Sunday, February 28, 2010

BBA Slow & Steady #15: Italian Bread roundup

Peter Reinhart's book The Bread Baker's Apprentice continues to delight the Slow & Steady bakers, as we make our way from beginning to end as (very slow) participants in the BBA Challenge. We're approaching the middle of the book; right now we're on Italian Bread, another classic hearth bread that we'd all love to master. Read on to see how we did (hint: as a group we were far more successful than with the previous recipe, French Bread).

This week I'd like to welcome a new member of the Slow & Steady group, Wendy of the blog Pink Stripes. She began the BBA Challenge at a quicker pace, but decided to stop and smell the roses and finish the book with us!

Wendy baked the Italian Bread as torpedo rolls - pictured above - to accompany her (not quite) vegetarian Christmas Eve dinner. They were a hit, especially with her mother, who always advises that good bread, good conversation and good wine are the keys to a good dinner party - smart mom (aren't they always?!) Read more on her full post: {bba} italian bread torpedo rolls


Although the two day process for baking the bread is a bit time consuming, Karen, of the blog Shortbread found the taste of her Italian bread rolls "fantastic" and the time investment "so worth it." She suggests that the rolls would be a great base for sub sandwiches. Read her post: Super Bowl Subs Italian Bread Rolls


I love the way Jessica of The Singleton in the Kitchen introduced her bread: "Next up is Italian bread, the softer, more versatile friend of French bread. It's still a hearth bread, but this time with feeling. Italian bread gets its wonderful personality from a biga starter and the addition of some barley malt. ...If you know anything about Italian bread, you know it likes to party. Italian bread is great on its own, but it's also a great base for things like garlic bread and sandwiches." For more hearth bread insight, check out Jessica's post: More Globetrotting Breads! BBA French Bread & Italian Bread


Kayte of Grandma's Kitchen Table found this bread "less fussy" than the French bread was. The texture and flavor were wonderful and Kayte's husband loved this bread for his sandwiches. Sounds like she will be busy baking this bread from now on! Read more: BBA: Italian Bread


Thanks to Natalia of Gatti, Fili e Farina we learn that because of the added fat in its ingredient list, the bread that we call "Italian" bread is softer than the breads in Italy usually are, and she calls this kind of bread "Corean [Korean] or Indian" bread. Whatever it's called, this bread looks pretty spectacular and I'll bet it tasted just as delicious! More about this stunning bread at: BBA Slow and Steady: Italian Bread


A newly-self-professed "bread snob," Leslie of Lethally Delicious now bakes, rather than buys her daily bread. The Italian bread came together smoothly, and her verdict: "I thought it was pretty great, especially in a sandwich." Here's Leslie's post: BBA - Italian Bread


Di of Di's Kitchen Notebook showed her bread-baking expertise on this week's recipe. She has baked the BBA Italian Bread several times previously, so she decided to experiment this time around and used her sourdough starter as the main leavening agent in her bread's biga pre-ferment. She baked one large loaf and it turned out perfectly! When the rest of us are ready to start baking with sourdough starters, thank goodness Di will be able to guide us. Her post: Italian Bread


Sarah of Blue Ridge Baker had a bit of an adventure while her Italian bread was baking. One step to getting fabulous crust on hearth breads is to pour hot water into a pan on the floor of the oven as you place your dough in to bake. Unbeknownst to Sarah, the water extinguished her oven's pilot light! Even though the oven had cooled a bit, her bread baked perfectly - as if nothing in the world was wrong. Sarah liked the fact that this bread had a softer crust than the French bread, as it was easier for her little ones to chew. Read about her bread here: BBA Challenge: Italian Bread


Although her bread spread a bit more than she would have liked, Margaret of Tea and Scones thought that her Italian bread was a perfect accompaniment to some stew. Looks perfect to me! Here's her post:: Slow and Steady BBA - French and Italian Bread


I can't say that I have the shaping of Italian loaves figured out, but my bread turned out pretty well in spite of me, and we absolutely loved the taste. My post: Italian Bread {bba}

