BBA Challenge #43: Roasted Onion and Asiago Miche

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?)


BBA Challenge #42: Potato Cheddar and Chive Torpedos

The beginning of the end: the first of the last two breads in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge!  The coda, the bookend, l’envoi..or as Reinhart calls it, the “Grace Note.” 

I can’t say I am excited about either of these last two breads on their merits (this one or the roasted onion bread, which will hopefully be showcased here soon:  if I bake it off in June I’ll have finished the BBA Challenge in just under, um, two years).  I tend not to be a big fan of breads with savory ingredients baked in, although I will, of course, make an exception for cheese. 

I was happy to be able to use some of my monster chive plant, however.  It comes back bigger and bigger every year (and rather inexplicably–I haven’t done a thing to help it along other than plant it) and I’m starting to become a bit afraid of it.   And in the end, I am afraid I didn’t even use enough chives–ah, the cruel irony!  (But I was reminded of the universal truth that a big  bunch of herbs dramatically decreases in volume when chopped up small).

If recipes can have a sense of humor, though, I think this one qualifies.  Or at least it’s winking at you a little.  Look at the title again, but ignore the “Torpedoes” part.  Do you see what I see, a baked potato with all the trimmings?

Despite my lack of enthusiasm, here as always a bit of cheese never hurts anything.  As I am in New England, I used Vermont-based Cabot Seriously Sharp cheddar.   Their cheddar is white (which is what color cheddar naturally is), though for distribution outside New England they add the yellow-orange annatto coloring people are more used to seeing.  And it is deliciously super-sharp!

I ended up taking one of the loaves to work.  Adding this to my standard weekend bread bake, resulted in a  bit of an oversupply, and my sons (like me) prefer breads that take well to butter and jam.  My foodie friend at work, however,  suggested this bread would be a great base for a turkey sandwich with Dijon mustard.  He’s probably right, but I won’t be testing that:  I’m already getting ready for the next, and final bread in the BBA Challenge!

BBA Challenge #41: Whole Wheat Bread

Is it OK if I am not all that enthused about posting on this bread–this, one of the last breads in the BBA Challenge?  As you near the last few miles of a marathon, you supposedly get a new burst of energy, a sense of the impending achievement that spurs you on with the realization that the lion’s share of the effort is behind you, but in my case I’m still waiting for that second (third?  eighth?) wind to kick in.  And I’m not sure there’s any prize other than a more amply padded waistline…which is a very different sort of end to that of the 26.2 mile variety of marathon…

But on with it.  This bread ended up tasting exactly like a (very good quality) store-bought whole wheat bread.  It was light and tender, which in itself is not shabby for being 100% whole wheat bread, but I found it a bit too sweet.  In fact, I have realized that pure whole wheat, not mixed in with other flavors, is too blandly sweet for me.  It’s a funny realization–in that I’d never expect to find a good, healthy whole grain too sweet–but there it is.  I still use plenty of whole wheat, don’t get me wrong:  I love a little bit of whole wheat along in with other flours to add complexity to an artisan loaf, or to add to scones or pancakes along with white flour, and I absolutely am crazy for it in chocolate chip cookies.  But I don’t see myself making a wheat bread that is comparable to a (albeit better quality) store-bought, pre-sliced sandwich loaf.  Granted, all without the use of added chemicals or artificial ingredients, which is something–just not my kind of something.

Reinhart’s Whole Wheat starts out with a double soaker–the idea is that allowing the flour to hydrate and then rest overnight (or, er, soak), in one case with water and in another with milk, breaks down all the whole grain components that normally make whole wheat breads dense and heavy.  As a result, these breads can rise higher and loftier. 

The two soakers are cut up and mixed together, and then allowed to rise and rise again.

And rise this dough did–do you think I underestimated how much this dough could grow?  It’s a testament to Reinhart’s method, to be sure…

And unfortunately my last photo.  Some sort of snafu prevented me from showing you the final baked loaf.  But, as you might have guessed, it wasn’t all that pretty.

Two more.  TWO MORE.  Keep my nose to the grindstone people.  I am almost there!

BBA Challenge #40: White Bread

I have had this post in draft form for some time now.  How long?  At least a year, seeing as I made it in the few days after I went on maternity leave but before Baby H arrived.  Baby H is, as of yesterday, a one-year old.   I went ahead and made it back then in the form of hamburger buns (obviously, way out of order in the BBA Challenge) as I thought it would be a nice thing to have in the freezer, especially as it’s an easy way to use up all that ground beef we get in our meat CSA.   

And it’s worth the effort:  turns out even those rare souls out there who think, like I, that you don’t like burgers may find not having your meat sandwiched between two flavorless sponges that dissolve into a paste in your mouth makes all the difference. Speaking of which, did you ever see Mark Bittman’s take on that horrible supermarket bread?  He compared it to glue, but you get the drift.  To snag his rallying cry in the clip, “America, there is a better way!”

This is an easy, enriched bread, and any of the three recipes Reinhart gives seem to work.  When I’ve made it, I’ve picked whichever one allows me to use up whatever I am most anxious to get rid of; though I think I prefer the buttermilk version.  In part, that’s because it allows me to avoid using powdered milk, which I”m a little suspicious of, and in part because I always have extra buttermilk, which I hurry to use because I’m  never sure that I can tell if  has gone bad!  (Does anyone else have that problem?)  The other nice thing about the buttermilk version is that if I’m out of it, I can always hack my own, as we describe here).

Perhaps the buttermilk also helps the dough rise even more than with yeast alone, as Julia has found.  At least in my case, it has certainly sent the lid popping off my dough bucket!

The second rise was equally dramatic.

Now, where can I find some good red meat?  (Or a veggie burger, for Karen).

