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Archive for the ‘BBA Challenge’ Category

I’ve completed the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge. This is a big deal for numerous reasons. First and foremost, there was always a small part of me that thought I would give up before reaching the end. I even flirted with the idea of skipping the sourdough recipes after having so much trouble cultivating my own wild yeast. But, surprisingly, I persisted. I started the challenge on September 13, 2009 and finished on March 4, 2011. One and a half years, and 43 breads. In September 2009, Michael and I had just moved into our apartment in Montclair. I was still working part-time. Now, we’re married, have been in our house for almost a year, and I have a great full-time job. A lot has changed in a relatively short amount of time and, in addition to all of the major life events, I’ve also become a more accomplished baker in the process.

Below is the full list of breads in the BBA Challenge. I’ve starred my favorites that I’ll definitely make again. The majority of my failed breads came towards the end when I was making the sourdough rye varieties. The only failure that I would like to try again would be the English muffins. They weren’t terribly challenging to make, so I think if I went back and used my cumulative knowledge and skills, they’d come out better the second time around.

Now that I don’t have a list of breads to power through any more, I’m going to have to fill that void with a new project. I’d like to stick with the baking theme, but I definitely need a break from breads for at least a little while. If anyone has any suggestions for a new challenge, please feel free to let me know.

This is it: the last bread of the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge. I did it! And, the challenge definitely ended on a high note, too.

This bread was one of the most complex in terms of preparation. It took three days to make, and the commentary section in the book cautioned bakers to plan accordingly to avoid stressing during the prep (I’m paraphrasing, but it really did give a word of warning). On Day 1 (Friday), I made the starter using barm, water, and 2 1/2 cups of flour. I let it ferment for 8 hours, but it still wasn’t as bubbly as it needed to be. The book said that, if this was the case, I was to leave it out at room temperature overnight, which I did. The next morning, it was nice and bubbly.

On Day 2 (Saturday), I made the dough. But, before I made the dough I had to roast some onions. I chopped a large onion, tossed it with salt, pepper, and olive oil, and roasted it at 500° for about 20 minutes, tossing the slices every 4 minutes or so. While the onions were roasting, I chopped a 1/2 cup of fresh scallions and chives and grated 3 1/2 cups of Asiago cheese. Finally, I had my mise en place together (onions not pictured).

To make the dough, I combined the starter with an additional SEVEN CUPS of flour! I knew that this was going to make an obscene amount of bread, but I didn’t want to halve the last recipe in the book, so I just went for it. [Side note: remember (well, you may not) when I made Polaine-style Miche, and I said I was too lazy to find out what “miche” meant? Well, it turns out that it’s French for, basically, a big loaf of bread. Had I learned that a couple of weeks ago, perhaps I wouldn’t have been so surprised by the huge amount of flour in this recipe!] Anyway, this is what the starter looks like when I pour it out of the bowl.

After mixing the starter, water, and flour together, I added what seemed like a ton (3 tbs) of olive oil. The dough was very oily and I started to get a little worried. But, after adding the scallions, chives, and half of the shredded cheese, it all incorporated nicely and the texture of the dough was fine. I kneaded the dough for about five minutes and then let it rise for two hours. Again, I got a fantastic rise. Take that, sourdough rye breads!

After the rise, I divided the dough, formed it into two boules, and put them in the refrigerator overnight. I was shocked at how much they continued to expand, just after another couple of hours, even in the fridge!

On Day 3 (Sunday), I took the loaves out and let them sit for about an hour to get up to room temperature. They were pretty giant.

I proceeded to brush them with olive oil and then made a whole bunch of dimples with my fingers (that was fun!). Then, I sprinkled on the other half of the Asiago, and then topped that with the roasted onions. Please enjoy this photo progression:

Since they were so big, I had to bake the loaves one at a time. They baked at 450° for about 40 minutes, with one pan rotation in between. I hovered over the oven pretty much the whole time, watching the progress and making sure that nothing was burning. I was so close to the end, I wanted to make sure there weren’t going to be any last-minute problems. Luckily, they came out looking amazing. Since it was the last bread, I used our fancy dishes to take glamour shots!

