Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Challah (3)

This bread was a lot of fun, actually. I already new Laura would enjoy this one, since it has a little added sugar, but I was actually very interested by the cultural and religious significance of this bread to the Jewish people. Peter Reinhart's intro in BBA is helpful in this regard. This is of course, the Sabbath bread of the Jewish faith, and the bread is traditionally eaten at each of the three Sabbath meals (Friday night, Saturday lunch and Saturday late-afternoon). Challah commemorates the manna (bread) that fell from the heavens while the Israelites wandered the dessert for forty years. This is also, apparently, symbolized in the sprinkling of the poppy or sesame seeds over the bread before it's baked.

I had my reservations following the shaping stage, because the bread hadn't risen a lot during proofing, and an elastic, almost pasta-like feel when I was rolling out the strands for braiding. However, it doubled very quickly after shaping, and then had incredible oven spring. You can actually see this in the first picture, where there is a lack of any seeds in between the braids.

The Challah turned out wonderful. Very soft, sweet creamy bread. But of course, my Challah experience is very limited. To really see if I passed the test, we brought over one of the loaves to our neighbour, Mya, who just happens to be Jewish. The first thing she remarked after I told her I brought her Challah, was "on Friday night, how appropriate!" Watching her, her husband and her two sons, aged one and three, dig into the Challah right at the door with their bare hands made me smile! And it was a huge it -- "this is EXACTLY like Challah i'm used to!!," Mya exclaimed. I left with the heart-warming thought that "breaking bread" remains a fundamental expression of our common humanity.

Potato Rosemary Bread (2)

This, the second bread in our BBA challenge, was one of my favorites without a doubt. But I had actually made an error during the mise en place stage, so I'm hoping it still counts :) Essentially, I made the dough with a higher hydration level, since I included too much poolish. The result though, was very informative:

Although the boules collapsed, the crumb was actually incredible. It featured large irregular holes, and was very creamy and full of flavor. As a result of the flattened shape, though, it reached the target internal temperature much quicker and the crust did not have a chance to brown. I'll certainly give this formula another shake though, but overall I was very happy with this bread.

Tartine Sourdough

Alas, I can't take credit for this beautiful, golden-brown sourdough loaf with a wonderful cell structure -- though one day, perhaps I'll be making breads like this in my home. Actually, a few colleagues of mine were attending the optics conference in San Francisco late January, and I had one of them agree to bring me back a full Tartine sourdough loaf. That's right! A sourdough loaf traveled 3600 km in the cabin of an airbus just to get to my dinner table!

My favourite part of the whole ordeal, however, was on the way back home after I had picked it up from a fellow researcher. When I was about 2 blocks from home, I was instructed to pull to the side of the road by a police officer conducting a RIDE program (for those outside of Ontario, this is a random police check to catch impaired drivers). The officer asked the typical question "where are you coming from this evening?" to which I replied, "from a friends house, to pick up a loaf of bread he brought me from San Francisco." The puzzled officer repeated my words, "your friend brought you a loaf of bread form San Francisco?". "Yes," my simple reply. "Carry on."

The loaf of bread was actually incredible, fully living up to the hype that I had built up in my mind. The crust was beautifully done, almost to the point of being burnt, but not quite. As a result the crust had this very earthy taste. The crumb itself was creamy but springy and wonderfully sour. Laura and I devoured the thing pretty quickly though, sharing it with some family members, using it for sandwiches (wonderful fresh steamed pacific salmon salad). It really toasted nicely. Next year, I'll make a special point of attending the SPIE conference, and will bring a suitcase one size larger than usual, so I can pack it full of bread.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Marbled Rye (1)

Jerry: I want that rye, lady!
Mabel: Help! Someone help!
Jerry: Shut up,
you old bag!
Mabel: Stop thief! Stop him! He's got my
marble rye!

And, what else am I going to do with a marble rye, than make copious amounts of Reuben sandwiches!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Elliott Boule

I'm attempting to perfect a more tasty, light-wheat boule with a rye soaker. I have adapted it from a number of different formulas, and so I'm calling it the "Elliott Boule" ... this is a lot of fun!