Of course, it’s no surprise that the bread could make or break a meal for me.  More of a surprise for me is that I do like burgers after all!  (No more teasing then, Andrea , as to whether I’m really American, and no, I have not come around on Coca-Cola!).

If homemade buns make this much of a difference, could homemade ketchup be in the future?  What do you think?

BBA Challenge #39: Vienna Bread

And so I plug along, nearing the end of the bread baking alphabet in the BBA Challenge. V is for Vienna, the source of the next bread on the roster. This is a simple enriched dough, (i.e., enhanced with egg and butter to provide fat and tenderness to the bread).  And these loaves are indeed puffy and pillowy, rather than the crusty and chewy breads we’ve seen lately.  It would seem appropriate–if you consider that the croissant can be traced to Vienna (a fact acknowledged in the French word for croissants and other such morning pastries, viennoiserie)–that Peter Reinhart’s rendition of this bread would be a tender, faintly sweet creation.

I did make some modifications–a long time ago I obtained some diastatic barley malt powder–it’s supposed to help the loaves achieve a burnished color in the oven by adding additional sugars that caramelize the crust as it bakes, as explained here–but due to my delinquency in pursuing the BBA Challenge it expired. (It is probably still good, and I believe is somewhere in the bottom of the freezer, but I’m afraid to look).    Nor did I “prepare the oven for hearth baking” this time around. (I know, there was a lot of yammering on my part back here where I swore up and down that I was a convert to this method, and I still am.  But when I saw eggs and butter as ingredients, I figured we were not really in peasant bread territory and I bailed on replicating a peasant hearth in my oven this time around.  And sometimes I get lazy, let’s face it). Perhaps both of these modifications, together, or each on their own, would have changed the character of this bread, from something fit for an effete courtier at the palace of the Hapsburgs to something more to the liking of a lonely goatherd, high on a hill somewhere near Salzburg.* But I probably won’t find out, as I’ll definitely retreat back into the sourdough camp once this bread making challenge is done. I could, however, could see myself using this recipe to replenish my stash of homemade hamburger buns. (Have you made homemade hamburger buns? Even someone like me who is not a burger fan craves these–and I’ll say more about that in the next post).

*And for the record, I’m not actually a Sound of Music obsessive, but I’m trying to run with an Austrian theme here, so work with me please. Also, I had to sing that song in music class long ago and I think it sort of scarred me, and no, I don’t yodel.

BBA Challenge #38: Tuscan Bread

Did you know I am participating in the BBA Challenge?  Oh, you forgot, since my last post on this topic was, oh, six months ago?  Or, you’re thinking, isn’t that so over?  Didn’t everyone finish by now?

Yes, pretty much everyone is done, and no, I haven’t silently bailed on the challenge, hoping no one would notice my lack of follow-through or discipline.  (But no, I won’t hold it against anyone who was suspecting as much).  In fact, I had even made the next bread, Tuscan bread, well before the BBA gauntlet was thrown down, so there wasn’t even the an intimidation factor at play.

But…I wasn’t all that excited about Tuscan bread.  There are plenty of poetic things you can say about this bread–I think you can drop the adjective “Tuscan” in front of anything these days and people will get excited.  I love the fact that Tuscan bread’s singular quality, its lack of salt (one of the four “essential” ingredients in bread making, besides flour, water, and yeast) was even referenced in the Divine Comedy, where Dante is foretold of his future in exile:

“You shall leave everything you love most dearly:
this is the arrow that the bow of exile
shoots first. You are to know the bitter taste

of others’ bread, how salt it is, and know
how hard a path it is for one who goes
descending and ascending others’ stairs.”

The salty taste of this bread, is of course a metaphorical reference to the bitter life of one banished from his home who cannot return, but is also a quite literal reference.

Much as I love the connection with classical literature and the Renaissance, I procrastinated.  Dante may have been saddened at the thought of salt in his bread, but I was less than thrilled to contemplate its absence.  But being only a few loaves from the finish line, I knew I had to make this at some point, and I finally buckled down. 

The odd thing (or, another odd thing) about this bread is that it starts by adding boiling water to flour which sits out the night before.  As the steaming water splashed into the flour in my bowl, up rose a familiar smell–that of cream of wheat.  The resulting paste looks rather like glue–which was in fact a clue to the texture of the final dough.

When I mixed the dough the next day, I allowed it to rest and develop structure by autolyse rather than by kneading (so that I didn’t overpower my poor, recently refurbished Kitchenaid–the wound is still fresh). 

I ended up finishing the kneading by hand, which I haven’t done in a long time.  I was pleasantly reminded of how meditative a process it can be, even though little E and baby H were banging pots and pans at the time.  The hand kneading was a rather sticky proposition.  I kept adding flour thinking I had over-hydrated the dough, but in fact the dough is likely supposed to be clinging like glue:  Only a few days later did I see this post, which reminded me that besides its most acknowledged role as a flavor enhancer, salt also alters the texture of bread, including making it less sticky. 

My formed loaves, however held together well and rose buoyantly.  Perhaps my shaping skills have improved (creating enough surface tension so that the dough doesn’t spread as it rises) or perhaps the hand kneading at the end provided the extra structure.  My bread baked up nicely, but was perhaps a bit dense; it’s hard to say if this was the result of adding too much flour or, again, simply the neat texture of a saltless loaf.

To eat this bread, I decided I needed something rather strong to complement it, so I made an olive tapenade (which besides being delicious, certainly compensated for any lack of salt in the bread).  In my mini-blender, it couldn’t have been easier (8 olives, 2T capers, 2T fresh parsley, 1T vinegar, 2T olive oil), and I was left wondering why I never made this spread before.  Note to self:  remember olive tapenade the next time I am looking for an easy appetizer!