Archive for September, 2010


First Look: Focaccia Redux In 2 Parts

After all my recent experience making bread, seeing and tasting what could be achieved at low temperatures, I regarded my original tomato-basil focaccia as less than successful. In a sense, the toasting requirement of that original recipe cheated the VaporBaker philosophy, not necessarily because toasting subjected the bread to higher temperatures than normal for a VB recipe, but because the texture and taste of the bread was not very appealing without toasting. So, I went back to the focaccia drawing board.

There will be 2 focaccias: one steamed and one slow baked. The steamed version will keep the original slow-rise, no knead dough (with some modification). The baked version will be a new formulation. Today, I tested a steamed tomato-basil focaccia, shown in the picture above. It was wonderful to eat WITHOUT any toasting, very fresh tasting, as steaming preserves the flavors. I had to post a picture of the loaf as a First Look.

Note the golden top crust, unusual in a steamed bread. I won’t keep anyone in suspense. The effect is achieved by brushing the top of the dough with an alkalized olive water. LOL!!! All the details will be in the revised recipe. A new recipe for a slow-baked focaccia may appear sometime in October or early November. I have a backlog of recipes to finish testing and writing up.

Thanks for reading.


No-Knead Chinese Steamed Buns Recipe Revised

The blog statistics show that my Slow Rise, No-Knead Chinese Steamed Buns recipe is one of the most accessed on VaporBaker. Today, I revised the recipe with new high-resolution pictures, instructions for using rapid rise yeast, a recipe for the egg filling, buns filled with plum bean paste and mini sausages, a paragraph or two on dough hydration and one or two other small changes.

There is a long queue of other recipes in the final stages of testing (it’s all very slow going). I should have a new one ready next week.

Thanks for reading.


Slow-Rise, Kneaded White Sandwich Bread: Basic & Water-Roux (Baked)

[ Equipment: slow cooker or oven. For more information about the terminology in this recipe, see Low Temperature Baking: A Journey of 3 Paths ].

These loaves make excellent sandwiches. The 2 versions differ in the crispness of the crust and the texture. The plain bread has the crispier crust and a firmer, more closed crumb. The water roux loaf  is softer, chewier, fluffier, with a more open crumb. Both are tasty straight out of the oven (the roux loaf has an almost creamy taste despite the lack of dairy) and compare well with loaves baked at high temperatures.

Like my previous loaves, these breads are slow rise, but are relatively easy to make and bake at a single temperature, not in a rising or falling oven. They are “real” loaves. Each one weighs almost 1 lb. (14 oz./400 gr.) and measures 8 x 4 x 2-1/4 (inches), which is adequately large to qualify as a true sandwich loaf. Although the incorporation of a water roux in one loaf is supposed to extend freshness, both breads are best eaten on the same day they’re baked. After that time, slices can be revived with a quick steaming or a light toasting.

These seemingly simple recipes have spent several months in research and testing, but all the effort has been worth it because the techniques will be applied to baking other types of breads at low temperature. I began work on them a few days after I posted the White Bread-Mini Loaf recipe. I ate the last slices of a sandwich bread from the local market. Rather than buy a new loaf, I decided it was time to try baking my own.

To be a successful sandwich loaf for me on all fronts, it had to be tasty with and without toasting. My first focaccia bread was a dry, coarse bread that bloomed in flavor only when briefly toasted. Although the mini loaf had better texture, the recipe and technique didn’t scale well (the “enlarged” loaf had a dry and tough crumb), and was a little complicated for an everyday bread. A loaf also had to be of adequate size. The mini loaf was fine for bite-size sandwiches, but the entire loaf could be eaten in minutes. The size of my oven limited the maximum size of the loaf. All of my LTB ovens were converted slow cookers, and the biggest one was a 5.5-quart, which could accommodate an 8 x 4 x 2-3/8 (inch) loaf pan. While that wouldn’t be the largest loaf of bread around, it would do.

