Wednesday, February 29, 2012

"Swope" with PS #9

Baked on February 19

Once in a while it's 4:30 in the afternoon and I decide I want fresh bread for dinner.  On those occasions, there is only one solution: an Irish soda bread.  A few years ago I discovered a delicious version printed on a bag of Bob's Red Mill Whole Wheat Flour.  It had the funny title of "Swope Bread" and fit the time frame:  ready-to-eat in under 90 minutes AND I have all the ingredients on hand about 90% of the time.  (The only change I made to the recipe is to use brown sugar instead of white.) The ratio of whole wheat to white flour and a little extra sugar than is usually used in Irish soda breads makes this a little more special. Baking it in a loaf pan also makes it easier to slice. 

It was Sunday; the starter was refreshed and ready.  What to bake?  For fun, I decided to see how the main ingredients for "Swope Bread" would translate to a starter-leavened loaf.


2 c ww flour
1c bread flour
3/4 c low fat buttermilk
1 tsp salt
brown sugar (I think I wanted to use 1/4 c but used 1/2 c by mistake)

*since this was going to be leavened with starter, I omitted the baking soda from the master recipe*

Mixing and Method/Results

Using a stand mixer, combine wet with dry ingredients and add a little extra flour (I used a little extra ww) to make a kneadable dough.  Use the bread hook and knead for about three minutes.  Let rise as usual, shape into one large loaf and bake as you like.  I baked this in one of my fish poachers which I had preheated with the lid at 425F .  It was done in about 30 minutes, but because the dough had so much sugar in it, it was darker on the bottom than I usually like. I should have baked it at about 400F or lower, and maybe left it in about 5 minutes longer.
This yielded about a 2# loaf (I forgot to record the exact weight). I just trimmed off the dark bottom crust.  It was a little too sweet for what I was trying to achieve.  Next time I will only use 1/4 c brown sugar per two cups of ww flour, and I think I'll see what happens if I add 2 tsp soda to this, and maybe some extra buttermilk powder since there is so much water in the starter.  

Still, no one complained, and this loaf went so quickly I only had part of the loaf left to photograph.

Cake Yeast Update & Semolina Sesame Loaves (For Frannie)

Baked on February 17

As I wrote about earlier this month here, I have been tracking the longevity of one pound of cake (or "fresh") yeast that I purchased before Christmas.  My plan had been to bake comparison loaves of Italian semolina (one with cake yeast and one with dried) as a way to discover if there was any discernible difference in taste, texture, or anything else.  Since this is a very basic loaf, I figured this would be a good way as any to perform this test.

My stash of cake yeast was dwindling and it was closing in on two months since purchase. For the last three or four weeks I had been adding a pinch of sugar to the slurry of yeast and warm water just to make sure that it was still viable.  I had never stored cake yeast in the refrigerator this long, and to my surprise, it still smelled pretty fresh. (Cake yeast gone bad smells REALLY BAD.) Well, I had waited one week too long!  The yeast didn't bubble up. Cake yeast funeral took place in my compost heap, where it is supposed to give a good microbiotic boost to the friendly organisms doing their thing out back.

So, there was no no bake-off.  I still made two loaves with dried yeast, but as this is a very basic bread that I make often, I'll be brief.  This is my friend Frannie's favorite, so she got the extra loaf.


2 c. semolina flour (coarser grind, recommended for pasta) 
2 c. bread flour
1 3/4 c warm water
1 T barley malt (syrup, NOT non-diastatic barley malt)
1 1/2 tsp dried yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt

Mix a soft dough using your favorite bread-baking method.  For this bread, I make sure I knead using the dough hook for a good five minutes. It is a rather wet dough.

Mixing and Method
Mix, knead, rise, deflate, shape.  Set two lidded baking pots of choice in a cold oven and preheat to 450F for 30 minutes. Carefully tip risen loaves into the hot pans, slash, spritz with water, and sprinkle with white sesame seeds.  Cover with the hot lids and bake for 25-30 minutes.  (I always check the temperature of a loaf after 25 minutes. If it is not yet over 200F, I set the uncovered pan back in the oven for another five minutes and check again.


