Spring Breads

Winter breadIt’s been a while since I wrote about baking bread. During the election campaign last fall, my baking was sidetracked somewhat, but I did manage to get a few loaves in.

Last month I got back to baking in earnest. However, along the way, I ignored my levain and it went off. I had to toss it, and have not yet started a new one. The loaf on the right is the last one I made with my levain. It was good and crusty, with a great acidic taste, so I need to restore a levain to get that flavour in future.

The first bread I made last month (March) was an Irish Soda Bread, based on the recipe in Paul Hollywood‘s book, 100 Great Breads. I picked it up in Chapters in Barrie this winter at a bargain price (about $5).  As is my wont, I didn’t follow his recipe exactly. The recipe on his website isn’t quite the same as in the book, either.

Soda breadThe bread is an easy, self-rising, fast bread that can be assembled and baked in about 60 minutes. Soda bread is great with soups and some cheeses.

In the book he calls for 20g of baking powder, while on the web he mentions using 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (aka baking soda). They’re both leavening agents, but not the same product, however. I suspect the book should have called for baking soda not powder… but you can easily experiment with both. I stuck with the baking powder and the result was good, as you can see.

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Another fad bites the dust

Bread!The gluten-free fad took another major hit to its already weakened credibility this week when researchers who had first diagnosed “non-celiac gluten sensitivity” found out that, oops, they were wrong. It doesn’t exist.

A story in Business Insider tells the tale.

In one of the best examples of science working, a researcher who provided key evidence of (non-celiac disease) gluten sensitivity recently published follow-up papers that show the opposite…It seems to be a “nocebo” effect — the self-diagnosed gluten sensitive patients expected to feel worse on the study diets, so they did. They were also likely more attentive to their intestinal distress, since they had to monitor it for the study.

So as the article ends, “…go ahead and smell your bread and eat it too. Science. It works.” Love that term “nocebo…”

the bottom line: bread, and gluten: okay to eat. The wheat-belly, gluten-free, bread-is-the-devil diet fad? Snake oil.

I hope to see the end of the anti-gluten pseudoscience fad very, very soon. And I can get back to baking bread without the nonsense of fads and faux science interfering with my enjoyment.

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May and June Breads

June bread
The past month I haven’t done as much baking as usual – just been too busy to do much, plus I was away for a long weekend holiday in Toronto. So June saw a mere two loaves baked. I made a few others in late May, however.

June breadThe two most recent loaves were a poolish-levain combination done in the oven, and a jalapeño-cheese bread done in the machine. The former was a typical bread for me: nicely solid for sandwiches and toast, but the levain added the sourdourgh flavour and a hint of acidity. Both crust and crumb were acceptable.

Nice, simple bread to make. pretty much my fall-back recipe nowadays (although my levain suffered a mishap and I may need to restart one…).

The only problem with this loaf was the shape – slightly lopsided. No big deal, of course, in the eating thereof. I suspect it had rather exuberant oven spring on that side.

Cheese & jalapeno bread bread
June breadThe jalapeño-cheese bread was based on a recipe from my favourite bread machine cookbook, but as I have often found in other of this book’s recipes, the amount of cheese and jalapeño pepper was too little for my taste.

If it has hot peppers, it should taste like it has hot peppers – even the mild ones like the modest jalapeño.

I fried the peppers in a bit of olive oil and some minced onion, first. The cheese was from a shredded cheddar package.

The loaf turned out well physically, with the sort of fluffy crumb one gets in commercial breads, albeit a somewhat thicker crust. It was quite symmetrical (not all of my machine-baked breads have been) and rather tall.

However, both the cheese and the peppers tended to get thoroughly blended into the crumb, so there was no particular taste of either. It was okay for sandwiches and passable for toast. Nothing I’d want to repeat without some significant changes.

Well, the first loaf has been eaten and the c-j bread is down to its last slice or two, so it’s time to start a new loaf. I began a poolish this morning with a mix of unbleached white and red fife flours. We’ll see what else I add tomorrow. Basil? Garlic? Hmmm…

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Failure and Redemption

Sourdough #1The past month has seen the rise, fall and rise again of my bread making efforts.

Mid-month, in April, I was having some success making sourdough breads and was looking at trying some experiments with herbs and other ingredients. Maybe look at other specialty breads, too.

