BBA #10: Cornbread

Cornbread - sliced

For the second week in a row, the Bread Baker’s Apprentice has taken on a couple of family-favorite foods.  I have to admit, when I saw cornbread in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice, I was immediately skeptical.  This cornbread was baked in the oven in a cake pan, had tons of sugar in it, used four bowls, whole corn kernels, and was made by a dude from California.  With my typical bullheaded-ness, I wondered how it could be corn bread if it wasn’t: made on the stove top in a cast iron skillet, having anything more than the merest pinch of sugar, using a single bowl, smooth in texture, and made by my grandfather.  The saving grace of this recipe in the beginning was the liberal use of bacon and the greasing of the pan in bacon grease.

Once I resigned myself to making the recipe as written, I made the most of its use of corn.  Sweet, white corn is in season right now, so it was the perfect side dish to some beautiful fried pork chops I made.  The leftover corn got trimmed from the cob and saved in the fridge for the cornbread.  The night before I made the cornbread, I proceeded to make the soaker out of polenta and buttermilk.  A two day process for cornbread?  Really, now, it seems excessive.  But, I tried not to be a skeptic.

On the day of the cornbread making I pulled out my package of perfect, thick-cut bacon.  I prepared to bake it in the oven– which shocked me.  However, after 20 minutes, I had crispy strips of bacon and lots of bacon grease.  YAY.  It crumbled up really easily, so that was great for this recipe.  I tend to prefer chewy bacon, so I’m still not convinced of this bacon-in-the-oven business for singular consumption.  However, it was perfect for the recipe.  Just look at it.

Cornbread - crumbled bacon

While the bacon crisped up, I proceeded to sift (SIFT! all this work…) the dry ingredients together in a bowl.  I love the way sifting looks.  So fluffy.

Cornbread - sifted flour

Then you ruin it by plunking in the brown sugar. (I thought this looked really cool).

Cornbread - dry ingredients

Look at all that sugar.  In cornbread!  So, you’ve got all these lovely dried ingredients in a large mixing bowl, you’ve got some crisped bacon hanging out and draining on a plate, a buttermilk-polenta soaker going on in something (I used a huge measuring cup so I could measure the buttermilk then mix the polenta right in), oh– and your bacon grease reserved in a stainless steel bowl.  And then, then you get to start making some more dirty dishes.

Cornbread steps - lots of bowls!

In a small bowl, you dissolve honey into melted butter.  In a medium bowl, you lightly beat some eggs.  Then, you slowly whisk the honey-butter mixture into the eggs (temper it first!).  After you whisk the honey, butter, and eggs up, you stir them into the polenta soaker.  At last, you have your wet ingredients ready.  And no, you can’t just go ahead and mix the honey, butter, and eggs in the same bowl unless you want some scrambled eggs.

Finally, you whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ones, then stir in the corn kernels.  It ends up about like pancake batter, so it’s really easy to make by hand.  Here’s the final batter:

Cornbread - final batter

Next comes the fun part: greasing the pan.  Reinhart suggests you heat the bacon grease up in the baking dish in the oven until it’s really hot, then tilt it around (while wearing super-duper oven mitts) to coat the pan.

Um, no.  I am WAY too klutzy for that.

So, I brushed the entire pan liberally with bacon grease and heated it up until it was nice and hot in the oven.  Very easy.  Minimal burn risk.  Look at that bacon grease.  My heart is just racing with excitement (or hypertension).

Cornbread - bacon grease for the pan

After your pan is well-greased, pour in the batter.  Get it all in there, then sprinkle the crumbled bacon over the top of the batter.  Oh, MAN, now I’m starting to forget about all that sugar and get excited!

Cornbread - before baking

Bake the cornbread in a 350º oven until it registers at 190º in the center.  I used a 9″ x 13″ baking pan for the cornbread, so my baking time was twice as long as that listed in the book for a 10″ cake pan.  When it’s ready, pull that goodness out and admire your work.

Cornbread - fresh from the oven

Look at that bacony goodness!  Those golden, crusty edges!  But wait, aren’t I supposed to skeptical?

Well, no.  No, not really.  It was awesome.  It’s tender and mildly sweet.  The buttermilk soaker gives the bread tang, and the bacon and bacon grease add a strong salty note.  I didn’t mind the corn kernels at all.  This was really, really delicious.  It might not be my grandpa’s cornbread, but this would be great for holidays.  It would also be a great way to dress up a Southern meal and make a plate of simpler fare a little more special.  Was it worth all the dishes?  YES.

This is some more yeasty goodness I’m sending over to Yeastspotting.

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge was developed by Nicole of Pinch My Salt. You can see what we’re baking this week at our Flickr group, on Twitter (#BBA), or check out the challenge page.

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BBA #9: Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Bread

Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Bread  - sliced

Two weeks of cinnamon-laden breads?  You might think that it would be overkill.  I’ve grumbled about all these enriched breads before, but I take it all back.  This cinnamon raisin walnut bread reminded me so much of the cinnamon raisin bread my grandma made when I was a little girl.  There are a few differences, of course.  Grandma’s uses a fresh yeast starter, excludes the nuts, and often has icing.  Mine uses instant yeast, walnuts, and a cinnamon sugar garnish.  They both have got raisins and a cinnamon swirl.  Seriously, who can complain about a cinnamon swirl?  This is currently my third favorite bread, behind bagels and cinnamon rolls.  It’s awesome.  It was also very easy, and it was made in a single day.

