Yeast #9: Raisin Rolls

066This month’s yeast challenge was a craving for sweet Japanese raisin rolls.  I’ve been craving a lot of Japanese food lately.  I did a google search on Japanese recipes but they looked a little too complicated for the actual time I had to devote to the project.  Maybe another month.  August and September are too crazy for too much extra time and energy in the kitchen, even for someone like me who finds kitchen time relaxing and usually energizing.

I found a recipe for Dutch raisin buns or krentenbollen that seemed pretty simple and only made 12 buns.  I decided the ease and reasonable production amount made the decision for me.  The only challenge, at the outset, was that the recipe gives all measurements in grams which is challenging in our U.S.-centric measurement lives.  Happily, I bought an electronic scale a few years ago.   I mostly needed it for weighing fruit for jam recipes, but it has lots of measurement options and it’s surprising how often I reach for it.

I also decided to do three things “wrong” at the outset.  I was not going to make the sugar/orange-lemon zest “sweetener.”  Instead, I decided to put in the sugar as noted and just stir in some lemon and orange zest “by eye” or when I felt I had enough.  I also decided not to wait to “pinch” in all of the raisins (so many raisins!) after making the dough.  Who has time to pinch in that many raisins and make sure they incorporate?  No, I intended to start right away with the raisins in the dry ingredients and go from there and see what happened — devil may care, so to speak.  Third, I did not intend to wash, dry, and wait 2 days with the raisins.  Nobody has time for that.  Not me, at least not now.

022Given how badly things can go, it was a bit ironic that I would decide to do these things against the advice of the recipe writer.  I felt confident, though, that I have had enough experience with yeast products now that I might be able to get away with my choices to do something different.

I also decided not to start with cold milk even though the recipe didn’t say anything about heating it.  The recipe called for butter and the easiest way to incorporate it evenly was to melt in in the milk.  Given the worst experience I’ve had so far with a boil over on the stove that went into the oven, I decided to use the microwave and heat in small increments. I heated it until the butter was 3/4 melted and then just let it stand.  Eventually the butter was all melted from the residual heat but I didn’t have to worry about the mixture being too warm and killing the yeast.  I just wanted the yeast action to go faster, so heating was the only way to push that along.  It was already mid-afternoon and the time to rise was listed as 1 to 1.5 hours and my experience last month showed me that with cold milk, it was usually longer than that.

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So I set into my kitchen with my ingredients and my kitchen scale in hand.  You start with the dry ingredients.  The recipe is written as follows:

  • 400 g bread flour / all purpose flour / French type 55 flour
  • 40 g fresh yeast or 14 grams instant yeast
  • 8 g salt
  • 50 g fresh dairy butter
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 220 g milk — starting with 170 grams and adding more as needed up to 220 grams
  • 10 g sweetener (sugar and lemon/orange zest mix)
  • 400 g raisins, washed and soaked (you can also use a mixture of raisins and currants)

In my empty bowl, I added approximately the following amounts (I did weigh them to get the amounts in the recipe, but these are approximately what you’d add if you don’t have a scale though be prepared for things to be a bit wonky):

  • just under 2 3/4 c. all purpose flour (I used unbleached white flour)
  • 2 packages instant yeast
  • just under 1 1/2 t. salt
  • 400 grams raisins (a Trader Joe’s bag of “Jumbo raisin medley” has 454 grams noted on the bag, so I could have approximated had I not had the scale)
  • just under 1/4 c. sugar
  • lemon and orange zest, by eye, to delight only myself

In a separate bowl, I added:

  • 50 grams melted butter (basically half of one stick, based on the grams weight listed on the wrapper)
  • about 3/4 c. whole milk
  • 1 egg yolk — I used a whole egg

Since you don’t start with the full amount of milk, I figured the egg white from the whole egg could offset some of the moisture from milk.  I tempered the egg by adding just a little bit of the heated milk/butter mixture and stirred briskly.  I added a bit more and then finally all of the milk/butter mixture.  By tempering in this way, you don’t get cooked egg.

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The dry ingredients were a breeze to pull together and the wet ingredients went in to create a shaggy dough.  At first I thought my dough was too dry.  the difference between 170 grams of milk and 220 grams of milk was about 1/3 cup of milk.  I ended up adding in about half of it (1/6 c. milk), but then I felt my dough was too sticky.  I let it rest a few minutes, and then worked in almost 1/4 c. of flour (maybe 3/4 of it).  By then my dough was pulling away from the sides of the bowl and was moist but not so sticky.  It then easily went into a greased bowl for the first rise of 20 minutes.

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My impulse to heat the milk was on point.  This rise worked very well.  After 20 minutes you’re to turn it out, form it into a rectangle, roll it into a tight roll, and let it rest another 20 minutes.  I did this on an unfloured cutting board to keep things tender.

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At the end of the 20 minutes, I took a knife and cut the “log” into 2 halves and each half into halves.  That gave me relatively equal 1/4 pieces.  I then formed each 1/4 piece 049into a relatively even looking rectangle and then by eye cut that into 3 pieces.  By the time I was done, I had about 12 equal sized pieces. The original recipe writer weighs her rolls to make sure they’re equal.  I didn’t worry about that, thinking I’d put the larger ones on the outside of the pan and any smaller ones toward the center where they wouldn’t burn.  I then rolled them gently into balls and placed them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper to discourage 050sticking.

