Romanian Sourdough Sweet Bread (Cozonac cu maia)

I do this sweet bread every year but it is just this winter that I tried the sourdough version. As always, once I try sourdough, I do not come back to yeast. It will be the case for this bread as well. It is true that it takes time to make it but it worth every minute of it. 

The difference is that the crumb is soft and fluffy. You can also break the crumb into straps. It conserves much better than the yeast one. I am simply impressed by it and I'd like to share with you how I've done it.

I published some versions with yeast before on my blog and you can find them here:

The filling that you chose for it is a personal option. I've put inside 3 of the most common ingredients, but you are free to pick only one, 2 or all. Or you can add others that you like.

I do this bread called "Cozonac" only for Christmas and Easter. Sweet bread is not my highest preference, but this one is a tradition that I know since childhood. I am continuing this tradition, especially for my kids, although I am now living in another country. The smell spread in the house when this cake is prepared for Christmas and Easter resides deep in my memories. I recall when my entire family was reunited a few days before Christmas at my grandparents to prepare all the traditional food. Those were special days. They were starting with children carols, when we were singing and knocking on the neighbour doors for pretzels and walnuts. Then it was the day for "cozonaci" and the day of pork meat preparations. Many of these are gone, and some traditions as well. But if I can bring something from those days into my house to keep alive the Christmas spirit I do it, no matter how much work is needed. This sweet bread is one of the few that I can continue, especially during this weird year.

My children love it, myself as well. My favourite version for me is with lokum because it is very sweet. My children also pick them from the slices, but I was doing the same as a child.

This is a sweet bread linked to traditions, memories, aroma and holidays. It is a treat to share with family and friends in joyful moments. It is also a delicious breakfast or dessert.

40% Rye Sourdough Bread

When you bake bread with a high content of rye flour expect to have a darker and denser crumb.  

I baked before another version of rye bread inspired by the same Hamelman's recipe "40% caraway rye". That version is on my blog 40% rye bread with sunflower seeds, posted more than 6 years ago. This time, I went for an improved version with no yeast, based exclusively on rye sourdough. None of these recipes includes caraway as I do not like it very much, but if you like it, please feel free to add it back, as in the original recipe.

Compared to the first recipe, the bread raised much higher and even got me an ear. The reason for this is the use of strong bread flour that had an autolyse before being combined with the rye preferment. This is essential mainly because rye flour has weak gluten that does not behave as the bread flour does. The strong bread flour adds strength to the dough structure and makes the bread to rise more.

This bread in any version is very rich in flavour and I find it outstanding in terms of taste. It has a moist and soft crumb that simply melts into your mouth.

Another advantage of this bread is that the bulk fermentation + final fermentation lasts only 3 ½ hours. On the other side, if you are up to get all the rye flavour, expect to let it cool for minimum 5 hours.

I am happy with this result and for sure I will revisit this recipe again, probably in another version :).

Merry Christmas!

Sour bran bread

Not so long ago I published a post about a Borch sourdough starter. As a coincidence (or not), just a few days after, it came to my ears that I could bake bread with it. In fact, it is obvious right? If you can make borsh out of sourdough starter you can also do the other way around, baking sourdough bread with borsh.

The idea looked fantastic! Why I didn't think of it before? I then took the nice advice of a very creative lady and tried it by myself. But my idea went a bit further. She suggested using the amazing borsh liquid to replace the water as an ingredient to the dough while I was thinking of using the remaining borsh starter that you are supposed to discard.

Let me be more clear what is this sour bran that I am referring to.

So, when you make the borsh you use the liquid. That is the borsh. To get the liquid, you strain the entire mixture and what it remains is a fermented mixture of wheat bran, cornflour and pieces of rye bread. 

This thick mixture is your new borsh starter, called husti in Romanian. But you'll only keep a jar of it for the next batch and the rest you can discard.

My dilemma was how to reuse this amazing thick mixture? Of course, you keep 500ml of wet mixture for the next round of borsh but you still remain with a big quantity. 

Most of the time, what remained, this sandy mixture of bran - corn flour was a good meal for my chickens. But what if, I was to add it in bread dough? Why should I through away such an amazing ingredient?

Romania has a tradition in using it for diets, traditional home medicine and even for beauty treatments. 

