Sunday, July 26, 2009

Buttermilk White Bread

Sunday, July 26, 2009
As thrifty bakers know, buttermilk always has to be used up. Buttermilk was an ingredient in the Red Velvet Cake I made over at Heavenly Cake Place, so that meant I had to find at least one more buttermilk recipe. This recipe, one of three variations on Peter Reinhart's basic white bread, uses a cup and a half of buttermilk, so it serves the purpose very well.

Plus it's just an excellent, easy to put together, soft-crumbed white bread. And if you added red food coloring, I guess it would be a soft-crumbed red bread.
(Out of curiosity, I Googled "red bread," just in case there was such a thing. I didn't find it, but I did find that one of the accusations made at the Salem witch trials was that the so-called witches "ate red bread like man's flesh." There's also an out-of-print book called Red Bread that's an account of a Russian-born journalist's return to his native village after it had been collectivized in soviet Russia. Also, here is a very intriguing loaf of bread, made with dough colored with beets, spinach, and tomatoes.)
But I digress.
This is another easy, mix-it-all-together bread. To show you what a few hours of fermentation does to a dough, here it is after it's just been mixed together:

And here it is two hours later:

(The dough is divided in half because it makes two loaves of bread, 18 dinner rolls, or a dozen hot dog or hamburger buns).
I decided to bake two loaves, but I wanted them to look different, so I put one in a loaf pan and one I made into a free-form boule. For a shiny crust, I brushed on an egg wash, but you could also leave it bare or brush on melted butter. It's a highly versatile bread.

It's amazing how much sheen a little egg wash can give to a bread. For the boule, I decided on a starfish pattern:

I wanted the bread to look shiny all over, so I slashed the bread and then covered it with egg wash. If you want the slashes to be more prominent, you could slash first and wash second. (I wonder if "Slash First, Wash Second" could be the title of a crime novel?)
I didn't want to eat two fresh loaves of bread, so I decided I would just give one loaf of bread away to the person who walked in the door first. Fortunately, it was not a burglar because that would have been a peculiar transaction. Instead, it was my daughter Sarah, who was delighted to take take a loaf home. She chose the standard-edition loaf and not the freeform starfish pattern, but she said it was not an easy choice.
Every now and then, I bake a kind of bread that makes me think I should enter it in the state fair. This is one of those kinds of bread: down-home, wholesome, easy, and pretty. I had it plain, in a sandwich, and as toast, and it excelled at them all. The bread also smells especially tantalizing while baking.
If I had a bottomless container of buttermilk, I might make this regularly. Since I don't, though, I'll probably go on to something else next week. In the meantime, here's the recipe, from The Bread Baker's Apprentice, by Peter Reinhart.


4 1/4 cups (19 ounces) unbleached bread flour
1 1/2 tsp. (.38 ounce) salt
3 tablespoons (1.5 ounces) sugar
2 tsp. (.22 ounce) instant yeast
1 large egg, lightly beaten, at room temperature
1/4 cup (2 ounces) butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) buttermilk

1. Mix together the flour, salt, sugar, and yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer. Pour in the egg, butter, and buttermilk, and mix on the low speed of the mixer with the paddle attachment until all the flour is absorbed and the dough forms a ball. (This can also be done by hand).

2. Change to the dough hook, and, adding more flour if necessary, mix on medium speed for six to eight minutes, or until the dough clears the sides of the bowl. Lightly oil a large bowl, roll the dough in oil so that it's all lightly covered, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

3. Let rise about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until doubled in size.

4. Remove the dough from the bowl, and, on a lightly floured counter, divide into two pieces if you're making bread (18 if you're making rolls, 12 if you're making buns). Cover with a towel and let rest about 20 minutes.

5. Shape into whatever shape you want to use, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise another 60 to 90 minutes, or until doubled. Before the dough is doubled in size, preheat the oven ro 350 (for bread) or 400 (for rolls or buns). Brush with egg wash (one egg, beaten with a bit of water), if desired. You can also top with sesame or poppy seeds if that strikes your fancy. Bake loaves for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown. (A freeform loaf works best if it's baked on a bread stone).

