A couple of weeks ago, Nicole over at Pinch My Salt threw out the idea on Facebook that she was thinking of forming a group of people to bake their way through Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. I thought this was a great idea, and threw my name in immediately. I have been wanting to start baking my own bread exclusively, so I thought this would be a great way to practice, try different kinds of bread, and meet other people baking the same things. It’s gone from a small group, to over a hundred bakers. Apparently, people like bread. If you’re interested in following the challenge, finding out about where we are on Twitter or Facebook, or want to see the Google Map of the bakers, head on over to the main challenge page at Nicole’s.
Meanwhile, let’s talk bread. When I began this site, I committed to posting only original recipes here. That’s not changing, as I’m not posting the recipe to the breads I’m baking. I know; it’s a technicality. Still, I think a lot is to be gained from following the process. Instead of recipes, I’m providing pictures and commentary about the baking process for each loaf. If you want the recipes, you can find the book on Google Books, visit your library, or buy the book. The book is wonderful, with 100 pages of writing devoted to the art of bread making, followed by 43 formulas for breads. Think ratios a la Michael Ruhlman, but with specific amounts and recipe text.
As we are baking our way through the book alphabetically, the first bread is Anadama Bread, a traditional New England loaf. It’s enriched and sweetened with molasses and butter. I’m not a huge fan of molasses, but I can assure you that if you use a light flavored brand such as Brer Rabbit, you won’t be disappointed in the bread. The bread is soft, and it would make an excellent sandwich bread. We ate it plain, or with some peanut butter or jam. It was great for breakfast. Since the recipe makes two loaves, I froze one. When I run out of sandwich bread next, I’ll be defrosting it to use.
The bread starts with a cornmeal soaker. To add texture, I used polenta:
The polenta adds flavor, texture, and a very subtle crunch to the bread. This soaks overnight in water, and is added to the dough the next day. Being something of a bread purist (translate: I don’t own a Kitchenaid), I mixed and kneaded my dough entirely by hand.
This actually isn’t hard. The key is to have a large mixing bowl and a good, sturdy wooden spoon. After it was well mixed, this inital sponge rested for an hour to ferment. The holes you see in the sponge indicate that the yeast is working and the dough will rise.
After the fermentation, all ingredients for the bread are added to the sponge to make the dough. More stirring ensues, and then comes the fun part: the kneading. Reinharts suggests that it will take about 10 minutes of kneading until the dough registers the appropriate temperature and passes the windowpane test. However, it took my dough about 25 minutes. I used an instant-read thermometer to gauge the temperature of the dough so I could be certain it was ready for its first rise. Hopefully next time I can get some shots of kneading the dough, the windowpane test, and also shaping the loaves. After an hour and a half, I came back to find this:
Needless to say, the bread rose beautifully. I shaped the loaves and placed them in oiled pans. However, as I was heading out of town for an impromptu overnight trip, I popped the dough in the fridge to retard it before proofing the loaf. I did this at the stage Reinhart suggested; he says it will last for two days. When I returned from Virginia Beach, I went straight for the fridge to remove the dough and let it come back to room temperature for proofing. Apparently, my fridge doesn’t retard dough well, because the loaves had still risen completely! They were a mess, spilling over the sides of their pans. I removed them from the pans, kneaded them again to completely de-gas them, and reshaped them again. I then placed them in their pans to proof for four hours since they were well-chilled. Later that evening, I baked off the loaves. To develop the crust on the bread, I placed a pan of hot water on a rack positioned at the floor of my oven. I preheated the oven to 450º, even though the bread bakes at 350º. I did this so that when I misted the interior of the oven with water, I wouldn’t lose too much heat. Just before putting the bread in the oven, I misted it with water and sprinkled it with cornmeal. I misted the interior of the oven fully after putting in the bread, and once again about a minute later. I then reduced the heat to 350º. Before removing the loaf from the oven, I checked the internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer to make sure it was at least 180º. It took my loaf 25-30 minutes to reach this temperature rather than the 20 minutes Reinhart suggests. I hated putting the hole in the loaf, but I was glad I did as my bread needed to bake longer. I bake my sandwich loaves in thick, commercial grade pans, so they may take a little longer to heat up.
The photo is a bit orange as it was snapped at night in my kitchen, but it is an Anadama loaf fresh from the oven. I garnished the loaves with yellow cornmeal, which looked beautiful and added a little texture to the crust. I removed the loaves from their pans and cooled them on racks. They remove from the pans very easily, so Reinhart’s spray oil trick has instilled me with confidence! It was hard to keep from slicing them, but I waited the requisite hour. Here’s a shot of the cooled, sliced loaf:
As Kelly at Sass and Veracity described, the loaves look a bit “baggy.” (You can see her pictures at her Flickr page). They are not perfectly rounded on top. The crumb is a little loose, but the bread is sturdy and should work well for sandwiches, toast, or general snacking. I had it for breakfast with a bit of jam, and it was divine.
Since it’s yeasty, I’m submitting my Anadama post to Yeastspotting. Fun!