So, you start off by mixing up the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl: flour, sugar, salt, yeast, cinnamon.  You then add the wet ingredients: a room temperature egg, water, and (in my case, melted butter and whole milk. I used what was in my fridge and subbed for the shortening and the buttermilk.  I stirred until this formed a ball that pulled away from the bowl.  Then I flipped it on to the counter and kneaded it for about 20 minutes.  I checked to see if it formed a windowpane:

Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Bread  - windowpane

Yep.  So, I then proceeded to knead in the walnuts and raisins.  You’ve got to get 2 1/2 cups of stuff in this dough, and that’s a bit of a challenge.  I knead it in in stages.  I spread the dough out and sprinkle a handful of the walnut/raisins  on the dough:

Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Bread  - walnuts

I then knead the dough until they don’t fall out, then add another handful and knead again.  I repeat this process until all the nuts and raisins are worked into the dough.  Then I form the dough into a boule so it can be fermented in a bowl:

Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Bread  - dough

The bread rises until it doubles in size.  Reinhart suggests two hours, but my warm kitchen brought the dough up in a little more than an hour.  I split the dough into 2 equal pieces that I then rolled out 8″ x5″ x 1/3″.  I covered this with a cinnamon sugar blend.  I probably used 3 or 4 tablespoons per loaf.  I wish I had used more, so now I will be even more liberal next time.  I rolled the dough into a tight loaf, starting with the short side of the dough and pinching it closed after every turn.  I placed the two loaves in oiled 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ pans and let them proof until they crested the pans.  This took about 70 minutes.  I baked the loaves for 20 minutes, rotated the pans and baked for about 30 more minutes.  When the loaves registered 190º I removed them from the oven.  I turned them out of their pans, brushed them with melted butter, rolled them in cinnamon sugar that I spread on a plate, then put them on a rack to cool.

Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Bread  - cooling

I let them cool for two hours, then wrapped one loaf up and put it in the freezer.  The other I wrapped in plastic.  The next morning for breakfast I cut it and saw this:

Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Bread  - crumb & swirl

I was pretty pleased.  The swirl held together without space, because I pinched the loaf together after each turn.  The swirl was not as pronounced or swirly as I would have liked.  Next time I will used more cinnamon sugar and roll the loaf even tighter to get more turns.  Regardless of my quest for perfection, the bread was delicious.  It stayed moist for a few days, letting us eat it for breakfast or snacks.  The cinnamon sugar garnish was crunchy and delicious.  The raisins were soft and sweet.  It was a wonderful bread, one that I am sure I will make many more times.  It is possible I will forego the nuts sometimes, and maybe I will make it a bit more like my grandma’s.  But, it’s a great recipe.

This is some more yeasty goodness I’m sending over to Yeastspotting.

I’m also sending this over to Sandy of At the Baker’s Bench who hosts BYOB: Bake Your Own Bread.  Head on over to check it out and see the roundup!

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge was developed by Nicole of Pinch My Salt. You can see what we’re baking this week at our Flickr group, on Twitter (#BBA), or check out the challenge page.

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BBA #8: Cinnamon Rolls

Cinnamon Rolls - glazed

I am going to apologize in advance for the woeful dearth of pictures I took of these cinnamon rolls and their making. They were easy and delicious, but I made them as part of my Fourth of July Fiesta. As such, I had a million kitchen projects going and didn’t get enough pictures. The good news is that I got some pictures of everything, as you will reap the rewards for the next few weeks. The bad news is that nothing is going to look as good as it should.

I started the rolls later in the day than I normally bake, around noon. Hey, it was a holiday!  The rolls were the first thing I started.  I don’t normally include photos of ingredients or a mise en place, but I want to prove that my kitchen counters started out clean that day.  Don’t ask how they ended up.

Cinnamon Rolls - ingredients

White sugar!  Whole milk!  Butter!  Salt!  An egg!  You can tell these are going to be good just by how bad for you they are.  (And this doesn’t even include the ingredients for the white fondant glaze: a box of powdered sugar and more whole milk!).  Stop and think for a minute about how your arteries are going to ache and your heart is going to race after you eat one of these.  It’s a delicious pain.  If you’re me, this is already formulating as “future breakfast.”  I like to start my day on a sugar high.

So, I got started by creaming the butter (room temperature!), sugar, and salt together with my hand mixer.  I usually  mix everything by hand, but I figured the pastry-like qualities of this recipe were best started with fluffy shortening.  I then beat in the egg (room temperature!) and the extract.

If I impress nothing upon you through all these recipes, please please please always use room temperature eggs and butter. Your baking will thank you.  If you need some shortcuts on that, check my cupcakes recipe.  No excuses.  Let’s roll.

(Hahahaha! Get it? Let’s roll? Cinnamon rolls? The sugar is going to my head).

Ahem.  So, I beat in the egg and the extract and then slowly beat in the flour, yeast, and milk.  I kept scraping down the sides of my bowl, and stopped frequently.  This dough really wanted to climb up the mixture and jump in my mouth.  As soon as I had a ball pulling away from the bowl, I removed it to the counter and started kneading by hand.  As usual, I had to knead longer than specified– 20 minutes or so.  Still, I was justly rewarded for my efforts.  The dough stretched out to a thin, delicate windowpane that looked like vellum.