6. Remove the loaves from the oven and transfer to a wire rack. Let cool before eating.

Monday, July 20, 2009

King Arthur's Semolina Bread

Sunday, July 20, 2009

I was trying to decide what kind of bread to make this weekend, when I ran across this recipe on the King Arthur website. I'm a big fan of breads made with semolina flour (or durum, the more often recommended, and finer-textured, alternative). Most semolina bread recipes call for about half semolina flour and half something else--all purpose or bread, most often. But this one was 100% semolina flour. If some is good, more must be better, right? Oddly, though, the distinctive taste of semolina flour that I like so much seemed to be less noticeable than it is when it's mixed with another flour. I liked this bread, and it makes wonderful toast, but it's not as distinctive as I hoped it would be.

It makes a lovely, cream-colored dough that's both easy to mix and easy to handle. (I read--too late for this bread--that it's a good idea to add any of the milk solids that are strained out making clarified butter, as I did on, to bread dough. I'll just take that on faith, for now).
It rose very nicely too, both in the bowl and in the pan:

As it should, since it has a full tablespoon of yeast.
It made a handsome loaf, too, with a nice texture.

And it tasted good, too. Jim was a big fan, and my friend Karen, who came over to taste the plum ingots, took a piece home with her. Despite all these virtues, I'll admit I'm feeling just lukewarm about this bread. Maybe it needs the addition of a different kind of flour to enhance the taste, or maybe, because it's a direct mix bread, it lacks the added flavor that a pre-ferment or a little sourdough adds.
I can recommend this bread as one that won't give you any trouble, but I can't say that your life would be less meaningful if you never tasted this bread. I'll admit that's a high standard, but it's the best I can do at summarizing my mixed feelings about it.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Ciabatta with Biga

Saturday, July 12, 2009

This ciabatta turned out to have one of the most successful crusts I've ever made. It actually shattered when I cut into it. And it was delicious too. It's from Jeffrey Hamelman's Bread, from which, after making 4 or 5 different breads, I still can't decide whether I like or not. It's filled with information, but it's written in a way that's hard for me to decipher.
Jim looked at the cookbook and asked me if I was making ciabatta with poolish. "No," I said, "I'm making the one with the biga." "What's the difference between biga and poolish?" he asked. "Ummm," I said, "well, you know." "No, I don't," he said. I didn't want to admit I really didn't know the difference myself. I searched my memory. "Well, you ferment them ahead of time and add them to the dough. And poolish means Polish. I think." I finally looked it up, and there's not a huge difference, except that a biga is a more generic term for a pre-ferment and can be soft or stiff in texture, and can be refrigerated up to three days, whereas a poolish is never refrigerated. Got that?

This is the biga after it's been fermenting for about 14 hours.

It's stiff, and very, very sticky. You add it to the dough while it's mixing, and the biga definitely resists leaving your fingers.

It's an extremely wet and sticky dough. As with all of Hamelman's recipes, he gives two different quantities: one for professionals (that one uses 20 pounds of flour and makes 31 loaves) and one for home use (two pounds of flour, makes three small loaves). I decided to make only one large loaf, and so I divided the "home recipe" in half, using a total of one pound of bread flour.
Here's where I had trouble with the recipe. It tells you to fold the dough twice during the three-hour period of its first rising. It says, "Spread a considerable amount of flour on the work surface for the folds, and fold quickly and assertively. Be sure no extra flour is incorporated into the dough as it is folded." I must have read this 20 times. First, I couldn't picture in my mind what constituted "assertive" folding. I finally did a self-affirmation: "I am quick! I am assertive!" and hoped the bread would understand. Second, I couldn't figure out how I was going to do the folding without getting some of the flour on the counter mixed in with the bread dough.

As it turned out, it worked pretty well, and I managed to brush off most of the flour that wanted to incorporate itself, but I'm still not satisfied with those instructions. I think my hands look quite assertive.

You can see how much more the gluten has developed by the second folding, an hour later.