This bread is heavenly. How can you go wrong with baked cheese and roasted onions? Answer: you can’t.

So, that’s it. The last bread. I’m still in a state of disbelief. Check back soon for a post on my final thoughts, as well as a comprehensive list of all of the BBA breads.

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This is the second-to-last bread of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge. I knew there was a reason why the last two breads were out of alphabetical order and in their own little special section at the end of the book. It’s because they’re awesome, and this is largely due to the fact that they are filled (or topped) with cheese. I made the torpedoes last week and was very pleased with the end result.

Even though it was only last week, it feels like last month. As a result, I don’t remember much about the actual process. The thing I do remember about that day was that I was doing about 13 other things while simultaneously working on this bread, so there aren’t many photos to jog my memory, either. I’m pretty sure that I started out by making a starter the night before, most likely using barm, flour, and water. The next morning, I started by boiling a couple of potatoes. Once they were cooled, I made the dough by combining the starter with additional flour, yeast, potatoes, and some of the potato water. After mixing, I let it sit for 30 minutes and then added the remaining flour, salt, and fresh chives. After kneading, it was time to let it rise. It was supposed to rise for 90 minutes, so I went out to run some errands. By the time I got back, the dough had been sitting out for probably an extra half hour, but in my absence it had gone completely nuts. Luckily, Michael was home, so he put a roasting pan under the bowl. He called me to alert me of the situation, but I didn’t have my phone on me. I was quite pleased with how he handled the situation.

After removing this strange dough creation from its bowl, I divided it and formed two rectangles. I then arranged some cheddar cheese across the top and rolled it up. I let the loaves proof for another hour, then scored them across the top and put them in the oven.

When they were done baking, they looked like this:

They looked and smelled great, but I was a little concerned about the crust. When I tapped the top of the loaves, they were very spongy, and not crusty at all. I thought this could be a sign that I had underbaked again. I was also concerned about how the cheese had settled and melted once I rolled up the loaves. I was worried that there would just be a giant reservoir of cheese in the middle of the bread when I sliced it. But…

…they were perfectly baked and, as it turns out, the cheese was expertly rolled! I think the sponginess of the crust can be attributed to the fact that there are potatoes in the dough. That’s my theory, and I’m too lazy to look into it any further, so I’m just going to go with it. Anyway, this bread tasted very good. Nice and spongy from the potatoes (?), a hint of chives, and who doesn’t like cheddar cheese? This bread is time-consuming but worth it.

The next and LAST bread is Roasted Onion and Asiago Miche…expect a post on that soon!

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I bungled another bread. But it wasn’t my fault this time, I swear. I was excited about this bread and really gave it my all: I painstakingly sliced thin layers of orange peel and let it dry out overnight. I bought anise seeds AND fennel seeds (even though I later realized that we already had fennel seeds—rats!). Most importantly, I bought cardamom, a spice that I have actively avoided for years. Every once in a while, recipes here and there will call for 1/4 teaspoon or some other very small amount of cardamom, and I always omitted it because I didn’t think it warranted a purchase. Mostly because a jar of it costs $10. So, I decided to bite the bullet, and between my spices and a new bag of flour, I spent a grand total of $21 on this bread. You can imagine my frustration when it did not come out as planned.

The night before baking, I had to make a starter, which was very involved. I had to boil water and molasses, then add all of the spices, along with some barm and rye flour. Once that was mixed, I let it sit for four hours until it got nice and bubbly, then I put it in the fridge overnight. The next day, I combined the starter with some bread flour, salt, instant yeast, and vegetable oil…pictured below.

I let the mixer go to town on it for a couple of minutes, but the second I took it out and started to knead it, I knew something was terribly wrong. The dough was insanely dense. I have no idea why. I followed the instructions to a T, but it seemed like the second I combined the starter with the flour, there was a strange reaction that made the dough totally unworkable. It also felt like it weighed about eight pounds. I decided to press on anyway, so I oiled a bowl and let it rise. It was supposed to double in size in two hours. I had absolutely no rise in that amount of time, so I let it sit around for a total of five hours. There was a small rise, but I knew that it was still going to be a disaster.

