Friday, December 04, 2015
When I first saw Rose's new, improved recipe for Challah, I got a little defensive on behalf of the original Challah in The Bread Bible. "That was an excellent challah," I said to myself, and didn't need any improvement. But I decided to try the new-fangled challah, and, you know, it was better. Making the bread with old sourdough starter or a simple biga really does intensify the taste. This is a wonderful bread, and it's my new favorite challah too.
Of course, you can't just decide you want a piece of challah and wander out to the kitchen and bake a loaf. No, you'll have to do a little planning, especially if you use the biga, as I did. The biga is just a small amount of flour and water, plus a tiny bit of yeast, left to rise for about 4 hours, until doubled in size and making a few bubbles. Then into the refrigerator for three days. No, not three hours, three days. If it gets pushed to the back of the refrigerator, you may forget that you were making challah.
Assuming you don't forget about the biga, on the fourth day, it's time to mix up the dough. Rose says challah is traditionally made with oil instead of butter so it can be served with either milk or meat meals. But she gives you permission to use butter, so I did, and, of course, that gives you a more buttery flavor.
Braiding is by far the trickiest part of making challah. By far. I looked at a video of Maggie Glezer demonstrating how to braid a six-strand challah, and I couldn't quite bring myself to try it. Instead, I used this little video. It's pretty simple: line up four tapered pieces of dough and braid them. Strand 4 over strand 2, 1 over 3, and 2 over 3. Repeat until you run out of strands.
I confess that the first time I tried numbering the strands, I didn't understand that the strands are numbered by their position. That is, strand 4 doesn't remain strand 4; it becomes strand 2 when it goes over strand 2. If you try to remember which strand started out as strand 4, you'll not only get very confused, you'll also end up with an oddly-shaped loaf of bread. I figure that if I made challah weekly for about two years, I'd get good at braiding.
The dumbest thing I did was to glaze the bread before I proofed it. And the really dumb thing I did was to read the directions four or five times because I was sure that couldn't be correct. And each time I misread the directions in the same way. Oddly, that mistake didn't mess up the final result as much as I thought it would.
The color is so rich and creamy-looking, and the texture is soft but not cottony. The crust is dark brown but there's not even a hint of burned-toast flavor. Sometimes new and improved really does mean new and improved, not just smaller and more expensive.
Monday, October 12, 2015
Rose's Banana Feather Loaf. As in "light as a feather." This is a deliciously light sandwich bread that's made with a banana. People seem to differ as to how noticeable the banana flavor is. I thought there was more than a hint of banana, which got even more definite when the bread was toasted. This is not at all bad, but it does somewhat limit its versatility. As someone pointed out, "It's not the ideal bread for a tuna melt," although I've never tried it that way, so I can't say for certain.
It's made as so many breads in The Bread Bible are made--with a sponge starter: a fun and foolproof method of getting extra depth of flavor without using a sourdough starter or biga. Flour, yeast, and water (or other liquid) are mixed to a paste, and are covered with a blanket of more flour and yeast and salt. After the bottom layer starts to bubble up and surround the flour layer, you can either go ahead and make the bread or let it do a slow rise in the refrigerator, up to overnight. This allows you to be in charge of the timing of your bread.
After you add in mashed banana and butter, you end up with a malleable, not-too-sticky dough.
Which rises nicely. Those dark flecks are just part of the mashed bananas.
Then it's shaped into a loaf, and it rises again.
After being baked and brushes with melted butter, it's a pretty, shiny, appetizing little loaf. It makes a smallish loaf and likes to have lots of color. I like a golden brown loaf, with emphasis on the brown, but if you like your bread at the paler end of the spectrum, you may want to lower the heat after just a few minutes at the initial high heat.
This tendency to over-brownness especially applies when you're making toast. (Toast with peanut butter may be the ideal way to eat this bread). You do have to watch the toaster or you'll end up with burned edges. And I mean burned, not just dark brown. Not too serious, as long as it's just around the edges. Fruit, carbs, and protein, all in one slice of toast! Efficiency at its finest.
Monday, September 14, 2015
For a time, I was making this bread regularly, and I'm sure I've blogged about it several times. I have no new insights. But if you wanted to choose a bread to be your own signature loaf, you could do worse than choosing this one.