But late in the month I tried a cheese bread in the machine – my first cheese bread, using a recipe in the 300 Best Bread Machine Recipes book. It was a failure that cost me a confidence and set me to lying awake at night wondering what I did wrong.

But then I came back with good loaves – in fact, very good – both in a mixed-sourdough and a handmade cheese bread.

I feel redeemed. Confidence was restored.

Sourdough #1Mid-April I made a sourdough from the levain in my fridge, and no additional yeast or poolish. Entirely unbleached white flour. I decided this time to add more salt than I usually do – almost the amount most recipes call for. The result was a slow rise during the day, but it rose to a reasonable height for the boule. Tall enough for sandwiches.

Crust was crisp, the crumb was a bit dense but not overly so; more like a commercial light rye (and the taste is similar to a rye because of the sour levain). But it cooked throughout to a nice consistency with just the right amount of chewiness.

There was noticeable aeration, especially at the top, although no really large holes. Makes me wonder if I should have flipped the dough over an hour or so before baking; help the aeration on the other side.

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April’s early breads

Artisan bread no. 1April has begun with three loaves of bread; generally successful efforts, although there’s still some tweaking to do with the recipes. As always. But I’m encouraged to try more – and of course experiment more with recipes and ingredients.

The first loaf of the latest batch was an artisan loaf made at the tail end of March. Started with an overnight poolish and the standard artisan recipe I’ve been using for a while now (derived from one found online). All unbleached white flour in the mix. A little less salt than was called for, but otherwise pretty basic bread.

The result was excellent. A little canned applause might be inserted here.

Artisan bread no. 1As you can see, it held a good shape, and rose well without flattening. It shows a nicely aerated crumb. Crust was fine; a little crunchy and chewy at the same time.

I was extremely pleased by this loaf – look, texture and taste all combined to produce one of the best loaves I’ve made to date. It didn’t last long: we ate it in a few days.

I might let it rise a little longer next time to boost the aeration. Or perhaps increase the hydration by a percentage point or two. Both can improve aeration. But too much water and the dough is too wet to hold its shape during the rise.

Artisan bread no. 1The second loaf was another artisan-style boule, but this time I went back to the “Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day” master recipe. And I stuck to the recipe – although I reduced all the ingredients to 2/3rds of what was called for, to make one large loaf rather than the two smaller loaves in the book.

It wasn’t as good as this recipe has produced in the past. I think it had a lot to do with the salt.

The recipe calls for 1 1/2 tablespoons of coarse (kosher) salt. That’s a lot. Even reduced for my smaller effort, it’s still a full tablespoon of salt for 4 cups of flour. I hesitated, but in the end opted to use what was called for.

My mistake. I’ve tended to reduce salt in most recipes in the past and had good results.

Artisan bread no. 1Salt adds to the flavour, but it also inhibits yeast growth. Dough doesn’t rise as well when the salt is high. I suppose to compensate, the authors call for a full tablespoon of yeast (or rather 1 1/2 tbsp for the original recipe). That’s a huge amount.

The recipe also calls for putting the yeast and salt in the warm water before mixing. Again, I did what it said, but I think that’s another mistake. Putting yeast in the water is meant to awaken it, to start it growing (putting a little flour in the water also helps that). I believe that much salt in the water will inhibit, even kill some of the yeast.

The dough is allowed to rise, untouched (no folding or kneading) for a few hours, then placed overnight in the fridge where it continues to ferment but much more slowly. The result was a dense bread, stubbornly resisting rising.

And the final loaf was way to salty for either Susan or my palette to appreciate. So I decided to try that one again, but with reduced salt.
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The late March breads

SourdoughA couple more loaves were made this month and a third will be started later this week. Both were made in the oven, not the machine, at 425F for roughly 35 minutes.

Neither rose very high, but both were edible and tasty. Only about a third of the second loaf remains, so I will start a poolish today for baking a new loaf tomorrow.

First up: a sourdough, made from the levain I keep in the fridge. All-sourdough: this time I didn’t use any commercial yeast as a helper. It seemed to be rising well in the bowl, so I put the dough in a pan for the oven. That may have deflated it somewhat. The oven spring was minor.

SourdoughAside from that, the mix was simply levain, unbleached flour, water, and salt. All basic ingredients. The crust was fair; not tough and a little crunchy.

The result was a nice but small (height-wise) loaf. It had a delicious flavour, similar to a light rye bread; that nice sourdough tang. I really like that taste; a little acidic, a little sour. I just need to work out a taller loaf method.

It also has a similar density to a commercial light rye: not airy like white bread, but comfortingly solid. It was good plain and toasted. Just not very tall for things like sandwiches or beans-on-toast (a weekend lunch favourite here in Casa Chadwick; the kind without the pork, of course).

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Loafing around again

Banana bread 01Been at it again this month. Bread making, I mean. You knew that from the image, right?

Several efforts so far this month and March isn’t even half-way through its course. Winter remains firmly entrenched here, and spring – or any time without a thick layer of snow – looks far away. So it’s a good time to be making bread.

First up: banana bread. I haven’t made many fruit loaves – mostly raisin-cinnamon – but have always wanted to try this. And it’s not a yeast bread: rather a soda/quick bread. We had some over-ripe bananas on hand, and I had both the time and a new recipe from the latest (Mar 2014) issue of Canadian Living magazine.

Banana bread 02I followed the recipe reasonably closely, but found the dough far too moist. I added more unbleached white flour to thicken it. Not sure if that was a good idea, but the result was good. I baked the loaf in a pan in the oven for about 60 minutes – a long time for bread. Still not sure it rose fully, but it wasn’t hard or doughy: the crumb was firm but soft. I count it a success.

BTW, I’ve been using the Compliments’ unbleached flour of late and I’m not sure about it. I think I may switch back to Robin Hood or Five Roses brand when my bag is empty.

I also added a handful of raisins to the dough, not called for by the recipe. Can’t help but tinker. Next time I will try cranberries.

The result has been a tasty dessert. I haven’t tried it toasted – one portion of the top has a tendency to crumble, so I don’t want it to break apart in the toaster. But plain, with a bit of marg, it’s very pleasant. No, we don’t often use butter, but that’s something I’m mulling over.*

I have an urge to put cinnamon in it next time. Or to tweak the recipe for making a cinnamon-raisin bread instead of banana. Probably would need some adjustments in the hydration, maybe not need the extra flour, too.
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Raisin and sourdough this week

raisin bread disasterWhile I haven’t tried to make a sourdough raisin bread yet, that idea occurred to me while I was making my latest breads, this week. I’m sure it would be a good mix, but I’ll have to build my levain up again, since I used all my countertop levain in yesterday’s bread (about 350g).

I still have a culture in the fridge, however, and will take some out to get it going in the warmer kitchen, today.

I made a medium-sized sourdough loaf, and two smaller raisin-cinnamon loaves, Friday. Somewhat ambitious of me, but with mixed results.

raisin bread disasterTwo? You ask. Yes, because my first loaf was a mess. It stuck in the pan and broke at the cinnamon-spread layer when I attempted to get it free of the pan. Very disappointing. I decided to try another while I still had the ingredients on the counter. I wanted to offer Susan a good-looking loaf, Saturday morning. Presentation matters.

I’m trying to determine the best way to make a raisin-cinnamon bread that combines the nicest combination of  texture, flavour and structure. I have the flavour down pretty well, and the texture is close, but in most of my efforts, the bread has de-laminated where the layers of cinnamon spread are rolled into the dough. Sometimes just a bit, sometimes more. An elegant structure eludes me somewhat.

raisin bread disaster

My first effort at raisin-cinnamon bread was a recipe from the 300 Best Canadian Bread Machine Recipes book. It combines everything in the machine, but used only a small amount of cinnamon (1 tsp). It didn’t make the bread very flavourful. While edible, it wasn’t spectacular.

I like more cinnamon, but because it’s a yeast inhibitor, I chose to put more (1 Tbsp) into a spread that could be used in a swirl in the bread itself.  I tried that in a bread a couple of weeks ago, with modest success. The idea works; the technique needs refinement.

I used molasses instead of sugar in the recipe, but otherwise used the book’s basic 1.5 lb. loaf recipe as presented for Friday’s loaves.

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Corn and other breads

Corn breadThe last loaf of January, 2014 was a machine-made corn bread, made using a recipe from Washburn’s & Butt’s 300 Best Canadian Bread Machine Recipes book that I’ve mentioned previously. It’s a good book for bread machine users.

Unlike my previous efforts to tinker with bread recipes, I used the basic, printed 1.5-lb. recipe without any alterations this time (not even in the salt). Medium crust setting, basic (white) bread menu selection. The results were good, if not spectacular.

