Monday, February 22, 2010

#21 - Pain L'Ancienne

Pain L'Ancienne

What a fantastic bread! They just keep getting better and better. I was very skeptical about this method. I thought Peter had flipped out on us - ice water? First rise in the fridge? This will never work. Was I ever wrong! Is there a theme building here over the last few posts?

I said to myself, "Oh, well, what the heck? I'm committed to this project; let's see what happens. I dutifully mixed the dough - yes - with the ice water, thinking all the while, un, hmmm - sure Pete - I was somewhat surprised at the resulting dough, but did not think too much about it. I was more concerned trying to find room in my fridge for the bowl with the rising dough inside.

Didn't think a thing about it the rest of the night or the next day at work. When I got home from a particularly long day at 9:00 (!), I remembered I had that bread to deal with. I took it out to de-chill, and to my surprise, it had risen quite well.

Now, while I live in San Diego, let me dispel a myth right now - it does rain and it does get cold - okay maybe only for the blink of an eye, but it does, and it was that night. I thought it was way too cold for this to ever de-chill, but I set it on the counter and busied myself with a project upstairs in my home office. At about 11:00, I remembered the bread. When I went downstairs to shape it, I thought, hmmm, this may not be so bad after all. As I began to shape it, I began to see the potential for this bread. What a fantastic dough! It had a wonderful springiness to it. I decided to be a heretic, though, and formed it into a hearth loaf, rather than baguettes. I simply wasn't in the mood for baguettes; with all this winter chill, I wanted a big, round, earthy hearth loaf. As I shaped it, though, I noticed it gave me difficulty in securing the bottom of the loaf. I rounded it the best I could, placed it on a parchment-lined sheet pan onto which I had sprinkled a good amount of finely ground cornmeal. I covered it with an impeccably clean kitchen towel, preheated the oven to 500 degrees, set the timer and went back to my project upstairs.

For anyone interested, my project was printing out and binding into book form poetry and commentaries on their writing experiences that my 7th grade students had written. They did such a fantastic job on this, that I decided to gift them with their own copy of the book.

When I checked on the bread later, it was as I had anticipated. It did not rise high and round, but rather like a large pancake with a small mound on top.

My Pathetic "Pancake"

Oh, just get it in the oven, already, I thought. I had set a pan on the bottom shelf, and I went through the motions of steaming the oven for hearth baking - pouring a cup of hot water into the pan just as the bread went in; dousing the oven walls with water every 30 seconds thereafter for 90 seconds, set the timer, and went back upstairs. I know. How cheeky of me to leave the bread unattended! But when I came back about 20 minutes later, to my astonishment and delight, the bread had risen like the phoenix.

In the Oven

My "pancake" had risen to a tall and majestically round loaf, brown and gorgeous. I turned the oven down to 475 and let it go another 10 - 15 minutes. When I returned again, it looked done, but when I checked the internal temperature, it wasn't even at 100 degrees yet, and the thermometer came out with a big glob of wet dough on it. Uh, oh, I thought. I was afraid of this. Since the original recipe was for baguettes, and the dough was rather wet, I had anticipated that this might be problematic. I turned the oven way down to 300 degrees and checked every 10 minutes until the temp registered 207 degrees. I don't even know how much longer that took, but it was at least another 30 minutes.

The Finished Loaf - What a Beauty!

By now it was 2:00 a.m., and I had to go to work in just a few short hours, so I photographed the loaf, and let it sit on the rack overnight. For the first time since this challenge began, I did not slice into the loaf and taste it fresh and hot from the oven.

In the morning, however, I sliced off a piece and was stunned to see the most perfect crumb I have seen yet coming from a loaf of my bread in the 35+ years that I have been baking bread. Of course, I spread a little butter on it, and - well - it was amazing! It had a completely different taste and texture from other breads.

A Moist and Delicious Crumb - and Fantastic Toast!

Peter, my hat's off to you, and I will never doubt your methods again. You are the master. Of course, the real question is why would I doubt anyone who dreamed up the phrase, "Slow rise as metaphor?" It is magical; it is mystical; it is a metaphor. Oh, and it is mighty tasty too. The flavors must have married well and had some mystical fermentation magic going on in my fridge overnight, but we won't go there.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

#20 - Multigrain Bread Extraordinaire

Multigrain Bread Extraordinaire - And It Is!

Multigrain Bread Extraordinaire is a version of Peter Reinhart's signature bread, known as Struan. I had read about Struan in his first book, Brother Juniper's Bread Book: Slow Rose as Metaphor and was intrigued, so I made it. It was just okay. Now several years later, when I read about Struan again in another of Peter's books, Bread upon the Waters, I was eager to give it another go. Included in the collection in The Bread Baker's Apprentice, this bread is his latest incarnation of that signature bread, which PR states from countless testimonials from customers makes "the best toast in the world."