Cinnamon Rolls - windowpane

I popped the dough in an oiled bowl and commenced with the cooking for my evening Fiesta.  After  a couple hours, I check the dough, and it had doubled.  I misted the counter with spray oil (you don’t get these shots because of the state of my surrounding counter space) and proceeded to shape the buns.  I rolled the dough out 18″ wide by 9″ across.  I wanted “smaller” cinnamon rolls.  I sprinkled the cinnamon sugar from the recipe over most of the dough, leaving a bit of space at one edge for a seam.  I then rolled it up into a giant cigar-shaped cinnamon roll.  I did use all of the sugar, even though it seemed excessive.  I then cut the dough in individual rolls 1 1/4″ thick.  This yielded 12 rolls and a couple of scraggly bits of dough that I made into little cinnamon twists.  I transferred the rolls to a cookie sheet lined with oiled parchment paper.  I then proofed the rolls for an hour and a half, until they were puffy and giant.

After the rolls were proofed, I baked them in a preheated oven for 30 minutes.  They were not quite as golden on top as I would have liked, but at that point in the evening I was knee-deep in salsa and didn’t notice.  As they cooled, I made the fondant icing, swapping out the lemon extract in favor of vanilla upon the husband’s request.  The vanilla colored the icing just a bit, so if you’re wondering “why lemon” color is a factor as well as flavor!  Upon closer inspection, the massive amounts of cinnamon sugar filling had melted into the buns gloriously, leaving a sticky, cinnamon-y filling.  Gorgeous.

I sloppily drizzled the icing over the buns, using a whisk, a spoon, and eventually just pouring straight out of the bowl.  It wasn’t the most attractive display, but I knew these would be unapologetically devoured.  As the fondant glaze ran off the buns, I spooned it over the buns and let it run into the swirls and crevasses.  They were excellent.  I will definitely make these again and perhaps even venture into the territory of Caramel Pecan Sticky Buns.

Cinnamon Rolls - glazed

This is some more yeasty goodness I’m sending over to Yeastspotting.

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge was developed by Nicole of Pinch My Salt. You can see what we’re baking this week at our Flickr group, on Twitter (#BBA), or check out the challenge page.

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BBA #7: Ciabatta

Ciabatta  - finished loaf

Ciabatta bread: this bread, along with bagels, focaccia, and sourdough baguettes tipped me from wondering if I should bake through the entire Bread Baker’s Apprentice to jumping in.  I didn’t have to think long with a list of breads like that, but I briefly questioned the decision.  Ciabatta, thus named because it is shaped like a slipper, is a favorite of mine and many others for a host of reasons.  Usually a lean dough (although mine is enriched with olive oil), there is nothing lean about its flavor.  The hard crust, the dense chew through a network of holes– it feels more fierce than regular sandwich bread.  At the very least, it’s more interesting.  And oh, the plans I had for my homemade ciabatta.  A PLT (prosciutto, lettuce, tomato), perhaps?  Maybe just a regular sandwich toasted into ciabatta submission and called panini?  I could class up our regular Hoagie Night into Panini Night!  Or, maybe I would just recline on the back porch with a quart of olive oil flavored with garlic and  minced herbs, ripping off chunks of bread and swathing it in so much golden glory before stuffing it in my mouth.  Yes, ciabatta would be a fine bread.

Imagine my dismay, then, when I saw that so many of my bread-baking colleagues were reporting dense ciabatta with no holes.  My visions of Panini Night and back porch lounging vanished.  The bread would still be good, with or without holes.  But would it be awesome?

I started, then, by choosing the biga route instead of the poolish for the bread.  Lotta people out there going the poolish route and reporting no holes.  I know how to take advice.  The biga offers more hydration to the dough.  More hydration = more holes.  I read a few bread baking forums– in particular this one over at The Fresh Loaf— and took Reinhart’s option of using all-purpose flour for the biga instead of bread flour.  All purpose flour has a lower protein content than bread flour, and lower protein = more holes.  So, I made my biga the day before I wanted to make my ciabatta.  After I fermented it and punched it down, I popped it in the fridge to retard overnight.

Ciabatta  - biga

Monday arrived with the promise of bread.  I removed my biga from the fridge and cut it into a dozen pieces.  I covered them with a damp towel and left them to slowly come to room temperature.  After an hour or so, they were soft and also firmly stuck to the towel.  N.B. – next time, oil and flour the towel that goes on top of the biga.  I collected my remaining ingredients together.  In a large mixing bowl, I stirred together a couple cups of bread flour, some yeast, and some salt.  I added the biga.  Then, I added both the max amount of room temperature water to the mix – 9 ounces – as well as the full, optional 1/4 cup of olive oil.  Hey, they’re wet, right?  And, more hydration= more holes.  I wanted to go with the maximum amount of hydration that Reinhart specified without deviating from the recipe.  I opted not to use milk or buttermilk in place of the water, because I wanted a leaner bread with an olive oil flavor.

Ciabatta  - mixed dough

I stirred all of this together.  It mixed up very easily, and it was wet and soggy.  Giant holes, here I come!  I made a square bed of flour on my counter and slopped the dough on top of it.  I used my well-floured hands to shape the dough into a very rough rectangle.  I then stretched the rectangle out to twice its size, then folded the left third across the middle.  I brought the right third over the whole, like folding a letter.  Then, I sprayed that mess with oil and floured it liberally.  I covered the mass with plastic wrap and went about my business.  I wondered if flouring the layers acted like the floured and buttered layers in puff pastry, and if this would result in holey bread.

