The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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In spite of the crazy, rainy weather of the past week or two, farmers in Kansas and other Great Plains states are trying to get the wheat harvested whenever field conditions allow. On my way home from work this evening, I saw these guys making their way across a field:

Wheat harvest, Johnson County, KS

As soon as I got home, I gathered up my camera and my 5-year old grandson and headed back to the field so that he could see what a combine looked like and what it did. And to grab these pics, too. Yes, those are office buildings in the background of the picture, above. Johnson County is home to a number of Kansas City suburbs and more farm land gets paved every year for subdivisions, shopping centers, office parks, etc. Hard to complain about it too much, since I'm part of the problem.

Here's a closer shot of the combine as it crossed our line of sight:

Wheat harvest, Johnson County, KS

This last shot shows one of the two combines at work in the field stopping to unload into a waiting semi-truck trailer:

Wheat harvest, Johnson County, KS

In this shot, you can see a traffic light and part of a house in the background.

My grandson was quite impressed by the big machinery, even though he didn't completely understand what was going on. I tried to explain how the kernels from the stalk of wheat that I plucked for him were the part of the wheat that was being harvested and that it would be milled into flour for breads, cookies, pies and so on. I know he understood the food end of it and he knows what flour is; I just don't think he has a concept of how something growing in a field could be turned into those things. It will come, eventually. At least he has had an introduction to one of the steps in the process.

Oh, and for the curious among you, it's winter wheat. It was planted in October or November of last year.

PMcCool

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After being on vacation 10 days, it’s taken me almost 2 days of intermittent poking around to catch up on the various goings on at TFL.  This is one busy bunch of bakers!  I especially enjoyed the JMonkey/TattooedTonka sourdough starter event and the reminiscing by others about how they got started with making bread.

 

Since we weren’t pressed for time, we decided to take a train from Kansas City to Chicago, and then from Chicago to Grand Rapids, Michigan, which is the end of the line for that Amtrak route.  Our oldest daughter, her husband, and their son traveled with us.  Our not-quite-5-year-old grandson, already a veteran air traveler, thought that riding the train was just about the coolest thing he has done so far.  The generous seating arrangements definitely are more comfortable than most cars or aircraft for a similar duration trip, not to mention the ability to move around without banging into your fellow travelers.  If they would make high-speed lines more widely available here in the U.S., I’d definitely use rail more often. 

 

Most of our time in Michigan was spent visiting family but we did manage to play tourist for a couple of days.  We visited Mackinac Island one day and did all of the usual sightseeing/fudge eating/T-shirt buying stuff.  Hmm; guess that makes us “fudgies”.  That’s a northern Michigan term for tourists, especially those from downstate, as well as a nod to the fudge shops that proliferate in most of the towns up there that draw tourists.  Our grandson was thrilled by all of the horses that are used to transport goods and people by wagon or carriage, since cars and trucks are banned from the island.  While one is less likely to be mowed down by oncoming traffic while crossing the street, it’s just as necessary to watch where you put your feet as it is to keep an eye out for carriages or bicycles.  We also bought some pasties from a store in Mackinaw City and took them back for one evening’s dinner with my wife’s brother’s family.  Yum!  Sorry, Mini-Oven, we never did make it across the bridge into the U.P.  Guess that will have to wait for another trip.  The other touristy thing we did was to tour some of the wineries on Old Mission peninsula north of Traverse City on another day.  There were only one or two in the region 30 years ago but the numbers have been growing in recent years and some of them are turning out some very drinkable wines.   

 

No baking was attempted while we were away, so I’m definitely looking forward to firing up the oven this weekend.  I was afraid that I might actually have to buy some bread at the supermarket when we got back into town, but was relieved to find some of my own in the freezer.  (Help me!  I’m turning into a bread snob!)  We did get to enjoy some other folks’ baking, though.  My mom made a batch of bismarks for the crew after a long day of cutting, splitting and stacking firewood for next winter.  A friend brought both dilly buns and home-baked hamburger buns for a cookout on another evening.  All were wonderful and none survived for very long. 

 

Vacations are funny things.  I never want them to end, but I’m always happy to get back to my own place and sleep in my own bed.  Okay, so maybe I’m the funny thing.  Anyway, I’m back home and happy with that and with the trip.

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Mini Oven and Eric,

Maybe the world is smaller than I think!

