Tuesday, March 27, 2012

March 2012 Daring Bakers' Challenge - Crackle, tiger, giraffe, alligator, leopard, or Dutch-crunch bread

This month's challenge was to make crackle bread (also called Dutch-crunch), this bread is usually a soft textured crumb with a wondrous patterned topping that is similar to a giraffe or a tiger. The topping is very crunchy and has a wonderful taste this type of bread is perfect for sandwiches. This was a great challenge and the results are delicious I had some trouble getting the topping to brown but after eight batches I worked out that it is the sugar in the topping that browns the crust, so if you want dark brown spots add a generous amount of sugar to the topping.

Recipe Source: The recipe for the Dutch Crunch topping came from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible. The recipes for the breads we’ve suggested came from The Bread Bible and an adaptation of a recipe found on bakingbites.com (http://bakingbites.com/2006/09/cooking-school-dutch-crunch-bread/).

Blog-checking lines: Sara and Erica of Baking JDs were our March 2012 Daring Baker hostesses! Sara & Erica challenged us to make Dutch Crunch bread, a delicious sandwich bread with a unique, crunchy topping. Sara and Erica also challenged us to create a one of a kind sandwich with our bread!

Dutch Crunch Topping

Servings: This recipe should make sufficient topping for two 9x5 loaves (23cmx13cm) or 12 rolls. If you make only 6 rolls in the first soft white roll recipe, you can cut the topping recipe in half.


2 tablespoons (2 packets) (30 ml) (15 gm/½ oz) active dry yeast
1 cup (240 ml) warm water (105-115ยบ F) (41-46°C)
2 tablespoons (30 ml) (30 gm/1 oz) sugar
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil
½ teaspoon (2½ ml) (3 gm) salt
1½ cups (360 ml) (240 gm/8½ oz) rice flour (white or brown; NOT sweet or glutinous rice flour) (increase by 1 cup or more for home-made rice flour)


1. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and beat with a whisk; beat hard to combine. The consistency should be like stiff royal icing – spreadable, but not too runny. If you pull some up with your whisk, as shown below, it should drip off slowly. Add more water or rice flour as necessary. Let stand 15 minutes.
2. Coat the top of each loaf or roll with a thick layer of topping. We tried coating it with a brush but it worked better just to use fingers or a spoon and kind of spread it around. You should err on the side of applying too much topping – a thin layer will not crack properly.
3. Let stand, uncovered, for any additional time your recipe recommends. With the Soft White Roll, you can place the rolls directly into the oven after applying the topping. With the Brown Rice Bread, the loaves should stand for 20 minutes with the topping before baking.
4. When baking, place pans on a rack in the centre of the oven and bake your bread as you ordinarily would. The Dutch Crunch topping should crack and turn a nice golden-brown colour.

Crackle, tiger, giraffe, alligator, leopard, or Dutch-crunch loaves and bread rolls

Today is my bread baking day so perfect timing I will make all the bread today crackle bread and watch for the results.

WOW I have seen this bread in the shops in Australia it is called tiger bread (occasionally I have seen it called giraffe bread or crackle bread) I have always wondered how they do the topping! I know in the oven, the starches of the topping gelatinize, dry out, firm up and crackle, in that sequence. The topping imparts a slightly sweet, yeasty flavour and a crispy, crunchy texture that contrasts nicely with the light and tender products. The topping can be applied to any type of dough that is baked between 360°F and 375°F. (182°C to 190°C).

I used my normal soft white bread recipe (3 cups bread flour, 1 cup warm milk, 2 tablespoons oil, 2 teaspoons dried yeast, 2 teaspoons salt and ½ teaspoon lemon juice), I made two batches of dough. With one batch I made two long loaves and with the other batch I made six (115 gram/4 oz) rolls.

I used dark sesame seed oil for the crunch topping. The sugar helps brown the topping so increase the sugar if you want a darker topping. The yeast is there to add a yeasty beer taste to the topping.

