Author Archives: joepastry

Hokkaido Milk Bread Recipe

This milk bread isn’t as sweet as many other recipes. If you like yours sweeter you can add up to 3 ounces of sugar to this basic formula. Note that I’m making twice the amount of tangzhong as I need, but it’s tough to make half of this without overcooking it, much less getting it all out of the pan!

For the Tangzhong

1.6 ounces (1/3 cup) bread flour
4 ounces (1/2 cup) water
4 ounces (1/2 cup) milk

Combine all the ingredients in a medium saucepan. Whisk the mixture over medium-low heat until “tracks” appear on the surface and it thickens noticeably. Set it aside to cool completely. Place plastic wrap over it to prevent a skin form forming. The tangzhong can be used immediately or up to two days later.

For the Bread Dough

4.8 ounces tangzhong, room temperature
12 1/2 ounces (2½ cups) bread flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1/2 ounce (1 tablespoon) sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg lightly beaten, room temperature
4 ounces (1/2 cup) milk, room temperature
1.5 ounces (3 tablespoons) melted butter
egg wash (1 egg + 2 teaspoons water)

Combine all the ingredients except the butter and egg wash in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle. Stir on low until all the ingredients are moistened, then switch to the dough hook and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, 5-7 minutes. Add the butter and knead until the dough is once again nice and smooth, about another 5 minutes.

Form the dough into a ball and place it into a lightly oiled bowl. Cover it with a towel and let it rise until it’s doubled, 45 minutes or so.

After the initial rise transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and divide it into four equal pieces. Using a rolling pin roll each ball into a long oval. Fold in the long sides of the oval, then the top sides to make a long strip about 3″ wide. Flatten the rectangles and then roll them up, placing them side by side in a 9″ x 4″ loaf pan.

Proof the dough for about another hour until it has once again doubled. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Brush the loaf with egg wash and bake 30 minutes until golden. When the bake is finished, remove the loaf pan to a rack and let it cool 15 minutes before turning the loaf out of the pan.

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“Hokkaido”, “Milk”, “Bread”…Doesn’t Add Up

So writes reader Ireney. When did the Chinese and Japanese develop a taste for bread? she asks. That’s a good question. For while we’ve already established that wheat has been a part of the Asian diet for many thousands of years, bread is a very different matter. Today Western-style breads are quite popular in places like Japan, but this was not always so.

A lot of popular food history posits that it was American agribusiness that forced white bread down the gullets of Japanese schoolchildren when we occupied the country in the years following World War II. That’s not true strictly speaking, for Western-style bread enjoyed broad popularity in Japan as far back as the late 1800′s.

In fact in about 1900 the Imperial Japanese government tried to establish both bread and milk as staple foods, believing they would make nutritious and “modern” additions to the Japanese diet. That effort failed in broad terms, but it led to a steady rise in the Japanese appetite for fluffy white bread. So much so that by the end of World War II during the American occupation some Japanese people complained that the bread that was being given to their children by the Americans wasn’t fine or white enough.

All that said, bread has never been seen as a staple in Japan. Even well after reconstruction was over, when a large-scale homegrown bread industry became established in Japan, commercial bakery executives despaired of ever making wheat bread as popular as good ol’ polished Japanese white rice. So popular as it is it’s never been their apple pie, as it were.

China is a somewhat different matter. While the Chinese have been rice eaters for millennia they’ve never been big bread eaters in the Western sense. They make buns, fried bread sticks and many other traditional foods out of wheat dough, but sandwich bread — at least as far as I know — isn’t terribly popular even to this day. I know I have quite a few readers in Hong Kong so maybe they can weigh in here as there’s a lot more documentation about white bread in Japan than there is about white bread in China. Any help there folks?

But suffice to say that in the battle to establish where the tangzhong method originated, I’d be tempted to give the nod to the Japanese, if only because they are more avid loaf bakers. I could be wrong.

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Say it ain’t so, Joseph

Are most French restaurant meals purchased frozen and reheated in microwaves? That’s the incendiary charge leveled by Parisian restauranteur Xavier Denamur in last week’s European Times. If true, it would indicate that even French chefs aren’t immune to the pressures of time and cost. Dare I say that just because the meals are frozen it doesn’t mean they’re bad. The great Gaston Lenôtre pioneered the use of freezers in French cuisine. Of course it’s one thing to microwave food, it’s another to be less than forthcoming about it. Still I bet the typical frozen boeuf bourguignon beats the heck out of a Riblet dinner at Applebees!