After the rise, I divided it and shaped the dough into two “batards,” or torpedoes. I let those sit out for about two hours and then put them in the oven. As you might expect, the loaves looked and smelled nice, but the texture left much to be desired. It was very dense and gummy.

These rye breads sure have been challenging. Hopefully I’ll be able to redeem myself tomorrow with the Potato, Cheddar, & Chive Torpedoes.

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Unfortunately, in my last blog post, I miscounted the number of breads I had left. While I thought I had three, I actually had four. With the Sunflower Seed Rye under my belt, I NOW have three to go. The one I forgot about is Swedish Rye. Since I have the day off today, I thought it would be a great opportunity to bake another loaf, but when I read over the recipe last night, it turned out to be way more complex than I thought. It calls for things like dried orange peel (I already foresee problems procuring this item), anise, ground fennel, and cardamom. This bread sounds pretty aromatic and lovely, but definitely requires a trip to the store, which is why I’m sitting here today writing about it rather than baking it. Hopefully I’ll be able to get to it this weekend. Anyway, back to the bread at hand.

To make the Sunflower Seed Rye, I made a firm starter (barm + flower + water) and a soaker (pumpernickel flour + water) the night before. The next morning, I combined them with bread flour, salt, and instant yeast. Once everything was incorporated, I kneaded some sunflower seeds into the dough and then let it rise for 90 minutes.

After the rise, I divided the dough and shaped them into “couronnes.” I always get a little nervous when trying out new shaping methods, but I thought my loaves came out pretty similar to the ones in the book.

After letting them proof for another 90 minutes, they went into the oven. Here’s when I had a slight problem. The book instructed me to let the loaves proof on parchment paper that had been sprayed with oil. When it came to the baking part, it said to bake them directly on the sheet pan. Why it would have me go to the trouble to have them proof on parchment paper and then slide them—potentially screwing up their shape—onto another pan? It didn’t seem logical to me, so I just left them on the parchment to bake.

About 10 minutes in, Michael came into the kitchen and said, “Is something burning?” to which I replied, “Eh, it’s probably just something burning off of the oven.” A few minutes later, I noticed (thankfully I was alone at this point) that the kitchen seemed to be quickly filling with smoke. I opened the door to the oven, only to find smoke billowing out of it at an alarming rate. I pulled out the baking sheets to find the edges of the parchment paper black and smoldering. Luckily, there were no flames. I quickly disposed of the paper (while twice having to run to the doorway to fan the smoke detector, which kept going off) and slid the loaves back on to the pans. Lesson learned: do not oil parchment paper!!

Luckily, the breads were only minimally harmed. Because I was in such a rush to get them back into the oven (and avoid burning down my house), I didn’t sprinkle corn meal on the pans like I usually do. I believe this was what caused the bottoms of the loaves to become very dark and crispy…but not quite burned. Phew!

This bread tastes pretty good. It has a mild rye flavor and is nice and spongy. The sunflower seeds are a nice touch, and this is coming from a person who hates chunks of grain in bread. The shape of the loaf is a bit odd, so the bread can’t really be used for sandwiches. But, it’s still great toasted with PB & J…like so many breads that have come before it.

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I ONLY HAVE THREE MORE BREADS TO GO! This is getting exciting! The best thing is that I’ll have time to bake another bread next weekend, and then we will be down to the last two, which seem like they are going to be fun and delicious (Potato, Cheddar, & Chive Torpedos and Roasted Onion & Asiago Miche). Anyway, this past weekend I made Pumpernickel bread.

I really didn’t want to cut any corners on my last two sourdough rye breads, but I sort of had to. The recipe calls for pumpernickel flour, but I could not find it anywhere. Even after calling the local Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, I still came up with nothing. I wound up ordering some on Amazon the night before mkaing the bread, but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to bake on a weekend where I actually had a decent amount of free time. So, next week’s Sunflower Seed Rye will contain its required amount of pumpernickel flour…but the actual pumpernickel bread, not so much. Anyway:

This bread called for a rye starter (barm + rye flour + water) to be made the night before. The next day, I combined the starter with bread flour, brown sugar, cocoa powder, salt, instant yeast, and vegetable oil. After kneading, I let it rise for two hours. I didn’t get a huge rise, but I had to leave the house by 3:30 that day. Since I was in something of a time crunch, I didn’t give it any extra time. In the first photo, you will see the ingredients used to make homemade oreos, which I worked on as the dough was doing its thing.