Here is the formula:


dark rye 100 %
water 141

whole-wheat flour 50 %
unbleached bread flour 50
instant yeast 0.41
water 88.9

Soaker 114 %
light-wheat polish 142
whole-wheat flour 50
unbleached bread flower 50
salt 3.7
instant yeast 1.2
honey 16.7
olive oil 5.6

And some photos:

The pre-ferments:

Mixed dough

Windowpane test after 10 minutes of dough hook

Finished kneading...
I'd say that's good and doubled....

A boule with an "E" scored using a lame (well, actually, a surgical scalpel, because it's all I had...)
Beautiful crust....
Crumb is a little dense, but I didn't let it proof for as long as I would have liked (had to drive Laura to work!)...Still, very nice flavour...

Monday, January 16, 2012

Our new multi-center trial

Over the next few years, my friend over at http://kneadproof.wordpress.com and I will be undertaking a very important and significant task: to bake our way through Peter Reinhart's "The Bread Baker's Apprentice".

He is over at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire; I'm holed up at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario.

Yet, we are pooling the resources of two great academic institutions (well, more accurately, our mediocre paychecks from said institutions) to conduct a "multicenter trial" that promises a complete change in the way we look at bread.

The subjects: ourselves, our spouses, our colleagues, and neighbors.

The independent variables: only the best local flours that King Arthur and Arva Flour Mill has to offer; time that neither of us have.

The dependent variables: Crust and crumb, certainly. Our waistlines, probably. And at least once I'll attempt to use London Health Sciences Centre's only clinical CT/PET scanner to measure the air pockets in my bread.

So, keep tabs on how we are doing at both blogs (http://kneadproof.wordpress.com and http://bredtobake.blogspot.com). Happy bread baking!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

French Bread

Today, I made french bread in the form of two boules. They turned out fairly well, though I mis-handled them during the transfer to the oven because I had to take them off the parchment paper (the paper wasn't rated for 500 degree temperatures).

Oo la la...

Notice the nice reddish color of the crust, due to the caramelization of the sugars. The high sugar content is caused by the long, cold fermentation, which enables the enzymatic breakdown of starch.

Whole Wheat Bread

Some choices I made using this formula:
  • Dark rye for the soaker,
  • shaped it as a batard instead of using a bread pan
  • pizza stone in oven prepared for hearth baking
  • sprinkled with rolled oats

Here's the finished product (again, no step-by-step photos. Next bread, I swear!):

Formulas vs. Recipes

One of the great points that Peter Reinhart makes in the BBA is that baking and cooking should not be a process of blindly following steps in a book, but the chef should know the purpose behind each process. Certainly, in baking, the proportions of ingredients are of more importance than in general cooking. However, we can use "formulas" instead of recipes for this. Then, how the components are assembled will determine what flavours and characteristics (structure from gluten, pockets of air, etc.) are accentuated, and what is dampened (i.e. bitter flavours found in bran, and the "gumminess" of the rye).

I see a lot of parallels in learning to bake bread, at least from a philosophical/pedagogical perspective, to being a graduate student in scientific research. Perhaps this is why I've been so enamored with the bread baking process (my wife might call it "obsessed"). In many ways, most home chefs are not dissimilar to the typical undergraduate student, memorizing a list of steps or facts out of context (a.k.a. a recipe), and regurgitating them on a final test. In contrast, the goal of graduate students or post doctoral fellows (at least, the good ones), is akin to a "bread baker's apprentice": Amass the knowledge required to understand the subject, but strive for a deep understanding of why things are so, and then finally synthesize this information into a greater context, and apply it to explore new frontiers.

I'm excited to try each formula in the BBA, but I hope that I can learn to be a "spirit of the law, not letter of the law" student, as Peter Reinhart puts it. For this reason, many of my first attempts will include slight modifications or variations, simple at first, but more complex in follow-up efforts, because I think that I will learn more about the craft with this approach. Hopefully you will also learn, especially if you are baking from the BBA, from my successes and (more likely at first) my flops.

Cinnamon Rolls

My second bread, these wonderful cinnamon rolls. I hadn't yet conceived the idea of doing a blog for this, so I only have photos of the final product. Oh well, attempt two will have some more step-by-step photos. Laura enjoyed these, as did some of my co-workers.

Pretty good crumb, but a bit dense. I neglected to do the windowpane test, not realizing it's importance until my next bread (Whole Wheat Rye). However, it was still very nice and delicate to eat.

Mmm, what a great fondant glaze!