Baking Like a Granny

It’s very early – cat’s not even up yet – at these times it’s best to do another blog post.

Been back baking again – had to take some time off from baking because of the surplus building in the freezer – for me, it’s so easy to bake more than we can eat fresh – so of course, it goes into the freezer. Now, intellectually, I know that bread in the freezer can only be expected to be good for maybe a few weeks at best – I’m sure others would say even less – and I’m so bad at “using”, and so good at “collecting”, that I’ve got to work on the using part – So, every once in awhile, I stop baking, and we eat our bread out of the freezer for awhile.

You know!

Day before yesterday, I did the hybrid bolillos with sourdough and yeast. My recipe came originally from a Spanish language site – I ran it through an online interpreter, but there were still parts I wasn’t sure of – and I’m still adjusting. I’ve always thought that taste wise, these are great, but the dough always seemed a bit dry – so of course I adjusted again. I made a wetter dough, and didn’t give them a refrigerated fermentation. They turned out beautifully – nice and light, but with a nice crumb texture, like a nice roll should have. In truth, I think some of my past ones had more flavor, but I think that’s due to me skipping the fridge fermentation – I’ll try to remember that, and next time give them their cold rest too. I think I’ve got the shaping thing down.

IMG_2262-1

Then yesterday, I did two Cranberry/Walnut breakfast loaves – this is one of my “grandma” breads – I have this mental thing about how baking should be like the way grandma used to do it – you know, get up, pull out the bowl and ingredients, and from memory put together a fantastic breakfast bread. Well, this approach works real well with quick breads, and in fact, I haven’t used a recipe for a muffin for years – but I will admit that yeast and sourdough add an element of complexity that add to the challenge – but that doesn’t stop me from trying – occasionally.

A big reason why I like this approach is that I’m convinced that it teaches you to develop a sensitivity about your dough that simply following a “recipe” will not do – or if it does, it’ll be damn late in the game! For instance, for my basic granny bread, I put the sourdough and the liquid I’m using in the bowl of my stand mixer, along with a few Tbs of melted butter, and using the hook right away, begin adding the dry ingredients, including a small amount of yeast – BTW, whenever I can, I use sour milk for my granny breads – I haven’t thrown away any sour milk in years! It, and buttermilk, adds a flavor dimension that you can’t get otherwise.

Then I turn the mixer on and look for the clues that the dough gives you as the gluten builds and strengthens – what I’ve learned is right for this kind of bread is a soft dough that after a few minutes begins to clean the bowl, but forms two nice balls of dough on each side of the hook – once I start to see this, I give the dough a ten minute rest so it can fully hydrate and to let the gluten finish its magic. If, OTOH, the dough suggests that it’s too wet or too dry, I’ll adjust. Now it’s time to add salt, and for a five to eight minute machine knead.

For these fruit and nut breads, any kind of dried fruit works well – I used cranberries here – and I’ve found that toasting the nuts is good, as it adds flavor and crunch that otherwise isn’t there. I like to add a ground spice also, here, cinnamon and star anise mixed with a little sugar – again, use your imagination and try other ground spices (just not mustard!). Once the dough has finished it’s first rise, I begin the process of forming the loaves – these should be pressed and stretched into rectangles about 12” x 6”, and then covered and left to rest for about 10 minutes.

When you’re ready to finish forming your loaves, press them as flat as you can, but not bigger than 8” x 14” – put your fruit and nuts over the entire surface – don’t put your sugar and spices on yet, because you want the fruit and nuts to stick into the surface of the dough, and if you put the spices down first, they won’t stick – press the fruit/nuts into the dough, and then add the spice/sugar mixture. Now roll up the loaf, from the top of the short side, keeping it as tight as possible. Put the loaf into a butter greased loaf pan, and paint the top with melted butter, or spray with oil – cover and set in a good proofing area for its final rise.

You may wonder why I didn’t use butter on the surface of the loaf as I added the fruit and nuts – my rationale is that I suspect that with the addition of butter -a taste advantage,I’ll admit- you run the risk of having the fruit/nut swirl open up and “fly” on you – if you don’t care, or disagree, add some butter.

