Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Beautiful bread with a biga

The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook has a few recipes that rely on a biga—a starter that you make at least a day before assembling and baking the bread. The biga recipe makes enough for at least half a dozen loaves of bread. It keeps in the fridge for up to 2 weeks, or you can freeze it for up to a month.

Measuring out some biga

I've tried 3 of the book's 6 biga recipes, so far:
  • Pane bigio: small, round, crusty bread with a bit of of whole wheat and buckwheat flour
  • Pagnotta: a round, crusty, floury country bread that resembles sourdough
  • Pane di cereale: shaped like pagnotta, but not crusty, and with a fair amount of whole wheat and cracked grains
They all worked out, more or less, and the pane di cereale has joined Zojirushi's pumpernickel recipe as one of my favorites.

I tried the pane bigio recipe first (on the 2nd day after starting the biga) because it has a crunchy crust and some whole grains (whole wheat and buckwheat). The bread had great texture (hard crust, soft interior) but tasted blah, since I used no salt. I'll try it again with half salt.

For the pagnotta (on the 4th day of biga) I thought I followed the instructions exactly, but I must have overcounted the flour measures: the dough turned out to be much too soft to work with. I almost threw it out, but my husband saved it, mixing a bunch more flour into it and pouring it into a lightly oiled, large bread pan. The result was tasty and had a great texture, but I wouldn't make it for myself; I like some whole grain in my bread. However, my daughter asked me to make "the sourdough" again, so I did.

The second attempt at pagnotta (on the 6th day of biga) turned out much better. I modified it slightly, reducing the salt to 1 teaspoon and the yeast to a scant teaspoon. I ran out of time to cook the bread, so after the second rise in the bread machine, I put the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, covered it with plastic wrap, and refrigerated it. The next morning, I shaped it, let it rise for the final time in the oven on proofing mode, and baked it.


That is one delicious bread. I probably could have baked it a few minutes longer, but the taste is really really good. It's moist inside, with a chewy crust. Yum. My husband and daughter say it goes great with pâté, and it should be great toasted.

The bread was half-eaten by the time I got to taste it

Finally, I made pane di cereale on the 4th day of biga, right after the first pagnotta. I'd hesitated to make the pane di cereale because it has a soft crust, but on the other hand it also has the most whole grain of all the biga recipes. I modified the recipe slightly, reducing the salt and yeast to 1 teaspoon each. For the cereal I used Bob's Red Mill 10-grain.

Pane di cereale

This bread is delicious, even to salt eaters. We made chicken sandwiches with it, untoasted, and it stood up a little better than store-bought sandwich bread would have. Besides tasting good, this bread also looks good.

Pretty inside and out
We managed to fit it into our bread box. Barely.

Not quite bigger than a breadbox

I still have some biga left, even after a first, failed attempt at pane di cereale where I forgot to add yeast. I'll probably use it to make the pane bigio and pane di cereale again. If I manage to get some semolina flour and farina (Cream of Wheat), I might try the Italian semolina bread recipe. There's also a challah recipe that sounds intriguing, although I'm not usually into egg bread. I'll skip the pane all'uva; I love raisin bread, but savory raisin bread doesn't sound appealing.

A note about proofing: Our DCS range recently broke down, and rather than get the annoying beast repaired at great expense, we bought a Samsung stove. The new stove is much better in almost every way, and it has a proofing mode. My kitchen tends to be cold, so I've used the proofing mode for the final rise whenever the oven wasn't already in use. I'm no expert, but proofing mode has worked well for me, so far.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Good and bad apple breads

Back in November, we picked all the remaining apples off of our Pink Lady apple tree. We planted this tree (along a bunch of other fruit trees) 7 or so years ago, and this is the first year it bore more than a few apples.

Our Pink Lady apple tree

These apples are gorgeous and tasty, with a sweet-tart flavor that appeals even to green-apple lovers. They're great for eating as-is, but they also work well in applesauce and baking.

A Pink Lady apple

We tried two recipes:
The result of the first recipe was delicious, if a bit undercooked. We'll definitely try it again. The second bread we didn't even bother to freeze or save for bread pudding. It just didn't taste good.

