Once I had everything put away, I couldn't wait to get at the bread. As I've been saying, my plan is to make every loaf in this book:
The "formulas" are listed in alphabetical order, and the first loaf is "Anadama". I discussed the origins of this bread and the name in yesterday's post. When we left off, the "soaker" was sitting on the counter, waiting for its day in the sun, er, oven.
Before I go on, I want to say that the book is excellent. The instructions are easy to follow, and the index is very useful. As I read over the 100+ introductory pages, it was hard not to have my eyes glaze over at times and my thoughts drift to matters of quilting as the words droned on about autolyzed yeast (don't ask me) and hydration percentages. And so when I came to an unfamiliar term yesterday, I looked it up again. I'm realizing that I learn best by doing, and so as I'm "doing" this, I'm going back to the areas that I missed in the run-up to the actual baking extravaganza. So with that in mind...
A "soaker" is the name for a pre-ferment which is nonyeasted, usually made from a coarsely milled whole grain. I already had all the ingredients on hand for this loaf, and so I was using Bob's Red Mill medium-grind cornmeal.
The recipe actually suggested a coarser grind, which is often sold as polenta. I'll say more about it later, but I think the medium grind was just right.
So the grain is soaked overnight in water or milk in order to activate the enzymes in the grains and break out the trapped sugars from the starches. Also, it softens the grain. My first task was to mix the soaker with about half of the total amount of flour (in this case, bread flour)
and the yeast. I already had this Gold Medal flour on hand, but if I keep this up, I might spring for the more expensive King Arthur flour to see if there's actually a difference. Maybe some of you have already done this test. As for the yeast, the formulas in the book are all written to use "instant" or "rapid-rise" yeast (if using commercial yeast...some use wild yeast), and that's what I used.
So you mix that up and then let it ferment for an hour.
While we're waiting for that, I'll just tell you that the Anadama loaf is an "enriched" loaf, meaning that it has some added fat and/or sugar...in this case, two tablespoons of shortening and six tablespoons of molasses.
Also, it is a "standard" loaf, and this has to do with the percentage of liquid to flour. Standard doughs generally fall into the categories of sandwich breads, rolls, French and other European-style breads at 57-65% hydration. Finally, it is an "indirect" loaf, which simply means it was made with the pre-ferment. And let's just check in on said fermentation right now, shall we?
When it's ready, it will be bubbling. If I'd done this next image with video instead of a still shot, you'd actually be able to see the movement of the bubbles.
Okay, so moving on...I added the remainder of the flour, the molasses (which gives it its brown color), the salt, and the shortening. And I'm kind of a modernistic kind of gal when it comes to baking, so I used my Kitchen Aid mixer for this project. I mixed the ingredients with the paddle attachment.
And then switched off to the dough hook. Peter Reinhart, the book's author, says either method is fine, and I like that he includes kneading times for both hand or machine mixing.
My dough really wanted to stick to the sides of the bowl, and so I ended up adding just little dribbles of water. Finally, it came together, and I dumped it out into a large Pyrex bowl for proofing.
After an hour and a half, it had risen nicely. (So exciting!!!!!)
Depending on the size of your loaf pans, this formula makes two or three loaves. Mine were of the smaller variety, and so I divided my dough into three portions and then rolled it into loaves as the book instructed. This is obviously something that's going to take practice. I'm not totally happy with how my loaves ended up, but it didn't seem to hurt the finished product...except for one thing, which I'll show you in a minute.
Here, I was told I could "hold back" one or two of the loaves in the refrigerator for a maximum of two days and then bake them off later. And that sounded good to me because, guess what? Thanksgiving was still two days away at this point. (Smacks hand to forehead. What a great idea!) So I covered two of these and stashed them in the fridge, and then left the third one for its second rise. It was supposed to take 60-90 minutes, but mine took a full two hours.
Bread-baking is such a great task for a stay-at-home day because there's a lot of waiting involved...and for me, an old person who gets excited about stuff like this, it only increases my level of food fervor. If I didn't have a strong heart, I'd just have to be careful about the excitement level that builds in my kitchen, let me tell you. I'm going to put it somewhere between watching grass grow and watching paint dry.
So, anyway, while I was doing all this heart-pounding waiting business, I was also hard at work making Classic Chicken Pot Pies. (I actually wrote a blog post about this. You can read it right here along with my notes and a link to the recipe.) I filled six ramekins with the filling...two for dinner last night, two for dinner next week, and two for the freezer. And, honestly, this recipe makes so freaking much filling, that half a recipe would be plenty. I still had filling left for at least another four pot pies, but I just froze that in a freezer container for another day(s).
And finally, the loaf had risen enough for baking. I spritzed the top of it with oil (it was supposed to be water...yikes!) and then sprinkled it with some of the cornmeal. Then I put it in the oven. Oh. My. Gosh. If you thought waiting for the bread to rise was exciting, waiting for the loaf to bake made it hard to keep my feet in full contact with the floor.
When it came out of the oven, it was to be immediately removed from the pan and cooled on a rack. SWOON!
Holy sh*t! Is that the most beautiful thing you've ever seen??????
Well, I posted a picture to one of the bread-baking groups I joined on Facebook, and someone there asked for a picture of the "crumb," and so I'll show it to you too.
Peter Reinhart admonished me, someone who absolutely finds it impossible to wait for the bread to cool completely before cutting, to be patient and wait. He says that while the bread is warm, there are still chemical changes taking place inside, and that my patience will be rewarded. And it definitely was. The crust was nice and crisp, while the inside was soft, like the softest white sandwich bread. The cornmeal soaker gave it the nicest little crunch, despite being a soft bread. And here's the one place where I thought my loaf rolling caused me problems. See that little crack in the crust? I think that's where my dough folded over on itself and weakened the loaf. Yes, it's a very minor little nit-picky thing, but I'm learning, and so I'm taking note of it. I'm sure I'll get better with practice...as in all things. Far from discouraged, I'm just excited to get to work on the next loaf in the book.
Oh yes, and when we went to bed last night, I opened the refrigerator door to say nighty-night to the two loaves I'd held back. I noticed they'd risen just a little despite the cool environment. This morning I checked on them again. I'd say they've risen about halfway. Tomorrow, I'm supposed to take them out four hours before baking them, and we'll have fresh baked bread for our Thanksgiving meal. Cool!
As for the loaf I baked, this morning I toasted two slices and smothered them in jam and butta'. Yum. I'm going to try not to eat the whole loaf in one day.
Finally, remember the Cabbage and Carrot Kraut I started on Saturday?
Each day, I checked it and mashed the ingredients down again. Also, I took a tiny taste. At first it just tasted salty, but after six days, it's ready to eat. It's actually quite tasty. Definitely worth the effort and a good way to use up little bits of carrots and cabbage. I've linked to the recipe up above there.
So today will be another day in the kitchen. I'm trying a new recipe for cranberries this year, and I'm making the sweet potato portion of our favorite Sweet Potato Crunch recipe. Also, I'll make some cocktail sauce for a shrimp cocktail appetizer. Erik is deep-frying our turkey tomorrow, as he did last year. It was really good that way, and I loved that it took that share of the load off my shoulders. For my part, I'll be making a stuffing casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy, roasted vegetables, and a pumpkin tart. There's lots to do before we sit down at the table to feast.
It's unlikely that I'll be blogging tomorrow, and so I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving celebrating in the way you enjoy most.