Buttery, billowy brioche – BBA challenge recipe #4

I wasn’t exactly sure how I’d feel about brioche. My husband is so not a fan of rich breads, so I had that to worry about. Plus, I can’t say as I’d ever had really good brioche before. I’ve had it, but it always seemed kind of dry and just like a plain roll.

I have a new attitude about brioche now. And this recipe has further demonstrated the amazingly professional results you get baking from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. My brioche were absolutely gorgeous:

Wouldn’t you agree? And yes, they were delicious too. I made the middle class version and it was very much like a dense croissant – it does peel away in those gorgeous buttery flakes but isn’t as light and airy. It made perfect, if rich, burger buns. Only there aren’t any left to freeze, as I had originally planned – these got eaten up pretty darn quickly.

It started, as so many good breads do, with a sponge. This one is made with warm milk:

It fermented only for about 40 minutes. This is the first recipe in the challenge for which I used my mixer:

I am really glad I had it – this bread is an absolute breeze to make with a mixer, which is really saying something for such astounding results. Once the sponge has fermented, you first mix in the beaten eggs, then add flour, salt, and sugar (since I intended this for savory buns, I added a scant 1.5 T sugar instead of the recommended 2) to the sponge and mix until it is all hydrated. At this point, it has the shaggy, floury look of most bread doughs, aside from a golden color because of the eggs:

But then you begin to add the butter, 1/4 at a time (this recipe uses two sticks – I left them out overnight to ensure complete softness and mixability), and the dough turns into a glossy, sexy, gorgeous, frosting-like substance:

You use the paddle to mix the dough, and Reinhart mentions that the dough will want to climb it. I wasn’t actually having that problem at all until I scraped down the sides. After that, I couldn’t get it off the paddle, but fortunately the mixing process was nearly through then. You scrape the dough into a rectangle on some oiled parchment – the dough was very gooey but held together beautifully, coming out of the mixing bowl in one cohesive clump. Check out the pre and post rise dough:

I chilled the dough only the recommended 4 hours, which seemed fine, although the last portion I shaped was starting to get a bit difficult. I used the bench scraper to divide the dough, which was definitely a necessity. It was tough to decide on portions, because the dough is quite dense and I wasn’t sure how much it would rise. I ended up with 6 rolls and two brioches a tete (I couldn’t resist not making at least a few of these classic shapes, and I used two really small tart pans for the molds. It worked perfectly and I’m really glad I did them because they are adorable!), although I could have reduced the roll size – they got HUGE.
With everything shaped, time to proof. The rolls:

And the brioches a tete:

wipe that smirk off your face!

They rose a lot in proofing, but nothing could have prepared me for how much bigger they’d get in the oven. Oven spring city! And they smelled kind of like roasting marshmallows while they were baking. I was delighted when I pulled them out of the oven:

Unfortunately, my oven is not that wide and I put one pan of rolls on the lower-middle shelf. I should have rotated them, because the egg wash burned a bit on the bottom of the rolls on that pan. Live and learn – and try not to also be roasting potatoes, grilling burgers, and cooking green beans at the same time if you don’t want that to happen to you.
Though it is definitely rich, it is delicious and beautiful and makes perfect buns. The soft texture and golden color, along with the glossy crust, makes it look like they came from a fancy bakery. I truly cannot get over how professional the results are and how little actual work is require to produce such amazing bread. Brioche is probably the first bread I’ve made in the challenge that I wouldn’t have made otherwise, just because it isn’t the kind of thing we normally eat. But I will most definitely make it again – it is especially perfect for fancy breakfasts, because the dough could be refrigerated over night, and the final proofing and baking take relatively little time.


I made more bagels

So soon? Yes. Like I said, I just wasn’t up for brioche yet (flavor-wise, not baking-wise). Couple that with the fact that I had to revive some starter to mail to a fellow baker – something which I had said I was going to do several weeks ago, actually – and the fact that Friday, before I left the office, the kitchen was doing a cleaning and was giving away two pounds of high gluten flour. If that wasn’t a sign that I should be making bagels over the weekend, I don’t know what is.

I ended up doing the wild yeast starter version. My starter had revived beautifully – nicer than I had seen it do in some time, so I was especially excited. I subbed 5 cups of the active starter for the sponge and increased the yeast in the dough. I also did a 20 minute autolyse once all the flour had been incorporated in hopes of minimizing the kneading. I think it worked, though it’s hard to say because the high gluten flour changed the dough so much. It definitely made the dough more satin-y and pleasant to knead, in any case.

