I'm on the Board of a local charitable organization, and last night (Oct 17), we had our annual gala, which includes a silent auction. As I do every year, I donated a bread basket (which, I'm happy to report, fetched a very good price).
Getting there was quite a challenge, since the basket, which was Jewish bakery themed this year, included a challah, a deli rye, a dozen bagels, a dozen bialys, a dozen onion rolls, and a Russian coffee cake -- six breads, six different formulas, one KA stand mixer and two GE electric home ovens.
It was exhausting -- and also gave me a look into the life of a baker. The first thing was to figure out my logistics, since my resources are limited and my output (twice the basket quantity so I could cherry-pick). To do that, I set up an Excel spreadsheet, with each bread on a separate line and columns representing 15-minute segments, like this:
Of course, things didn't work out that way, but the exercise helped me manage my time and work flow.
Thursday night was the easy part: I started my rye sour, assembled the onion-poppyseed-salt-oil bialy/onionroll topping, and mixed and shaped the bagels, then left them in my wine cooler to retard until I had time to boil and bake them on Friday.
So Friday morning started out at 7:30 as I expected, with the bialy dough, which I mix with ice water for a long, slow ferment, and a refresh of my rye sour, which at that point had doubled nicely. At that point, I gave myself the luxury of an hour's rest, wherein I did all the other stuff that I wouldn't be able to do later.
I got started again at around 9, with the challah dough, using Nancy Silverton's recipe, but since I wasn't using preferment, I simply included her flour and water quantities into the main mix and increased the yeast (active dry) to 1% of flour weight, which gave me a nice, silky, low-hydration dough -- around 57%, inlcuding the effects of the eggs and oil. OK, mix the dough, knead for 8 or 9 minutes and then set aside to ferment. Three doughs down, three to go.
At that point -- around 9:30, I saw that my bialy dough had more than doubled, so it was time to divide them into 3-oz boules and let them proof, which I did on parchment-lined baking sheets. However, since my baking sheets and counter space are limited, I mistakenly packed them too close together, so that when they proofed, I was unable to separate them -- but of that, more later.
It was 10am and time to turn the ovens on: top one at 375 for breads, bottom one at 460 for rolls, and eventually the rye bread.
OK, so now the challah dough had more than doubled -- beautiful, silky, elastic dough, very easy to work with. Punch it down, divide it into 12 boules (two six-strand challahs) and let it rest for 20 minutes to relax the gluten. Clean up the clutter that's rapidly filling the kitchen, wash out mixing bowls, clean up mixer now spattered with dough and flour-littered counter.Then back to the challah: roll the boules into 18-inch long tapered strands, braid the challahs -- mess up the first one and get the second one right. Mix egg and a little bit of water for the glaze and brush the challahs. Check the bialys, which are nowhere near three-quarter proof.
Meanwhile, the onion roll dough beckons, so I mix that. Of course, here's where I have a mishap: while adding the oil and egg, I dropped the small porcelain bowl I was using into my mixer, smashing it to bits and scarring my mixing paddle. So dump the dough into the sink, fish out the broken shards and consign the rest to the garbage disposal, re-scale ingredients, and re-mix the dough. The challah are at about half-proof. Re-brush them with egg glaze. Check the bialys, which are now approaching three-quarters proof and are shoulder to shoulder on the cookie sheets.
So now it's 11 and the bialys nearly ready. Use Mimi Sheraton's technique (see "The Bialy Eaters") and press the centers down with the base of a 2" diameter juice glass, then fill them with the onion mixture. Let them stand for another 15 minutes. Challah now fat and expanded at 3/4 proof, one more brushing with egg then into my 375 oven for 35 minutes.
Bialys are at full proof, so they go into 460 oven for 14 minutes. A hot bialy, right out of the oven, slathered with sweet butter is my lunch -- unimaginably good.Check the challahs after 20 min, give them a final brushing and turn them to brown evenly for another 15 minutes.Wash out mixing/fermenting bowls. Move bialys into the dining room where they're not in the way.
One pm and I have to be done by 4:00. Onion roll dough is fully fermented. Divide, rest, flatten them hard in a saucer covered with onion mix, set them on parchment for their proof. Pull the challah out of the oven, gorgeous glossy golden brown loaves.The Russian Coffeecake is a rich, sweet, complex dough that ferments in two stages -- 40% of the flour, equal weight (100%) of the water, and 5% yeast to fight against all the fat in the finished dough.
