Monday, 12 May 2008

Baking with fresh yeast

Yeast is yeast, is yeast, some might argue but this miraculous microbe that brings us delicious bread, refreshing beer and wholesome Vegemite comes in 3 forms: fresh, granular and powdered. Using fresh bakers' yeast yields results unsurpassable to its dried variant in my opinion and to make a generalisation, I find the action of fresh yeast more robust, the flavour of its finished product mildly yeasty and the aroma, "sweeter". Fresh yeast however has its drawbacks mainly that it is not as stable as dry yeast, that is to say, its potency diminishes with age and storage. And of course, it can be quite difficult to obtain unless you are pretty chummy with your local baker.

I usually use dried yeast when I bake bread because it is readily available and easily stored in the cupboard but I chanced upon the compressed fresh stuff in the frozen section while shopping with my parents at Carrefour the other day and needless to say, it took little persuasion for me to purchase the 500g brick of yeast. That's right, an entire 500g brick of yeast.

Fast forward a few hours (about 8) and 15g crumbled off the aforementioned "brick" later, I present you walnut bread* with a chewy dark sourdough-like crumb, suspiciously nutty with nuggets of walnuts and sweet with plump pieces of raisins, a bread very similar to the one I like to get from Lawley's. Perfect with creamy ripe brie and a drizzle of wildflower honey, this bread goes down a treat!

Yum! Now, would someone kindly suggest what I ought to do with the rest of the yeast**?

* adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum's recipe for cranberry walnut bread. I replaced the dried yeast with 15g of the fresh stuff and raisins for the cranberries.

** I have since made many loaves of honey wholemeal bread which has been well-received by the family, the recipe to be posted soon.

Note I find it is adequate to double or triple the amount of fresh yeast by weight in a recipe that states dried yeast. For example, if a recipe calls for 7g dried yeast (a sachet), I use 15-20g depending on the proofing and rising times, that is to say, if the method calls for a pre-ferment or an extended rising time, I am more inclined to use the lesser amount of 15g. If the recipe is for a "quick" bread with a short rising time, or a rich dough then I am more inclined to use 20g of fresh yeast.

Friday, 9 May 2008

You Are My Sunshine Tart

Mick loved tarts. And yes, I am referring to the sort you eat with a fork as well as the other variety that don skirts resembling thick belts and walk like they know you are watching them with dirty in your eyes. He was rather disappointed when he missed out on the petit lemon meringue tarts I made for his brother Marc's wake last October and I kept saying I would make him some - but never got around to it, just like the chocolate mousse I promised to make for him since 2006! (Mick, I may be hopeless, but you left me too soon.)

Mick was quite adamant I watch the movie "Waitress" starring Keri Russell (with a poorly mimicked southern accent) as an embittered waitress working at a pie diner owned by an equally cynical old geezer. Mick said she reminded him of me because of the way she named and made pies after circumstances in her life which I thought I would list here for a little chuckle:

I Don’t Want Earl’s Baby Pie (then renamed Bad Baby Pie) Quiche of egg and brie cheese with a smoked ham center
I Hate My Husband Pie “You take bittersweet chocolate and don’t sweeten it. You make it into a pudding and drown it in caramel…”

Baby Screaming It’s Head Off In The Middle Of The Night And Ruining My Life Pie New York style cheesecake, brandy brushed, pecans and nutmeg…

Earl Murders Me Because I’m Having An Affair Pie “You smash blackberries and raspberries into a chocolate crust.”

I Can’t Have No Affair Because It’s Wrong And I Don’t Want Earl To Kill Me Pie “Vanilla custard with banana. Hold the banana…”

Pregnant Miserable Self Pitying Loser Pie “Lumpy oatmeal with fruitcake mashed in. FlambĂ© of course…”

I have never been in a situation where I have found myself to be miserably pregnant and therefore have never felt any inclination to name my creations in such fashion. However, touched by sentimentalism, I decided to name my lemon meringue tart, the one I never got to share with Mick: You Are My Sunshine Tart. It is corny, I know, but indulge me in my emotional condition. I have a feeling Mick would have preferred it named Lusty Lemon Tart.

Perhaps You Are Lusty, My Sunshine Tart?

Anyway, to make this tart you will need the following recipe:

Lemon meringue tart
200g unsalted butter
40g sugar
80g icing sugar
3g salt
1 large egg
380g flour
lemon curd
4 eggs
250g sugar
160mls lemon juice, strained
zest of 2 lemons
300g unsalted butter, diced
80g egg whites
150g caster sugar
(makes 2 8-inch tarts)
prepare the base the day before by creaming butter, sugars and salt together until well combined before adding the egg. Add flour and incorporate until all the components just come together in a ball. Divide the dough into 2, flatten each portion into a disc, wrap with plastic film and refrigerate.
roll the prepared dough to 3-5mm thickness and line tart ring. Allow to rest for 30 mins.
pre-heat oven to 180C.
blind-bake tart base for 10 minutes, remove pie weights if using and bake base for a further 7 minutes or until golden brown. Allow the base to cool before filling with lemon curd.
prepare the lemon curd by placing the eggs, sugar and lemon juice and zest in a large stainless steel mixing bowl and whisking til sugar dissolves completely.
cook whisking constantly by placing the mixing bowl over a saucepan of simmering water until the bubbles diminish, eventually disappearing and the consistency that of thick sour cream.
remove bowl from heat and at this point you may strain the custard to rid the zest if you want a smoother and more velvety finish. Allow to cool slightly.
whisk diced butter a little at a time. This process thickens and enriches the custard.
prepare meringue by whisking sugar into the egg whites gradually until a shiny and soft-peaked meringue is obtained.
finish by pouring the lemon curd into the prepared tart bases and tap gently to achieve a smooth flat top. Pipe meringue in a decorative fashion and flame gently with a blowtorch. Alternatively, preheat the grill in the oven and heat til a golden brown colour is obtained.

Mick used to love coffee, then he started drinking Earl Grey tea

J-M aka Mick, a frequent contributing editor, a selfless volunteer to my experimental recipes and my dearest close friend passed away 6 weeks ago. His departure was unexpected making it that little harder to come to terms with, but then again, I don't suppose there are easier means of confronting the loss of someone close to heart be it expected or not.

The following posts will be dedicated to Mick - a medley of foods, some inspired by the flavours he loved, some enjoyed in his company and some I just wish we had a chance to enjoy together.

I begin with shortbread imbued with the subtle citrus notes of Earl Grey tea, the brew of choice after Mick decided to give up his coffee. To finish and to sweeten these biscuits just a touch, I drizzled melted white chocolate after cutting them to size.

Earl Grey tea shortbread
220g unsalted butter
1 tsp fine salt
70g icing sugar, sifted
300g plain flour
4 Twinings Earl Grey tea bags
(makes 1 rectangular tart pan)
Preheat oven to 160C.
Beat butter, salt and icing sugar until light and creamy.
Add flour and ground tea, mix til just combined.
Pat dough into a fluted rectangular tart pan, prick at 1cm intervals with a skewer and sprinkle the entire surface with sugar.
Allow the shortbread to rest for 20 minutes before baking.
Bake the shortbread for 40-50 minutes, slightly coloured around the edges.
Remove from the oven and cut into fingers of desired width while still warm.
Return shortbread to oven, switch OFF the heat and leave the door ajar.
Remove shortbread from pan when completely cooled and garnish with drizzling of white chocolate if desired.