Monday, October 20, 2014

Sourdough Croissants

This month's Sourdough Surprise is croissant and if you've never made them before it may seem like a real culinary adventure with a delicious, buttery, flaky treat at the end, of which you will happily eat too many.  If you have made them before, and I have, then you know they are a journey fought with countless pit falls that may lead to a delicious, buttery, flaky treat or, just as likely, any number of lesser items (burnt, flat and misshapen), of which you will also (sadly) eat too many.

Ya see, making croissant is a very technical process and I'm kinda more of an instinctual baker.  So, I can tell you, I had my reservations.  Croissant are a big investment in time, ingredients and ego (not to mention a heck of an upper body workout) and I certainly didn't want to squander any of them.  But I made up my mind to do the deed and see it through, one step at a time (and there are many), to the end.

I said I made croissant before, although to be honest it was a long time ago.  So the first step in the process was to read the recipe.  This is most likely the gold standard recipe for sourdough croissants.  It is obsessively analytical but the results are truly amazing!  Precision is not my strong suit so I chose this recipe and, fingers crossed, tweaked it to incorporate a sourdough starter which had been fortified for a couple of feedings with bread flour earlier in the week.  Then I just had to find my metal ruler and get started...

I was quite pleased with the results.  All through the 3 day process I was cheered by the aroma of the dough, which just smelled like the best bakery in the world!  The dough itself was easier to handle than I remembered.  This got me worried at first but I was under the spell of it's delightful fragrance and really enjoyed the act of rolling, turning, resting and repeating.

The third day was show time.  The croissant rolled out beautifully and after carefully measuring and cutting they were ready to shape.  I filled some with almond filling and some with dark chocolate.  I let them proof for 3 hours and kept a watchful eye on the temperature the entire time.  And while I was waiting I fried up some croissant scraps, because CRONUTS!!

In the end I was pleased with the results, pleased enough to eat one plain and one almond filled before the oven even had a chance to cool down.  They were delicious and well worth the weekend it took to make them.  A big hug and kiss to Sourdough Surprises for this delicious, buttery, flaky, sourdough adventure!

sourdough croissant (adapted from Fine Cooking)
Note: I've included the barest minimum instructions.  For more details, please check the links provided or take a course at the Cordon Bleu.

2 cups bread flour
1 & 1/2 cups unbleached AP flour
1/2 cup & 2 tablespoons milk
1/4 cup & 2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons soft butter
1 tablespoon & 1 teaspoon yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup starter (fed with bread flour)
10 ounces of good quality butter

for optional almond filling combine:
1/2 cup almond flour
1/4 cup raw cane sugar
1 tablespoon egg white

for optional chocolate filling:
3- 4 ounces good quality dark chocolate
cocoa for sprinkling on finished croissants

In a stand mixer combine all ingredients except the 10 ounces of butter.  Mix on low with a dough hook, scraping the bowl as necessary until dough forms.  Put the speed up to medium and beat for two or three minutes.  Wrap dough in plastic and chill overnight. 

Next day, cut the cold butter and arrange the pieces on a piece of parchment or waxed paper to form a 5- to 6-inch square, slicing the butter through the middle as necessary to fit. Top with another piece of parchment or waxed paper. With a rolling pin, work the butter so they join together.  Roll the butter until it’s about 7-1/2 inches square and then trim the edges. Put the trimmings on top of the square and pound them in lightly with the rolling pin. Wrap and refrigerate while you roll out the dough.

Roll chilled dough on a lightly floured surface into a 10 &1/2 inch square.  Brush off excess flour.  Unwrap butter and place it on the dough so the points are centered along the sides of the dough.  Fold one corner of the dough over the butter, stretching it a bit so the point reaches the center of the butter.  Repeat with the other 3 corners.  Press all the corners together to completely seal in the butter.

Dust top and bottom of dough with flour. Use your rolling pin to press the dough and elongate it slightly and then begin rolling.  Try to concentrate on lengthening the dough instead of making it wider, and try to keep the edges straight.

Roll dough until it’s 8 by 24 inches. If the ends lose their square shape, gently nudge the corners with your hands.  Brush flour off dough. Pick up one short end of the dough and fold it over the dough, leaving one-third of the other end exposed. Fold the exposed dough over the folded side. Wrap with plastic, and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes (or longer is your busy)  to relax and chill the dough. 

Repeat the same rolling and folding two more times. Always start by rolling in the direction of the open ends of the dough, and  chilling and relaxing the dough in between, just as above.  After the third roll wrap the dough well and chill overnight.

