Monday, September 17, 2012

TWD -- A recipe in my comfort zone

Finally: A recipe I could feel confident about. The whole wheat bread recipe, this week's Tuesday's With Dorie challenge from the book, "Baking with Julia," was right up my alley. As a self-confessed "bread head" who has not purchased a loaf of bread in 11 years and has experimented with almost every bread recipe known to man in that time period, I recognized the whole wheat recipe as the de riguer recipe now making the rounds in cookbooks, magazines and Internet recipes. This standard formula of approximately half white flour and half whole wheat with honey used as sweetener is the homecoming queen of all whole wheat recipes.

Sourdough starter crock
Since I bake mostly sourdough bread, I decided to convert the Baking with Julia recipe using some sourdough starter in the formula. Sourdough bread stays fresh longer than other breads, and the use of natural yeast cuts back the need for store-bought yeast.

My sourdough starter, now eight years old, is fed with equal portions of water and flour measured by weight, not volume. In other words, I feed it weekly with four ounces of water and four onces of flour. Thus, to convert a standard recipe to a sourdough recipe, I need to subtract equal amounts of flour and water from the original recipe. In the case of the Baking with Julia whole wheat loaf, I first cut the recipe in half to make only one loaf not two, then added six ounces of sourdough starter. This meant that I needed three ounces less of both flour and water.

Microwsve as proofing box
After mixing and kneading the dough with my stand mixer, I used by microwave oven as a proofing box. I heated about an inch of water in a microwave safe glass for two minutes on high. Then, leaving the glass in the microwave for moisture, I added the bowl of bread dough, shut the door, and allowed the dough to rise for 90 minutes. I used the same technique to let the dough rise in the pan for 60 minutes.

The finished loaf
The bread turned out lovely, and I felt I gained the advantage of adding more chew (sourdough starter acts much like a poolish or biga providing more chew to the crumb) and I was able to cut back on the yeast by about half. Otherwise, I followed the recipe exactly.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

TWD -- Nervous Nelly over Nectarines

I'll confess. I was more than a bit nervous about making Nectarine Upside Down Chiffon Cake for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie assignment.  After viewing the schedule and seeing that a cake was due the day after Labor Day, I volunteered to bring the dessert to a Labor Day gathering.

Then I read the comments -- those helpful suggestions from bakers who had gotten a jump on the assignment, had made the cake and were describing their experiences. That's when the worry set in. I saw the word "sinking" in several comments, and thought, "If there's any chance of a cake sinking, it will happen to me." I have been known to have cake-mix cakes sink. However, after doing a test on my oven temperature about three weeks ago, I discovered that the thermostat was off by 15 degrees. After adjusting it upward, I was having better luck baking other desserts -- but a cake, and a chiffon cake at that?

Here was my quandary. I was obligated now to take a dessert, but what if the cake sank so badly it wasn't edible. And, during my period of obsessing (should I bake something else as backup?) I got out the ruler and measured my springform pan. It wasn't a 10-inch pan, but a 9-inch pan. The bakers' comments had addressed that issue. Use less batter. But how much less? I concluded I needed nine-tenths the amount of everything mentioned in the recipe. I got out my calculator and scale and decided to proceed, but plugging in enough time to make a fruit cobbler if things went really wrong.

Oh, I forgot to mention. During my obsessing phase, I watched the video (as suggested in the comments suggestion) not once but twice. The lovely baker in the video made the cake look so easy. It appeared that nothing could go wrong. Then I "googled" Nectarine Upside Down Chiffon Cake and saw where Tish Boyle had baked it on Julia's 100th birthday on August 15 and hers looked delicious in the photo on her blog. But, then again, I'm nowhere near Tish Boyle's league, so I began preparing raspberry cobbler ingredients as I had now worried myself into believing, MY CAKE WILL SINK!

So, to make a long story short, the cake did sink. I watched it sink through the window in the oven door. Everything was going smoothly until about 35 minutes into the baking time, and I then it began to sink before my very eyes. By the time 45 minutes were up, the crater in the middle looked like the Grand Canyon (that is a bit of an exaggeration and the picture makes it look less sunken than it really was), but remember I'm obsessing and tempus is fugiting.

The 25 minutes before I could turn it out on a plate were the longest 25 minutes in my life. Should I start the cobbler NOW, or should I hope in the upside down state it wouldn't look half bad. And some of the comments said even though their cakes sunk, they were still good. So, I held off starting the cobbler and watched the clock slowly tick away.

Turning it out was pretty easy. I did not use parchment paper as some in the comments section suggested.  I found I didn't need it. Once the cake was on the plate it didn't look half bad. Would it sink more as it cooled? Should I start the cobbler, or hold out another hour. I held out. It sank no further and I reasoned that if I said not a word at the Labor Day gathering to the effect, "Sorry, but my cake sunk a bit" people just might assume it was meant to be concave in the middle. After all, would anyone there have ever tasted Nectarine Upside Down Chiffon Cake before? I rather doubted it.

This story has a happy ending. I took the cake first to the Labor Day dinner and everyone loved it. Then I took the rest of the cake to the bakery where I volunteer, and there were just enough  left so all 10 volunteers could try it. Again, it got rave reviews. Although the cake was a hit, I would still like to know: Why did it sink? If anyone has the answer, I'd love to hear from you. I'd really like to make this cake again!