We will continue our streak of crusty white breads with Kaiser Rolls. Stay tuned!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Perfect-ly Fast Dinner Rolls

It's hard for the the two of us at our house to eat as much bread as I enjoy baking. I give away many sandwich loaves, since I always double the recipe, and there are always multiple loaves of bread in my freezer. I was very excited to get an opportunity to bake bread for the homeless ministry at the church we attend. I baked several batches of two of our favorites: Dan Lepard's Simple Milk Loaf (formed as dinner rolls) and James Beard's Sweet Potato Rolls. On the afternoon that I was to deliver the rolls to church, I decided that I needed to bake additional rolls. I turned to a recipe that I'd seen posted by Holly of the blog Phe/MOM/enon. Holly calls them Perfect Dinner Rolls, and if you are in the market for a soft dinner roll that you can whip together in little time and with a minimum of fuss, this recipe is indeed perfect!

n.o.e.'s notes:
- To find the recipe and Holly's method, click here . I used the measurements from Holly's recipe and my own food processor method.

- In making these rolls, I used just under 18 oz flour, including the last of the free pay-it-forward flour that I received from King Arthur Flour.

- I mixed all of the dry ingredients, including the instant yeast, in the food processor, then added cool water. Since the food processor heats the dough as it mixes, I always use cool liquids when baking bread.

- My dough took a bit longer to rise.

- To match the other kinds of rolls that I'd already baked, I formed the dough into 50 g balls, which yielded 17 rolls.

- I baked the rolls in 2 buttered and floured metal pie tins and brushed them with milk before putting them in the oven.

- My rolls were not as smooth and pretty as Holly's, but they were definitely soft and smelled fabulous as they were baking.

the verdict:

I got to sample an edge of a roll as I packed them up for delivery, and they make a lovely dinner roll: soft and tender, and neutral enough in flavor to accompany any main course. Given how quick and easy these were, that really is perfect!

These rolls are being submitted to Yeastspotting, a wonderful weekly roundup of yeasted baked goods. Hop on over and check out the delicious breads.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Italian Bread {bba}

I'm glad that the Italian bread happens to be the bread that immediately follows the French Bread alphabetically in in Peter Reinhart's book The Bread Baker's Apprentice because I was able to compare the two breads that I baked in succession in the BBA Challenge.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- This bread uses a pre-ferment mixture called a biga. I used regular bread flour and
1.5 tsp of fresh yeast in my biga.

- After the biga rests and ferments in the fridge for a day or so, it's time to mix up the dough. The biga is cut into 12 pieces and mixed with new ingredients, in my case King Arthur's "European style flour" and fresh yeast. I love the elegance of using a food processor at this stage, as it cleanly and efficiently incorporates the biga into the new ingredients, producing a lovely supple dough in just a minute or two.

the verdict:

I made a series of missteps in the rising and the shaping and the slashing, but in the end it didn't matter because the first rule of the kitchen is "taste rules" and this bread tasted amazing! We preferred the more substantial taste of this bread to the French bread of a few weeks before. This is likely to become my "go to" hearth bread, which should give me plenty of opportunity to perfect the aesthetics of my Italian bread loaves.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

BBA Slow & Steady #14: French Bread roundup

Happy Valentine's Day from those of us baking our way (slowly and steadily) through Peter Reinhart's book The Bread Baker's Apprentice!

For many of the Slow & Steady bakers, the current bread in the BBA Challenge, French Bread, was one of those "practice makes perfect" breads. Several of us realized that we need (at least) another try before we get the hang of baking French bread, and others just went ahead and baked the bread a second time. A few lucky souls baked nice loaves the first time around.

