Thursday, October 28, 2010

I find sourdough a fascinating topic of study.  But it hasn't always been so.  When I first tried my hand at sourdough I was a little intimidated, mostly because it went against my upbringing which had drilled into me a deep fear of anything that had been left out of the refrigerator too long.  Chalk it up to too many close encounters with fermented potato salads at family reunions.  Leaving a wet flour mixture to ferment for days in the open air screams danger to me.  And the rank smell doesn't help.

However after making a couple sourdough starters from Peter Reinhart's book, The Bread Baker's Apprentice, my fears subsided and my fascination started.  Which is when I discovered Northwest Sourdough, a site dedicated to the exploring of making authentic, professional quality sourdough at home.  Teresa has a lot of great stuff on her site.  One pleasant surprise that I found today is she has published her book Discovering Sourdough: Professional sourdough breads baked at home using only the wild yeast in PDF format.  After reading the first few pages, I can already see this will be a great book to take my sourdough experience to the next level.  Check it out if you're interested in learning more about sourdough.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Finish Line

Yah!  I'm all done with the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge.

Last January as I contemplated what I wanted to accomplish this year (I usually don't do New Year's resolutions--after all, if I don't make them, how can I fail?), I wrote down four things:
  1. replace the in-wall heaters in our house (done--next year I'll make it a goal to remove the thermostats),
  2. blog a couple times a month on my preparedness blog (I'm way behind and National Preparedness Month is long past),
  3. get all the paperwork together to become a dual citizen (everything takes forever; definitely not a 1-year thing),
  4. and lastly to bake 10 unique breads from the three Peter Reinhart books I have.
I made the last goal because I felt I was in a rut and my baking skills were stagnating.  At the time 10 recipes seemed like a lot but as I started to look at it I decided to run with it and bake all 43.  The BBA Challenge definitely broke me out of the rut and expanded my baking horizons. 

Having completed the challenge, I'm not sure I'll ever do a challenge like this again.  While doing the challenge expanded my experience, it also forced me to try recipes that I had no interest in baking in the first place and often the final loaf reaffirmed my original reluctance.  But not always.  And lastly, I must admit that at times it became an onerous chore.

Oh, and it also got a little tiring that every time I mentioned it to someone that they asked me if I'd heard of Julie & Julia.

So, what's next?  I think for now I'll start picking and choosing from the wide variety of books and material out there, taking a much more whimsical approach.  If I find myself getting into a rut again, I can always use the punishment of doing another challenge with one of the other two Reinhart books I have.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

#43: Roasted Onion and Asiago Miche

This bread was my final bread to make in the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge!  And it was a pretty good note to finish on.  The asiago cheese was a delightful taste and the roasted onions--even though a little over roasted--added a subtle tone.  The two loaves were quite large and the crumb was nice and soft.  This bread is a sourdough bread which increased the bread's coolness factor.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

#41: Whole-Wheat Bread

Not including the two "extra" recipes embedded in the final grace note, the Whole-Wheat bread recipe is the last recipe in the Bread Baker's Apprentice.  I'm glad I have one more bread to blog about because if this had been the last recipe from Peter's book then it would have been a sad ending.  A whimper instead of a bang.

You know that I love lofty crusts and you can tell from the picture that I did not get the loft I crave from this recipe.  I even used the smaller loaf pans that I have and still the loaves are only a couple inches high.  I thought it was the low amount of yeast in Peter's recipe but when I sliced into the bread I found lots of big air pockets and the crumb was fairly airy and light, as far as wheat bread goes.  So my conclusion is that I should have just baked it in just one larger loaf pan.  I probably also could have gone with a commercially milled flour but again, given the nice crumb I saw, I doubt I would have seen the 50% higher rise to meet my standard.

The recipe involves an overnight soaker as well as a day-before-poolish.  Kneading the dough can be a little rough by hand because the wheat bran chaffs a little.  However the chaffing eases up as the flour becomes fully hydrated.  I like the whole wheat recipes from Peter's Whole Grain Breads book more than this recipe so I think I'll go back to making one of the recipes from there instead.

Only one more bread to go!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

#31: New York Deli Rye

I don't hate all breads made with rye.  After making the 100% Sourdough Rye, I honestly didn't think I'd ever say that, but my experience with the New York Deli Rye and earlier with the Swedish Rye have taught me that some rye breads can be downright tasty.

Well, to be completely candid, the New York Deli Rye is pretty far from 100% rye.  It's only 35% rye flour making it a little easier to work with and a whole lot easier to eat.  The sauteed onions that were added to the overnight soaker also greatly improved the bread and disguised some of the rye flavor.  For dinner we combined this bread with roast beef and extra sharp cheddar cheese in some panini's for dinner with marvelous results.

On a humorous note, child #2 was happily enjoying a warm slice of the bread until I told her that it had onions in it.  Even though she had been enjoying the slice, all of a sudden she didn't like it and wouldn't eat any more.

I was especially pleased with both the crumb and crust.  I intentionally went a little heavy on the water to ensure I'd get larger pockets of air.  The dough was a little tricky to deal with since it was very tacky and sticky but the effort paid off with the large pockets that you can see above.  The crust also looked beautiful, nicely golden with delicious texture, a result of the egg-white wash applied right before going into the oven.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

#24: Panettone

Panettone is a celebration bread rooted in the culture of Italy.  My first exposure to panettone was a couple of years ago at a family gathering where my brother-in-law brought a large panettone loaf.  I remember it tasting delicious but alas, my memory is not sharp enough to allow me to compare it with the loaves I made.

In making this bread, I used up the last little bit of lemon and orange oil that I had on hand as well as several different types of dried fruit, including raisins, cranberries, cherries, apricots and apples.  The added butter gave the bread a nice rich flavor not dissimilar to brioche.  The fruit reminded me of the stollen I made a few weeks ago which shouldn't be too surprising since the two breads are distant European cousins.

When shaping, I decided to make a dozen small muffin-sized "loafs" as well as the larger loaf above.  The larger loaf maintained moisture a little bit better and we ended up using for french toast a couple days after making it, which was also very tasty.

I'm a little puzzled as to why this recipe wasn't originally placed in the sourdough section since it called for barm.  However the addition of the barm gave this bread a very subtle flavor and in no way detracted from the final effect.

I really liked this bread and I'm considering adding it my collection of Christmas traditions.