zoethe: (Bread)
A couple weeks have gone by since I baked. With Ferrett out of town, it would have been rather a lot of bread for just me. Now that he was back, and we had friends coming over for dinner, bread sounded like a great deal.

Like all breads, the first few steps looked pretty much the same: flour, yeast, water, salt. As this is an enriched bread, buttermilk and an egg. Cinnamon. Knead. No reason to clog of the intarwebs with more pictures of that.

Things only got interesting when I had to add a cup and a half of raisins:



That's a lot of raisins in a fairly small batch of dough. I used Sunkist tri-color raisins, and they were very pretty in the bread. But first I had to get them in the bread. So I started kneading.

The problem with kneading things like raisins into bread dough is that they tear up the gluten strands, which will negatively impact the rise of the dough. Therefore, it's necessary to take a slow and patient approach to folding them in. Once the bulk of the raisins had been absorbed, about half a cup of escapees were still spread all over the counter. I began rolling the dough around like I was playing Katamari Damacy and giggling like a loon.

Once the dough was ready, the instructions were to let it rise about two hours or until doubled. The recipe also has no degassing, or punching down, phase. But I refrained from adding one and did as I was told.





"Doubled" is a little hard to eyeball at times. I understand why some people use a translucent plastic bucket with measurements: the dough goes only up, instead of outward, so it's easier to see.

Next was forming loaves, and adding the cinnamon/sugar swirl. The recipe made two loaves, so I divided the bread and rolled each one out, then added the swirly, candy layer:





After that I rolled them as tightly as possible and put them into loaf pans to rise. Forgot to get a picture of them prior to rising, but here is one after:



Clearly, my "divide in half" skills need work.

The loaves took about 10 minutes longer than the recipe called for to get to what I considered "golden brown."



And the real test of cinnamon bread is how little it gaps along the swirl when sliced:



Impressive looking, n'est pas? Alas, further in the loaf it was quite gappy.

So the real real test of cinnamon bread is how it tastes. And the verdict was delicious! The bread itself was tender and tasty, and deserves to be made again. Next time, however, I think I will try the Cook's Illustrated method of braiding in the swirl. We'll see how that goes.
zoethe: (Bread)
This bread had to wait until there were going to be other people in the house. Because I cannot be entrusted with such things on my own. I chose the cinnamon rolls option. And for the first time, I used my Kitchen Aid to start a dough. Yes, that's right, I broke down and used technology. This dough started out like cookie dough, with butter and sugar being creamed, and that was something definitely best done in a mixer. Once the dough was all together and in a dough ball, though, I just couldn't get a feel for how developed it was in the mixer, so it was back to the counter and hand-kneading. Once it rose, next was rolling it out into a rectangle:



I don't use my rolling pin very often, but when I do, I'm quite happy that I splurged on a marble pin, because it rolls the dough out effortlessly. The recipe called for dusting the pin with flour to keep the dough from sticking, but I decided to just rub a bit of olive oil over it, and that worked perfectly:



The cinnamon.sugar mix is then to be sprinkled onto the dough. Several of the writeups I've seen of this bread complained that the mixture didn't stay in the roll, or that there was too much of it. I was determined not to have this problem, and solved it in the tastiest way possible: butter.





By brushing the dough with melted butter, I was able to sprinkle the cinnamon on without having any issue with it being dry and falling out. In fact, if I make them again, I will increase the cinnamon/sugar mix--I like my cinnamon rolls to be very cinnamon-filled.

The next step is rolling up the dough and then slicing into individual rolls. The instructions in the book are a bit hazy as to the size of pan these should go in. It sounds like he's talking about a jelly roll plan, but I could tell that would be too large, so I went to a baking pan:



Yeah, not so much. I moved them to a smaller baking pan:



They were probably a bit close together now, because they sprang nicely in the oven and crowded close together, which meant that they took an extra 10 minutes to bake. But they came out pretty:



For the glaze, the recipe called for a fondant made with milk, powdered sugar, and lemon extract. I was unimpressed with the suggestion, so I added sour cream and got rid of the lemon extract, making for a much tastier glaze.



The results were quite tasty, though not the best cinnamon rolls I've had. I think I would leave out the lemon flavoring in the dough if I were to make them again. The next time I make cinnamon rolls I think I will try the buttermilk biscuit recipe I made for Thanksgiving and make cinnamon rolls out it it.
zoethe: (Bread)
The bread baking continues, this time an Italian bread that I've experienced in restaurants but never at home.

Ciabatta starts with a preferment, like so many other breads in this book. As always, that means that starting the day before is the better choice. Of course, I didn't manage to do that. Still, I was able to give the preferment 5 hours to do its bubbly thing. After that, more flour, salt, and liquid is added. The recipe called for water, but the side comments said that buttermilk could be used for a more tender crumb, and since I had buttermilk available I thought, what the heck?

