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:

Throwback Thursday: Chocolate Cream Puffs with Mascarpone Filling from Baking Chez Moi

Throwback to July 2017 when Food52 Baking Club was going through Dorie Greenspan’s book Baking Chez Moi – it was a month of pure indulgence and there are several recipes that I will come back to again and again – like her custardy apple squares, her double mint milk chocolate mousse and gelee and these: her chocolate cream puffs with rose flavored mascarpone filling.

I’ve come to find out that cream puffs are one of my daughter’s very favorite things and Turkish delight is up there as well, so during the school holidays as a special treat one day for being the only 2 girls in a house full of boys we held a little high tea in her new, very girly bedroom. It featured many little treats that we had been making during that time period (like the Tartine shortbread and ANZAC bikkies from Dorie’s Cookies), but this was the icing on the cake for us.

The thing that’s unique to these little choux pastries is the cocoa powder. I’m only just starting to dabble in making choux pastry, so I felt like I was really taking a risk trying these out. I like Dorie’s method for making choux, taking note to bring the water and butter to a boil before adding the flour (I went through a rut a while back where I tried 4 times to make choux and I rage quit only to find out I was adding the flour too early), and slowly incorporating the eggs into the flour mixture after it has sat for a bit and it’s been mixed to cool it down. I love that with the smaller size I can just use a cookie scoop to portion them. And I love the ease of filling them because you just cut off the top and use a spoon.

It’s the simple things that make this recipe so approachable and the flavor that makes them so beautiful!

She’s already talking about the next time we can have a high tea (or go to Max Brenner again – am I the only one who thinks it’s too expensive for what it is?!) and I think maybe during the next school holidays I’ll have to oblige her. Maybe we’ll find a fondue set or a chocolate fountain to be part of it.

Even her Phoebe doll dressed up for the party. 😉 The other items on our high tea platter were ham and cheese toasties, chicken nuggets and sausage rolls. And we had to have scones with jam and cream of course. We let the boys sample the leftovers. =)

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”.

Throwback Thursday: Shortbread from Tartine

Throwback again to September 2017 when Food52 Baking Club was baking from the Tartine Bakery cookbook. I found out my daughter loves shortbread recently and so happily obliged by making the simple 5 ingredients recipe from this book that I saw many in the Facebook group had tried.

I liked how this recipe called for cornflour as a means to softer shortbread because I like my cookies melt in your mouth texture. I also like how this recipe is cut into little logs rather than big wedges like traditional Scottish shortbread. I was concerned though that I didn’t have the right size baking pan, so I just used a standard Australian brownie/slice pan and it seemed to work fine. But there was no way this was going to cut into 60.  The picture in the book did not show bite size pieces. I cut mine into 3 rows of 11 and they were still quite small.

The recipe was so easy to put together. Cream the butter until it is super soft, then add salt, then the combined flour and cornflour, then lastly the sugar. Press it into the lined baking tin and bang it in the low temperature preheated oven (mine is 125C but it cooks hot – most would need 150C). Bake until lightly browned then sprinkle some sugar over the top to give it a nice coating. Cut into bars while still warm to the touch.

If you line the baking tin like I did then you avoid the hassle of removing and destroying the first piece of shortbread because you can lift the whole thing out on the baking paper.

My young girl was so impressed that Mommy made her shortbread and quickly sampled a piece, then another, and another. I read some complaints that the cornflour altered the taste of the shortbread but I didn’t find that at all. However I didn’t shake off the excess sugar on top so that may have masked the flavor in the end result. I am so glad to have a shortbread recipe and will be making these whenever I need a quick cookie for dessert.

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.

Throwback Thursday: ANZAC Biscuits from Dorie’s Cookies

Last minute on Tuesday night I realized I had no golden syrup in the house and so we hopped in the car with a mission to find some. And would you believe we had to go to more than one place before we found some?!? Why did we need it so desperately? To make ANZAC Biscuits of course!