There are some professors at Tech whom I remember very clearly.  One is David Cimino, who taught a couple of my Physics courses.  He really could draw a perfect circle, about 2 feet in diameter,  on the blackboard.  Pretty amazing to watch.  The name Hanner sounds vaguely familiar but I don't think I had any classes with an instructor by that name.  I never did meet a Bornhorst, although I watched Bruce Horst in the nets for the hockey Huskies.  Probably doesn't count, eh?

My 30th class reunion is coming up this summer, so I'd like to get back up to the Copper Country.  Even if I didn't see anyone I knew, it would still be worth the trip.  There is so much that I used to enjoy up there, like the view from Mt. Brockway, or the waterfalls that are so numerous, or the sweet rolls at the Hilltop Inn in L'Anse (had to work a baking reference in here somewhere!), or the arboreal drive on US 41 heading north toward Copper Harbor, Eino and Toivo jokes, the original Library's pizza, and more.  One of these days I need to go to the Porkies, too.

Dunno about the snow situation up there, since I'm living in Kansas (after stops in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Alabama and Texas).  The alumni newsletter dropped their snowfall tracking section a few weeks back, so I'm guessing that it should be about gone, other than maybe a few shaded areas back in the forest or the cities' snow dumping areas.  My wife (then girlfriend) was skeptical about my snow stories.  For instance, at one point on my walk from campus to downtown Houghton there was a traffic sign which, in Spring or Fall, was a couple of feet above my head.  In late winter it was about knee-high.  We married my senior year and experienced a literal 40 days and nights of snowfall after moving in, which just about put her over the edge. She's a believer now.

When you were growing up in Ontonagon, Mini Oven, did you ever picture yourself living in places as distant and different as Austria and China?  Thanks to my career in engineering, I've been to places around the globe that I never expected to see outside of TV or a newspaper.  Quite the unexpected benefit of my college years at MTU.

Is the White Pine mine in Ontonagon still operating?  I thought that I had heard it had closed, but that there was a possibility of it reopening.

Thanks for triggering a bunch of memories, thimbleberries and all.  Here's a website, in case you are feeling nostalgic: www.coppercountry.com

Paul

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Since the breads I made most recently were both sourdough ryes, I was looking for something different this time around that would work well for sandwiches. My first inclination was to haul out an old favorite, a honey whole wheat bread. While flipping through Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads, I happened across a buttermilk whole wheat recipe that I had not tried previously. Since I had all of the necessary materials on hand, I thought that I would give it a try. The recipe follows [with my notes]. I'll also include additional comments at the end

Buttermilk Whole Wheat Bread

from Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads

makes 1 9"x5" or 2 8.5"x4.5" loaves

Ingredients

2 packages dry yeast [I used 2 teaspoons instant yeast]

3/4 cup warm water (105-115F)

1-1/4 cups buttermilk, room temperature (or 1-1/4 cups water and 4 tablespoons buttermilk powder)

1-1/2 cups bread flour, approximately

3 cups whole wheat flour, stone-ground preferred

1/4 cup shortening, room temperature

2 tablespoons brown sugar or molasses [I used molasses]

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons salt

Step 1 - In a large mixing bowl sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and stir briefly to dissolve. Set aside while allowing the buttermilk to reach room temperature, about 15 minutes.

Step 2 - When at room temperature, pour the buttermilk, bread flour, 1 cup whole wheat flour, shortening, brown sugar or molasses, baking powder, and salt into the yeast mixture. Blend with 50 strong strokes of a wooden spoon, or at low speed in a mixer until the flour and the dry ingredients are absorbed. With a wooden spoon or mixer flat beater stir in the remaining whole wheat flour, 1/2 cup at a time, and, when it becomes thick, work with the fingers. Allow 4 to 5 minutes for the whole wheat flour to fully absorb the liquid before adding more flour. The dough will be slightly sticky and soft. You may wish to add more bread flour to help control the stickiness.

Step 3 - Sprinkle flour on the work surface and turn out the soft dough. In the early stages of kneading, a metal spatula or dough blade will help turn and fold the dough. It will also scrape up the film of dough from the work surface. Knead with a strong push-turn-fold action, occasionally lifting the dough above the counter and banging it down hard. Knead for 8 minutes, buy hand or with a dough hook.

