Monday, July 19, 2010

French Bread

Flour (100%), water (70%), yeast (1.25%) and salt (1.8%)—this is a pretty basic recipe for a French baguettes. It is a simple straight dough. There are no special techniques—no preferement and no autolyses. The bread is easily made in under one day. This is a type of bread that I've made hundreds of times.

There were no surprises with this bread. The results were excellent. This particular recipe doesn't quite develop the flavor that can be achieved with a preferment. But the bread is considerably less trouble. It won't keep very well, but that's rarely an issue since you're apt to inhale this bread.

This recipe produces a soft, satiny dough that is easy to work with, and easy to adapt. I've use it to make both baguettes and large rolls. The recipe for four baguettes will give 16 hamburger size rolls. These take about 12-15 minutes to cook. Or you can mix and match making some baguettes and some rolls.
I won't pretend that there aren't better recipes for French style bread, but none provide better quality with less work.

70% & 80% Sourdough Ryes With Soakers

In the spirit of full disclosure, rye breads have never been among my favorites. At times I can appreciate a lighter rye bread, particularly rye toast with a good crunchy peanut butter. And rye goes well in some heavier sandwiches, pastrami for example. But, rye is rarely my first choice, and when I do choose rye, it is always a light rye. Moreover, Hamelman's comments leads one to expect a heavy, leaden bread. Breads with a rye content beyond 60 percent, says Hamelman, "should be sliced thinly... sandwiches made with these breads are open face, since a double thickness of these compact and concentrated breads can be a bit too much of a workout for the jaw." (Emphasis added.) These are not encouraging words.

Finding the ingredients for these two breads was also a challenge. The 80% loaf calls for whole-rye flour and high-gluten flour. The 70% loaf calls for medium rye flour and rye chops. Whole-rye flour is fairly easy to come by at most grocery stores, but the other three ingredients are not so easily found. I had already faced the problem of medium rye flour and high-gluten flour from the Light Rye recipe. I order medium rye flour from King Arthur's. Although I gotten high-gluten flour from King Arthur's in the past, I'm now blending my own using King Arthur's bread flour and vital wheat gluten. For rye chops, I went to the Internet and ordered rye berries. I put the rye berries in a food processor to create the chops. On the whole, these were quite hard and this did not work very well. (Perhaps it would have worked better if I'd tried processing them after soaking. Alas, I didn't try this.)

(The baker's percentages were a little puzzling with the recipe with rye chops. Had I been doing the calculation, I'm not sure whether I would have included these as part of the flour or not. Hamelman included them. Conseqently, both recipes had a 78% hydration. An to be sure, the rye chops do soak up quite a bit of water. Still, if I were to eliminate the rye chops from the recipe, they don't add much and are a pain to find and work with, I'm not quite sure how I would proceed.)

When preparing the bread, I cut each of the recipes in half. My wife likes rye even less than I so most of the two smaller loaves would be discarded. Unfortunately, when cut in half, I didn't have quite enough dough for my mixer and needed to do the final mix by hand. Both recipes produced a wet dough without much gluten development.

The 80% loaf called for an oblong, free from loaf while the 70% loaf called for a pullman pan. Since I was only making half the recipe, I didn't have enough dough to fill my pullman pan. Consequently, I cooked both loaves together, one in each end of the pullman pan using the temperatures and times for the 70% loaf. (Times and temperatuers for the two loaves were pretty much the same anyway.) For the final fermentation, I separated the two loaves in the pan with a piece of cardboard covered in plastic wrap which I removed before baking. This approach worked nicely giving me two small, nearly identical loaves.

The two loaves are shown above with the 70% loaf on the left. At least initially, the 80% loaf had the stronger rye taste, but the 70% loaf had a very strong rye finish. Perhaps this is a consequence of the rye chops which need to be chewed before their flavor is released. The chops also gave the 70% loaf a chewier texture. Both loaves had an unpleasantly hard crust and a dense crumb. Overall, the loaves were more alike than different.

