Monday, January 10, 2011

Golden Raisin Bread

To be frank, this recipe wasn't one of my favorites. It isn't a bad recipe, but I generally prefer a richer "bread" in a raisin bread. The inclusion of fruit adds something that makes a bread special. The problem with this loaf, for me at least, was it really wasn't a special bread. Ignoring the raisins, it was a good solid levain loaf. Indeed, it was a pleasant enough loaf on its own. It is just that it is not the right bread for a raisin bread. I also thought that the amount of fruit seems a bit low.

Perhaps the real problem with this loaf is my expectations. Perhaps the recipe isn't flawed in any way, I'm just expecting something quite different. But enough said, the best thing might be to move onto other loaves have discovered something more about my preferences.

This was a loaf well worth trying, but for me, one not to repeat. However, since I inadvertently deleted the picture, I went back and made it again. This time, I used craisin rather than raisin. And I also added some dried cherries, half as much again. (Walnuts would have been another good addition.) I also used white whole-wheat flour this time. This loaf is shown above.

Actually, I liked the second loaf. The tartness improved the loaf.

Two hints when baking this: Watch the loaf closely. Hamelman't times were too long for my tastes. Second, pull off any exposed fruit. Otherwise, it will burn as the loaf bakes.

Pullman's Bread

As Hamelman notes, pullman bread is also known as pain de mie or bread of crumb because of its thin crust. It is the ideal loaf for making small elegant sandwiches or canapés. Baked in covered pullman pans, the bread is a long brick of a loaf with very square slices. It is a beautiful white bread with a fine even crumb. The crusts can be trimmed away, if you desire, giving a small, perfect sandwich about 3 inches or so on a side. Personally, I like the crust. The inclusion of powdered milk and small amounts of sugar and butter give a loaf with a pleasant flavor—not as rich as a brioche, but not a bland white bread either.

Hamelman recipe appears flawless. This is a straight bread that is easily made in a single day. With most of the recipes in the book, I've gone back and made the recipe a second time making small tweaks. This has less to do with a desire to improve the recipes—rather I'm making changes to account for differences in taste, to personalize, or even to claim ownership. However, with this recipe, I see no reason to make changes. It is exactly the recipe I want.

The recipe makes enough for a pullman's loaf with enough left over for another small loaf. When baking the loaf, I cut the recipe by 1/3 which gave me just enough dough for the pullman's loaf, (my only change to the recipe). Even so, this is a lot of bread—a loaf that weighs over two pounds and is over a foot long. Keeping properties aren't great, but the loaf is certainly useful as is for two or three days and can be used for toast and the like for a few more days. This is consistent with other pullman loaves I've made in the past.

A winner.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Three-Stage Sourdough Ryes

Hamelman says the Detmolder Method for making rye bread "represents the highest expression of the baker's skill." The technique takes the development of the rye culture through three phases each designed to develop different flavor characteristics. The freshing phase, with very high hydration (150%), develops the yeast. This phase lasts five to six hours. With the second or basic sour phrase, flour and water are added to lower overall hydration (60-65%). Lasting 15 to 24 hours, this phase is designed to bring out the acetic acid characteristics of the bread. The third or full sour phase, designed for lactic acid development, takes an additionan three to four hours. Hydration is adjusted to 100% for this phase. Finally, the dough goes through a 20 minute bulk fermentation, is shaped, has a final one-hour fermentation, and is baked. Cooling proceeds over night.

Hamelman include three recipes using this technique—a 70% rye, an 80% rye, and a 90% rye. For the Challenge, these three breads were grouped together. I made one pass at making all three adjusting the recipes to make one loaf of each. (Hamelman's recipes make two loaves each.) I made one adaptation to his recipes—I used whole-rye flour for the freshing stage for all three breads. Hamelman calls for medium rye for the 70% and 80% recipes only using whole-rye for the 90% recipe. I made the three loaves in parallel and this adaptation allowed me to combine the first stage for all three breads. Since only 1% of the total flour is involved at this point, this seemed a reasonable shortcut.

For the individual phases, I typically used times that were closer to the shorter time given rather than the longer times. This wasn't optimal as my kitchen was a bit cooler than that recommended by Hamelman. So it is not surprising that I didn't get quite as much rise as I would have prefered. The recipe also calls for docking rather than scoring the loaves. As I don't have a docker, I used a knive to cut small holes in the loaf similar to wha I guessed docking would produce. I pulled the loaves from the oven when they reached 205–207º F. Again, this took only about 35 minutes or so of total baking time. The three loaves are shown above with the 70% bread on the left and the 90% bread on the right. (I used slightly different docking patterns to be able to distinguish the breads once baked.)

As readers of this blog already know, I'm not a big fan of a strong rye taste. This is, of course, exactly what this procedure is designed to develop. So it should come as no surprise that I wasn't overwhelmed by these loaves. But clearly Hamelman know what he is about. These had a strong, well-developed, well-balance flavor. I suspect that if I liked this sort of bread, I would have liked these loaves quite alot. I didn't expect a great deal of difference between the three loaves, but it was quite noticable. The loaves were a bit denser that I would have prefered, but this was entirely my own fault for not giving the bread quite enough time to rise properly. Perhaps before this challenge over, I'll develop a taste for rye bread. These were certainly well crafted, viable recipes worth the effort if you like this sort of bread.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Irish Soda Bread

I've made other recipes for Irish Soda Bread before. Beard on Bread comes to mind, my first bread book and one I still go back to from time to time for a few favorite recipes. Soda bread is a nice fast bread, something to go to when you want something really quick. Made with chemical leavenings, you just mix the dough and bake. But in many ways it seems closer to a biscuit or scone than a bread. Also, it is a bread that has abysmal keeping properties. So you need to eat it quickly as you make it. Still, it can be nice on occasion so I was anxious to try Hamelman's recipe.