Step 4 - There is no "first" rising--the dough is put in the pans and set aside to rise. Divide the 2 pieces, if desired, and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Shape into balls; press the balls into ovals the length of the pans. Fold in half lengthwise, pinch the seam, and place in the pans with the seam under. Push the dough into the corners of the pans. Cover the pans with with wax paper and leave at room temperature until the dough has risen 1" to 2" above the level of the pan, about 50 minutes. (Rising times will be reduced if using instant yeast.)

Step 5 - Preheat oven to 425F 20 minutes before baking.

Step 6 - Bake the loaf or loaves in the oven until they are golden brown and loose in the pans, about 30-35 minutes. Cover with foil if the crusts are browning to rapidly. The loaves are baked if the sound is hard and hollow when thumped on the bottom crust.

Step 7 - Remove loaves from the oven and place on wire racks to cool.

My variation went like this:

Step 1 - Mix the warm water, the buttermilk, the whole wheat flour, the brown sugar or molasses, and the baking powder. Autolyse 60 minutes. (I actually had to run some errands and it was closer to 90 minutes before I got back to the autolysed dough.)

Step 2 - Stir in the instant yeast.

Step 3 - Stir in the salt.

Step 4 - Stir in the shortening.

Step 5 - Stir in bread flour, 1/2 cup at a time. (I wound up stirring in 1 cup, total. The balance was used for flouring the counter during kneading.)

Step 6 - Since the gluten was so thoroughly developed during the autolyse, I stopped kneading after 5 minutes, which was enough to ensure that everything was completely blended and distributed.

Step 7 - Clean and grease the mixing bowl. Place kneaded dough in bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to ferment at room temperature until doubled in volume.

Step 8 - Degas the dough slightly, shape into loaf or loaves, place in pan(s). Cover the pans loosely with with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature until the dough has risen 1" to 2" above the level of the pan, about 50 minutes.

Step 9 - Preheat oven to 425F 20 minutes before baking.

Step 10 - Bake the loaf or loaves in the oven until they are golden brown and loose in the pans, about 30-35 minutes. Cover with foil if the crusts are browning to rapidly. The loaves are baked if the sound is hard and hollow when thumped on the bottom crust.

Step 11 - Remove loaves from the oven and place on wire racks to cool.

The effects of the autolyse were phenomenal. The dough texture looked as though it had been worked for 8-10 minutes, even though it had been stirred just enough to moisten the dry ingredients. After stirring in the bread flour, it was almost the the silky smooth texture that I usually associate with a well-kneaded white bread. The other thing that I should mention was that I was using Wheat Montana's Bronze Chief flour, a finely milled high-protein whole wheat containing 4 grams of protein in a 30-gram sample. For all practical purposes, it's bread flour that still has the bran in it. One of these days I'll have to try a 100% whole wheat bread with this flour.

Overall, I'm very happy with the results of this bread, using this approach and this flour. The loaves were some of the prettiest that I've ever pulled out of the oven, equalling the loftiness of a typical white bread. Here's a picture of the finished loaves:

Buttermilk whole wheat loaves

The crumb was close-textured and even; not at all crumbly or dry. No bricks this time:

Buttermilk whole wheat crumb

Oh, and it tastes really good, too!

And, while I was baking bread, my wife was attending a book signing by Giada De Laurentiis, as evidenced by the photo below:

Giada

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I dug my starter out of the refrigerator on Thursday and started refreshing it without a clear notion of what I would use it for, although some type of rye bread sounded good.  Even though it had been 2-3 weeks since it was last used, it bounced back quickly and I had enough by Friday evening to start two different batches of bread.  After browsing through recipes, I decided on the NY Deli Rye from Reinhart's BBA and a sourdough Dark Rye from the new KA Whole Grain cookbook. 

However, before I could get started on either one, my wife asked whether I remembered that "we" were going to make some lemon-blueberry scones for her women's retreat at church the next day.  I confessed that I did not, but since she was about to leave to go do some setup work for the retreat that "we" would get right on it.  After looking at the recipe, I saw that the end product would probably be delicious but it wouldn't be a scone.  It called for melting the butter and stirring it in with the rest of the wet ingredients, rather than cutting it (cold and solid) into the dry ingredients.  I also saw that it would require about 4 batches to yield the required number of servings.  After assembling all of the ingredients within easy reach, I got to work on the first batch.  The dry ingredients called for:

2 cups AP flour

1/3 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

The wet ingredients included:

8 ounces lemon yogurt

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/4 cup butter, melted

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

After mixing the dry ingredients, stir in the wet ingredients just until everything is moistened (it's better to stop when things are still a bit lumpy).  Then gently fold in 1 cup of fresh (or thawed frozen) blueberries, trying not to crush the berries.  Spoon onto a greased baking sheet (yields 12-15 scones/biscuits) and bake in a 350F oven for 15-18 minutes.  Remove from oven when they flecked with brown, remove from the baking sheet and cool on a rack.  

