Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bread update – two unqualified successes and a lesson on the importance of salt

Maybe it's because it was the only firm resolution I made this year, but I'm feeling like my bread-mastering resolution has brought me great success so far. Focusing on this one mission in the kitchen, obsessively collecting tips from others (my sister, my favourite food bloggers, Martha) and abandoning my usual never make anything twice 'cause that's boring mandate, has allowed me to really seriously improve. And it's only been three months, so I'm excited about all of the experimentation that's still to come.

Here's what has occurred since my last bread update:

  • I made Martha's Olive Oil Bread again, and it was absolutely perfect. There isn't a single thing I would have changed. Darryl and I devoured the entire gigantic, moist, fluffy, rich loaf in a day and a half.
  • I also made the Multigrain Rolls again, and with the milk temperature thermometer-tested they rose perfectly. Unfortunately I was so obsessed with getting the milk right that I didn't pay enough attention to the simple task of making sure I added all of the ingredients. I left the salt out! Oooops. But this provided proof of how important salt is to the flavour of bread – the buns were tasty, but didn't have as much pop-in-your-mouth flavour as the first, salted, batch. I'll never forget to add the salt again.
  • And, I wanted to try making a nice moist whole wheat loaf. This Oatmeal Wheat Bread from Epicurious had lots of good reviews so I decided to give it a try. It was easy and really good. Amazingly good when fresh out of the oven, with butter slathered on. It has a really nice soft crumb, a crunchy crust, and just enough sweetness. I'd definitely make it again.

I've now worked it into my routine to make bread most Sundays. It's starting to feel easy, and I think I'm beginning to have a bit of that bread intuition I've been seeking. Next on the list to try making: the ciabatta and cranberry-rye recipes from Martha Stewart, both of which come highly recommended by my sister. And this Sunday's experiment, a loaf of no-knead bread, is at this very moment cooling on the counter. If all goes well it will be paired with soppresatta, roasted zucchini slices, and Heidi Swanson's Roasted Tomato and Paprika Soup tonight for dinner.

I think what I like so much about making bread is the thrill of being able to create so many different things out of the same few basic ingredients. Who knew that flour, yeast, salt, and water can take on so many different shapes and flavours? This feeling of endless possibilities is always what inspires me in the kitchen, and I didn't realize before that it could apply as much to baking as it does to throwing together a few things for dinner.

And there's an equal thrill that comes from being able to make something that you usually rely on others (professionals!) to make. I had a shining moment earlier this week, when Darryl came home from work and glanced at the counter, where a beautiful loaf of bread I bought at the French bakery was sitting, and asked "Did you make bread?" Nope, not today, but the fact that you assume I made that beautiful thing makes me so happy!

I'll leave you with a couple of recipes: the Multigrain Rolls, as promised earlier, and the heavenly Olive Oil Bread. Hey, we could trade – if you have any favourite bread recipes you think I should tackle on an upcoming Sunday, leave me a link in the comments!

Multigrain Rolls
[Adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook]

Makes 2 dozen

Combine 1/2 cup oat bran with 1/4 cup flaxseeds, cover with 1/2 cup boiling water and let sit until water is absorbed (about 5 min). Set aside to cool completely.

Heat 1 cup milk to 110 degrees F. In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, 1/4 cup honey, and one packet (2 1/4 tsp) active dry yeast. Let mixture sit for 5–10 minutes, until foamy.

Using an electric hand mixer with dough hooks on low speed, or stirring with a spoon, add 2 whole eggs, 2/3 cup large rolled oats, 1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour, 1 tsp black pepper, 1 tbsp salt, and the reserved flax and oat bran mixture. Stir/mix to combine. Slowly add all-purpose flour 1/2 cup at a time, until you have a soft, slightly sticky dough. This should take somewhere between 2 and 3 cups of flour.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until springy to the touch, about 3 min. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Generously brush three 8-inch round cake pans with olive oil. Cut the dough into 24 equal pieces and roll each piece into a ball. Place eight balls of dough into each prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 25 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a small bowl, whisk together 1 egg white and 1 tbsp water. Brush rolls with egg wash and sprinkle with 3 tbsp mixed seeds (sesame, poppy, fennel, or...?) and 1 tbsp sea salt. Bake until dark golden brown on top, 20–25 minutes. Transfer pans to a rack to cool before unmolding.

Olive Oil Bread
[Adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook]

2 cups water, room temperature
1 1/2 pounds (about 4 1/2 cups) flour, plus more for dusting
1 ounce fresh yeast (or an equivalent amount of active dry yeast)
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the bowl
1 tbsp coarse salt
cornmeal, for dusting

Combine water, flour, yeast and olive oil in a large bowl. Stir with a wooden spoon until all of the ingredients are incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Using an electric hand mixer with dough hooks on low speed, or stirring with a spoon, add the salt and mix to combine. Raise the speed to medium and beat until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl but is still sticky, about 3 minutes.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead it for 1 minute, then transfer to a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Return the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Fold in the following fashion: Fold the bottom third of the dough up, the top third down, and the right and left sides over, tapping the dough after each fold to release excess flour, and pressing down to seal. Flip the dough seam side down on the work surface, and cover with oiled plastic wrap; let rest for about 15 minutes.

Dust a large baking sheet with cornmeal. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface. To shape the dough, cup it between your rounded palms; roll it in a circular motion, pulling down on the surface of the dough to form a tight, smooth round. (The bottom of the dough should "catch" or drag a bit on the table as you roll; this will help it take shape). Transfer the round of dough to the prepared baking sheet, and drape with a piece of oiled plastic wrap. Let the dough rest until slightly puffed, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

With the blade of a sharp knife, make four slashes on top of the loaf to form a square. Slide the baking sheet into the oven, and bake until the crust is dark golden brown, about 35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack before slicing.


Anonymous said...

Good for you Meg. That perserverance has paid off big time. Now you will have to schedule gym time to burn off all those bread calories!!!

claire said...

Meg, you're such an inspiration! I kinda wish I was staying home this weekend so that I could tackle another loaf or two...hmmm, maybe if I race home after work on a week night, there would be time.

Meg Whetung said...

Granny – yep, I sure have been persevering in consuming a lot of bread! But life is for enjoying...

Claire - I'm so happy you're inspired to get bread-baking too! I think you could give one of these a try on a weeknight. It's a very wholesome excuse to leave work early :) The olive oil bread is pretty quick (1 hour 15 minutes rise + 1 hour rise + 15 minutes rest) and is so yummy.

Tessa said...

hello dear sister,
It's sunday and I wonder what loaf of bread sits on your counter today? I'm so happy to hear of your bread adventures. I think it's time for me to start learning from you! I came on the site to look up your cornmeal molasses bread to bake tonight, but as per usually, I've become distracted browsing posts and I'm happy to see the recipe for the olive bread posted . . . wonderful for me to have martha recipes close at hand - thank you!