The applesauce bread recipe is a variant of a Laurel's Kitchen banana bread recipe. It has lots of applesauce, plus raisins, walnuts, and spices. (We used big golden raisins I'd found at Berkeley Bowl.) The bread uses only whole wheat flour, and it has no eggs.

Good apple: the outside (the dark thing is a raisin that got extra cooked)
Our modifications were few. We added more walnuts than the recipe called for. We used all whole wheat bread flour, and no whole wheat pastry flour. Next time I'll either skip the cloves or use much less.

Good apple: the inside

The second apple bread was kind of an ordinary bread with chunks of apples and carrots added. It was slightly sweet, had perhaps too much gluten, and, like most of the recipes I've tried from that cookbook, just didn't taste great. A little salt might've helped, or more sugar and some spices.

Bad apple: the outside

It was weird to me that, in a book full of recipes that use a bit of applesauce, this bread didn't use any. Also, the book is usually very precise about amounts, but it just said "medium" apples. I'd have liked to have more guidance—weight or volume ranges.

Bad apple: the inside, with electric orange carrot bits

The first two loaves I made from this book (raisin bread and maple-walnut) were tasty, but I've had bad luck ever since. Lately I've been making breads from the Hensberger book, and even when I reduce the salt, those work out much better.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Pull-apart dinner roll bread

For Thanksgiving, I wanted to have freshly baked pull-apart bread from the bread machine. Finding recipes for this was hard enough that I worried that it wasn't a good idea. It ended up working pretty well, but could still use some tweaking.

I've already blogged about the first time I tried making pull-apart in the machine, using the honey whole-wheat recipe from Hensberger's Bread Machine Cookbook and techniques from the Zojirushi cookbook's weird recipe for "party bread". I also found a recipe for buttery herb-garlic pull-apart bread, which uses a bread machine and gave me the idea of dipping the top of each ball into butter or oil.

I decided to try the same honey whole-wheat recipe, and I planned to dip the bread balls into a mixture of melted butter and olive oil. This time I expected the bread dough to be sticky, and I knew (no thanks to the Zojirushi recipe) to use oiled surfaces when working with it.

I used the program from before, which is a modification of the Zojirushi recommendation:
  • no resting time before starting (instead I warmed the milk and water a bit in the microwave)
  • 20 minutes kneading (though I should probably do 22 minutes, like the whole-wheat cycle does, since the dough is somewhat sticky)
  • shape (up to 1 hour)
  • rise 1: skip
  • rise 2: skip 
  • rise 3: 45 minutes
  • bake: 40 minutes
During the shaping time, here's what I did:
  1. Take the dough out, put it in a ball, then put it into large oiled mixing bowl. (I used olive oil.)
  2. Cover with a damp cloth, and let the dough rise for 20 minutes (probably more like 25 minutes).
  3. While the dough is rising, remove the blades from the bread machine, and wipe out the pan.
  4. Push down the dough, and then shape it into 15 mini-balls, putting them into an oiled casserole dish.
  5. Cover with the damp cloth, and let the dough rise for 10 minutes (probably more like 15 minutes).
  6. Put the mini-balls into the pan of the bread machine. (I squeezed them to get rid of air. That's sort of like kneading.)
  7. Press Start, making the bread machine continue with rise 3.
Good lord, that was nerve wracking. The dough didn't seem to be rising much, and the mini-balls didn't fit as well into the pan as I remembered. I decided not to dip the mini-balls into oil/butter, since they were pretty oil covered already. The recipe does say "This one is a slow riser, so don't despair," so I was guardedly optimistic.

The outcome was pretty good, but interestingly, the dough wasn't as easy to pull apart as the time before. I guess the oil didn't separate the mini-balls like I thought it would.

Thanksgiving day, I tried lengthening the second rise and shortening the third one. (This happened to work out well, since the bastard turkey cooked faster than expected.)

All told, the time to make the bread was just short of 3 hours. Add an hour of bread machine warming (and the uncertainty of turkey cooking), and I could have started the rolls 4 hours before dinner. As it turns out, we had enough fridge space that I was able to do the first rise in the fridge, so I started the bread even earlier.

Using less oil helped the dough be a little easier to pull apart, but it still wasn't as easy as the first time. Perhaps a coating of flour or something else might make the dough-balls easier to pull apart. Ideas, anyone?