Tag Archives: levain

LEVAIN WITH FENNEL FRAGRANCE

One of the favorites on the Rich Table menu is Sarah’s country style levain. The bread is served warm with house-churned cultured butter. Sometimes the bread is scented with Douglas fir, but the most popular version is when it is flavored with wild fennel “pollen”. The pollen is actually the bright yellow tiny flowers of wild pollen that grows all over Northern California and blooms from mid to late summer. Rich Table has their own forager who brings the pollen in from fields north of San Francisco, and the restaurant has an abundance now. Unfortunately the source is regional and seasonal – that’s one of the reasons for using Douglas fir – but if you don’t happen to live in Northern California, ground fennel seeds can make a workable substitute. The smell and taste are not as delicate, and if you use too much can be overpowering, so use it carefully.

On a recent visit to San Francisco, I watched Sarah make her bread in the basement prep kitchen at Rich Table. The experience inspired me to try to adapt the recipe for the home baker. This is pretty close to the real thing, but Sarah did not share any of her baking secrets with Old Dad.

Sarah’s recipe makes twelve large loves, too much for the home baker. For that reason, I have pared down the ingredients to make two generous loaves. I have made some other modifications to make it easier for the home baker. First, professional bakers weigh their ingredients, while home bakers usually measure things in cups and spoons, so I have set the quantities in the home style. Second, if you have your own sourdough starter, that is great, but if you don’t you can substitute packaged dry yeast. Third, if you have harvested your own wild fennel “pollen” (actually fennel flowers) that’s also great, but you can substitute ground fennel from your spice shelf.  Finally, you can mix the dough by hand, but that is a labor of love, so I have used a stand mixer equipped with a dough hook for the kneading and gluten-release process. Resting times are very important to make sure the gluten releases and supports good lift of the dough.

RECIPE

Levain with Fennel Fragrance

Ingredients

  • 3 cups + ¼ cup water
  • 1 cup levain* or substitute 1 envelope dry yeast
  • 6 cups bread flour
  • ½ cup whole wheat flour
  • ½ cup rye flour
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground fennel seeds
  • vegetable shortening or butter for greasing bread pans

* Baker’s note: You can find the method for making your own levain or sour dough starter in an earlier post. If you choose to use yeast instead, increase the water and flour in the recipe by ½ cup each.

Method

  1. Place 3 cups water in the large bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, mix in the levain (it should float in the water, otherwise it has not risen enough) or yeast. You should feed your levain the night before you bake to make sure it has good rising power the next morning.
  2. Slowly mix in the flour, a cup or so at a time.  When the dough becomes stiff enough, change to the dough hook attachment.
  3. Add all the flour. Then beat with the dough hook at a slow speed for 10 minutes until smooth and shiny.
  4. Let the dough rest in the bowl for 30 minutes.
  5. Dissolve the salt in the ¼ cup water.
  6. Beat the salt mixture and ground fennel into the rested dough until completely incorporated.
  7. With a scraper, transfer the dough to a large metal bowl.
  8. Cover the dough with a plastic film and let rest for 30 minutes. Then turn the dough gently in all directions with moistened, clean hands. Recover the dough with the plastic film.
  9. Repeat turning the dough every 30 minutes for three additional times.
  10. Turn the dough out on a well-floured work surface. Divide into two equal pieces. Each piece should weigh a little over 2 pounds.
  11. Shape each piece of dough into a ball and let rest for 5 minutes.
  12. After the rest, shape the dough by lifting the far edge of the ball and pulling it to the center. Repeat this motion in all directions. Pinch closed any seams and let rest, covered with a cloth, for 10 minutes while you prepare the baking pans.
  13. Prepare two 9 x 5 inch bread pans by greasing the insides well with vegetable shortening  or butter.
  14. Arrange the dough pieces, seam side down, in the two bread pans, cover with a clean cloth, and set in a warm place to rise until doubled.
  15. While the bread is rising, pre-heat the oven to 450°F (232 °C)
  16. When the loaves have risen, slash the tops with a sharp knife and transfer to the middle of the pre-heated oven.
  17. Bake for 15 minutes. Then reduce the oven temperature to 350°F  (177°C) and continue to bake for 45 additional minutes. Turn the loaves front to back at least once during the baking.
  18. At the end of the baking time, test for doneness by thumping the bottoms for a hollow sound. Transfer the baked loaves to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.
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NAPA CABBAGE AND BREAD SOUP

I had some napa cabbage left over from my New Year’s Day braised cabbage, so I decided to make some soup.

Napa cabbage (also spelled nappa cabbage) is an authentic Chinese cabbage. The name comes from a Japanese word that means something like vegetable greens.  So far as I have been able to figure out, the name has nothing to do with the Napa Valley in California. I think that name is probably from the Spanish, meaning an aquifer or gas layer. The taste of the cabbage is milder than regular cabbage, and the leaves are crisper

Regular cabbage dates back to the Egyptians, but probably cabbage heads did not appear on the culinary scene until the twelfth century in Germany. For this recipe, you can use regular cabbage, but I think you will like the flavor better with Chinese cabbage.