I did not record the weight of these loaves, but they were probably 1# 8 oz, maybe more, since they had filled out the pans pretty well.  Great, crispy crust with the sesame seeds adding a flavorful crunch.  These loaves went FAST!  Frannie was happy. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Triple-Olive Bread (For Debbie-My-Egg-Lady # 6, 2012)

I found some leftover olive brine that I had frozen.  Time for an olive loaf!


4 c. bread flour
1 1/2 c. rye flour (Hodgson Mills is what I had on hand)
1 1/4 c. warmed olive brine - the juice leftover from a jar of some kind of green olives
about 2 oz cake yeast dissolved in 1/4 c. warm water
4 T olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
6 oz. of kalamata olives, chopped

 Mixing and Method

Mix all but the olives using your favorite bread baking method to make a firm dough. Add the chopped olives during the kneading so they are well-distributed, adding a little flour if necessary. It might be necessary also to taste for salt, as the amount might need to be adjusted depending on the strength of the brine. Let rise in an oiled, lidded tub until doubled. My dough was a purplish-grey due to to the color of the olives.  Divide and shape into 2 oval loaves. (These were set to proof in my oval baskets lined with floured linen towels and covered with same.)
Preheat two small roasting pans with their lids in a 450F oven as loaves rise for 30 minutes.  Slash and carefully place in hot roasters; cover and bake for 30 minutes.

Yield: 3# of dough which I divided into one loaf weighing 1# 12 oz and the other at 1# 4 oz.  (I always like to bake Debbie a loaf that is at least 1 3/4#, so she always gets the bigger loaf.  Also, if I am experimenting, which I was with this, I like to taste the results, even if it means baking up a 3oz roll to do so.)
The loaf looked very nice; texture, crust, etc., were fine.  However, perhaps it was this particular choice of olives, but I wasn't crazy about the overall flavor.  I can't put my finger on it, but this is not a bread that would work for a good piece of toast for breakfast, and it's as though it has too much flavor and so competes with sandwich fillings.  I think it is best put to use with a schmear of cream cheese on it, but otherwise, I am not likely to repeat this one as listed here.  I think I will keep the olive brine for adding interest to rye or pumpernickel loaves and skip the olives. I still might try a loaf using oil cured olives at some point, since they are more like olive raisins and would add a different note than the Kalamata.  Maybe that will be my next variation. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Overnight Baguette Twins PS #8

Started on February 12 and baked on the 13th.

I wanted to work on achieving a nice, skinny, baguette-style loaf.  I had refreshed Pete's Starter and had about 1# of it recipe-ready by Sunday evening.  I decided to go basic: add enough flour, water, and salt; knead and let rise overnight in an oiled, covered tub.


1# refreshed starter (this was more on the "wet" side than on the firm side)
about 2 1/2 c. bread flour
about 1/2 c water
1 1/2 tsp salt

Done.  By the morning, the dough had risen mightily.  I divided it in half and shaped it into long, thin  baguettes. Somewhere along the line I had acquired a double French bread pan- about 18" long and holding two loaves in the "troughs".  It's not bad, but I still prefer using my lidded fish poachers for baking long loaves.  So I decided I'd use the French bread pan for the final proofing of the shaped loaves, as I didn't have baskets long enough to do the job properly.  I draped the bread pan with a floured towel, nestled a loaf on each side, and covered them with the towel overhang.  In the meantime, I preheated the fish poacher with lid as usual, in a 450F oven for 30 minutes.  Just before going into the oven, I let them rest on the breadboard while I did my last minute prep.

Since the loaves were long and skinny, I decided to place them side by side in the poacher. A bit of crowding should insure that the breads rise UP instead of spreading OUT.    I used a razor to dock the loaves: one with a long slash down the middle and three diagonal slashes on the other. I spritzed them with a little water, covered the pan with its lid, and baked for 25 minutes.  Cover off, baked about another 8 minutes until they tested nicely done at 210F. 