The recipe calls for 1/3rd cup of cornmeal. I used a commonly-available, supermarket brand, the sort I often use for dusting pans, parchment paper and the pizza peel, to prevent sticking. However, it didn’t really give the bread a noticeable corn flavour or the mealy/gritty texture one expects in corn bread and muffins.

I later found a bag of Bob’s Red Mill medium grind cornmeal which is less refined and will likely impart more flavour next time I make this bread, and likely heighten the texture.

Bob’s Red Mill products are available at several local supermarkets. I don’t know what sort of cornmeal is available at the local Bulk Barn, but will check next time I’m there.

Corn breadThe bread came out with a nice, light and distinctly yellow crumb, consistent throughout the loaf and evenly cooked. It had a light top crust, but a bit crunchier side and bottom.

The flavour is pleasant – in part because the recipe called for an egg (and I had some free-range eggs on hand, which are always tasty), 1 tbsp honey, and 1/4 cup skim milk powder. These add to both the texture and taste.

We tried the bread with soup one day, and with beans-on-toast the next. The cornmeal makes for a crumb that doesn’t stay together as well as an all-wheat bread, so it has a tendency to break apart. It toasts well, however. This week we will likely finish the loaf with some four-bean chili (not, of course chili con carne, which is Texan, not a Mexican dish) one night for supper.

Next time I will try some variations with this bread, aside from using the better cornmeal. I will look up cornmeal recipes online, too, to see what amounts others recommend. I don’t know if 1/3rd cup is sufficient, or if additional cornmeal will make the crumb even more friable.

I may add some gluten flour to boost the stickiness; this may avoid the tendency for the bread to crumble. I may also try buttermilk instead of water and milk powder. I’d also like to try substituting agave syrup or even molasses for honey, and maybe even some Osprey bread flour (from the K2 mill in Beeton) for a portion of the unbleached white.
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The Short and the Tall of It

Mixed yeast bread 01This past week saw several new experiments in my bread laboratory. Okay, it’s a kitchen, but sometimes it feels like a lab, what with all the tinkering and testing I do. I just can’t seem to stop trying new things in bread. It would fee even more science-like if Susan would let me buy the implements and tools I want.

First, however, the good news: my levain remains thriving and healthy. I have two batches now: one on the counter, the other in the fridge. The counter batch is used as a poolish right now; the fridge is the long-term colony.

I used most of the counter colony last week to make a mixed-yeast bread, based somewhat on a recipe in Peter Reinhart’s book, Artisan Breads Every Day. I’ve since restored the levain to fuller size by feeding, and will use it again this week for another mixed-yeast loaf; this one with some tweaks.

You can read some of Reinhart’s ideas about bread, poolish, hydration and cold fermentation here in this PDF file. Or check his blog for ideas and new recipes. I really enjoy Reinhart’s writing and recommend his books. There’s always something to learn in them.

The idea of mixing the two yeasts intrigued me. I’ve learned a lot about pore-ferments and cold fermentation since I started baking. Reinhart writes:

The use of old dough or pre-fermented sponges was developed by traditional bakers as a way of slowing down fermentation and, essentially, buying the dough more time to release its flavor (a result of starch molecules releasing some of their sugar and saccharide chains, as well as the formation of acids due to fermentation by yeast and bacteria). Some of these pre-ferments are wet and batterlike, while others are dry and firm; some are made with commercial yeast, while others use naturally occurring wild yeast (sourdough starters); some have salt, and some don’t. What they all have in common is the idea of adding older, slowly fermented dough to young, freshly made dough to instantly age it so that greater flavor can be developed in less time. This is an example of the manipulation of time by the manipulation of ingredients.

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Two more loaves, new lessons learned

Raisin breadFollowing up on my desire to make homemade raisin-cinnamon bread for Susan, I spent several hours collecting recipes online and entering their ingredients into a spreadsheet so i could compare them. Quite a range in the amounts of some (like cinnamon and sugar).

Then an Amazon order arrived, which included a 2012 book called 300 Best Canadian Bread Machine Recipes, by Donna Washburn and Heather Butt. Good book, lots of great stuff in it and many ideas to try.

And it’s by far the best bread machine book I’ve encountered. If you get it, be sure to read the introduction – these ladies know their stuff.

