Thursday, December 07, 2006

The alchemy of grain and yeast.

What is beer, but liquid bread? They're both built on grain, yeast, and water. I love a good hoppy hit, so beer is a natural partner for my next loaf:

I used the recipe from The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. She calls for a dark beer such as Bass or Beck's but what I had on hand was stout. And what a stout it is! Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout is so rich and creamy you are practically chewing on that body. It's an award-winning brew, named one of the world's 50 best beers by Stewart Kallen, and justly so.

As a nice little bonus, the recipe calls for 9oz of beer. The bottle holds 12 oz, which leaves a nifty little 3oz snack for the baker.

The dough is a gorgeous cafe-au-lait color, and is soft and supple.

I used Beranbaum's suggested "lantern" pattern of five slashes, then popped it in the oven for about half an hour. I could barely wait. The sweet malty aroma was the perfect antidote for the hour I spent walking the dogs in fog and snow. But I know NEVER to slice into a warm loaf, tempting as it may be. All you get for the haste is a gummy mouthful of cotton. So be patient, and be properly rewarded with the rich earthy crumb of this beautiful brown loaf:

My favorite accompaniment to a freshly-baked loaf is unsalted butter and thick-cut orange marmalade (preferred: World Market's house brand, made in Belgium. Not too sweet, and generously textured with peel.) The slightly bitter edge and the citrus were the perfect foil for the malty sweet bread. The kids loved it in their turkey sandwiches.

Definitely something to make again!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

My daily Italian bread

My favorite all-purpose daily loaf is a semi-rustic Italian, from "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" by Peter Reinhart. It begins at least a day before baking with a biga starter, which I then refrigerate overnight at the minimum, and usually for 3 days. Typically, I make a double batch.

And on the third day the biga is mixed in with a fresh batch of dough. The final product is just bread flour, water, salt, yeast and a splash of extra-virgin olive oil.

Here it's set to rise in my new Cambro container:

And after two hours (if only my bank account would grow at the same rate!):

Next, dump the whole lot on the counter:

Divide the dough into four equal pieces by weight, then shape them. I like to make two shapes - the torpedo or batard, and the round or boule:

After an hour, the shaped loaves have expanded. Notice how the torpedoes are almost touching:

After rising a little more, they get thrown into a 475 degree oven, directly on to the terra cotta tiles I use in lieu of a baking stone. (After breaking several pizza stones, I went with Julia Child's suggestion and bought some thick, unglazed terra cotta tiles from Home Depot, and get them cut to fit my oven. They work even better than the pizza stone!) The stones/tiles are absolutely key if you want crusty, rustic-looking loaves. These are the torpedoes, which I dusted with a little flour just before slashing and baking. During ovenspring, the loaves swelled even more and merged:

With the boules, the slash marks always seem to fill up during the ovenspring, leaving a smooth surface. I can't seem to get the slashes to stay, but at least you can see where the slashes were made:

The crust makes crackling and tiny popping sounds as the loaves cool, but it remains crisp. Still, it's never so hard that it shreds one's gums. The crumb has a mix of small and medium holes, and is incredibly flavorful for a white bread. It's great eaten plain, but with a drizzle of top-quality extra-virgin olive oil, or good Irish butter, it's a revelation.

And what do we love to do with the torpedoes? Split them in two, butter one half and spread the other half with a mix of extra-virgin olive oil, minced garlic, oregano, Italian parsley, salt and pepper. Put the pieces back together, wrap the whole loaf in foil, bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees, then unwrap and bake for another five minutes to crisp up the crust. Who knew garlic bread could be divine?