I was very happy with these.  Very!  I had some leftover tossed salad in the fridge along with thinly sliced ham, turkey, and baby Swiss cheese.  I cut about a 5" length and proceeded to fill it with these goodies. Since I rarely eat subs, it was a treat. 
30 oz of of the simplest dough yielded two skinny long loaves: just the right size baguettes for subs or whatever else you have in mind.  The crust was crispy and the crumb, soft and tasty.  Mission accomplished!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Potato Bread Love (For Debbie-My-Egg-Lady #5 2012)

Baked on February 5, 2012

Late afternoon sun on light and airy potato loaves

On one of my used book store forays was a find almost as important to me as Carol Field's The Italian Baker. The first time I saw "Italian Baker" in the title, I couldn't believe that there was a whole book on the subject!  Finding Secrets of A Jewish Baker by George Greenstein gave me the same kind of thrill, as I imagined a book dedicated to recipes for Jewish ryes, pumpernickels, bagels, challah etc.  It does not disappoint, despite the fact that I have not baked many of the recipes.  Some of the rye breads have multiple steps and require rye starters and won't work when I want bread baked in one day.  But it has helped me understand why it's hard to find bread today that matches my memories of the Jewish bakery of my childhood.  (Another story for another time.) 

I had just bought a bag of potatoes and cooked up some gnocchi.  I was thinking about potatoes in bread- how nice it is, and maybe it was time to make some again.  I decided to check some of my bread books and discovered a very straight-forward recipe by Greenstein.  I liked that he uses both the potato and the cooking water.  With some cake yeast still in the fridge, potato bread it would be.


6 c bread flour- more or less, as needed to make a soft dough on the sticky side
1 1/4 oz cake yeast dissolved in 1/4 c warm water
8 oz riced potatoes*
2 c potato water*
1/3 c dry milk powder (instant, non-fat powdered milk)
2 T sugar
2 T soft butter
2 t salt

*Cover 2 medium, whole potatoes, skin on, with at least 3 c. boiling water and cook until tender.  Reserve two cups of the cooking water and cool to lukewarm.  I put each potato, whole, in my ricer; the skin stays inside the ricer and you skip the fussiness of peeling it.  Measure 8 ounces of the riced potatoes.

 Mixing and Method
 I used plain white cooking potatoes.  My guess is a starchy potato, as opposed to a waxy type, works better for this recipe.  Usual stand mixer method for mixing and kneading dough; first rise in lidded plastic tub tripled in volume in 90 minutes.  Divided and shaped into one oval loaf, about 1# 12 oz, and one boule, about 1# 4 oz.  I preheated my medium graniteware lidded roasting pan and the small dutch oven, also lidded, at 425 F while the breads rose in their baskets, wrapped in floured towels.  Again, I forgot to jot some details for this recipe as I was making it.  I think I baked them at 425 F for about 30 minutes, but it might have even been 450 F for 25 minutes with the lids off for an extra five minutes. 


This is a most pleasing "white bread" recipe!  It is very fragrant, has loads of flavor, is moist but not gummy, and excellent for toasting as the week progresses. It has a very nice lightly crisped crust that adds to its appeal.  You could easily used leftover mashed potatoes or rice a leftover baked potato, plus plain water, and get similar results.  I'd say this recipe is a keeper, as I already want to bake it again.

Nearly gone- 24 hours later

PS #7: A Riff On Previous Breads: Using Up Buttermilk, Coffee, and Oats

Baked On February 4 and 5, 2012

I enjoy a whole wheat bread with robust flavor that is also moist and tender.  Adding dairy, especially in one of its cultured forms, usually accomplishes that.  And oats, using ground old-fashioned rolled oats or quick-cooking oats add a bit of sweetness and tenderness, too.  Whatever leftover liquids are sitting in my fridge or freezer also can wind up in my breads.  So, last weekend's breads were inspired by
  1.  two breads I'd made in January (see here and here) and
  2.  some very dark coffee leftover from breakfast
Part of the dilemma is using enough coffee to give it some nice dark undertones without adding noticeable coffee flavor.  My solution was to use all the elements that worked: oatmeal, buttermilk, sour cream, coffee, and a little brown sugar.  I didn't have a lot of time on Saturday to bake, so for the first batch I used some dried yeast and on Sunday I used Pete's starter for the variation.  I will just list one set of ingredients with the quantities for the first ( ) and second  { } variations bracketed.