I decided to go with that book’s recipe, first, rather than cobble my own together. After all, the book is designed for Canadian bakers. Our flour is somewhat different from American flour (although some types are similar), so it’s nice to be able to bake something without fretting over adjustments to an American recipe.*

300BCBMR has two recipes for cinnamon-raisin bread I wanted to try: a basic one in four sizes (1.5, 2, 2.5 and 3 lb loaves – fifty of their breads have the four sizes listed; the rest one or two), and another called “Grandma’s Raisin Cinnamon Bread,” which includes an egg in the ingredients, and a slightly different mix of the rest. It also lists a 1.5 and 2 lb recipe for that variation. I decided to start with the basic, small size-loaf (10-12 slices), medium crust, sweet bread setting.

Of course, I can’t resist tinkering. Mad scientist runs through my veins. I should be a virologist.**

Raisin breadI changed the sugar called-for in the recipe to molasses (I pondered using agave syrup, but decided to save that option for a future loaf). Here I had to guess a bit: is the sugar content in 2 Tbs of granulated sugar the same as that in molasses? (No, actually, molasses has more, i found out later, but it also adds gobs of flavour).

I traded about 3/4 cup of the total unbleached flour for whole wheat. And I plumped the raisins first – soaked them in warm water before use. Several of the online recipes recommended this.

The molasses darkened the loaf, but otherwise didn’t do much to the taste (I may have used a little less than the sugar it called for – it isn’t as easy to pour or measure or get out of the measuring spoon as granulated sugar).

The whole wheat flour may have contributed to the bizarre shape/rise, and the plumped raisins likely made it a bit too moist for a proper rise. But I’m guessing here. The recipes all call for all-purpose or bread flour. I use unbleached white. I don’t see a difference in ingredients or protein content on the labels, but it could be in the amount of amalyse.

The loaf came out misshapen. The top looked like a 3D map of the Rockies. And one end didn’t fully reach to the end of the pan.

The crumb seems to have fully cooked, but it almost looked as if the top rose too much, then collapsed. I may have used a tad too little yeast, too. The plastic measuring spoons I have generate static, and I found after I added the yeast that some had adhered to the spoon surface. I didn’t think it was enough to make a difference, but it may have been. Note to self: get metal measuring spoons.

Taste is good, although not significantly different from commercial loaves. The crumb is slightly too chewy, according to Susan (I like it though), but the crust is good. I might turn it up to dark crust next time.

The cinnamon is muted and doesn’t come across as strongly as I had hoped. Not a bad bread – edible and very good toasted, but hardly presentable. Not sure if this is the machine or my tweaking.

I am unsure the machine (or any bread machine) can really mix the dough effectively. I’ve thought of removing the dough after the kneading cycle, pausing the machine, then fashioning the dough by hand with a bit of folding and stretching, and returning it to the pan for the rising and baking.

Next time: dry raisins, no whole wheat.

I may try to make a “swirl” bread which incorporates raisins and cinnamon sugar inside. Cinnamon is also a yeast inhibitor, like salt, so you have to be careful when adding it to the dough. This recipe called for 1 tsp, but I would prefer at least double that. Yet the recipe warned against adding more.

Making it by hand, in the oven, with a centre swirl, may be the solution. Use the bread machine for the dough setting only. Or just leave it in the cupboard.

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What, no raisin bread?

Cinnamon-raisin bread. Not mine, however.I have a large – and growing – stack of books about bread. So many that I’m running out of shelf space for them all. Some are for artisan bread, some for regular homemade bread (traditional recipes, usually with lots of kneading), others are for bread machines. A couple are generic “all-about-breads-of-the-world” books with recipes.

Yet only one of 15 has a recipe for making the basic raisin-cinnamon bread. This is a loaf I want to make in the bread machine on the timer, so next weekend we’d awake to fresh raisin bread, ready to toast.

There are all sorts of variations in the books; all sorts of recipes with either raisins or cinnamon, and a few with both. I have recipes for raisin sourdough, raisin rye, Chelsea buns, frosted raisin loaf cake, fruit and spice loaf, cinnamon buns, Greek Xmas bread, Greek Easter bread, hot cross buns, panettone, sticky buns, maritimer’s bread, stollen, ginger and raisin whirls, Polish babka, rum and raisin loaf, schiacciate con uva, cinnamon bagels, christopsomos, focaccia, lambrospomo,walnut-cinnamon bread, cinnamon raisin roll, cinnamon and cranberry bread, and others.

None of which is what I want, and on top of that, they’re all arranged for oven baking, not bread machine.

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