Sunday, June 30, 2013 0 comments

Pretzel Loops

A recent trip to the local used bookstore and not a single copy of Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice or Artisan Breads Every Day to be found. No big deal though because I was able to find another book about making bread at home that contains over one hundred different recipes from all around the world. I can't wait to get started in that book!

But in the meantime, I made some delicious, traditional pretzels, in a not-so-traditional shape. And I probably spent a good half hour trying to come up with a decent name for them.

The most enjoyable part about making these was shaping the loops. It's done by simply creating a long rope of dough, folding it in half, twisting it in the air, and pinching the two ends together. As you can see, mine turned out great!

I was a bit torn on which toppings to use, so I decided to use sesame seeds on a few and sea salt on the rest of them. In the end, while the sesame seeds made the pretzels look awesome, they didn't add much to the flavor. I'll be sticking to a coarse sea salt in the future!

Pretzel Loops
(yields 8 pretzels)

1 Tbsp active dry yeast
1 cup + 1/2 cup warm water
1 tsp sugar
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 Tbsp baking soda
vegetable oil for coating
coarse sea salt, optional
sesame seeds, optional

In a medium bowl, add 1 cup of warm water, the yeast, and the sugar. Let it rest for about 10 minutes or until the mixture becomes foamy. Add the salt to the yeast mixture and mix in the flour, 1/2 cup at a time. Mix until the dough is soft but no longer sticky, using additional flour if needed. Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a damp cloth. Let the dough rise for about an hour or until it doubles in size.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
Cut the dough into 8 pieces and roll each piece into a rope shape, about 2 feet long. Fold the rope in half and twist it, bring the ends together and pinch them to connect the rope. In a medium bowl, add 1/2 cup warm water and the baking soda and microwave it for one minute. Dip each pretzel in the baking soda water on both sides and place on the baking sheet.

Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and/or sesame seeds. Let the pretzels rest for 10 minutes. Bake the pretzels for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.
Sunday, June 23, 2013 0 comments

Light Rye Bread

I originally got the idea to try a rye bread from my girlfriend. I don't have any preference either way for rye, but I figured it was a chance to break away from the French breads I have been doing the past few weeks. What I ended up with was, by far, the best and most delicious bread I have ever baked!

At the beginning of this month, one of the key bread baking utensils I did not own was a bread knife. After some research and learning, I decided to purchase the Pure Komachi 2 Series Bread Knife. One of the reasons I went with a cheaper knife is because several people I talked to mentioned that it was very difficult to sharpen a bread knife, so it didn't make sense to spend tens or hundreds of dollars on a really nice knife.

I am pleased to write that the knife I bought is working great and I couldn't be happier with it so far.

The added bonus? This knife looks pretty slick!

On to the recipe I used this week. One of the oddities of the recipe I used was the caraway seeds were marked as optional. Now I'm not sure about the rest of you, but when I think about a good rye bread, I think about that wonderful aroma and spice that comes from the caraway seeds. So I modified the recipe to make the seeds not optional. Enjoy!

Light Rye Bread
(yields 1 loaf)

2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups of warm water
1/3 cup molasses
2 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached Bread flour, more for kneading
1 cups rye flour
1 Tbsp caraway seeds
1 Tbsp salt
1/8 cup cocoa powder
1/8 cup vegetable oil, more for coating

Combine and dissolve the yeast and molasses in the warm water. Pour the yeast mixture into a large bowl. Add caraway seeds, salt, vegetable oil, cocoa powder, rye flour and 1 cup of bread flour, mixing into the yeast mixture after each addition with a wooden spoon. Add more bread flour, a half cup at a time, until the dough is not so sticky and it is too hard to mix it with the wooden spoon.

Spread some bread flour onto a large surface and roll the dough onto the surface. Knead the dough by pressing down with the heel of your hand, stretching it, turning the dough a quarter-turn, pulling the dough back toward you and then pressing and stretching again. Knead the dough for 5-7 minutes, adding bread flour into the dough until it reaches the right consistency.

Spread some oil around a large bowl and place the dough in it, turning it so it gets coated in the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a damp cloth. Let rise at room temperature until it has doubled in size, about an hour and a half. Gently press down on the dough so some of its air is released. Knead the dough a few turns and place the dough into an oiled bread pan. Cover with plastic and a damp cloth. Let rise again, for about 45 minutes, half as long as the first rising.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Put the dough in the oven and bake for 45 minutes, or until done. The bread should sound hollow when tapped.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013 0 comments

Classic French Bread

This week, I wanted to take another shot at making a delicious French bread. The difference, however, was the recipe I used included the creation of a starter.

