Thursday, February 5, 2009
Today was ChiliFest at the State Public Defender's Office. My friend Cathy is the unofficial Social Director of our office, and every now and then, she just has to have some kind of party. Today was a chili pot luck, with Ngoc bringing Havana chili, Andrea whipping up a turkey chili, Jodie with a healthy eggplant-based chili, and Cathy herself bringing a giant crockput of your regular hamburger and kidney bean variety. Ben was supposed to be responsible for the white chicken chili, but his kids were being difficult last night, and he opted to get some sleep instead of stirring chili. Probably not an unreasonable choice. Sara made corn muffins, and I brought cheese bread. There were plenty of desserts: a chocolate-coconut bundt cake, and bars galore (in Minnesota, there is a separate category of dessert called "bars," which is pronounced sort of like "barse.") All potlucks in Minnesota have barse for dessert, and ours was no exception: Toll House, lemon cheesecake, ginger, and brownies. The non-cooks had the option of bringing drinks or condiments.
I turned to the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day book again, and I was impressed with the results. I made the dough Tuesday night and it sat in the refrigerator until this morning. At 7:00 a.m., I dumped it out on the counter.
The master recipe is supposed to make four loaves, so I cut it in half, figuring I'd make one loaf for ChiliFest and another one this weekend. When I divided the dough in half, though, I realized that it made very small loaves, so I changed my plan: I'd bake both loaves this morning and bring the leftovers home for us.
I've had mixed success with the method where you slide the bread from the pizza peel directly on the hot baking stone, but this time it worked, and I didn't burn my hand in the process either.
However, once the breads were in the oven, I realized that I'd completely forgotten to slash the breads with my cute little French knife, so when I turned on the oven loaf to see how they were doing, I saw that they had developed slashes au naturel.
I blame this on my having only one cup of coffee, which was half decaf; this clearly did not provide enough caffeine to get me through an entire recipe without a mistake. And I had even spent a considerable amount of time deciding what slashing pattern I would use. Aha, I thought to myself, in a glass-half-full kind of way, this provides me with a challenge--can I go through the entire day without announcing to everyone that I had screwed up the bread? Almost. I told only one person, and she seemed completely uninterested in my mistake. For the rest of the day, if someone said something about the bread, I just smiled and said not a single word about how it was supposed to have been slashed decoratively.
Oh, and that plan to bring home the leftover bread? It didn't happen. As some of you may know, the fact that something is eaten when it's brought into the communal kitchen in an office doesn't necessarily mean that the food is good; it just means that it was there. But in this case, the bread actually was good. The extra-sharp aged cheddar gave the bread a distinctive, delicious flavor, but it wasn't gooey and greasy as some cheese breads are. It was a perfect complement to four different kinds of chili, but would be good with almost any soup and would probably be an excellent sandwich bread too.
I'm going to include a shortened version of the four-loaf recipe, but I'll put in a plug for buying the book, especially if you, like me, just like to read cookbooks. First, all the recipes are based on a particular method, and it's useful to read about the method before tackling a bread. Second, you may have better luck with some recipes than others. The first bread I tried from this book was too salty, because I hadn't followed my own advice and read through the entire method before trying a recipe--all the recipes advise the use of kosher salt, and I used table salt; two teaspoons of table salt is a lot more salt than two teaspoons of kosher salt. The second recipe, a rye bread, was fine but not spectacular. A buttermilk bread that I tried next was excellent, as have been the brioche and cheddar breads. That's a good enough percentage to justify purchase of the book, I think, especially if you relish the idea of having bread dough on the ready in the refrigerator.
Vermont Cheddar Bread
3 c. lukewarm water
1 1/2 T. instant yeast
1 1/2 T. kosher salt
1 1/2 T. sugar
6 1/2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1 c. good quality sharp, aged Cheddar
1. Mix all ingredients, either by hand, or using the dough hook of a heavy-duty mixer. You don't have to knead; just make sure all flour is incorporated. This is a wet dough.
2. Cover, not airtight, and let rest at room temperature about two hours. Dough should rise and start to collapse. Refrigerate in a covered (but not airtight) container, and use within 7 days. (I made the bread on the third day and it had a very slight tanginess).
3. On baking day, cut off a one-pound, grapefruit-sized piece of dough. Dust with flour and shape into a ball. Allow to rest and rise on a cornmeal-covered pizza peel for one hour.
4. Preheat oven to 450, putting a broiler pan or cookie tray (with sides) on the bottom of the oven or the lowest shelf, and a baking stone on the lowest or next-t-the-lowest shelf--depending on where the pan is.
5. Just before baking, slash the bread with a razor or sharp knife. Or not.
6. Slide loaf directly on the hot stone. Pour one cup hot water into the broiler tray and close the oven door. Bake for about 25 minutes.