Ciabatta  - proofing

After half an hour passed, I returned to repeat the stretch, fold up, spray down, and flour process.  I covered the bread again with the plastic wrap and left it for around 2 hours.  Before I touched it again, I set up my couche.  Not having the requisite special linen cloth, I grabbed a couple of linen tea towels.  Perfect.  I laid them on top of each other so they would have more rigidity, then sprayed them with oil and floured them well.  Time to shape the ciabatta.

To shape the bread, I dipped my bench scraper in water, then used it to slice my rectangle of dough in half.  I was careful not to degas the bread.  I liberally doused the dough with flour again, then used my scraper to transport each loaf over to the couche. Once moved, I rolled each loaf around in the flour.  Then, I used the same folding method again (less stretching this time) to form rectangles about 6 inches long.  I bunched up the cloth to form a wall on each side of and between the two loaves.  Another mist of the spray oil and another dusting of flour, then it rested, covered, for about an hour.

Ciabatta  - proofing in couche

After 45 minutes, I returned to the kitchen to ready the oven for this hearth style of baking called for in the recipe.  I placed a pan on the bottom rack of the oven and filled it with water.  I then preheated the oven to 500º.  I chose not to pour hot water into the pan as I put the bread in the oven, because I am klutz and was sure I would burn myself or pour it all over the glass oven door.  Instead, the water would heat along with the oven and provide the same effect.  I flipped over an old sheet pan, liberally sprinkled it with corn meal and set it next to the couche.  This would let me move the bread with minimal handling.

Once the hour had passed, I had a heated oven, a prepared sheet pan, and two proofed loaves.  I carefully transferrd the loaves to the sheet pan.  Then, I stretched them out until they were between 10 and 11″ long.  I dimpled down the middle sections of the loaves very gently so they wouldn’t be rounded and would form the slipper shape.  Then, I slid the pan into the oven and let the loaves hang out for 30 seconds.  I misted the walls of the the oven with water.  When you do this, make sure you aim directly at the walls and wear mitts, because it will release some mighty steam.  I did this three times, in 30 second increments, then reduced the oven temperature to 450º.  I baked the loaves for 10 minutes, then rotated them 180º and baked them for another 10.  At this point, I check the internal temperature of the loaves, which registered a perfect 205º.  I nearly died of shock that the loaves didn’t have to bake longer than the time specified, then I removed them from from the oven to a rack to cool.

Ciabatta - baking

After 45 minutes of cooling, the moment of truth arrived.  Would there be holes?  Would the ciabatta be everything I hoped for?  Could we actually have a classy sandwich night?

Ciabatta  - crumb

Yes.  Yes, indeed.

*          *          *          *          *

This is some more yeasty goodness I’m sending over to Yeastspotting.

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge was developed by Nicole of Pinch My Salt. You can see what we’re baking this week at our Flickr group, on Twitter (#BBA), or check out the challenge page.

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BBA #6: Challah

Challah - whole loaf

Another egg bread?  I know, you must be sick of them.  Seems like the Bread Baker’s Apprentice is front-loaded with enriched breads, a fate cast upon it by the rigors of alphabetical order.  I thought I was tired of egg breads until I sliced into this challah.  I had never eaten challah before, but believe me: I am a convert.  This dough was probably the easiest to handle out of all the recipes so far. It doesn’t use a sponge or soaker.  It’s made in one day.  And the flavor– the flavor is divine.  The bread is sturdy with a nice chew without being tough.  I am already thinking of making this again and shaping it into sandwich buns, because I think it would be wonderful for burgers or filling sandwiches.

While the challah uses four eggs, the dough doesn’t taste as eggy as the brioche recipe.  Four eggs?  Well, challah is an egg bread after all.  It is traditional in Jewish cooking, and was developed so that eggs gathered before the Sabbath could be used up and not wasted– as they could not be harvested during the Sabbath or holidays.  Challah is also pareve, which means it uses neither meat nor dairy and is a neutral food in the kosher kitchen.  So don’t sneak in any butter!

The challah starts out straightforwardly.  Wet ingredients are mixed in one bowl and then stirred into the dry until it forms a balls that pulls away from the bowl.  This can be accomplished by hand easily.  In the case of this loaf, I made use of Reinhart’s suggestion to double the sugar in the recipe, so I used 4 tablespoons.  I really liked the sweetness of the bread, and I could also see using a quarter cup of honey to sweeten it.  Once a ball is formed, the bread is kneaded for 10 minutes (according to Reinhart) until it passes the windowpane test.  This took me about 20 minutes rather than the suggested 10.  The bread became satiny and had silky feeling under the hand.  It made a beautiful boule for the first fermentation.