The bread takes very little shaping. If I had made the three loaves, they'd be narrower than this. But I wanted to use my bread steamer, and I can't make two, much less three, loaves at a time using the steamer.

I don't have a picture of the steamer process because it takes four hands to slide the bread on the hot stone, put the steamer lid on top, and actually steam with the hot steamer contraption. The word "hot" is in there twice, because we've rarely managed to use the steamer without getting at least a little burned. This time it went very smoothly, and we gave each other a congratulatory little fist bump. But not so fast.
The steamer lid stuck to one end of the bread, and the poor loaf got malformed.

But when I sliced the bread, I cut into that end first, so then it looked just about perfect. The crust is a rich mahogany brown--I probably would have taken it out of the oven a little earlier, but Hamelman warns that doing so would "greatly impair eating quality."

The eating quality of this bread was not impaired at all. It came out of the oven around 4:00, and we had it for a simple supper, with Italian dry salami, Morbier cheese, sweet cherries, and a crisp Chilean sauvignon blanc. If I had made the small loaves, we would probably have polished off one of them.
This morning, it was still fresh enough to be the star of a yogurt, fruit, and bread breakfast.
It's an exceptionally delicious bread, but I can't imagine what I would have done with this recipe if it had been the first bread I'd ever tried.
I'm going to give the recipe as it is in the book, but feel free to cut it in half, as I did.

Ciabatta with Stiff Biga
--From Bread, by Jeffrey Hamelman

6.4 oz. (1 1/2 cups) bread flour
3.8 oz. (1/2 cup) water
1/8 tsp. instant dry yeast

1 lb. 9.6 oz. (5 3/4 cups) bread flour
1 lb, 3.6 oz. (2 1/2 cups) water
.6 oz. (1 T.) salt
.13 oz. (1 1/4 tsp)instant dry yeast

1. BIGA. Mix the yeast, flour and water until just smooth. The biga will be stiff and dense, and may need a few more drops of water to mix entirely. Cover the bowl and plastic and leave for 12 to 16 hours at room temperature.

2. MIXING. Add all the ingredients to the mixing bowl except the biga. In a stand mixer using a dough hook, mix on low speed for 3 minutes. As the dough comes together, add the biga in chunks. The dough will be quite sticky and slack. Finish mixing on medium for 3 1/2 to4 minutes. The dough will still be sticky.

3. FERMENTATION AND FOLDING. Put the dough in a mixing bowl sprayed with baker's spray. Fold the dough twice, after one hour and again after two hours. This is where you fold quickly and assertively, adding no extra flour.

4. DIVIDING AND SHAPING. Flour the work surface copiously. Invert the dough onto the work surface and pat out the larger air bubbles. Lightly flour the top surface of the dough. Cut the dough into 3 rectangles, weighing about 18 ounces each. Gently shape into rectangles. Place the dough piece onto floured bread boards (I used floured parchment paper). Cover the shaped dough with baker's linen and then plastic.

5. FINAL FERMENTATION. About 1 1/2 hours.

6. BAKING: Preheat oven to 460 degrees.
To transfer the proofed dough to a baker's peel, spread the fingers of both your hands. With a quick, deft stroke, invert the dough piece so that the side that was touching the bread board is now on top. Place one hyand at each end of the dough piece, bring your fingers underneath, and pick it up. Here you will slightly punch the dough for easier transport; there should be wrinkles in the center of the loaf as the transfer it to the peel. [I just picked up the parchment paper and put it on top of a pre-heated baking stone--I'm using his instructions here just to show why I think they're hard to understand.) Fill the oven with steam, load the ciabattas, steam again, and bake for 34-38 minutes. (I used the steam machine; otherwise you can use either an ice cube or boiling water method to get steam. Hamelmans thinks you should use all three: ice cubes on a heated skillet before the bread goes in, boiling water on a heated pan when the bread goes in, and spritzing with water too). Lower the oven temperature by 10 or 20 degrees if bread is taking on too much color, but be sure not to underbake.
Remove the bread from the oven and let cool on a baking rack.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Dakota Bread

Sunday, July 5, 2009

How I love baking bread. It's so satisfying to feel the rightness of the dough with your hands, and to get into the rhythm of mixing/resting/shaping. The cakes have been a real adventure, and have pushed me beyond my comfort level. It's good to be pushed, but it's also good to return to what feels comfortable and right.
My blog (and now in-person) friend Jini has been telling me about this bread for months, and finally she sent me the recipe. When she did, I realized it came from a cookbook I already own: Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland, by Beth Dooley and Lucia Watson, the owner and chef of fabulous local restaurant, Lucia's.