In my case, as soon as one batch went into the oven, I started working on the next batch.  I was very grateful to have my scale on hand, since the yogurt came in 6 ounce packages, instead of 8 ounce packages as they used to.  Score another one for the marketing geniuses who tell us that they are doing us a favor by selling us a smaller package at no additional cost!  Remember (here in the U.S., anyway) when coffee was sold in 1-pound increments and you could but a 1/2 gallon container of ice cream?  Aack!  Okay, end of rant.

Because of the butter and sugar content, these tend to spread out as they bake.  The finished scones/biscuits are softer and more cake-like than traditional scones or biscuits.  I'm not sure what would happen if the solid butter were cut into the flour mixture, as is more traditionally the case for scones or biscuits.  It's possible that the resulting dough might be too stiff to allow easy incorporation of the berries. 

 

With the scones out of the way, I turned my attention to the bread.  First, I chopped and sauteed the onions for the NY Deli Rye and then set them to cool.  Then I prepared the soaker for the Dark Rye.  That called for rye flour in a pumpernickel grind, which I have not been able to find locally.  So, I dumped an equal weight of flaked rye into the food processor and whirled that I had a coarse rye meal.  The recipe called for soaking it overnight in strong coffee but I'm not a coffee enthusiast, so I opted for water instead.  If I had had some dark beer in the house, I would have used that.  By the time the soaker was, well, soaking, the onions had cooled enough to start the preferment for the NY Deli Rye.  Once that was assembled, it went into the refrigerator until I was ready for it on Saturday.  After that, it was time for some serious dish-washing.

 

On Saturday, I started the day with some errands (including buying a new lawnmower, but that's another story).  After returning to the house, I took the NY Deli Rye preferment out of the refrigerator so that it could begin to warm up.  Then I got to work on the Dark Rye, combining the soaker with the rest of the ingredients.  The recipe writers apparently have a warped sense of humor, since they direct you to knead the dough until it is "smooth and elastic".  Give me a break!  This is rye bread!  Anyway, I kneaded it (including some stretching and folding) until it was, um, well, more elastic than it started and about as smooth it could hope to be.  It was still thoroughly sticky, of course.  Setting that aside for the bulk ferment, I moved on to the NY Deli Rye.  Since I have made this before, it didn't take long to have it pulled together and ready for it's bulk ferment.  I set both doughs on the counter immediately above the dishwasher to take advantage of the heat coming from that, so both were ready for shaping a little sooner than normal.  I baked the NY Deli Rye first, since it was ready first (it had been spiked with a little yeast), in bread pans.  I also put the stone in the oven to preheat while the NY Deli Rye was baking.  When the NY Deli Rye came out, I slashed the boules of the Dark Rye and set them to bake on the stone, with steam.  They had very little oven-spring, preferring, instead, to spread sideways.  As a result, they are rather low; maybe 1.5 to 2 inches thick at the highest point.

 

The NY Deli Rye is consistently delicious.  The Dark Rye is also very good.  The molasses flavor over-compensates for the sourness of the soaker, leaving the finished bread just slightly sweet.  Had I used coffee instead of water in the soaker, the coffee's bitterness might have reduced the sweetness.  Since I don't like coffee, I think the tilt toward the molasses flavor is a good thing.  The sweetness will be a good foil for savory accompaniments like ham or corned beef or cheeses or pickles.  I'll definitely make it again. 

 

All in all, a good weekend for baking.  And, since I already have bread in the freezer, I had gifts for a neighbor's birthday.

