Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Decorative Platter

It has been quite a while since I posted anything to this blog, but I'm still not finished with Hamelman. The Mellow Bakers Challenge has come to an end and has been reborn. But I'm following my own course rather than baking with them.

The challenge stopped short of chapter 10 so I decided to go it alone. My first project met with mixed success. I began with the decorative platter (color plate #24). For this, it was necessary to scale back the recipe since it was designed for an oven that holds a full sheet pan, something my home oven doesn't do. Overall, the project went well as can be seen from the picture. There were two rather obvious initial problems with the platter. First, along the lower left border, the braid is way too loose. While easily corrected before baking, unfortunately I didn't notice this until after the platter came out of the oven. The second problem is the large gap between the two ends of the border at the top of the picture. This braid shrunk as the platter baked. This was something I hoped to cover with some of the decorations later in the chapter (a flower or two "glued" into place over the gap using Hamelman recipe for cooked sugar glue), but a third problem developed.

As can be seen in the second image, several large cracks developed in the platter. Once the platter developed the cracks, there was no point in going back and trying to deal with the gap. I put out an appeal on the Bread Baker's Guild of America's mailing list to see if anyone had any suggestions as to what might have caused the problem. Jeffrey Hamelman was kind enough to reply suggesting that it may have been over baked. This seems quite likely.

Despite the problems I encountered, I thought the platter looked spectacular and will definitely try again. I'm hoping to gain access to a kitchen with a larger oven this summer so I can attempt a full size platter and the cornucopia. I also plan to make a plaque or two attempting some of the decorative details described in chapter 10. I'll follow up with postings as I attempt this project.

As to other future postings, I certainly want to go back and retry some of the recipes in the book. As readers will note, rye bread have been a problem for me. Accordingly, I have enrolled in a two day course next fall taught by Hamelman on rye breads. I'll be retrying some of his recipes this summer in preparation for that course so expect future postings on my experiments and the course next fall.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Semolina (Durham) Bread with a Whole-Grain Soaker

This recipe marks the "official" end to the Hamelman Challenge. With this loaf, all but the decorative projects have been done. That's ignoring variations on several recipes as well. At this point, I don't plan to go back through looking for variations, I do plan to continue and do at least two of the decorative projects. And once I've done that, I hope to do at least one more post about the project in general. But the end is upon us.

The last loaf was a fine recipe to end on. I'm fond of Semolina Bread to begin with and like whole-grain breads in this style. And this loaf was no disappointment. I used a durum flour (finer grind) than the semolina used on the last loaf but with the added whole grains, I can't say I saw much difference. Overall, this is a solid loaf. While not one of the very best, it was one of the best. A keeper!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Semolina (Durham) Bread

This loaf is an oddity for Hamelman; it is a loaf that can be finished in one day. A "flying sponge" is created using all the yeast and is allowed to rest for an hour or so. The dough is created from this. From that point on, there is nothing unusual about making the loaf.

I'm particularly fond of semolina breads and this was no disappointment. The crumb was fine, golden, and very soft. The bread is delicious.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Roasted Garlic Levain

As we near the end of the challenge, this was another lovely loaf. It was very straightforward to make—and was very similar to many of Hamelman's other breads.

The bread has a very strong garlic aroma and a slightly bitter tasting crust. The crumb was very open. This was wonderful with fig preserves.

Un-kneaded Six-Fold French Bread

Well, even Hamelman has an un-kneaded or no-knead bread. Although with six folds, it almost seemed like I was kneading the dough. And it is worth noting that Hamelman's book came out two years before the no-knead revolution started by Jim Lahey and Mark Bittman. Still, no-knead breads have been around in one form or another for decades. There is a no-knead roll that was in the original 1931 edition of Joy of Cooking. This is not meant to diminish the work of Lahey and Bittman in refining and popularizing the technique. Indeed, there are numerous differences between Hamelman bread (notably the six folds) and Lahey's. And Lahey has a book loaded with variations.

There was nothing particularly difficult with this recipe apart from being tied to the kitchen in order to make the folds every thirty minutes. The dough produced was quite slack. I handled this quite gingerly when forming the loaves. And following Hamelman's suggestion, I used some of the dough to make pizza.

This produced a lovely rustic, ciabatta-like loaf with a very open crumb. This is a nice loaf for a paninis. And, as promised, the pizzas had a good, chewy crust. This is a recipe worth keeping.

66 Percent Rye Bread

This is the last of the 18 rye breads in Hamelman. And while I might be sadden that the challenge is nearing its end, finishing the rye breads came none to soon for me. This loaf was not, I regret, a spectacular success. Like too many of the rye loaves, it was a sad, heavy loaf with a coarse crust and a slightly dense crumb. Frankly, I must admit that I don't feel that I've truly mastered rye bread. My low percentage loaves have been fine, but the dense, high rye content breads simply don't appeal to me. When rye content goes above 50%, my interest in the loaf wanes.

This particular loaf fell neatly into this pattern of slightly dense crumb and coarse crust. There were no real problems or surprises with the loaf in that it behaved as many of the other loaves did. It was difficult to get it to pull together having a tendency to pool in the bottom of the mixer. When baked, it tended to break around rather than expand along the scoring. (I did try one experiment with this loaf that didn't really work. I used a template to add flour for a pattern and then tried to score across the pattern in a decorative way. This seems an interesting technique but it didn't work with this loaf. But it is something I'll try again with another bread.)

Not a bad bread, but not one I'll be in a hurry to repeat.

Challah Shaping Revisited

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I attended a baking class taught by Peter Reinhart as part of Johnson and Wales Chef's Choice series, a series of Saturday morning recreational cooking classes. As part of that course, not only did we bake challah, but we brought home challahdough. Faced with a double portion of baked bread and unbaked dough, I used the unbaked dough to revisit the shaping lessons in Hamelman.

For the first braid, I improvised around the star loaf given in Hamelman. I made two changes. First, I used four and a half strands for each leg rather than six. That is, I cut three strands in half and created each leg with the half strand and two strands each from adjacent legs. Second, I used larger strands.

One suggestion I'd make for this loaf is to use small pieces of parchment for each of the formed legs. This makes it much easier to position the legs when combining the first three legs to make the intermediate legs.

For the most part, this loaf worked nicely. It was quite large—it came within an inch of the walls of my oven on either side, and I had to use two overlapping cookie sheets to bake it. Still, I think I had a better loaf this time than last. If I were doing it again, I would pay closer attention to the braid pattern at the top of the leg even if this is somewhat obscured by the rosette added in the middle of the loaf.

For the second loaf, I followed Hamelman closely. The major difference this time was that I extended the inner loops beyond the outer ring more in forming the loaf, joined them tightly, and then used a bench knife to get a good, clean edge. In retrospect, I should have used a bit more water joining them because I did get some separation at one point (upper left). Still, this is much better than last time.

These were fun loaves to revisit and much less formidable the second time around.