Monday, January 10, 2011

Bake some bread in January!

Michael Ruhlman is asking that people get into their kitchens and bake bread during the month of January. I think this is a brilliant idea so that's exactly what I did this weekend.

I tried the ciabatta posted on his site and it tasted pretty good. The dough was very wet, maybe a little too wet. It reminded me a lot of no-knead bread in texture— a little chewy but with a nice crust. The dough requires some babysitting but nothing too fussy. When grilled and brushed with olive oil and rubbed with a little garlic, it makes an excellent base for bruschetta.

I also baked cinnamon raisin bread from Beranbaum's The Bread Bible, which was given to me by MIL. (Thank you, Bedstemor!) This book really appeals to the scientist in me. Her recipes are detailed so I'm never unsure that I'm doing it right. Measurements are given in both volume and weight (my preference) and I can always check for doneness with a thermometer. How many times have I tapped on a loaf of bread and wondered if it sounded "hollow" enough? Beranbaum has taken the guesswork out of it!

This raisin bread is the best I've ever had in both taste and texture. The crust is delicately crisp while the inside is billowy soft. It tastes just heavenly lightly toasted and spread with a thin layer of honey butter. I'll be making this bread often.

The thing that makes both of these breads so delicious is the starter dough. Of course, starters are not absolutely necessary, but the amount of work that goes into a starter is so small yet the flavor that develops is incredible. From now on, I'm going to use a starter for the breads I bake. If you would like to do the same, but your favorite bread recipe doesn't call for a starter, here is a tip from Beranbaum's book: use a little less than 1/3 of the flour and combine that with all the water and half the yeast. This makes a thin starter, called a sponge. Take the remaining dry ingredients (except the salt) and sprinkle that over the sponge. Let that sit on the counter for 1 to 4 hours, or 1 hour on the counter and overnight in the fridge (my preference). Then proceed as you normally would to knead the dough, adding wet ingredients, like butter or oil, and the salt during the kneading.

So tell me, what breads will you be baking this month?

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