Monday, May 14, 2007

Unintentionally flat bread

I started on an Italian loaf last night using this recipe.


Biga (starter):

* 11 ounces (about 2 cups, although I needed more) bread flour
* 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
* 1 cup water, room temperature


* 16.5 ounces (about 3 cups) bread flour, plus extra for working
* 1 teaspoon instant yeast
* 1-1/3 cups water, room temperature
* 2 teaspoons salt

For the biga: Combine flour, yeast and water in large bowl of mixer fitted with dough hook. Knead on lowest speed until it forms a shaggy dough, 2 to 3 minutes. (I am not certain what they meant by "shaggy", but my dough just looked normal, so don't worry about it.) Transfer biga to a medium bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let stand at room temperature until beginning to bubble and rise, about 3 hours. (At 3 hours, mine had risen more than it bubbled, but apparently that works.) Refrigerate for 8 to 24 hours (I refrigerated mine for about 16 hours).

For the dough: Remove biga from the refrigerator and let set at room temperature while making the dough. Combine the flour, yeast and water in large bowl of mixer fitted with dough hook. Knead on lowest speed until a rough dough is formed, about 3 minutes. Turn mixer off and, without removing bowl or dough hook, cover bowl loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for 20 minutes.

Remove the plastic wrap; add the biga and salt to the bowl. (I accidentally added the salt to the dough with the flour, yeast and water above. It might have made a difference, but it was still great. Next time I will do what they suggest and compare the results.) Knead on lowest speed until ingredients are incorporated and the dough forms and clears the sides of the bowl, about 4 minutes. Increase mixer speed to the next setting and knead until the dough forms a ball, about 1 minute. Transfer dough to a large bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise in a cool, draft-free spot away from direct sunlight until slightly risen and puffy, about 1 hour. (I wasn't certain what they meant by "slightly risen", so I just did 1 hour.)

Remove plastic wrap and turn the dough by first sliding a curved plastic bench scraper or flexible spatula underneath, then gently lifting and folding one third of dough toward center. Do the same with the opposite side of dough. Then fold the dough in half, perpendicular to the first folds. Dough should be shaped into a rough square if folded correctly. Replace plastic wrap and let dough rise 1 more hour. Fold again as described above. Replace plastic wrap and let rise 1 more hour.

To shape the dough: Dust work surface liberally with flour. Gently scrape the dough out of the bowl and invert onto the work surface so that the side which was on the top is now on the bottom. Dust the dough and hands with flour. Using minimal pressure, push the dough into a rough 8 to 10 inch square. Fold the top left corner diagonally to the middle. Repeat with the top right corner. Gently roll the dough from the top peak to the bottom until it forms a rough log. Place the seam on the bottom and transfer to parchment paper. Start tucking the bottom edges underneath, working from the center to the ends, and gently stretch the dough until it is about a 16-inch long football-type shape. Dust top liberally with flour and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to lower-middle position. Place baking stone on rack and preheat oven to 500° F.

To bake: Using a lame or a very sharp knife, cut a slit 1/2-inch deep lengthwise into the center top of the dough, starting and ending 1-1/2 inches from the ends. Using a spray bottle, spray the loaf lightly with water. Slide the parchment paper with the loaf onto a baker's peel or other large, flat surface, then onto the hot baking stone in oven. Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 400° and, using the edges of the parchment paper, quickly rotate the loaf 180°. Continue to bake until a deep golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers 210°, about 35 minutes longer. (It will look like the bread will get too dark, but it won't.) Transfer to a cooling rack and remove the parchment paper. Cool to room temperature before slicing.

I didn't realize it until I started, but the "biga" (starter dough) had to refrigerated overnight before I could start on the actual dough. Not only that, but I accidentally proofed the yeast before adding the flour to the biga, so now I've got some extra dough sitting around. I'm not sure whether it would've made a difference but I thought it best to follow this recipe more closely the first time. So making the biga was quite easy and I left it in the fridge overnight to rise and bubble.

