The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Sourdough and book review

We finally have sourdough bread! This has felt like a never ending task, but I knew Peter Reinhart would come through for me in the end. It turns out, my¬† attempt to revive dehydrated starter and my first attempt from scratch were sabotaged by flour that was probably bleached and so I tried one final time with new flour and lo and behold it worked! The process has been taking a bit longer than I’ve experienced in the past because our kitchen is so cold at this time of year. I’ve got the microwave proofing box helping now though and I think we’ve had good results for our first round of baking.

I cut back the barm to 16 ounces so the day that the barm needed to be refreshed I had a lot of active starter to use. I ended up making the Poilane Style Miche, which is a hearty wholemeal loaf, and the Basic Sourdough Bread, which I added blue cheese, walnuts and craisins to.

Both of these started out by making a firm starter with a portion of barm, left refrigerated overnight and then made into the final dough. The rate of proofing meant that it took a good 3 days to get them made from start to finish, but the wait was definitely worth it.

Today we cracked open one of the blue cheese sourdough loaves to accompany our afternoon tea of cheese and crackers and it is delightful – and I just love the purple streak that the walnuts give the bread. I am commissioning Aaron to make some of his pumpkin soup to go with the other loaf because I imagine the flavours are going to complement each other perfectly.

As for the wholemeal loaf, I’m still trying to decide if we just cut it up and toast it or if we should turn it into a “cob” dip for game night. All I know is, we’re eating a lot of bread this week!

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice is a classic for a reason: it is practically an encyclopedia on all things bread and its explanation of the methodology of bread baking and the sheer variety of different bakes in the book keep people coming back to it again and again. I love this book and was hoping to try out more than what I have this month (maybe if I’d had quicker success with the sourdough I would have) and I’m especially keen to make the English muffins and to try the cinnamon rolls in order to compare them with the ones from Bravetart that I love so dearly. There is no doubt that this book will reappear on this blog in the months and years to come. Thanks, Peter Reinhart, for teaching me to love baking bread!

To see my other two posts from this book, click on the links below:

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: French Bread

I’ve finally made another recipe from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice! Although it’s not yet the sourdough I’ve been dying to bake…soon though, soon…

This wasn’t even on my list of recipes to try but I was flicking through another of my favorite cookbooks and spotted the French Onion Soup and thought wouldn’t it be amazing to make French Onion Soup and to have even made the bread for it?! So it moved to the top of the list.

The French bread recipe is a bit similar to the Italian bread recipe in so far as you do an overnight starter that you then turn into a proper dough. But in this recipe it’s called a pate fermentee and its proportions and rise time are different before refrigerating overnight. The dough itself is different too..there’s no call for strange ingredients and there wasn’t even any oil added to this dough. Pretty straightforward really.

My microwave proofing method is showing great success. The dough doubled in only 1 1/2 hours when it was to be left for 2. Reinhart says if that happens to knock it back and leave it until it doubles from its original size. Mine easily doubled. We got back from school pick ups and it had spilled out of its container. Oops.

You split the dough in thirds from here and shape it into baguettes before leaving them out to grow to 1 1/2 times their size. This took about an hour but could have only been 45 minutes so I straight away started preheating the oven since it needed to be so hot and set the dough on a footstool in front of the oven for the ambient heat (we really lack in a good warm spot in our house to leave dough to rise – sometimes we actually resort to putting it in our car!) – I had Aaron slash the dough before putting the baguettes in the oven.

Our baking method had to be slightly different than the one suggested because heat dissipates so quickly since our oven is on the fritz. I imagine we could’ve gotten more color if our oven would heat up enough for the initial baking, and we only opened it once to turn the baking tray around and insert the thermometer to monitor the temperature. I didn’t use the spray bottle method either, but instead put a pan of ice cubes in the bottom of the oven to let off steam.

I’m pretty pleased with the result of these. They smell amazing and if I’d had these out of the oven sooner we would’ve been eating them with dinner. Didn’t stop us from sampling later on!

Hopefully Friday I’ll be back with a full report of my sourdough “project”.

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Italian Bread

And just like that it’s May and it’s time for new cookbooks to cook from. Food52 Baking Club is spending the month with Peter Reinhart and his well known bread baking book, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. For my first bake I made some Italian bread to accompany Spaghetti Bolognaise for dinner.

If you’re familiar with bread baking, this isn’t all that hard but it does take time to get to the finished product. You make a starter called a biga from flour, water and yeast and let it proof for a few hours before knocking it back and refrigerating it overnight. The next day you use this biga and make the dough proper with more flour, yeast and water plus some sugar and salt and olive oil. You proof it again until doubled, divide it in half and shape it into batards on a baking sheet. Leave it to rise again (mine was slightly overproofed thanks to school pickups) and then cut in some slashes with a sharp knife and bake in the oven until golden brown and cooked in the center (I use a thermometer to check). Then you torture yourself for an hour before you can slice it up and devour.

This was a really nice bread. I think it would’ve been better not overproofed and it would look prettier if I’d had the optional diastatic barley malt powder for the added color as this looks pretty pale rather than golden brown. I plan to make it again after I try a few different breads as we’re teaching our eldest to cook and he’ll be cooking Spaghetti Bolognaise weekly for the next little while. Quite convenient that this has landed during Bread Baker’s Apprentice month.