Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Mellow Bakers: Hot Cross Buns

I was about twenty breads into the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge, when I suddenly had the horrifying thought: Whatever would I do when I was finished with all forty-three breads?! Bread baking, and more specifically, trying and experimenting with new breads while following other people's bloggy adventures, had become a part of my daily life.

Thankfully, one of the advantages of starting late and being behind on the BBAC is that other people were faced with this dilemma before me. And Paul from Yumarama stepped in with the creation of the Mellow Bakers, a group baking slowly, mellowly if you will, from Hamelman's Bread. I had been eyeing Bread since embarking on my sourdough research; you can't study sourdough without reading a million different posts about Hamelman's Vermont sourdough. So of course I joined in.

As more of a novice bread baker than many of the other bakers I follow, I noticed a distinct difference between Hamelman's style and Peter Reinhart's. I definitely missed the abundance of tutorial-like direction that P.R. gives all the way through every recipe. However, Hamelman has a hefty how-to section at the beginning of his book which I've yet to explore (Priority #1 on my reading list over spring break!), so maybe there is more information than I realized.

My first struggle with this bread was finding candied lemon or orange peel. I could. not. find. them. anywhere. I mean anywhere. I went to and/or called the three large grocery store chains, the three major whole foodsy places, and two cooking stores. Everyone had the same answer: "Oh, we carry those during the holiday season . . . . ." I knew I could order online, but wanted to get this bread baked before spring break. So finally, I called it quits, grabbed an orange from my dad's house, and made my own. There were a ton of how-tos online; unfortunately none of them were even remotely similar. There seem to be a million and one ways to make candied orange peel; anyone have a favorite? I loosely followed this one from NPR, except I omitted the chocolate, only used one orange, omitted the corn syrup, and used 1/2 cup water and 1/3 cup sugar.

Anyway, I figured this would be an easy bread to throw in on a weeknight. Only four hours from start to finish. But when I first made my sponge (milk, yeast, and sugar), which was supposed to triple or quadruple in forty minutes, it hadn't even doubled after over an hour. Hm. Not sure why, but I decided not to mess with it. I tossed it out, started again, heated the milk a bit this time, and it easily tripled in thirty minutes.

I used my paddle attachment to mix the rest of the bread flour with butter, and then with egg, allspice, salt, and more sugar, and I finally added the sponge. Hamelman continues to use the word "mix" rather than "knead," but I found that my paddle was seriously overwhelmed after about two minutes, so I switched to my dough hook. And then my dough hook got seriously overwhelmed when I threw in the craisins (used in place of currants) and candied orange peel, so I kneaded by hand at the end.

Next non-mellow moment: As my rolls were in their final proofing stage, I started to make the crossing paste. I melted my butter, mixed in sugar, lemon peel, vanilla, milk, a little bit of egg, and some flour (pastry and cake). And then I flashed to everyone else's post about their piping paste: "it is simply pastry flour, oil, and water" says Paul. I go re-read their posts; I re-read my book; I check the title and author of my book and the page number of the recipe; I check to see if there are different editions of the book. No idea, but mine is definitely not a simple flour, oil, and water paste. I proceeded with the recipe in my book, crossed the rolls, and baked them for 14 minutes.

Maybe not the most mellow bread ever, but all that matters? They're pretty darn delicious! I love the slightly sweet, slightly citrusy flavor, and the soft, slightly fluffy texture. If it wasn't an hour past our bed time, I'm sure hubby and I would demolish more than our one taste-test. Make that two; hubby just polished off another while I was posting.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Neo-Neopolitan Pizza

If you happened to study my sidebar on a daily basis, you would notice that pizza napoletana has dropped from my "will make again soon" list to my "might make again someday" list. This has nothing to do with pizza napoletana itself; merely that I have found the died-and-gone-to-heaven pizza crust recipe that I have been searching for, and as far as I'm concerned, I have no need to make another pizza crust recipe ever again. Okay, maybe that's a little dramatic.Smiley

At the beginning of February, my dad saw the link on my sidebar to Sally of Bewitching Kitchen's post about meeting Peter Reinhart. My dad recognized Peter Reinhart as the author of my bread challenge book, so he clicked on the link and read all about P.R.'s newest book Artisan Breads Every Day. Unbeknownst to my dad, I had read the same post and had immediately started searching for the book at all of our local libraries; of course there were a million requests and a long long wait to borrow it. Lucky for me, my dad went straight over to Amazon and ordered me the book. Imagine how thrilled I was to open it a couple of weeks later on my birthday!

