This is my first post for a new baking group that I recently joined, and am incredible excited about -- a group of 200 bakers who have vowed to spend the next year or (two!) baking their way through Peter Reinhart's James Beard Award-winning book, the Bread Baker's Apprentice:
I have a hard enough time keeping up with the three blogging groups that I am already in, TWD, CEiMB and Barefoot Bloggers, so I initially questioned the wisdom of signing up for another one. But I just couldn't resist this particular group. First, it is all about baking bread. I've dabbled in a little bit of yeast baking over the past six months or so, and I have wanted to do more, but as a non-self-starter, I felt that I needed the external motivation of a formal(ish) group that has
Really, the only real Bread Baker's Apprentice ("#BBA," to use the Twitter hashtag) group rule is that you must bake through the Bread Baker's Apprentice in order, but you can take as long as you want to do it. There are not even any posting requirements (although we all know that if you don't blog about what you made for dinner, there is no proof that it actually existed). So this group is really like a college independent study program -- sure, you can sleep til noon, spend the afternoons sunbathing in the quad, and play beer pong with plastic cups of Natty Light by night -- nobody's going to stop you, and you might even fool 'em, but deep down you know you'd only be hurting yourself. Well, we're all here because we want to bake bread/learn more about baking bread, so you won't catch us slacking off, even without Rules or a Scary Enforcer.
While many people in the group plan to bake and post weekly, I and several of my favorite blog friends, Nancy, Kayte, Audrey, and Jessica, thought that an every other week posting schedule would be more realistic for us. So we are aiming to post #BBA challenges every other Sunday or Monday, starting today (or tomorrow!). So, without further delay . . .
The first recipe out of Bread Baker's Apprentice is Anadama Bread, a classic New England cornmeal and molasses bread. In the introduction to the recipe, Reinhart shares one version of the story behind the bread's name: a Massachusetts man who was upset at his wife for leaving him, and for leaving behind only cornmeal mush and molasses when she left, exclaimed "Anna, damn 'er!," which was later modified by "more genteel local Yankees" to "anadama." Having grown up in New England, I think the likelihood of that story being true really depends on what part of New England you are talking about -- get into the wrong part, and the local Yankees would have been more likely to work an F-bomb into the bread name. Be that as it may, I couldn't wait to try this traditional New England loaf, so I started out one night with . . .
I think part of what has scared me away from bread all these years is the esoteric terminology -- biga, poolish, pre-ferment, soaker. It's enough to send a non-science-minded person running to the nearest bakery. Flip through this book quickly and you will see phrases like "enzyme-catalyzing process," "protein molecules" and "pH level." But I think that our sensei does a fantastic job demystifying the science behind the art of bread making.
After the soaker does its thing overnight, it's time to make the dough, which starts with flour, yeast, the soaker, and water. After the sponge begins to bubble, mix in additional flour, salt, molasses, and butter, and knead for 10 minutes. I used the dough hook on my Kitchen Aid for the kneading. I know that I should knead by hand so that I could learn to get the proper "feel" for the dough, but I have a sweet little one year old who says no a lot and lives on my hip, which renders me one-handed the vast majority of the time. So Kitchen Aid it will be for now, and I hope to get a feel for the dough whenever Caroline works out her separation anxiety issues, hopefully sometime before she hits 30 pounds.
After the dough has been kneaded the proper amount of time, you can check for readiness with the "windowpane test," which involves stretching a small piece of the dough to see if it becomes transparent, but holds together. You can also check the internal temperature of the dough (I did both - check, and check). Once it's ready, transfer it to an oiled bowl and let it rise 60 or 90 minutes, until it doubles. This dough rose beautifully for me. Then divide it up, shape into loaves, place into bread pans, and proof until the dough crests the pans:
Then bake it. I got a little "oven spring" while my bread baked, although my three loaves ended up rising to slightly different sizes, even though they started out exactly the same weight.
Wow, we really enjoyed this bread! We had it fresh out of the oven with dinner the day I made it, and made a couple of different sandwiches on it over the course of several days (our favorite was a BLT!). But my hands-down favorite way to enjoy anadama bread was toasted with butter. I was glad that I made the full recipe, because I was thrilled to have extra loaves to share to say "thank you" (in the way that only New England molasses bread can) to people who helped us out over the past couple of weeks.
Special thanks to our group's fearless leader, Nicole from Pinch My Salt, for organizing this challenge and for taking on the large administrative job that comes with it. I am already completely smitten by this book, and I've got the bread baking bug bad. One down, fifty or so more to go!