Thursday, March 03, 2016

mirabile dictu

I watch "Chef Steps" videos on YouTube with little more than idle curiosity. Most of these videos have no dialogue; they simply show the steps a chef would take to create something. Prose narration comes in the form of fade-in/fade-out title cards. Most of the time, the videos showcase techniques and recipes that are irrelevant to me—things like sous-vide preparations, or food with esoteric ingredients that I'm too lazy to get hold of.

Today, however, a "Chef Steps" video (with dialogue) made me sit up straighter—first in surprise, then in rapt fascination. It shows the making of bao, Chinese steamed buns, and then it goes on to show two variations on the bun that use the same dough. The one that caught my eye was the first variation: none other than pain de campagne, i.e., country-style bread. The only special equipment was a Dutch oven, which was put into a regular oven. The result was incredible—a bit like being told that you can grow watermelons from apple seeds—and I know someone who might be interested in watching this technique and figuring out a scaled-down way to make it happen in his own home.

Here's the "Chef Steps" video in question. Enjoy the awesomeness.



Charles said...

Cool vid, but to call that pain de campagne is misleading. For one, PdC traditionally uses a sourdough starter, and the dough is also allowed to rise for a lot longer to allow the flavor to develop. The use of yeast and baking powder/soda is something I haven't seen before, and is definitely not PdC territory. Also, while I have seen straight white PdC, usually it has at least some whole wheat, rye, or other non-white flour in it.

Traditionalist griping aside, the key to the baking here is the dutch oven, which gives you steady radiant heat over the entire surface of the loaf. If there is one thing that my little mini oven sucks at, it is this. You basically get direct radiant heat from the heating elements and a little reflected heat elsewhere. If I could figure out how to replicate the dutch oven effect in my oven, I would, but the oven is really too small to do this. What I need is a real oven, with a ceramic baking stone or insert to really get that radiant heat going. Sadly, this is unlikely to happen in the next few years.

I would actually be more tempted to make the original steamed buns, to be honest. I think I could probably figure out the proportions myself, even without the full recipe.

Kevin Kim said...

Gotta admit, though, it looked cool, and the consistency, while not the same as a traditional country loaf (bigger bubbles, more glutinous crumb), still looked eminently edible. Most fascinating to me was how easily the crust could go from bao to loaf with very little tweaking—just change over from steaming to baking inside a Dutch oven.

Charles said...

Oh, it did indeed look good.

And the baking method does have a huge effect on the end result. But I am most intrigued by the combination of yeast and baking powder/soda. To be honest, I can't figure out why you would do that. I did a little poking around on the intarwebs since I first read your post, and apparently there are recipes that call for both yeast and baking powder/soda, but I'm still not entirely clear on the reasoning behind it. Some recipes add baking powder/soda to neutralize an overly acidic dough in order to allow the yeast to work properly, which makes a certain amount of sense. Outside of that, though, I'm just having a hard time wrapping my head around it.

One thing I have been experimenting with recently is yeast dough waffles (as opposed to the usual baking powder-leavened batter). I wonder what a bit of baking powder would do in terms of the texture. I am tempted to try a teaspoon of baking powder in addition to the yeast and see what happens. The only problem is that I usually let the dough proof overnight, and adding a chemical leavener to that sort of dough would be pointless. (This is the main reason why I am having such a hard time figuring out the reason for the combination.) I suppose it might have some small effect on texture.

And since I'm rambling, if the use of yeast and baking powder/soda together primarily affects the texture, I'm guessing that that PdC in the video probably ended up with a really weird crumb. In other words, I suspect it might have looked like a PdC but tasted nothing like one. Then again, they didn't actually use the term PdC--"country loaf" is a bit vague.

Kevin Kim said...

"Pain de campagne," as you know, is literally "country bread," and the shape of the loaf in the video—including the cross-shaped cuts on top—was a deliberate attempt to evoke French country-style bread, which is why I felt safe using the French term: that's obviously what the cook himself was going for. Granted, from a purist's point of view, you're not going to end up with true French country-style bread if you start off with bao dough, but you can apparently come up with something reminiscent of it if you're creative enough.

Yeah the crumb looked as though it might have been crumbly and not quite so firm. But as the guy notes in the video, the dough recipe was inspired by David Chang of Momofuku, so who knows what Chang was thinking when he put these magical reagents together?

Charles said...

" who knows what Chang was thinking when he put these magical reagents together?"

That's what is killing me. I just can't figure this out.

hahnak said...

i dont bake a lot of bread (like what i think charles does. i seem to remember a lot of experimenting he did...) but that country loaf did not look appetizing at all to me. the crust looked okay when it was baked up, but when he cut that loaf into slices, it didnt look good at all. it was the tiny, even bubbles. and it didnt look chewy. i realize that he was doing some magic with steamed bun dough but i wasnt impressed. it still looked like steamed bun dough. i would definitely go for the first steamed buns. wrap up some sam gyeop sal and im there.