Challah - before fermentation

You can see in the photo just how uniform and smooth the texture of the dough is.  I placed the boule in a large bowl and let it ferment for an hour.  After an hour, I kneaded it to degas it fully and returned it to the bowl for another hour.  It quickly rose again.  I then removed this boule and cut it into six equal pieces.  I formed the pieces into individual boules and let them rest for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes passed came the hardest part.  I commenced “rolling the pieces into strands, each the same length, thicker in the middle and slightly tapered toward the ends” (p 134).  This sounds very specific until you start to do it.  Then, panic sets in.  How long should the strands be?  What if they don’t want to stretch?  Here’s where you can take a lesson from my book.  I rolled the pieces in strands about 13-16″ long, keeping the three strands for each loaf the same length.  The dough does want to spring back, and it doesn’t hold its shape easily.  So, roll it a bit, then set it aside.  Move on to another strand.  I rotated through all my strands until they were uniform and the length I desired.  They will seem a bit short, but there is more proofing to go, and this bread has a mighty oven spring.
Preparing Challah to Bake

As you can see from the photos, my loaves showed some striation and a few tears in the surface tension.  This was caused purely by impatience, so shape slowly.  Keep the surface of the dough smooth and taut.  Any tears will be visible in the final loaf.  Also, I have seen some images online of challah that fell apart in the oven, and this is caused by broken surface tension on the strands.

I made two 3-braid loaves.  The 3-strand braid begins in the middle.  Lay your strands out as above, then braid one end.  Pinch it off, then braid the other.  When you finish, lay the loaves on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Brush the loaves with egg wash and let them rise another hour, covered with plastic wrap.  After they have risen, brush them with egg wash again and garnish with either poppy or sesame seeds.  I made a loaf of each to figure out my preference.  I think I like the poppy seeds better.

The bread bakes for about an hour in a 350º oven.  I baked both loaves at the same time.  I included a pan of water in the oven while it preheated and misted the interior of the oven with water to promote crust formation.  The bread quickly darkened on top, so I tented it with foil after only 10 minutes.  I baked it until it reached 190º in the center of the loaf.  I removed it from the oven and let it cool an hour.

Challah - heel sliced off

I could wait to slice into the loaf.  The bread has a tight interior crumb and is very sturdy.  This one definitely goes into the rotation, I thought.

Challah - crumb detail

And then I greedily dug in.

A little Challah snack

Where else can you see this challah on the web?

Check it out on The Dish over at the new site Good Bite!  Good Bite brings together some of the most popular food bloggers on the web to share recipes, participate in relevant round table discussions, provide video demonstrations of blog recipes, collect great articles from blogs, and generate forum discussion – all on one site!

This bread is also being featured on the braiding section of Foodista.  Click here to see more info on their site about braiding bread!

Braiding on Foodista

This is some more yeasty goodness I’m sending over to Yeastspotting.

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge was developed by Nicole of Pinch My Salt. You can see what we’re baking this week at our Flickr group, on Twitter (#BBA), or check out the challenge page.

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BBA #5: Casatiello

Casatiello - Slice

There is an old adage that goes something like “Pork fat rules.”  I tend to think that if a maxim has been repeated ad infinitum there is usually a reason it got to be that way.  Take this Casatiello, for example.  It’s an Italian variant of brioche of Neopolitan origin: a little less eggy, studded with meat and chcese, raised sky-high with yeast.  Traditionally, the Casatiello is an Easter bread made with lard or oil, filled with cheese, and garnished with salami.  A bread filled with meat and cheese?  I knew this would be a recipe we would love.  Some variants even have hard cooked eggs worked into the top of the crust.  (No thanks). As I learned post-baking, it’s also traditionally baked in a tube pan.  (n.b. Next time use the tube pan.  No need to make a parchment collar!)

Casatiello - Detail

Reinhart, in his version of Casatiello, brings butter into the picture.  Another two sticks, please!  Much to my deep satisfaction, however, he suggests that to maximize flavor the meat used to fill the bread can be crisped and the fat rendered.  The fat may replace butter.  I was very excited about this.  As a good Southern girl, my grandfather showed me how to extract every ounce of grease from bacon.  I might be a professional at this.  So, my 4 ounces of pepperoni yielded just shy of a quarter cup of fat.  I wouldn’t need that extra quarter cup of butter!  Excellent.  I was glad, as I had hedged my bets on getting as much fat out of the meat and only set two sticks of butter out to come to room temperature overnight.

So, I began by making the sponge, of a tablespoon (!) of yeast, some whole milk, and some flour.  It was very wet.

Casatiello - Sponge

While this rested for an hour, I set upon my task of preparing the fillings.  I grated the cheese and cubed the pepperoni.  I placed the cubes in a skillet and turned the burner on medium low.  A key to rendering fat is that you want to cook your meat slowly.  I let the meat heat and begin releasing fat.  I kept a small prep bowl next to the pan.  As the fat collected in the pan, I poured it off.  I poured off the fat three or four times before the meat was very brown and crisp.  I removed the meat to a plate with a papertowel to drain and surveyed my work.  Not bad.

Casatillo - Pepperoni

At this point, the sponge was doubled.  It was bubbly and frothy.  I mixed my remaining dry ingredients together, then added my eggs (room temperature, of course) and sponge.  “Coarse ball” was Reinhart’s description, and that is exactly what I got.  Not very moist here.  I let the dough rest as directed, then began mixing my butter in.  I used the same techinique as with my brioche, spreading and folding the soft butter over and into the dough.  As more and more butter worked into the dough, it became softer.  I added my rendered fat after all the butter was mixed in.  It was still very difficult to stir, and I occasionally floured my hands and used them to work the dough.  I did not want to use my hands often or long, as there was quite a bit of butter in the dough.  I mixed well, for about 15 minutes, and finally had a free-form ball.