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I had some extra spice/sugar mix left over, and decided to sprinkle it over the top of my butter painted tops – other than darken the tops to a scary level, I don’t think it added a thing to the loaf. And as an added note of why it’s important to measure your bread’s internal temp as you bake, these loaves went more than fifty minutes at 350 degrees (I was seasoning a half size sheet pan on the bottom oven rack). Given the darkened tops, if I hadn’t been measuring with an instant thermometer, I’d have pulled them early. Always check.

I’m gonna send this on to Susan at Wild Yeast, Yeastspotting, ’cause it’s been awhile since I last contributed, but I suspect my approach is a bit radical – or careless, maybe – for that forum. Whatever – the world needs radicals, even the world of baking!

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About drfugawe

I'm a guy with enough time to do as I please, and that my resources allow. The problem(s) are: I have 100s of interests; I have a short attention span; I have instant expectations; I'm lazy; and I'm broke. But I'm OK with all that, 'cause otherwise I'd be so busy, I'd be dead in a year.
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7 Responses to Baking Like a Granny

  1. Although I admit I’m not good with the recipe-free approach, any and all methods that work (and clearly yours does) are welcome to YeastSpotting. I think I might have to respectfully disagree with the “no mustard” admonishment, though — I recently made Pain d’Épices per Nick Malgieri’s recipe, where mustard was combined with anise and cinnamon, and it was surprisingly delicious.

  2. drfugawe says:

    Yeah, don’t know why I said that “mustard” thing! I should know better.

    Re the free-form approach, you know that someone, somewhere, has to come up with a “recipe” for the world to follow – how are you ever go’nna write your book on bread baking, if you don’t have your own stuff?

  3. MC says:

    Great post and yummy looking breads! I too like the no-recipe approach although I do take detailed notes and do weigh the ingredients as they go in, so that I don’t have to reinvent the wheel when I want to make it again. My kids still remember vividly a soup I made close to 20 years ago which they plaintively describe as the best they ever had in their whole life and which I cannot make again as I can’t remember what went in it, except for some leftover pain d’épices. I know I was cleaning out the fridge and I pretty much threw everything in the pot and I didn’t write anything down and now all we have left is a memory!!!

  4. Nidhi says:

    I have a question. Whenever I make these breads(which are rolled like cinnamon and raisin breads) I have a problem.After rolling them with raisin and cinnamon spread on the top like in the above shown breakfast bread, and cooking these breads; when I try to slice them, the folds fall out. It is like the roll unwraps. Can you tell me what I am doing wrong?

  5. Mimi says:

    The texture of your bread looks so lovely. I bet it was delious still warm from the oven!

  6. drfugawe says:

    Thanks Mimi, yes, this is good stuff warm and toasty!

    Nidhi – I’m not much of an expert, but in my limited experience, here’s what may help:
    * A softer, wetter dough will seal better – and when you roll the dough, roll tight and make sure the edges are well sealed.
    * Limit the amount of filling you load into the vein – if you put in a lot, it tends to slip out too easily.
    * Try not adding butter to the sugar and spices in the vein – I think the butter tends to open the vein too much.
    * Try adding the fruit/nuts to the dough itself, and only sugar/spice in the vein.
    * Always allow at least a half inch bare strip at the top and bottom of your flattened rectangle of dough, so it will seal well – as you can see in my pic, my bottom did not seal well for just that reason.
    * And, if you cut into your loaf too quickly -a real temptation- it tends to come apart – the longer you wait, the more stability it’ll have.

    Hope that helps.

  7. drfugawe says:

    MC,
    Yup, been there, done that! Often enough to cry. But what’s more annoying is following a recipe, having it turn out super good, and then when you go back and use that same recipe again, it just ain’t the same! What’s happening here? I think sometimes our taste buds are tuned differently, and things just taste better or worse! How would such a theory be tested?

    Oh well – the culinary world is apparently more complex than we realize.

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