Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Bread #3 - Bagels

Not bad looking! And mighty tasty!

Whew! I can finally post about my bagels! It's the end of the school year, so it is totally crazy, bordering on the insane!

I began the bagel adventure with the sponge on Sunday afternoon and had great success with that. Unfortunately, though I only skimmed the recipe and did not see the part about "retarding" the bread in the fridge overnight until late Sunday night. But I really wanted to try a bagel! Ah, ha! I thought ! I'll bake two of them off tonight, retarding the rest for tomorrow. Thankfully it was Memorial Day, so I would have the time.

I boiled and baked the two, finally getting to eat one around midnight. While a bit frumpy in appearance, the taste was unbelievable! Much better than any bagels I've had in a really long time. This was the taste I remembered from my first bagels as a child.

Next morning, I couldn't wait to bake the rest, but I made myself work out first. (It is clear that I need to workout six days a week, if I am to make it through this challenge without turning into the "two tons of fun!")

I thought it would be fun to create a little photo essay of my journey, having been inspired by my fellow "breadonistas."

The first picture is how they looked post "retardation," just coming out of the fridge:

The next one is during the boiling stage:

They reminded me of gigantic dumplings at this stage.

Here they are post boil:

And in the Oven

Fresh and Hot out of the Oven

The finished product, ready to enjoy with a cup of tea:

And then there's the art:

Still Life #1

The roses are from my garden (another passion).

Still Life #2

This was, for me, a truly adventurous bread to make. I had attempted to make bagels once before, more than 25 years ago, and they were such a disaster that I decided I'd rather buy them than go through all that angst again. I therefore made this lastest attempt with a bit of trepidation and was more than a little nervous when they were not looking like some of my fellow BBA challengers' finished products. Thankfully, they looked a lot better when they came out of the oven, and they tasted like the real thing. Since I had baked those two the night before, I could compare them with the ones that had been in the fridge overnight to see if there really was a benefit to the slow rise and retardation. There is. In fact, it is a remarkable difference. They looked way better and had far more flavor too. I'd say the adventure was a resounding success! Given that they were not hard to make at all, I can't imagine settling for those imposter bagels ever again.

I'm beginning to understand Peter Reinhart's "slow rise as metaphor" philosophy. I may have to read that book too. Who knows where that road may lead?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Bread #2 Artos, Christopsomos Version

Greetings! Last night, I baked the Christopsomos, and it was shockingly wonderful! I normally would never choose this bread to make because of the spices, the add-ins, and especially the almond extract. For the most part, I stick to whole grain, crusty boules and baguettes. I'm so glad that I was brave and tried this. It is unbelievably fantastic! And yes, I even used the almond extract.

I started with the poolish at about 1:00 in the afternoon. By the time I got around to the actual bread, it was around 7:00, and the poolish was bubbling away. It had a great texture, too. I had a friend over, so he read the directions aloud to me from the couch. It was perfect; I didn't have to keep checking the recipe. And a special shout out to that friend, Russell, who came up with the name for this blog. Thanks, Russell.

Anyway, I used a combination (approximately half and half) King Arthur bread flour and white whole wheat flour. That proved to be a great combination. It made a silky dough, which allowed me to knead the raisins, dried cranberries and cherries, and the walnuts in after the dough had its initial kneading. I've never had success with this method before, so that is a testament to the dough.

I did not slash the top, but I did mist it three times at five minute intervals, and it rose straight up without spreading out flat, like so many of my breads do. I was incredulous! I kept strolling past the oven door peeking through the glass to see if it had fallen; it didn't. It was a beautiful sight to behold.

After filling my entire house with fragrant, spicy aromas, the bread finally came out of the oven around midnight. I photographed it, let it rest long enough for me to fold a load of clothes, and then I just couldn't stand it another minute. I sliced off the end, spread it with a little butter and enjoyed it with a cup of tea. It was amazing! Perfect texture, amazing flavors (the orange peel, which I zested, using a Microplane, rather than mincing really added a depth) and crunch from the walnuts all contributed to make quite possibly the perfect loaf in that genre of breads.

Bread #1 - Anadama

This is a very exciting day for me; my first post on my first blog, and I am digging it!

This is the first bread in the BBA challenge. (Bread Baker's Apprentice, based on Peter Reinhart's great book. We are baking our way through the book, one recipe at a time, in order, at the rate of approximately one per week.) I made this one, Anadama bread, twice because the first one wasn't what I thought it should be. I used part whole wheat flour that I had ground from wheat berries, and probably did not use enough, because the texture of the finished loaf didn't hold together too well. I had also used Brer Rabbit molasses, which had a pronounced flavor; great for Boston brown bread; not so much for Anadama.

On a whim, I made a second batch, this time using Grandma's molasses, which is lighter, and King Arthur bread flour. What a difference! This time, the crumb was perfect; soft, but held together well.

I had read on our BBA challenge that this bread made the perfect peanut buter and jelly sandwich. Tuesday night, after a particularly exhilirating night of ballroom dancing, I was ravenous, so I tested out the PB & J theory. They were 100% right! It did make the best PB & J I had ever had.

I have been baking bread for 36 years, and I have never made the Anadama. The cornmeal and the molasses turned me off. Not so in this recipe. Peter Reinhart, in all his brilliance, figured out a way to make the cornmeal give a pleasant texture without being gritty or breaking a tooth. The balance of the sweetness from the molasses was just right too.

Bottom line: this one is a winner to be made on an ongoing basis.

I love the idea of baking the breads in order so much that I decided to to the same thing with soup. I love Rachael Ray's soups, and I love soup; making it; eating it. So, about a year ago, I made a chart on my computer of all of her soups from all of her books in order of copyright. The problem was that I kept making the same few over and over again. So now, I am making each soup, in order, to accompany the breads. I started with a mini-meatball (I used ground chicken and ground chicken sausage) soup, which was delicious.

I love this idea so much, that I have now expanded. I have added Rachael's Big Orange Book, to the challenge. Rather than cook each recipe in order, though, I have taken a recipe from each chapter, and will cook those in order. For example, the first recipe in Chapter 1 is for LA Ballpark hot dogs. The first recipe in Chapter 2 is Baba-Ganoush-Hummus Pasta, and so on. I'll follow this order to create a variety. What fun!

So far, I have made the first three soups on the list, and the "Ball Park Hot Dogs," although I used turkey kielbasa instead of hot dogs. Unbelievably good! And definitely something I would never have made just thumbing through the book.

This will definitely get me out of any cooking ruts!