Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Hunting for a good raisin bread

Although I'm not fond of raisins on their own, I love a good raisin bread. I've tried three recipes lately, with varying degrees of success. (Please tell me if you know a great bread machine raisin bread recipe! I still haven't found the perfect one.)

Here are the results of my raisin bread hunt, in order of how likely I am to make them again (which is the reverse of the order I made them in):
  1. C.R.O.W.W. (Cinnamon Raisin Oatmeal Walnut Whole wheat), from Beth Hensperger's ever-reliable The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook: Delicious, although I could've used more raisins and nuts (1/2 cup + 1/4 cup, to 3 cups flour). Besides the usual ingredients and those listed in the title, this recipe also uses egg whites, buttermilk, oil, and a vanilla powder that I couldn't find in local stores, so I bought it online. For the raisins I used "jumbo mixed medley" raisins from Berkeley Bowl's bulk section.
  2. 100% whole wheat fruit bread, from the Zojirushi cookbook: Also delicious, and kept fresh for days. Instead of raisins, I used dried sour cherries from Berkeley Bowl. Yum. I might've liked to have more fruit (it had 2/3 cup, to 5 cups flour) and maybe nuts. I might try changing the butter to hazelnut or walnut oil. Instead of cinnamon, this recipe used allspice, which tasted great with the cherries. Every recipe I've tried from the whole grain section of this cookbook has been really good. (The party bread is another story, but that came from another section.)
  3. Raisin, cinnamon, and nut wheat bread (aka fail bread) from Beatrice Ojakangas' Whole Grain Breads by Machine or Hand: Such a tasty failure, I had to make it twice to believe it. Both times, almost all the fruit and nuts (3/4 cup of each, to 4 cups flour) ended up at the bottom of the pan. I don't know if this was because there was too much fruit/nuts, or because the consistency of the dough was too thick or thin. Whatever the cause, this recipe must not have been tested with a Zojirushi—or maybe with any bread machine. Also, this bread went stale quickly. I'll think twice before making another recipe from this book.
The C.R.O.W.W. bread was my dinner the day I made it, and breakfast the next day. I should perhaps lay off, but at least it was a reasonably nutritious substitute for a real meal. I made the 1.5-pound loaf, changing the salt to a scant teaspoon, and yeast to 2 teaspoons.

C.R.O.W.W.: Dinner and breakfast in a loaf

The Zo bread was their typical, gargantuan size. It was supposed to use 100% whole wheat flour, but I ran out and used about 1/3 bread flour. (I reduced the gluten from 4T to 3T to compensate.) I reduced the salt to 1 teaspoon, and the yeast to a heaping teaspoon.

Zojirushi ~67% whole wheat fruit bread

Finally, we come to the fail bread. Take a look at it.

The bottom of the fail bread

Spectacular, isn't it? I think that's my second version, which had cranberries and walnuts. My first try had jumbo raisins and pecans, I think. Both tasted good, if you ignored the fact that the only fruit was on the bottom. (Some of the smaller nut pieces made it into the dough.) I didn't record my alterations the first time, but the second time I made the large-loaf size, reducing the salt to 3/4 t and the yeast to 1 t.

Because you just can't eat enough gluten, I've also started working my way through Josey Baker's bread book, which I've borrowed from the library. I'll blog about that next.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Redemption of a fallen pumpernickel

I love pumpernickel bread, although I didn't know that until I started baking it for myself, using Zojirushi's recipe.

A big, delicious loaf of Zo pumpernickel

I'm not crazy about caraway seeds, but since my honey is, I decided to try a recipe in The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook (which I'll just call Hensperger, after its author). It's called Bohemian black bread (BBB), and it's a pumpernickel with fennel and caraway.

At first, the bread was a flop. Neither of us liked the flavor much, plus the bread fell! I've never had this problem before, despite all my messing around with the amount of yeast and salt. The bread is perfectly light, so I assume the problem was too much yeast for the amount of salt.

A fallen loaf of Bohemian black bread

The second day, however, both of us really liked the bread. (The recipe had said it was better the second day. Maybe it's because the fennel mellows.) We tried the bread various ways—with olive oil and mustard, plain with a slice of ham, topped with tuna fish salad, toasted with peanut butter and jam—and the combinations were delicious! For some reason, this bread was also easier to slice than the others I've made, so I could eat thinner slices.

Thin slices of the BBB

Since I've successfully cooked Zo's pumpernickel every time I've tried, here are some notes comparing the recipes (or, to be precise, my interpretation of the recipes). I cooked both breads using the delay timer and the whole wheat setting.

Things that are similar:
  • The liquid: both use water (though Zo uses a bit less)
  • The sweetener: both use molasses (though Zo uses more)
  • The coloring: both use cocoa and coffee (though BBB uses more cocoa)
  • The main flours: both use about 2 cups of bread flour, and about a cup of rye flour
  • Salt: both call for 2 teaspoons, though I used just a pinch for the Zo and maybe 3/4 t for the BBB
Things that are different:
  • The fat: Zo uses oil; BBB uses butter (and twice as much, by volume)
  • Other flours: Zo uses some whole wheat flour plus a bit of cornmeal; BBB just uses a bit of wheat bran
  • Gluten: Zo uses almost 3 times as much
  • Seeds: Zo uses none; BBB uses some caraway (though less than in the book's Scandinavian light rye recipe) and a bit of fennel
  • Yeast: Zo calls for 2 tsp (I used 1 heaping tsp); BBB calls for 1 T (I used 2 scant tsp)
Other things that might have made a difference:
  • I used dark rye for BBB instead of the rye flour I usually use
  • I used black cocoa for BBB instead of the regular dutch process I usually use
I might make the recipe again. It's not the best standalone bread, but (on the second day, at least) it combines really well with other flavors. If I make it again, I'll try lowering the yeast to 1 heaping tsp. Or I might just make the Zo recipe, but add caraway.

Friday, January 2, 2015

More biga breads

I made two more breads with the biga starter I talked about in my last post:
  • Pane bigio: A second attempt at this small, round, crusty bread that has a bit of of whole wheat and buckwheat flour
  • Italian semolina bread: A crusty white bread
The pane bigio I'd made before without salt, but it had tasted flat. This time (on the 8th day of biga) I added a scant teaspoon of salt, which made a big difference in flavor. (My other modification was reducing the yeast to a teaspoon.) I took the bread to a New Year's Eve party, where people said they liked it. I liked the bread OK on its own, but it was great as a vehicle for chocolate fondue. This bread was also good with chili.

Pane bigio: try it with chocolate fondue
The Italian semolina bread—wow, what a crust! I was a little worried because the kitchen was cold and the last rise didn't seem to have any visible result, but once the bread got into the oven, it rose high and developed a wonderful, crackly crust. I made this bread on the biga's 10th day.

Italian semolina bread
Besides having a great crust and moist, flavorful interior, the semolina bread just smells good. When my friend cut the bread, she said it smelled like cake, somehow. I don't know how long the bread would last because we ate it all up (with soup).

My staycation is over, so that's all the biga baking I'll do for now. I managed to make 4 of the 6 biga recipes in The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook. I expect the pane di cereale to become part of my repertoire, alongside pumpernickel and Scandinavian light rye. I don't plan to make the white breads again, although they were very good, because I'm on the hunt for great whole grain breads.