Friday, December 3, 2010

My Bread Baking Revival, Reinhart-Style

Until summer hit, I had been on a bread baking tear. Not all of it was very good. I was trying to accomplish too many things at once. On my own. I wanted breads with a crispy crust. That had a light interior texture. Lots of holes. Lots more flavor, especially my sour dough loaves. After all, I'd been nursing a starter for over a year. I was inspired by my friend Nicole Hamaker and her Bread Baker's Apprentice challenge, but for whatever reason I just wasn't paying attention to author Peter Reinhart. I was reading Joe Ortiz's The Village Baker, trying out Jim Lahey's My Bread (his no-knead tome and the ultimate bust for me), and then attempting to adapt my go-to King Arthur Flour sourdough recipe to Lahey. Wet dough, lots of proofing time (as in days), a cast iron Dutch oven. Well, it worked. Sometimes. But I couldn't figure out what I was doing that made it work or fail.

And then came summer and it was just too warm for me to bake bread. Sadly, I also let my starter languish. So, by the time I was re-energized to start again, I needed a new starter (I like the King Arthur Classic Fresh Sourdough Starter). And, I definitely was ready for a new approach.

Enter Peter Reinhart. I have both the Bread Baker's Apprentice and Artisan Breads Every Day. For whatever reason, I just hadn't really dipped into them and never got around to baking from them. My bad.

But, I picked up the latter a couple of weeks before my starter arrived and found his 50 Percent Whole Grain Rustic Bread and Pizza Dough recipe. Perfect! My mom adores whole wheat bread and I could bring it to our Thanksgiving dinner. It calls for a combination of whole wheat and unbleached bread flours, kosher salt, instant yeast, honey, water, and olive oil. That's it. Except that Reinhart offers a formula for turning the whole grain into a multigrain. I picked up a package of Bob's Red Mill Five Grain Cereal and, following Reinhart's instruction, substituted 20 percent of the whole wheat flour with the cereal. And, I think one of the keys to success with this and all other bread baking was that I measured the ingredients by weight not volume.

The loaves, which are baked to his Pain a l'Ancienne Rustic Bread -- essentially a ciabatta -- were easy to make and delicious, even though the dough for this and all the others are wet and sticky. But Reinhart has figured out the best and easiest ways to work with them so the results are a cause for celebration not frustration or heartache. These loaves were light and full of complex flavors. My mom ate half a loaf at one sitting, so I consider them a success.

It was time to move onto another recipe.

Of course, it had to be a sourdough. By now I had my starter made -- although I will also try Reinhart's version in the future. I picked his San Francisco Sourdough Bread. He has two options here: one with just his wild yeast starter (which includes the mother starter) and the other that also includes instant yeast. I went purist because I wanted a more complex, tart flavor. Adding commercial yeast would produce the bread more quickly but with that reduced time for the bread to ferment, you lose some flavor.

Now my only complaint about this book is that you start out using one recipe but you end up directed to other recipes in the book for further instructions for shaping the breads, sometimes directed from one to another to yet another -- so keep some paper bookmarks handy. You'll need them. But that's my only quibble. Reinhart's instructions are clear, the processes are simple and there's almost no kneading; instead, easy turning and then proofing -- and the results are fabulous. See?

This shot was taken when the loaves were just out of the oven. I was tickled at the rise and the apparent crispiness of the crust. But how would they taste and what would the texture be? It was a long 45 minutes of letting them cool before I could cut into one of them. But, I was delighted with the results.

I so appreciate many of Reinhart's tips. He sprinkles olive oil on his work surface instead of flour to keep the dough from sticking but without adding more flour to the dough. He keeps a bowl of water by his work surface and dips his bench scraper and hands into it to keep the dough from sticking to them. Instead of sprinkling cornmeal on a pizza peel, he uses parchment paper on the back of a cookie sheet and the bread just slides with the paper onto the preheated baking stone in the oven. Marvelous!

So, I'll be making many more recipes from this book and trying out those in The Bread Baker's Apprentice. I can't wait to try making his bagels!

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  1. Sounds delicious. I need to get me some started dough!

  2. You did SUCH a good job, not only in making the bread but those photographs look like they go in a magazine or high end cookbook! Great job Caron!