Friday, June 25, 2010

Mellow Bakers: Vermont Sourdough (June)

Phew, just under the wire. I baked my final June bread for the Mellow Bakers earlier this week: Vermont Sourdough. I have been curious about this bread ever since I first started researching sourdough when I was approaching that section in the BBA Challenge. Many of the BBA Challenge bakers who were ahead of me called P. R.'s basic sourdough pretty bland, and everywhere I read about sourdough talked about Hamelman's Vermont Sourdough as the absolute best.

We have three variations to choose from: Vermont Sourdough, Vermont Sourdough with Whole Wheat, and Vermont Sourdough with Increased Whole Grain. Most of the Mellow Bakers seem to be baking all three to compare them; I would've loved to, but hubby (my main bread eater) is not a huge sourdough fan, and I've kind of run out of time this month. Hopefully I'll get to the other two variations at some point . . . if I ever have a bread to-do list that isn't a mile long!

So I made the plain ol' basic Vermont Sourdough, and just a half recipe.

I refreshed Austin two days before I made the bread, and then turned him into a liquid levain by adding a bit of bread flour and a lot of water. The next day, I added the rest of the ingredients, let them autolyse, added the salt, and finished mixing. I folded it twice and then shaped it into a round.

Hamelman states that, although the bread can be baked after its final on-the-counter fermentation, it is generally retarded in the fridge overnight: "The result is a loaf with moderate tanginess and a sturdy crust" (p. 154). So I heavily floured my round banneton and threw it into the fridge overnight.

It didn't rise much overnight, but Hamelman also states that the loaf can be put right into the oven, so once the oven and my baking stone were preheated, I slashed the loaf and slid it in. On the recommendation of other Mellows, I finally purchased some straight razors; I don't know if it was the new tool or slashing a cool bread, but slashing has never gone more easily for me. It was wonderful! I used my fake-out aluminum pan steaming technique and I couldn't believe the oven spring. My loaf actually grew so tall that it pushed the pan off of itself. I checked the bread after about 30 minutes and it was over 200F, so I pulled it out.

This bread is definitely the best sourdough I've made yet, although since I'd also made two loaves of the potato, cheddar, chive torpedoes (from the BBA) on the same day, I have to admit that most of the sourdough loaf is still sitting on my counter.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Mellow Bakers: Pizza (June)

Pizza was the first yeast bread I made with any regularity. I started making my own pizza dough years ago, although thinking back to that old standby recipe, it was nothing like the breads I make now: tons of yeast, tons of flour, quick to go from mixing to rising to eating. Taste-wise, while we were happy to be eating homemade pizza, the crust was thick, very bready, not very flavorful . . . really not very good.

I had high hopes for Peter Reinhart's pizza napoletana from the BBA, but I had a very challenging time working with the dough and it ended up much thinner and crispier than we like at our house. When I discovered P. R.'s pizza neo-neopolitan from Artisan Breads Every Day, I thought I would never bake another pizza crust again: the dough was a dream to work with and the flavor and texture were perfect.

Until now: Jeffrey Hamelman's pizza dough (from Bread, p. 273) showed up on our June breads for the Mellow Bakers. We're big pizza lovers in this house, so clearly we were happy to try another pizza recipe.

Last night just before bed, I mixed up my biga: a bit of water, a tiny pinch of yeast, and some flour, and let it sit overnight. It was probably ready to go early today since it is very hot and humid here, but we had plans this morning, and it didn't look any worse for wear when I finally got around to using it this afternoon.

I mixed bread flour, water, a bit more yeast, and salt, and then added in the biga. The dough was very wet, even more so when I started drizzling in the olive oil. I reflected on how much I've learned; in the old days, I would've added cups and cups more flour to be able to deal with this dough, but I've finally become accustomed to working with doughs with high hydration. My biggest problem was the oil: it actually made the dough so slick that my stand mixer wouldn't knead it; the dough hook just skimmed the surface. So I took it out and kneaded it by hand for a little bit.

While the dough was in its first rise, I browsed my blog list and came upon this post by Anne Marie called "Distracted Baking." In it, she talks about forgetting to look at the errata sheet for Bread before beginning to make her sourdough. Um . . . oops. I quickly jumped over to Mellow Bakers and downloaded the newest version of the errata, wondering if I needed to add more flour and that's what accounted for the super-wet dough. But no, the only change in this recipe was to add more yeast (.13 oz instead of .04 oz). No big deal; it is so hot and humid here that, even with much less yeast, the dough easily doubled in the first hour and again in the hour after the fold.

Instead of making the one-pound pizzas that Hamelman calls for, I divided the dough into 8 ounce balls, as we always do. Unfortunately I didn't plan ahead; one of my favorite things about P. R.'s recipe is that it makes six eight-ounce pizzas, one for me, one for hubby, one for the kids, and three to freeze for a later meal. This recipe only made four (I'll have to use my baker's math next time to increase the recipe!), so I only froze one dough ball.