Although her bread is picture-perfect (that's it up at the top today, looking all ready for Valentine's Day), Karen, of the blog Shortbread, was having "a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day" (like Alexander in the children's book by Judith Viorst) and the bread turned out tough on the outside (but very nice on the inside). Karen wants to bake this one again, but on a better day! Read about it on her post, called I'll Be In Australia French Bread


Jessica of The Singleton in the Kitchen has a few minor quibbles about her French bread (is it supposed to have holes in the crumb?), but no matter. She found her loaves fabulous, and in an observation that all of the Slow & Steady bakers will find familiar, "I couldn't believe they came out of my own kitchen." Her post: More Globetrotting Breads! BBA French Bread & Italian Bread


Margaret of Tea and Scones took two tries to get her baguettes perfect and had some wonderful vintage molds to use for baking her bread. Her second batch was the perfect combination of crusty outside and soft inside. Check it out here: Slow and Steady BBA - French and Italian Bread


Sarah of Blue Ridge Baker baked such pretty loaves of bread, it's hard to believe that she - like most of us - has only been baking bread for a matter of months. Her French bread was crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside, and "[i]t had such a depth of flavor that I kept thinking there were things in and on it that weren't there - cheese and butter, namely." (And if you think her loaves look good, the hand of her littlest family member in the picture above is just adorable!) There's much more in her post: BBA Challenge: French Bread


Despite being a bit intimidated at the prospect of shaping baguettes, Di of Di's Kitchen Notebook found that the wonderful dough of this recipe and her improvised couche (the bread rests on it while it is rising) produced beautiful baguettes! They looked, tasted, and even sounded like authentic French bread - it crackled after coming out of the oven as it cooled. Di's post: Snap, crackle, pop


Leslie of Lethally Delicious calls her French bread "ugly ducklings" (she's not the only one to use this term for this week's bread) but no matter what she might wish to change about the outer appearance, the crumb is absolutely beautiful: look at those holes! Leslie found it crisp and delicious, adding: "I wish I could speak coherently about this bread, but I'm so blown away by its success that I can't!" Here's Leslie's post: BBA - French Bread


Natalia of Gatti, Fili e Farina was not happy with the appearance of her first batch of French Bread (athough it tasted wonderful), so she made it a second time. No problems with this one - just look at how pretty her baguette and epi loaf are! Natalia would like to make this bread many more times to learn its secrets - a worthy goal!
Her post: BBA Slow and Steady: French Bread


Kayte of Grandma's Kitchen Table approached French bread with just a touch of trepidation, having read in Julia Child's biography that Julia produced hundreds of loaves of French bread trying to equal those around her in France. Nonetheless, the BBA book worked its magic and Kayte was excited that her first attempt at baking French bread produced three "really nice baguettes." Read more here: BBA: French Bread


My French bread wasn't very attractive, nor did it get crusty in the oven, but my ugly duckling loaves had lovely flavor, and I'll return to this recipe in the future. It's so handy to be able to produce a loaf of french bread in my very kitchen! My post: French Bread {bba}

Stay tuned for our next bread, another classic: Italian Bread.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Momofuku English Muffins

For Christmas this year, my younger daughter gave me David Chang's Momofuku cookbook and the first thing I turned to - the English Muffin page - was the one and only yeast bread in the book. Fate, I tell you! I could not get the recipe out of my head, so yesterday, on a whim, I mixed up the dough, and baked the English muffins today.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- I made a half batch of these English muffins, and used fresh yeast and food processor (instead of active dry yeast and stand mixer), so I switched up the mixing process a bit. The recipe, as I made it, with additional notes, is at the end of this post. [edit to add: the recipe, pretty much as written in the book, can be found here]

- I used a nice, thick, tangy, buttermilk from a small local dairy, and some of their butter as well.

- After an hour's rest in the fridge, the dough had a glorious texture.

- Chang says to make the dough balls 30 grams each for mini English muffins, 60 grams for "traditional-size" English muffins. I made some 30 grams, some 45 grams, and some 60 grams. In my opinion, the 60 gram ball of dough doesn't produce a full sized muffin, and the 30 gram ones are almost doll-sized.

- I used my largest cast iron skillet, and cooked my half recipe of muffins in 2 batches. I had to use my gas stove's simmer plate to get the heat low enough.