What results from the mixing of all the ingredients is, well, a wet, sloppy mess:



For 7 minutes or so, you mix this slop in the bowl, turning the bowl clockwise as you go along, dampening your hand to keep the dough from sticking, and then turning it counter-clockwise, all the time squishing the dough to form the gluten.

5-year-olds would love this.

You then take this wet mess, plop it onto a flour-covered counter, and engage in the "lift-and-fold" method of kneading. The idea is that dough too wet to be kneaded can be scooped, stretched, then folded in on itself. This dough was very wet, and the directions weren't really clear enough on how many times, or for how long. So I did it for...a while? The dough rested for half an hour, then I had to do it again. And again, I wasn't sure for how long. I think I probably should have done it for longer, in retrospect. But either way, the dough then rises on the counter, covered, for two hours.



Once it finishes rising, the dough is divided into two pieces, each of which will be a separate bread. The breads are to be set up in a couche, a cloth divider meant to hold the loaves in shape. Generally, this is done with a length of canvas impregnated with flour and used for this sole purpose.

I don't happen to own such a length of canvas, so I had to find some other piece of smooth cloth that I could flour. The obvious choice was a pillowcase:



(Okay, for demonstration purposes I probably shouldn't have chosen a black pillowcase.)

The dough was very sticky, so I sprinkled on lots of flour. The bread rose well, but then came the next step, which was getting the loaf onto the peel so that it could then be slipped onto the hearthstone where it would bake.

I must make a confession now: I've always used parchment paper on the peel and slid the whole shebang into the oven. But Reinhart makes it clear that while certain breads can be cooked with on parchment, others should not be. And ciabatta is one of the "should not be" breads. So I sprinkled the peel with cornmeal to give it a try.



This would have been easier if the loaf was a bit less like a non-Newtonian fluid. As it was, getting my hands under the loaf was like lifting a jellyfish. Not easy. Much swearing ensued. But I finally managed to get it there:



Then there was the setup for getting it into the oven:



The kettle was to fill a broiler pan with boiling water, the mister to further mist the bread in the first part of the baking. And the towel? To cover the glass door of the oven while pouring the water into the broiler. Because at 500 degrees, even tempered glass isn't immune to cracking if water is dribbled on it.

All this, and we finally had bread:



The measure of success in ciabatta is large holes, so the proof was in the cutting:



We got some very good holes, but the crumb didn't really taste like ciabatta -- very tasty, but not quite ciabatta. But then by this morning the flavor had matured and it was very much ciabatta.Very good dipped in olive oil.

There are several variations on the ciabatta, and I will make others in the future. It's not an easy bread, but it is very tasty.
zoethe: (Bread)
My friend Nathan claims that this is the best bread in the Jewish tradition, so I feel kind of bad that I didn't make it on a day when he was going to be here.

As for me, I have never met a challah that I didn't think was just...okay. It's just not a favorite of mine. But it's the next bread, so it was time to try it.

The recipe called for 7-9 ounces of water, and I know some people have written that they had to use all the water. I, on the other hand, used only 7 ounces, but then had to add at least another ounce or two of flour to it in order to get to the dough to be anything but a wet mess.



Even then, after the first knead, the dough still looked kind of batter-like:



After an hour of rising, the directions were not to just punch down the dough, but to actually knead it for two minutes. After that, it looked much more like bread dough:



And another 90 minutes of rising:



Now, I could have just made a loaf, but the challah tradition calls for braiding. Which calls for dividing the dough into thirds. After some consideration, I decided that the most accuracy was just plain pie chart thirds.



Then I rolled them out and braided the three strands. At which point I realized that my braid was a little long. So we had a challah rainbow.



And then baked:



A good crumb and decent crust.



The eaters pronounced it delicious. I thought it was ... perfectly okay for challah. It's never going to be my favorite bread, but it's pretty easy and will probably make a decent sandwich bread.
zoethe: (Bread)
This week's bread was the first one with which I was completely unfamiliar. Casatiello is an Italian version of brioche. It decreases the amount of butter in the bread, but replaces it with cheese and cured meat.

How bad can that be?

For the cheese, I chose a nice aged Gouda: strong enough to carry the bread without being overpowering. For the meat, I decided against salami or sausage and decided to go with a really nice, thick cut Amish bacon.

I realized I had a problem when I pulled out the cast iron frying pan. Suddenly husband, daughter, and daughter's girlfriend were all in the kitchen. "Bacon...?" they asked, eyes wild.

Fortunately, I'd purchased lots of bacon. So the first batch went to the ravening wolves I call family. Once they were satisfied, I was able to cook up bacon chunks--and threaten the fingers of anyone thinking about nibbling.

These were the add-ins for the bread:



Yup, that's gonna be one healthy loaf!

When it was all kneaded together, it looked like this

After rising, the instructions were to put it in loaf pans or a brioche pan, but it was really too soft for a loaf, so I used a springform pan instead:



You can see the air pockets in the bread, which look good buy also say "no good gluten skin," meaning that it's not going to form up well as a loaf. Definitely well-served by the springform.

