Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Banana Feather Loaf Roundup

Feeling Foodish Banana Feather Loaf

My original reason for choosing the Banana Feather Loaf was to compare recipes that sweeten the bananas with a recipe that uses the banana as the sweetener. Both the Banana Chiffon Cake and the Banana Feather Loaf recipes produced a product that had a fine, delicate crumb, but the delicacy of each was dependent on different sets of chemical reactions, and required two different skill sets. It only proves the versatility, and competence of Rose’s Alpha Bakers—that they were able to use bananas in a delicate meringue based cake, as well as use bananas in a yeast bread. No doubt bananas are great.

That being said, everyone was successful in baking the Banana Feather Loaf. Everyone got a light, airy, tender crumb, and everyone found the loaf intriguing. The banana flavour was barely detectable and very light, across the board. Plus, all of the Alpha Bakers noted that the bread was eaten up quickly and enthusiastically. What was different was in the application: how to serve it and what to eat it with! 

Knowing there was banana in the recipe, we were all looking for its familiar flavour, but what we got instead was a nuance of the banana itself. We picked up on its sweet sugars, but couldn’t quite land on the essence of banana in the way we might have expected. How interesting is this?

What was most interesting was the conclusion that each of the Alpha Bakers came to about the Banana Feather Loaf. Here were the differences:

Kristina had a hard time figuring out what to say about the bread. She compared it to Rose’s white sandwich bread, which she knows so well. Unlike the white sandwich bread, she couldn’t see using it for grilled cheese, tuna melts or garlic bread. She considered it a breakfast or snack bread for either french toast or a special occasion breakfast. Otherwise, she doesn’t think she’ll bake it again.

Marie B found the Banana Feather Loaf sat on the fence between sweet and savoury. She said that it’s not quite a sandwich bread, but it’s not really a sweet bread. She too thought it would be perfect for French Toast. In the end though, she took Rose up on the suggestion to toast it with peanut butter and fresh banana. BTW, welcome again Marie B. to the Bread Bible Alpha Bakers. It’s a real pleasure to have you bake with us!

Marie W. perceived more than a hint of banana flavour that became more noticeable when she toasted it, and that’s where the rub is. In order to taste the banana as we would expect, we have to toast the bread, but then the problem is toasting a feather light slice can burn in the blink of an eye. So what to do? Just go with the flow and enjoy!

Elle was not put off by the sweetness at all. At first she thought it would be a perfect sweet, tea-bread, but changed her mind when she saw how light and airy it was and how subtle the banana flavours are. For her, it was everything she could have wanted out of a loaf of bread: great as toast, with peanut butter, strawberry jam, and of course some sliced banana.

Vicki felt the bread is just amazing. She got a beautiful rise from the dough and found the final texture and lightness to be like nothing she have ever tasted before. She loved this loaf.

Tony was extremely delighted with the taste and texture of the loaf. He said: IT IS SO ADDICTIVE you just cut one more little sliver and then your back for another one [and] before you know it…ROSE, thank you again for such a wonderful, delightful, scrumptious, and delicious loaf!” That about says it all, but on the technical side, the Banana Feather Loaf was a learning experience either about the oven temp and/or proofing problems, (something that I had trouble with too). As you say Tony: It’s the life of the baker.

Catherine felt the groove of our bananalicious week! For her, the banana transmitted a soft, rich  sweetness, and had a denser, stronger structure than brioche. With just a little butter and very little effort, she kept it all for herself. It was a winner recipe.

For our next Bread Bible recipe, I thought we would make the Southwestern Corn Spoon Bread. I chose this because American Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and it might make a nice pass around with the turkey. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Banana Feather Loaf

Banana Feather Loaf with Peanut Butter and Banana

I get along with bananas like a house on fire. So it's natural that I would choose, for my first Bread Bible post, the Banana Feather Loaf to compliment the Banana Split Chiffon assigned to the Alpha Bakers for the Baking Bible. I think it's interesting to explore all the different ways bananas can be used and adapted to suit different applications. So to celebrate the banana, maybe we should whip up a little Banana Lemon Curd for the loaf, then mix up a Banana Daiquiri, and serve up all of our very different banana things, and have a banana party, and call it The Banana Bomba!

Here's my experience:

DOUGH STARTER: Mixing the flour, yeast, water and honey is a very straight forward process and couldn't be easier.

This is the water and honey
The flour and instant yeast

The liquid and dry ingredients make the starter.