I had preheated the oven for just a few minutes at the start of the second rise.  That meant my oven was just slightly, slightly warm, but warmer than my kitchen on a rainy Sunday afternoon.   I pressed each ball down slightly to give them a flat top and then put the whole pan into the warm-ish oven.  Rather than having to wait at this stage for 60-90 minutes, I was ready to go in 30.  I felt pretty good, I have to admit.058

I took the rolls out of the oven and then set the oven to preheat to 390 degrees.  By the time the oven was warm enough, the rolls were nicely risen and ready to go.  They got a bit bigger and fuller as they baked in the oven and they came out a lovely shade of brown in about 15 minutes.  In your oven, it might take 20.

060I brushed the outside with melted butter.  I meant to wait, but I couldn’t resist.  I ate one hot from the oven with just butter inside.  It’s sweet, but not overly so.  There’s not much sugar so the sweetness comes from the citrus and the raisins.  It’s an awful lot of raisins.  You could make it a sweet roll by drizzing a glaze on the top, but I liked the simplicity of it — yeasty, sweet, lots of raisins, and a pretty satisfying little treat.

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It’s more bread than one person can eat so I packaged most of them in groups of two for the freezer and eating later.  I’ll be eager to see how well they thaw.  I did eat one for breakfast that was really soft and great.  I have one more for tomorrow to see how they are two days out from baking.

I have no idea if they are authentic krentenbollen, but they are a tasty raisin roll.


Giving in to cravings

050Even though I lived in Japan for three years, it sometimes seems odd to me that I don’t crave Japanese food more often than I actually do.  I can go a long time without wanting it or making it, but then there will be a trigger and that’s all I can think of for days.

It usually happens around movies.  When my little art house cinema shows a Japanese movie, if they show them eating anything, I usually leave the theatre obsessed with something either in the movie or suggested by the movie.  It happened on a plane once, but luckily it was on the way to Japan so I had a lot of time to indulge my cravings.

Last weekend I went to see the film “Our Little Sister.”   In it, three mostly adult daughters attend the funeral of their father who left their mother years ago and began a family with another woman which resulted in a daughter.  At the time of the movie, he has now been with a third woman and the daughter of the second woman is kind of left in limbo.  The older daughters invite her to come live with them, even though it’s a bit scandalous given she’s the product of a union that ended the marriage of their parents.

It’s a lovely film in tone and it’s worth seeking out or renting.  Along the way, they eat a variety of things but the one that caught my eye and my hunger was tempura and cold buckwheat noodles in the summer.

Ironically, I had a plan to make chili but chili was the last thing I wanted to eat.  But I needed to make chili because I had the stuff and didn’t want the vegetables to go to waste.  So, I did intend to still make chili.  But first I would make tempura to satisfy myself.

039I filled a small pot with oil, added in a thermometer and set to heating it to 350 degrees.  It always takes longer than I think it should.040

In my refrigerator I had small eggplants (a little bigger than Japanese eggplant but still small enough to work), red sweet peppers (small), and broccoli.  I decided I could make myself a nice appetizer from what I had.

My basic batter:

  • 1 c. flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup liquid (1/2 cold water, 1/2 vodka)
  • a generous pinch of salt

042I had read once that vodka evaporates faster than water so it can be used effectively in pie crust.  I decided to give it a try in my tempura batter with the hopes it would make my batter lighter and less heavy in the coating.

I mixed this together and it was still pretty thick.  I then keep adding more water until I have a batter the consistency of thin pancake batter.  It was probably almost another 1/2 cup by the time I was done.

041I got impatient and started cooking too early when the oil wasn’t hot enough.  Sadly, as I knew it would, it makes for an oily result. You need hot oil to keep the food from absorbing too much oil and for making the tempura coating light and crunchy.  Sadly, I wasted some broccoli with my impatience.

Finally, the oil was hot enough.  I was happily cooking the broccoli and the peppers.  As044 they came out of the oil, I added a bit more salt.  For the eggplant, I kept the top on it to hold it together, but I cut it into strips and then cut across those strips to create what looks like “fingers” or the tentacles of an octopus.  I dipped it into my batter and pushed the fingers apart and then added it to the oil.  The hot oil helps it to open up and cook evenly and when it comes out it’s lovely and dramatic.

I had a little cold buckwheat noodle dipping sauce in the fridge for an Asian market so rather than making a dipping sauce, I used that as my cheat.  It was a lovey little appetizer and satiated my immediate craving.  I did make my chili, but most of it went into the freezer for eating on another day.

075Later in the week, I still had a craving for Japanese food.  Because I had a couple of weeks of carrots and potatoes from the farm, I decided to make a big pot of Japanese curry.  The traditional way is pork or chicken and then a combination of onion, potato, and carrot.  I had onion, potato, carrot, sweet red peppers, and eggplant and I had intention to use them all with just a little pork.

I always take the short cut of Japanese roux sold at the store.  Each box is diluted with 2.5 cups of water so depending on how much stuff you want to use, you either need one or two boxes.  I typically have more vegetables than one box can handle so I always get two boxes so I can assume 5 cups of water which is plenty of room for all of the vegetables I want to use.  The technique is easy:  cook your meat and onion cut into chunks, add in your vegetables of choice and the water and cook until your vegetables are nearly tender.  At that point you add in the roux and cook it another 5-10 minutes or so until it gets a bit thickened and stew-like.073

I always put in too many carrots, especially, since that’s my favorite part of the curry — sweet curry and big slices or chunks of sweet, flavorful carrot.

Although not traditional in terms of my vegetable combination and the fact that I served it with brown rice instead of sticky white rice, I loved it.  It felt good going into autumn with THE Japanese comfort food.

For now my cravings are satisfied.