- To serve the finished English muffins, the cookbook gives directions for splitting them, then griddling them, and topping them with a bay leaf butter/lard mixture. While that sounds fabulous, after I fork split my English muffins I opted for toasting them in the toaster and spreading with good old salted butter.

the verdict:

I bounced up and down and exclaimed "Oh my!" out loud (even though I was the only person in the house) when I tasted one of the mini English muffins. It was, hands down, the best English muffin I've ever eaten. I'd even say it's my favorite bread: the flavor is exquisite, the texture is substantial yet tender, and there are nooks and crannies galore! They are definitely a bit fussy and time consuming to griddle-bake, but oh, so worth the effort. My husband, who isn't the biggest fan of English muffins, agreed that these are on the highest level of all the breads I've baked. In fact, this recipe is so special, I'm making a point of writing this post on the day that I baked the English muffins.

the recipe:

18 g fresh yeast
25 g cool water
200 g cool buttermilk
300 g unbleached bread flour (I used King Arthur)
25 g granulated sugar
11 g sea salt
35 g butter, at room temperature


1. Add the flour, sugar and kosher salt to the bowl of a food processor, fitted with the regular blade (for a full recipe, switch to the dough blade). Process briefly to mix the dry ingredients, about 30 seconds.

2. Combine the yeast and water and buttermilk in a small bowl, and stir.

3. With the food processor running, steadily pour in the buttermilk mixture. Process until the ingredients are incorporated and the dough forms a ball.

4. Add the room-temperature butter into the bowl and process the dough for a minute or more until it is tacky but no longer sticky, passes the “windowpane” test, and registers 77 to 81 degrees on an instant read thermometer.

I finally was able to shoot a one-handed windowpane test!

5. Oil a large mixing bowl or dough rising bucket and scrape the dough into it. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow it to rest and expand for about 1 hour, or more if needed. My dough took over 1 ½ hours to increase by 50%, and rose a bit more in the fridge.

6. After the dough has risen, place the bowl into the refrigerator for 30 minutes to 1 hour to chill, thus making the dough easier to handle.

7. Cover a rimmed baking sheet with a 1/4-inch thick layer of cornmeal. (Evidently the extra cornmeal on the sheet can be reused for another recipe.)

8. Scatter your work surface with a very fine dusting of flour and lightly flour your hands. Turn the dough out onto the work surface and knead it a few times to deflate it. Shape it into a fat, smoothish log.

9. Pinch off clumps of dough - anywhere from 30 to 60 grams each (or even larger) and lightly roll the piece of dough into a neat ball, applying as little pressure as possible.

10. Nestle each ball of dough into the cornmeal on the baking sheet, then pat it down gently to adhere some of the cornmeal. Grab the ball very gently by its sides and flip it over, lightly pressing to adhere cornmeal to the bottom. Leave about an inch of space between each ball to give it room to rise. You can proceed with the recipe directly or refrigerate the baking sheet, wrapped in plastic wrap for up to three days. Chilling the dough will make it easier to handle, and delaying the cooking will help the muffins to develop more flavor. I let my dough rest for a day in the fridge.

11. Preheat the oven to 250°. Warm a cast-iron skillet or griddle over lowest heat for 5 minutes. You should be able to hold your hand over the skillet and feel warmth but be able to keep your hand in place. Sprinkle the skillet with a light, even layer of cornmeal and heat for an additional minute.

12. Pick up the proofed muffins by their uncornmealed sides and dust off any excess cornmeal clinging to their tops and bottoms. There should be a light layer of cornmeal, but not a thick cornmeal crust.

13. Working in batches, transfer the muffins to the griddle. Griddle-bake the muffins very slowly, allowing a full 4-5 minutes or until their tops are slightly puffed up. Using an offset spatula, carefully flip each muffin and allow to griddle-bake on their other side for another 4-5 minutes. You should notice the muffins beginning to form a noticeable skin. Flip them again and cook for another 5-6 minutes and then flip them again. Repeat a third pair of flips, if necessary, until you have firm tops and bottoms, but the muffins are light. According to Chang, you almost can't go slow enough with this process (mine had three 5-minute stints on each side). At this point you can slightly bump up the heat and gently toast their tops and bottoms, flipping every 2-3 minutes or until they are patchy brown and uniformly golden, another 3 times per side, or so.