Casatiello - Dough

At this point, I kneaded in my meat and cheese, oiled a bowl, and let the dough ferment.  I went out to lunch and ran errands, so the inital fermentation ran long – maybe 2 1/2 hours.  When I came back, the dough was well-risen and ready to be shaped and proofed.  I made a parchment collar for an 8″ cake pan, formed the dough into a boule, and let it proof until the top reached the top of the collar.  This took the full 90 minutes.

Casatiello - Proofing

I then baked the bread according to Reinhart’s instructions.  It took the bread about 50-55 minutes to reach the appropriate internal temperature (190º).  It had a wonderful oven spring.  I wish I had used a second pan in the oven, filled with water, to achieve a better and darker crust.  The steam would have darkened the crust a bit more and made it crisper.  After baking, I removed bread to racks to cool.

Casatiello - Cooling

Oh, hello, Husband.  So nice of you to pop up when the bread is ready.

Casatiello  & Jeremy

We cut the bread, and it was delicious.  The grated cheese gave the entire loaf a gentle tang, and the pork fat lent a deep, salty flavor to the dough, also.  The bits of meat were delightful.  Aside from the bagels, about which we are passionate, this is our favorite bread of the challenge.  The crumb is dense and cakey, and the bread has and incredible depth of flavor.  This one definitely becomes part of the regular rotation.

Casatiello - Sliced Loaf

This is some more yeasty goodness I’m sending over to Yeastspotting.

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge was developed by Nicole of Pinch My Salt. You can see what we’re baking this week at our Flickr group, on Twitter (#BBA), or check out the challenge page.

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BBA #4: Brioche

Brioche for breakfast

When I told my husband that I was making brioche this week he was interested, as usual, in the bread he would be trying.

“So what’s in brioche?”

“Oh, just a few sticks of butter, 5 eggs, and some whole milk.  A little sugar–”

It was at this point that he cut me off saying his angina had called, and was all that really necessary?

Of course it’s necessary.  Peter Reinhart calls brioche, the fourth recipe in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, “the standard by which all rich breads” are judged.  In France, revolutionaries attributed an old quote of “qu’ils mangent de la brioche” to Marie Antoinette, and it got her head cut off.  When Americans tell that same story, they sub in “cake” for brioche.  It’s that rich.  It’s light, delicate, airy in crumb, and ephermal on the tongue.  But, maybe it didn’t have to be a rich as I described.  I was dreaming of making Reinhart’s Rich Man’s Brioche, which uses a full pound of butter to give his bread the ultimate flake.

So, I compromised and made the Middle-Class version of the brioche with only 2 sticks of butter in it.  My compromise was partially rooted in the fact that there were only two whole sticks of butter in my fridge, and I didn’t really want to make a trip to the store for more butter.  I admit, I also had some reservations about mixing this dough by hand with a whisk and wooden spoon instead of a Kitchen Aid.  I’d heard some say that getting the butter in by hand was next to impossible.  I’m happy to report that it really isn’t, but the key is in having your butter truly at room temperature.  To start, I put two sticks of butter out on Friday night, so that they could soften completely by the time I was ready to make the sponge and dough on Saturday.

Creating dough collage

No one lied when they said that this would be a workout.  I made the sponge, and it rose beautifully.  I added the eggs, which had been whisked smooth.  I added in the flour, the sugar, the salt.  Getting everything evenly hydrated involved lots of scraping, lots of folding, stirring and coaxing.  I was glad of the five minute rest for the gluten to develop.  I returned to add in the butter.  Taking Reinhart’s advice of adding it one quarter at a time was not impossible.  The butter was beautifully soft, and it spread and coated the dough.  I continued mixing, folding, adding more butter; not once was I tempted to make my hands do the work.  Now, his advice to mix for an additional six minutes after adding all the butter was a bit more work.  My arms were so tired from forcing a wooden spoon through the dough.  It was soft, but still very hard to mix.  I mixed for closer to ten minutes, realizing that as I tired I would not mix as well.  I placed my Silpat on the bottom of my baking sheet and misted it with spray oil.  I formed the requisite rectangle of dough, misted the whole with more spray oil, and placed it in the fridge.  There may have been no kneading involved, but the stirring was quite the workout!

The next morning brought shaping.  I was going to make one large brioche à tête, four smaller ones, and use anything left for rolls.  I did not fear handling the dough.  I knew it must remain very cold, and I kept my hands well-floured.  Shaping went well until I panicked regarding my large brioche à tête mold.  Fill it halfway – what is halfway?  I couldn’t decide, so I kept it conservative.  I had a lot of dough left, so I made pullapart rolls with the rest.  I now know that every bit of dough in those pullapart rolls should have gone into the large brioche à tête.  It came out of the oven rather skimpy, even though all of the dough produced a wonderful oven spring.

Shaping dough

The other thing I noticed post baking is that the little “têtes” had varying degrees of uprightness.  A few were right where they belonged.  Others leaned a bit to one side during proofing.  Those that leaned became even more prominent after baking.  This time I shaped the brioche à tête in two separate pieces, adding a ball to the top.  Next time, I will experiment with making some in one piece as suggested alternatively in the book.

Nonetheless, I brushed my egg wash on the brioche, baked them off, and they were delicious.  They baked up quickly in the amount of time suggested in the recipe, easily reaching the appropriate internal temperatures.  

The crusts were glossy and flaky.  

Brioche a tete


The crumb was tight and golden.

