Monday, May 31, 2010


Sorry! I’ve never been to Turin so I don’t really know what a Grissini Torinesi or a Turin Breadstick should be like. Clearly, I’d be out of line to generalize from what I’ve sampled in the Italian-American restaurants I’ve visited.

According to Carol Fields, grissini should be “thick and irregular” with a “crunch and an earthy taste” that’s “redolent of the countryside and the old ways”. While that’s a start, in judging Hamelman recipe for grissini, what I should really do is put the issue of authenticity aside and describe the results I got. And what I got was mixed results.

The flavor was excellent. I’m munching on a bread stick even as I write. (Actually, I got one out of the freeze so I could say that.) I made the original recipe (plan) and both variations (roasted garlic and Parmesan). All tasted excellent. In the variations, the garlic and Parmesan were well balanced, not overwhelming but clearly present.

But despite the flavor, I was not overwhelmed by these breadsticks. Mine were certainly irregular and rustic looking, but were pencil thin, not thick. No doubt, this was Hamelman’s intention. And, while that might not be what Carol Field expects, it’s not a problem for me. The real problem is that the breadsticks did not brown well and lacked the crunch I’d expect from a thin breadstick. When making the variations, I tried upping the cooking time from 20 to 25 minutes, but that didn’t help. I also tried an egg glaze on some without much luck. (I also tried shorter, thicker breadsticks, but that exacerbated the problem.) Still, the taste is great.

So … this is a recipe that I’m not done with. Where do I go from here? It turns out, there are still lots of things to try. When I cooked these, I used a parchment lined baking sheet. I suspect this was a mistake so I plan to try these again without the parchment. I’d also like to see what effect a baking stone has. A higher temperature is also a reasonable thing to try. (Field says that in Turin these were traditionally baked on the floor of a wood burning stove.) I’d also like to try Field’s recipe to see how it compares. Finally, there are numerous variations to try. Hamelman suggests several and there are a half dozen or so variations in “The Italian Baker”.

I’ve made three trips to the freezer since I started writing this, so it’s time to stop. More to follow ….

Sunday, May 30, 2010


Over the years, I've made a lot of pizza. It was probably the first bread I ever baked, and one of the things I bake most often. I have an ongoing quest to prefect my pizza recipes. I've even attended a Saturday morning pizza course at Johnson and Wales taught by Peter Reinhart. So as soon as pizza hit the recipe list for the Hamelman Challenge, I jumped on it.

I've made the recipe twice now. The first time I made one large pizza per the recipe and two smaller pizzas cutting the dough for the larger pizza in half, i.e. one 16 oz pizza and two 8 oz pizzas. The large pizza cooked for about 14 minutes, the smaller for about 10. I used tomato sauce, mahon cheese, and Italian sausage for the large; mushrooms, purple onions and cheese for one small pizza;and just cheese for the other small pizza. The mahon, something that I just had on hand, worked very well on the pizza.

The crust had a very nice flavor. It was a bit thicker than what I've been baking lately. I found it particularly easy to work with.

For the second pass, I replaced 25% of the flour with whole wheat flour. (Whole wheat worked well!) I made four 8 oz pizza. I put two of the dough balls, immediately after forming, into the freeze and one into the refrigerator. I'll report back on these later. I baked the one remaining pizza.

For the pizza I made, I used a technique describe in Blumenthal's "In Search of Perfection". I heated a cast iron pan on top of the stove to around 600 degrees (it was cooler at the edges), flipped the pan putting the pizza on the bottom of the pan, then placed the pan directly under the broiler, about 1 inch away. (I use an IR thermometer to judge the temperature of the pan.) This took about 3 minutes to cook. I used this technique before. It produces a super hot, quick cooking pizza that comes closer to a pizza oven than a pizza stone. The distinction between this and a stone cooked is noticeable---this technique is better but tricky. I still haven't mastered this technique.

I made a pizza with mahon, basil, fresh tomatoes, basil, bacon, and an egg. This is a variation of a recipe I first had at Peter Reinhart's restaurant, Pie Town in Charlotte. I was very pleased with the results. This is now my go-to recipe when making thicker crust pizzas.

Update (6/27/10): A day later I went back and made pizza from the dough in my refrigerator. Last week I pulled the dough from the freezer and put it into the refrigerator. After a few days in the refrigerator, I made pizza with the dough. In the case of the refrigerated dough, I got very little rise out of the dough giving a relatively flat dough. I say "relatively" because I actually got more rise out of it than the frozen dough which gave a very thin crust. My advise is, if you want to fix pizza dough in advance and refrigerate or freeze, go to one of Reinhart's recipes.

