Pan de Muerto Cactus (Bread of the Dead Cactus), Tangzhong / Water Roux Method
Inspired and captivated by the traditional pan de muerto, I set out to produce a bread loaf in shape of a dead cactus. (Hey, why not?)
My results: The crust, the crumb, and the prickly texture were all satisfactory—more than satisfactory, in fact… but the flavour was an utter disaster. I neglected the potency of brandy and, consequently, the subtle taste notes of the loaf was awash, engulfed by the pungent flavours of hard liquor.
(This post has been submitted to YeastSpotting.)
The primary objectives for the pan de muerto cactus were the following:
Adapted from the website The Fresh Loaf, the following adjustments were made to the original recipe:
Additionally, if available, I’ve listed brand names of the food products I used in the tables below. Disclaimer: This isn’t an endorsement. I’m simply indicating the names of the branded products used in my baking experiment.
Yield: 2 pan de muerto cactus (loaf)
Total Prep Time: N/A
Total Bake Time: 40 + 50 minutes
|Water Roux / Tangzhong|
|All-purpose flour / Plain flour, Unbleached, Enriched, Chilled||40 g||Gold Medal|
|Whole milk / Full cream milk, Chilled||210 g||Dutch Mill|
|Whole anise, Ground||1 g||N/A|
|Whole cloves, Ground||0.5 g||N/A|
|Ground cinnamon||4 g||McCormick|
|Whole milk / Full cream milk, Chilled||70 g||Dutch Mill|
|Unsalted butter, Room temp., Cubed||141 g||Elle & Vire|
|Duck eggs, Whole, Room temp.||293 g||N/A|
|100% pure honey||32 g||Galae|
|All-purpose flour / Plain flour, Unbleached, Enriched, Chilled||683 g||Gold Medal|
|Medium rye flour / Type 1150 rye flour, Chilled||87 g||Ireks|
|Palm sugar||58 g||Palma|
|Instant yeast||12 g||DSL|
|Roasted sea salt||3 g||Hakata Noshio|
|Spice mix||5.5 g||N/A|
|Extra virgin olive oil||N/A||Campagne|
|Tap water, Room temp.||N/A||N/A|
|Unsalted butter, Melted||N/A||Elle & Vire|
|Countertop convection oven, Refrigerator, Sheet pans, Parchment paper, Spatulas, Strainers, Bowls, Mixing bowls, Mechanical kitchen scale, Graduated cylinder (Measuring spoons), Chinese chef’s knife, Paring knife, Razor and Skewer (Lame), Peeler, Scissors, Spice mills, Spoons, Pastry brush, Wire rack, Cutting boards, Unglazed clay tiles (Baking stone)|
Warning: Do not attempt my “recipe” (i.e., experiment) without considering the following; variations in room temperature, humidity, altitude, food products, kitchen utensils and equipment, techniques and methods, amongst other factors, will influence the outcome of your baked goods.
Before I began, I measured, prepared, and organized my ingredients and kitchen equipment. This includes:
- placing the unglazed clay tiles onto the middle rack of the oven
- removing the peel of an orange with a peeler
- peeling and mincing the zest of another orange
- grinding the whole cloves and anise with spice mills
- lining the sheet pan with parchment paper
Step 1: This experiment began by preparing a water roux or tangzhong, a cooked “starter” purposed to add softness and springiness to breads.
Accordingly, the following materials were assembled: whole milk, all-purpose flour, plastic spatula, heavy-bottom pot, and portable gas stove (not displayed above).
Step 2: Next, I poured the flour and the milk into the mixing bowl, mixed the two ingredients, laid the mixing bowl upon the portable gas stove, then heated and stirred the mixture on low heat until trails were formed in the paste (i.e., tangzhong).
Thereafter, the tangzhong was poured into a separate bowl to cool (above).
Note: While mixing the milk and flour, I noticed small lumps of dry flour afloat in the mixture—a visual cue that I had not properly mixed the said ingredients. Sadly, my efforts were futile. Not all of the dry lumps were coalesced into the mixture.
Step 3: Afterwards, I washed the pot and gathered the milk (refer to the final dough ingredients), orange peels, unsalted butter, and a separate plastic spatula.
Step 4: Setting the portable gas stove to low heat, I put the pot onto the stove, dumped the milk, butter, and orange peels into the pot, then patiently waited for the butter to melt.
*Takes a big, long whiff.*
Step 5: Setting the milk mixture aside to cool, I assembled the following dry ingredients: all-purpose flour, rye flour, palm sugar, instant yeast, salt, orange zest, and spice mix. In addition to that, I fetched a mixing bowl and fine mesh strainer.
Step 6: Sifting the flours, palm sugar, instant yeast, salt, and spice mix into the mixing bowl, I chucked in the orange zest (which cannot be strained through the fine mesh strainer), then whisked the ingredients.
Step 7: Alright, it’s time to strain the cooled milk mixture!
Step 8: After straining the milk mixture and discarding the orange peels, I retrieved the honey, brandy, and eggs.
Step 9: Poured into the milk mixture, the ingredients (i.e., honey, brandy, and eggs) were mixed until well blended.
Step 10: Thus began the fusion of three entities: the wet ingredients, the dry ingredients, and the tangzhong.
Step 11: Pouring the tangzhong and three-quarters of the wet ingredients onto the dry ingredients, I abandoned my spatula and mixed the ingredients with my hand.
Nice and sticky but still too dry.
Step 12: Subsequently, I poured the remainder of the wet ingredients into the mixture and proceeded to mix the ingredients with my hand until a cohesive mass of dough was formed. Moreover, I used a spatula to scrape the sides of the mixing bowl to incorporate any stray substances.
Following that, the dough was rested for approx. fifteen minutes.
Step 13: Once fifteen minutes had elapsed, I transferred the dough onto a cutting board, then implemented the “French kneading method” for a total of twenty-five minutes.
Wait, hold on, something was off… The ball of dough was too elastic and dry. Was this the cause of low humidity? Perhaps. I had previously turned on my air conditioner, which significantly reduced the humidity of my kitchen (i.e., bachelor’s apartment).
Step 14: Stopping to knead after reaching medium development in the dough, I oiled a mixing bowl with olive oil, rounded the dough, placed the dough into the mixing bowl, sealed the mixing bowl with plastic wrap, then chilled the dough for approx. ten hours at 7°C / 44.6°F.
Step 15: “Oh, man… Whatever, I’ll clean it up tomorrow.”
Step 16: Chilled for ten hours, the dough was removed from the refrigerator and rested (i.e., de-chilled) for two hours. Amazingly, the dough emitted a strong, pleasant aroma of caramel!
Step 17: Transferring the dough onto the cutting board, I patted the dough to remove excess gas, then…
Step 18: Using a Chinese chef’s knife, I divided the dough into portions of varied sizes, as displayed above.
Step 19: Shortly afterwards, I (poorly) shaped the larger portions of dough into “boules“. Additionally, I created six elongated ropes of dough, each with six segmented bulbs, by gently rocking them back and forth against the cutting board.
Step 20: “Uh-oh!”
I should’ve rested the boules on the parchment-lined sheet pans. Nonetheless, without exerting too much pressure on the dough, I transferred each boule from the cutting board into their respective sheet pans.
Subsequent to that, I laid three ropes across the top of each boule, then proofed (i.e., rested) one of the rope-adorned boules for two hours at above room temperature.
Note: The other rope-adorned boule was promptly chilled in the refrigerator.
Step 21: Within the last thirty minutes of the dough’s proofing period, I preheated the oven to 210°C / 410°F (convection mode on), applied tap water to the centre of the dough, placed a small ball of dough onto the centre, and slashed the small ball of dough with a homemade lame (i.e., razor on a stick).
Step 22: Within the last fifteen minutes of the dough’s proofing period, I hastily snipped the sides of the boule with scissors. While doing so, I was worried that the dough would become further lopsided.
Note: My shoulder ached with tension while producing the thorns and I had to take quick but frequent breaks. Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m a wuss.
Step 23: *Ding!*
The oven’s ready!
Without a moment wasted, I inserted the sheet pan (where the dough laid upon) onto the unglazed clay tiles of the preheated oven, then baked the dough for forty minutes at 170°C / 338°F (convection mode on). Moreover, at intervals of ten minutes, the sheet pan was rotated 180°.
Note: Sometime at this point the other dough was removed from the refrigerator and left to rest.
Step 24: Once baked, the prickly loaf was removed from the oven, applied with melted butter with a pastry brush, then cooled on a wire rack for several hours.
Note: Ten minutes prior to the baking completion of the first loaf, the other dough was snipped. Further, where applicable, steps 23 to 24 was applied to the other dough, with two exceptions: 1) the oven’s upper burners were turned off beyond the second rotation; 2) the dough was baked for an additional ten minutes with the upper burners turned on.
Step 25: Okay, that doesn’t look too bad… except that I didn’t wash the used kitchen equipment from last night.
After an hour of being baked, the crust of the loaf was very firm, with sharp rigid thorns, whereas the crumb of the loaf was modestly soft, springy, and cake-like. Moreover, the loaf emitted a pungent alcoholic odour and tasted very bland, with light notes of bitterness and mild numbness. However, in contrast to the crumb, the crust tasted somewhat savoury.
After twelve hours of being baked, the crust of the loaf was slightly less firmer. In comparison, the crumb of the loaf had slightly staled, particularly along the crust. Further, the taste of the loaf remained largely unchanged and the alcoholic odour was not as intense as previously.
Note: The pan de muerto cactus was stored at above room temperature.
I’m not upset or disappointed. Sure, the loaf’s flavour—the most important aspect of foods–was majorly flawed, but I (re)learned valuable lessons and made a few discoveries: 1) brandy is potent; 2) natural palm sugar has a smooth and well rounded caramel taste; 3) prolonged proofing and convection baking helps retain the intricate shapes of bread loaves; 4) tangzhong may increase the softness and springiness of breads.
I can feel it. My baker’s wisdom has elevated… marginally. Oh, what a vast ocean of knowledge there is to learn.
Farewell and happy baking, peeplings. :)