It's easy, especially if you have a stand mixer. It has only a few ingredients, and if you always have instant yeast on hand (in the freezer, where it keeps for years, and despite warnings I've heard, does not appear to lose any of its rising power while being stored in the cold), and it's good. Which is the important part. The small amount of whole wheat flour used doesn't bring it into the whole-grain category, but it does add a touch of nuttiness without any of its attendant bitter taste.
Everyone seems to be using the business-letter-fold these days, but I first learned it from Rose, so I'll give her credit, even though perhaps some French baker in the 15th century first thought of it. (But probably didn't call it a business-letter-fold because nobody would have known what he was talking about).
You can bake this in a loaf pan for sandwich bread, or you could form it into a torpedo shape, but I like the round loaf.
And you can get as fancy as you want with the slashes, but I just did the good old tic-tac-toe board.
The Bread Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum
Wednesday, June 03, 2015
I love this bread as much as I did the first and second times I made it, so I think I can safely say that it's a loaf that you'll want to keep in your repertoire. This time, I noticed that it tasted a little bit like corn, but I really think that must be some kind of trompe l'oeil effect. With the yellow color and slightly grainy texture, it looks slightly cornbread-ish, but there are no corn or corn-related ingredients in it. The yellow is from butter and egg. The soft but somewhat granular texture is perhaps attributable to the ricotta, although I can't support that theory with any actual information.
I may have destroyed my food processor with this bread. If so, it will at least have died for a good cause. The butter wasn't soft enough, which I didn't realize until the processor started groaning. There were still big unincorporated pieces of the butter when the groan turned to a wheeze, and I decided it was time to take it out.
I kneaded it by hands for a few minutes until all the butter was mixed in and a little more flour was incorporated. It turned into a soft and only slightly sticky dough.
The rest was easy enough--so easy that Jim missed shots of the shaped dough going into the loaf pan, as well as shots of me slashing the bread. I actually think he may not like being in the same room with me when I'm armed with the bread slasher.
It was done after 35 minutes. I didn't bother to take its temperature because the "thwonk" it makes when it's done is pretty reliable. At least I've never burned a loaf of bread (although I suppose there's always a first time).
The last time I made this bread I must have been on a healthy foods kick because I forewent the optional melted butter wash (why would I do that?), and I ate my first slice with lemon curd, trying to pass it off as a fruit. This time I slathered it with butter, both melted and room temperature. My new motto is, "When you're 70, you can do whatever you want to." This motto is no good until you're actually 70.
Tuesday, May 05, 2015
I wish I remembered baking these biscuits in my first Bread Bible go-round, but when I read the directions, it brought back exactly nothing. Moreover, the directions didn't make sense to me: was all the one cup of flour (not self-rising) supposed to go on the biscuits? Was I supposed to dust off the extra flour or add even more? My first blog post was of no help whatsoever--there was only one picture (which turned out to look better than my second effort) and no description of the taste or texture, which is what I was interested in.
In the first post, I said I had some self-rising flour, but I couldn't find any White Lily because apparently we are too far north (still true). I knew I had some self-rising flour in my flour cabinet, so I wasn't worried about that. Just before I started measuring the flour, I had an uneasy feeling that I'd better check the use-by date because, now that I thought about it, I actually couldn't remember buying any self-rising flour in the recent past. Uh-oh. Use by May 7, 2006! This must be the same bag of flour I bought for the biscuits the first time I made them. I hate to think how this ten-year-old flour would have performed. I threw it out, and used a combination of bleached flour, cake flour, baking powder, and salt.
I think that's enough pictures of flour bags for the day.
This is one of just a few of Rose's recipes that uses vegetable shortening instead of butter. I'm glad it's not a trend.
All the ingredients after they rest for a few minutes. As promised, it's a very soft dough, although, thankfully, it seems to have more structure than mashed potatoes.
At this point, I do remember making the biscuits ten years ago. I remember because when I read the instructions and saw shaping your fingers like a C, I had no idea what she was talking about, but it became clear when I actually did it. This is the same reaction I had ten years ago. This time I didn't make the biscuits large enough because I had more than 9. They looked better when I was a rank amateur.
They're darker and not as high as my 2006 pan of biscuits was. I like the color, but I wish they were higher. Now that I taste them, I can sort of see why I didn't try to describe them. I'm not sure I can describe them now. They were very soft, fluffy, and tender--almost too tender and soft, especially when warm. They were hard to break apart (even using the fork tine method) when they were warm, and they lost some of their flavor when they cooled. Jim loves these biscuits--he really gobbled them up. Some with butter, some with jam, some with butter and jam, some plain. He liked them all ways. I think I prefer a more substantial, flakier biscuit that's rolled out and cut with a biscuit cutter. But I'm pretty sure there are a few more biscuit recipes in The Bread Bible, as well as a few fabulous scones, so by the time we're done, we'll all have our favorite. Unless, of course, we forget about them before we get to the end of the book.