Next day roll dough on lightly floured surface to about 10 inches.  Cut in half; wrap one half and chill.  Continue rolling the remaining dough until it is 9 by 20 inches, trimming as necessary.  Mark the dough every 5 inches and cut with a pastry wheel.  Cut each section on a diagonal so you end up with 10 triangular pieces.

Carefully pick up a triangle of dough, slightly elongate it without squeezing the dough.  Lay the dough down and, starting at the long end, gently roll the dough away from you.  Repeat with the rest of the dough.

For filled croissants, make a notch in the long of the dough and fill just below the notch with desired flavor.  Roll as above and curve ends in towards the middle.

Put formed croissants on parchment lined baking trays.  Brush with egg wash (refrigerate unused portion for later).  Proof for 2 to 3 hours in a draft-free place at about 75 to 80 degrees.  They won't double in size but the layers will start to become evident and they'll be a bit jiggly.

When croissants are almost proofed, preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Brush with the remaining egg wash.  For almond croissants also top with sliced almonds.  Bake for 10 minutes then spin trays and bake another 8 to 10 minutes until croissants are deep golden.  Makes about 16 croissants. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Bread

Did I really eat all those things in Portland? How am I not as big as a house?! Must be all the walking we did! Well, it's back to sensible eating for me; veggie chili, pasta puttanesca and whole wheat pumpkin bread.  OK, that last one is a bit on the sweet side but it is made with whole wheat flour, whole wheat pastry flour, that is.
Around this time of year everything comes in pumpkin spice flavor, even some things that have absolutely no reason, in my opinion,  to ever come in pumpkin spice flavor, ever!  If you're going to put pumpkin spice in something, make sure it has pumpkin in it.  If you want pumpkin spice flavor stick with the basics and it doesn't come any more basic than this fool proof, stays moist forever, bread.  End rant, although here is a hilarious bit that backs me up.

What is pumpkin spice anyway?  A mixture of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and allspice blended in some golden ratio that starts with cinnamon and decreases for each spice that follows?  What if you like ginger more than cinnamon or don't like cloves at all?   This recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of pumpkin spice as a guide.  Of course, you're free to mix up your own batch as you see fit or add a smig extra, or less, of one or another.  Personally I added a little more ginger and nutmeg.

Forgive my lapse in memory but this is one of those recipes that's just always been in the box, from whence I know not.  As I mentioned it's sweet, I wouldn't recommend having it for breakfast, of course that's up to you.  If you want deliciousness for breakfast, then go for it.  I mean, it does have a good amount of fiber thanks to the pumpkin and whole wheat, but it's also dense, super moist and studded with dark and golden raisins (or try dried cranberries, or dried cherries).  Best of all, the pumpkin spice is perfectly apropos.

whole wheat pumpkin bread

1 & 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pumpkin spice

6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup canned pumpkin
2 eggs
1 &1/3 cup raw can sugar
1/3 cup milk
3/4 cup raisins (plumped in 1/4 cup boiling water and drained)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees; butter and flour a 4 by 6 inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and pumpkin spice.  In a medium bowl whisk together oil, pumpkin, eggs, sugar, milk and plumped raisins.  

Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.  Bake for 45 to 55 minutes our until cake tester inserted into bread comes out clean.

Cool on wire rack for a few minutes and then remove from pan.  Cool before slicing.  

Friday, October 10, 2014

Eating Portland, The Last Course

Cheeseburger and fries at The Original, yes you read that right

Thursday night found us back at The Original.  It sort of became our home away from home away from home, if you know what I mean.  And that's when things got authentic.

You know how I'm always going on about eating fruits and veggies and beans and grains, and not eating meat and all that?  Well throw that out the window, because in Portland I sure did!

That crazy, classic, all American duo up there was ordered and devoured by yours truly in less time than it takes to say 'deluxe cheeseburger'!  It was soooooo good, I'm not going to apologize either.  I do thank the grass-fed cow that gave his life, and the rancher, and the butcher, the cook, the waitress and everybody in between.  Every bite tasted real and fresh, and even the ketchup was organic with no HFCS!!  I most likely will not has another cheeseburger in the foreseeable future, but I will be feeding off the memories of this one for some time to come!

Good old apple pie and vanilla ice cream

There was really only one way to finish this meal and still stay on the steady course that started with the burger.  An apple pie, as big as a hat box, had been calling to us since we entered the diner.   I distinctly remember my sister gasping when she saw it in a round display case by the front door.  We ordered it up with a side of vanilla ice cream and as you can see we stabbed the beast even before I could get a decent pic.  

