Monday, January 30, 2012

Pain au Levain with Pecans and Dried Cranberries

This is yet another sourdough variation from Bread Alone. This one uses pecans and dried cherries. Once again I made a really stupid measuring mistake, however, this time I was able to make the most of the situation. I still will have to give this bread another proper try. 

Pecans are one of my favorite ingredients in breads. I am a huge fan of their taste (and a great enemy of their exorbitant cost). While I was at Johnson & Wales, I took a course on Breads and Rolls and it was a life-changing experience. This course gave each student the opportunity to create his/her own bread formula while implementing the bakers percentages that we had recently learned.

I chose to make a Pan de Pecan, a bread which included 33% whole wheat by wheat, all of which was pre-fermented. Every Sunday during the 12 weeks of the course I would arrive 20 minutes early to toast the pecans for my bread in the warming bread ovens. The aroma coming off of the 1/2 sheet pan was incredible and preparing the pecans for this bread formula brought back memories of working with Chef Richard Miscovitch. Over the course of those 12 weeks, I formed a unique relationship with "Misky".  I was the only "non pastry-arts" major in the class, which caused me to stand out. (Culinary arts majors wear a different collared neck scarf than the pastry arts students.)

Misky and I both have a love of the Grateful dead. I remember a very colorful bumpersticker of Jerry Garcia in sunglasses on the back of his clip board. As the course progressed, we would quote the lyrics of Robert Hunter all the time.  It was awesome!! Also, the pastry students do not receive a bread knife in their university-supplied knife rolls.  They only receive a cake knife, which Misky didn't like. Every class, around 6:25 PM, Misky would ask me for my bread knife so that he could slice all of the breads that were baked during the class. Now, every time that I slice one of my artisan breads, I reminisce about that class and I am reminded of how far I have come in my baking and in many other aspects of my life.  I am still in close contact with Chef Miscovitch.  He has helped me in the past and continues to be an important resource for helping me tackle all sorts of questions and problems that I have run into. I will be working with him on his upcoming book and I am so excited to be a part of it. Now back to the bread at hand. 

Salt Mistake.......Why can't I learn from my previous mistakes.......Perhaps it's my stubbornness! I have been dividing all of the bread formulas in half in order to only make one loaf.  I have been doing this for at least 6 months, but I still have difficulty with it from time to time. I have stated repeatedly that you should get into the habit of rewriting your formulas to the yield that you will need.  Even I don't always heed my own advise. 

I divided everything perfectly except for the salt.  And any bread baker will tell you how important salt is to the final dough.  It provides flavor and it also acts to keep the yeast under control. If you have ever eaten a bland tuscan loaf, I can tell you salt. If you have ever witnessed a loaf that becomes way too big...the salt.  The reverse is also true. A bread with too much salt will rise much slower, and will be sluggish.  So in order to compensate for my mistake, I took a good pinch of instant yeast and added it to the final dough just before starting the mix.  I am so glad that I noticed my error because the bread turned out alright as far as appearance is concerned. It does have a rather odd caramelization (take a look at the photos below), but I can't complain considering I goofed up on this one! 
This formula actually called for dried cherries.  Because I did not have any cherries on hand, I used some cranberries which I soaked in ten ounces of very hot water, to moisten them.  After twenty or so minutes I drained off the water and saved it.  Leader recommends using this water in the finished bread, but I saw that the water was a pinkish red color.  Not wanting the crumb of my whole loaf to be pink, I just drank the water and replaced it with 8 ounces of tap water (assuming that that cranberries had soaked up about 2 ounces of the water). I noticed that the cranberries were very moist, so I tossed them with some 20% bran flour in a strainer to try to coat them and to absorb some of the moisture from the berries. I think this helped but who can really tell. I still had to add additional flour to the mixer as the pecans and cranberries were added to the mix.

All of Leader's recipes in his book Bread Alone, have a range for the weight of the 20% bran flour in the mix, so it is understandable that I had to add some flour in the bowl. I also did not want the dough to be too wet because I had added yeast.  I was afraid it might get a little too puffy and go overboard, but the dough stayed under control. It rose beautifully in the bowl and again when it was shaped. Other than the browning pattern mentioned earlier, the bread looked great.

In my breads and rolls class we were taught that auxiliary ingredients (e.g nuts, seeds, fruit) should not take up anymore than 20% of the flour weight.  One of the things I really like about Daniel Leader, is he often breaks this rule . This bread is loaded with cranberries and pecans, and the raisin and sesame breakfast bread from a couple of weeks ago contains 8 ounces of raisins per loaf, that is both crazy and awesome!

I actually baked this bread while my Israeli friend Dima was over the house. I was teaching him how to make Armenian Red Lentil Soup with Apricots and how to make tomato sauce. I made pumpkin muffins so the oven was warm, and I did not want to place my baking stone in a hot oven because I thought that the temperature differential might negatively affect my stone. Dima said "Jeeze, this bread stuff is so complicated".   Yes, it certainly is, but that is why we cherish it so much.  I thought that I would share that with you guys.  I thought that the seasoned bakers would appreciate it and the newer ones would find it interesting as well. 

BTW Chef Miscovich is teaching a course at Stone Turtle Baking in Maine in March. I strongly urge that you check out this baking school.  Their classes look wonderful. I have been in touch with Michael, the owner. He is awesome and is very well respected in the baking community, if you need a jump start in your bread baking or are looking for some tips and or improvement check them out.

You can see the awkward coloration I was talking about earlier

I shared the first slice of this bread with my baking friend and helper Caryn and her boyfriend Brandon and they both thought it was really great. I agree, good crust, great sweet cranberry flavor and the toasted flavor of the pecans is their. I might have chopped them less next time for more crunch, but a lovely bread. One that I will come back to!!

Bake one

1 comment :

  1. Dave, it's wonderful to hear you talk about your life experience and your interaction with Chef Miscovitch; I love how food can remind us of really particular memories. This blog is such an awesome project and makes for great reading! So proud and excited!