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Watching Those Wishes

I’ve been working for some time to get more local projects so I don’t have to travel up to Chicago, Madison and Milwaukee as much as I’ve been doing the last few years. More time for parenting and blogging, donchaknow. As things turned out, I did succeed in getting work outside of the Upper Midwest: in Los Angeles, Orlando and Puerto Rico. Not what I was expecting, though far be it from me to turn work down, I don’t care where it comes from. Getting these new accounts up and running has been a whole lot of work, hence the semi-extended silence. More from me soon thou I promise. The weather is improving also, which will no doubt inspire me to start snapping some pictures. April showers have been here with a vengeance!

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And anyway, if you’re going to eat a sandwich…

…it might as well be on a tender bread. I remember back in the 80′s when fashionable cafés first tried to dress up sandwiches by putting them on baguettes. It wasn’t a bad idea in principle, baguettes are good bread. The problem was that in order to tear off a bite you had to clamp down hard with your teeth on one end of the sandwich and yank with both hands from the other. Depending on how thick the crust was, when the bite finally released you’d send your plate, cutlery and water glass flying.

The solution was a larger artisan loaf cut crosswise. That minimized, though did not entirely eliminate, the crust problem. However it introduced another one: big holes through which mayo and mustard would drip, right onto your $85 tie. Thankfully tortilla and lavash wraps came along in the 90′s, saving corporate lunch eaters hundreds of dollars per year in dry cleaning bills.

Truly there is great utility to soft sandwich bread. It may not have crust, it may not have a fashionable open crumb, but when it comes to delivering a no-muss lunch, there’s simply no beating it.

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On Bread Aesthetics

Several comments from readers expressing amazement that the tangzhong method isn’t more widely known. If this method really does all these amazing things, why don’t more bakers in America employ it?

All I can say is that it’s a matter of aesthetics. Crusty, chewy breads with elastic, uneven crumbs have been all the rage for almost twenty years now. At least in America, where a romance for Old World peasant breads runs very deep.

That’s not true in Japan and China. Bread eaters in that part of the world place a premium on tenderness, uniformity of crumb and thin, easy-to-eat crusts. I’d speculate that the bread aesthetic is connected to a broader east Asian sensibility that emphasizes balance, harmony, simplicity and order.

Then again it could just be a simple matter of taste. For it wasn’t so long ago that Westerners also prized fine, white, soft, easy-to-eat breads. Pan de mie, also known as Pullman bread, is a good example of the breads we Westerners used to love. It uses mostly white flours, it has a tight and even crumb, it’s even made in a 6-sided pan specifically designed to create a near crustless end product. Once it was considered the height of luxury.

Up until the 1960′s white breads like that were associated with good living, especially among poor European immigrants who had zero romance for the tough, chewy, coarse, whole-grained breads of home. They considered fluffy white bread to be more nutritious, better tasting, easier to digest and just generally more pleasant to eat. It was the food of the rich, a delicacy the upper classes of Europe had traditionally denied them.

That logic flipped in the 60′s when a handful of American bread eaters decided they were the ones being denied nutrition, flavor and digestive health — by the makers of fluffy white breads. That sentiment grew all through the 70′s, 80′s and 90′s to the point that now there’s scarcely a fine dining restaurant in America that doesn’t serve chewy, coarse-grained thick-crusted peasant breads as an accompaniment to expensive 4-course meals.

I’m not complaining mind you, I like those. It’s just an interesting reversal. One that the Chinese and Japanese, as far as I’m aware, have yet to make.

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On Chocolate Macarons

Reader and macaron lover Susan writes:

Hi, Joe. I am obsessed with making macarons. I have tried hundreds of recipes and yours is the only recipe that consistently produces perfect macarons. I’m attempting to make chocolate macarons. When I add in cocoa powder, do I then reduce the amount of powdered sugar that your macaron recipe calls for so the ratio of almond flour and powdered sugar remain 3.8:7.0?

I’m very pleased that the recipe is working so well for you, Susan. That’s an excellent question about the cocoa powder…a little too good, actually. The main problem you’re going to have with cocoa powder is the fact that it’s so absorbent. It’s going to soak up a good deal of water from the egg whites. Currently the recipe calls for about three whites. I’d bump that up to four whites, then add about another .75 ounce of granulated sugar to give the egg foam a little extra staying power. That should counterbalance an ounce of cocoa powder.

