12 April 2012

Sourdough Boule

If you're a frequent reader of this blog, you know that I love to bake. After buying Pete Reinhart's Artisan Bread Every Day, I started playing around with a variety of recipes (mostly for ciabatta and pizza dough) and found that it's very easy to make a great-tasting bread. It really is. It gets easier with a stand mixer, a good oven, a baking stone, and lots of patience, but it's NOT difficult.

Sourdough bread, however, had escaped me for the longest time. I tried to create my own, but apparently there isn't enough viable wild yeast floating around my kitchen to really get it going. That, or I simply suck at making sourdough from scratch. No matter - I purchased some wild starter from Breadtopia, and a few days later, I had my own so-called "mother starter" (at least that's what Reinhart calls it). This thing is incredibly resilient and came alive less than 12 hours after its first "feeding" (addition of water and flour), even after spending a week in the mail on the way to Austin. I keep it in the fridge perpetually and will feed it every week or so, or whenever it gets a little low.

The first recipe I decided to try out was a simple sourdough boule. It is incredibly easy to make, provided you have the necessary equipment: a baking stone, a pizza peel, and a banneton. You don't really need the banneton, but it does help in forming a pretty loaf.

Sourdough Boule

10.5 oz (300g) bread flour
7.25 oz (200g) water at 110 degrees F (43 degrees C)
1.75 oz (50g) sourdough starter
1/8 oz (5g) kosher salt

Add the water and starter to a large bowl. Break up the starter. Add the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly with your hands or a wooden spoon. You can also do this in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment if you prefer. Lightly flour a work surface. Turn the dough onto the work surface and stretch and fold once. Place in a clean, lightly-floured bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and let rest for one hour at room temperature.

After an hour, turn the dough back out on the work surface and do another stretch and fold. Place back in the floured bowl and let rest, covered, another hour. After an hour, turn the dough out onto the work surface and do one final stretch and fold, forming a ball from the dough. Lightly flour your banneton. If you don't have one, a bowl lined with a clean, lint-free towel will do the trick. Place your dough ball, seam-side up, in the banneton. At this point you need to place the banneton in the fridge overnight, but it needs to be airtight. A large plastic bag will work, or you can put the banneton in a larger bowl and just cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap. If you're using a bowl with the towel, just fold the towel on top of the dough and cover with the plastic.

The next day, turn your oven to 450 degrees with your baking stone in the middle and a pan that can take a hit of hot water (such as a cast iron pan or an old, crappy metal pan you don't care about anymore) in the bottom of the oven. Turn the dough out onto a floured pizza peel (or the back of a sheet pan covered with parchment paper). Lightly cover with plastic wrap or a clean towel and let rest for two hours.

After two hours, score the top of the loaf lightly with a sharp knife. Slide the bread onto the baking stone (with the parchment paper if not using a pizza peel). Immediately add about a half cup of hot water to the pan at the bottom of the oven. Close the door and wait for three minutes. Next, place an oven-safe bowl over the loaf. Bake another 15 minutes, then remove the bowl and bake the final 20 minutes. The loaf should be a rich brown and sound hollow if thumped on the bottom.

Let cool on a cooling rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing and serving. And try not to eat the whole damn thing in one sitting.

Note: If your sourdough starter isn't super potent, it's fine to add about a teaspoon of instant yeast to the dough to improve its proofing.

04 April 2012

Guinness Beef Stew

Hi, trusted readers! I have (perhaps foolishly) decided to start writing again. After having some people tell me things like the definition of a "hiatus" and others hint that I should "start food blogging again, or else" (among other thinly-veiled threats), I guess the time has come.

St. Patrick's Day happened fairly recently and we all know what that means: green beer and plenty of it. I didn't actually have any green beer myself, but I did make a shepherd's pie (with ground lamb, of course) and "Irish car bomb" cupcakes for dessert. I had some leftover Guinness from the cupcake making and decided to make one of my favorite meals: a proper stew with lots and lots of alcohol in it. I serve this one with garlic-rubbed toast and a horseradish sour cream. It freezes extremely well and tastes even better after a day or two in the fridge! Just reheat in the microwave or in a pot over low heat.

Note that the Guinness can be replaced by a bottle of good red wine. Just reduce the sugar to one tablespoon.

Guinness Beef Stew

1/4 cup olive oil
3 tbsp butter
1 cup AP flour
2.5 lb beef chuck

24 fl oz of Guinness or other stout
8 thyme sprigs
6 garlic cloves, smashed or minced

2 1/2 cups beef stock, preferably homemade
10 small potatoes
1/2 lb carrots
1 lb white mushrooms
1/2 lb peas (frozen are just fine)
2 cups pearl onions (frozen are actually preferable - peeling pearl onions takes forever)
1 orange's worth of zest
1/4 tsp ground cloves
2 bay leaves
black pepper

Start by browning the meat. Put the flour and a pinch of salt in a large Ziplock bag. Unless the meat is pre-cut, cut it into 1-to-2-inch pieces. Add all the meat to the bag, close it, and shake until everything is coated. In a large frying pan or heavy-bottomed pot, heat the olive oil and butter over medium-high heat. Brown the beef in batches. You're looking for a nice brown crust, but it doesn't matter if it's cooked through or not.

Once all the meat is browned, bring out your biggest pot and add the beer, beef stock, thyme sprigs, garlic, orange zest, and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and continue to simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

Add the meat to the pot and turn the heat down to low. Cover and cook for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, scrub and quarter the potatoes, peel and cut the carrots into "coins," and clean and halve the mushrooms. After the two hours are up, add the potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, pearl onions, and 2-3 tablespoons of sugar (more if it tastes a little bitter, but don't overdo it) to the pot. Turn the heat up to medium and leave uncovered for another 30 minutes.

Remove the thyme sprigs (most leaves will have fallen off) and bay leaves, and add the peas to the pot. Salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.

Horseradish Sour Cream

1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup prepared horseradish

Stir the two ingredients together. A dollop of this is awesome with the stew.

Garlic Toast

4 slices of bread
2 garlic cloves
olive oil

Turn your oven to 350 degrees F. Put the bread on a baking sheet without overlapping. Drizzle a little olive oil on each piece. Toast in the oven until golden brown. Peel and halve the garlic cloves. Once the bread has cooled slightly, rub the cut end of the garlic on the side of the toast that you drizzled with olive oil. Serve with the stew.