Anyway, we had some friends over on Saturday night, and I wanted an easy(ish) make-ahead dinner plan so that I could spend most of my time visiting. Individual pizzas are always a hit, and I can do all of the prep the night before. But the night before, when it came time to make the pizza dough, I suddenly got stressed out. Everyone knows I'm in a bread baking challenge. I couldn't really make the same old nothing-special pizza dough I'd always made in the past, could I? What would people think?!

Given the struggles I'd faced with shaping and baking, pizza napoletana did not seem like a wise choice for an evening of entertaining. I debated turning the oh-so-delicious foccacia into pizza, as P.R. talks about, but I was unsure of how it would bake up in my mini-pizza pans. I also wasn't clear if I should use the herb oil or regular old red pizza sauce (hubby and his friends think that pizza without red sauce is not pizza). I looked around for some deep dish recipes, thinking maybe they would be best suited for my mini pans, but I don't like the greasiness of most deep dish recipes.

And then I opened Artisan Breads Every Day and found the recipe for neo-neopolitan pizza dough. It looked pretty easy, so I thought, "Why not?" I wanted to make individual pizzas and there were eight of us, so I upped the recipe by half.

I used my dough whisk to mix all of the ingredients: bread flour, salt, instant yeast, sugar, water, and olive oil. I let it rest for five minutes and then let my stand mixer knead it for three minutes. I dumped the dough out onto the counter, did the required stretch-and-fold, decided the dough was still pretty slack (I attributed it to increasing the recipe), let it rest another ten minutes, did one more stretch-and-fold, and then divided it into eight eight-ounce balls. Slapped them on a sheet pan and into the fridge for an overnight rest. Easy peasey.

The next afternoon, I pulled the pan out and let it rest on the counter for a couple of hours. The dough balls had grown a lot overnight and were smooshed into each other. Next time, I will use two sheet pans. When it was time to make the pizzas, I pulled each ball off of the pan and used my thumbs to stretch it out. This dough was so nice and easy to work with. It was such a difference from the pizza napoletana; totally stress-free.

They cooked more quickly, too: only seven minutes each. We tented them with foil when they came out of the oven so they were all still hot when we sat down to eat. And the taste? Hubby and I enjoyed the pizza napoletana, but we were both disappointed with how thin and crispy the crust was. This was my perfect pizza: thick and chewy on the edges, but not too thick and greasy like deep-dish pizzas, a light layer of flavorful pizza sauce (same recipe I posted in pizza napoletana), a combination of mozzarella, parmesan, and asiago cheeses, and pineapples and mushrooms on top. I will be making this one again!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Oh my, miche! (BBA #33)

I thought my very first loaf of sourdough would be my greatest bread baking accomplishment in the BBA Challenge. I was so proud to create a loaf of bread from my very own starter and my very own yeast.

I was wrong. Nothing could beat this one, a Poilâne-style miche, despite a couple of ingredient issues:

1. I absolutely could not find medium grind whole wheat flour anywhere. I checked at every store I could think of, but no go. So rather than trying to find it and order it on-line, I decided to proceed with P.R.'s suggested substitution: half bread flour and half finely ground whole wheat flour.

2. I purchased sea salt a while ago specifically for this recipe . . . and then totally forgot about it until the dough was proofing. So this one uses table salt.

According to P.R., Lionel Poilâne is probably the most famous bread baker in the world, and his most famous bread is a "round, two-kilo, naturally fermented (wild-yeast) country bread that he calls a miche but that everyone else calls pain Poilâne" (p.242).

This was definitely my greatest bread-baking accomplishment (so far). Some highlights:

1. I fed Austin (my starter) twice before using him to make my firm starter. I set the firm starter aside, preparing myself for the double to triple rising times I've been experiencing since starting on the sourdough journey. And three hours and forty five minutes after setting it aside (it was supposed to take four hours to double), I looked on the top of the fridge to see . . . it had more than doubled already!