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My Valentine present, which had been back-ordered, showed up while I was out of town last week: the KAF Whole Grain Baking book.  My, oh my, oh my!  There is some serious baking to do!  Since our grandson is staying with us for part of his spring break and since he loves cinnamon toast for breakfast, I decided to start last evening with the honey oatmeal bread recipe, which has a cinnamon swirl option.  It contains honey and oatmeal, natch, as well as whole wheat flour, unbleached AP flour, butter and other good things.  I didn't have any nonfat dry milk on hand, but the bread doesn't seem to have suffered any as a result.  The cinnamon swirl mixture contains egg white, brown sugar, cinnamon (2 tablespoons!) and flour. 

The texture is surprisingly light for a mostly whole grain bread, as well as being moist and tender.  It toasts up wonderfully, with both the honey and the cinnamon flavors being very noticeable.  Here's a picture:

Honey oatmeal cinnamon swirl

I think that the egg white and flour in the cinnamon mixture kept the layers of the roll from separating or creating pockets, as has often been the case with other recipes that I have made.

This was everything that I anticipated, and more, so I have high hopes for other recipes in the book.  The only downside may be a dent in my pocket to buy spelt and other not-so-common flours, if and when I can find them locally. 

Paul

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This weekend I got to try a couple of flours that I haven't used previously.  

The first was an unbleached AP type (brand name Eagle Mills) that I purchased at a Sam's Club.  With a protein content of 4 grams in a 30 gram sample, it's as high in protein as a lot of bread flours that I have used.  Whether I was brave or foolish is open to debate, but I decided to try in in the BBA pain a la ancienne even though I've never made that bread before.  The flour worked very well in this application.  I'm still of the opinion that the water content in Reinhart's formulas don't begin to produce the types of doughs that he describes in the text, because I had to add more water to get the kind of softness that he indicates.  Once I got the dough sufficiently hydrated, it was very supple and extensible without being excessively sticky.  In fact, I'll cut way down on the amount of bench flour next time (because there will be a next time with bread that tastes this good) so that I don't have as much on the finished bread.  The crust was crisp and the crumb was tender, though not as open as I had hoped.  My shaping left a lot to be desired.  And let's just state up front that it is better to remember to slash the loaves before they go into the oven, rather than a couple minutes after closing the door.  However, ugly or not, this bread has a wonderful flavor.  It was a great accompaniment to the jambalaya that my wife made for lunch Saturday.

The other flour I tried was Wheat Montana's Prairie Gold.  A local grocery has a display set up featuring both the Bronze Chief (a red variety) and the Prairie Gold variety grains.  Each bin of grain feeds into an individual grinder, which I think are impact types.  Just push a button and it drops freshly milled flour into a plastic bag.  It's a bit pricey at 79 cents per pound (which is quite a bit higher than the already-ground and bagged flour of the same brand sitting on the shelf).  Still, I got a couple of pounds of each, partly to play with freshly ground flour and partly to see how the gold variety tastes in comparison to the red varieties with which I'm already familiar.  I used a honey whole wheat recipe that I have used for many years so that I could gauge the behavior of the Prairie Gold against past experience.  The dough mixed easily, but seemed somewhat wetter (because the fresh flour wasn't as dry as the prepackaged stuff, maybe?).  The dough also handled well, becoming very smooth after 8 to 10 minutes of kneading.  It was much tackier than I usually see with this recipe, although it wasn't at all gloopy.  The bulk fermentation easily doubled but although the last rise in the pans was quite a bit slower and seemed to run out of gas before redoubling.  There was very little change in volume while baking.  The crust of the finished loaves is perhaps a little lighter in color than loaves made with red wheat but the crumb is markedly lighter.  It isn't as white as a white loaf, but it isn't dark either; more of a sand color.  Since the flour grind was relatively fine, the crumb is free of any grittiness and fairly close-textured.  The flavor is, well, like whole wheat, but less so.  There is no bitterness or "grassy" flavor that some find objectionable in whole wheat breads.  Some writers have described the flavor as insipid, but I don't think that is accurate.  I think it is more that people are gauging the gold or white varieties' flavor against the flavor profile of the red wheats, which have more tannins.  That's not unlike comparing a white wine to a red wine and complaining that the flavor isn't as robust.  I'm certainly willing to use it in my bread, particularly if I know that the people eating it aren't fond of the flavor of the red wheat.  For myself, I'm happy to continue using the red wheat flours since I like that flavor.

PMcCool

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Super Bowl parties are a great excuse for trying new recipes.  They also require lots of snack foods.  So, when I was asked to bring some chips, I happily agreed.  I was a good guest and took exactly what the hostess requested and then, well, then I improvised a little.