To be brutally honest, I was fairly disappointed with the results. To be fair, this is a brown soda bread while the recipes I've made in the past have been white soda breads. This added a heaviness to a bread that is already somewhat stogy. Nonetheless, it quickly found its way into the trash.

I went back to the description of Irish Soda Bread in Baking Illustrated to see if I could come up with some techniques that would rescue the recipe. (Often I find Cook's Illustrated explanations are more valuable than their actual recipes, particularly if you don't agree with their goals.) Based on ideas from this book, I made several changes to the bread. First, I adjusted the flours for a higher protein content. I used 3.6 ounces of whole-wheat flour and 4.3 ounces of KA's all purpose flour. I added 2.6 ounces of wheat germ as a replacement for the wheat flakes hoping to recover some of the lost flavor. Next, I switched to 1/2 Tbs soda and 1/2 Tbs of cream of tartar from Hamelman's suggestions. Finally, I baked the bread in a dutch oven with the lid on for half the time.

While I had some hope for these changes, the results were still disappointing. Perhaps, the bread was a little better, but not much. In the future, I'll go back to white versions of Irish Soda Bread and avoid this one. This recipe gets a thumbs down.

Semolina Bread with a Soaker and Fennel Seed

Hamelman's book contains four recipes for semolina or durham bread. Under breads made with yeasted pre-ferments, there are two recipes—Semolina Bread and Semolina Bread with a Whole-Grain Soaker; there is a recipe Semolina Bread under levain breads; and, under straight doughs, there is Semolina Bread with a Soaker and Fennel Seed. In many ways I wish these breads had been combined in the Hamelman Challenge. They would have provided and interesting contrast for these three methods. However, that wasn't the case. Only the last of these breads was included this time around. (Perhaps I'll go back and compare loaves when the other breads are introduced later in the challenge.)

The recipe for this December was a straight dough with a soaker. This makes it possible to complete the loaf in one day. However, Hamelman give the option of retarding the bulk fermentation overnight, dragging it out for another day. I tried the recipe both ways but saw no real advantage to the overnight fermentation. The only confusion about the recipe was how long to soak the grains in the initial soaker. Hamelman doesn't give a time. I went with 4 hours, the time Hamelman suggests in the earlier recipe for Semolina Bread with a Whole-Grain Soaker.Also, I found Hamelman's baking times were longer than needed.

Since I'm not a big fan of fennel seeds, I also made the bread with and without the seeds. Finally, I made some smaller (3/4 pound) boules in which I included additional seeds, King Arthur's Harvest Grain Blend. For the blend, I added the combined weight of millet and wheat flakes. I added these to the soaker using and equal weight of additional water but reduced the final water so that I didn't change the total hydration for the bread.

All the breads worked well. I actually like the fennel better than I thought I would, but I really can't see eating this bread with anything else. The bread with the added seed blend was particularly nice. This is a favorite, but it is a nice bread.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


Hamelman's book contains three recipes for ciabattas, Ciabatta with Stiff Biga, Ciabatta with Poolish, and Ciabatta with Olive Oil and Wheat Germ. The Hamelman Challenge lumped all three together giving participants the option of making one or more as desired. Since I love ciabatta, I made all three.

All three loaves are quite similar, particularly the first two loaves. These are good, rustic loaves with lots of character and flavor. The crusts were blistery. And while certainly not thick, I wouldn't call the crusts particularly thin as does Hamelman. Nor did I notice that great a difference in the aroma of the second recipe. For me at least, the first two recipes were pretty much interchangable though I lean ever so slightly to the second recipe.

The Ciabatta with Olive Oil and Wheat Germ was an interesting variation. While I would describe myself as a bit of a purist when it comes to ciabatta, the added wheat germ was not overwhelming and was nice for a change. The addition of olive oil was nothing unusual, but quite good if you use a good oil.

With ciabatta, I typically use it as is or as a sandwich bread. As such, three loaves is more than need at any one time. Moreover, these loaves were a bit short to cut vertically for sandwiches and two tall to cut horizontally. So I was curious how when the dough would handle other shapes thinking more shapes, more uses. One variation that I made was what Hamelman calls ciabattini. These are 2 to 3 ounce rolls. I made both round and oblong ciabattini, both of which worked very nicely. These also freeze very well. (And I have a better chance at finding space for several small loaves than one big one.)

As another variation, I took dough for a couple of loaves and baked the focaccia style in 9 inch cake pans. I put a tablespoon or so of olive oil in the bottom of each pan and then the dough. I coaxed the dough out to fill the pans a couple of times as it went through it final rise. On one loaf I sprinkled grated fontina cheese (shown above). Both of these worked very nicely.

As a final variation, I took the dough for one loaf and baked it in a loaf pan. I didn't get quite the rise or open crumb that I would have preferred, but this gave an excellent sandwich loaf.

Overall, these were three great recipes. In the future, I would probably go for the poolish recipe and leave out the wheat germ, but all are great. I found ciabattini the most useful shape, but the dough worked well however I shaped it. Just be gentle with it.