Interior crumb

The recipe is winning.  I am fantasizing about making them again and serving them for dessert filled with chocolate hazelnut gelato– but I tend to need to occupy my mind while riding my bike.  This is a bread that requires a bit of exercise post-enjoyment!


Split brioche with jam

This is some more yeasty goodness I’m sending over to Yeastspotting.

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge was developed by Nicole of Pinch My Salt. You can see what we’re baking this week at our Flickr group, on Twitter (#BBA), or check out the challenge page.

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BBA #3: Bagels (and a topping recipe)

Bagel Sandwich

Since embarking on the Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge, I have really been looking forward to making the bagels.  Before I moved to Virginia, I had a small problem– shall we say– with bagels.  In particular, everything bagels are irresistable to me.  I love them.  I’ll eat them plain, buttered, with raspberry jam.  Nothing compares to a bagel sandwich made with those savory little toppings crusting the bagel.  Athens afforded me many opportunities to eat them.  My favorite coffee shop sold great ones, Big City Bread made good ones, and Zim’s Bagel Bakery had perfected them.  When my husband and I visit Tallahassee every year, we always seek out Bagelheads for a bagel sandwich served with crunchy cole slaw on our way out of town.  Now, Zim’s has closed and I have moved.  I thought great bagels would be easier to find, but there are no good bagels that I have found or tried up here yet.  I vowed they would be one of the first things I made in my new kitchen.  Before I got the chance, though, I signed up to bake my way through this book, and one of the major motivations to do so was that bagel recipe.  

Now that I’ve made the bagel recipe, let me say that I recommend it strongly.  The bagels are perfect.  They are chewy, they are flavorful, and they are easy.  They do take a bit of time, but I would ask that you not be put off by that.  Most of the time is spent waiting, not working.  I decided to begin my bagels this past Saturday evening, after returning from a quick overnight trip to Blacksburg.  I was a little tired, but I really wanted to have these available for Sunday’s lunch.  We usually skip breakfast on Sundays, so I figured this would make the perfect meal.  My husband adores everything bagels as much as I do, so this was a treat he was really anticipating.

I started by making the sponge according to Reinhart’s directions.   I took a large mixing bowl, and mixed the yeast into the flour.  I did not use high-gluten flour, so I added 1 teaspoon of vital wheat gluten to each cup of bread flour in the sponge; this came out to 4 teaspoons.  I added the vital wheat gluten to the measuring cup before scooping out the flour, so that the flour would equal 1 cup minus 1 teaspoon of actual bread flour.  I added room temperature water, covered the sponge in plastic wrap, and left it for two hours.

Bagel Sponge

After two hours, the sponge had doubled in size, and it was bubbly and foamy.  It did not collapse when I tapped the bowl on the counter, but degassed very quickly when I poked it.  Close enough.  I added the additional yeast to the sponge and the remaining flour.  I added vital wheat gluten to this bread flour in the same way that I did for the sponge.  I also added salt and malt powder.  I mixed per the recipe directions, adding the final 3/4 C of flour after the dough made a ball.  I then removed the dough from the bowl and proceeded to knead.  As usual, I kneaded by hand.  The dough quickly reached the correct temperature, but failed to windowpane after 15 minutes of kneading.  I continued kneading for another 15 minutes before my dough passed the windowpane test.  The dough also stayed very tacky throughout much of the kneading, so I continued adding flour until the texture became satiny and did not stick to my hands.  I probably added another cup of flour in this manner.  I am not sure of the exact measurement, as I add the flour very slowly– a small handful at a time.  

At this point, I divide the dough up with my bench scraper, shaped the dough into rolls, and let it proof under a damp towel for 20 minutes.  When I returned the rolls had risen a bit and were beautiful.  I lined two baking pans; for one I used my Silpat, and the other I used parchment paper.  I misted each with spray oil, and shaped my bagels.  I placed 6 bagels on each pan, covered them with plastic wrap, and let them hang out for another 2o minutes.  After the time had passed, I filled a large mixing bowl with room temperature water and dropped a bagel in.  It floated, so I knew they were ready to be retarded in the fridge.  This was the most punctual dough I had worked with yet.  

Sunday morning, I awoke and removed my bagels from the fridge. They had risen just a bit overnight, but they looked great and were ready to boil. 

Bagels Shaped

I boiled the bagels for 1 minute per side in water with a tablespoon of baking soda added.  I ended up boiling three bagels at a time so as not to crowd the pot.  As soon as I removed the bagels, I sprinkled on my everything bagel topping (recipe at the bottom of the page).  When all the bagels had been boiled, I baked them on two racks in the center of my oven at 500º.  After 5 minutes I lowered the temperature as directed. After another 5 minutes, I didn’t feel like the bagels were quite baked enough, so I let them bake another five minutes.  They came out a beautiful golden brown.  


This was definitely my favorite recipe so far, and the everything bagel topping I made tasted just like those in my favorite bagel shops.  Below, I have the quick recipe for the quantities needed to top a dozen bagels.  It’s not much in terms of a recipe, but it will make your bagels taste divine. 

Bagel Topping

Everything  Bagel Topping

  • 4 tsp poppy seeds
  • 4 tsp sesame seeds
  • 4 tsp dried garlic flakes
  • 4 tsp dried onion flakes
  • 4 tsp coarse grained kosher or sea salt

Mix all ingredients together well in a small bowl.  Use to liberally top bagels as soon as they emerge from their water bath.  Store any leftovers in an airtight container.  Will keep up to two months.