Anyway that’s where I’d start with a chocolate re-tool of the recipe. Let me know how they go. If they aren’t working get back to me and we can keep tweaking the recipe.

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Lightning Strike to Chicago

I blew town Friday for a quickie trip back home, hence the radio silence. The good news is that I scored a ten-pound box of Vienna Beef hot dogs which should see the Pastry family through the grilling season. The bad news: Mrs. Pastry bought a new tarantula. If you met Mrs. Pastry you’d never peg her for an arachnophile. However she’s owned a spider consistently since her days in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic, where she learned to love the things. I can’t say I understand how that happens to a person. Maybe it’s all the time in the Caribbean sun. Her last spider, Spanky, died over the winter. She’s been quietly mourning him ever since. But now it’s spring and there’s a new spider, Bubbles, her life. She seems a new woman. All I can say is: whatever baby wants, baby gets, even if it has eight legs and fangs.

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So what is the tangzhong method?

Anyone who’s ever made a pudding cake has, for all intents and purposes, employed the tangzhong method. It’s the same basic idea: you add a pre-prepared starch gel to your batter/dough and what you get in return is a finished product that’s higher and lighter than it would otherwise be, that retains more moisture and that has a very tight and even crumb. The big difference of course that in a tangzhong (essentially “soup starter” in Chinese) there’s no sugar or flavorings in the mix — just flour and water combined at a ratio of 1-5 and cooked to roughly 150 degrees Fahrenheit.

But then what does the tangzhong gel do in the bread dough? It’s a very good question since baked bread is already a starch gel to some extent. But let’s back up a bit. Flour (white flour) as you’ll recall is nothing more than the finely ground endosperm of the wheat berry. Think of the endosperm as a dense pack of very long and stringy starch molecules all packed in together. Grind it and you get endosperm granules, which I think of as tightly bound bundles of sticks.

What happens when you get those bundles wet and hot? They start to come apart. Water molecules start working their way between the starches in the bundle. The bundle swells. As the process continues individual starch molecules start to break away from the bundles. If there’s a whole lot of water around the starches will actually float off and get tangled up with other stringy breakaway starches. The end result is a mesh of much smaller starch bundles and tangled starch molecules which traps and holds the water molecules around them. In other words, a gel.

Notice that the extent to which the process goes on is directly related to how much water there is in the mixture. If there’s some water but not a whole lot you won’t have a proper gel but something that’s often called “gelated” starch: a mass of starch granules that are dissolved only slightly, just enough so that a few starch molecules come loose and more or less tie all the granules together.

That works pretty well for the purposes of bread making. However this sort of structure is highly prone to what you might call a gelling reversal, which starts to happen as soon as the bread cools. The large granules start to contract and when they do they squeeze out the water molecules that had initially worked their way into them. The water then evaporates, the matrix hardens and you’re left with stale bread.

But what if you were to take steps to undermine the staling process by oh say, adding a very wet pre-made gel to the dough in the mixing step? You’d be introducing a whole bunch of small starch bundles and free starch molecules with lots and lots of water molecules trapped in between them — molecules that won’t be easily forced out of the matrix because they’re only loosely held by free starches, not crammed inside big granules that will eventually squeeze them out.

So you see that adding a tangzhong to a bread dough is very different than simply adding more water to a bread dough. When you add a tangzhong to a dough you’re not simply adding moisture, you’re adding a moisture-retaining structure that does double duty as a mechanical leavener, since the thick gel surrounds air bubbles in the rising dough, giving them more resilient walls and preventing them from popping. So you get a higher loaf in the bargain. And because the all the water in the gel undermines gluten development the individual bubbles never get very big, which means a very fine crumb. Also, the loaf is very tender and again because of all the moisture there is almost no crust.

A very, very neat trick, all from a little hot water and flour. Cool.

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Who Knew?

Today in Murcia it’s Murcian Meat Pie Day. Who knew there was such a thing? I guess the Murcians, who evidently found my recent posts on the subject via Google search. (And the internet grand?). So I’m told they consumed 10,000 meat pies and washed them down with plenty of beer, which is my idea of a festival. Wish I’d been there to see it. Oh well — next year in Murcia!

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