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.
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.
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.
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!