Monday, March 17, 2008

Sesame Semolina Bread and more!

I recently added “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day” to my cookbook library. For the beginning baker, this book takes a lot of the intimidation factor out of baking bread. The authors break down the basics and successfully weed out the minutia, leaving only the bare minimum of effort needed to produce a pretty decent loaf of bread.

I have tried the first master recipe, with predictable results. I found that I am too tempted to put ‘more’ work into this approach than required, I’ve been baking for years, I can’t help it! I find working with bread dough therapeutic...

In the middle of last week I mixed up a batch of the semolina master recipe. Three days later, I shaped some of the dough using a technique from “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” and it turned out nice. The before shot is below, I need to become faster with the camera for “after’ shots, because if I wait too long, the bread starts disappearing on its own!

The flavor of the bread was mild, almost sweet, with a very light yeasty flavor. The crumb was soft, and the crust was chewy with a nutty flavor from the sesame seeds. It made very good sandwiches. I am going to bake off a bigger loaf in a few days to re-evaluate the flavors that develop from the semolina.

What I probably will do is keep either the artisan boule master recipe or the peasant loaf recipe on hand at all times, as the dough at this stage not only makes a fast, easy, fresh loaf of bread, it also makes a convenient pate fermente used for many other recipes I make.

I will continue to try other master recipes in the “Five Minutes a Day” book, because you never know what gems lie in hiding within the covers of a book unless you’ve taken the time to go through it all!

The other thing I did this weekend was finally get to use my new batch of sourdough starter for the first time. When I first moved to AK, I bought Peter Reinhart's "Crust and Crumb" (C&C) because I thoroughly enjoyed "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" (TBBA). I tried the barm starter recipe then, and had inconsistent results with it. Looking back, I believe it was due to my less than vigilant adherance to the starter's schedule (i.e., Day 3's ingredients didn't necessarily fall on day 3).

This time around, with the exception of halving the formula, I followed the recipe and schedule as written, and as each day passed, the aroma and activity of the started developed. I knew from the smell of the starter on the final day that I had hit the jackpot! It was bubbling happily and had a sweet acidic smell. The barm formula uses residual yeasts found in the flour, air, and raisins (raisin water is used on Day 1). It has a tangy flavor that is not overbearing like some rye starters I have fostered in the past. This is what it looked like before I went on my sourdough spree:

Again, I am not much of a photo taker, I promise to improve, because pictures are worth more than any number of words I could offer here; but I added Pain au Levain, Sourdough Bagels, and Sourdough Pancakes to my list of achievements this weekend, much to the disappointment of my vacuum :). I went sourdough crazy and the results were amazing. Peter Reinhart pairs the Barm starter with a San Francisco Sourdough recipe in C&C. I tried that previously and found it to be marginally acceptable. The crust was GREAT, but the crumb was dense and the bread heavy and a little too sour for my liking. This time around I used the barm starter to replace the mild starter called for in the Pain au Levain recipe. The results were fantastic! The crust was reddish brown, crispy and chewy at the same time (if that is possible). The bread was great warm and at room temperature. I am pleased with the results and find the flavor of this bread much more satisfying and reminiscent of country bread than any Pain de Campange recipe I have tried.

Because I wanted to keep the volume of starter left over at a manageable level, I also mixed up a batch of sourdough bagels from C&C. I remember making bagels as a little girl, well maybe not specifically, but I remember not having fun because it took too long and had too many steps! With age I have gained patience, as well as a love of all things bread, so this time around I was surprised at how easy it was to mix up the dough, shape and retard the bagels, boil them and then bake them. The longest part of the process is the mixing of the dough. Shaping them took no more than 10 minutes. They retard, covered in plastic wrap, in the refrigerator overnight. I pulled them out an hour before I was ready to bake them to bring them up to room temperature, while preparing the water to boil (I used the boiling instructions from TBBA).

Once the water is up to temperature, all it takes from having dough rings to fresh, warm, tasty bagels is 15 minutes - tops! The bagels were boiled 1 minute on each side and drained, topped (optional), and placed on a parchment-lined baking sheet. I baked them at 500 ºF for approximately 10 minutes, turning the pan after 5 minutes to ensure even baking. After letting them cool for a few minutes, I sliced into one and when I saw the texture of the crumb, I knew I had scored! The outside was shiny, slightly crispy and chewy - the inside was soft, light, and had the texture you'd expect to find from a bagel made in a bagel shop. I buttered one up and gave it to my husband, who was floored by the results. He ate 2 more before the morning was out, and that was AFTER having a short stack of sourdough pancakes!

I love tangy pancakes. The difference between using buttermilk and normal milk (or water) in boxed mix is amazing. I had previously tried the sourdough pancake recipe from C&C with crepe like results. Somewhat discouraged, I promised myself I'd give these babies one more shot someday. Yesterday I did and I figured out what I did wrong - I learned to read somewhere between September 2007 and March 2008! It is important to completely read through a recipe at least once before trying it. No amount of experience substitutes for this. Back in September I added the baking soda/eggs to the sourdough batter instead of the other way around. I am certain that this caused my less than stellar results. The batter back in September looked deflated and dead, where as this time around it actively bubbled and looked happy (if batter can). The results were amazing - a tangy pancake that wasn't overly cakey. The outside is a little chewy, most likely a result of the malt in the starter. My husband said he preferred Aunt Jemima, but ended up eating 5 of these pancakes, drenched in maple syrup. I am sure if I keep cooking them, he'll forget all about Aunt Jemima :).

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