Bread, Part 1: Basic Loaf

So after my adventure with the Great American Baking Show where my loaf of bread was deemed not quite up to par, I decided that I wanted to learn more about bread baking. I really haven’t done all that much of it before, though I have some general knowledge and have made several different kinds of bread with varying levels of success (and of course spent that fabulous week in Paris watching a professional at work), and I think it would be worthwhile to acquire some extra knowledge and perhaps make some tasty things along the way.

I’m going to do a series of posts about my bread-baking experience and make specific note of the things I’ve learned. Hopefully by the end I’ll be a better bread-baker!

My first attempt was a basic loaf– no special shaping, no special ingredients, with the only deviation from standard procedure being the use of a poolish (a mixture of yeast, flour, and water that you start the night before to give it time to develop some flavor). I used a recipe from King Arthur Flour’s website and opted to use the full sixteen hours of fermentation for the poolish to see what would happen.

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Trying out for The Great American Baking Show

Sorry for the delay in posting, everyone, but I promise I had a good reason– I was attending casting interviews/tasting sessions for the latest season of The Great American Baking Show!

I submitted an online application near the end of May, not really expecting to get any response, but a few days later I got a call from a producer saying that they’d loved my application (and accompanying personal video) and wanted to ask me more questions! The following interview was basically me talking about my baking background, what my experience was in certain types of baking, and then a 12-question quiz on some baking techniques to make sure I knew my stuff. Turns out I did, because after sending in more photos of my bakes (most of which have been featured on this blog!) I got invited to New York to bring some treats for a tasting!

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Dark Chocolate Bread Pudding

chocolate-bread-pudding

During a recent visit to the King Arthur Flour bakery in Vermont I purchased a loaf of challah, fully intending to pull pieces off of it for the next several hours and devour most of the loaf that way. Isn’t that the best way to eat fresh bread? Sadly, I ended up getting distracted and by the time I got back to my loaf it was partly stale and didn’t lend itself well to nibbling on.

However, stale bread is still good for plenty of things– not least of which is bread pudding. Not just any bread pudding– chocolate bread pudding. DARK chocolate bread pudding, which makes it that much more decadent. I pulled this recipe from King Arthur Flour’s own website and have been eating the results for breakfast for the past week. Superb.

Dark Chocolate Bread Pudding (from King Arthur Flour)

  • 6 1/2 cups bread cubes from a 1-lb loaf of challah or brioche
  • 1 1/2 cups dark chocolate, chopped or in chips
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa
  • 3 cups milk or half & half
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. In a lightly buttered 9×13″ pan, combine bread cubes with 1 cup of the chopped chocolate.

2. In a small saucepan, combine remaining chocolate with sugar, cocoa, and 1 1/2 cups of the milk or half and half. Cook over low heat until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.

choc-BP-melt

3. Remove from heat and add remaining dairy. Then whisk in eggs, salt, and vanilla.

4. Pour the mixture over the bread cubes and let it soak in for about 30 minutes.

choc-BP-soak

5. In the meantime, preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

6. When the custard has soaked in, bake for 45-50 minutes. Remove from oven and let it cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

 

Baked No-Knead Yeasted Donuts… Okay but not great

baked-donuts

The other day I was reading my daughter a bedtime story that had a particularly tasty-sounding description of brunch, featuring fluffy omelettes and sugar-dusted donuts. For some reason the latter caught her attention, and before I knew it I was promising to make sugar-dusted donuts of our very own!

Of course, I really don’t like the hassle of deep-frying, but I find baked cake-style donuts to be not particularly donut-y, so I searched the internet for a recipe for yeast-raised baked donuts. Preferably with a minimum of kneading, because I didn’t want to have to break out the stand mixer. Eventually I found one that looked pretty good— it had a two-stage rise, one at room temp and one overnight in the fridge, and could be baked up in the morning. Reviews were decent. So I gave it a shot.

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Spent Grain Bread

spent-grain-bread

I may not have mentioned it before, but my husband brews his own beer as a hobby. One of the byproducts of the brewing process is large quantities of spent grain– wheat, barley, or other grains that have been boiled for a while and which would otherwise be thrown away afterwards. We usually end up with several pounds of the stuff for each batch of beer, and it seems like such a waste to discard it, so I went looking for recipes to make something out of it. Bread seemed the obvious choice.

spent-grain

It turns out there are dozens of recipes out there for spent grain bread. My husband tried one on his own but it turned out dense and crumbly– I don’t think he kneaded it enough, or maybe he added too much flour to combat the stickiness– so I tried my own version based on a recipe online.

It turned out pretty well– the grain provided a sweet, nutty flavor and a nice texture to the finished bread, though I think I could’ve kneaded it a bit more and also baked it somewhat longer– my loaf was a little crumbly when sliced and slightly gummy when eaten. But I think that this recipe is a good starting point– I just need better bread instincts!

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Bacon Fat Biscuits

bacon-biscuits.jpg

I fried up a bunch of bacon last week to make a savory bread pudding (for the record, it was kale/bacon/onion bread pudding and it was amazing), and found myself with almost half a cup of leftover bacon fat. I poured it into a ramekin to chill in the fridge, and set about trying to figure out what I could use it in.

With the advent of chillier weather, biscuits seemed to fit the bill nicely. I decided to substitute chilled bacon fat for butter, and to punch up the flavor with some wilting green onions and some cheddar cheese I found in the fridge. Basically these biscuits were a delicious way to use my leftovers, and they turned out wonderfully!

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Black Pepper Sour Cream Rolls

pepper-rolls.jpg

I was walking down the street around lunch time the other day and passed by a bakery/cafe– suddenly I was hit by the wonderful, buttery, unmistakable aroma of freshly-baked croissants. I had just eaten lunch so was able to resist buying one to devour right then and there, but the memory stayed with me and I was moved instead to bake something to satisfy the craving at┬ádinner that night.

I decided to go with some soft, buttery dinner rolls– there was no time for croissants, but there were enough similarities between the overall flavor profiles (butter, yeast, golden outer crust) to make them a decent substitution. And when I found a recipe┬áthat promised to have pillowy rolls ready with zero kneading and minimal rising, I knew I had to try it. The added interest of black pepper just sealed the deal.

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