WOW how good is the topping it really is crunchy with a slight sweetness and the toasted sesame flavour comes out so well. We ate it all up immediately so sorry for no sandwich pictures.

I heavily coated the loaves with the paste and let them rise after 20 minutes the paste had crackled and looked so intriguing

The baked loaves

Tiger Bread Rolls

I made up a batch of bread rolls using the bread recipe above but I divided the dough into six balls. I lightly coated these in the paste I used only half of the topping recipe just to see what difference I would get in the pattern.

The bread rolls coated in the topping

A third batch of loaves
I made another batch I very heavily coated the loaves in a very thick layer made up with twice the normal sugar to enhance the browning of the topping and baked them off. This time I only got very large patches on the topping notice how much browner the topping is as compared to the other batches

Tiger Paste Recipe
I made another batch of rolls, this time I made up the crackle topping using this recipe (by weight) rice flour 100%, warm water 100%, dark sesame oil 10%, sugar 15%, yeast 15% and salt 5%. This time I made sure that I added the paste about 15 minutes before I baked them. Certainly this was the best tasting topping and also the most crunchy though the least attractive looking LOL LOL.

Here is a listing of all the tiger paste recipes I could find on the net. They are all about the same (except one) the only difference is when you add the paste (i.e. just after shaping, half way through the final proof, or just before we bake the bread) and how thickly you apply it to the bread (thin for small scales and thick for larger scales).

'Rye & Beer' tiger paste
Light Rye flour 7 tablespoons (105 ml) 60gm
Beer ('Roaring Meg') 80 ml
Yeast dried 2 gm
Salt 2 gm

'Rice & Sesame' tiger paste
Rice flour 6 tablespoons (90 ml) 60 gm
Warm water 65 ml
Sesame Oil 1½ teaspoons
Sugar 1 teaspoon
Yeast 1½ teaspoon dried

'Australian Artisan Bakery' tiger paste my friend's recipe
rice flour 6 tablespoons (90 ml) 60 gm (or use semolina or tapioca flour)
warm water 55 ml
vegetable oil 10 ml (sesame oil is great to use if you want a stronger flavour)
½ teaspoon vegemite (or another yeast paste)
sugar 10 gm
dried yeast 10 gm
malt extract ½ gm
salt 2½ gm

'Challenge' tiger paste (from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible)
rice flour 6 tablespoons (90 ml) 60 gm
warm water 60 ml
vegetable oil 7½ ml
sugar 7½ gm
active dry yeast (6 ml) 3¾ gm
salt ¾ gm

'Thin' tiger paste (http://bakemyday.blogspot.com.au/2008/10/hellooo-tiger-bread.html)
rice flour 6 tablespoons (90 ml) 60 gm
salt 1½ gm
sugar 3 gm
boiling water (1 cup) 240 ml
dried yeast 1½ gm
vegetable oil 1½ ml

Pain Marche's Recipe: (from DB member Gourmande)
joshinko * 250 g
cake flour 15 g
fresh yeast 25 g
salt 5 g
malt extract 2 g
water 275 g
sugar 5 g
lard 30 g

*"joshinko" is for making Japanese sweets, it's not exactly a rice flour, it's more processed, like "instant".

Batch Two
I have been trying to get the topping to go brown this batch no luck I followed the recipe to a "T" and used all the paste. It cracked with large patches. I will have to try a few other things, I even put it under the grill (broiler) to brown it up no luck. *sigh*

Batch Three
Home made rice flour tiger topping
This time I made my own rice flour (a couple minutes in my ex-Gloria Jean's coffee $5 grinder was enough) to make the crunch topping this time I got a much better result than the packet rice flour batches. I added some sesame seeds to the topping on a couple of them just before baking.

The home made rice flour certainly browned up better than the packet flour but I'm still slightly unhappy about the look of it, I want to experiment some more. Maybe I'm baking them at too high a temperature my oven's at 240°C/465°F which is the normal heat I always bake bread these took 45 mins to bake which is really a long time for rolls. Maybe next time I will go for 220°C/430°F or even the much lower 350°F/180°F, and I'll try steam which should make the topping go browner.