We topped them as we always do: simple sauce; cheese blend (mozzarella, asiago, and romano, with a bit of basil); mushrooms and pineapple for me; olives, pepperoni, and pineapple for the kiddos; and everything for the hubby. They baked up perfectly in 5 minutes at 550 F.

This recipe is easily as good as our other favorite: thin and crispy on the bottom with a nice chewy crust. Excellent flavor. We will definitely be making it again!

Check out the other Mellow Bakers' pizzas!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mellow Bakers: Beer bread with roasted barley (June)

Here we are, almost half-way through June, and I am finally getting around to baking the first Mellow Baker bread for the month: beer bread with roasted barley. (Because, as mellow has never been a word used to describe me, I of course must bake all three breads each month.)

Hubby saw this one while I was browsing through my Hamelman book one day and was beside himself; two of his very favorite things -- beer and fresh-baked bread -- combined into one! Imagine his excitement when it popped into our schedule only a few months into our baking!

Hubby was, of course, put in charge of picking both barley and beer, as I am not a beer drinker and know nothing of such things. This bread required a trip to our local home brew store, where they were helpful enough to point us to four varieties of dehusked malted barley. We chose one with "debittered" in its title and "coffee," "cocoa," and "Belgian" in its description. It was a beautiful dark color, which I'm guessing is why my final product ended up a lot darker than other bakers'. Drinking a beer last night, hubby noticed that it was also a Belgian beer with hints of coffee and cocoa, so he decided it would be a nice one to pair with the barley for the bread recipe.

I made a poolish last night: equal parts bread flour and water and the tiniest bit of instant yeast. It was supposed to sit out for 12 - 16 hours. After 12, it was clearly bubbly and ready to go, but we were on our way out the door for our Sunday trip to the zoo, so it had to wait for an additional five hours. Luckily, it didn't look like it minded the extra wait.

This afternoon I mixed the poolish with more bread flour, some whole wheat flour, salt, yeast, and cold beer mixed with a little warm water. Oh, and the barley, finely ground. The smell of the dough had hints of beer, chocolate, yeast.....with a very rich, dark color...fascinating!

Proofed for two hours with a fold midway through. Then preshaped and shaped: one oval and one round, only because the bannetons I have are those shapes. When I dumped them out onto a sheet pan, the pattern on the round loaf of the flour against the dark bread was so pretty, I couldn't bring myself to slash it. I did try to slash the oval loaf, although as usual, it didn't go that well. Onto my preheated baking stone, added steam, checked after 33 minutes (was supposed to bake for 40) and the loaves were already at 203 F, so I pulled them out.

We let them cool(ish), and then sliced into the oval loaf. The beer flavor was pretty strong to me, not at all to hubby (not surprising, given his love of and my dislike of beer). The crust was perfect and the flavor was very complex, the texture almost creamy. I didn't love it plain, but found it delicious smeared with a little butter. Hubby even said it was the best bread-and-butter bread I've made. Surprisingly, however, he put it under the "may make again" category. We'll have to see what others think of the bread!

Check out other Mellow Bakers' beer breads! (as well as Vermont sourdough and pizza, our other two June breads)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I get by with a little help from my friends

I just love reading about other people's culinary adventures. In fact, it amazes me how many hours I can spend reading other food blogs, salivating over marvelous pictures, chuckling at misadventures that remind me of my own, and gathering helpful hints about how to approach various breads or improve various baked goods.

One of my favorite things about being a part of this community is all of the delicious new dishes to try, especially when we're getting a little bored with the usual fare at home. My try-this! list has at least a bajillion recipes on it from other sites. Case in point: the past 24 hours.

Sally posted this recipe (from the Splendid Table) for Sweet Roasted Butternut Squash and Greens over Pasta a couple of weeks ago, which I immediately bookmarked and knew I had to try. That was dinner tonight: such unusual flavor combinations, with the sweetness of the squash, the bite of the lettuce, the saltiness of the cheese. Yum!

The first comment to Sally's post was from Anne Marie, with another link to the Splendid Table, and a recipe for Rainbow Peanut Noodles. I made that one last night for dinner. Oh my, was this recipe ever good! I'm a little sad that I only thought about getting it into my tummy and didn't think about grabbing the camera, because it was absolutely gorgeous with all of the bright summer colors. But only a little sad because it was so, so very tasty; I am positive it will be a weekly regular at our house from now on. And today at lunch, I forgot it was a cold salad and accidentally warmed my lunch portion in the microwave; it was awesome that way, too!

Finally, two days ago, Renee wrote a post about baking with her adorable daughter and making Aggression Cookies. Just had to try these with the little ones after work today. So much fun! And the cookies (and cookie dough) were quite a tasty treat! Hubby, the kiddos, and I all ate more than our fair share. We will be making these again (although this time I halved the recipe and gave each kiddo half of a half; next time, I'll quarter the recipe, and I still think it will be plenty!).