The soup makes a simple lunch or dinner. We had the added pleasure of a slice of Srah’s new bread, Douglas fir scented levain topped with fresh butter. A perfect winter-time light lunch

RECIPE

Napa cabbage soup with Douglas fir levain-1Napa Cabbage and Bread Soup with Croutons and Parmesan Cheese

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • ½ large head napa cabbage, cored and shredded
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • ½ teaspoon beau monde seasoning, or to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 ½ inch slices good quality white bread cut in ½ inch cubes
  • 2 ounces Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • ¼ cup minced parsley

Method

  • In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan or stockpot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onions, stir, and cover. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the onions are wilted and translucent. Do not allow them to brown.
  • Add the shredded cabbage to the pot, cover and continue to cook until completely wilted. Do not brown. Then add the vegetable stock, bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Add the beau monde seasoning and adjust with salt and pepper.Cook for 40 minutes or until the cabbage is soft. Add more liquid if necessary.
  • In the meantime, place one of the diced slices of bread on a small baking sheet and dry in the middle of an oven preheated to 225°. Bake for 30 minutes, turning frequently, until the bread cubes are completely dry and crisp. Remove from the oven and set aside.
  • When the cabbage is fully cooked and tender, stir in the remaining cubed slice of bread. The bread should dissolve and thicken the soup. Add more liquid if needed.
  • When ready to serve, plate the soup in 4 wide soup bowls, top with the croutons, sprinkle with the grated Parmesan cheese and parsley. Serve immediately.

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RICH TABLE – VERDICT IN; THE CRITICS APPROVE

Rich Table in the Hayes Valley section of San Francisco has only been open for a little over 2 months, but already the food and service have impressed the local critics. Michael Bauer in the San Francisco Chronicle has said, “It was ironic and symbolic that my first visit to Rich Table was the night of the blue moon, because only once in a blue moon does a restaurant like this come along.” ( 3½ stars, September 30, 2012) In San Francisco magazine, Josh Sens says, “Elements of surprise…Rich Table might sound like every other joint in town, but it’s not.” (3 stars, October, 2012)   7×7 San Francisco has selected Sarah and Evan as the chef representatives in their annual “The Hot 30”. (October, 2012)

With all that publicity, it may not be a surprise that the reservation book is filled for the next three months, but even if you can’t get a reservation, don’t despair. There are a few seats at the communal table deliberately left open for walk-ins. The bar is always humming, so you may need to sit on an outside bench to wait your turn.

How did a new restaurant get up and running so smoothly in such a short time? Only part of the answer is the talent of the chef-owners, Sarah and Evan Rich. The other part is the professional staff who work together comfortably, more like a family than a restaurant crew.

Maz has taken on responsibility for running the front of the house after working in the wait staff and as beverage manager for years at Coi. He has put together a menu of creative cocktails and an excellent choice of wines and beers that complement the food.

James and Nick have worked as cooks with Sarah and Evan for years, and so watching them in action is like watching a well-practiced athletic team. They have been joined by Bayoni, Miles, and Andrew. How all these folks fit in the tiny open kitchen is a mystery, but without a misstep they work with one another to turn out the orders beautifully composed and on cue.

Michael and Charles left good, long-time positions in high-end restaurants to join the team. Rachel and Jamie, the runner, have also become team members. This makes a first-class, friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable front-of-the-house crew.

We visited San Francisco a few days ago with plans to eat at Rich Table. As parents of one of the chefs, Sarah, we thought that would not be a problem, but in a text message, Sarah gently reminded my wife that we need to let her know our plans , otherwise she could not guarantee a space.

We wound up sitting at the communal table with a party of five from France. They were making the “Great Circle Tour” of the American West. Even with limited English on their part and non-existent French on ours, we enjoyed a chat and wound up sharing some food.  They cleaned their plates and enjoyed the restaurant. I heard  one  say, “Magnifique.”

We spent three hours eating everything that Sarah sent out to us. Here’s what we ate:

SPANISH CAVA WITH BEAU SOLEIL OYSTERS FROM NEW BRUNSWICK, CANADA

Canadian oysters in California! Delicious and ocean salty. Still, the highlight is the crushed squash blossom mignonette. The sauce is beautiful with green and yellow-orange confetti. It is also tasty with an acidic base that complements the salty oysters.

SARDINE CHIPS WITH HORSERADISH ANCHO CRESS

This is rapidly becoming a signature dish of Rich Table. Big, crisp potato chips have a slender sardine fillet woven in the middle raising the question, “How do they do that?” The horseradish sauce is a perfect foil.   CAUTION: you can’t eat just one!

