A bread for all seasons…

April 6, 2008

For a while, my go-to bread has been a French loaf similar to a baguette. It’s a great recipe that creates a consistently good loaf. The bread has a crisp crust, is dense in the middle, and is best eaten with butter or thinly sliced for crostini. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, right? Who doesn’t like bread with butter or crostini?

However, I wanted to find a bread recipe that would be versatile enough to keep around the house and use for whatever we wanted, which is where the hearth bread from 
The Bread Bible
enters. The recipe, which uses a touch of whole wheat flour along with bread flour, creates a bread with a great crumb. Rose attributes the light crumb to the wetness of the dough – whatever the reason, I like it.

The recipe creates a large loaf but I think mine came out flatter than it should have. My guess for why is that I left the last rise go too long, which caused it to slightly collapse under its own weight. Despite the look being a bit off, the taste was still great. It was light and fluffy with a toothsome crust, just like bread given before dinner at a great Italian restaurant. It is good with only butter like the French loaf, or dipped in olive oil, or for sandwiches, which is how we used up the loaf.

Below is a simple recipe for one of my favorite sandwiches that I have named the BTB. The sandwich would also be delicious grilled into a panino.

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Burrata Tomato and Basil Sandwich, aka the BTB 
makes 2 sandwiches

4 slices of hearth bread
half a ball of burrata
2 plum tomatoes, sliced horizontally
6-8 basil leaves
fresh cracked black pepper
good, aged balsamic vinegar

Lay two slices of bread on the counter with all other ingredients prepped. I like to start and end with the basil because the leaves act like a shield for the bread against the wetness of the tomato and burrata. After lining the 2 slices with a couple of basil leaves, layer on the tomato, burrata, black pepper, and then the last of the basil. Top the sandwich off with the last slice, which should be drizzled very lightly with the balsamic.

Note: I use the aged balsamic my sister got me for Christmas. I do not suggest using a regular balsamic vinegar or your bread will end up soggy.

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Cinnamon Raisin French Toast and Carb Mania 2008

April 4, 2008

I am a bread addict. There, I’ve said it. The first step is admitting it, right? When the waiter at a restaurant comes around offering to refill the bread basket, the angel and devil on my shoulders argue for what seems like five minutes about how I should respond. Lucky for my waist line, Jason will politely decline before the devil inevitably wins.

However, since buying Rose’s wonderful book The Bread Bible, , the battle over whether to have another slice has been brought into our home and is now waged daily. I don’t have to listen to the angel when I greedily say yes to more bread since I can easily sneak a piece of bread without anybody judging or even knowing. Shhh…

Anyway, I know I am taking liberties by referring to the baking goddess Rose Levy Beranbaum by first name, but feel comfortable doing so. Her book has barely left my side for the past month, no exaggeration. She has been a constant companion vicariously through her prose, reassuring me throughout the sometimes daunting bread making process.

Honestly, I was apprehensive to try the recipes in the book at first – though there are some really nice pictures, the focus is not on food porn but on bread baking techniques. I would say the pages to picture ratio is 20 to 1. How was I supposed to know what my final product was SUPPOSED to look like? Fortunately I have 20+ years of bread eating experience and trust that I’d know if the bread didn’t come out right.

The first section, which is almost a quarter of the book, doesn’t include any recipes at all; it is essentially a manual on techniques that will be universally used throughout the book. There are extensive explanations on different starters and how they should be employed, step-by-step sketches on different folding techniques, suggestions on how to slash the tops of the loaves to allow for proper expansion, etc… Very Alton Brown-ish!

Throughout all the reading I did, I came to realize that the main takeaway is that baking quality bread requires serious commitment and some practice. I alluded to the fact that baking has taken over my weekends in the previous post and now you know why. For the breads I’ve been making so far, Rose suggests refrigerating the starter for at least 24 hours in order to develop the maximum amount of flavor. Despite my desire to have bread ASAP, I have been a good apprentice and dutifully followed her instructions. The first bread I will share with you is a cinnamon raisin loaf I made a few weeks ago.

cinn_raisin_in_pan.jpg

Jason had a hankering for French toast so I decided to make a loaf of bread specifically to satisfy his craving. I could say that the reason is because using pre-sliced, wrapped in plastic bread results in mushy French toast, but really I just wanted to bake a loaf of bread.

Anyhow, I made the starter on a Friday night after work and didn’t finish the loaves until around 2 am Saturday night. To be fair, I do let them over-rise a bit because I am not waiting around at home to re-fold/knead for the next risings. I confess that if I had followed the timing Rose suggests for each rising, I probably would have finished this bread around mid-afternoon Saturday.

Nevertheless, it was worth it for my first-ever Pullman style loaf.

cinn_raisin_sliced.jpg

On Sunday morning, Jason did justice to my beautiful loaf by making the best French toast I have ever had. The denseness of the homemade loaf helped to create a tender yet custardy center. Here’s a picture of the lovely cook in action.

cinn_raisin_french_toast_action.jpg

And here’s the final product. Notice the blur on the upper right hand corner? I can only hold Jason back for so long while I try to snap a picture. He was coming at the toast with a quickness!

cinn_raisin_french_toast.jpg

The bread was excellent on its own but and we finished the rest of if off in a week via almond butter and jelly sandwiches. Next time I might try giving it an extra rise so it turns out a bit fluffier and have a slightly more developed flavor. I also halved the amount of cinnamon/sugar called for in the swirl because I feared it would be too overpowering but I think I’ll keep the full amount next time because after it baked, the sweet flavor wasn’t as strong as I had expected.

Coming up next will be my post on the classic hearth bread which out of all the breads I’ve made so far, developed the best crumb. Oh yes friends, Carb Mania 2008 has fallen upon us.

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Sunday Morning Cinnamon Raisin French Toast

3 eggs
splash of vanilla
splash of heavy cream (optional)
6 thick slices of cinnamon raisin bread
butter, to grease the griddle or pan

Heat griddle or pan over medium-high heat.

Whisk together the eggs, vanilla, and heavy cream in a plate with slightly sloped sides. Soak each side of bread slices for about 15-20 seconds. (Whoa, say that 10 times fast).

Butter the griddle liberally, which should be hot enough that when the butter hits the pan there is immediate foaming action. Place the soaked bread slices so that the pan is not too crowded. Fry for about 2-3 minutes a side or until desired color is achieved.

Serve with fresh maple syrup. Jason just found out that last month is when the maple sap starts to run and fresh maple syrup is now available at the farmer’s market. We went last weekend to pick up some and urge you to do the same!

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Note: I didn’t include the recipe or instructions for the bread because it’s 3 pages long in the book. And again, it’s all words, no pictures. If you are interested in the recipe at all, I will be happy to share with you via email.