 

My wife is out of town for a week (hence no pictures with the post, since she has the camera with her), which left me with some additional time to putter around.  It occurred to me that I hadn't made pretzels for years and that they would be just the ticket for the party.  After rummaging around through cookbooks and recipe files, I came up with one recipe for whole-wheat crisp pretzels (in a Sunset publication, I think) and another for soft pretzels from the King Arthur 200th Anniversary cook book.  The soft pretzel recipe included directions for boiling the pretzels in a baking soda and water solution prior to baking.  Remembering the threads here about boiling versus not boiling and lye vs. baking soda, it seemed like a good opportunity to try the technique.

 

The whole-wheat version was almost entirely whole-wheat flour and water, with minimal amounts of yeast, honey, shortening and salt.  The recipe measurements were volumetric, but the scales still got a workout when I portioned out the dough for the pretzels.  They were very simple to make; just mix everything together, let ferment, scale, shape, brush with egg wash, sprinkle with salt and bake.  At the same time, they were very tedious--the recipe yields 8 dozen small (about 2-2.5 inch) pretzels.  If nothing else, all that practice certainly improved my shaping technique.  The first couple of dozen that I made had a certain Impressionistic quality.  You could tell that they were pretzels, but they were anything but uniform.  I perservered, though, and slowly got better and, just as slowly, got finished.  They baked to a pleasing shade of brown.  The directions called for piling them onto a couple of clean baking sheets and putting them back into the (turned off) oven to dry for at least 2-3 hours, using the oven's residual heat to drive off the moisture.  That didn't work quite so well as promised.  The next morning they were not nearly crisp but way past soft and not at all enjoyable.  So, I used the oven's drying cycle for the first time ever.  After a couple of hours of 180F temperature with the convection fan running and the door propped open slightly, they were bone dry and crisp as could be.

 

The soft pretzels from the KA recipe were pretty much the same as other soft pretzels that I have made, except for the boiling-in-soda-and-water step.  Boiling affects both the texture and the flavor.  The finished pretzel is moister than those that have not been boiled and, I think, somewhat chewier.  I'm a bit stumped about how to describe the flavor change.  There is something else besides the "typical" pretzel flavor.  Not bitterness, exactly.  Astringent, perhaps?  It's a subtle difference, but noticeable.  I should probably have baked one or two dry, for comparison purposes.  One of the people at the party asked if they had been boiled, but we were interrupted and I didn't get to ask her what it was about them that triggered her question.

 

Both varieties were a hit with the adults and the kids.  And if the kids are eating something that is almost entirely whole-wheat and liking it, it must be good.

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Since we had a big Italian dinner lined up with friends last weekend, I volunteered to bring bread.  One, it gave me a chance to try the Italian Bread formula from BBA; two, I decided to take another crack at ciabatta, also from BBA; and three, these people love homemade bread.

The Italian bread was pretty straightforward--and delicious.  Here's a photo:

The crumb was fairly close-textured and chewy, but not tough.  Great flavor, too, from the biga's overnight ferment in the refrigerator.  Gotta work on the slashing, though.  The loaf on the right came out pretty well, but the one on the left was definitely off the mark.

Bouyed by that success, I launched a poolish for the ciabatta.  That went well enough, but the final dough was more of a struggle.  Everything I read about ciabatta dough mentions how wet the dough is (the words "soupy" and "pour" seem to feature prominently).  This is the second time that I've used the BBA formula, carefully weighing all of the ingredients.  And, for the second time, I wound up with a very dry dough.  Even after working in another ounce of water, it was still able to stand up unsupported, although it could at least be stretched and folded.  I used bread flour, as listed in the formula.  The flour was from a newly opened bag that had been purchased less than a week previously.  I suppose it's possible that the flour was drier than usual because of the low humidity, but I can't fathom that there would be that radical a difference.  Anyway, I soldiered on with the bulk ferment, shaping the loaves and letting them rise.  When they were ready, I slid them onto the stone in the preheated oven, put water in the steam pan and this is how they looked when they came out:

 

The oven spring was fantastic.  At about 8 or 9 minutes into the bake, they had tripled in height.  These turned out far better than my first, sorry, attempt.  When we cut into them at dinner, I was surprised to find that the crumb was quite moist, almost cake-like.  Not at all what I had expected from the apparent dryness of the dough.  The texture was a combination of smaller and larger holes, not nearly the wide-open crumb that I was looking for (sorry, none survived long enough for pictures of the crumb).  It was thoroughly baked, since the instant-read thermometer indicated an internal temperature of 205F.  There are a couple of potential contributors to the moistness of the crumb. I probably turned the oven temp down a few minutes sooner than necessary and maybe I should have pulled the steam pan out at about the 10-minute mark.  Ah, well, better next time.  They tasted wonderful, especially with a drizzle of a fruity olive oil.