For the last three batches I let the paste rise until it had doubled in volume (i.e. I made the paste as soon as I had finished kneading the bread) I found it made no difference to as compare to the "15 minute version" in the challenge. The longer time makes the topping taste better because it has a stronger yeastier taste when you let it rise for a long time. I have made about eight batches of six rolls now trying to get a dark brown patterning on the crust but I haven't been able to achieve it as get, I have tried varying the
1.thickness of the topping (thin vs thick)
2 how long I let the topping rise before I apply it (15 mins vs doubling in volume)
3.when I apply the topping (half way through the proof vs just before baking bread)
4.used two brands of store bought rice flour
5.ground my own rice flour
6.I added vegemite to the topping
7.different temperatures of oven (moderate to very hot)
the only thing that made any difference was making my own rice flour and that only made a golden brown colour in the final patterned crust not a dark brown colour as I had hoped for. I really have no idea how to get a dark brown colour on the crust. I have looked hi and low on the internet searching for any reliable advice on this and cannot find any at all. If any body as tips or hints please share it!

Batch Four
I tried another batch this time using steam and I got almost white rolls so I don't think steam is the answer, usually steam is used to create a humid atmosphere so the crust stays soft for the first part of baking, the oven spring is much better and a nice crust is formed in the second half of baking i.e. steam in the first part of baking gives us a crisp crunchy crust but doesn't necessarily brown the crust. This batch was very crunchy but not brown at all. (I saw this advice in couple of websites but it doesn't seem to work for me.)

I will try increasing the amount of sugar maybe I will try brown sugar to see what happens this time.

Don't get me wrong the rolls I have made have been tasty and have had great crunchy crust it's just that I'm looking for a browner colour on the topping.

Batch Five
Finally after a lot of experimenting I have worked out how to colour the topping. It is the sugar that browns the topping so if your batch is too pale add more sugar next time I used honey (since I had to use it) about 2 tablespoons for half a batch of the topping (120 gm rice flour, 120 gm water, 2 tablespoons honey, 2 teaspoons sesame oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt) it was only slightly sweet tasting when baked.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

March 2012 Daring Cooks' - Braving the braise


This month's Daring Cooks' challenge was to braise we had complete freedom to do any sort of braise we wanted. What a fun challenge and so much freedom and from the superb responses from the other forum members this challenge went down really well, so many braise using all sorts of ingredients such as chicken, duck, pork, beef short ribs, fennel, root vegetables, tofu even moose!

Recipe Source: Michael Ruhlman – Ruhlman’s Twenty

Blog-checking lines: The March, 2012 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by Carol, a/k/a Poisonive – and she challenged us all to learn the art of Braising! Carol focused on Michael Ruhlman’s technique and shared with us some of his expertise from his book “Ruhlman’s Twenty”.

See the PDF of the challenge recipes with hints and tips here.

Balsamic vinegar and honey beef short ribs
I have been wanting to do a short rib recipe for a little while now so this challenge was perfect. Braising is such a great technique because:-
1. the searing gives you great colour and add lots of flavour to the final dish
2. as the connective tissues break down, they dissolve and form gelatin, which thickens the cooking liquid and gives it body and shine, meanwhile
3. the braising causes the muscle fibers to absorb moisture from the cooking liquid and steam. Which gives you a juicy piece of meat. Braising also melds flavours from the stock, vegetables and any herbs and seasonings.

So it is important to pay attention to searing the meat correctly (including the bones), and the flavouring ingredients in the braising liquid. Take careful note of all the wonderful tips and hints that our lovely hostess Carol has included in the challenge write up they really do work. I like a longer slower braising time at the lowest temperature 140°F/60°C to cook meat safely I think it really adds a lot more flavour into the meat.    