"Oatmilk" Coffee Bread (Yeast)  and {PS#7 Versions}


ww flour (2 c) {2 c}
ground, rolled oats (1 c) {1 c}
bread flour  (2 1/2 c) {3 1/2 c}
low-fat buttermilk (1 c)  {1 c}
low-fat sour cream (1/4 c) {1/3 c}
very strong, dark, leftover coffee (not powdered or dried) (1 c) {1 c}
brown sugar (1/3 c)  {1/3 c}
salt (2 t) {2 t}
leavening (3 t dried yeast) OR  {16 oz. refreshed starter -see here}

Mixing, Method

For the first batch ( ), I mixed as usual- dry ingredients except sugar combined in my stand mixer, add slightly warmed wet ingredients and brown sugar, mix with flat beater,  knead using dough hook.  My notes are hazy as to the weight of the dough- the yield was one oval loaf and one small boule.  As per my other posts, the dough rose in a lidded plastic tub, then shaped and put to rise a second time in a towel-lined, floured basket. Second rise took about half an hour, while lidded pots preheated in a 425 F oven.  Loaves were tipped into the matching pots- in this case, a small oval roaster and a small dutch oven.  These took 30-33 minutes to bake to "done" temperature, about 200 F, since the oven temp was a little lower than usual.  

Second batch { } was mixed as the first, although starter went in at room temperature.  This batch yielded more, since I was using a pound of starter and one extra cup of flour.  This yielded one 2# 4-oz. long oval loaf (baked in fish poacher) and a 1# 2 oz oval loaf, baked in the little roaster.  I think it rose pretty quickly this time, too- less than five hours for a starter-leavened bread.

Results and Comparison

First batch was delicious- highly flavorful, moist, without a distinct coffee flavor.  One mistake in attempting to duplicate this using the starter was that the proportions were off - the second batch had more water and more white flour without proportionately larger amounts of the other ingredients.  I probably should have used either a smaller amount of starter, or larger amounts of everything but the white flour.  No harm, really, because the second batch was a milder version of the first.  Since it was not as assertive with the flavors, it was better for sandwiches and spreads.  Our neighbor Bob received the oval loaf from the first batch.  We immediately ate the remaining little round.   

As soon as the second batch cooled off completely, I bagged up the smaller oval loaf and froze it.  Last night I pulled the frozen loaf out and let it defrost overnight.  The slice(s) I had for breakfast tasted fresh baked and very flavorful.  So I think this particular combination of ingredients is one to bake again and again.  My dilemma is to figure out what to name it!  

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Using Up a Pound of Cake Yeast

Cake Yeast?  In 2012?  Who uses this stuff?  The majority of bread cookbooks and recipes call for dried yeast of some kind or another, and much of what I've read seems to suggest that one cannot taste the difference between breads baked with with dried yeast and those baked with cake, or fresh, yeast.  I think there is a difference, but I could just be wishing it were so.

I have puzzled about all the fuss against using cake yeast.  Yes, it is more perishable than dried yeast, but is there any reason aside from convenience that should compel anyone to always choose dried over fresh?   Is so, why do some bakeries (keep reading) sill use fresh yeast by the pound instead of the dried?  

For one thing, when handling a lump of cake yeast,  the feel of this stuff is quite unlike any other cooking ingredient that I can call to mind.  Sort of a plasticity, with a velvety texture that crumbles when pressed.  When absolutely fresh, it has its own version of yeasty sweetness. For another, it holds on stubbornly to its very life.  I have successfully defrosted leftover two-ounce lumps of yeast from frozen and watched it do its magic.  I think the aroma is lessened, but the rising qualities are not lost. So the whole reason for this post is to see just how long cake yeast can be used from time of purchase.