It came out of the oven very pretty:



And once it cooled, the crumb was nice:



As for the flavor, it was pronounced delicious, with the one suggestion that it needed more bacon. The book says that the "coarsely grated cheese" will result in little pockets of cheesy goodness, but I found that it melted into the bread pretty evenly. Perhaps Reinhart has a cheese grater that has even larger holes than mine. Overall, it was a favorite--and won't appear on our table very often because of its richness!

Oh, and while all this was going on, I was also making my regular sourdough bread. Despite my attempt at making the two breads follow each other into the oven, it was clear that they were both going to be oven-ready at the same time. Once again, I got to use my lower oven. Though I thought early on that maybe it had been a silly thing to want, it's turning out the be very handy! Both breads came out of the oven within 15 minutes of each other.



I call that a successful baking day!
zoethe: (Bread)
There is nothing nutritionally redeeming about brioche. It's basically baked butter--a succulent slice of heart attack. But it was the next bread, so if I was going to do this right, I needed to bake brioche.

The bread once again started with a sponge, a short preferment to get the yeast beasties at work and develop some flavor. I don't know how much flavor contribution can really be had in 20 minutes of fermentation, but I am determined to follow the directions.

Except I sort of missed the part where the dough had to chill overnight and so got up very early to start the bread and didn't caffeinate first, and the wheels were coming off the cart pretty darned early.

I think I was still trying to get my head around the whole pound of butter that was going into the bread. And five eggs.

The second direction is to add the rest of the flour and the eggs, and then let the whole thing rest for five minutes so that the gluten can develop. I got through the mixing, but missed the five minutes part. Instead, I started adding in the butter.



It's a lot of butter, added one stick at a time.



I have this strange determination to do this whole challenge without using my mixer. Don't ask me why; I'm just amused by the notion. Brioche, however, is not a bread conducive to hand kneading. In fact, it was rather like kneading a batch of cookie dough:



A very messy operation. And once I had incorporated all the butter, I was supposed to continue kneading for another 5 or so minutes before spreading it on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and putting it in the fridge.

The key phrase here is supposed to. I kind of missed that part, and when I got the dough back out it was still a slippery, formless mess.

Now, there are special brioche pans that make this bread a very special and lovely presentation, but at I am not anticipating much brioche in my future, I opted to go with loaves. The recipe said that it would make three loaves, but I only had enough dough for two, and there was no way that I could "form the loaves according to the [usual instructions]." That would require, you know, form. Which this bread was sadly lacking. I wrestled the two lumps into vaguely loaf-like shapes and smooshed them into the pans, where they were supposed to spend two hours rising.

An hour and a half later, there was no sign of any rising going on.

At this rate, there was no way that anything resembling edible bread was coming from this mess, so I figured I didn't have anything to lose. I dumped the two loaves back out and began kneading them again. This time, miraculously, gluten did develop. I reformed the loaves and put them back in the pans and gave them another 90 minutes. They hadn't risen much, but there was some sign of life, so I figured I didn't have anything to lose and popped them into the preheated oven.

Astoundingly, both loaves sprang nicely in the oven, and came out looking like actual loaves of bread rather than buttery bricks.

The resulting loaf had a rather dense but very tender crumb, and was delicious.



I took a loaf to dinner at a friend's house, and gave him the leftovers. Our loaf is slowly diminishing, but at about 500 calories a slice, slowly isn't slowly enough. I'm thinking I should freeze it and only take it out for special occasions.

Because otherwise the special occasion will be our funerals. From the coronaries brought on by this bread!
zoethe: (Bread)
My problem is that I really need more people around to eat my bread.

I’ve been experimenting with the most effective approach for getting a long, flavor-building rise in my sourdough bread. I’ve tried overnighting it during its initial rise, and in its final rise. Then on New Year’s Eve – when Ferrett sent out one set of invitations for 8pm and the other for 7pm, so I thought I had another hour before people would start showing up – I mixed up a bread but didn’t have a chance to knead it, so it went into the fridge for a 12+ hour autolyse.

It came out really tasty. Light and tender. And the oven spring was so high that it kind of ‘sploded. I’m inclined to say that it is the most successful of the methods.

But there has been nothing scientific about my approach to these breads, so I can’t be sure.

See, at this point, Shelob and I are so comfortable with each other that when I am ready to bake, or when there gets to be too much starter, I just pour some off into a mixing bowl. I eyeball how much starter is there, and add yeast, water and flour strictly according to a “that looks like enough” formula. So sometimes the dough is a little softer, sometimes it’s a little stiffer, sometimes there’s more of it, sometimes the loaf is a bit smaller.

To get a final answer, I need to take a Mythbusters approach: controlled conditions, careful measurements, and side-by-side tastings.

That’s a lot of carbs for a family of two. Who will help me eat my bread?!

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zoethe

September 2012

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