Simple dinner with the slow cooker

Cooked a split breast over potatoes on the kettle, indirect at about 300-350°F for 2 hours, pulled and wrapped chicken while potatoes finished up directly over coals.  Wow.  I wish I could've done the whole thing  sloooowly, but weeknight's are weeknights.


Wheat sandwich bread

I've had a love affair with soft squishy white bread since since I was about 1 [note 1].  Sunbeam was best, but Wonder was ok in a pinch.  The crust is merely a darker version of the middle, it has a twinkie-long shelf life and it practically withers in the presence of moisture, but it's still a fine substrate for bolony with mustard, pb&j or sopping up bbq sauce.  Y'all like it more than you'll admit.

But, it is an enigma of baking.  I can buy this stuff if I want and occasionally do, but it is the challenge of recreating a recipe based on my perception and palate that drives the pursuit to duplicate it in my kitchen.  More importantly, once I get the gist of the soft bread, I could elevate it to something special and that is the reason for this post.  I have and I did and now I will share with you.

This is a straight dough method, mixing, rises and proof is as described in  Wayne Gisslen's Professional Baking.  Basically toss all ingredients in and mix and knead.  The big break in this loaf is the use of a softer (lower protein) flour to to blend with the unbleached white to afford a softer loaf.  Note: My preferences are to use a scale to weigh ingredients, a bread machine to knead, and I use instant (aka fast rising, any brand except Kroger) active dry yeast [note 2].

This particular loaf is the white bread version using cake flour.  The crumb and interior is the same for the whole wheat pastry flour variant.  When I get an image of the wheat, I'll replace it.

Add the following, any order to the chamber of a bread machine or a bowl:
water, about room temperature, 180 grams
salt, 5 grams
vegetable oil, 20 grams
sugar, 10 grams
instant active dry yeast, 1 pkt, 7 grams
unbleached white flour, Montana Sapphire, 225 grams
whole wheat pastry flour, 75 grams

Mix and knead by hand for 5 minutes or spin about 5 minutes in a bread machine's dough cycle.
Plop out and let rise for about an hour.
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Punch down and round the dough, let rest about 5 minutes.
Form into a oblong loaf big enough to just fit in a 8.5" x 4.5" loaf pan lined with parchment.
Let rise/proof in this pan about 20-25 minutes uncovered (uncovered so the surface dries out, this will enable a cleaner slash when docking the dough) [note 4]
Slash once across the length with a knife (I use serrated) and place in oven to bake 30 minutes.
Remove from the pan and let cool on rack about 30 minutes before jumping in.

1. I was raised on great bread; Esposito's scali was the staple in our house.  A thin-sliced scali with mortadella and fine hams was how we survived, but since I was one of 4 hungry kids, my mother used white bread when necessary to fill the bellies of the masses.

2. When communicating a recipe, I like it to be specific so the person has a good chance of hitting the same success I did.  Using a yeast with perfect integrity in a small packet is as close as I can get to a reproducible source to convey to someone conducting the prep for the first time.  I have no idea how a 3 month old jar of bulk yeast will behave, nor a 6 month old, nor any other yeast.  Given the rigorous specifications a company must comply with, using a small quantity with perfect airtight packaging is the best a home baker, with no micro lab, can do to insure a consistent starting point [note 3] (sorry Rachel).

3. I can almost guarantee 9 out of 10 will completely disregard my babbling on yeast, my mother is one of those 9 because she "has been baking forever."  Whenever I get an email that declares the procedure "didn't work" they all admit to a significant change in the method because they felt it was unnecessary; I'm off the hook in that case, to repeat something, you must do the control or you have no argument.

4. This is a fast rise loaf.  Don't over proof or the final crumb will be grainy instead of feathery.  It will also have pretty darn nice oven spring.  Longer rise is not always better, it depends on the loaf.
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brisket, finally

I never make brisket because it's tough to do well.  I've made a couple in my day, 1 mediocre, 1 really bad, but both so long ago, I forget the details.  The challenge of brisket is the long cooking time, about 18 hours with good temperature control.

Some time back I happened on the BBQ Pit Boyz video on brisket.  It's over 18 minutes long and worth every minute spent watching.   I was inspired.  I forgot all my past attempts and ran to get myself a 6 and half pound brisket with a good fat cap.  I did absolutely everything they did on the vid, so this post isn't anything more than a validation of their method.  Mustard coat, good spice rub, refrigerated a few hours, set the grill for indirect, minion method, water bath (I never do water baths, and I think maybe it was responsible for the good temp control I achieved), 225-250° for 14 hours, wrapped it for 2 hours at ca. 150°F, and finally let it rest, still wrapped, for a final 2 hour rest.  Started it Wednesday night and it was ready just in time for dinner Thursday.  Spend the time, watch the video and make this!  Thanks BBQ Pit Boyz.

Fat side up, rubbed, grill set for indirect with water pan.

After about 14 hours cooking at 225-250F

Just look at it!


Pizza dough

Making pizza is as much about the cooking method as it is the dough.  So that's the caveat with which I share this not very special prep.  The baking of the pie is a little different as many will attest to.

But, many still ask for the dough prep, here's mine - and sorry, it's in grams, get an Escali [Note: this is not an affiliate link] for $20 and get over it.  Weigh things when you cook, you'll be surprised how much better your intuition becomes in cooking and in everyday interactions with the world when you know a few common weights.

In addition to a balance, get a bread machine to be a dedicated kneading machine.  These things are about $5 in a thrift store and they are ALWAYS in stock, the kneading is all the same and it's better than a Kitchen Aid, way better.  Oh, and they absolutely suck at baking bread, hence the abundant supply in thrift stores.

To the bread machine pan add in any order:
unbleached white flour, I am dedicated to Montana Sapphire, 575 g
water, 400 g
Adriatic sea salt evaporated from the shell of a tortoise, 10 g (kidding, any salt)
olive oil, 50 g
sugar, 10 g
a pack of INSTANT active dry yeast.  Don't use the bottle, don't worry about price, you're making 4 pizzas worth, don't use the bulk bottle, don't use it no matter what, instant active dry yeast, not the bulk bottle.  Got it?

Set to spin on dough cycle, remove when it looks like the video:

When it's kneaded about 5-10 minutes, dump on counter, flour the ball so it won't stick and store in fridge.  I cut off 1/4 of the ball, about 250 g for a 10-12" pie.  This will stay in the fridge for a week or keep in the freezer for longer.


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