March 10, 2013

Quick and Dirty

I was in a bit of a dilemma not long ago. I had to bake something as a treat for my colleagues at work, but didn't really have the time to babysit a loaf for a couple of days (which is how long one of our loaves usually takes from mixing to baked loaf).

We all know that when one is in a bit of a tight spot, one can always rely on IKEA to have an answer for everything and a solution for all our problems. Let me explain: There is a multigrain bread mix (the aptly named Brödmix Flerkorn) that every IKEA store carries in their Food Market section; you just have to add water to it, wait for about 45 minutes, then bake it for one hour, et voilà! you end up with a fresh loaf of awesome Swedish bread.

Well, more or less ...

I've tried this mix once in the past and, while I haven't been too excited about the results, I would agree that it is a lot better than almost any bread commercially available in North America.

Somehow though, for the purpose of my baking this treat for work, the IKEA bread mix came to mind. Maybe the fact that I drive past an IKEA store on my way to work every day has something to do with it. In any event, I decided to give it another try, but I also wanted to improve on it a little bit. The mix itself, as indicated on the tetra-pack box, contains wheat flour, wheat flakes, rye flakes, coarse rye flour, sunflower kernels, flax seed, malt, and a few other yummy things that are good for you. I decided to add some (actually it ended up being lots of) dried fruit into the mix to make a nice, dark fruit loaf, that would go really well with some nice butter.

I figured I would need to add a bit more water than the 600 ml the original instructions call for, as well as a little amount of white flour, to help keep it all together. This is what I came up with:
1 IKEA bread mix (700 g)
100 g white flour
700 g water
570 g dried fruit (I just happened to have in the house):
200 g raisins
230 g chopped dates
140 g currants
I mixed everything just to incorporation, poured it in an oiled pan (it's a very liquidy affair), let it rise for about 45 minutes, and baked it at 400F for an hour and a half.

A few notes on baking and storing/consuming:
  1. Lately we have discovered that if you bake in a pan it's a good idea to cover your pan with another (identical) pan and bake it that way half way through. It makes for really nice crust, because the top pan preserves all the moisture inside during the crucial first part of the baking process. Furthermore, the top part of the loaf stays moist and elastic during the oven spring stage to a degree where one doesn't need to score the loaf at all.
  2. With this type of loaves, very heavy, rich in rye flour, and short fermentation/proofing times, it's possible to place the loaf into a cold oven and then crank the oven up to the desired temperature. This makes for a period of "forced" proofing just before the actual baking begins.
  3. I have baked this loaf on a Sunday and cut into it the next Friday. This has allowed for proper aging. With this kind of heavy, rich loaves it is very beneficial to the overall flavour profile.
And a final note to all the IKEA bigwigs: If you're sitting in a corporate boardroom right now wondering how come the IKEA multigrain bread mix sales have taken such a sharp upturn, this is where you should send your cheques.


December 21, 2012


After trying my hand at baking Stollen earlier this season, I found myself hooked on baking traditional holiday breads, and 'Tis, the Season justifies pretty much anything...

Second Set: Panettone. The baking of this sweet Italian bread is extra thrilling and exciting, because the original recipe calls for a natural starter (or wild yeast). It is quite the process, producing the loaves, and it requires time; lots of it. You'll pretty much have to dedicate two whole days to this, but it's definitely worth it. As is usually the case with baking, you will have plenty of time to go about your daily business, and only once in a while you will need to take short breaks and come back to play with your beautiful dough.

The recipe I followed I got off of the Wild Yeast blog; and I am very grateful to Susan for sharing this superb formula and the detailed steps involved in the process. I made quite a few people happy by sharing some of my special bread. So, thank you, Susan! I found her post very helpful, and the pictures she took of her loaves and her crumb made me even more eager to attempt it myself. I had been trying for a while now to find a recipe that incorporated a sourdough starter, but found that probably as many as 90 percent of the recipes out there are using commercial yeast exclusively.

I would have loved my Panettones to have risen about an extra inch or so, and at first, when I took them out of the hot oven, I was almost a little bit disappointed with their oven spring. And to make matters worse, I managed to drop one while I was hanging them upside down to let them cool overnight. But the delicate and heavenly smell made it all better... Well, and all was forgiven and forgotten the next morning, when I cut into one of the loaves: The structure of the crumb was very beautiful, they smelled incredible and where melting in my mouth. The three loaves of Panettone I got out of this bake were probably the most rewarding thing I have ever baked so far. 

I wouldn't be able to describe the process better than Susan already did in her post, so I won't give you the formula, but rather will include the link to her page, as well as to her more recent (revised) Panettone notes. These were published just after I had baked my very first batch, last weekend, but since I am planning on baking a second batch this coming weekend (just in time for Christmas), I am very excited to improve my results by following Susan's notes.