I had then to come up with a recipe and try it.

I started then thinking about what this mixture is and how it will affect my dough. First thought was on humidity. First, it needed to be squeezed well well. Even squeezed, but it will add humidity to my dough. So the amount of water added initially in the dough needs to be kept low.

Then, this is bran and cornflour. Bran is a barrier in gluten network development, so it should be added a bit later in the dough. The best moment for this is the lamination phase. Bran is also already hydrated so this is already good. The cornflour, with its grainy structure, has no gluten. The bran as well, it should be added in the dough at a later stage.

This mixture also contains sourdough bacteria. This means that when added in the dough it will increase its population.

With this in mind, I prepared a recipe using white strong wheat flour with hydration of ~70%. The moment of adding the sour bran was for sure no earlier than the lamination phase.

The plan was made, so it only remained to put it in practice.

When mixing the white flour with water, I had the feeling of not adding enough water in the dough. I knew this flour, it is an excellent one that accepts easily very high hydrations of 85%, and I was at only 70%. 

First stretch and fold... hmm very thick dough. But then the lamination phase came. The dough felt not so elastic at this hydration but I managed to stretch it and add the mixture inside. Folded back, it went for a nice rest. 

First coil fold.... hmm barely succeeded. Then, a long period of resting for all the water to be absorbed by the dough. A second coil fold and just then, I felt the difference! The dough was easier to coil fold and the texture was grainy. 

At the shaping step, the dough was behaving so strong like no other. A bit of rest after, and then put it to sleep in the fridge overnight.

Sandwich sourdough bread

This is a loaf of simple sourdough bread that can be done by anybody without prior bread baking experience. It is a one day bread, but if you want, of course, it can be retarded in the fridge during the final fermentation.

Sandwich bread is very popular as enriched with milk, butter, sugar. My recipe is not an enriched loaf. Is a simple sandwich bread made from the 3 basic bread ingredients: flour, water and salt.

The sandwich bread is different than an artisan bread. On a sandwich bread, you want to be able to spread butter, so bread with big holes is not prefered. The sandwich bread needs to have many small holes so it is exactly the opposite what you are targeting with artisan bread. 

For this bread, you need a pan. I have a Pullman pan style that is very big. It has 34x13.5x12cm. In this pan, I put 1.6kg of dough.

Most probably your pan doesn't have exactly my pan dimensions and then the most difficult part in planning this bread is to know exactly how much dough to put inside to reach the top of the pan and obtain a perfectly squared bread. If you do not use the lid to obtain the square bread, this is not a problem because the bread can rise upper with no issue.

Unfortunately, I do not have a magic formula to calculate how much dough needs to be in the pan to fill it completely with the closed lid. For me, it was a trial and error. The pan producer was indicating only 1kg of dough and that was way too less for such a big pan. Then I found some online calculators that indicated me 1.3 - 1.4kg of dough. After baking, this quantity of dough didn't arrive at the lid.  By letting it proof more maybe it would have worked but the intention of the sandwich bread is not to have an open crumb, but rather a spongy, regular structure with many alveoli of a small size.

I tried after 1.6kg of dough and that was my matching quantity. For a denser bread, I think the dough quantity can be increased and the proofing time cut a bit. But for me, this quantity gave the expected result.

The only advice I can give you here is to do some tests. It can be tricky because of the type of flour you use and the expected density of the crumb. I like it the way mine ended up even if there are some bigger alveoli here and there.

How to choose the right flour for bread baking?

Have you ever wondered how the quality of flour is influencing bread baking?

Let’s find out how to choose the right flour for the type of bread you want to bake.

This post is not about a recipe but about an ingredient.

The flour has the biggest proportion in a loaf and is the most important ingredient as it provides structure to the dough. Baking bread with the wrong flour can be frustrating, but if you understand its characteristics, you can choose the appropriate method, so in the end, you get a gorgeous loaf.

I put together a lot of information about the flour with the way is influencing the dough for bread baking in a new video on my youtube Hungry Shots channel. I hope this comes to clarify many of the flour mysteries.

What is flour? 

Flour comes from wheat berries. Wheat spikes hold the wheat berries. If you press a wheat spike with your fingers, you’ll notice that the wheat berries are popping out from the spikelets. If you blow away the chaff, the grains remain. 