This recipe uses an initial eight hour marinade of fried tomato paste for acidity, onions and garlic which is cleaned off then the ribs are seared, and then they are braised for 14 hours at 140°F/60°C (in a cool oven) in a mixture of ironbark honey and aged balsamic vinegar, a little red wine, smoked paprika, chilli flakes, bay leaf, a mirepoix, lots of pepper and the marinade. I used two bush tomatoes (an Australia native herb that is a strongly flavoured of tomato and eggplant even one is enough to perfume a whole room!) in the braising broth also, I was very lucky and got 3 kgs (6.6 lbs) of short ribs for only $10 (they were on special in the Asian butcher shop usually $15/kg) which consisted of two enormous slabs of meat studded with ribs. After the ribs were cooked and cooled the fat is taken off and the sauce is reduced to a thick shiny sticky consistency it has a super concentrated flavour. I was very impressed with the colour and flavour of the ribs a small amount of sauce goes a long long way in this recipe. Enough for many many meals I got almost 12 cups of braised meat and liquid.  I will make a meal using the ribs in the next of couple of days since I want maximum flavour infused into the meat. Incidentally I got a new camera so that's the reason for all the close-up shots of the ribs I was experimenting it is an Aldi Traveller brand $56 point and shoot.

The butcher told me that oxtail will be on special soon maybe I will try that next, since all braises freeze well.

The two humongous slabs of beef ribs they are about 1.5 kgs (3-1/3 lbs) each!

Seared beef ribs

The braised ribs cooled overnight in the refrigerator

The braised ribs before they were covered in the reduced sauce, even these are delicious

Caramel miso duck nibbles
I just had to do the caramel miso sauce it sounds so tasty, I got some duck pieces from my favourite gourmet butcher, I seared them to crisp up the duck skin and then oven braised them in the caramel miso sauce. Then I rested the braised meat in the fridge overnight then I removed a voluminous amount of duck fat (almost 1-1/2 cups) and strained the braising liquid and reduced it until it was thick and shiny. I used my new chopper to cut the cold braised duck pieces into bite sized nibbles (I find it is much easier to cut cooked poultry when it is cold). I coated the nibbles with the reduced caramel miso sauce and broiled (grilled) them until well coloured. I don't make duck that often since most of my friends dislike it (bad experiences at restaurants, greasy and tasteless) even my friend Cherie liked these nibbles, not greasy at all. The caramel miso sauce is to-die-for and can be used for meat and veggies a great recipe.

Slow braised sweet chilli squid

This is one of my favourite summer seafood dishes it is embarrassingly easy to make and it's a real crowd pleaser. When squid is slow braised it becomes extra soft (melt in your mouth) and sweet and in combination with sweet chilli sauce and a tomato/onion based pasta sauce produces an unctuous amalgam that emphasises the taste of the squid. The squid sauce is sweet and mild and perfect as a sauce for a seafood pasta dish. I seared the squid pieces and braised them for six hours on the lowest simmer.

Slow braised sweet chilli squid
(1-1/4 kg)(2-3/4 lb) 3 large squid (or you can use baby octopus about a dozen or so)
3 cups pasta sauce (the kind that uses mainly tomato and onions, I use a good store bought kind, you can make you own if you wish, the sauce must be thick)
3 tablespoons sweet chilli sauce
optional 2 cloves of garlic crushed
fresh lemon or lime juice, to taste if the sauce becomes too sweet