When I bought this cookbook, well over ten years ago, I didn't pay attention to its chapter on breads, because I didn't bake bread at the time. It's a very down-home cookbook, heavily influenced by the immigrant German, Scandinavian, and eastern Europeans who populated Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Dakotas. The bread chapter contains, for example, recipes for Saint Lucia buns, kolachke, Norwegian toast, and Finnish cardamom coffee bread. This first recipe, Dakota bread, has made me want to return and try more.
The Dakota bread is from a St. Paul institution, Cafe Latte, a cafeteria/bakery/coffee shop/wine bar, that's especially well-known for its breads and cakes. This bread is a customer favorite, and for good reason: it's soft and light, but every bite has a different combination of crunch and taste because it's got four different seeds: sunflower, poppy, pumpkin, and sesame, as well as cracked wheat.

Even with all the nuts, the dough is very easy to work with. I usually prefer breads with small amounts of yeast and long fermenting times, but this one has two tablespoons of yeast and requires an initial rise of only one hour, then a rest.

After the dough is shaped into two loaves, it takes just a half-hour or so to rise again. It's nice to have a bread in your repertoire that comes together this quickly and easily and can be ready in time for lunch.
I made one loaf in a banetton

and one free-form boule.

They looked stunning coming out of the oven because of the shininess of the egg wash and the seeds scattered on top. I followed the recipe exactly, and I liked this combination of seeds, but you could vary them depending on what you have and what you like. Flaxseed would also be good.

It has a nice, even crumb. We ate it plain, with a little butter, this afternoon, but it looks like it will also be good for toast and an excellent sandwich bread. Jini also uses this recipe to make rolls, and I think they'd make perfect hamburger buns as well.

--from Savoring the Seasons of the Northern
, by Beth Dooley & Lucia Watson.

2 cups warm water
2 scant tablespoons yeast (instant or active dry)
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup cracked wheat
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup whole wheat flour
5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (or more for kneading)
1/2 cup roasted unsalted sunflower seeds
1/3 cup hulled raw pumpkin seeds
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1 tablespoon raw sesame seeds

1 beaten egg

In a large bowl, combine the water, yeast, honey, oil, and cracked
wheat and allow to proof about 5 to 10 minutes, or until the yeast is
light and bubbly. Add the salt, whole wheat and white flours, and
stir to combine.

Knead by hand, or, using a dough hook, knead in a stand mixer for five to ten minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Mix the seeds together and sprinkle them over the dough, reserving a
few tablespoons to sprinkle over the loaves before baking. Then knead
the seeds into the dough. (If you use the stand mixer, finish kneading by hand for a minute).
Turn the dough into a greased bowl, cover with a towel, and allow the dough to rise
until double in bulk, about 1 hour. Press the dough into a rectangle and give it a business-letter turn. Let it rest for 5 minutes.
Place baking stone on rack in lower third of oven, and preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit
Divide the dough and shape it into two round loaves on lightly floured parchment paper. Let rise 25 to 30 minutes. Brush the loaves with a beaten egg and
sprinkle on any remaining seeds. Slash the tops of the loaves with a razor blade or sharp knife.
Carefully place the loaves, still on parchment, on the baking stone. Add steam by spritzing water in the oven, putting ice cubes on a preheated pan, or adding about a half-cup boiling water in a preheated pan.
Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes, or until the loaves are
nicely browned and sound hollow when tapped.
Remove the loaves from the oven and cool on wire racks.