Monday, October 27, 2008

Not bad but not ciabatta...

I guess I was feeling overconfident, buoyed by my bagel success, but I knew from almost the beginning that my ciabatta dough was not wet enough to spread out into the classic slipper shape. In fact, based on the size of the dough after the first proof, it was pretty clear I was looking at the Ugg boot of bread as opposed to, say, the delicate Manolo Blahnik cocktail sandal I was striving for.

So, instead of ciabatta, I ended up with something I can only describe as the type of bread you get at a neighborhood red sauce Italian restaurant - not necessarily bad, in fact it is pretty tasty, but definitely not what I intended when I started my poolish on Saturday.

My misfortune wasn't limited to the dough, either. I attempted to follow Reinhart's directions for baking on a stone with a steam pan in the oven but apparently my oven gets hotter on the bottom than his does because the bottom crust of the first loaf charred before the top got done. I ended up throwing that loaf out and using my trusty cast iron dutch oven to bake the remaining loaves.

Well, live and learn. Lessons for next time? Wetter is better so however much water was in the dough - I need to double it. Also, put the stone higher up in the oven and put the steam pan in the bottom.

Now, the question is what am I going to do with three loaves of Italian-ish bread? I guess Auntie M and Grandma will take one but nobody in this house will eat the other two so I may be standing on the street corner begging passers by to take a loaf off my hands. I don't suppose it would be the strangest thing most people in this town have seen...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

BBA Project, First Effort - Two Thumbs Up for Bagels

They don't look so hot, sort of like the Frankenstein of bread products, a bit misshapen and lumpy, but oh, the taste! These bagels come so close to the bagels of my childhood (from the Lakeview Market in Chevy Chase), the crispy crust and chewy crumb, that with one bite I was transported back to my mother's big blue Chevy station wagon, clutching the still warm bag as I sneaked my hand inside to grab a bagel on the ride home. Now that I'm a mom myself, I know my mother knew perfectly well what I was doing (the rear view mirror and all) but she was enough of a bread lover herself that I believe she understood the impulse.

At any rate, I haven't had much luck making bagels in the past but I suspect that was primarily because I don't like to follow recipes very much and with baking, you really need to follow the recipe. This time, I slavishly read and followed every step and I am chagrined to admit the result was well worth it.

A couple of small nits - I do think I'll add a bit more salt next time and also, the malt syrup didn't mix into the dough very well so I'll have to think of how to solve that problem. Except for those two tiny minuses, this experiment got a big A+ from me. I promised Caroline I'd bring her a dozen next weekend that she can throw in the freezer so I will definitely be going into production again this week. I might even make what my New York friends consider blasphemy - cinnamon raisin bagels. I know they're not authentic but I bet they'll taste delicious.
Postscript: I stored the bagels in a zip top bag after they cooled. This morning I took one out and wasn't feeling optimistic about how they would taste after a night in plastic but once I toasted it, mamma mia! Again, delicious with a crispy crust and a chewy interior. Thank you, Peter Reinhart. Today I will pay homage a second time with ciabatta. I can't wait.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My not so serious challenge

After a long hiatus from both baking and blogging, I am ready to get back into the trenches and bake my heart out. Every year on my birthday (election day this year!) I issue myself a challenge for the year (last year it was to start blogging - which I achieved, albeit with some fits and starts) so this year I'm challenging myself to bake my way through Peter Reinhart's "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" until I become expert at every type of bread in there that appeals to me.

Don't worry, this isn't going to be one of those "Julie and Julia" things where I force myself to bake every recipe whether I think anyone in this house will eat it or not (we throw away too much food as it is). I can't see either of my children taking a fancy to cranberry nut bread or some of the other more exotic breads Reinhart gives techniques for. And, although I plan to make stollen for Christmas, I'm going to do it with dried fruits and candied ginger like I did last year, even if I do use the BBA's recipe.

So I guess the short answer is I'm going to do it my way (cue Frank Sinatra here, please).

Because I'm waiting for my order from King Arthur flour to bring me diastatic malt syrup, I won't be starting with bagels, so I think the first to go will be ciabatta, which is just fine with me. I'm all about crust, let me tell you, and ciabatta is pretty much two chewy crusts with a little bit of crumb in between, hard on the teeth but heaven otherwise. I'm heading downstairs right now to mix up my poolish to get started.

Whoo hoo! Another year, another adventure.