But then comes the age old question: which recipe do I use? I’m not a huge ANZAC biscuit fan, mainly because my oatmeal cookies are to die for (note the not so humble brag) and most of the ANZAC bikkies that I’ve had are way too crunchy (I’m a soft cookie girl). I came to find out a few years back that the crunchy or soft thing is all about what sugar you use and to my surprise the white sugar yields the softer cookie and not the brown sugar. So to find the recipe that seemed most suitable to me I started flipping through several cookbooks until I noticed that Dorie’s Cookies (the book Food52 Baking Club did in its inaugural month) happens to have an ANZAC biscuit recipe, and lo and behold it uses white sugar! So that’s the recipe we went with.

ANZAC biscuits are very basic to put together, no mixer required. You melt some butter and golden syrup and stir in some bicarb that’s been dissolved in water. That’s added to the rest of your ingredients: flour, oats, coconut (Dorie uses sweetened shredded stuff), sugar and salt. Roll the dough into balls and flatten a bit onto lined cookie sheets and bake them. And Bob’s your uncle, as they say.

Dorie notes that she found her biscuits too sweet when she first made them and halved the amount of sugar. The sweetness in these were perfect but I didn’t like the texture of the sweetened shredded coconut. I will try these again with the desiccated variety and use the normal amount of sugar to see which I prefer. I hazard a guess that it’ll be the more traditional version, but I’m happy to base my forever recipe on this version with a few personal adaptations, given these by far have been my favorite ANZAC biscuit to date.

Bravetart: Homemade Lofthouse-Style Cookies

These have surpassed my famously popular chocolate chip cookies to become my daughter’s favorite cookie. If she’s particularly upset about school, the thought of coming home to one of these cookies freshly baked for her will snap her out of it every time.

The recipe comes from Bravetart’s cookbook, which Food52 Baking Club went through in November last year, but it’s also been published on the Serious Eats website if you don’t have access to the book. They remind me of my childhood and since we can’t get the store bought packaged Lofthouse cookies here, these were a must bake.

I won’t go into the details of the process of making them at all, but I will point out two interesting things that make this cookie recipe different from others. First, it uses egg whites rather than whole eggs – but you don’t have to whip them or anything before incorporating into the dough – instead, you whisk them with some cream and vanilla. That’s the second thing, cream – I’ve used buttermilk in cookie recipes before, but never cream. It only uses 2 Tablespoons which is kind of inconvenient if you don’t normally have cream in your fridge, but it also uses 1/3 cup in the icing so I suppose it isn’t too bad. I try to plan it that I’ll have something in mind to use the remainder so it doesn’t go to waste (the egg yolks can be a problem in that regard too).

I use a cookie scoop to portion them out, they bake perfectly every time and I always use a bit of blue food coloring in the icing because that’s what I used the first time I made them and now that’s what my darling daughter expects! I put whatever sprinkles I have on hand on top of the icing – it’s been a great way to finish off leftovers from various projects but it’s quickly run down my supplies because I make these so often. (I’m trying to make my own sprinkles next week!) These cookies are definitely going to be handed down from generation to generation because they will forever be associated with cheering my girl up on a bad day.

Throwback Thursday: Sour Cherry Streusel Cake from Classic German Baking

Throwback to June 2017 when Food52 Baking Club was going through Luisa Weiss’s book Classic German Baking. Sooo many delicious looking desserts that just had to be baked ASAP.

Her Sour Cherry Streusel Cake or Kirschstreuselkuchen very quickly became one of my favourite recipes and I’ve probably made it half a dozen times over the last 9 months. The recipe can be found online, so there’s no excuse not to try it for yourself. And as long as you keep a jar of tart cherries in your cupboard and have basic baking ingredients on hand, this is a cake you can whip up in a jiffy if you suddenly find yourself in need of a cake.