MAKE THE SPONGE: Mixing the flour and adding it to the sponge is another very simple step in the process of making bread.

The flour blanket

ADDING THE BANANA! Yeah, it's time to add the banana. I mashed it with the soft butter and salt just to ensure that they would mix properly.

Adding the banana and butter to the sponge.

MIXING THE DOUGH BY HAND: This was too sticky to knead by hand. I had to add flour because it was impossible to otherwise. The machine wouldn't have cared, but manoeuvring around my bread bowl with this sticky mess wasn't enjoyable. 

The dough was a sticky mess

Still, I was committed, so I did my best. Letting the dough rest for 20 minutes changed the mood of the dough and afterwards, it was a charm to work with.

Resting the dough for 20 minutes

I let it rise until double, 

The dough after the first rise

and then I folded up the four corners 

Folding up the four corners
Then gave it two business folds

then  gave it two business folds
The dough ready for the second rise
and let it rise again. It took much longer and by this time, it was too late to shape it and let it rise again, So I stuck it in the refrigerator and went to bed.

8am morning, I took it out of the cold box, shaped it into a loaf and let it rise. 

The dough is ready for the loaf pan for the final rise
Again, it took forever so I went dancing. I got home at 4pm and the bread had reached the top of the mold. That's a long time proofing. 

This took all afternoon to rise to this level
So I fired up the jets to 475F. That's a super hot oven. 

Baking it, it sank a little. Huh? I suspect I over-rose it. Is that possible? Maybe the chemical reaction was completely gone and the structure of the bread collapsed a little. 

Tasting it, it certainly tasted a bit on the sour side. The banana was very faint, but it was moist and very pleasant.

The Banana Feather Loaf sliced, toasted and ready to eat.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Basic Hearth Bread Round Up

Marie's Basic Hearth Bread

"Soul of simplicity", that is how Rose describes her Basic Hearth Bread,  "containing only flour, water, yeast and salt with a little honey for sweetness and a golden crust."  It was a resounding success with all the Alpha Bread Bakers.  

Marie likes this bread very much and has made it often, to the point where her loaves could easily pass in a bakery shop case with perfect slashing and browned crust.  She especially likes the slight bit of nuttiness whole wheat flour gives in this recipe without any bitter taste.  Marie first learned the business letter fold years ago from Rose even though it's quite common among bread bakers today but for her, it was Rose who introduced her to this technique. Marie likes it for sandwiches and for morning toast.  "I almost resent it when bread doesn't toast well.  That's part of its job."  Touche Marie, touche!

Basically Delicious Hearth Bread is how Elle describes this basically amazing bread.  She had two teenage sous chefs by her side to "help"-if drinking warm chai lattes and texting is helping.  Although, her daughter's friend was quite intrigued with the scale, never having seen ingredients measured by weight.  Just wait, chemistry class is right around the corner!  She found the only down side to the recipe was the rise times, only due to impatience.  Totally understandable; this is a bread that looks so good on the cover of The Bread Bible.  The lovely golden, tasty loaf of bread transported her back to fancy Italian restaurants where waiters whisked away bread crumbs off the table with their silver scrapers.  Sitting on the back deck with horses just off in the distance, not a snooty waiter to be found.  Just glorious and delicious homemade bread straight from the hearth.

Michele was the only one who made the Velvety Buckwheat Loaf variation since she's made the Basic Hearth Bread more times than she can remember.  It was the word "velvety" that intrigued her and rightly so.  The pre-ferment includes sour cream which she feels contributed to the velvety texture. Michele has become quite adept with slashing the top of the dough and this bread rewarded her with perfect oven spring, opening up the deep cuts.  She describes the flavor as similar to pumpernickel but without the prominent rye flavor in darker breads.  While this bread was a picture perfect success, Michele prefers the flavor of the Basic Hearth bread.  Bonus points Michele, for trying something new!

Nancy chose to bake the classic loaf shape for her Basic Hearth Bread, thinking ahead to the versatility of the shape.  She got tricked again by the dry ingredient step, forgetting to hold back the salt until after the first ferment but no harm, no foul!  And here is where Nancy's expertise really comes into play; noticing the dough was a little dry and not sticking slightly to the bowl as Rose describes, she sprayed water right into the mixing bowl.  Genius!   Her bread turned out lovely in the loaf pan but she is going to figure out the correct amounts of ingredients for her size of loaf pan.  Keep us posted, Nancy.  We probably all have an odd sized loaf pan or two. 

Kristina takes multi-task baking to a new height; she baked two different kinds of pies and The Basic Hearth Bread overlapping a two day period.    Kristina, who starts off saying "Pretty straight forward. Grind the wheat".  This is just too charming for words!  Only an Alpha Baker would include grinding one's own wheat as straight forward.  And since it has a bit of honey in the recipe, well wouldn't it be wonderful if she had her own bee hive now, too?  If anyone can successfully raise bees, it will be Kristina.  Go have a look at the posted link on her site for the snazziest bee hive ever.  Her dough bubbled up nicely and mixed together well but she forgot a step with her baguette pans, which is a rare occurrence for Kristina.  She can make bread in her sleep.  The bread stuck a bit to the pan but really, with this wonderfully flavored fresh bread covered with fresh tomatoes, who could fault such delicious crostinis for missing a few crumbs? 

There comes that defining moment in a new bread baker's life when it just all clicks together.  The Basic Hearth Bread was that moment for Vicki.  Not growing up in a bread baking family, yeast was a foreign thing.   This dough is the first bread dough where the "feel" started to all make sense.  Pretty amazing but that just goes to show what a great guide The Bread Bible is.  This bread won rave reviews and didn't last nearly long enough.  It made great sandwiches and morning toast with tea.  

Hooray for Catherine !  She had success with elusive oven spring.  Even while not feeling well,  mixing the dough together for Basic Hearth bread was simple enough that she could manage it.  Trying a suggestion of not letting the dough rise too much during the final proof, she gave it a good slash, popped it in the oven and Voila!  Oven spring as evidenced by the opening of the slashes during baking.  Just look at that loaf of this exquisite bread! And then on to slathering a toasted slice with Vegemite!  We in the U.S. pretty much heard of Vegemite from lyrics of the  popular song Land Down Under by Men At Work.  Catchy tune that! 

To date, our little gaggle of bread bakers have collectively baked sixty-six loaves of bread!  

Beer Bread Round Up

Catherine's perfectly golden Beer Bread

Rose describes her beer bread as having a non-beery flavor but an essential ingredient as dark beer gives this bread a "soft texture, subtle mellow flavor, mahogany crust, and dark golden crumb". 

Let's see how the Alpha Bakers fared with Beer Bread.

Peggy declares this to be "a very easy bread to make".  The biggest decision was which beer to use; Kilkenny Irish Beer won out.  Peggy's husband described it as half-light-half-dark.   Beer gives Faithy hives so she didn't dare but have a wee sip for taste testing.  She thew in a bit of sour dough for  more flavor.  Shaped into two boules,  they baked into  "quite flavorful and nice bread".   Peggy prefers the interior of bread, leaving the crust behind but is forcing herself to savor the chewy outside.  There is actually a word in Italian for those that prefer the interior of bread and those that prefer the outer crust, leaving the soft middle behind.  On your next trip to Italy, you'll be in good company, Peggy!  When in Rome....

Oven spring, where are you?  Catherine is calling your name and evidently so are a lot of other bakers.  After googling Why why why no oven spring? she found many kindred spirits united to lament their frustration at the lack of "spring" ie the rising of dough during the first ten minutes of baking, making for a lovely texture and crumb.  Catherine advises they might also consider therapy!  She ended up liking this bread, it was "dense and soft with a nice crumb", pretty much Q & E in a bread sense and great company for hearty soups and stew.  She used a pale ale made in her home town of Adelaide, which was mild enough for sipping leftovers. It may not have sprung to Catherine's dream height but it was an absolutely perfect golden loaf of bread. 

Kim has been looking forward to baking the Beer Bread since the beginning of the Alpha Bakers start up.  In her beautiful bowl she got to work, eager to see how beer would affect the bread.  She first found the dough sticky and unpleasant, but after a twenty minute rest it was smooth, and even more so after five minutes of kneading.  As Kim stretched the dough forming a perfect boule, she noticed a gluten skin formed over the top.  The more she stretched, the tighter it became and to her surprise, never broke.  She opted for a tricky spiral slash design.  The texture and crumb were nice and even, toasting up beautifully.  