A review of my earlier recipes suggested that the bread grain had gelatinized from excessive exposure to high moisture and heat, resulting in the hard, coarse texture. I broke the problem down into 2 parts: too much moisture and too much oven time.  One way to counter those conditions would be to start baking the loaf at 250°F (as opposed to steaming it first as I did in my mini-loaf) to heat up the dough quickly and begin cooking the interior sooner. However, the higher heat alone could overbake the bread near the sides of the pan, which could dry out rock hard. There was also the matter of even browning. Large loaves tend to brown very, very slowly on their top surfaces than on the sides. My second fix was be to borrow an idea from commercial bakeries and lid the pan with foil for a pullman-style loaf. Commercial pullman loaves brown evenly on all sides, because all surfaces of the dough touch hot metal.

The picture above shows my first pullman-style loaf. Note the flat top due to the dough pressing against the foil. The top is a light golden brown, but the sides are an over-baked dark brown. The texture of the bread was still coarse, though more elastic than some of my earlier breads. To shave off more oven time,  I cut the liquid-to-flour ratio just to the amount of water necessary to make a stiff, but kneadable dough. In breadmaking terminology, the hydration level was around 60%, which is at the low end of the range for good bread. To facilitate the release of steam in a controlled manner and further help soften the texture, I perforated the foil with a wood skewer. It was trial and error to determine the best baking time and the number of holes in the foil. I checked off the internal temperatures of the best loaves for future reference.

With these corrections implemented, the basic white loaf developed an even crust, light golden toned and thinly crispy. The interior was hearty but not dry, a fine sandwich bread. I was almost ready to post the recipe when I began reading about bread made with a water roux as a means to extend the freshness. The basic loaves I made were best eaten as soon as they were cooled and ready for slicing. One day later, the texture was distinctly less moist. Two days later, I wanted to either toast the slices or revive them by steaming.

In a water roux bread, a flour-water mixture is heated until it thickens but is not fully cooked. The process binds water to the flour in a paste, which is mixed into the main dough and releases vapor very slowly during baking compared to the non-roux portions of the dough. My recipe for the roux paste was 1 part flour to 2 parts water, and the flour in the roux is borrowed from the total amount of flour for the loaf. It was trial and error to determine how much of the flour should be converted to roux. Too much roux gelatinizes the texture. Too little roux is in vain. I found that a roux comprised of 7% of the total amount of flour worked very well.

The above picture shows a loaf incorporating a water roux. The same view of a basic loaf at the beginning of this recipe highlights the less substantial crust of the roux bread. The roux crust is also not as brown, although the lighting makes that more difficult to distinguish. None of this is surprising as the water retention of the roux inhibits browning and crisping.

The higher moisture retention of the roux dough, however, produces a wonderfully soft bread, like a supermarket Wonder Bread, but with more body, more toothiness, more flavor and a subtle creaminess. The picture above compares slices from the two loaves. The top plate shows the basic loaf and the bottom plate is the roux bread. Note the fluffier texture and more open crumb of the roux bread.

Although the roux dough did produce a fluffier loaf, I can’t really say it extended the “freshness”. As with the basic loaf, the texture of the roux loaf noticeably degraded after the first day, although the former dried out faster overall. Nevertheless, for the texture alone, the roux bread is my favorite, and I don’t mind the extra trouble to make it. As I said before, a little steam successfully revives both breads, so the extra effort to prepare the roux is totally worth it for me.

Because the hydration level is important, I have given weight measurements for the flour. The basic and roux breads both contain 1-3/4 cups of flour. The total weights of the flour in the 2 breads don’t quite match up. Those numbers are actual amounts from particular loaves. The 0.5 oz difference is not significant in this recipe.

These breads were tested only with rapid rise yeast. Active dry yeast should work fine, but maybe not as fast. With active dry yeast, the first rise could be extended up to 24 hours. Because the dough’s hydration is very low, proofing active dry yeast in the warm water first could encourage reanimation.