After the first rise, I divided the dough into two boules. I was a little surprised by how small they were, especially since there was supposed to be enough to fill two loaf pans, which I would have never been able to do. Maybe they would have been a little bigger if I had let them rise a bit more. Either way, this is how they looked after proofing for an additional hour and a half. I then baked them at 400° for about 30 minutes.

Hooray! Not burned!

The crust is nice and soft, and the bread smelled great when it came out of the oven—I’m thinking it had to do with the small addition of cocoa. Obviously, it doesn’t have the strongest pumpernickel flavor, but it definitely tastes like it belongs in the rye family.

In other news, HOMEMADE OREOS. These things are great. I got the recipe from smitten kitchen. They were relatively easy to make, albeit a bit time consuming. The recipe yields approximately 25-30 sandwiches, which means I had to bake about 60 individual cookies. It would have been a lot easier if I baked two cookie sheets at a time, but one of my pans is too big for that, so I stuck with one at a time. That said, I still had them completed in roughly two hours—right in that chunk of time that the pumpernickel needed for the first rise.

The recipe for the cream calls for vegetable shortening, which I usually never use, but I made an exception this time. If I had substituted it with additional butter, I would have essentially made buttercream icing. I have to say, the shortening gives the cream that certain…je ne sais quoi. You know how the cream in a professional Oreo sort of lingers on the roof of your mouth for a few seconds? I guess that’s the shortening.

Onward and upward to Sunflower Seed Rye.

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What a colossal failure.

First thing’s first: I still do not know what “Poilâne Style Miche” even is. I didn’t read the blurb in the cookbook. All I know is that it contains a sourdough starter, water, salt, and sifted whole wheat flour. The loaf was supposed to be gigantic as it called for SEVEN cups of flour. That’s basically double the size of an average recipe, which normally yields two loaves. I didn’t want to use that much flour or be left with that big a loaf, so I decided to halve the recipe.

This bread was an all-day process. All the more reason to NOT ruin it. At 11am, I combined the starter (made the night before), flour, salt, and water. After kneading, it proofed for four hours. At 3pm, I formed it into a boule and it proofed again for, well, what should have been 3 hours but turned into four. The schedule was thrown off by my first-ever attempt at roasting a chicken. The chicken was edible in the end but that experience was a fiasco in itself. In the words of Vince Vaughn from Wedding Crashers, “I don’t want to get into what happened last night, ’cause it’s only gonna make me mad.” So, back to the bread.

It actually looked pretty good before I put it in the oven at 7:30. I let it bake for 25 minutes, then rotated the pan at 7:55. It was supposed to bake for another 30-40 minutes, but it looked like it was pretty close to done, so I only planned on leaving it in for 15-20 more minutes. It’s easy enough to remember to check the bread at 8:15, right? No need for the microwave timer, right?

I settled down onto the couch after an incredibly long day of Suzie Homemaker-type productivity (roast chicken notwithstanding) and Michael and I started watching this comedian, Sebastian Maniscalco, on a Showtime special. He turned out to be pretty funny, and before I knew it, it was 8:45. SHIT. I ran to the kitchen, but the damage had already been done. The bottom of the bread was totally burned. The top would have been pretty burned too, had I not decided to tent it with foil after the first 25 minutes. Regardless, it was terrible. I guess the worst part is that it’s the bread from the cover of the book. Looks the same, right? WRONG. I tasted some this morning, and even after scraping off the charred bottom, it doesn’t taste that good.

This bread is pretty much an exact replica of the bread from About a Boy, which Marcus throws into a pond and winds up killing a duck. If I lived near a pond, that’s where my bread would end up too.

So, what have we (read: I) learned from this experience? ALWAYS USE A TIMER. I guess even the best of us can get distracted (note: I am far from the best).

Pumpernickel next.

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