Jeniffer proclaims this the best adult bread to "serve for BBQ entertaining, served with equally strong flavours;  spiced burgers, mushrooms bitey cheese, roasted capsicum dip and the like".
She also found a video of Rose actually making the Beer Bread and linked it on her site.
Cooper's Best Extra Stout from an Australian Brewery made its way into Jeniffer's bread, by way of recommendation from Catherine. Perhaps the most adorable memory this Beer Bread evoked was the robust flavour reminded Jeniffer of her mother, who always loved a high tea on one hand but partook if the opportunity arose, to share in a ploughman's lunch-no cutlery, rip apart bread, suck down a pickled onion and wash it all down with beer.  Doesn't she sound delightful and loads of fun?  Jeniffer, you must have been the envy of your teenage friends!  Her suggestion of topping the Beer Bread with hummus and spiced marinated pine nuts sounds delicious.

Kristina enjoys bread baking but observes there is not a lot of visual interest but one thing that is exciting, is the opportunity to bring out her deluxe flour mill.  Kristina grinds the most beautiful flour from wonderful selections of grains.  Jay, her husband, chose Old North Mocha Porter from Ontario.  She also pointed out that Rose bakes this bread a lot but uses water since her husband doe not care for beer.-the beer-less beer bread.  Good tip!  Kristina chose the lantern slash for her design and enjoyed slicing off a piece from the baked loaf, slathering it with softened butter from her butter bell,   all the while sitting on the counter while her husband made dinner.  Fair exchange for fresh Beer Bread.

Nancy baked the Beer Bread at the beginning of August and blogged about it at the end of September.  Nancy is quite the traveler, off to exciting places and still manages a full work schedule.  She remembers choosing Guinness and that the bread rose enthusiastically.  Nancy prefers the mixer method and with all the successful loaves of bread she has made, she has this bread thing down pat.  Claiming this to be a good tasting bread, a bit extra yeasty from the beer, it had a nice amount of "chew".  The picture on her blog show an amazing interior texture and crumb with beautiful height. 

Root-Beer Beer Bread.  Elle and Vicki made this bread together while under the same roof.  Neither being one for beer,  the perfect solution was beer that professed to taste exactly like root-beer.  Indeed it did;  both smelling and tasting like root-beer with nearly 6% alcohol content.  We found the dough easy to mix up with the Kitchen Aid mixer.  It was watched like a hawk for over browning.  The dark caramel root-beer gave the bread a lovely deep golden color and faintly sweet flavor, perfect with cream cheese and jams. 

Seven loaves of Beer Bread made with seven different beers and all excellent outcomes.  Another bread baking success!

Prosciutto Ring Round Up

Kristina's Prosciutto Ring with balsamic vinegar from Italy and olive oil 

Rose never dreamed she would have recipe in hand for the Prosciutto Ring from her neighborhood bakery, Zito's.  Luckily,  one of the owner's sons described the making of the bread in perfect detail, enabling Rose to recreate this flavorful, simple bread.

Kristina coined it best when she said "This is another one of those recipes that I would never try making if it weren't for a bake-through project like this, so I'm glad I signed up for this group."
Making this bread transported her back to Italy where she toured a prosciutto producer's facility in Modena. Kristina even used malt syrup.  Her husband Jay pulled out the authentic balsamic vinegar they had been saving from Italy and while happily dipping warm bread in oil and vinegar, savored their wonderful memories.   Kristina also points out that she would not have nearly as much experience baking different things if it weren't for the past five, six years of baking through Rose's Heavenly Cakes, The Baking Bible, and now The Bread Bible, which have been "like taking a series of classes from a master chef".  I think you summed it up perfectly for all of us, Kristina.   Mangiamo!

Nancy was caught in a bit of a muddle while going over the recipe, noticing there was no mention of lard in the ingredients in her book yet lard was mentioned in the anecdote heading.  Once again, the Facebook Bread Bible Bakers site solved the mystery.  Nancy has one of the earliest copies of the book before Rose revised the recipe which doubled the meat quantity.  Nancy resourcefully substituted bacon fat for the lard and spicy Spanish-style chorizo for soppressata,resulting in a wonderfully tasty bread for supper.  We are so glad Nancy is baking bread with us and her family next door is probably more so!

"A coarse, rustic bread just waiting to be ripped apart" is how Jeniffer said it best when describing her first bake with The Bread Bible Alpha Bakers.  With her photograph of a charming antipasto platter, the Prosciutto Loaf got star billing. Jeniffer comes by way of talented genes; her grandfather and uncle were master bakers with their own bakery in the northern suburbs of Melbourne.  Her great uncle lectured at the culinary university in Melbourne, particularly on wheat production. Jeniffer has carried on the family tradition with fabulous baked creations that honestly look like works of art.  Read her bio for the subjects she studied during her technical school years, quite impressive. Jeniffer rolled up her sleeves and rendered wet bacon fat into lard for this loaf.  Prosciutto, salami and bacon rounded out her  bread into a substantial, meaty ring. She has excellent suggestions of using leftover Christmas ham to make a loaf for Boxing Day, and delicious vegetarian ideas. 