There’s 3 basic components in this recipe: the streusel, the cherries and the batter. The streusel you mix by hand and is made of flour, sugar, butter, cinnamon and salt. The cherries are really interesting as you drain the juice and bring it to a boil with a bit set aside to create a slurry with some cornflour and then whisked in to make it get thick and syrupy. Then you reincorporate the cherries and set it aside to cool while you make the batter. And the batter is a dead simple basic butter cake – where you cream butter and sugar and some eggs and vanilla then add your dry ingredients and a little milk (I usually use buttermilk). Then you layer it up in a 9×13 inch pan and bake in a moderate oven for 45-50 minutes.

It turns out great every time, and while I’m actually a little disappointed with the lack of color in the streusel this time around, it still tasted fabulous. I used a new type of gluten free flour and it behaved a little differently. This is another thing of interest, how adaptable this recipe is to gluten free. We regularly bake for a gluten free guest and so this is an easy recipe for me to make for her by simply replacing the plain flour with gluten free and everything else remains the same. The cake is not overly sweet making it easy to eat more than one slice and the red color on the cherries is so elegant that it would sit very nicely on a high tea platter.

I’m really surprised this is the first time I’ve posted about this book because it is one of my absolute favorites. I look forward to sharing more from this book soon!

The Fearless Baker: Bourbon-Rosemary Peach Pie

Happy first birthday to Food52 Baking Club! This month, all my Baking Club posts will be throwbacks, and to start us off, I’m finally posting about that amazing peach pie I made for Pi Day several weeks ago now.

The recipe came from last month’s book, The Fearless Baker and I’ll say straight off the bat, the all-buttah pie dough was a knock out. Best pastry ever! I chucked all the ingredients in the food processor (flour, salt, butter, water) and then portioned it in half and refrigerated it as recommended. Then I rolled out the bottom half and popped it in the fridge until it was ready for filling and attempted a fake lattice for the top. I used a simple egg and water and salt egg wash on top and I was just so impressed with the recipe. It’s a bit dark around the edges but I wouldn’t change a thing.

The pie filling on the other hand, I’m not really too sure how to write about. I followed the directions to the letter and it still ended up liquidy. Fabulous tasting, but liquidy all the same. In it was peaches, bourbon, rosemary, brown sugar, butter, salt and cornflour, and the oddest thing is how much bourbon you start out with for what you end up with – you basically cook it down to a syrup, letting it reduce like crazy, but I think it sort of lost the bourbon taste in the process. And I didn’t really get smacked with a rosemary taste either, so overall the pie I wanted, I didn’t really get. I kinda think if I were to make it again I’d just use the amount the recipe wanted to end up with at the end rather than a whole cup of bourbon. And more rosemary, I can’t seem to get enough of it lately.

Of course we served it warm with ice cream – is there any other way to eat peach pie?!!

Throwback Thursday: Golden Brioche Loaves from Baking: From My Home to Yours

It didn’t take me long to return to  Dorie Greenspan’s Baking From My Home to Yours, the book that we went through in the Food52 Baking Club last month. I searched through our Facebook group for brioche because I wanted to make the Mushrooms on Brioche from Simple and thought I should just make it from scratch. What I quickly found out was that Dorie’s recipe was super popular. And now I can see why!

Dorie describes it as “elegant” and it really is that. And again another example of how bread isn’t hard to make – it just takes time and if you’re lucky, you’ll have a good stand mixer that will do the hard labor for you. First, you mix yeast into some water and milk and then add flour and salt and mix to just moisten the flour before adding eggs and sugar. Then you incorporate butter in small chunks and you beat the dough until it pulls away from the sides of the bowl and put it into a greased container at room temperature until it’s nearly doubled. Then you deflate the dough and refrigerate it overnight, deflating again every half hour until it stops rising.

The next day you shape the dough by dividing it in half then each half into four. You shape the smaller portions into 4 logs that you lay crosswise in 2 bread tins and you leave at room temperature until the dough almost fills the pans. Here is where I came unstuck. I used the wrong pan size. And so my brioche doesn’t really have much height. Next time I will definitely use smaller tins.

You brush on an egg wash and bake it in a hot oven for about 30 minutes. And the result: golden and deliciously buttery crumb that takes everything up a notch flavour and comfort wise. I cannot wait to make this again!