14. Place the muffins on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake them in the oven for 10 minutes to finish cooking. I didn't check the interior temperature or treat the smaller muffins any differently from the larger ones. Remove from the oven and let them cool on the baking sheet until cooled to room temperature.

15. Using a fork, puncture an equator of tiny holes around the middle of each muffin and then pry apart the two halves.

Makes between 1 and 2 dozen depending on size.

I'm sending this bread to Yeastspotting, a weekly compendium of all things yeasted; stop by and check out all the yeasty goodness!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

BBA Slow & Steady #13: Focaccia roundup

The Slow & Steady subgroup of the BBA Challenge continue to march - at a steady, if slow, pace - through the bread formulae in Peter Reinhart's book The Bread Baker's Apprentice. The next bread for the group is Focaccia, that delightful, ever adaptable, flat bread. Despite some initial misgivings of a few bakers, in the end we all ended up loving our bread this round.

Natalia of Gatti, Fili e Farina was born in Roma, and she let us all in on the true scoop about this bread. In Italy this would be known as Pizza Bianca, a very common thing for children to pack for their lunches. She loved Peter Reinhart's version of her native bread and I can see why - just look (picture above) at the beautiful job that she did! Here's her post: BBA Slow and Steady: Focaccia.

Throughout the course of baking bread from the Bread Baker's Apprentice, Leslie of Lethally Delicious has realized that it has been a life-changing experience. She finds it enormously gratifying to bake breads that people just can't resist eating, and the focaccia turned out to be just that kind of bread. Leslie used her good olive oil - a lot of it - which gave her bread a delicious flavor. I think Leslie speaks for all of the Slow & Steady bakers when she says, "I marvel over how a yeast-phobe like me could bake such an extraordinary treat." Read more on her post: BBA - Focacci-aaahh


Margaret of Tea and Scones is quite happy that the list of breads she's "never baked before" is getting ever shorter, thanks to the BBA Challenge. Her focaccia turned out beautifully, thick and flavorful, nothing like the thin, tasteless stuff she'd eaten before.
Here's her post: Slow & Steady BBA - Focaccia


Sarah of Blue Ridge Baker baked Reinhart's focaccia twice: the poolish version with white flour and the non-poolish version with part whole wheat. She loved them both, and couldn't choose which was best. Comparing her bread to bakery focaccia, she found the homemade bread "delicate and tender and flavorful, as opposed to tough and dry and bland." Here's the story of Sarah's bread: BBA Challenge: Focaccia.


Baking focaccia reminded Jessica of The Singleton in the Kitchen of her father, who made Nick Malgieri's Focaccia regularly for dinner (a bit too regularly, apparently) when she was a teen. Jessica enjoyed learning Peter Reinhart's focaccia process (which differs from Nick's) and even though she ended up with extra-fluffy focaccia because she forgot one of the dimple/oil steps, she loved this bread. Read more at: BBA S&S: Globe Trotting Breads


Di of Di's Kitchen Notebook had been procrastinating about making this bread, but the combination of a weekend off work and a potluck dinner with her Italian genealogy group provided the perfect circumstances to bake - and share - the focaccia. Di really enjoyed the bread, and the group must have agreed because it disappeared very quickly at the potluck! Read about her bread in this post: My Weekend Project.


Karen, of the blog Shortbread The title of her post, called Wetter is Better Focaccia and Ciabatta says it all: Karen remade her ciabatta with gloriously hole-y results, and applied the wet dough lesson to her ciabatta, which also bubbled beautifully. Great work and thanks for the tips!


Kayte of Grandma's Kitchen Table overcame a lingering case of Focaccia Phobia, and - of course - loved the bread when she summoned the courage to bake it. She learned that despite nine pages' worth of recipe, focaccia is relatively easy to make, and very different from the dull, artificial-tasting focaccia she'd eaten in the past. Read about her focaccia experience here: BBA: Foccacia.


I baked a very small pan of focaccia - 1/6 of a recipe - and found the bread to be adorable and delicious as well. The outside was lightly crunchy and the inside tender. My post: Focaccia {bba}

Coming soon: the BBA Slow & Steady French Bread roundup.