2. This morning, I mixed my firm starter, bread flour, whole wheat flour, salt, and warm water. P.R. warns that this bread dough cannot be mixed in a normal stand mixer; there is just too much. So for the first time in ages, I kneaded completely by hand. It took me twenty-five minutes to achieve a good-feeling dough. And it still wasn't quite windowpaning. (I don't know why I didn't think of this ten minutes earlier, but . . .) I finally decided to let the dough rest for five minutes. When I came back, the gluten had developed and the dough was smooth and ready to be proofed after only another minute of kneading.

3. Again I put it in the proofing bowl, preparing myself for the dough to take longer than suggested (another four hours). When we got home from the zoo after three and a half hours, again it had more than doubled! Wahoo!

4. I formed it into a boule, put it in an improvised proofing bowl (a glass bowl with kitchen towel) and let it rise for another two hours. This was an enormous beautiful loaf!

5. Slashing has been going terribly for me. I've tried razor blades, knives, and scissors, all to no avail. Yesterday morning, I was having breakfast with a friend at a restaurant across from my favorite kitchen store. On the way out, I stopped in the store to browse the bread section and saw a lame, which I've been contemplating buying for quite some time. I went for it. Oh my goodness, I cannot believe the difference that having the right tool makes! A simple flick of the wrist and my loaf had the best slashes I've ever done.

6. Into a 500 df oven, two cups of boiling water into the steam pan, and a couple of spritzes on the sides to help create a little more steam . . . I can't believe this loaf! The picture on the cover of the book shows a really wide loaf; mine rose up more than out. Still, a four-pound (and three-quarters of an ounce) glorious loaf of bread.

The crumb was dense and chewy. The taste was nutty, with a slight hint of sourdough. It was not what I was expecting at all, but we enjoyed it buttered with our soup for dinner.

Hubby insisted I share this picture of one of his trolls (don't ask) next to the loaf so you'd get an idea of its size:

My spring break begins on Friday, so I will not be baking any BBA Challenge breads for a couple of weeks. I am still hoping to get my Mellow Bakers bread (hot cross buns) baked before break starts, though!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The intersection of work and life

I've mentioned before that in real (non-mommying, non-baking) life I teach junior high English. We have just begun a poetry unit and are working on narrative poems this week. Tomorrow the assignment is to write a rough draft poem about an event related to a subject that is close to your heart. I wrote a quick example to share with my class . . . and then I decided I should share it with you! (Please don't judge my lack of poetic talent too harshly . . . these are just rough drafts after all!)

Introduction to hearth baking, by Ms. B
The steam rises
“Quick, put the bread in!” my hubby demands.

“I am! Don’t rush me!” I shout back.
Quickly, I slide the loaf of bread
into the hot hot hot oven.

The steam rises
“Quick, close the door!” I yell.

I run to read the open book on the counter.

“Quick, open the door!” I yell at my hubby.
He opens the door, flips a towel over the delicate
glass of the oven door.

I pour water into the waiting pan.
The steam rises.

“Owwwwwwwwww!” my hubby’s wail pierces the kitchen.
I jerk in surprise, the cup sloshes.
“Owwwwwwwwww!” I yell in return.
Two casualties . . . so far.

“Quick, close the oven door!”
1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7
We count to 30.

“Quick, open the door!”
I spritz the oven walls
the steam rises
like smoke on a campfire
only without the marshmellows.

We count to 30.
“Quick, open the door!”
I spritz the walls.
The steam rises.

All of this
to ensure the most perfect
loaf of bread.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

BBA #32: 100% sourdough rye

While making this bread, I was very glad to be behind other bakers on the BBA Challenge. I was well-prepared for a dough that didn't behave like any other: dough with the consistency of play-doh and next-to-no rise.

I wasn't really prepared for just how weird it would be, though.

