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Fritz’s hard rolls March 2, 2011

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Bread, Wolfe recipe.
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I am not the best host in the world. I am relatively attentive, but I am more likely to pass the bottle of wine over than refill your glass myself and generally don’t have pretty display dishes to serve everything in. However, I didn’t realise I was letting the team down in terms of bread – but clearly, according to Nero Wolfe, I have been. Wolfe always ensures that Fritz has a selection of these hard rolls on hand, so that when unexpected visitors drop by, some rolls or sandwiches can be quickly provided.

I’m also beginning to discover why Nero Wolfe’s bread is so successful: resting the dough. Normally, when you make bread, there are two periods where you leave the bread to rest and rise and do fun things like develop gluten. But for Nero Wolfe, clearly two times just isn’t enough. The default for this recipe was to complete a step – rest for 10 minutes – do the next step – rest for 20 minutes – do another step – rest for another 10 minutes. This means these rolls are quite good for making while doing other things, as long as you’re around enough to carry on with all the steps.

To start with, I added yeast to some warm water and let it sit. After it had bloomed, I added about half the flour, salt and water. I combined these and began adding more flour. I was instructed to add enough flour to form a stiff dough, and I ended up with about 3 1/2 cups of flour before it was too difficult to add more. Then, of course, I let it rest for 10 minutes.

After the 10 minutes, I kneaded it until it was smooth and elastic, using the ‘window pane’ test to ensure it was ready. I rolled it in a bit of oil, and left it to rise until it doubled in size.

As you can see it certainly doubled in size! I punched it down and divided the dough into quarters. Then of course, I left it to rest for another 10 minutes.

After the 10 minutes was up, I cut each quarter into 3 smaller pieces, formed them into balls and put them on a tray covered with corn meal. This time I had to wait until they had doubled in size.

I brushed some egg white onto the rolls, and when they had doubled, slashed each one with a knife. I put them into the oven for about 20 minutes, until they were brown on top.

As I was considering my hosting abilities, I thought it was only fair I fill some of the rolls – and since I didn’t have any visitors, I had to eat them myself! I didn’t have any of Fritz’s fillings on hand, but made some rolls with smoked salmon, Japanese mayonnaise, lettuce and chives.

The hard rolls were great – and if I have the time to let them rest between steps, may well become my go-to rolls recipe. The crusts were chewy and crisp, with the insides soft and fluffy while still having a nice chewy texture.

I think I’ll definitely have to make more of these rolls to practice my hosting duties. However, it may well be the case that we’ll get visitors and no rolls will be left if I’ve been practising – and eating – too much!

Fritz’s bread September 5, 2010

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Bread, Wolfe recipe.
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It should not be surprising to learn that Nero Wolfe is particular about his bread. He will eat only Fritz’s bread, even in emergencies where he is away from the brownstone – which means he sometimes has to go without. Indeed, Archie notes in The Mother Hunt that if Fritz was to die, Wolfe would probably never eat bread again. I was curious to see just how good this bread was, compared to the sourdough I usually make, and to see if it was indeed as good as Archie implies. I also thought this was a good opportunity to try out the Kitchen Aid and see what it was like using it to make bread.

It was immediately apparent that Fritz’s bread recipe was different than the one I was used to using. To start with, I had to heat some milk until it was almost boiling, and then add sugar, salt and butter. I added yeast to this mixture, after I had first prepared it in some warm water.

I then began to add the flour, adding about half of it and mixing it with the paddle attachment until it came together in a loose dough (incidentally, it is notable that this recipe calls for all purpose flour, rather than bread flour). At that point I added the rest of the flour – and brought out…The Hook…

After about 10 minutes, the dough was smooth and elastic. It was very soft, and its consistency reminded me of the braided bread I made with the lamb filling. I removed the dough to a bowl and drizzled some olive oil over the dough, turning it to ensure it was greased on all sides. I put it in a warm place to let it rise.

The rising process was also different from other bread recipes in that I was required to let the bread rise 3 times – twice in its bowl and once in the tin I was to cook it in. It certainly rose well – I literally punched all the air out of it the first times, and it rose again dramatically after the proofing stage. Here it is after the proofing, just before I put it in the oven.

I slashed the top, and added an egg wash over the top. I baked it in a 200°C oven for about 40 minutes. I think in retrospect I probably overcooked it slightly – the crust turned very brown – but it did look good when it came out of the oven.