Again, the realness of the pie just had me glowing from the inside out.  The apples were thinly cut but with still some tooth to them.  The balance of cinnamon and sugar was in cosmic harmony.  The flaky crust, even where it was thick on the edges, melted on the tongue.  And I'm not even going to go into the ice cream part of the whole thing except to say I wouldn't have missed it if it wasn't there but I'm mighty glad it was.  

I think that burger/apple pie pandemonium marked a turning point in my Portland trip.  It was starting to wind down and there were still some things on my wish list.  Chief among them, donuts.  

 Brioche donuts at Blue Star Donuts, Downtown PDX

And I'm not talking Voodoo Donuts, although they have a perfectly good reputation for putting Portland on the map, albeit a sort of slutty reputation.  I'm talking Blue Star Donuts where airy, velvety brioche dough is fried up into rich, substantial yet light donuts.  

I made it my mission to get up early Friday morning and head out due west from our hotel.  Blue Star opens at 7 AM but once they sell out that's it, you ain't gettin no donuts 'till the next day.  Sis and I shared a buttermilk and a glazed, along with a large latte from Fresh Pot, because donuts and coffee.  Please don't give up the ghost without tasting these donuts.  They're what every doughnut wants to be. It goes without saying, they are delicious, but not at the expense of being overly sweet or greasy.  They manage to bring some class to the genre and come off like a proper American breakfast pastry.

 Blue Star buttermilk doughnut and half a large latte

After that things started to spiral out of control.  We had had plans to visit the Alberta Arts District on the previous night since that would have be one of the Last Thursday events where artists set up tables all along Alberta Street and there's all kinds of music and festivities.  However, jet lag, burgers or just too much fun got the better of us and we didn't make it.   We did get there Friday to at least soak up some of the artsy vibe and, of course, get our grub on. 

Funky murals,  street signs incrusted with tacked up posters, adorable shops with handmade goods and homey neighborhood restaurants made The Alberta one of my favorite excursions.  It made me feel like a young artist visiting South Street back in the day before it got all bought out, home girls and boys will know what I mean.

We settled on The Tin Shed Garden Cafe for lunch because on Tuesday dogs eat free.  No, it wasn't Tuesday and I didn't have my dog with me, but you gotta love a place that has that kind of approach to business!  As it turns out it was a great choice as evidenced by the wait list.  We put in our names and took a stroll around the neighborhood visiting shops and checking out the street art that is tucked here and there.

 The crew at the Tin Shed immortalized as street art

After a seating change we wound up in the enclosed garden section and we were virtually the only patrons without an adorable furry companion.  It made for some interesting conversations and funny scenes.  I mean you just can't not have a good time when you look over and there's a big eyed wiener dog staring at  your apple sausage!  Speaking of which, since The Tin Shed is  a breakfast-all-day place, I got the Everything Nice.  Eggs, apple sausage, sweet potato brioche French toast with fruit compote and potato cakes with sour cream and green onions-  it was more than nice, it was an epiphany!   I really didn't think I could eat again for the rest of the trip let alone the rest of the day. 

The Everything Nice (and then some) at The Tin Shed Garden Cafe

And yet somehow later that night we found ourselves walking around the Pearl and just happened to stop into Ruby Jewel a gem of an ice cream spot with discrete lighting and a long counter facing the street, perfect for keeping an eye on the action.  I had a scoop of Banana Cream Pie and sis went with Mint Chocolate Chip, both were excellent!  

OK, just try not to be too jealous of this day that started with donuts and ended with ice cream.  Also, don't even try to add up the calories. It was Friday, I was on vacation and you only live once, you can't argue with that kind of math. 

Ice cream at Ruby Jewel in the Pearl

Saturday was our last full day in Portland and we were sort of heart broken but also still upbeat to get in more sites and yes, food.  That morning took us up to Powell's once again and on the way we passed an exquisite little store front called Maurice.  We must have passed it a few times on our  several forays to the bookstore and yet it had escaped our notice.  We made a point of stopping back after perusing the aisles at Powell's.

The show-stopping desserts at Maurice

Everything, from the sumptuous dessert case, to the marble counter in front of the open kitchen/bakery; from the handwritten menu, to the serene all white palette; from the artful touches, like a row of pears on a rectangular plate to the rabbit head coat hooks, is just too, too au courant.  We were tripping over ourselves in an effort to express our delight at all the well thought out details that make this place so special.