Two nights ago, I mixed my starter Austin with twice-sifted rye flour (I couldn't find white rye) and enough water for it to come together into a firm ball. I set it out to rise . . . which it didn't. Not after four hours, not after eight hours, not after an entire day. I was thinking about giving up and just trying this one again next weekend, when I read on a fellow BBACer's blog, Family & Food, about how her firm starter never rose, but she went ahead with the recipe and just loved this bread.

So I tried it. This morning, I mixed the firm starter with my soaker (also from last night: pumpernickel flour soaked in water), added more twice-sifted rye, some salt, caraway seeds, and a bit of water. Knowing that rye is finicky and you don't want to overwork it, I just mixed it by hand in my big mixing bowl, let it rest for several minutes, folded it over a few times, and called it done.

I did not have any hopes of it rising, but when we returned home from our morning out, I thought I detected some lift!

I formed it into two batards, started to let it rise for the final time, and then changed my mind. The loaves were really tiny and we were hoping for sandwiches tonight, so I pulled them off the baking sheet, kneaded them together, formed them into a loaf, and stuck them into my 9x5 loaf pan.

Not a lot of rise, but again, after two hours I detected a slight change. Same thing while it was baking, not a lot of rise, but a slight change. I pulled it out of the oven when it hit 200 degrees after about fifty minutes, the first twenty covered with a roasting pan. It was a heavy brick. Still, I knew rye bread was supposed to be dense, so I wasn't discouraged, just curious.

After it cooled slightly, I tried to slice it for our sandwiches. Apparently I hadn't kneaded the two batards together well enough because every slice split right down the middle where the two batards had joined. Not to be defeated, I made mini-sandwiches!

Homemade corned beef, homemade thousand island dressing (both ATK recipes), swiss cheese, and sauerkraut on rye, brushed with butter and cooked for five minutes in my two-years-old-but-never-used grill pan with panini press (I won it at a charity auction). It worked beautifully! The corned beef was awesome, as was the dressing. The rye bread tasted like rye bread. Next time, I would definitely play with the proportions: thinner slices of bread and more corned beef. And I don't think I'll make this recipe again; the dough was just too weird. But I'm guessing the sandwiches would be fantastic made on last week's New York deli rye.

Overall this was a good experience . . . I learned a lot and got a great dinner . . . what more could I ask for?!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

BBA #31: New York Deli Rye

I felt somewhat of an obligation to do this one well, since my entire family hails from New York. My dad insisted that he be there for the slicing and tasting since he was the (self-proclaimed) authenticity expert.

I pulled my starter Austin out of the fridge on Thursday to refresh him and see if he'd be up for baking this weekend. Our house is cold, but he doubled in four hours after being fed. And then I realized that this recipe calls for seven ounces of starter; I'd only made five, so I only had four to use. I added more flour and water to double him, and went to bed. In less than eight hours, he almost tripled! I was so excited! It's the best he's ever looked. My normal pint mason jars were too small for him, so I put him in one of my husband's quart glass round lunch containers. I liked it so much better; I could really see all of the bubbles and activity. I'll be looking for a new container to keep Austin in that's a lot wider.

On Friday night, I lightly sauteed some onions (two, to be exact, eleven ounces worth). It was a lot of onions. I mixed seven ounces of Austin with rye flour and water. I couldn't find white rye anywhere, so I double sifted my normal rye. I then mixed in the onions, waited until the (very odd) starter was foamy and rising, and stuck it in the fridge.

This morning, I double-sifted some more rye, mixed it with bread flour, brown sugar, salt, instant yeast, some powdered buttermilk, the starter, and some water. I think I oopsed with the water. The dry buttermilk calls for eight ounces of water, and Peter Reinhart calls for an additional two to four, as needed, to make a soft, not sticky dough. I used the eight ounces from the buttermilk, but it seemed like there was still a lot of dry flour, so I added two ounces of additional water. Well, I created the stickiest dough ever. Peter Reinhart warns to be careful with rye bread . . . don't knead it longer than four minutes by machine or six minutes by hand or it will get gummy. But after a couple minutes by hand, several minutes in the mixer, and a couple more minutes of gentle kneading by hand, the dough was still so sticky. It wasn't going anywhere.

