Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sourdough Win!

Hot out of the oven.
I made sourdough bread again this weekend. It was my fourth effort, and this one was a winner!

I followed the recipe from Cooks Illustrated, tweaking it only very slightly. I tried the recipe once before, and ended up with loaves that had the correct sourdough taste and texture, but a very low profile. This time, I kneaded the heck out of the dough and let it proof for an hour longer on the second rising. Minor tweaks for next time: refresh the starter for one more day (the recipe calls for 3 feedings, starting two nights before you begin making the dough), and remember to drop the oven temperature from 500 to 450 after putting the loaves in. These cooked lickety-split and I nearly burned the bottoms.

Last week's bread attempt was sourdough pumpernickel, which had the same slumping problem I described above. I'll manhandle another batch of that dough this coming weekend and see if it makes for a prettier finished product.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sourdough Bread Fail Equals Bread Pudding Win

You, sir, are not a winning sourdough.
My first attempt at sourdough bread resulted in a dense, flat loaf, rather than the chewy, nutty-sour, lofty, crusty loaf of my dreams. After two days' worth of labor, this was a frustrating outcome. The bread was not bad -- it just wasn't what I wanted. But it did make up into excellent French toast, as well as wonderful bread pudding. This is my late mother's recipe, one I grew up eating. The baking pudding fills my entire home with the scent of warm milk and vanilla.

Jevine's Bread Pudding
15 slices stale French bread, cubed
4 cups whole milk
4 Tablespoons butter
4 eggs
1/2 cup of sugar, plus 1/4 cup cinnamon sugar (separate)
1 pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

Adjust the oven rack to the middle and heat oven to 325 degrees fahrenheit. Butter a deep Pyrex bowl or a bundt pan and add the bread cubes to the buttered container. Heat a large saucepan of water to boiling, then turn heat down to just below the simmer.

For the custard: Put the milk and butter into a sauce pan and scald over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally to keep the pan from scorching. While the milk is heating, whisk the eggs, sugar, salt, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl and place the bowl next to the stovetop. When the milk comes to just before a simmer, turn the heat off. Dip a ladle-full of hot milk and very slowly, in a thin stream, add it to the egg mixture, whisking briskly all the while to prevent the eggs from scrambling. Add a second ladle-full in the same manner. If you're nervous about the eggs, do this one more time. With your egg mixture thoroughly tempered, you can now pour the rest of the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking gently to mix thoroughly. Turn the heat under your pot of water to high, and bring to a boil.

Fill a tea pot or separate large sauce pan with water and bring to a boil. Poured the hot custard mixture over the bread in the buttered Pyrex bowl or bundt. The bread will rise to the surface. Dunk all the cubes so that none remain dry. Sprinkle the bread and custard mixture liberally with cinnamon sugar.

Place the bread pudding container into a large roasting pan, and place the whole assembly into the oven. Pour the boiling water into the roasting pan, until it reaches halfway up the sides of the pudding container. If your roasting pan isn't deep enough to achieve this water height, don't fret. Just close the oven and set the timer. Bake the pudding at 325 degrees fahrenheit, in a bain marie, until a skewer inserted into the center came out clean (about 45 minutes). Let cool slightly, then serve.

This pudding is wonderful warm or cold. In my family, we always made sure the pudding had a high ratio of custard to bread, so if you don't have 15 slices of bread sitting around, don't worry. Use half that amount and you'll end up with a grand custard that has a nice bread pudding crust on top.

Shortcut Moussaka

Epicurious is the source for the moussaka I make most often. Shortcut Moussaka has all the goodness but takes a lot less time to prepare than non-shortcut recipes.

The only changes I make in this recipe is to add more cheese to the custard topping, and more oregano to the meat sauce. A tip for consistently good results with this recipe is to slice the eggplant as thin as possible.

I have tried this recipe with ground beef (my favorite) and ground turkey (very good). I haven't yet tried it with ground soy, but that will be my next attempt. If I'm successful, I'll  make vegetarian shortcut moussaka for my meat-shunning neighbors.

This dish is perfect for cooking on Sunday, portioning into containers, and taking for lunch during the week.