1. Clean the squid (remove the beak, the central clear cartilage, the fins, ink sack, the innards and scrap off most of the 'coloured' outer skin and scrap the tentacles to make sure that all of the sucker cartilage is removed). Cut the flesh into 2 cm (1 inch) pieces, cut the tentacles into 5 cm (2 inch) lengths. The pieces reduce in size by about 75% when braised so remember to cut the pieces much larger than the final cooked size. You can sear the pieces if you wish this adds a lot more flavour and colour to the pieces but increases the braising time by twice. Place the pieces into a medium stew pot.
2. Add the pasta sauce, the sweet chilli sauce and the optional garlic.
3. Slow braise uncovered in a very slow (90C/195F) oven or on the stove top just below a bare simmer for about 3 hours (check at 1 hour to see how much squid liquid is given off if there is a lot leave the pot uncovered, if the sauce is already thick cover the pot and add some water as needed during the braise) until the squid is soft to the tooth and the sauce has thicken and turned a brownish red colour, I have found you can simmer the sauce all day all that happens is the squid flesh becomes softer and softer and the sauce becomes more and more mellow. Makes 4 cups of squid pasta sauce suitable for about 8 servings.
4. The squid pasta sauce is much better the next day, store in the fridge up to 5 days.
5. Add fresh lime or lemon juice at the end of the cooking process to counter excessive sweetness if desired. Gremolata would be an excellent addition to the pasta dish.
Notes:- try to get small-sized squid or baby octopus since their cooking time is about 2-3 hours, while one large (1-1/3 kg/3 lb) octopus can take 6+ hours!

A couple of questions about the squid from the challenge host
1) You said searing increases the braising time...why? Do you have to the sear? Does the squid turn brown?
2) How do you serve it - pasta, polenta, by itself?
My answers
Thank you so much for the kind kinds. Yes squid/octopus is perfect for long slow braising unlike some other seafood.
Answer 1) There are two ways to cook squid one) fast and furious in a fry pan or a BBQ or two) a long slow bare simmer. So if you sear the squid first basically it is cooked therefore if you braise it after searing you need a lot more time to make the squid tender again. No you do not need to sear I usually just throw in the freshly cleaned and cut squid pieces into the sweet chilli tomato/onion sauce and braised it just like that with no problems. For special occasions I like to sear the squid first since it adds an additional flavour dimension to the final sauce but there is no real need to sear first if you do not want to. The sweet chilli tomato/onion sauce colours the squid flesh a light brown/red hue, if you sear first then the squid gets a very light brown colouring in addition to the brown/red hue that the sauce imparts to it.
Answer 2) I just cook up some dry packet pasta and heat up some of the sauce and just add that to the pasta. I like to use black squid ink pasta to show off the colour of the squid and sauce. I think polenta (or sweet potato gnocchi) would be wonderful with the squid sauce though I never have had it that way. The squid sauce is great on pizza as well especially if you add some extra seafood like oysters or clams etc to the topping.

Double squid pasta with gremolata
Slowed braised sweet chilli squid served on squid ink pasta with gremolata
I had surprise lunch guests over so I thought that I would serve up the braised sweet chilli squid I made a few days ago I love this sauce since it takes no time to made up a restaurant quality dish (in appearance and flavour) literally 5 minutes. The use of squid ink pasta really adds a lovely base seafood flavour to the dish which enhances the braised squid sauce taste while the germolata adds a lovely "fresh" zing to the dish I never used germolata before now it is a must for me. For this recipe I cooked some squid ink pasta (5 mins), made the gremolata (4 mins) while heating the sweet chilli squid (3 mins in the microwave) then finally I added some sliced marinated sweet chillies as a garnish. The final dish looks stunning the contrast of colours and textures makes its very visually appealing. This was a smashing dish I thought there is something about the texture contrast of the squid and the pasta that is delightful. And I have half of the sauce left! I liked this dish so much I'm having it for dinner tonight with some guests. Serve with crunchy bread and a green salad. I think you can see why this is my all-time favourite summer seafood pasta recipe, it's simple fast and always gives a spectacular looking result.

The gremolata recipe
Anchovy dill gremolata
A gremolata is a quickly made condiment used to finish savoury dishes with bright fresh citrus-herb flavours.
2 anchovy fillets, chopped fine
1 lemon peel, zested fine
1 garlic clove, minced fine
1/4 cup Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped fine
1 tablespoon dill fronds, chopped fine
1-1/2 tablespoons extra virgin oil
1 teaspoon anchovy oil
Optional 1 tablespoon shallot, finely chopped

In a mortar and pestle mash and pound all the ingredients until a paste is formed. Dab or sprinkle sparingly over the pasta.