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
When I made pita bread in my first go-round of The Bread Bible, I wasn't even using photos. I envisioned writing a paragraph or two about each bread, and it wasn't until the fourth or fifth week that I started using photography. That is, I started Jim's career as a food photographer. This time he took 59 photos, not counting the ones he discarded, for me to choose from.
This is about as basic as bread dough gets: flour, water, salt, and yeast (with a bit of olive oil thrown in).
After 10 minutes in the KitchenAid, it's soft and shiny and lovely to stretch. I added just a few grams of extra water to make it a bit stickier.
After being in the refrigerator for 24 hours, it's grown, even though it was brutally punched down for the first few hours of its stay. Apparently pita bread dough has a masochistic streak.
This looks like I'm trying to make pita croissants, but I'm just cutting off bits of dough to make every piece about 100 grams. (I made the six-inch size).
My favorite rolling pin has tapered edges, so Woody doesn't think I should use it for pie crust. Neither does Jim. They both claim that it will lead to uneven dough, but it's French, and they should know what they're doing, right?
One of my more evenly rounded attempts, and my oven test case.
This is how it looked after 3 minutes. It looks a little doughy in the middle, but it was actually done. I baked the rest of them for 4 or 5 minutes, though, and they puffed a little more.
Some of them puffed like crazy!
At 5 minutes, they definitely get some color, but I preferred them that way.
I used them as a base for a dinner sandwich: cheddar cheese, thinly sliced apples, toasted walnuts, thyme, bacon, and Parmesan. Delicious, especially the last bites of crispy crust. When I ate that crust, I could really tell that this was a variation of Rose's pizza crust recipe, which we'll get to eventually. At one bread a month, it's going to take us a long time to get through this cookbook, but I guess we're not in any hurry.
Tuesday, March 03, 2015
It's hard to understand how I could have such fond memories of the biggest baking disaster of my life--this very same beautiful rosemary focaccia, the first bread I made from The Bread Bible, and one that almost led to the death of my nascent bread-baking hobby.
Those who have known me for a while know this story already, so feel free to skip through it. I got The Bread Bible for Christmas in 2005 and decided I would bake all the recipes in a year. I got a new KitchenAid mixer and started in. You know the part of the recipe where it says it will take 20 minutes of steady beating to turn into dough? Well, I mixed and mixed, and it never did. After 40 minutes, I gave up, and stuck the runny mess into the oven, after which it became a mass of gummy cardboard. I sent off an indignant email to Rose, never expecting to hear from her, but in less than a half hour, she sent me a kind email telling me that lots of people had trouble with this bread, but it really was fantastic if it worked. Only after my second failed attempt, when a clever blog reader noticed a picture showing me using the dough hook instead of the paddle attachment did I realize that the fault was not in Rose's recipe, or even in the stars, but in me and my apparent inability to read.
The bread works when you use the paddle attachment.
In fact, it's really fun to make because it goes from this....
To this.... Look at that gluten developing! You know it's going to work now.
This dough is so aesthetically pleasing, and so wonderfully tactile. At some points you almost think it doesn't even matter how it turns out, because it's so fun to work with.
The dough rose with gusto the first time (it was in my proofer at 78 degrees). The pan didn't fit in the proofer, so it rose - very slowly - in my cold kitchen for the second rise. After a while, I decided it had been out long enough and I would rely on oven spring for the rest.
I dimpled it, tore off fresh rosemary leaves, and sprinkled Maldon sea salt all over. Back in the day, I didn't have Maldon sea salt. Don't you sometimes marvel at all the food that you use routinely now and had never heard of 20 or 30 years ago? Maldon sea salt is one; actually, focaccia is another. Probably some of you young people never had to undergo a life without focaccia, but I did. And I also walked 5 miles to school.
It took a little, but not much, longer than 13 minutes to reach a stage of golden brownness. I wish I'd thought to poach the garlic and do that variation because it's delicious. I also wish I'd used a bit more rosemary because it dried and shrunk in the oven.
Otherwise, I have no complaints. As I look through the cookbook, I can't believe that I made every bread in the book in just one year. But I'm glad we're going at a slower rate this time.