WINTER SQUASH FRITTER WITH PRESERVED LEMON AND ARUGULA SALSA VERDE

Another signature dish, corn fritters, has been transformed for the fall season into winter squash fritters with the sweet, creamy filling, crispy crust, and salty toasted squash seeds as a garnish.

HOUSE-MADE BLACK GARLIC MORTADELLA WITH HOT MUSTARD

This in no way resembles the usual bologna-like mortadella. The sausage is a silky mousse of pork laced with lardons of pork fat and bits of black garlic, a smoked and aged garlic that has a nutty, woodsy flavor.

RAW KING SALMON WITH CUCUMBER AND DOUGLAS FIR TOPPED WITH SALTINE TUILE DOTTED WITH YOGURT AND FORAGED PURSLANE

Almost too beautiful to eat – well, almost! The salmon hides below a paper-thin tuile of saltine decorated with polka dots of yogurt and “bows” of foraged purslane. The decorations are delicious. The salmon and cucumber are superb.

HEIRLOOM TOMATO SALAD WITH BURRATA AND TOASTED SEAWEED

Sort of a sophisticated caprese. The tomatoes multi-hued, each with its own synthesis of sweet and tart. The burrata is creamy and a notch above the usual mozzarella, even the house-made, fresh variety. Seaweed  for basil? So Japanese and so different.

PLANCHA BREAD, RABBIT SAUSAGE, CORN, AND RED FRILL MUSTARD

Toppings for the plancha bread, done on one of the flat-top stoves, change frequently For our visit, rabbit sausage and corn were a perfect balance. Mustard served as both greens and sauce.

GARGANELLI WITH LAMB SAUSAGE AND ARUGULA

This unusual and beautiful pasta originated in Romagna and was rolled on a weaving comb to produce indentations before it was formed into cylinders resembling the breathing tubes of chickens (hence the name). Here it is topped with a light brown sauce faintly seasoned with tomato and the juices from lamb sausage. The sauce is perfect for dipping with bread.

WILD FENNEL LEVAIN AND HOUSE-CULTURED BUTTER

The perfect bread for dipping – but also for eating by itself or with the house-made cultured butter. There are lots of excellent, famous bakeries in San Francisco – Acme, Grace, and Tartine to name a few – but this house-made bread has become another signature dish. The bread is made with a sourdough starter that has been maintained for years. The scent and subtle taste of foraged wild fennel pollen makes it unique. The butter is made from milk and culture that have been aged together for two days. Then the mix is churned. The butter is pressed and aged for another several days while the pungent buttermilk is saved for other uses. (You’ll see more about that later.)

TAJARIN WITH CUITLACOCHE

The pasta originated in the Italian Piedmont. It is thicker than capellini but thinner than spaghetti. In Alba, a traditional dish is tajarin served with a sauce of black truffles. Thus, it is appropriate with cuitlacoche (corn smut, maize mushroom), a fungus that sometimes develops on ripening ears of corn. In Mexico it is a great delicacy and has been called “Mexican truffle”. Small wonder because it brings a chestnut color to the sauce along with a complex earthy aroma and taste which are clearly reminiscent of fresh truffles at the peak of the season.

RABBIT CANNELLONI, NASTURTIUM, SUNGOLD TOMATOES

An elegant pasta roll filled with tender rabbit and bathed with an herbal, slightly sweet sauce that makes you want more. The nasturtiums with their delicate blossoms and showy tiger stripes look too beautiful to eat, but they’re not. An elegant dish.

KING SALMON, BOK CHOY, TOASTED BUCKWHEAT, YOUNG GINGER

The bok choy and subtle ginger set an Asian note while the crunchy toasted buckwheat kernels offer an interesting contrast to the tender salmon fillets.

SWEET GLAZED PORK DUMPLINGS, BRAISED ESCAROLE, RADICCHIO

Delicate  rolls if pasta stuffed with a fluffy farce of pork augmented with airy egg whites and unctuous pork fat. The sweet glaze is caramelized so that the dish becomes a sophisticated pot sticker.

That’s it – only thirteen savouries, and we finished all of them. Then came dessert.

MUSKMELON GRANITÉ

The dish came to the table resembling a drift of melon-colored snowflakes, and the first spoonfuls added to the image. Then the surprise: buried in the bottom were perfect cubes of ripe melon and a ball of melon-flavored cream made with a siphon.

PANNA COTTA WITH PLUMS AND ALMOND CRUMBLE

So good that Susan started eating before I could take a picture, so here is an image of the fresh peach version from earlier in the season. This has become another signature offering.

PLUM CAKE WITH BUTTERMILK ICE CREAM

The cake oozes moisture and flavor. Not too sweet, but sweet enough with the subtle flavor of seasonal plums and a poached plum on the side along with a quenelle of buttermilk ice cream, tangy and smooth as silk. The buttermilk comes as a by-product of the house-churned butter. Some by-product!

That was it! No more, though no more was needed. Clearly a tour de force of creative American cooking with overtones of French, Italian, and Japanese. Can’t wait to visit again.

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