Oh, and by the way, while I am writing this post, I'm sitting in my kitchen candying some fresh orange and lemon peel, that will go straight into my Panettone. Mmmmm... I'm already looking forward to next year's Christmas.

Submitted to YeastSpotting.

December 2, 2012

In Preparation for Christmas

We just had the first serious snowfall of the season; it came down last night. Add that to all the Christmas preparations I was making during the past days, and it really felt like the first day of Advent today.

On my day off, Friday, I finally managed to bake the stollen I was so looking forward to for the past few weeks. The marzipan having been already made beforehand, was sitting in the fridge, just waiting to be used. I had found a recipe for candied orange peel on a dear friends amazing blog (in German only). Just knowing that I would have to work with the marzipan and the candied orange peel made baking the Christmassy loaf so much more exciting!

Stollen is a traditional German fruit cake or holiday bread made with lots and lots of dried and candied fruit, almonds and spices, often containing marzipan, and covered with a thick layer of icing sugar, reminding one of a snow covered landscape. It is a bread only eaten during the Christmas season, but baked a few weeks ahead of time, so that it can properly age, stored in a cool, dark place. This is probably one of the main aspects of the stollen tradition. Strictly speaking, I might be already a little late baking it, but, to my mind, two to three weeks are still plenty of time for it to age and to develop all its unique flavours.

In my baking I am a big fan of long and slow fermentation. That is why I decided to use a poolish when baking my stollen (prepared 12 to 16 hours ahead), instead of the more traditional yeast sponge, which only gets to ferment for a couple of hours. For the rest of the recipe I did some research, and ended up developing my own, combining information from a few different sources. The dough turned out super nice, pretty soft and sticky with all that butter and marzipan in it. When I was ready to shape it, I managed to achieve a beautiful stollen loaf, but I was pretty sure that it wouldn't hold its shape during the bake. And sadly, I was right. In my opinion it turned out somewhat too flat; but anyway, it's still very, very beautiful!

While the dough was proofing and later, as the loaf was baking, I had enough time on my hands to clean up the mess in my kitchen, make an Advent wreath from some fir branches I had bought at the market, and to fold a few paper snow flakes. And today, after taking a two-day break from the whole stollen business, I had tons of fun covering my stollen with plenty of icing sugar and giving it a similar look to the lanscape outside my window after a snowy winter's night.

Usually you are not allowed to cut into the stollen as early as I did, since it really needs to be allowed to age for a few weeks, as I already mentioned above. Well, I made an exception because I am sending half of it overseas, to Florin, one of the biggest stollen fans in Canada!

For one large Christmas Stollen

Poolish (allow to ferment at room temperature for about 12 to 16 hours )

125 gr bread flour
125 gr water
1 gr yeast

Final dough

275 gr bread flour
125 gr milk
5 gr yeast
1 tbs honey
150 gr marzipan paste, grated
200 gr butter
1 organic lemon
1/2 vanilla bean
5 gr salt

Nuts and fruit mixture 

500 gr raisins/currants mixture, soaked over night in either rum or apple juice
55 gr almond slices, soaked for about 10 min in hot water
110 gr candied lemon and orange peel

Option for the filling

extra 100 gr marzipan paste

For the finish

250 gr butter, melted
refined sugar
icing sugar

Put all your flour in a large mixing bowl and form a little well in the middle. Add the yeast into the well, then add the lukewarm milk and the honey. Stir in some of the flour, put the mixing bowl aside, cover with a tea towel and let it sit for about half an hour. Now add the poolish, the grated marzipan paste, 200 gr from the soft butter, the grated zest from one organic lemon and the vanilla. Mix all your ingredients until well incorporated, then do a 30 minutes autolyse. Now add the salt and do the kneading until the dough is properly developed. Don't despair, it will be pretty wet and sticky, and all the fat will make it even harder on you. After the dough is developed, gently incorporate the nuts and fruit mixture (carefully drained to avoid adding too much extra liquid to the dough). If you don't like working with extra wet dough, go ahead and add a little extra flour. Give the dough about two hours to proof until it almost doubles in size. Shape the stollen on a lightly floured work surface and in the process add another 100 grams of marzipan paste shaped into a strip, down the middle of your stollen loaf. Preheat the oven to 390 F, bake at that temperature for the first 15  minutes, then drop it to 350 F and bake it for another hour. To avoid it turning too dark, cover with aluminium foil for the final 30 minutes.

After taking the stollen out of the hot oven, brush it immediately with about 250 grams of melted butter, then toss with plenty of refined sugar. Let the loaf cool down over night properly before duting it with thick layer of icing sugar. Wrap in aluminum foil and store it in a cool, dark place for at least two weeks before cutting into it.

For YeastSpotting!