Thursday 28 February 2008

Julia Child's French bread(rolls)

This month's Daring Bakers (fondly abbreviated DB by other fellow members) challenge hosted by Mary and Sara involves making French bread following the recipe by Julia Child. Although I have made bread with success in the past, I felt rather dubious undertaking this particular project. I suppose it is partly because I want my first DB entry to be groundbreaking, to be successful and prehaps even triumphant. Alas, this is not the case.

I made 2 attempts at the recipe, the first being a failure I would prefer to forget. However, in the spirit of selflessness (which is quite unfamiliar to me... 'til now) and by sharing a personal flop so others may learn and never have to suffer the same frustration, I have decided to again live through and immortalise the painful mistakes I have made through picture and prose.

In retrospect, I should have saved my Waitrose: Super Strong Unbleached Flour for my very delicious rye n seed loaves. I suspect being a less processsed flour meant that it had a lower starch content to "soak" up the volume of liquid called for in the recipe. I should have picked up on how soft and sticky the dough felt during kneading - or should I say paddling. The dough was reminiscent of the one for the no-knead bread I made previously. Not soupy, but definately difficult to handle and shape. Still, I perservered until the bread were baked. Despite the disappointing outcome, I took photographs so you (my patient reader) can picture what I have been ranting about for the past paragraph.

A more promising outcome came at my second attempt, though still a far cry from the sticks, boules and loaves you get from a French boulangerie. At the risk of sounding like a defeatist, I did resign myself to the fact that I will never achieve a good quality French crust; one that is thin, crisp and crackles as you tear the bread apart, at home. To be fair, I think all of us who decided to embark on this challenge were doing so on a handicap - we were all lacking the right oven! Or perhaps I just didn't try hard enough(?)

I spent a restless night in bed after my failed first attempt (NB you should know by now if you are losing sleep over the failure to make bread, it is likely your obsession is pathological) trying to figure out where I went wrong. I decided then, at a little past 3 in the morning, to get back into the kitchen and to try the recipe yet again but using an all-purpose flour (the colour of all-purpose flour is closer to brilliant white compared to the super-strong variety, the bleaching process leaches some of the grains' protein) and a teaspoon of sugar to help the yeast along during the prolonged fermentation period. I added water gradually to the dry ingredients while mixing and used considerably less water (a total of 290 ml) to achieve what I thought was an adequate consistency ie. soft, slightly tacky and pulling off the sides of the mixing bowl.

I followed the fermentation times inerrantly and was pleased with the results after each of the prescribed rising times. I performed 2 book-turns after the pointage premier temps to develop the gluten further and after the pointage deuxieme temps, I divided my dough into half and from the one half, shaped six petit pains and the other into a batard.

So far so good... but here comes the point where I fell short. Short of patience that is.

So why is it that the final rise takes so long? It felt like an eternity! I was rubbing my hands with anxiety and I finally gave into placing my dough in the oven eventhough I knew they just weren't quite ready to be baked. A price I paid quite dearly as clearly illustrated in the image below.

Yup, no simulated baker's oven was going to save these babies! The crumb of the baked product was tight and dense. Although not unpleasant to eat, I can't say it made me sing or cry out with joy.

All in all, I truly enjoyed this challenge. Furthermore, it has reinforced my belief that we all learn from mistakes and I have learnt mine: patience is required when baking the perfect bread.

Sunday 24 February 2008

Lemon-raspberry roulade and Coffee cream puffs

Yes, finally a post for the month of February and I do apologise for going all quiet. The thing is, I am on vacation. That's right, 1000s of miles away from work and soaking in the company of the people I love most and for the past fortnight, I have been caught in the usual flurry of activity surrounding Chinese New Year festivities and playing host-n-guide to a mate of mine visiting from Australia.

Anyway, I have been meaning to show off this lemon-raspberry and mascarpone roulade made to christen a very good swiss roll tin by baker's secret I scooped up at a bargain price. Incidentally, it is my first EVER sweet roulade! The dessert was inspired by the 2 classic flavours of summer - refreshing citrus and berry. I chose mascarpone to cream because I love the slight subtle yoghurt-like tang of the cheese. Also, I find it is less cloying.

For the sponge, I followed the recipe card so generously provided by the tray's manufacturer and I apologise for not including it here because well, I simply forgot to write it down before I tossed the card in the bin. Still, it isn't difficult sourcing a basic sponge cake recipe from the web which you can use as your very own blank canvas. Here, I spread lemon curd on the sponge base before smoothing on a layer of sweetened mascarpone marbled with crushed raspberries.

I found it hard to refrain from sneaking a peek or two while it was in the refrigerator - just like a proud mother watching her new born baby rest in the nursery. Ah yes, this is my Baby - even if for one day. Eventually, the mascarpone firmed up enough for me to slice the cake and to say those whom I served it to were rapturous would be just a blatant lie. They were underwhelmed by it, "The flavours are great but the sponge is just too dry".

To me, it is my baby and it is just PERFECT.

I hadn't the faintest idea how much mascarpone was required for the roulade so I played it safe and purchased 2 tubs, an equivalent of 500g. Needless to say, I used less than half the amount I had and was left pondering what to do with the rest. I entertained the thought of a tiramisu for a while but didn't have all the necessary ingredients so I made some coffee cream puffs with orange dark chocolate drizzle instead.

Simple yet elegant.

The coffee cream is made by sweetening mascarpone with some icing sugar (I always use a 1:10 ratio of sugar to cheese/cream), then adding a tablespoon of coffee/hazelnut liquer and a teaspoon of ground coffee (I find it best to use a wooden spoon when working with mascarpone as over-mixing can result in a curdled mess). Pipe into cooled choux puffs and drizzle with melted chocolate.

Take a step back, lick fingers and take delight in these sweet adorable specimens.

Too easy!