Now the rye, which is a quick ferment and even quicker proof and an easy mix -- sour, bread flour (okay, so I cheated) salt, caraway and a touch of yeast. Set it aside to ferment.
Onion rolls are ready, first dozen into the oven, 13 minutes at 460. Back to the coffee cake: Nuke 1/2 pound of butter, grind cardamom and mix it with sugar, measure extracts, separate the eggs (4 yolks, two whole eggs). By now the sponge nearly fills the mixer bowl -- fortunately, it's mainly CO2 and collapses like a tired balloon when I drop the bowl onto the counter. Assemble the dough and knead under the hook for about 10 minutes. Dough is unbelievably slack, glossy, golden yellow from the egg yolks, with little dark specks of cardamom -- the fragrance of baking onion rolls, vanilla, and sweet cardamom fill the kitchen. Wash some more bowls, check the rye, which is now fermented and ready for shaping. Move the coffeecake dough into a bowl for fermentation.
Onion rolls out and onto the cooling rack. Still have two dozen bagels retarding in the wine cooler. Punch down the rye -- god, I love working with rye, so challenging and so rewarding when you get it right -- shape into two fat batards, set them on cornmeal-dusted parchment, mist with water and sprinkle with more caraway.
The coffeecake dough has risen incredibly fast and has become much smoother and more elastic -- still challenging to work with. Turn out about 1/4 onto my flour-dusted silpat, roll it thin with a silicone rolling pin and line the baking pans. Take half of the remainder, roll it thin, brush it with more butter, cover generously with sugar, cinnamon and fat black raisins, then roll it up into an 18" long sausage. Divide it in three and lay them on top of the buttered and cinnamoned dough in the pan. Repeat with the remaining dough. Brush the cakes with more butter, more cinnamon and sugar, and a heavy sprinkling of chopped walnuts. Let them proof.
So now it's bagel time. Boil the water, add a tablespoon of food-grade lye water. When the water boils, take the first dozen out of the cooler, boil'em and arrange them on my bagel boards. 3 minutes on burlap, flip, and another 14 on the stone. Move the cool onion rolls into the dining room. Check the rye. Do the second dozen of bagels. Coffe cake is proofing nicely, still a ways to go.
The rye is at 3/4 proof: my finger leaves an indentation when i press the dough. So big question: how will I slash the loaves? One of them is nice and high, so I'll cut that crosswise. The other is kinda flattish -- I guess I didn't draw the dough tight enough when I formed the batard -- so that one I slash lengthwise. Beauty contest: whichever one looks better goes to charity. Throw a cup of water onto the floor of the bottom oven, which I've now turned down to 350, but is still over 425 (a good thing when you're doing rye). Let the steam develop for a couple of minutes and then peel the loaves in. Boil some water and dissolve cornstarch for the glaze, let it cool. Wash more bowls. Check the coffee cake -- 3/4 proof, time to partially cut the logs crosswise so uneven oven spring doesn't throw the whole cake out of whack.
My wife comes home: she's picked up two different baskets and some really nice clear gift bags for bagging the breads. We start judging the beauty contest and pick the best breads for the basket. Bag and tie.
By now, the Russian coffee cake is fully proofed. Into the top oven, now dialed down to 350, for 40 minutes. The smells are unbelievable -- a mixture of caraway, cardamom, vanilla, citrus ...
4:00pm. The coffeecakes come out, beautiful, dark, rich. Hard to choose between them, so eeny-meeny-miny-mo. The rye needs another 10 minutes. Aesthetic decisions about how to arrange the basket.
Finally, at 4:15, the rye breads come out and get brushed with the cornstarch glaze. The cross-slashed loaf is clearly the winner; the lengthwise slash gets to stay home.
I sit down with a cup of tea. My back and feet hurt and I can barely see straight. The counters are invisible underneath layers of baking stuff, a light dusting of flour has settled everywhere. Despite my best efforts, the sinks -- both of 'em -- are piled high with pots, pans and bowls. My kneading board needs a good scraping. But I'm done.
This is what the winning bidder got:
And this is what we kept:
The breads were a hit at the gala. I treated myself to a martini.