Each wheat berry has 3 parts: 

  • The endosperm (83%) is the biggest part and contains starch granules, iron, B vitamins
  • The Bran (14.5%) - is the outer layer that contains fibres, proteins, B vitamins and trace minerals
  • The Germ (2.5%) - is the embryo of the seed, contains lipids, B vitamins and minerals

Flour is obtained through the reduction of the wheat berries into smaller particles. 
Through simple milling, we obtain what it is called whole wheat / wholemeal flour that includes all the 3 elements of a wheat berry.
To arrive at a white flour, the germ and the bran has to be removed through a sifting process.
With them, fibres, vitamins and minerals also go away. 
After milling, the white flour needs to age for at least a month in order to acquire good baking properties. Freshly milled flour, called green/immature flour,  will produce dough with poor elasticity that will result in bread with poor volume, thick crust and dense crumb texture. Through the ageing process, the flour gets oxidised due to the exposure to oxygen and its baking properties are improved.
However, if you mill the flour at home you can benefit from higher nutritional content and better flavour even though the elasticity of the dough is reduced.

Flour characteristics
When you choose a new flour, it is better that you look for certain characteristics. Unfortunately, not all these details you can obtain by just looking at the label on the package but understanding their importance can help you in the baking process. I’ll reveal to you these tricks further on. 
Even more, if you buy from a local farm you might not have access to many of these details and the only remaining option is to test the flour yourself. But generally, choosing organic flour has greater health benefits.

The protein content is probably the most important aspect to consider when you chose the flour to bake bread.
The higher the protein content of the flour, the higher performance of the bread. The percentage of protein content is usually marked on the package label. 

Based on the protein content, we can distinguish 3 categories of flour:
  • Cake flour or pastry flour is usually the lowest in protein content (7-9%) because, for cakes, gluten development is not a purpose. 
  • Then it comes, all-purpose flour (9-11%) who usually has a moderate protein content. 
  • On top is the bread and pizza flour (11-14%+) with the most protein percentage. 
In fact, there is no clear threshold between these categories and they may differ from producer to producer or from country to country. This means that you can easily find flour labelled as “bread flour” having 10% or 14% protein content. The best is to always look on the back of the package and spot the percentage of the protein content.

The protein content is directly linked with gluten. When flour is mixed with water, the gluten is formed. Gluten’s main function in baking bread is to strengthen your dough. Low protein content means weak gluten that results in a smaller volume of your dough due to the lack of structure.
Gluten, through its main 2 components (gliadin and glutenin) provide extensibility and elasticity to the dough. 
To measure this, some of the flour producers indicate values like P, L and W on the package. Let’s quickly see what they mean:
  • P - resistance of the dough to deformation
  • L - extensibility of the dough
  • a P/L index indicates the behaviour of the gluten...
  • W - [45 to 400] indicates the strength of the flour. The higher the W factor, the strongest the flour, so the better is for baking bread. While the protein content indicates you the quantity of gluten, the W index (although in direct relation with the protein content)  gives you more insides about the quality of the gluten. This means that the higher the W index, the more water absorbent the flour is.
Also the higher the protein content, the longer mixing time is needed to achieve dough consistency.

The protein content is a characteristic of flour that the baker can play with. An experienced baker can produce a beautiful bread even from a low protein flour applying advanced baking techniques. But using a basic method to 2 wheat flours may result in loaves that look drastically different.
I give you a trick: if your flour lacks gluten, you may add commercial gluten to improve its baking properties.

In the past, very white bread was associated with quality food while darker bread was seen as food for poors. Ironically, from a health perspective is exactly the opposite.
Naturally, flour has an off-white colour due to the presence of bran particles and the existence of carotenoids pigments.
A bright white colour of the flour is due to ageing or bleaching:
  • Ageing: With time, the colour of the flour fades away due to the exposure to oxygen. Aged flour also comes with consistency in making bread.
  • Bleaching: Bleaching solved the problem of the flour millers who needed to store their flour for at least a month to age naturally because proper storage costs money. The process consists in treating the flour with chemical agents, also called dough conditioners. Bleaching affects the colour by making the flour whiter in just a few days.
    But bleaching does more than just affect the colour:
    • It affects the texture by making it softer and finer
    • It affects the taste, making it slightly bitter
    • it affects the structure of proteins creating an easier to handle dough and 
    • It influences gluten development. 
So, of course, commercial bakers prefer a bleached flour as being more economical. 
Bleached flour works better for cakes, biscuits, cookies, pancakes/waffles or quick bread.

Moisture content
Moisture content is one of the characteristics rarely found on your package. If the moisture overpasses 16%, the flour is prone to naturally occurring organisms and may get an unpleasant taste or smell. Of course, the higher the moisture content the less water you need for the bread. That’s why the producers recommend storing your flour in a dry and aerated environment. This also means that the flour won’t give you consistent results if you store it in a humid pantry and you might need to add less water in your recipe due to high moisture content in the flour.

Ash content
The ash content refers to the mineral or inorganic material in the flour and indicates the purity of flour. It gives the degree of contamination of flour with bran and germ. In France, the ash content classifies the flours (a pure flour - T55 comes from 0.55% ash content while T150 (1.5%) is corresponding to the whole wheat flour. 
In Italy, 00 is the purest flour and 2 is the whole wheat). The purer the flour the less ash content indicator. While a more pure flour has great baking characteristics, one with more ash content has more minerals, so it is more healthy. The more ash content, the more water you’ll need to add in the dough.

The water absorption
The higher the protein content, the higher the water absorption of the flour. Adding gluten to the formula needs to come with an increased quantity of water.
The lower the moisture content, the higher water absorption.

A course flour will require less water as it has less damaged starch during the milling process.

There are many other indicators that producers may assess in the lab, but for a homebaker they are either inaccessible or more difficult to handle them.

What you need to understand is that even if you apply the exact same recipe and method from a book or from the web, the quality of the flour can be a big game changer.

In the end, when you chose a flour for bread baking, ask yourself the following:
For what purpose will you use the flour? If it is for artisan bread, pick a strong one (high W index) or with high protein content. 
What kind of bread crumb are you targeting? A very well raised loaf with an open crumb? Then go for higher protein content. But for a denser bread, medium strength flour may go as well.
Is the health aspect the main purpose for the bake? Then choose an organic whole wheat flour that contains also the minerals and vitamins from the bran and germ. You may also want to consider milling your own flour for an extra flavour, minerals and vitamins.


Romanian boeuf salad with chicken breast

"Maman, GATEAU!" - This is what my son said when he saw this salad. He was so excited to see it, so he quickly grabbed a small plate and a spoon. 

I put a little portion for him and watched him trying it for the first time. Such a disappointment on his face after the first bite... no sweet cake... this was a salad...

Decoration may trick your sight but not your taste buds. This is a salad, a very popular one in Romania. In my childhood, a New Year's Eve without boeuf salad was not a New Year celebration.

Almost all Romanian wives know how to do it, and everyone does its own version. But the boeuf salad should be on the table for the New Years's Eve!

The great part of making this salad is that it exists in a vegetarian version, in beef version, in a turkey version, in a chicken version and so on. If you are confused about the word BEOUF in the name, yes it is coming from French that means beef. But actually, it doesn't matter if you do it with chicken, turkey, beef or no meat at all, it is still called the beouf salad. 

It always includes boiled vegetables and pickles. There is no such thing as a beouf salad without pickles. The pickles are the most important ingredient that gives the specificity of this salad. The quantity of pickles should be substantial as it gives the taste. My mother was always including in this salad pickled cucumbers and pickled Romanian peppers. These peppers are specific to Romania and they are called "Gogosari". You can easily recognise them for their round shape. Unfortunately, here in Belgium, they do not exist, so I used just fresh red bell peppers instead.

Another interesting aspect is that the meat inside is there just to make it more nourishing but the taste is totally faded away by the vegetables.

The salad is also put together with mayonnaise. If there is one thing that I hate about the classic recipes for this salad, well that is the amount of mayonnaise that it is put inside. And yes, it is an important ingredient because it links together all the vegetables, it preserves it for some days in the fridge but this doesn't have to mean that I eat mayonnaise with vegetables ... I want to eat a salad with a minimum amount of mayonnaise. Therefore this is my version, not flooded in mayonnaise.