Over the years, I have mostly baked with dried yeast, with occasional forays into using a starter instead of commercial yeast.  Since I bake regularly, it made more sense to buy it large quantities rather than the little packets.  I purchase it by the pound - actually, two one-pound bags -at Sam's Club or Costco, or in bulk quantities from a natural foods store.  Once the vacuum seal on the foil bag is broken, I store the powdery granules in an old coffee can in the freezer.  One pound lasts a long, long time, as I seldom need more than two teaspoons per six cups of flour.  Bread rises fast and well in my kitchen due to frequent baking, so I have used dried yeast that is still viable after two years in the freezer. 
Pilewskie kitchen circa Holy Saturday, 1981
However, I am a slave to the use of cake yeast when baking Polish Sweet Bread, our traditional family recipe passed from Grandpa to Grandma to Dad to the rest of us.*  Come Holy Saturday (the day before Easter) or Christmas Eve, Dad would buy a pound of the stuff for baking dozens of rolls and many loaves of bread.  The house smelled incredible on those special bread-baking days.  Dad never substituted dried yeast for fresh, but at some point or another, I tried.  The dough rose fine, but that fragrance was just missing from the house and the essence of what makes this particular dough special was not there.

Since Dad didn't use a kitchen scale, I am not really sure how he measured it other than by cutting it into eighths to approximate 2 -ounce blocks, which is what I did before getting my own scale. In earlier years, Dad just bought the little foil-wrapped Fleischmann's yeast.  The little squares weighed .6 oz. and the bigger blocks of yeast were 2 oz.  Grandma's notes in her recipe for the Sweet Bread (using 18 cups of flour!) were a bit vague, as she said, "you can always use more yeast" when baking this.  Kind of going by a rule of thumb of "one small cake of yeast for each three cups of flour", her original instructions likely called for two large (2 oz.) cakes of yeast.  Meaning, she probably used more than that.

For years, Dad doubled the recipe, baking with 10# of flour at a time.  At some point, he figured out a way to buy cake yeast in larger quantities, thus, coming home with the one pound block that looked like a pound of butter.  

After I had been baking Sweet Bread on my own for a while, I began to have trouble finding the cake yeast.  Not all supermarkets carried the little fresh yeast cakes, and when I could find them, they often looked questionably past their freshness date.  At some point, Dad shared his secret: go to a doughnut shop or old-fashioned bakery and ask to buy a pound of yeast.  He never told me which bakery he went to in Erie.

Since buying the small cakes from the grocery store could cost up to $4.00 per large batch of bread and rolls, I was compelled to look for the one-pound size.  The small companies are more likely to sell it to you than the franchises.  Our little neighborhood bakery keeps such a tight inventory that I couldn't always count on being able to buy some from them, although they were willing if they had enough on hand.  I finally found a commercial Italian bakery in Columbus, Auddino's, that will sell me a pound of yeast for about $2.00, so I am now buying it there.  