Though I followed the recipe exactly and weighed out the dough to portion it, I ended up with 14 bagels instead of 12! Not quite sure how that happened, it must have been the starter. Not that I’m complaining, just mentioning it. Also the bagels dried out a lot in the fridge. I just kind of draped plastic wrap over them, which is what I did the first time as well, but many of them had dried considerably. They rehydrated with the boil, so no apparent harm done – I’m just not sure if this was because of insufficient wrapping, the high gluten flour, my totally bizarre and unpredictable refrigerator, or a combination.

I did some onion bagels this time, which we loved – I just chopped fresh onion and tossed the pieces with olive oil. They wanted to roll off the bagels, so they required deliberate placement instead of random sprinkling.

I topped most of them with an “everything” mix of poppy seed, sesame seed, and kosher salt but also did a few with Aleppo pepper, just because it was out on the counter. The red color is really pretty:

It helps that we love spicy food.

So now I’m ready and excited for brioche. I’ve decided on the middle class brioche, because I’ll basically be making poor man’s for other breads to come, like casatiello and panetone, and because I don’t know what the heck I’d do with that much rich man’s brioche. I’m going to make rolls and split and freeze most of them for burger buns for summer grill-outs. It will be nice to have good bread on hand – I suspect that frozen homemade brioche is still tastier than most anything I can get in the nearby shops!

Two parting thoughts –
I made matzoh this weekend too. It turned out awesome. I really didn’t think it would be so easy and so delicious. We ate it all in one sitting without taking a single photo. It’s a great recipe to have in your repertoire because it is so quick, you can whip it up at the last minute and it will be better than the stale crackers you were contemplating eating.
Basically, you just combine 2 cups flour (I used all-purpose) and 1 cup of water along with a teaspoon or so of salt. Mix it, adding more flour if necessary, to make a dry-ish, manageable dough. Divide into four portions and roll each one out as thin as possible. Prick with a fork and toss one on to your baking stone in your well-preheated 500 degree oven. This sounds tricky, but it wasn’t – the dough is stiff enough to be transfered easily. Bake each portion for about 5 minutes, until it is bubbled up and well browned in areas.

We were at the grocery store yesterday and I happened to notice a display of yeast packets. They had regular, and rapid rise, and then they had “pizza crust yeast”. What? Why? Anyone know what makes this “pizza crust yeast” more appropriate for pizza than standard yeast, or is this just a really stupid marketing ploy?

The glory of the BBA bagels

Reinhart claims right in the intro to the recipe that this is a bagel “for the ages”, even while he hedges that for many, no actual, edible bagel comes close to one’s memory of a bagel. I didn’t grow up with bagels, unless you count those frozen Lender’s things, and though I live in the center of the bagel universe (bagelverse?) now, I LOVED these bagels. They were fun and easy to make and turned out amazing.

I began by mixing the ingredients. Note the presence of malt powder there in the background. I picked it up at Kalustyan’s. No specifics on the package to tell me whether or not it is diastatic malt, it went in nonetheless:

Plenty of others blogging the BBA challenge mention how stiff this dough is and that they didn’t want to jeopardize their mixers with it, so I took a page from their book and kneaded by hand. My husband and I switched off and we kneaded for about 25 minutes all in all — we both enjoy kneading and this is a very easy dough to handle. We listened to some klezmer to put us in a bagel mood and provide an up-tempo background to the kneading.
After a brief rest (for the dough, and for us), we divided it into 4 ounce portions, resulting in these cute little buns:

Then let those rest 20 minutes before shaping them into bagels. We used the poking/stretching method:

They don’t actually require a great deal of stretching to produce a nicely shaped bagel. Too much and you have a huge hole which makes spreading cream cheese a bit more challenging (well, if spreading cream cheese on a bagel can ever be considered challenging), too little and you’d just get a bagel-lump. Ours were mostly perfect except for one over-stretched one:

There’s something so satisfying about looking at a sheet of bagels you’ve made!
These need to proof for 20 more minutes and then it’s time for the float test. The bagels will need to float for their pre-bake boiling the next day, so the float test ensures they’ll survive the boil before they go into the fridge for their overnight retarding. I slipped the bagel into a bowl of room temperature water and it floated immediately:

Then into the fridge:

Good night, little bagels!
We were really excited to make them the next morning and instead of lazing around as we normally do on a Saturday morning, practically leaped out of bed. My husband went to the store for baking soda (for the boiling) and cream cheese, I started preheating the oven and boiling the water. Then, we boiled:

They become puffy and glossy and wonderful. This is really fun to do. We varied the boiling time for each batch, but it made no real difference that we could tell. Maybe because we just used regular bread flour and this would be more effective with the high gluten flour. In any case, if you’re boiling, definitely go with the one minute per side but don’t sweat it if it goes toward the two minute mark.
One trick that bears mentioning is to put the bagels in to the water with the flat side up, so that you boil the rounded top first. This way, when you flip them and transfer them back to the sheet for topping, you’ll end up with the risen side back on top and they will be a bit more attractive. You can kind of tell the difference in this photo – the ones on the left have their flat side up. Time to sprinkle on the toppings:

We topped with kosher salt, poppy seeds, or sesame seeds on three batches of three and then did three “everything”. I love onion bagels but we didn’t do any because we were mixing some scallions we had to use up into the cream cheese. Next time, definitely, though.
The short baking and cooling times make these ideal to have fresh for breakfast. We did end up giving ours an additional five minutes beyond Reinhart’s recommendation, though. Here they are, hot out of the oven. Are they gorgeous or what?

Split, showing the crumb:

We literally gorged ourselves on bagels that morning. They were just so good and we wanted to really relish them while they were fresh. The next morning, however, as we savored them at the airport in front of all the poor suckers who ate cruddy airport bagels, they were still really fresh and delicious. I had split and frozen the ones we didn’t eat before we left and they came through that beautifully, too – almost no loss of quality.

We will definitely, definitely make these again. In fact, I can’t wait to make them again. I think I might try the sourdough version this weekend. Brioche is up next and I’m just not sure I’m ready for a rich, buttery bread after four days of eating mostly unhealthy food while we were in San Antonio. But maybe I’m just making excuses to make more bagels.

Bagels are next

I live in the bagel capital of the country but I am so excited to make these bagels. I bought malt powder on my trip to Kalustyan’s last week but the local grocery store was out of bread flour (gasp! Come to think of it, I was probably the one who bought them out), so I’m stopping at Whole Foods this afternoon in hopes of finding not just bread flour but the high gluten bread flour Reinhart recommends.

What to top with? You’ll note the title of this blog – my tastes run almost 100% toward the savory side of things, so I’m leaning toward onion. I think my husband may have mentioned something about poppy seed, too.

I’m going to attempt making the dough Friday after work to make the bagels on Saturday. We are going out of town on Sunday and I want nothing more than to bring some homemade bagels, thick with cream cheese, with us to the airport and eat them slowly in front of the poor saps who are stuck with awful airport bagels.

For this first time around, I plan on following the basic recipe but I am very eager to make the sourdough version in the future. It is the only recipe I’ve ever seen which calls for 5 cups of starter, so its the perfect thing to make when you’ve refreshed and have more than you can store or give away.

Similarly, this go-round, time won’t allow me to make my own cream cheese, but I’d definitely like to. Anyone know where to find rennet and cheese cultures around NYC?

Greek Easter bread – the execution and completion

My starter had been going since Monday – I fed it a bit each morning all week long and gave it a little refreshment Saturday morning so it would be rarin’ to go once it was added to the dough mixture – Reinhart’s recipe for artos (which after reading that link, I realize isn’t technically artos. This bread was NOT blessed by a priest at any point during its brief existence) calls for wild yeast starter and a bit of commercial yeast. I prepared a mise en place which has become vital in my new kitchen since I don’t know where anything is yet:

I was making the lambropsomo/Easter version which calls for all light colored fruits. Anything this pretty in the bowl will look gorgeous in the bread, right?

golden raisins, chopped dried apricots, and toasted slivered almonds

All the ingredients combined:

I made a special trip out to buy mahleb, which is the ground pit of Prunus mahaleb, a cherry native to Central Europe and parts of the Middle East and considered an invasive in some parts of the US. The pits of most Prunus species are notorious for containing cyanide – so maybe this label is meant as a distraction:


I tasted some before I added it and loved the flavor – it is nutty and slightly bitter but definitely unique and, I think, a much better alternative to the more traditional cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice recommended in the recipe. Don’t let the presence of cyanide scare you, you eat a bit when you eat an almond anyway (which, come to think of it, this bread also contains, along with almond extract. Was it the cyanide that made it so delicious?!).
The dough came together really, really quickly but it was really pretty tiny:

After so many other BBA Challenge bakers mentioned how enormous their loaves were, I was a little concerened, but I needn’t have been – this produces one giant loaf of bread in the end.
I kneaded about 12 minutes, adding maybe 1/2 cup more flour – I don’t maintain specific hydration proportions on my starter, and I think it’s on the wet side, so that didn’t really surprise me. The dough was smooth, silky and a joy to work – until I had to incorporate the fruit. It took a lot of muscle and a lot more than two additional minutes. Here’s the dough before rising:

And here it is after 90 minutes fermentation:

(You can’t really tell the difference in these photos, but trust me, it doubled)
I divided it into three sections for a braid. I weighed the dough mass, eye-balled the division and then weighed each one just to double check but I was spot on:

And then I braided, which I enjoyed tremendously:

Off to proof for 60-90 minutes. It finished in 60:

Then into the oven. Others have mentioned how wonderful this smelled while baking, and it is insanely, deliciously aromatic. The mahleb takes on a life of its own, and between this bread in the oven, homemade bbq sauce on the stove top, and the pork shoulder smoking in our new smoker out back, we were pretty much losing our minds at this point. I baked this loaf on parchment on a stone. This isn’t really necessary, as it isn’t a very crusty bread, but it was in the oven anyway so I went with it. It finished right on time:

Since I wasn’t serving the bread until the next day, I originally planned on glazing it later. After re-reading the recipe, though, Reinhart recommends glazing as soon as it comes out of the oven, so I did. Or, I should say, my husband did – a job he relished with surprising zeal, even though it caused him to miss 5 minutes of the MSU/Butler game upon which the success of his entire bracket depended:

The glaze kept perfectly well over night, so there was nothing to worry about. It probably helped keep the bread moist, too.
You’ll note the lack of dyed eggs decorating the bread. I ended up deciding that it wasn’t worth the effort if people were going to think it was weird, and in the end, I was really glad I didn’t risk any dye sullying this gorgeous, impressive loaf. By this point, I had obviously changed my tune about the size of this bread – it is gigantic. Humongously gigantic – it barely fit on the stone and it barely fit on the cooling rack. It was so big (and sticky), in fact, that this was how we had to transport it over to our friends’ house:

I also made a lemon-meringue pie to take over to the dinner. I had never made one before and it turned out beautifully. It was, however, extremely stressful to transport. It had just come out of the oven when we had to leave and nothing had set. I had the pie on my lap and watched it blobble around with every little bump and stop – I swore it would be a miracle if it made it over there in one piece, but it did!

It was delicious, but not nearly as utterly delicious as the bread:

Everyone absolutely loved it. The flavor is just so incredible that it compels you to keep eating more. The texture of the fruit and almonds is fun to chew and the crumb is perfectly moist, just a little bit rich, gorgeously colored. This will definitely become an Easter tradition!

Greek Easter bread – the preface

My new landlord is Greek, Easter is this weekend, and I’ve been fascinated by the recipes for Artos, Greek celebration breads, ever since I first cracked open my copy of BBA. I plan on heading over to Kalustyan’s tomorrow at lunch to buy mahleb and maybe mastic to make lambropsomo in honor of all these forces coming together (it’s also why I started the BBA challenge last weekend. Perfect timing!).
I am finally replenishing my wild yeast starter after a very long dormancy:

but I am literally agonizing over every other detail of this thing. Should I use the mastic? HOW do I use the mastic? I guess that one will be answered by the cost of the mastic when I do my shopping.
Update: I didn’t buy mastic, because right on the package it said “colorless! odorless! tasteless!” so apparently, it wasn’t the right kind of mastic (though, coincidentally enough, it was right next to the mahleb). In any case, I wasn’t spending $7 for a bag of tasteless rocks.
Do I use lemon or orange zest (I’m leaning toward orange, frankly)? And the shaping! So many options! How about the eggs – do I use them? I am hesitant to, because the way the dye bled in many bakers’ loaves looks really unappetizing. If I do, I plan on dying them the traditional, natural way. Is there a way to prevent the dye bleeding? Do I hard boil them first? If I don’t bake with the eggs in the bread, will they stay on for display? Will our friends who invited us over for Easter dinner think I am 100% out of my mind if I show up with a loaf of bread with dyed eggs baked into it? I plan on baking on Saturday, so I have basically three days to figure out these answers. Your input in not only welcome, but necessary!