Well, what the heck is a starter?

The fermentation starter, also known as preferment, is used in the bread-making process to improve the quality and shelf-life of the bread and to add more character and aroma to the bread. The recipe I chose to use decided on a vague preferment time of overnight, but the typical time for the preferment process is 2 to 16 hours.

One of the problems I had, as you can see above, is the bread burst open on the side during baking, despite the diagonal slashes I carved into the top just prior to the start of baking. Perhaps I didn't dig my knife deep enough into the dough to allow the tops to split open instead of the sides?

Another issue I experienced was the salt content of the bread which was much too high. I'm not sure if the amount of salt I used was too much or if I just didn't integrate the ingredients properly while creating the dough, but this is definitely something I will be paying more attention to in the future.

Classic French Bread 
(yields 2 loaves)

For the starter:
1 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached Bread flour
1 packet Red Star Active Dry Yeast
3/4 cups warm water

For the dough:
1 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached Bread flour, more for rolling
1 Tbsp salt
1/3 cup room temperature water
olive oil, for coating
cornmeal, for sprinkling

Create the starter by mixing all of the starter ingredients together in a medium-sized bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place overnight. The mixture should rise and deflate overnight.

The next day, add the flour, salt, and water to the starter. Mix all of the ingredients together until incorporated, about 2-3 minutes using a stand mixer. Once mixed, knead by hand for a few minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a towel, and let rise in a warm place for an hour or until doubled in size,

Punch down the dough, recover the dough with a towel, and let rise for another hour or until double in size again. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and punch it down. Separate the dough into two equal sections or keep it whole to create a larger loaf. Flatten each piece of dough until it is 1/3" thick. Fold the top third of the dough down to the middle and fold the bottom third up, just like folding a letter. Roll the folded piece of dough into a foot-long log shape. Cover both pieces of dough with a lightly floured towel and let rise for 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Transfer the dough to a baking sheet that has been lightly sprinkled with cornmeal. Let the dough rest on the baking sheet for 15 minutes prior to baking. Create several diagonal slashes on the top of the dough with a serrated blade. Bake the dough for 20 to 30 minutes or until the loaves are brown and sound hollow when you tap them.

Sunday, June 2, 2013 0 comments

Rosemary Focaccia

After a successful first week of bread-making, I decided to venture out a little bit and try a focaccia bread. Due to the abundance of extra fresh herbs I had lying around, this seemed like a great bread to attempt in my second week. Since this a learning adventure as well, I wanted to apply some of the knowledge I gained from the first loaf and use it to make the second even better.

And that brings me to the importance of kneading. If the bread isn't kneaded before allowing it to rise and bake, then there likely won't be enough gluten development, which leads to a denser, heavier bread.

Above, you can see my dough is ready for proofing after kneading by hand for about eight minutes. While I used the traditional method of kneading, there are others ways you can achieve an elastic dough, like using a mixer with a bread hook or using a bread machine. No matter the method you decide to use, strengthening gluten is at the heart of bread-making.

Another pain I've had with my finished bread is being unable to slice it nicely. So this week I plan on purchasing my very first bread knife and hopefully my bread will be more picture-worthy in the future. 

Does anyone have any recommendations? I desperately need one.

Rosemary Focaccia 
(yields 1 loaf)

1 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached Bread flour
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, more for kneading
1 tsp Red Star Active Dry Yeast
1/4 cups warm water
1 1/4 cups lukewarm water
1 Tbsp olive oil, more for pan and brushing
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 Tbsp fresh rosemary
sea salt for sprinkling

Stir the yeast into a small bowl with the 1/4 cups of warm water. Let the mixture rest for 10 minutes, until foamy. In a large mix the lukewarm water, olive oil, and the foamy yeast mixture. Once mixed, add the salt, 1 Tbsp rosemary, and 2 cups of the bread flour and stir. Continue adding the rest of the flour, a half cup at a time, until it all comes together in a ball of dough.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8 minutes. If the dough becomes sticky, add additional flour. Spray a large bowl with non-stick spray and turn the dough around in the oiled bowl. Cover and let rise for around 90 minutes, or until the dough is doubled in size.

Spread olive oil on a medium baking sheet. Place the dough onto the baking sheet and spread it around until it is about 1 inch think. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes. Using your finger or the back end of a kitchen utensil, press 1/2 inch dimples into the dough. Cover again and let rise for about 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Brush a light layer of olive oil over the dough, sprinkle with sea salt, and add the remaining rosemary on top. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the bread is cooked through. Let cool at least 10 minutes before serving.