Which finally gets me to the point of this post!  I bought one pound of fresh yeast on December 19 for my Christmas baking.  I have been giving pans of rolls- see the banner photo to this blog- as gifts for many years now, so I bake a few batches before Christmas Eve as well as one on the day.  Since I seldom need even half a pound of yeast for all my holiday baking, I am left with enough cake yeast to fuel many more loaves of bread.  Some years, I would cut it up into small chunks and freeze it. However, the sweet yeasty fragrance seems to be missing when handled this way, even though it is still usually potent.  Left in a lidded container, forgotten in the back of the fridge, the unused cake yeast usually molds over and is- ahem- very stinky and difficult to dispose of properly. (I have read that it's a friend to compost piles, so I have put it out on our pile in the backyard.)
Since late December, in between baking with Pete's Starter,  I have leavened some breads using my leftover pound of yeast in order to see how long it will be viable.  So far, as of February 5, the yeast still lives!  Coming up in the next few days will be the results of Sunday's baking, and my posts for January 8th, January 22nd, January 23rd, January 29th, and January 31st all document success using the cake yeast. 
It has been helpful to bake weekly with the fresh yeast.  I now know that, once mashed into some tepid water and left to sit for a few minutes, the yeast slurry can just be whisked into the rest of of the wet ingredients without any other fuss. However, as the yeast is now over seven weeks old, I am less sure of its viability, so for the last few bakings I add a 1/4 tsp. or so of sugar to the yeast and water mix just to check for viability.  So far, so good.  The diminishing chunks and crumbles of the cake of yeast are in a little plastic tub, tightly lidded.  As the yeast ages, it is losing its sweetish smell, but it is not yet offensive.  The texture is still nice, and there is no mold. 
So, I am planning one more test while I still can with this batch of yeast.  I want to mix up a one-loaf recipe of basic Italian bread (flour, water, yeast, salt) with the cake yeast, and one loaf with dried yeast and bake them side-by-side.  I want to compare rising times and loaf sizes along with taste. At last, maybe my curiosity will be satisfied:  what's "better", fresh or dried yeast? 
Still confused?  For an excellent description of the different types of yeast, read here.

* I'll write more about this later when I bake for Easter. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

PS #6 Wheatena Bread (For Debbie-My-Egg-Lady #4 2012)

Baked on January 29, 2012

 Last summer I finally had some beautiful tomatoes ripening in my garden and I began my quest to find the perfect recipe for cracked wheat sandwich bread.  I wanted to make just the right loaf with a soft interior with bits of crunch to act as the background for the simple filling:  a thick slab of perfectly red, vine- ripened tomato, adorned only with a bit of salt and a little butter on the toasted bread.  
I tried using bulgar (a type of cracked wheat) in different variations. But if cooked before mixing into the loaf, the bulgar softened in the baking, and the crunch was gone.  I tried versions with Malt-O-Meal (a whole wheat  cooked cereal) and Ralston hot cereal, but none of them worked out as well as Wheatena.  I found an online recipe here (click on "Old Fashioned Wheatena Bread) and I made it several times with great results. For this riff on the original recipe, I used Pete's Starter instead of yeast and I baked it in lidded pots instead of in 9" x 5" loaf pans.  


2 c. ww flour                                                                 3 3/4 c. bread flour
1 c. wheatena (uncooked)                                             1/3 c half and half
1 2/3 c whole milk                                                        a few T water
1 heaping T honey                                                        2 T brown sugar
2 T butter                                                                      1 T salt
refreshed starter (about 13 oz.)                                     
Mixing, Method, etc.

Combined all the dry ingredients but the brown sugar and all but about 1 3/4 c. of the bread flour in the bowl of my big stand mixer.  I warmed the milk briefly, added to it the honey, brown sugar, butter, and mixed well. Then I added the starter to the wet mix and then added all to the dry mix.  Using the flat beater, mixed until well blended then added enough of the extra bread flour to make a slightly sticky dough.  Changed to the dough hook and kneaded for about 4 minutes added a bit of extra flour as needed.  Depending on the moisture of the starter, you might need more flour.

One cup of Wheatena adds a lot of crunch! 

Put the dough into a lightly oiled plastic tub, covered it with the lid and left it to rise.  This was a fairly slow rise- it took over five hours to double.   Shaped the dough into boules and let them rise in towel-lined, floured baskets, covered with the edges of the towels.  Preheated the 4 1/2 qt le crueset dutch oven and the two small (1 1/2 qt.) le creusets at 425 F for 30 minutes.  The risen rounds were gently placed into the hot pots and docked.  The hot lids went back on them and they baked for about 30 minutes, lids off for the last five.

Yield:  one  boule, 2 #, and two boules 1# 2 oz. each.   


The starter works great for leavening a multi-grain style bread.  Even though it took a long time to rise, the flavor was well-developed and the those little bits of crunch added that something extra.  This was a far cry from a heavy whole wheat bread.  I think the original recipe (see link above) has more contrast when using just while flour with the Wheatena, but this version is a great way to enjoy even more whole grain.