Makes 1 loaf
– 820 calories per loaf
– Oven Temperature: 250°F/121°C

Basic Bread:

  • 1-3/4 cup all-purpose flour (9.7 oz)
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon rapid-rise yeast (see text)

Water Roux Bread:

  • 1-5/8 cup all-purpose flour (8.5 oz)
  • 1/4 cup water roux paste (see below)
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon rapid-rise yeast (see text)

Water Roux:

  • 1/4 cup water (2.1 oz)
  • 1/8 cup all-purpose flour (0.7 oz)

Water Roux Paste Method:

Note: the water-flour mixture must be heated until it’s about the consistency of thick honey and congeals on the tines if scooped up by a fork. My thermometers were not designed to function in such a small amount of material, but I got readings between 140°F and 150°F. During the heating, small, soft lumps that form, but dissolve when whisked with a fork are fine, but if there are solid bits of cooked dough, the roux is ruined and should be started again.

Do not overcook the roux. An overcooked roux will slow or even prevent the dough from rising. With a microwave (mine is rated at 800W), set the power to MEDIUM or put a cup of water next to the water-flour mixture to absorb some of the heat power. On the stovetop, the flame should be set to low.

1. For the microwave: thoroughly mix the water and flour in a small microwave-safe bowl.

For the stovetop: thoroughly mix the water and flour in a small fry pan or saucepan.

2. In the microwave: heat the water-flour mixture for 10 to 15 seconds, remove and stir with a fork to dissolve any lumps. Repeat this step until the roux reaches the consistency of honey and congeals on the tines if scooped up with a fork (between 1 to 2 minutes total heating time in my microwave).

On the stovetop: heat the roux in a saucepan, stirring constantly. Check the consistency by taking the roux off heat and scooping it up with a fork as above.

Move the roux paste into a small bowl and let cool.

Bread Method:

1. Mix flour, salt and yeast in a bowl until well combined. Add roux paste (for roux bread only).

2. Add half of the warm water and mix. Then add the remainder of water a little at a time to form a STIFF but kneadable dough. If the dough is too wet, knead in more flour to compensate. If the dough is too dry, add a little more water to loosen it. I almost always have some water left over: usually about 1 tablespoon left over for the roux bread and up to 2 tablespoons left over for the basic bread.

3. Knead for 8 to 10 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic. I knead with the taffy-pull method: hold the dough in both hands, stretch, fold back and repeat until the dough can stretch for about 12 inches without breaking. With larger and heavier doughs, it can be a workout, but it’s fast and effective.

4. Put the dough back into bowl and cover. In the picture, I rise the dough in a plastic bowl with straight sides. I shaped the dough into a flat disk that fits the bottom of the bowl to make it easier to monitor the dough height.

5. Let rise in a warm place for 12 to 18 hours or until double in height. With rapid rise yeast, the double height could be reached in less than 12 hours, but I recommend continuing the ferment for at least 12 hours to develop flavor. Do not let it rise for more than 18 hours in any case, as over-fermenting may cause the dough to collapse or inhibit the second rise.

6. Grease an 8″ x 4″ x 2-3/8″ loaf pan. Grease the shiny side of a sheet of aluminum foil large enough to cover the pan. Cover the top of the pan with the foil (the shiny side facing down) and lightly press it under the pan edge to hold it stretched in place temporarily. With a wood skewer (1/8-inch diameter), puncture the foil along the inside perimeter of the pan, the holes spaced about 1/2 to 1 inch. Then puncture the foil in 3 rows evenly spaced inside the perimeter, with the same hole spacing.

7. Shape dough into a log and place in pan. Cover and let rise in a warm place until the dough is almost to the top – about 2 to 3  hours.

8. Cover the pan with the aluminum foil, aligning the holes, stretching it taut, and pressing the foil into pan ledge to secure it. Then tightly wrap the top of the pan with twine just under the ledge and knot. Push and crimp the foil up against the twine and prevent it from slipping down.

Let dough continue rising until it presses against the foil and causes it to bulge outwards (about 1 hour).

9. Bake at 250°F/121°C for 60 minutes. To check for doneness, insert a digital probe thermometer through the foil and into the center of the loaf. If the loaf is ready, the internal temperature should be about 205°F/96°C.

10. Remove foil. Cool the loaf in the pan for about 15 minutes. Then unmold and continue cooling on a rack.

11. Slice and serve.