Currant scone with tomato jam at Maurice
We each ordered a coffee and split one of their over-sized currant scones.  I'm afraid I'm a bit spoiled in the scone department as the recipe I use is, bar none, the best in the universe.  It was, however, easy to forgive any shortcomings on the part of the pastry as the vibe at Maurice was just so altogether enjoyable.  Did I mention the French tunes coming out of the sound system?  Anyway, I want to go back to Portland just to hang out at Maurice a few more times.

At Maurice, we finally saw the sign

After a fun packed afternoon at the Saturday Market by the river, talking to vendors and oohing and aahing at all the fabulous handmade goods, we were in need of some caffeine.  We made our way to the Stumptown location in the lobby of the  Ace Hotel.  The hipness level is pretty much off the charts here, but somehow it's very chill and totally inclusive (that actually sums of all of Portland).  Everyone sits around on comfy couches that surround a giant coffee table and it's hard not to strike up a conversation with the person next to you.  Isn't that what life is all about?!

Stumptown in the lobby of the Ace where the coffee table has it's own zip code

I chatted with a blissful young dad, who was bouncing his baby boy on his lap while his wife kept an eye on their other two kids playing by the photo booth.  They seemed like typical, laid back Portlanders.  As it turned out in the course of our conversation I learned they were transplants from Mississippi.  But it kind of reinforced a feeling I was getting my whole time in Rose City, that is even if you weren't born there you're made to feel like you're from there.

Salty snacks, Happy Hour at Clyde Common

There was only one logical way to follow up that wonderful experience and that was to take one step next door to Clyde Common for Happy Hour.  Sis and I shared a couple of salty dishes of olives and French fries as we sipped Lillet and talked about our trip.  We were leaving the next day and the only thing that could console us, other then reviewing all the fun we'd had, was to plan our next trip back here in the Spring!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Eating Portland Part 2

Koi at the Japanese Garden, Portland

One thing definitely on my list when visiting Portland was the Japanese Garden.  While we had to trim some sites off our itinerary, I'm most glad this was not one of them.  It's very easy to get there from downtown, the Max light rail to the 63 bus, then a short walk past the Test Rose Garden.  We got lucky and met a super nice Porlander on the bus who just happened to work there and he walked us there, plus even gave us a little private tour.  Thanks Matt, you are the best!

But I'm getting a head of myself.  I'm supposed to be talking about food.  We started that morning with a power breakfast of green smoothies at Kure.  They have a few locations. We were closest to the one downtown, a small store front humming to the sound of juicers and great music.  We found the "Lush Life" was the way to go- pineapple, banana, kale, spinach, Vibrant Health green superfood powder, ginger, OJ, agave nectar and ice.  My sister had hers straight up and I subbed coconut yogurt for agave nectar.  Nutrition never tasted so yummy and this certainly got our motors running!

Just getting started with a "Lush Life" from Kure

Then it was off to the Japanese Garden, about which I can not say enough.  It was a different kind of nourishment, one for the mind and soul.  I want to go back and see it in every season.  There's much too much to see in one visit, you need a couple of hours just to sit in a shady spot and listen to the water.  A Japanese garden is not about the flowers.  It's about the light and shadow, the moss, the water, the stones, the sabi.  It's about texture and sound, spirit houses and moon bridges.  If you find yourself out that way do not miss it!

We headed back into town with a good part of the day still ahead of us.  It was past lunch time and, not surprise, we were hungry.  We headed over to the Pearl district to check out Supa!.  Known for their "small batch artisan soups" not to mention melties and salads.  I went for the indulgent Tomato, Chevre and Fresh Basil Bisque, sis got the mushroom packed Hungarian Mushroom and we split Yogi Sammie- hummus, and fixins with feta and dried tomato tapenade on ciabatta.  Yes, please.  The ladies behind the counter were so sweet and since it was after lunch we sort of had the whole place to ourselves to savor this soup and sammie feast.

Soup and sammie, together like never before at Supa!

After all that walking and the healthy breakfast and lunch, we were in the mood for a bit of sweet stuff.  We meandered through the Pearl and ended up by Saint Cupcake to partake of some precious mini cream cheese frosted delights.  First of all, love the name!  Second of all, love the cupcakes.  We shared one mini chocolate and one mini vanilla and they were gone almost before I could snap a photo.

Heavenly cupcakes at Saint Cupcake

Next up: burgers, donuts, and lattes at the Ace!