I continued this morning, making the remainder of the dough and combining it with the biga. I added a bit more flour than the recipe called for because it seemed extra sticky -- maybe that's how it's supposed to be though. In the end it was still more sticky than dough I've made before.

After letting it rise some more I started with the shaping of the dough. I failed miserably at this. The recipe says to "gently stretch the dough until it is about a 16-inch long football-type shape". Well, I just couldn't get the dough looking like that. It ended up in a vaguely football-ish shape but nothing like what was called for. Once again I had to let it rise.

After it rose this time I knew it wasn't going to turn out too well. It was still very flat. The dough expanded quite a bit but only outwards, not upwards. This is a problem I had with my bagels as well -- they are much more flat than I think they should be. Since this loaf was done with 100% white flour I didn't think I would have that problem. Apparently that isn't what's causing it though.

Nonetheless I pressed on. I would've preferred to bake this on my pizza stone but the loaf was just too big and I didn't have any parchment paper. Instead I used a greased pan. As called for, I baked the loaf at 500 degrees first -- which had the unfortunate side effect of turning the excess grease on the pan to smoke, which was not fun. I cooked it on 400 for another 30 minutes when I decided that it was done.

This loaf looks like crap. It's too dark, slightly burnt on the bottom, and far too flat.

The inside is very fluffy and tasty though!

The crust tastes a tiny bit funny, probably because I sprinkled flour a little too liberally on it before baking, but it is still quite good. The only problem I have now is eating it all before it goes bad.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

An Introduction

I've been a vegetarian for the past 4 years. A cheese eating, milk drinking, egg frying vegetarian. Over the course of the past year I've been slowly moving towards becoming a vegan. One of the biggest challenges for me has been cutting out dairy. It's pretty easy not to buy milk, or cheese, or eggs, but it's difficult to get rid of them in baked goods. Many breads contain eggs. Almost all pastries and deserts contain eggs (and often milk). Partly because of this, and partly because I tend to have a do-it-yourself attitude, I decided to try my hand at baking.

I've found it very difficult to find good vegan recipes for common things such as muffins, cookies, donuts, etc. All too often run into recipes that say things like "Commercial egg replacer equivalent to 2 eggs". Recipes like those frustrate me greatly and I will do my best to avoid posting them here. For now, this blog is just going to be me baking from a recipe with pictures and commentary. At some point I intend to move beyond that and start coming up with things on my own and, hopefully, help fill the void that exists in vegan baking. I am not well versed in any theory behind baking besides the obvious things (like the fact that yeast rises), so I'm going to be learning as I go.

I hope someone out there finds this interesting!


Today I spontaneously decided to make bran muffins. Now, I know muffins can be a little difficult to make without eggs but I didn't realize it would take me 15 minutes to find a reasonable sounding vegan bran muffin recipe. There were many that simply omitted the eggs and substituted nothing -- I decided not to trust those ones. In the end I settled on this one:

1 cup all-bran cereal
1 cup water, warm
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
3 tablespoons water
1/2 cup oil
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Put the bran and warm water in a bowl together, let sit 2-3 minutes.
3. Simmer the flaxseed in the 3 tablespoons water until thickened, 1-2 minutes.
4. Blend all ingredients together until well blended.
5. Pour into muffin tins and bake 18-20 minutes.

The flaxseed/water combination is the egg substitute here. After heating the two they have roughly the consistency of an egg white. I don't believe that it will help the muffins rise any but it will certainly help to stick everything together.

This recipe claimed to make a dozen muffins, but as you can see it didn't quite do that:

While the muffins were cooking it gave me a chance to lick the bowl. Muffin dough sure isn't as exciting to make as bread dough, but it tastes a hell of a lot better! Yum!

20 minutes pass....

They're done! Not looking too great, however. I let them cool for 5 minutes before trying to dig them out of the pan but a few of them still fell apart. Out of the 9 that went in, I ended up with 5 that stayed intact to the end.