The bottom line is that I can't say I was particularly enthusiastic about either of these two breads. Thus far, before posting any results, I have tried each recipe at least twice, trying at least once to follow the recipe very closely. This time I've only made each recipe once, and am not include to go back and try either recipe again, particularly since there are another 15 rye recipes in the book.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


I'm a big fan of bialys so I was particularly interested to try Hamelman's recipe. I first encountered bialys over a decade ago in Baking with Julia which includes a recipe from Lauren Groveman. More recently, I've pretty much stuck to the recipe in Rose Levy Beranbaum Bread Bible athough I have tried a few other recipes including the recipe in Mimi Sheraton's unreadable The Bialy Eaters.

Excluding toppings, Hamelman takes an approach that pretty much matches everyone else. With exception of the malt he adds to bagels, Hamelman pretty much uses the same dough for bialys. (And malt is sometimes added to bialys.) In particular, both recipes call for 58% hydration. By comparison, Ciril Hitz treats bialys as a bagel variation (with 59.4% hydration) in Baking Artisan Breads. By contrast, Beranbaum has two different recipes with 68.6% hydration for bialys and 63.8% for bagels. Reinhart hasn't published a bialy recipe, but he uses 57.1% hydration for the bagels in The Bread Baker's Apprentice. The Child/Groveman recipe isn't specific enough to calculate hydration. But it does differ from the other recipes in that it incorporates onions directly into the dough as well as in the topping.

Although I didn't test the side-by-side, as far as the bread goes, the recipes all produce very similar products. Most bialys are flatter than those I made using Hamelman's recipe, but that didn't seem to affect the taste. Without a side-by-side comparison, I wouldn't recommend one recipe over another.

The big difference between Hamelman recipe and most other recipes is the treatment of the onions for the topping. Hamelman grinds raw onions, mixes them with bread crumbs, and then lets them rest in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. Since this is the same approach that Mimi Sheraton recommends in The Bialy Eaters, I'm guessing that this is an authentic approach. But when I made bialys this way, I found the results were awful. I ended up cutting the part with the onions off, discarding it, and just eating the rest. An Hamelman's variation with the addition of chopped garlic wasn't any better.

Every other recipe that I've seen calls for sauteing the onions first, something I've always done and highly recommend. I particularly like red onions sauteed in peanut oil. The addition of poppy seeds and sesame seeds is another plus.

All-in-all, I'll probably stick to Beranbaum because it's what I'm comfortable with, but I'd be happy with any of these recipes. However, for me, cooking the onions is a must. I don't plan to go back to the onions and breadcrumbs anytime soon.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Beer Bread with Roasted Barley

This is another annoying recipe that requires an ingredient that is hard to locate, a problem that is becoming all to common with this challenge. First high-gluten flour, then high-extraction flour, and now, malted barley. (And one of next month's recipes calls for rye chops!) I really don't mind using unusual ingredients, but at times Hamelman doesn't provide an adequate description of said ingredients, guidance in finding the ingredients, or possible substitutions.

For my first pass through the recipe, I hadn't yet located malted barley so I substituted barley flour while I continued my search. This produce a nice, but unremarkable loaf. An okay loaf, but nothing memorable.

For the malted barley, the idea is to take hulled barley that can still be sprouted, sprout it, toast it briefly in the oven, and then grind it into a fairly fine meal to use in the bread. Eventually, I found barley that was suitable for sprouting although perhaps not completely hulled, and repeated the bread.

For comparison purposes, I actually made four half-loaves. I use the sprouted/toasted/ground barley per the original recipe, I use ground pearl barley, I used barley flour, and, as a lark, diastatic malt powder. These four loaves are shown in the picture. (Different slash patterns are used so I can distinguish the breads after baking.) Otherwise, I stuck pretty much to the recipe. For the record, I used Guinness as the beer.

Overall, all four breads were pleasant and enjoyable but, as before, unremarkable. The differences among the loaves were slight. The beer didn't really seem to add much to the bread. Perhaps, rather than using the watery Guinness, a stronger, more assertive beer would have been a better choice. Of the four loaves, my wife and I both preferred, surprisingly, the bread made with the diastatic malt powder. And we both ranked the sprouted barley last. It certainly wasn't worth the effort of tracking down the barley. We split on the other two loaves.

All-in-all this isn't a loaf that I'm inclined to go back to. On the other hand, I do have a lot of hulled barley, barley flour and the like.