Because the opening of the Ratatouille ride at Walt Disney World on October 1 is as good a reason as any, here now, a weeklong exploration of the 2007 rat-infested Pixar classic, Ratatouille.
There are some movie scenes that just stay with you. Leo shouting “I’m the king of the world!” from the bow of a doomed ship. Angela tossing a lit cigarette on her husband’s clothes. The cue cards outside Kiera’s door on Christmas Eve. For me, it’s the cartoon rat eating a chunk of cheese and a strawberry at the same time.
“Each flavor was totally unique,” Remy, the anthropomorphic star of the 2007 Disney movie Ratatouille, says with his eyes closed in reverie. “But combine one flavor with another and something new was created.” Fireworks shoot off in bright colors, swirling around the rodent gourmand who is learning to hone his palate. Almost every time I cook a dish with a special combination of flavors, I think about Remy.
This summer, I became obsessed with seasonal bread baking. In making sourdough boules in the past, I had almost always stayed with the classics, occasionally branching out with a sesame or smoked paprika loaf. But when strawberries were in season in late May, I thought about Remy again, chomping on a chunk of French cheese and a fresh, juicy strawberry. Would Remy only stay the course? Would Remy only default to the classics? With an animated rat as my inspiration, I threw some strawberries and cheddar cheese into my next loaf.
The resulting bread was tangy and chewy, with crisp doily skirt edges from the melted cheese. The crust had a light-pink hue and slightly sweet and sour taste, and I could see chunks of strawberry popping out of the big bubbles in the crumb. It hadn’t been easy to make — the strawberries add a lot of moisture, so I had to tinker with the recipe — but the pyrotechnical combination of fruit and cheese made it worthwhile. (As did what it tasted like with a slab of butter.)
I spent the rest of the summer combining flavors in other loaves, like sour cherry and sharp cheddar; peach, rosemary, and goat cheese; pawpaw and coconut milk. These were just starting points; like Remy, I now get excited by the endless possibilities and combinations at my disposal. If you want to try the bread inspired by fireworks exploding around an animated rat, here’s where to begin.
Remy’s Strawberry and Comté Fireworks Bread
Makes 1 loaf
For the starter:
25 grams whole wheat flour
25 grams all-purpose flour
50 grams tepid water
1/2 tablespoon sourdough starter
For the dough:
100 grams mature starter
300 grams room temperature water
300 grams bread flour
200 grams whole wheat flour
10 grams kosher salt
150 grams hard cheese (preferably Comté or Gruyere but cheddar works, too) chopped in ½-inch cubes
150 grams hulled strawberries, slivered, then roughly chopped
Make the starter:
Step 1: The night before you know you want to make bread, put the starter in a clean container and mix it thoroughly with the flours and water. Cover and leave out at room temperature for 6 to 8 hours, until bubbly.
Mix the dough:
Step 1: The next morning, put 100 grams of the mature starter in a large mixing bowl and add the water to it, mixing until the starter is broken up in the water. Add both kinds of flour and mix with your hands until the dough is shaggy and well-mixed. It will feel dry at this stage.
Step 2: Sprinkle the salt on top of the dough but don’t mix it in yet. Cover the dough with a tea towel and let it rest at room temperature with the salt sitting on top for 20 minutes.
Step 3: Using your hands, mix the salt thoroughly with the dough until all of it is absorbed. With the dough still in the bowl, make a deep, broad well in the dough and sprinkle 50 grams of the cheese and 50 grams of the strawberries on top. Bring one corner of the dough to the center over the strawberry and cheese pile, pressing the dough into the center. Repeat until you’ve made a dumpling of dough with the cheese and strawberries packed inside. Flip the dough over in the bowl so the seams are underneath. At this point the dough will feel extremely wet, with cheddar and strawberries popping out. Set the dough aside to rest.
Step 4: Repeat this process every 30 minutes in the mixing bowl, adding 50 grams of cheese and 50 grams of strawberries on two subsequent folds until you’ve run out of both. If the strawberries don’t feel like they’re absorbing into the dough, squeeze as you fold and keep repeating the dumpling process. There will be some stray strawberries — that’s okay.
Step 5: Fold the dough two to three more times after this, 30 minutes apart, until it feels smoother and like it has more structure. You’ll have folded the dough between 5 and 6 times.
Shape the dough:
Step 1: Moderately flour a clean work surface and gently tip your dough out of the bowl, seam side up. Pull the corners of the dough one at a time toward the center, pinching them together at the center.
Step 2: Use one hand to turn your dough over so the seam is underneath. Pull the dough in circles, dragging it a handful of times on your work surface until you feel the surface of the dough get a little tighter. Let it rest under a tea towel for 20 minutes.
Step 3: Once the dough has rested, lightly flour your work surface again. Using a dough scraper or your hands, flip the dough over and repeat the dumpling process again, pinching the dough corners into the center. Then flip the dough over again so the seam is underneath and pull the dough towards you as you move it around in a circular motion until the skin feels tight but does not rip. This will add more surface tension and help your bread rise evenly. A chunk or two of cheese may pop out from the surface of the bread — that’s okay.
Step 5: Line a large bowl with a tea towel and flip the tightened ball of dough into it so that it’s seam side is up. If it starts to spread apart at the seam, pinch it back together with damp hands.
Step 6: Cover the bowl with a floured tea towel and let the dough rise at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours. You can also put it in the fridge for a minimum of 8 hours and up to 36 hours.
Bake the bread:
Step 1: When you’re ready to bake, place a Dutch oven with the lid on into the oven. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees for 30 minutes. If you’ve refrigerated the dough, remove it and let it sit at room temperature until the oven is preheated.
Step 2: Carefully remove the pot from the oven and gently tip the dough into it so that the seam side is down. Using a razor blade, carefully and quickly score the loaf down the center about ¼-inch deep.
Step 3: Add 3 to 4 small ice cubes to the Dutch oven, replace the lid, and put it in the oven.
Step 4: Turn the heat down to 480 degrees and bake for 25 minutes. Then remove the lid and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, depending on how dark you like your crust.
Step 5: Remove the bread from the oven and let it cool for an hour before eating.