04/7/14

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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03/26/14

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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03/10/14

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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02/8/14

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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02/3/14

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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01/20/14

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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