BBA Challenge: Anadama bread

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”
-Lao Tzu

The journey through the The Bread Baker’s Apprentice begins with Anadama bread. It’s because the recipes are in alphabetical order, but I think it is an interesting place to start. It is one of the few American yeasted breads with character and history, though I had never had it before (but then again, I grew up in Michigan, not New England where the recipe originated). Will I be making it again? Definitely, and not only because now I have a whole jar of molasses that won’t be used for anything else. It is a tasty, versatile bread with a really beautiful crumb structure, and it was fun and easy to make.

The journey through Anadama bread begins with a cornmeal soaker – basically, just cornmeal and water left to sit and get to know one another overnight. I stirred them together around 9 pm on Friday night. Saturday morning, there was a film of water on the top and a cornmeal sludge below. I re-stirred and left it until about 12 noon when I made the sponge:

I like to weigh the ingredients – it keeps you from having to remember how many cups you measured out, and of course, it’s the standard for bakers everywhere. The only thing is, my scale doesn’t measure in straight ounces, it switches to pounds when it reaches an increment of 16 ounces, so you have to do a little math (you were right, Dad. I DO need math!). This recipe calls for 20.25 ounces of flour, but you only need two cups for the sponge. I measured out all the required flour, then dipped out those two cups.

That’s the cornmeal soaker in the brown bowl. The loaf in the photo is a giant loaf of five minutes a day bread that we had with breakfast, in case you were wondering.
Once the sponge was mixed, we went off to the grocery store to get ingredients to make beef barley soup for dinner. When we left, the sponge looked like this:

And when we came back about 80 minutes later, it looked like this:

Reinhart uses terms like “ferment for one hour” instead of “set aside for one hour”, which really makes you aware of the powerful activity that goes on during the bread making process and makes clear your role not as a master, but as a facilitator.
Into the sponge goes the molasses, salt, and butter:

The butter is just a big glob in the middle of the bowl, but it became evenly distributed through mixing and kneading. Reinhart estimates that after ten minutes of kneading, the dough should reach the windowpane stage but for me it took 20 minutes. I enjoy kneading, especially this bread with the feel of the cornmeal in it, so it was no big deal. Then off to let it rise for about 90 minutes – I probably didn’t need to let it go quite that long, it was likely doubled sooner than that but I gave it the full 90 anyway.
Then time for shaping – Reinhart recommends dividing in three for use in 8×4 loaf pans or in half for 9x5s. Guess what I had? One 8×4 and one 9×5 and that’s it. So I divided it roughly in half and put the smaller of those two into the 9×5, then divided the other half in half again for the 8×4 and one free-form boule:

I did use his sandwich loaf shaping method which made two really handsome loaves.
I set the timer for proofing for 30 minutes, after which I switched on the oven – this bread bakes at only 350 which sounds just insane to me since I usually bake lean, European style breads which start out at 500-525. Another 30 minutes and the large loaf and the boule were ready, but the small loaf hadn’t crested the top of its pan yet. I decided to give that one the full 90 minutes recommended in the recipe and instead roast three beets on the sheet with the other two loaves (I like to consolidate oven time as much as possible):

This bread smells so delicious baking – I know, most bread smells delicious when its baking, but when you bake at very high temperatures, you don’t really get that amazing, rich smell – it tends to smell “thinner”, somehow. The bread turns out great, of course, but you miss that wonderful, house-filling aroma.
The third loaf crested the pan before the other two were done, but I didn’t have the space to get it in the oven when it should have gone, so it over-proofed a bit. Guess I shouldn’t have roasted those beets after all. Oh well – I got two absolutely gorgeous loaves:

And one very nice loaf that was just slightly deflated and I didn’t photograph. The loaves certainly looked done, but I used the thermometer just to be sure:

The large loaf was enjoyed with the excellent beef-barley soup from The New England Soup Factory Cookbook (I wanted something New England-y and something soupy). The molasses flavor was really strong the first day, but I just had a slice for breakfast this morning (toasted with cream cheese) and the dark molasses taste had mellowed out considerably. The boule is going to be sandwiches for lunch tomorrow – I’m thinking turkey and brie with lettuce!