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This is going to be a quick newsletter..... let's start with the important part! It's the end of the year and most people have a celebration or four in this season. So, whether you celebrate (or observe) Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Eid al-Adha, the solstice, or are just glad to be almost out of this year, we wish you the best of what the season offers!
Let's talk about Panettone! It's that time of year where my baking friends go bananas over Panettone. It's a rich, eggy fruit laden bread. It is normally a sourdough bread made with a wet dough. I've tried making it once and it was a delicious disaster. I didn't let it hang upside down until it was fully set. So, when unmolded, it became a puddle. A delicious puddle. I'll try again one day, but not this year.
As a result, I've been buying panettone. Panettone imported from Italy. Beth, my wife, lived in Italy for some time and found that Italian cakes were very, very dry. When you bought them in cafes they offered you a shot of rum, which nicely moistened the dry as dirt cakes. She also found most of the pastries were gorgeous, but tasteless. Again and again, I've found her comments to be dead on. Despite that, I bought a yet another panettone this year. And while it wasn't flavorless, it was dry, dry, dry. Not bad when dunked into coffee.
This morning, I found a better use for the panettone! I wanted to make a nice breakfast for Beth, but I make omelettes so often they aren't special any more. Nice, but not special. So, how about French Toast? YEAH! Do we have any good bread for French toast? No, but we DO have some leftover panettone! So, we had panettone French toast! It was a sheer delight! In case you don't know how to make French toast, I'll risk boring you with a description of how I did it. Apologies to our friends who want weights. Cups are bad enough, but "a splash"?
Mike's French Toast
About 4 slices of somewhat dry bread (or panettone) per person
2 eggs per person
a splash of milk
1 dash of vanilla extract, to taste
a grind of nutmeg (optional)
a sprinkle of cinnamon (optional)
a dusting of confectioner's sugar (optional, but attractive)
butter for frying
Break the eggs into a pan large enough to hold 3 or 4 slices of bread on the bottom of the pan. I use an 8"x8" (or about 20x20cm) baking dish. Add a splash of milk and the dash of vanilla extract. Add the grind of nutmeg and cinnamon, if desired. I forgot to use the nutmeg and cinnamon this morning and the French toast turned out delightfully anyway. Beat the milk and eggs together until they are well mixed.
Put a skillet over medium-high heat and add a tablespoon or so of butter. As the butter heats and melts, put as much of the sliced bread as will fit into the pan, and allow it to absorb the egg mixture. After a minute or two, flip the bread and let it soak another minute or so.
Transfer the soggy bread to the skillet and cook it until nicely browned, then flip and brown the other side. I like to have a nicely browned French toast that is still pudding like in the middle, so I'm careful to not over cook the bread. Transfer to a heated plate, and put in a warming oven to hold while you cook the rest of the French toast.
There usually comes a point where you have a little batter left over - just pour it over the last round of French toast as it cooks in the skillet. When you are ready to serve the French toast, dust it with the confectioner's sugar.
Serve hot with maple syrup, ginger syrup, ribbon cane syrup, sorghum syrup or whatever sort of syrup floats your boat. I hope you enjoy this as much as we did!
The great malt experiment.
If you look at our recipe for Sourdough Bagels or Sourdough Kaiser Rolls, you'll see they call for dry malt extract. A reader dropped me a note asking if he should use diastatic or non-diastatic malt extract for the bagels. Some malt extract is prepared in such a fashion that the diastase enzymes are preserved. Those are diastatic malt extracts. They are useful for brewing with grains that don't have much in the way of diastatic enzymes, such as rice. Many malt extracts do not have diastase enzymes and are called non-diastatic malt extract. Diastatic malt extract should help the rise and browning of baked goods containing it.
As a side note, bagels are normally boiled in water that has a bit of malt in it, and for that purpose either kind of malt extract will work - the boiling water will denature the enzymes in a diastatic malt extract. As a side note to the side note, you can't "kill" enzymes inasmuch as they aren't alive. You can denature them so they are no longer active, however.
Anyway, the question stumped me. So, it was obviously "experiment time!" as Sune, the YouTube FoodGeek likes to say. As a former home brewer I've been getting my malt extracts from brewing supply shops, so I emailed my favorite shop and asked about getting some similar diastatic and non-diastatic malt extract so the diastase enzyme would be the only difference in my doughs. "Nope, we can't help you - I tried getting some diastatic malt extract a while back and none is available to me - it's only sold through food channels!" That meant, to reiterate, that I'd never used diastatic malt extract! And it might not be easy to find similar diastatic and non-diastatic malt extracts.
After much looking, I found a light diastatic malt extract and it arrived in the mail yesterday. And that means that this week I'll be baking three sets of Kaiser Rolls, one with no malt extract, one with diastatic malt extract, and another with non-diastatic malt extract. Will the difference make a difference? Or is this another of the old husband's tales we keep hearing as we learn about baking? Stay tuned! The doughs are rising as I type this! So, unless disaster strikes, this story should be continued in the next exciting Mike's (more or less) Weekly Baking Tips.
Until next time, may your dough always rise, with or without malt extract!