Our mise-en-place (notice two of everything: flour, oatmeal, softened butter, baking soda, and brown sugar):

Thanks, friends!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

I did it! BBA #43: Roasted onion and asiago miche

What an appropriate time of year to announce: I did it! I'm graduating! I finished the BBA Challenge!

It's incredible to think that only a year ago, my bread baking experience consisted of two sandwich loaves, neither of which turned out that well, and other than that, I only baked quickbreads and cookies. And now, in 40 weeks, I've made all 43 breads from The Bread Baker's Apprentice! I can't believe how much I've learned: I can now whip up bread while making dinner and routinely make more than one loaf in a weekend. I've learned about autolyse, wild yeast, stretching-and-folding, hearth baking, the importance of temperature and timing . . . and many other things.

I meant to bake the final bread in Peter Reinhart's BBA last weekend, but life does not always go as planned, and instead we spent 30-some hours in the car, driving across country, to celebrate hubby's grandpa's life. We spent the week with hubby's aunt and uncle . . . Does anyone else find it odd to spend several days without baking or cooking? As soon as I walk in the door of our house after being away, my fingers positively itch to bake!

So here we are with another bread from Bennett Valley Bread and Pastry, the same artisan bakery that brought us the amazing potato, cheddar, and chive torpedoes: Roasted Onion and Asiago Miche.

This is a three-day bread. On the first day, I made a quick sponge: Austin (my starter), water, and bread flour. Unfortunately I got distracted when measuring the water and ended up with a starter that definitely was not sponge-like. It was a dry, dry dough. So relying on all that I've learned about bread dough (wink, wink), I added a bit more water until it looked more sponge-like. I left it on the counter to bubble and then threw it in the fridge overnight.

The next evening, I pulled the sponge out of the fridge and then had one of those moments where I realized how completely obsessed I've become with bread baking. I'd spent the day on an end-of-the-year fieldtrip to a local amusement park. I came home completely exhausted and changed immediately into sweats. And then realized that I really wanted to bake my bread and didn't have chives and scallions. Too exhausted to change out of my sweats, I nevertheless ran out to my dad's to cut chives and to the grocery store to pick up the green onions.

I'd promised myself that just once, I wanted to do things the right way: make a bread with a full mise-en-place and mix everything completely by hand. Here's my mise:

and here's hubby finishing my miche by grating a pound of cheese:

And as for mixing by hand, this dough demands it as it is so incredibly massive, it barely fit into my biggest mixing bowl. (Next time I would definitely do a half-recipe, just so that I could manage the ingredients!)

So I stirred together the bread flour and the yeast. Then added the sponge and water, mixed it all together, and gave it a five minute autolyse (=rest). Then I added the salt, olive oil, chives, scallions, and half of the cheese. We only had a little bit of asiago left, so I used some parmesan and romano as well.

I used my hands to knead/mix it a bit in the mixing bowl. Then I dumped it out onto the counter where I attempted to knead and tried to get all of the cheese and onions to stay in the bread. I just couldn't handle all of that dough! So I used a stretch-and-fold, three or four times over two hours.

Then I divided the dough into two boules, covered them with plastic wrap, and put them in the fridge to rest overnight.

This morning, I pulled out one of the loaves and let it rest on the counter for a couple of hours. Then I got the oven ready, brushed the top of the loaf with olive oil, dimpled it with my fingers, sprinkled on cheese and onions, and then let it rest for a half hour.

I decided to use the real hearth baking method, instead of the improvised roasting pan steaming technique that I've been using a lot lately, so I put the bread in the oven, poured a cup of boiling water into the steam pan, and spritzed the oven walls at 30-second intervals.

And apparently I haven't learned all that much from all of this bread baking, as once again, I forgot to lower the temperature of the oven after spritzing the sides. So 20 minutes at 500F (when I finally remembered to lower the oven temperature) and another 14 minutes at 450F, and the bread registered 208F, so out it came.

We had difficulty waiting for the full hour to cut it because the smell was absolutely divine; I think we waited about 50 minutes. This is a very cheesy bread with lovely sweet onion flavors in every bite. It's very moist with a light, fluffy texture. Hubby likes it almost as much as the potato, cheddar, chive bread, and declares that I must make it again. (I will sooner than he thinks; there's another loaf waiting in the fridge to be baked on Monday morning.) I wasn't addicted to this the way I was with the potato, cheddar, chive bread, but it was still quite tasty!

And Phyl, over at Of Cabbages & King Cakes, requested pictures of everyone's books after the Challenge, so here's mine:

A million thanks to Nicole over at Pinch My Salt for coming up with the BBA Challenge. I can't believe how it has changed my life, introducing me to what I believe will be a life-time obsession, uh, I mean hobby.

And now . . . on we go with the Mellow Bakers and the Modern Baker Challenge!