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.

LevainNext up: sourdough. Finally I think I got it right.

My first levain starter (began in mid-November, discarded in December) eventually got infected, so I tossed it and started again. The second one went bad even sooner, and was tossed around New Year’s.

I was getting frustrated. So for number three I followed the method in Peter Reinhart’s book, Artisan Breads Every Day. Start with a small amount and build it up. Use pineapple juice, not water, for the first several days.

Bingo. The levain grew and looked healthy. I made sure to feed it at least every 12 hours, too. My starter grew like a hungry puppy.

Friday, after about five or six days on the counter, I separated it into two parts; put one half in the fridge, and set the the other half aside as a starter for a sourdough bread.

I made up a dough mixture based on Reinhart’s pain au levain recipe, and added the second half of the starter to it. Unlike the other bread, I didn’t change anything in his recipe, aside from a small amount of whole wheat exchanged for AP flour.

I watched the dough carefully for the next several hours, looking to see if the sourdough yeast worked its way into the rest of the mix and started the rise.

Rising doughYes! It was working. The dough mix rose slowly but steadily. I would have baked it then and there, but it was late. I put it in the fridge. Saturday.

I wasn’t sure whether to make one large or two small loaves. I chose the latter because I reasoned that if my baking ended in failure, I might be able to adjust the next half and get at least one good loaf from the effort. The large loaf looked a tad too big, too.

I divided the ball into roughly two parts, and put one half back in the fridge. The second part of the dough remained in a bowl on the counter to rise more during the day.

Well, it did rise, slowly, but not as much as I hoped (again, the ambient temperature here may be restricting the rise). The lengthy time rising also gave it a skin of dried dough. Making cuts with the lame was not smooth as with moist dough. I worried that the bread still needed to rise more, but the skin would increase and toughen.

SourdoughStill, I was committed. I heated the oven and put the dough on the baking stone (on a parchment sheet), 475F in the convection mode (which is really 450…). 30 minutes later, I removed it from the oven. It certainly looked done and tapped with a hollow ring when I tested it.

The loaf was small, so it didn’t require as much cooking time as a larger loaf (a larger loaf would have been left for 35-45 minutes). The crust seemed crunchy and crisp, just on the good side of what I consider overdone. I suspect the dry skin contributed to this.

SourdoughI fretted about the results all evening as the bread cooled. It distracted me from watching The Hobbit (which is a dreary, slogging film, about 90 minutes longer than it deserves, that I’ll write about in another post….)

Before we went to bed, I had to try it. The loaf had cooled considerably, but was still warm. I sliced into it and cut myself some.

Nice! Crust is crisp, crumb is well cooked and reasonably well-aerated (although a few more air pockets would have been nice). The taste is pleasantly tangy with that sour-ish sourdough finish.

It is a tad too salty for our tastes, but edible. I usually cut back on the salt in the recipes for that reason, but this time I didn’t because I was unsure how sourdough and salt worked together. Next time I’ll know better.

I could always fold in some extra water and dough to the remaining half and reduce the salt ratio (and make a larger loaf, too).

This loaf will be the centrepiece at lunch today, served with soup. It’s  not a good shape for toast or sandwiches, but for soup and cheese, it’s great. I was pleased that my first real sourdough bread worked out and my levain seems healthy and sustainable. Two big steps for my baking experience.

Sunday’s (Monday’s?) experiment will be either to using the remaining sourdough starter as the poolish in a loaf that mixes commercial and wild yeast. Or perhaps to bake the remaining sourdough with some adjustments to make a hoped-for better, more-risen bread.


* The book shares with many cookbooks a common and problematic failing for anyone serious about baking: volumetric measurements. Far too many bread books use these without offering weight equivalents. While the authors give measurements in imperial and metric sizes (cups and mL), it is an unprofessional way to measure things and can easily cause all sorts of problems.

** Seriously. If I were starting university right now, virology would be my first choice. Hot zone stuff. New genetic frontiers, new therapies ahead, new theories in evolutionary biology. Exciting stuff. Viruses fascinate me. Sadly, with the anti-science attitude of our current  government, I’d be looking for work in a more scientifically progressive country.

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One comment

  1. SourdoughMy second sourdough loaf (baked Sunday night) was a modest success – done in a pan. Wonderful, tangy sourdough flavour . Could have done with more rise; it’s dense like a rye bread, but nice crust and the crumb is okay. It’s great toasted.

    I used the remaining dough from the earlier batch, and a levain poolish, with a bit more flour but no more salt.

    I’m happy with the result since it proves I can make sourdough, and I can get the flavour required from it, although my technique needs some honing to get more aeration into it. It was an all-wild yeast loaf, like the first one I posted about, above. And my levain is now working well.

    Next experiment will be the mixed levain-commercial yeast in Reinhart’s book.

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