Pastry school has become quite the eye-opening experience. Not so much about bread and pastry; much more so about myself. Lately school has been one big butter slick, day after day, kilo upon kilo of butter. And guess who doesn't like butter. That is to say, I was under the mistaken impression that I loved butter up until about two weeks ago. However, 30 gazillion calories later I have to admit, the shine's worn off somewhat. There's nothing like being surrounded by the stuff day in and day out to make one realize the important foods in life. So, in no particular order, I present you with my post-butter avalanche enlightened list of the important foods in (my) life:
*Tiny corn tortilla tacos filed with unidentifiable spicy things
*Avocado, sprout, mayo and whole wheat sandwiches
*Rice and beans with yogurt, avocados and pickled jalapenos
*My friend Kenny's nachos
*Chocolate chip cookies
*Fig, anise, pine nut and blue cheese sourdough
Now why, whyever did I make this list and post it here for the world to see? Well, not to besmirch my reputation as a foodie, but pastry school has brought me to the conclusion that a) the deep and abiding love I have for making bread and pastry does not translate into a deep and abiding love of eating the stuff (Except chocolate chip cookies. I love them.) and b) I am clearly a Texan.
I'm not alone in this. I've never seen a group of people tote around fruit, vegetables and tiny tacos (a class obsession) en masse in such massive proportions as my classmates and I. We're trying to master a delicate balancing act. We have to taste what we make in school. We have to know what we're making and how to improve upon it. But after a day like Friday where we made and subsequently tasted two different pannetones, pan d'oro, colomba de pasqua, sourdough croissants, and then a host of danishes, croissants and laminated brioche (oh yes, you read that right, laminated brioche) I think we all cried uncle. Or maybe we all just cried a little because the pastries were so unbelievably delicious, that was undeniable. My point is, we've become overwhelmed by the butter and now the profusion of healthy snacks (and tiny tacos) at school nearly rivals the butter content.
For my part, I'm not sure replacing butter with avocados is the right move to make, but it's the direction I seem to be heading in. Yesterday, a Saturday, I headed up to school to spend the morning playing around in the lab. I made fennel, almond taralli and fig, anise and blue cheese sourdough loaves. When I left school my clothes were inexplicably smeared with avocado, which I had been snacking on for the greater part of the morning. My clothes were not covered in flour, figs, cheese or any of the other ingredients I had been working with. Go figure.
After spending six hours at school I lugged home five loaves of bread and about 40 taralli. Clearly, I'm filling my Mexican food void with bread. I can't complain. It was some damn fine bread. Sadly, the taralli over-baked. We discovered they make better drumsticks than food when burnt to a crisp. The fig and anise bread, however, was a smashing success. It was so good that I'm tempted to make it every week until I leave school. It may not be Mexican food, but it clearly won itself a little spot of its own on the list above.
Semolina Sourdough with Figs, Anise, Pine Nuts and Blue Cheese
Adapted from Wild Yeast
660 g flour
660 g semolina
738 g water
8 g instant yeast
33 g salt
579 g ripe 100%-hydration sourdough starter
66 g olive oil
27 g anise seeds
340 g dried figs, sliced into bite-sized pieces
210 g toasted pine nuts
105 g crumbled blue cheese
Mix flour, semolina, water, salt, yeast, starter, and olive oil in the bowl of a stand mixer on low speed until just combined, about 4 – 5 minutes.
Mix on medium speed with a dough hook for about 7 -10 mins. The dough will be slightly tacky, but will clear the bowl of the mixer easily. You should be able to see a medium level of gluten formation at this point.
Add the anise, figs and pine nuts and mix in low speed until just combined.
Transfer the dough to a covered, lightly oiled container. Ferment at room temperature for 1.5 - 2 hours. It will expand slightly and hold fingerprints, while only coming back slightly when touched.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured counter and divide it into 7 pieces of about 460 g each. Preshape each piece into a boule, sprinkle lightly with flour, cover and let them rest for 20 minutes.
Shape the dough into batards. As you press the pre-shaped boules out flat to begin to shape your batard sprinkle the center of the disk you make with 15 g of blue cheese. Continue on shaping the boule. Place them seam-side-up in a heavily floured couche.
Slip the couche into a large plastic bag and proof at room temperature until the diameter of the baguettes has increased by approximately 50%, about 1.5 - 2 hours. When touched the fingerprint will hardly spring back at all.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven, with baking stone, to 475F and prepare your preferred method of steaming.
Before baking, score each loaf with either one long slash or two short over-lapping slashes.
Once the loaves are in the oven, turn the temperature down to 450F. Bake with steam for 8 minutes, then another 17 minutes or so without steam. The loaves should be a deep golden brown. Leave the oven door cracked open a bit during the last 8 minutes of the baking time to help the loaves dry out.
Place the loaves on a wire rack to cool. Cool completely before tasting.
These breads and others can be seen at Yeastspotting.