also known as…the END!
Trite as it may be, I do feel the need at this final post in the BBA Challenge venture to take stock, and consider what I’ve learned. So before writing up this last bread, let’s pause for reflection.
I started this challenge 4th of July weekend of 2009. I finished this challenge June 26, 2011. I won’t lie, the impending two year mark definitely gave me the final kick in the seat to bake that last bread. (It did not, however, push me to post about it before this deadline of sorts, but close enough).
Two years ago, there was just little E, though not long after I started this challenge we found out that baby H was also in the oven. (I can’t help the cliché/pun; I am writing a post about bread here). I don’t know if the BBA Challenge somehow reached him in the womb, but the boy likes bread.
Four years ago, living in London, I bought this book on Amazon marketplace for $5, after seeing it recommended on The Fresh Loaf. I immediately started baking from it, but mainly made brioche. I was intrigued by the Pannetone recipe but figured I’d never get around to making the sourdough breads. Making my own starter just seemed all too intimidating, and I didn’t have any other eccentrics in my circle of acquaintances who could give me a bit of their starter. After several failures at rearing my own, my sister-in-law scored a Harvard Law School prof’s starter for me, which I managed not to kill. Then I managed, with a bit more patience, to grow my own starter. Now I’m a full-on sourdough snob!
I can’t guess at how many 5lb bags of flour I’ve gone through, not to mention weird specialty ingredients like fiori di sicilia and diastatic barley malt powder. (Fortunately I live very close to the King Arthur Flour headquarters). I’ve met a lot of other baker-bloggers (and have been sucked into further challenges, not all of which I have followed through with), and have even drug old friends into the challenge (not that they were kicking and screaming about it).
I’ve also had my Kitchen Aid mixer (that appliance that is supposedly indestructible) blow out and have learned that there are only two places in the whole state that will fix it (and that fixing it is not cheap, but at least I got a trip to Salem out of it I guess. Yes, that Salem from the witch trials).
I probably don’t remember but hazily (except for my posts) many of the breads I made along the way, and there were certainly some recipes that I never would have made but for the challenge. Which was a good thing. English muffins? Pretty cool. Casatiello? Surprisingly addictive. Stollen? Still not sure about that one, but I will try it again, probably leaving out the booze was a bad idea.
Most importantly I have gotten into the habit of baking bread nearly every weekend, which is a comforting, grounding ritual with everything else going on throughout the week.
Musings done. On to this last bread (speaking of recipes I never would have tried absent the challenge). I’d been told that this last one is a showstopper and I was not disappointed. It was savory and rich and I kept tearing hunks off against my better judgment (so it went to work, which as I’ve admitted I do as a matter of self-preservation). I halved the recipe (though almost forgot this at several points, which luckily I realized before disaster ensued–can you imagine the horror, on my last challenge! I am sure you shudder to consider it). I took liberties with the variations as well: I used red onions and jack cheese, to wonderful effect. Red onions, being naturally sweet already, caramelize even sweeter. Jack cheese, by the way, is delicious–I can’t remember how long ago I last had it, but I think I need to step away from the French and Spanish cheese counters a bit more often.
The dough was wonderfully smooth and developed, as you can see from the photo below–all the bits and bobs were held together by the dough’s surface tension, leaving nothing poking out. In fact this only needed to be kneaded (hee hee) for four minutes to come out so nicely (which is one thing I still haven’t figured out–why was four minutes sufficient here, while in most cases Reinhart requires 8-10 minutes? Anyone know?). Because it was the last bread, I even kneaded it by hand. I have gotten in the habit of using the stand mixer, even though I do enjoy kneading and feeling the bread transform from a sticky ragged mess to a smooth, springy ball under my palms. Whacking the dough on the counter from time to time is fun too, if you have any latent aggression or stress.
All in all, an appropriate end to the BBA Challenge. And now there’s nothing more left to say but hurah!
(And…should I sign up for another challenge?)