After adding a little bit of flour a few times, giving it a few more sessions of autolyse, and some "illicit kneading" (as Janice at Round the Table humorously called the extra kneading that her dough needed), it finally resembled dough. Breathing a sigh of relief, I stuck it into my biggest mixing bowl and headed to the zoo with the fam. Two hours later, I walked in to this:

This dough was a monster! I divided it into two, made one into a batard, and one into a sandwich loaf for my new giant loaf pan (ten inch). Seriously, I could not believe the rise; in less than an hour (it was supposed to take ninety minutes) the dough was well over one and a half times its original size.

A quick wash with egg white, a few slashes for the free-standing loaf (my best yet, I think!), and into the oven. I wasn't sure what to do because the loaf pan is supposed to bake at 350 and the free-standing loaf at 400, and I wasn't intending to bake twice, so I threw them both on a sheet pan and into the oven at 350. After twenty minutes, I rotated the pan and upped the temp to 375. After another nineteen minutes, I checked, and both loaves were done; in fact, I think they could've come out a couple of minutes sooner.

They didn't seem to grow much more in the oven, but these are still monster loaves! The smell is fascinating . . . you can really detect the onions and the rye. Same with the taste: some bites are filled with onion, some with rye, some with caraway. It was good plain, even better with a little butter, and delicious as grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner tonight!

Oh, and the authenticity expert? He said that this was not New York Deli Rye! When he explained what he was expecting (very rye-y, dense, less like a sandwich loaf), it seemed to me that he was expecting the 100% rye which is on tap for next week (I have a beef roast brining in the fridge as we speak . . . corned beef sandwiches next week!). But he also asked me to bring him our leftover loaf, so I guess it wasn't too bad! ;-)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

And the winner is . . . . .


I have no idea.

I started my very first sourdough starter (after spending most of my life not even knowing that such a thing existed) midway through the BBA Challenge. I wasn't very good about following directions or keeping to a schedule, so when it seemed to stall, I figured it was done and started another one. The second time, I was very careful about keeping to a schedule and following directions, and I even wrote everything down. Right as the second one (Marge) came to life, my original one (Austin) rallied, so I kept feeding them both. I wrote about my adventures here.

This weekend, I baked my first sourdough. What a feeling! I had planned to make a double-batch of the BBA basic sourdough recipe, so that I could decide which starter worked better and/or had better flavor, discard the other one, and move on to a simpler life of only maintaining one starter.

Well, as I wrote about here, Austin moved incredibly sloooooooowly, and Marge . . . was even slower. So I only made the one batch (using Austin) and left the other one on the counter. The next day the dough made with Marge was finally ready to be shaped. I put the shaped loaves on the stove in the hopes that it would help them rise (it is incredibly cold here) and . . . something happened. I don't know what, but it wasn't good. When I went to transfer the first boule to the prepared sheet pan, it stuck to the napkin I'd used inside the proofing bowl, totally collapsed, globbed all over my hands, the counter, the sink, the floor, the trashcan. I don't know what it was, but it wasn't bread dough by that point! The second one (luckily!) transferred easily, so I put it on the baking stone (which I'd forgotten to preheat for an hour) and baked it for ten minutes with its roasting pan cover on. Then I realized I'd forgotten to lower the oven to 450 df, so I lowered it for the final ten minutes until it was a nice golden brown and the proper internal temperature.

With the first loaf (made with Austin), I was excited by the oven spring. With this one? None. It did not rise even one millimeter in the oven.

Well, I figured, at least this was only a test. So now I know: Austin is the better starter. He rises a little sooner and clearly has much more oomph in the oven.

And then I tasted the flat loaf made with Marge. And it tasted like sourdough. Way more like traditional sourdough than Austin had.

My family doesn't like sourdough much, so today, I brought both loaves into work for a taste test with the lunch bunch. The two self-professed sourdough lovers both thought Marge (the flat loaf) had the better flavor. Everyone at lunch agreed that Marge had a more sourdough-y flavor, although they were mixed as to which bread they liked more and which bread had the better texture.

So what's a girl to do?

original starter; stalled at first and then picked up; rises more quickly; lots of oven spring; good flavor

second starter; rises reliably but more slowly; absolutely no rise in the oven; much chewier texture; much more sourdough flavor