After it had cooled, I sliced it open. The first thing I noticed was that the bread was fairly springy but dense at the same time. Indeed, the texture reminded me of a brioche or even an egg-based bread. As for the flavour – I would characterise this as a good bread to use as a base for other things, rather than a bread to eat on its own.

Given Nero Wolfe’s propensity for eating foods such as “ham, corned beef, sturgeon, anchovies, lettuce, radishes, scallions, cucumbers…four kids of cheese, eggs, pickles [and] olives” (The Mother Hunt), I am not surprised that this is his bread of choice. Many of those items – in various combinations – would go very well with this bread. For me, while I like this bread very much, I am pleased to report that if Fritz were to die, I could find other breads to eat with few ill effects.

Braided bread with lamb filling May 12, 2010

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Bread, Lamb.
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“…where is some meat?”
“Oh”. Perrit sounded chilly. “Maybe I’ve got you lined up wrong. You want a slice of the meat racket?”
“No. I want slices of beef and pork. I want some meat to eat. Lamb. Veal.”
-Nero Wolfe in Before I Die, part of the Trouble in Triplicate short story collection.

After reading through the last few posts, I realised that I had inadvertently posted a number of meals on the lighter side – with not much meat included. You’ll be pleased to know that this post rectifies this situation with the bringing together to two essential elements: meat and bread.

I started with lamb shoulder. I got a rolled lamb shoulder from my butcher – which I promptly unrolled and placed in a pot. I added onion, garlic, carrots, olives and some olive brine, chilis, and salt and pepper. I also added some stock I had left over from a previous roast, which I had stored in an icecube tray in the freezer.

In preparing the lamb, I roughly followed the Pioneer Woman’s drip beef recipe. After I had everything ready, I put it in the oven on a low temperature and left it for a few hours.

For the bread, I used the recipe here for braided bread. I saw this and thought it looked so nice I wanted to try it! I decided to make a half recipe, as she divided the dough in half and froze half, and I knew if I froze some dough I’d never use it up – and that it would remain in my freezer like a goose from christmases past…

I started with putting yeast, sugar and warm water in a bowl and let it sit until it went creamy.

I added enough flour until it formed a ball, and kneaded it for about 10 minutes. I added a little bit of oil and made sure the dough was coated in it, and then left it to rise. After about an hour, it had doubled in size, and I punched it down, reformed it into a ball, and left it to rise again.

In the meantime, the lamb was ready. I had tested it a few times and continue to let it cook for longer until I could pull the meat apart with two forks. I estimate the total cooking time for the lamb to be around 3-3.5 hours.

I pulled all the meat apart until I didn’t have any large chunks left, and left it to cool while I prepared the dough.

After the dough had risen a second time, I rolled it out into an approximate oval shape. I became super scientific, and got out a tape measure and measured the dough at its widest point, and divided it into three. I measured 2cm strips down the two outer pieces and cut them out.

Once I’d cut all the strips out, I piled the lamb mix into the centre. I mushed up the carrots slightly, just to make them easier to deal with, and added some mozzarella on top.

Then I began to wrap the outer flaps/strips over the centre, to create a braid-type pattern. This dough was so soft and stretchy, it was very easy to press into place – but it was also easy to over stretch it. It wasn’t completely uniform when I finished, but it wasn’t too bad! I folded the ends in to finish it.

By the way, it is worth noting that I prepared it on a piece of parchment paper that I’d measured to make sure it would fit on my baking tray. That way, after I wrapped it up, I just had to lift the parchment onto the tray, rather than trying to maneuver the soft, filled dough. A Silpat would work even better, I’m sure, and as soon as I get one I’ll be sure to use it for just this purpose!

I put an egg wash over the bread, and put it in the oven for about 15 minutes, until it was brown on top. Here it is once I’d taken it out of the oven.

While this looked completely and utterly awesome, the main thing it reminded me of was a sandworm from Dune! I think this probably just shows that I spend too much time watching sci-fi movies, rather than any reflection on the recipe used.

Anyway, it may look like a sandworm but I’m sure it tasted a whole lot better! The bread was so soft to cut into! As you can see it held its shape well, and while the lamb fell out a bit, it mostly remained contained within the bread.

The lamb filling was tangy, spicy and just a great collection of flavours after being cooked for so long. This was then surrounded by soft delicious bread – comfort food if I ever saw it! Overall the dish was lighter than I was expecting – while the bread was soft, it wasn’t overly dense; however, I wouldn’t call this a light summer dish!

