tsp yeast
-170 grams lukewarm water
-30 grams olive oil
-All of your poolish

NOTE: I’m using the hand method to mix my dough, because this is the Zen part of baking. And I’m intentionally leaving out the stand mixer instructions, because we can all use a little Zen, including you. Do yourself a favor and make sure you have ample space to work. You need freedom here for your elbows and to really get in there with the dough. So, don’t just push your stack of bills and dirty dishes to one side of the workspace, clear it off, roll up your sleeves and be free!

Combine the flour, salt, rosemary, and yeast in a large bowl.

Add the water and oil to the polish, stir to loosen it.

Now pour it all into the flour mixture.

Stir the mixture with your hand until it forms a rough dough.

Be sure to clean the inside of the bowl with your flexible dough spatula.
Turn the dough out onto you’re a clean work surface and knead it briefly, without adding extra flour, until it is well combined. Remember, this dough is supposed to feel pretty tacky, so resist adding flour or your finished bread will be dry as sticks.
Here’s where I deviated: That dough was sticking to my butcher’s block like nobodies business, so I gave my work space a light slick of olive oil, because I didn’t want to add extra flour and risk making my bread dry. Since this is an olive oil bread, and I’ve had great results with this little technique in the past, I involved it once again. It made my life a lot easier than wrestling with sticky dough.

Cover the dough with an overturned bowl and let it rest for 10 minutes.

This rest period is called ‘autolyse’. The glutens in the dough will swell and form chains that become the gas-trapping structure of the dough. It also improves the dough’s extensibility, that is, the ability to be stretched easily without giving you too much hassle. Autolyse will help you to achieve good volume in your finished bread, so don’t skip this step. When you slice your bread and see all of those lovely little chambers, those are gas chambers within strands of gluten.

Getting back on track.

Place the dough in a container at least 3x its size and cover it tightly with plastic wrap.

The dough should ferment until light and doubled in bulk, about 6 hours. During the first hour, you must turn the dough 3 times every 20 minutes, then leave it undisturbed for the remaining 5 hours.

Here's how to turn the dough:

Scoop your hand under the dough like this.

Then fold it up over the top of itself like this:
Then punch it down with the heel of your hand, firmly, but gently. You don't want to knock the air out of it, you just want to help develop the gluten. Give the container a 1/3 turn, and repeat. 3 of these scoop and folds = one turn.

After the dough has slumbered sufficiently, cut the blob in half and round the pieces. If you are only making one slab, refrain from cutting it in half and round the piece of dough in its entirety.

You need to round the dough(s) to surround them with a smooth skin, which prevents the loss of gas and prepares the dough to be shaped later on. Here’s what I did: Take the far side of the dough blob and fold it over on top of itself, meeting at the center. Sort of like you’re folding a piece of paper for a letter. Then turn it a quarter turn to your left, and repeat, folding the top of the dough over onto itself at the center. Keep doing this until you have formed a nice smooth, tight round. Flip it over so that the seam side is down, and the smooth, round side is facing up, as pictured above. Let the rounds rest for 20 minutes.

Lightly press one piece of the dough into a rectangle (or if you are making one large slab, shape it alone into this rectangle). You do this by loosely folding it into thirds like a business letter: fold the bottom short edge up to the center and the top edge down. Flip it seam side down on a couche. Repeat with the second dough.

couche is a heavy linen cloth that is floured and used to keep breads in their proper shape. I used a heavy piece of clean, cotton duck, but you can use a kitchen towel. Be sure to flour it well so that the dough doesn’t stick.

Draw up a partition between the dough so that they don't stick when they rise.

Cover the dough with a the end flaps of the couche.

Let them proof in the couche for 1 1/2 hours.

Cover your pizza peel or a rimless baking sheet with a large piece of parchment paper. Remove the dough form the couche onto the parchmented peel or baking sheet and gently press into a 12x6” rectangle with your hands.

If you are making one slab, you do the math. The key word here is gentle. You don’t want to be too aggressive or you will deflate the dough. No bueƱo.

Now press your fingertips deeply into the dough to stipple it all over, like a signature focaccia. Don’t go nuts. Remember, gentle. You don’t want to deflate the poor thing after all those hours of proofing. Cover with plastic and let proof until very soft and well expanded, about 2 hours more.

It will look like this when it's done proofing.

NOTE: I brushed the dough lightly with olive oil before covering with plastic to keep the plastic from sticking to the dough, which has happened to me in the past and ruined it. The total proof time then is 3 1/2 hours.

About 45 minutes before the bread is fully proofed, arrange a rack on the oven’s second to top shelf and place a baking stone on it. If you don’t have a stone, double up two baking sheets and place them on the shelf. It’s better than nothing at all. But you really do need to invest in a stone, it will enhance your bread incomparably.

Clear out all the racks that are not being used. Preheat the oven to 450˚F (230˚ C).

Poke the dough all over with a toothpick or skewer, pushing all the way through.

Slip the breads, still on the paper, onto the hot stone. Just give the peel or your rimless baking sheets a quick jerk, and they will slide right onto the stone.

Now, here is what Maggie suggested, which I don’t agree with: After baking for 5 minutes, she suggests that you “carefully flip the breads over onto the stone and remove the paper”. Well, I did this with one slab and the dough got all wrinkly and crushed.
That’s the slab I ended up giving to my friend.

I knew flipping the bread sounded like an ominous demand, so I only flipped the one above, and the one that I didn’t flip was fairytale perfect.
I kept this one for myself.

So here’s what I suggest: slip the dough into the oven, bake for 5 minutes, just long enough for it to form a crust and release the paper. Carefully lift the dough at its edge and slide that piece of paper from beneath it. This way the bottom will brown nicely as it will have contact with the stone. Close the oven and bake for about 20 minutes more, rotating them after 10 minutes. They should be golden brown and sound hollow when tapped when they’re done.

I brushed the slabs with olive oil when they came out of the oven.

Let the bread(s) cool on a rack before eating. Well, slightly anyway, we ate the wrinkly stepchild warm.

Check back next week for an exciting new sourdough development at the Tartine Bread Experiment!

To the staff of life!


Flavor: unctuous. Crust: tender. Aroma: Heavenly. Dough temperament: Super simple. Worry factor when fermenting: zero. Super reliable pre-ferment.

This recipe was borrowed and slightly adapted from Maggie Glezer’s ‘Artisan Baking Across America’. It’s a super rad book. Check it out:

This post was accepted in YeastSpotting.


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