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PMcCool

Friends of ours are fond of panettone, so I thought that I would try making some for them as a Christmas gift.  After much browsing, I decided to use the recipe for Il Panettone Milanese, located here: http://italianfood.about.com/library/rec/blr0946.htm.  One of the things that drew me to this one is that it uses a naturally-yeasted biga, instead of commercial yeast.  I figured that my sourdough starter (which isn’t especially sour) would yield a good biga and it did.

 

I should say at the outset that I am pleased with the result, especially since the recipe yields two panettone that are in the medium to large range; one for the friends and one for the baker.  There are some things to address, but it is a very satisfying first attempt.  Here's a picture: Panettone

 

However, I’m not sure that I would use this specific recipe again, since it does have a few quirks.  For instance, the directions for the second-stage dough don’t say when to add the egg yolks (I put them in with the rest of the wet ingredients) and they call for water that isn’t in the ingredient list (I chose not to, since there was no indication of quantity and it looked like a repeat of the instructions for the first dough).  The recommended baking temperature is 380F, while Reinhart’s formula recommends a baking temperature of 320F.  Since I was improvising with soufflé dishes (one glass and one ceramic) in lieu of panettone molds or papers, I dropped the temperature to 360F and still wound up with rather dark crusts, even after covering them loosely with foil.  The recipe gives no indication of baking time, other than that a skewer should come out clean after inserting into the panettone.  I pulled them out of the oven when the internal temperature reached 185F, which took almost 1-1/2 hours.

 

I gave a slice to an Italian acquaintance from Milan and asked for a critique.  The first thing that she noted is that my panettone is denser than what she is accustomed to Italy.  While I followed the directions and allowed 6 hours for the second rise before baking, it didn’t achieve that almost lacy sponginess of a traditional panettone.  There are probably five factors at play.  First, additional time for the second rise would probably have helped.  My acquaintance says that a friend of hers bakes it frequently and allows it to rise to a point where it is almost ready to collapse.  While mine had more than doubled in size, it hadn’t yet reached the wobbly stage when it went into the oven.  Second, by baking it in soufflé dishes, the dough had room to expand sideways quite a bit before being forced to expand upward.  A regular panettone mold would have encouraged more vertical expansion, which may have improved the texture.  Third, this is a very rich dough, especially with fats (a pound of butter and 12 egg yolks!).  Fourth, there is almost 2 pounds of fruit in this recipe.  With that much fat and that much fruit weighing it down, the dough is going to need every bit of help it can get to fully expand.  The last factor, and I don’t have a way to address it, is that Italian bakers have a special rack for inverting and suspending the panettone as it cools.  That keeps it from settling and reducing in volume before it is cool and firm.  I didn’t notice much, if any, settlement which isn’t too surprising since the crumb wasn’t as spongy as it should have been.

 

Her second observation was that the candied fruit peel was somewhat bitter.  I had noticed that both the orange peel and the lemon peel that I purchased used the full thickness of the peel.  Since the white pith can contribute bitterness, that is probably the culprit.  I’ll opt for making my own candied peel from just the zest of the lemon and orange in future attempts.

 

The third observation that she made was that the finished bread was drier than the panettone to which she was accustomed.  I had expected it to be very moist because of all of the butter and eggs.  Maybe the recipe writer meant it when she said to add water to the second dough.  If only she had said how much!  A wetter dough might also have been able to expand more during the final rise.

 

The good news is that the flavor was very close to what my acquaintance knew and loved, so she was happy to have the slice that I brought for her.  I’m happy to know that my first attempt is close to the mark on this most important point.  Almost everything else can be tweaked and adjusted to get closer to a traditional panettone’s texture. 

 

Best of all, my friends were delighted to receive their panettone.

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