If you like you can make orange fennel gremolata replace the lemon zest with orange zest and replace the dill with fennel fronds. Instead of the shallot use fennel.

Sticky Sweet Braised Tofu Steaks with Asian Germolata
I wanted to braise at least one non-meat ingredient for this challenge I just had to make a braised tofu recipe (I love tofu and am always looking for ways to enjoy it). I have been wanting to make sticky sweet tofu (tau hu kho) for a while now so this was the perfect challenge for this dish. And since I'm in love with germolata at the moment I made an Asian germolata to serve with the braised tofu it consisted of coriander, lime zest, garlic, Thai basil, mint, lemongrass, crispy fried chilli pawn (shrimp), salt and dark roasted sesame seed oil. I seared the sliced bite-sized firm tofu pieces until lightly brown then I braised them in a mixture of kacap manis, honey, rice wine vinegar, ginger powder, onion powder, chilli paste and vegetable stock. During the simmering the braising liquid reduces to a thick shiny sauce which coat the pieces with sticky sweet deliciousness. I really like this cooking method for tofu it adds so much flavour and colour to the bean curb. These taste great at room temperature great for dinner parties. I just love how the bean curd absorbs the braising liquid and the sweet sticky coating is to die for, and I think the Asian germolata is a great addition to the original basic braised tofu.

Sear the tofu pieces until brown

When seared transfer to a shallow saucepan and braise until the pieces expand about 15% (about 30 minutes to an hour), I fried the tofu in two batches you can see the difference before (the light coloured pieces) and after (the dark pieces) braising

The tofu after braising

The tofu topped with Asian germolata

Sticky Sweet Braised Tofu Steaks
makes 12 mini-steaks
500 gm (1 lb) extra firm tofu block
3 tablespoons vegetable stock (or water)
2 tablespoons soy sauce, salt-reduced
3 tablespoons kacap manis
2 tablespoons rice wine vingear
juice from one lemon or two limes (use the zest for the Asian gremolata)
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
2 teaspoons ginger powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon chilli paste
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
dash of salt
2 tablespoons olive oil (for frying)

1. Combine all the braising ingredients in a small bowl mix well check for taste it should be slightly sweet with a salty sour after-taste adjust seasoning as needed, set aside.
2. Drain tofu, slice into 1-1/2 inch (4 cm) square pieces about 1/2 inch (1-1/4 cm) thick, pat dry with paper towels. Squares work best for searing and braising.
3. Add oil to a frying pan heat on medium heat until the oil shimmers.
4. Fry the tofu until browned (about 3-5 minutes each side). Do not overcrowd the frying pan, it is best to fry the tofu in small batches. Remove browned pieces set aside. Clean the fry pan if needed.
5. Add the braising liquid into the frying pan gently heat until barely simmering, add the browned tofu pieces in one layer braise (turning once or twice) until the pieces expand about 15% (about 30 minutes to one hour) and the braising liquid is thick and coats the tofu (add more water as needed). Check for sweetness add lemon juice as needed. Serve warm or at room temperature, braised tofu reheats wonderfully. It tastes even better the next day. Stores for 5 days in the fridge.

Asian Gremolata
Provides a generous topping for 12 sticky sweet tofu steaks
A herb-citrus gremolata made with traditional Asian ingredients

2 tablespoon crispy fried pawn (shrimp) flakes or crispy fried shallots, chopped fine
2 lime peels (or 1 lemon peel), zested fine
2 garlic cloves, minced fine
1/4 cup coriander (cilantro), chopped fine
1 tablespoon lemon grass, chopped fine
1 tablespoon Thai basil, chopped fine
1 tablespoon mint, chopped fine
2 to 3 teaspoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon shallot, finely chopped
1 teaspoon chilli paste (mild or hot as to taste)
1/4 teaspoon salt

In a mortar and pestle mash and pound all the ingredients while adding teaspoons of sesame oil until a paste is formed. Dab or sprinkle generously over the braised tofu pieces.