Well I don’t know about Nero Wolfe, but I certainly got some meat to eat. As we are heading towards winter, I’m sure I’ll do more slow-cooked meats, casseroles and so on. I will continue in my quest for different meats as I’m sure Nero Wolfe will!

Breadmaking March 10, 2010

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Bread.
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After making cheese, I decided it was good and proper to make some bread to go along with the cheese – after all, what was Nero Wolfe going to eat his cheese on?! Now, I know that breadmaking may not be the most exciting thing in the world for some people, but I’d never tried it before so figured it was about time I learned. Incidentally, making bread brought back memories of counter-top breadmakers, which were so popular about 10-12 years ago. I’m sure lots of people still use their breadmakers….and I’m sure many more people have poor neglected breadmakers, sitting in their cupboards! I’d also like to apologise for the boring photos in this entry – while it’s fascinating to watch dough double in size, the resulting photos may be less than thrilling.

For the bread recipe, I decided to use the basic bread ratio set out in the Ratio app. For this recipe, the ratio is 5 parts flour and 3 parts water, and for the full recipe, Michael Ruhlman calls for flour, water, salt and yeast. I decided to make about half the amount listed on the original ratio, so I used 300 grams of flour and allowed the app to work out how much of the other ingredients I needed.

The first part was easy. I put the flour in the bowl with the salt, added the water and then sprinkled the yeast on top. I used a wooden spoon to bring the ingredients together. In many of the recipes and advice I read, they would suggest to “use the dough hook on your mixer to mix the dough until it is smooth and elastic-y and can be stretched to the point of translucency”. I looked around my counter for my mixer….and not suprisingly, it didn’t appear, since I don’t own one! Having no mixer, I began kneaded the dough by hand (if you take this shocking admission further, you’ll realise I also beat egg whites by hand – which may explain why there’s no souffle recipes on here!).

After about 10 minutes of kneading, I got impatient and began taking small pieces of dough and attempted to stretch the point of translucency without the dough breaking. I kept kneading and breaking off bits of dough, and after another while (I’m not sure how long, maybe another 10 minutes? I had decided it was better not to look at the clock as that was just making it seem even longer) it did get smoother and could stretch better. I stopped kneading when it was fairly stretchy and I convinced myself that I could stretch it to translucency – in reality, I probably should have kneaded it for a bit longer.

I covered the bowl in plastic wrap and left it to double in size, which took about an hour. The instructions said to let it rise in a warm place – I just left it on my counter as it was a warm day. Here’s a photo of the dough after it doubled in size:

Those finger marks are from me poking it to see if it was ready – and then not being convinced the first time so I did it a couple more times! The dough is meant to give some resistance when you poke it, but also not spring back. I punched down and re-kneaded the dough, and then let it rest for another 15 minutes or so. Again I’m not sure if I kneaded it enough at this point but here is the result after I kneaded it for the second time, rested it, and then shaped it and put it in my casserole dish (which had been sprayed with cooking spray).

You might be wondering why I cooked the bread in the casserole dish. In the Ratio app, Ruhlman says that cooking the bread in a casserole dish was an alternative to shaping into loaves, giving a great crust, so I thought I’d give it a go.

Once I’d kneaded and shaped the bread, I covered it with a teatowel and once more let it rise for about an hour. Again it almost doubled in size. Before putting it in the oven, I cut an “x” in the top of the bread which was meant to help with the cooking and rising process.

I had preheated my oven to about 220°C and put the casserole dish, with the lid on, into the oven. After 10 minutes, I turned the oven down to about 190°C. After the bread had been cooking for 30 minutes, I took the lid off the casserole dish and allowed it to keep baking. Ruhlman’s app was a bit hazy on how long it takes the bread to cook, advising instead that the bread would be done when the internal temperature reached about 93°C.

It took just less than an hour. After about 45-50 minutes, I tested the internal temperature and decided it was done. Here’s the end result:

My first impression was that it didn’t rise as much as I was expecting. After doing some internet diagnosing (safer for breads than for medical diagnoses, perhaps…), I decided that I didn’t knead it enough and probably should have kneaded it for longer, especially the first time. Having said that, the crust was crunchy and the bread inside was soft and fluffy. As I’d made plain bread, it wasn’t as ‘interesting’ as the bread I was used to eating, but I was still pretty happy for this first effort.

If you’re wanting to see what it looked like inside, stay tuned for the next post, where the innards of the bread are exposed in all their glory!