Tops 12 large bagels or 24 mini bagels.

This is some more yeasty goodness I’m sending over to Yeastspotting.

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge was developed by Nicole of Pinch My Salt. You can see what we’re baking this week at our Flickr group, on Twitter (#BBA), or check out the challenge page.

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BBA # 2: Christopsomos

For the second bread I am baking from the Bread Baker’s Apprentice, I chose to make the Christopsomos version of the Artos breads.  The Christopsomos is a Christmas-season bread, filled with dried fruits, and with a cross laminated on top.  The bread can be made with a wild-yeast starter (a barm) or a poolish.  So, the day before I wanted to make the bread, I made the poolish.  I made the mistake of using cold water to mix my poolish, so instead of being bubbly and happy in 3-4 hours, it took around 6-7.  After most of the day had passed, it finally looked like this:

 Christopsomos - poolish

Nice and bubbly and foamy!  Perfect.  I popped it in the fridge to hang out overnight.  I would start the bread the next morning.

The next morning, I pulled the poolish out of the fridge to bring it up to room temperature before beginning the dough.  I measured out one cup in a bowl.  The texture and color were different; it was whiter and stiffer.

 Christopsomos - poolish, day 2

Meanwhile, I measured my dry ingredients out into one bowl and whisked my wet ingredients into another, so that they both could come to room temperature along with the poolish.  The milk was still rather cold, and I wish I had let it sit out longer before incorporating it with the other wet ingredients.  The coldness of the milk meant I had to knead my dough longer to get it to the proper temperature for proofing.

Christopsomos - wet ingredients

To flavor the bread, I chose orange extract over lemon as I felt the flavor would go better with the dried fruit.  I also chose to use mahlab instead of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.  Mahlab, also known as mahleb or mahlepi, is a spice traditionally used in Greek, Eastern European, and Middle Eastern cooking.  The whole spices are pits from St. Lucia sour cherries; you can see traces of fuschia staining on the spices from the cherry juice!  Ground, the spice has a delicate aroma of bitter almonds with a distinct floral background.  Very aromatic, it is traditionally used in baked goods and pastries.  You can find an assortment of recipes that use mahlab on my Delicious account.  I was so curious about this unusual spice that I had to find out how it was used.  I stumbled upon it at Penzey’s in Richmond and felt compelled to use it in my bread, but I wanted to find many ways to use the rest.  I could not find ground mastic, so I used the clove substitution for that.

Mahlab collage

After I combined the wet and dry ingredients and mixed them with the poolish, I really had my work cut out for me kneading the bread.  It took me nearly half and hour to get the bread to the right temperature.  I decided I would knead the bread until it registered between 77 and 81º, then attempt the windowpane test.  It failed the first three times, so after each try I kept kneading.  Finally, I got this:

 Christopsomos - windowpane test

You have no idea how hard it is to do that one handed and take a picture without destroying your camera.  Perhaps I am Supergirl?  With a windowpane achieved, I kneaded my toasted nuts and fruit into the dough, oiled a bowl, and transferred the dough to it, reserving one third of the dough in the refrigerator for the cross.  I ended up letting the dough rise for a little over 90 minutes, as it had not yet doubled in size.  I then removed the dough from the bowl and shaped it in the traditional Christopsomos shape of a boule.  I removed the remaining dough from the fridge, rolled it into this cylinders and added the cross with the curled ends.

Christopsomos - shaped dough

If I made this shape again,  I would reserve the dough for the cross before adding the fruit and nuts.  The little lumps made the dough difficult to shape – I kept ending up with walnuts in the dough curls!

I baked this using essentially the same technique I did for the Anadama bread to develop a crust.  I wish I had not.  I started my oven at 450º so that it wouldn’t lose too much heat during the misting, then reduced the temperature to 350º when finished.  This caused my bread to brown too rapidly.  However, due to the application of the cross, the bread baked for much longer than the directions indicated.  After 45 minutes, the center of my bread only registered 140º– nowhere near done.  I baked it for over an hour before it was done.  At that point the bread was very brown and crusty.  I had opted not to make the glaze, because I didn’t want such a sweet bread.  I wish I had made it now, because I think it would have been the little detail that made the bread go from good to excellent.  Next time, I would also likely forego the dried fruits and nuts.  The delicate spice flavoring given to the bread by the mahlab was overwhelmed by the intense flavors.  Not that it wasn’t delicious, mind you.  The bread has a tight crumb and is evenly studded with fruits and nuts.  I’ve really enjoyed it for breakfast, and it would probably make excellent french toast.  I would definitely recommend this bread, but the next time I make it I will opt for a plain loaf, no fruits, no nuts, and plenty of glaze.

Christopsomos - Sliced









Here’s some more yeasty goodness I’m sending over to Yeastspotting.  

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge was developed by Nicole of Pinch My Salt. You can see what we’re baking this week at our Flickr group, on Twitter (#BBA), or check out the challenge page

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BBA #1: Anadama Bread

 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:

Polenta - Anadama Bread

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.

Mixing dough - Anadama Bread

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.

Mixed dough - Anadama Bread

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:

First Rise / Fermentation - Anadama Bread

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.

Finished loaf - Anadama Bread

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:

Sliced loaf - Anadama Bread

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.

Crumb - Anadama Bread

Since it’s yeasty, I’m submitting my Anadama post to Yeastspotting. Fun!