Showing posts with label baking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label baking. Show all posts

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Adventures in Pumpernickel Bread: The Stuff of Life

I haven't baked in a while, but this weekend* I decided to jump back into it by making my first batch of pumpernickel bread. Pumpernickel bread is pretty much the reason I bought this bread book to start with -- apparently, it's not really that popular in Alaska and I can't find it at the stores. However, it's kind of complicated and requires unusual ingredients so I haven't tried it before today.

The bread book I have is Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads. Bernard Clayton smiles at you from the back of the book in a grandfatherly manner, as if to say "Anyone can make these breads! Even an old dude like me!" I should have known this was going to be trouble when the description of the recipe starts out "Caution: If you are about to launch a career in baking, don't begin with this loaf....It is a loaf for an advanced student..." Well, I thought, I'm no beginner. And I'm not starting a career in baking. So I'll give it a go.

Trouble sign number 2: I had some trouble with the ingredients. First of all, dark rye flour is not sold at Fred Meyers, so I had to get light rye flour. And then I forgot to buy the unsweetened chocolate. But the recipe calls for a crapload of molasses (yes, that's a technical term), so I figured I'd cut out the sugar and just add bittersweet chocolate chips.

I mix everything up, per the instructions, and go to knead the bread. "The dough will be stiff and sticky by hand or in the mixer" the book says. I sprinkle a "liberal" amount of flour onto my new baking mat and start to knead.

Only now, the dough takes over. It's not just sticky. It sucks my hands in and gloms them together. I am starting to resemble Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby. But good old Bernard tells me "Be patient and presently the dough will respond and begin to clear the work surface, and your fingers". I try a little more, and add some flour. The dough starts to act like The Stuff.

Art is based in real life, you know.

I add a little more flour. The dough maintains its hold. I start to worry that someone will report me missing in three days, and the police will just find a giant mass of dough in my kitchen. I add even more flour, spilling some on the floor and the dog in the process.

Fievel auditioning for a role in Blow 2: To Say Nothing of the Dog
The kitchen starts to resemble a cocaine factory, except the workers are a lot less high on, uh, life. Finally, I realize the instructions should have read "Dump in a whole crapload of flour to match the crapload of molasses, because you're going to need it". So I dump in the rest of the bag of flour, and voila, the alien life force is beaten into submission and becomes an actual ball of dough.

At this point, I've added in so much flour I think "there's no way this is going to rise", which is pretty much exactly what Bernard has told me I would think. But after an hour, I check the bread, and holy pumpernickel, it has actually risen! So I throw it in the oven for the specified time at the designated temp, and...out comes pumpernickel rolls, almost exactly like I wanted!

"Haha! I'm Bernard Clayton, laughing all the way to the bank!"

Unfortunately, by this time I'm exhausted, and so I decided not to eat them right away with a delicious homemade soup -- instead, I throw them in the fridge, and make a rather plebeian "cheese quesadilla", a.k.a cheese in a tortilla nuked for 30 seconds.

Honestly, this was a big mistake, because I didn't make the delicious homemade soup until two weeks later (life stuff, blah blah blah), and microwaving the roll to heat it up turned it into a hockey puck. Will I make Bernard Clayton's wonderful pumpernickel bread again? Perhaps, but only when I've stopped having a semblance of a social life and have time to deal with it.

Homemade veggie stew and hockey puck: Dinner of Champions

*I started this post a while ago, but didn't get around to finishing it. See above re: life stuff.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Shake and bake

So, what have I been up to lately, now that school is over? Not much, really. One thing that I have been getting back into is baking bread. For some reason, cookies and cakes have never held my interest, but I love to bake breads and pies. Last year at some point, I bought this book:

and I've been very happy with it. If you read the reviews, they talk about how it's really a cursory look at breads, and professionals or people who really want to get into the nitty-gritty of bread baking might not like it. Well, that's fine for me; I want to be able to bake lots of tasty breads from scratch (no bread machine), but I also don't want to invest a tremendous amount of time and money in techniques and equipment.

What have I made so far? Lots of stuff. I made two different types of wheat breads, two types of French bread (one which turned out beautifully and of course I have no pictures of), a light and buttery white bread that was really excellent, an orange-cinnamon bread, hamburger buns, and English muffins.

Although most of my breads have turned out pretty well, I have learned a few things that make a difference. 1) Room temperature ingredients make a big difference. If you start with cold eggs and butter, the batter doesn't come together right and your bread won't rise as well. 2) For a good rising place, turn the oven on warm for 1 minute, and then leave the bread in there, covered by a damp towel. Works every time. 3) One I'm still working on: I think my oven runs a little hot, especially if I allow it to fully pre-heat. The English muffins that I made yesterday came out a little dark. Not burnt, but dark enough that if you want to toast them once they're halved, the toaster might burn them. This is not the first time I've had this experience; some of my other breads have either come out dark or I pulled them out a little early.

I have a picture of the English muffins that I would like to post, but unfortunately, my camera batteries died. I think I need to get some new ones, as it seems these rechargeables are no longer holding a charge (they are 3 or 4 years old, after all). So instead, I will leave you with some pics of my other breads.

Molasses-wheat bread. I liked it, but it wasn't my fav.

Hamburger buns. Oh my gosh, they were awesome. I will never buy those soft mushy things from the store again.