Monday, April 26, 2010

#9: Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Bread

I substituted pecans for the walnuts because (a) I prefer pecans to walnuts and (b) I didn't have any walnuts on hand. In addition, I increased the quantity of ingredients by one-third so I would get 2 lb loaves instead of 1.5 lb loaves and that worked well. I don't think it's strictly necessary to rinse the raisins and I think next time I would skip that step. Peter writes that the wild yeast on the skin of the raisins can affect the dough but I've read elsewhere that its effect is negligible.

It proved a little uncomfortable to incorporate the chopped pecans in the last couple minutes of kneading by hand. It's a lot like rubbing your hands with 16-grit sand paper. However the nuts provided great contrast to the soft, enriched texture of the bread and were worth it.

The children had already gone to bed by the time I sliced the bread but I promised them they could have a slice of it as toast in the morning with their breakfast. This recipe is a keeper.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

I met The Man!

Yesterday I attended a 3-hour class taught by Peter Reinhart at Sur La Table where Peter demonstrated several breads from his newest book, Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day. The class was fun, I learned a lot of new techniques, and we had some fabulous, delicious breads. Sticky buns, yum!

Here are some pearls of wisdom that I learned from Peter:
  • Baking is a balancing act between time, temperature, and ingredients.
  • Garnish is important not just for appearance but also for flavor. After all, we eat first with our eyes.
  • Sticky buns stick to your buns.
  • Baking is an inexpensive hobby where even your mistakes are popular.
  • Even Peter makes mistakes (his cinnamon rolls had started moving from the caramelized to the carbonized state)
On the more practical side of things, here are some additional baking tips that I learned that hopefully will improve my baking skills:
  • When baking lean breads (e.g. French bread), any extra water remaining in the steam pan should be removed after 5 to 10 minutes.
  • When a recipe calls for either butter or vegetable oil, go with oil; oil is functionally superior at providing fat content, has better value, and the taste difference is usually negligible. Save the butter for the topping where it really counts.
  • Double pan (i.e. nesting pans) to protect breads like rolls from overcooking on the bottom.
  • Cinnamon rolls that spring when slightly depressed are done.
  • Mixing chocolate with butter helps keep the chocolate soft when the heated mixture cools.
  • Shortening (e.g. butter) is called shortening because it shortens the gluten.
The class was a lot of fun and hopefully it will help me step up my game. Inspired by the sticky buns that Peter made, I decided to make some today. The kiddies loved them!

#8: Cinnamon Buns and Sticky Buns

Yesterday I attended a class taught by Peter himself where he demonstrated several of the breads from his latest book, Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day. Inspired by the demonstration, I decided to try the sticky buns side of recipe from the Bread Baker's Apprentice.

Let me tell you, nearly three sticks of butter make the mouth water. While the dough only took 5 1/2 tablespoons, the caramel glaze took two cubes by itself. I choose raisins and pecans for the "topping" (the rolls are actually baked upside down) and they were delish.

When it came time for stage 12, eating, the kiddies were disappointed that I wouldn't let them each have their own sticky bun. However I compromised and they ended up sharing two buns between the three of them. And of course they wanted more.

The only mishap was the glaze bubbled over and started smoking at the very end of the bake time. However cleanup was a cinch, probably due to the copious amounts of butter in the glaze.

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

#5: Casatiello

You could make sandwiches out of casatiello without adding any toppings. No need to add meat or cheese because there's dry-cured Italian salami and provolone cheese baked right into the bread.

The dough was fun to work with. It has the consistency of brioche (it took 6 tablespoons of butter) and baking it in greased paper bags made it a little different than your typical loaf.

To bake the loafs, I placed the bags inside of a bread pan to prevent the bags from expanding in the wrong direction. The recipe suggested a #10 can but I didn't have any of them kicking around at the moment. I probably should have baked the loafs in different bread pans because the sides of the loaves that were next to each other didn't get baked as thoroughly as I wanted. It also would have helped if I hadn't cut up one loaf within 5 minutes from it coming from oven. :)

The kids loved it, our guests loved it, and the next day my coworkers loved it.

#25: Pizza Napoletana

For the past year or so I've made my pizza crusts using a recipe from Peter Reinhart's Crust and Crumb: Master Formulas for Serious Bread Bakers. The process involves starting a poolish the day before, followed by making and retarding the final dough a few hours before baking. Overall it's been a pleasing recipe to work with.

This pizza recipe is quite different. The dough is made the day before and is similar to the Pain à l'Ancienne in both ingredients and treatment. Unlike the recipe from Crust and Crumb, the dough made from this recipe doesn't need to be rolled out but can be shaped merely by holding it in both hands and letting gravity pull it to shape.

I made this both last Sunday and the Sunday prior. The first week everything went well but the second week I ran into problems of the pizza sticking to the parchment paper and being too wet. I think the problem stems from having a thinner sauce (I added tomato paste the first time) and wetter toppings (e.g. pineapple for a Hawaiian) the second time. In addition the oven started out at a cooler temperature prior to baking because I was baking Casatiello just prior.

The family loved the pizza both weeks despite the problems!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

#2: Greek Celebration Breads

Happy Easter!

In celebration of Easter, I decided to try the Greek celebrations breads. Having no experience with sourdough barms, I decided to go the poolish route. And since my poolish recipe generated three times the quantity needed, I built two breads: Christopsomos (the round loaf) and Lambropsomo (the braided loaf).

Working with dough was pleasant enough but I did forget to incorporate the raisins and cranberries until after the dough had fermented the first time. Oh well. I mixed them in prior to proofing the loafs and the loaves turned out well enough.

The glaze consists of a water/sugar/honey/lemon-extract syrup, brushed on after baking. My only concern is that the loafs will now be a challenge to cut and eat without getting ingloriously sticky. Maybe I'll sprinkle a little powdered sugar on to dampen the stickiness. :)

One final note: the Lambropsomo recipe called for nesting three red-dyed hard boiled eggs in between the braids but I wasn't feeling adventurous enough to bake hard-boiled eggs with my bread. Maybe next Easter!

#4: Brioche - (Poor Man's variant)

I was a little worried about making brioche without fluted brioche molds but decided to improvise using a muffin tin. I chose the Poor Man's variant mostly because it took the least butter (one cube) and would hopefully be a little easier to handle. Now that I've had a try at brioche, I hope to get some real molds and try the Rich Man's variation, four cubes of butter and all. I made close to a dozen brioche à tête as well as baking a small loaf.

The final product was delicious and I could smell the richness provided by the butter. The texture of the crust was silky and the crumb had a subtle sweetness. I can't imagine what it would have been like with four times the butter. On Peter's suggestion, we decided to turn the loaf into French toast, which proved very delightful.