If you have read other entries in this blog, you know that toast is of utmost importance in my life, so I was eager to begin. I followed the recipe to the letter beginning first with the soaker:

Cornmeal, Oats, Wheat Bran, and Water
Adding the next ingredients:
Flour, Brown Sugar, Salt, and Yeast
Combining the soaker to the mixture:
Soaker Added to Mixture Above with the Addition of Cooked Brown Rice, Honey, & Buttermilk

Kneading in my trusty Kitchen Aid:
Preliminary Kneading in the Mixer
I finished the kneading by hand. This is where the artistry comes in:
Kneaded Dough: Notice the Texture
I left it to rise:

After the First Rise

De-gassed it:
De-gassed Dough
Left it to rise again:
After Second Rise
Shaped it into a boule:
Shaped Dough, Ready for the Oven

Baked it to a little more than 190 degrees:

In the Oven: Look at that Rise!

Cut into it after the requisite 30 minute tortuous wait:

Great Texture - Great Crumb


A Truly Extraordinary Bread Lives up to Its Name

And I am happy to report that those early customers of Peter's at Brother Juniper's Bakery in Sonoma, CA, were right. This does make extraordinary toast!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

# 19 - Marbled Rye

The Finished Loaf - A Gentle Differentiation of Hue

The marbled rye bread was one of the most interesting breads thus far. I did not get the color differentiation that Peter did in his illustrations in the book. I did not use the caramel coloring; rather I used the cocoa, which, clearly, was not dark enough. In the future, I will try the caramel coloring and continue to add the dark until it is the color I want it to be.

Now on the subject of caraway seeds: I have found that people either love them or hate them, which I find interesting. I am in the love them camp. In fact, a few years ago, I finally gathered my courage and added them to a recipe for Irish soda bread. I know! I was aghast too, the first time I saw this as an ingredient in this traditional non-yeasted loaf. In trying to be as authentic as possible, though, I gave it a go and was pleasantly surprised to find that they were a wonderful addition to this afternoon tea accompaniment. I find the caraway to lend a bit of a sweet taste. I took this bread to the other 7th grade teachers on my team for our Friday morning collaboration meeting, and this is where I learned of the great divide. While most were ecstatic to have freshly baked bread, butter, and jam to munch on in the early morning hours of our meeting, there were a couple of teachers who politely said no thanks specifically because of the caraway.

My mother loved this bread, stating that this was her absolute favorite so far and wanted to "hire" me to make it for her on an ongoing basis. I don't know that I would go that far, but it did make great toast!

The Light and the Dark - No Really - The One on the Left is Darker - Sort Of

Fully Risen Dark Half

Fully Risen Light Half

Ready for the Oven

In the Oven

Hot Out of the Oven

Close-up of the Finished Loaf

#18 - Light Wheat Bread

The Finished Loaf Still in the Pan

I am several posts behind in my blogging at this point, and consequently several breads ahead. This light wheat bread is the demarkation for me from the breads going from really good to absolutely fabulous for the next few breads.
I found this bread to be a perfect blend of whole wheat to white flours in terms of taste and texture. Prior to this challenge, I had been making whole wheat breads exclusively, so I have some experience with the challenges of whole wheat flour. While there is a distinct difference in the results between breads using exclusively white flour and whole wheat flour, I believe it is a matter of taste and acclimation. When I first started this challenge, I found myself craving a toothsome hearty slice of my favorite whole wheat country bread, which uses a biga starter and all whole wheat flour (that I grind myself using an electric grain mill, not the hand crank type - I already work out with weights - I don't need any more upper body muscle building).
I was delighted with the results of this bread. Normally, I prefer all white or all whole wheat, but this bread had the best of both: the height and lightness of white, with a hint of whole wheat earthiness. And it made excellent toast - the true test for me.

A Truly Outstanding Loaf of Bread!

Is That not a Great Crumb?

The Perfect Slice

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

#17 - Lavash Crackers

Lavash Crackers with Kosher Salt

In February of 2008, I took my first bread-making class, from, of course, Peter Reinhart. Of all the breads we made that evening, the crackers were the standout. And these lavash crackers were almost as good as those, but then it is hard to replicate a memory, isn't it?

The only challenge that I worried about was rolling out the dough so that it would be thin enough. I was right to worry. While the end result was not bad, the few that were rolled a bit thinner, were more like a cracker than pita bread. I only used Kosher salt as the topping, and even then only on part of the dough. I liked them both. Next time, I will roll the dough in two batches, which I think will make it easier to achieve a thinner and therefore more crackerlike result.

Before breaking into shards.

I love the irregular shapes. They're like shards of cracker.

Lavash Crackers - The Finished Product