I think the problem is that they are just too moist. Next time I'll be adding extra flour and/or bran to thicken them up. I'm also thinking of getting the little paper muffin things so I don't have any issues digging them out of the tray. All in all these muffins taste very good, perhaps a little too chocolaty, but aren't as firm as I'd like.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Bagel Bakin'

To celebrate the inaugural post of Canadian Bakin' I felt I should talk something I care about deeply. Something satisfying and fulfilling...something yummy. That's why I decided to bake some bagels. This is the second time I've baked bagels. The first ones turned out O.K. but they were small and without holes in the centre. This time I was determined to remedy this.

I've been making dough for different things for awhile now, so that's not a problem anymore. However, my last batch of bagels didn't rise well so I decided to use a 70/30 mix of white/whole wheat flour instead of 50/50.

I used this recipe as a guideline:

Title: Whole Wheat Bagels
Categories: Breads
Yield: 12 servings

2 pk Dry yeast
2 c Warm water (105-115 degrees)
2 tb Honey
2 c Whole wheat flour
1 1/2 ts Salt
3 c All-purpose flour
= to 3 1/2, divided
3 1/2 qt Water
1 ts Salt
Sesame seeds

Recipe by: Southern Living
Preparation Time: 0:45
Dissolve yeast in warm water in a large bowl; let stand 5
minutes. Add honey, stirring well. Stir in 2 cups whole
wheat flour and 1-1/2 teaspoons salt; mix well. Gradually
stir in enough all-purpose flour to make a soft dough. Turn
dough out onto a heavily floured surface (dough will be
sticky), and knead until smooth and elastic (8 to 10
minutes). Place dough in a well-greased bowl, turning to
grease top. Cover dough, and let rise in a warm place (85
degrees), free from drafts, 1-1/2 hours or until doubled in

Punch dough down, and divide dough into 12 equal pieces.
Roll each into a smooth ball. Cut with 1-inch cutter or
punch a hole in the center of each ball with a floured
finger. Gently pull dough away from center to make a 1- to
1-1/2-inch hole. Place shaped bagels on lightly greased
baking sheets. Cover and let rise 15 minutes. Broil
bagels 5 inches from heat 2 minutes on each side or until
lightly browned. Bring water and 1 teaspoon salt to a boil
in a large Dutch oven. Reduce heat, and simmer bagels 3
minutes on each side. Place bagels on lightly greased
baking sheets. Sprinkle with sesame seeds; lightly press
seeds into bagels. Bake at 425 degrees for 20 to 25
minutes or until golden brown. Yield: 1 dozen.

So I made my dough, beat it up a bit, and let it rise...

...and rise...

...and rise some more.

This dough rose much better than the 50/50 mix.

My bagels were much too small with this amount of dough last time, so instead of making 12 of them, I decided to make only 8. I think this is probably too few, as most of them were a bit oversized. Here they are:

My camera's batteries died at this point so there will be no more pictures until the end.

Next step: broiling. I'm not really sure why this step has to happen. The best I can figure is that it is necessary before boiling them (the next step). My bagels were so big that I had to do them in two batches. I nearly burnt the second batch but I think they are O.K.

Boiling comes next. This is the part that annoyed me the most. Every bagel needs to be boiled for roughly 3 minutes on each side. I can only do 2 at a time. 2 bagels per batch * 2 two sides each * 4 batches * 3 minutes = 48 minutes. Perhaps next time I will use two pots to speed up the process. I use tongs to fish the bagels out of the water. I almost broke a few of them by doing this. Tongs still seem to be the best method of doing this, however.

All the hard work is over now. All that's left is to bake. Again, I had to do them in two batches. My oven is funny and I can never really tell what the temperature is. I think it's always hotter than it says it is. This caused me to nearly burn the bottoms of the first batch. Luckily the smell alerted me to this before they got inedible.

Despite my inexperience and nearly burning every bagel they turned out very well! There's one bagel missing in that picture. I couldn't resist eating one before I took the picture.

Thus ends my first post! I think I will be attempting to make an Italian loaf next time.