Peggy loved the crackly black pepper bits and along with her family, couldn't stop eating the flavorful Prosciutto Ring. In fact they finished it in under one day.  Peggy bought spicy Sopressa but decided to use salami and bacon with the prosciutto, opting for bacon oil instead of lard. She also added some leftover sour dough to the mix.  All in all, this made for a successful loaf of very tasty bread. 

"Meat, meat, glorious meat" exclaimed Catherine in describing her Prosciutto Ring.  The dough, with the pink combination of meats at first did not look  promising, but once baked "melded into deliciously savoury.flavour".  Incredibly easy to make in the stand mixer and fast to rise,  the texture was wonderful and not doughy, as one might expect, even with her "It'll do principal" which she suspects is foreign to Rose!.   All in all, a big success. 

Kim loved the perfume of the prosciutto against the fullness of the spicy, black pepper off set by the salty cure.  The dough was mixed together in a very special bowl, a gift from her mother; a huge beauty weighing in at nearly eleven pounds and seventeen inches in diameter.  The bread crumb turned out perfectly and more than justified the bowl's  rightful place in Kim's kitchen.   She found the delicious bread more mellow the next day, with the soft crumb and chewy crust which Kim found to  perfectly compliment a bottle of red wine.

Michele knighted her ring St Thomas's Bread, since she baked it on the feast day of St Thomas the Apostle, without prosciutto.   Michele has baked weekly out of The Bread Bible for many years yet this was one recipe that she had not baked before.  Joining up with the Alpha Bread Bakers, the opportunity came early to tackle the Prosciutto Ring.  She substituted capocollo for prosciutto, which is a traditional Italian pork cold cut.  The lard lent a silky feel to the dough, even if not highly recommended for cardiac rehab patients.   Michele's ring of rising dough was perhaps the most classy to date; under an exquisite crystal cake dome.  Brushed with bacon fat and baked to perfection, Michele declared the ring of bread crusty, fragrant and delicious served with shaved slices of Gruyere cheese. So one more in Michele's repertoire, which is why she loves the Alpha Bakers!

Elle aptly described the Prosciutto Ring as stuffed full of three kinds of meaty goodness, plus lard and bacon fat (or butter) for good measure. The catch is, as a vegetarian, this wasn't something to taste-test. Luckily she has a built in appreciative audience with her husband's co-workers so all was well.  The unseasonably high temperatures turned her kitchen into the ideal proofing box. The meat sprinkled dough resembled fun confetti and the leftover bits were eagerly consumed from a less than patient canine sous chef.   The warm bread reminded her husband and teenage daughter's friend like pizza without sauce.  They suggested a hearty marinara for dipping on the side.. She found the bread so easy to make and it smelled wonderful, which is saying something for a vegetarian! 

Like Nancy, Vicki's book was a case of the missing lard.  With the same early edition, the recipe was slightly different than the revised edition, but this suited a vegetarian just fine!  With the lesser amount of called for proscuitto and no other meat, it would be easy to taste test a crumb here and there, especially using butter instead of bacon fat.  The addition of olive oil rather than lard made for a light and fluffy dough, with the faintest hint of olive oil flavor.  A fan of black pepper, the flavor shines through in the savory bread.  It was very well received among the Italian inlaws. 

All in all, the Prosciutto Ring was a resounding success for all who baked Rose's favorite neighborhood bakery's bread.

And finally, a big resounding thank you to Glori.  I don't think there is anything more frustrating than having an idea which is near and dear to one's heart yet lacking the expertise to execute it.  Glori took my original idea of starting this Alpha Bread Bakers group and brought it to life with her exceptional technical skills.  Not only did she set up this beautiful site but also carried the load of writing clever  Round Ups.  . 

 Life is full for Glori and she has stepped down from carrying the technical side of things but her founding efforts will be endlessly appreciated.  I was hopeful perhaps three of us would bake bread together but we have quite a nice group now.  We have a gathering place where we can enjoy the baking and breaking of bread together for many days to come.   A place to encourage, inspire and applaud our yeasty efforts.  Thank you Glori.  -Vicki