A Little Background

For those of you who might not be familiar with cookbook challenges, here is a brief introduction. The idea is a group of people get together, typically over the Internet, with the goal of working through a cookbook with each cook making each recipe in the book. The group determines the pace and order of the recipes---perhaps one recipe a week starting at the beginning of the book, or two or three recipes a month jumping around within the book. It is collaborative in that the members encourage one another and discuss the difficulties they encounter.

The first challenge I entered was the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge (at with the goal working through all of the recipes in Peter Reinhart's "The Bread Baker's Apprentice". I signed up for this challenge, and, in fact did bake my way through the book. But I never actually got around to creating a blog or a website to track my progress though the book.

I've set this blog up to track my progress for the Hamelman Challenge (at, a challenge set up to work through the recipes in Jeffrey Hamelman's "Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes". I hope to do better this time around, but I'm already seriously behind. The challenge has been going since March, and while I've been baking I haven't been writing. Until I've caught up, I plan to enter what I currently baking and going back and filling in with occasional entries what I've already done.

My goal is to bake each recipe at least twice. The first time I plan to follow the recipe closely. The second time through, I will either address any problems I encountered or play with the recipe adapting it to my preferences.

(By the way if you are interested in other challenges, there is one for Peter Reinhart's "Artisan Breads for Everyday" (at I think it is probably a little late to join this one. I was a volunteer recipe tester for this book so I've already pretty much done all the recipes in the book. Another that you might consider is for Nick Malgieri's "Modern Baker" (at I seriously considered entering this challenge, but the pace is a bit slow, the cookbook doesn't have weights for ingredients, they are going through the book in order its written, and I'm more interested in bread. For now, I'll stick to Hamelman.)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Traditional English Hot Cross Buns

Since hot cross buns are a favorite on mine, this seemed a great place to start the challenge.

When compared to what I usually think of as a hot cross bun, Hamelman’s recipe is a little unusual. First, rather than using the traditional fondant that piped onto the buns after baking, Hamelman uses a crossing paste that is added before baking so that it becomes an integral part of the bun. Second, after the buns are cooked, they are brushed with sugar syrup. This gives the buns a glossy appearance and extends their shelf life.

For my first pass at the buns, I followed the recipe fairly closely with only minor deviations. I did make my own candied lemon and orange peels—I used both. Having made the peels, I had a surfeit of flavored sugar syrup that I used rather than Hamelman’s.

For the candied peel, I used the recipe in Regan Daley’s In the Sweet Kitchen. She actually provides two variations, one in which the candied peel is kept in the syrup and another where the peel is removed from syrup and rolled in sugar. I made both. Eating the peel out-of-hand, I preferred the peel rolled in sugar. (You need to drain the peel carefully to get an even coating of sugar.) The peel in syrup seemed a little mushy—perhaps I could have shortened the cooking time. That said either was much better than any commercially prepared peel I’ve ever used. On the other hand, the homemade peel has a relatively short shelf life. Daley gave a shelf life of a couple of weeks, but I found they last a bit longer.
However both eventually molded.

I divided the dough for the buns making one batch with the sugared peel and another with the syrupy peel. I substituted chopped dried cherries for the currants in one batch. These produced very nice buns. The integrated crossing paste gave a very interesting appearance but really didn’t add much to the taste. I did not like the stickiness added from the syrup. As noted, the homemade candied peel was a great addition. Either worked well, but I actually preferred the peel in syrup in the buns. For my tastes, I really preferred the cherries to the currants.

For my second go at hot cross buns, I used Hamelman recipe but went back to a more common (perhaps less traditional) approach. I eliminated the crossing paste. Instead I piped on a lemon-flavored fondant after baking the buns; I eliminate the glaze using an egg wash in its place; I replaced the currants with 3 oz of chopped dried cherries (mixed sweet and sour) and 1 oz of dried cranberries; and I baked the buns in a pan so they would rise into each other giving a crust on top and bottom but softer sides. I lowered the temperature to 415 since I was using a darker pan and cooked the buns a bit longer. These rather plebeian changes gave a bun that more closely resembled what I typically think of as a hot cross bun, but also a product that I actually prefer.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


This is a temporary blog that I have created to record my progress with the Hamelman Bread Challenge, an Internet challenge to bake every recipe in Jeffrey Hamelman's "Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes".