A white bread with mahleb

dsc00601

I made another loaf of bread – a white bread from Beth Hensperger’s “Bread Made Easy” book. And it was the prettiest loaf I have ever made. I fiddled with Ms. Hensperger’s recipe a little by throwing in some mahleb. Mahleb is the pit of the sour cherry. Once crushed, it’s often thrown in to Greek breads (things I learn from our very own Asano-mama). Anyway, I finally bought a small jar of mahleb from Penzeys in December and decided “what the heck – let’s throw it in.” Now, I don’t know if mahleb is easily obtained at a store in ground form. Penzeys leaves their product in the pit form. After some googling, the recommendation is to crush only as necessary and to store the mahleb in the freezer, because, like nuts, it can go rancid. Mahleb is pretty easy to crush with a mortar and pestle, so it’s not particularly inconvenient.

It was a fun experiment. However, since I’ve never made this particular white bread before, I had nothing to compare my results with. This is a repeat occurrence in my life – experimenting without a controlled result.

Adapted from the milk bread master recipe in Bread Made Easy by Beth Hensperger.

one standard size bread loaf pan
3 to 3.5 cups of all-purpose or bread flour
1 Tbsp sugar (I always cook with cane sugar these days)
1 tsp instant yeast
1 tsp salt
1 cup warm milk
1/8 cup boiling water
1 1/2 Tbsp of mild olive oil (this is the same as 4 1/2 tsp)
1 1/2 tsp crushed mahleb (if you can’t find it, skip it)
1 egg mixed with 1Tbsp milk for glaze (optional – I didn’t bother with it)

Start by mixing 2 cups of flour with the sugar, yeast and salt in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, mix the milk, boiling water and the oil (this should not be above 125F – it should feel hot to the touch… then again if you’re me and you forgot to warm the milk before mixing all of the wet ingredients, do your best to warm the mixture as best as possible and don’t worry that you’ve ruined it).

Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients, and start incorporating the wet ingredients. Once this is well mixed, add the remaining flour until it becomes a stiff, shaggy dough that is clearing the sides of the mixing bowl. Move the dough onto a clean counter, and knead for 5-8 minutes, adding flour only as needed to stop the dough from sticking to everything.

Let this rise until double in bulk in a greased container. If your kitchen is cold like mine is (hello! I live in New England and it’s winter here!), don’t worry if the dough takes more than 2 hours to rise. Yeast loves temperatures at around 80F – any hotter and you risk killing your yeast, but any colder and the yeast just takes longer to do its stuff.

Grease your bread loaf pan. When the dough is ready, turn it out onto the counter. The dough will softly deflate, don’t worry about punch your dough down. Cut the dough into half. With each half, roll the dough with your palms until you have a log about 10 inches long. Wrap the dough logs around each other for a twisted effect. Place this in your pan and left rise until double in bulk (the dough will probably rise to about an inch or so over the pan rim).

Bake at 375F for about 40 minutes. You want a nice brown color to the crust and it should sound hollow if you knock on it. Remove the loaf carefully from the bread pan when done, and let the loaf cool on a wire rack.

~ Mikan

dsc00590

Advertisements

invasion of the SAF yeast

Just in case anyone is curious, I only use SAF instant yeast when I make my doughs. And I’ve been making a lot of doughs lately. Sorry I couldn’t come up with a wittier title.

Anyway!

So, challah #2 wasn’t all that special to me. Challah #1 was courtesy of Beth Hensperger’s book “Bread Made Easy” while challah #2 was from http://steamykitchen.com/blog/2008/01/13/challah/, and if you get the chance to look at the ingredients, they aren’t all that different. It was, if I recall, a difference in the amounts of fat being used. The No-Knead Challah was mild in comparison to Ms. Hensperger’s, and Asano-mama and I agreed that challah #1 was tastier. And honestly, I don’t mind a little kneading.

There’s only one photo of challah #2… mostly because it looked uglier than challah #1. Also, I realized after the fact that I think I braid my breads backwards from the traditional braid. haha!

dsc00538

At that same time, I had another yeast experiment going. I decided to make Chef John’s No Knead Pizza dough ( see http://foodwishes.blogspot.com/2008/12/no-knead-mania-makes-previously-posted.html). It’s a solid recipe, and I think my permanent way of acquiring pizza dough. Yeah, it only costs maybe a dollar at my market, but I feel more accomplished if I make it on my own (plus, I’ve been hearing that slow fermentation has better nutritional qualities, but I haven’t researched that yet). It does require a whole day to rise, especially in my cold New England kitchen, but it’s not that hard to think “Geez, I want pizza for dinner tomorrow – Let me make a batch of pizza dough.”

If you follow Chef John’s instructions, you end up with four individual pizza crust servings. He means thin crust. I prefer to think of it as two servings to make a thicker crust. At that point, I’m not sure if I could eat a whole pizza on my own (that’s a bit of dough!), but your mileage may vary.

pizza dough

pizza dough

As for toppings on the first pizza that I’ve ever made from scratch, I used tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, jack cheese, and slices of red bell pepper. It was beautiful, it was perfect, and I devoured it all in twenty minutes.

red pepper pizza

red pepper pizza

But that wasn’t the end to my madness. Baking means a warm kitchen during the winter, so I baked some more.

This time, I went back to my trusty “Bread Made Easy” book, and picked out a recipe for a holiday sweet bread. The recipe makes two loaves, one of which I left plain and the other I put in dried figs. I had also replaced the orange extract with almond extract, which I couldn’t tell in the end because it was too subtle compared to the flavor of butter.

plain on the left, figs on the right

plain on the left, figs on the right

The plain loaf was a gift for a co-worker, so I only have pictures of the fig loaf sliced.

dsc00560

Sel de la Terre has an amazing fig loaf, but it’s not so sweet and they use fresh figs. While my fig loaf was good, I really wanted the Sel de la Terre version. I guess it’s something I need to further work on.

The last bread I made was an experimental red pepper hummus bread. Again, my recipe was courtesy of the Foodwishes video blog (http://foodwishes.blogspot.com/2008/11/holiday-pumpkin-bread-you-want-it-but.html). All I did was replace the amount of pumpkin with an equal amount of red pepper hummus. There was a little bit of kneading involved because I was having trouble getting the dough to come together with just a mixing spoon. I also doubled the yeast so that I could make it all in one day.

Overall, I’d say it was pretty successful… except the part where I seemed to have burnt half of my bread. That was embarrassing! After five loaves of bread, I finally messed up. And this bread was meant for a party too. I probably would have presented my slightly burnt loaf if it weren’t for the fact that the party was for a dear friend of mine, nickname “oh cake”, who is currently a culinary student. There was no way that I could place my ugly loaf next to her lovely food presentations! XD

(“oh cake” is currently blogging about her time in culinary school if anyone is interested –> http://oh-cake.livejournal.com/)

Despite my red pepper hummus bread being ugly, it photographed rather well.

dsc00587

dsc00584

dsc00582

So, that’s been the bread adventure so far. I think I am experimenting with mahleb in my bread tomorrow. Tonight, the plan is to make some roasted veggie soup.

If anyone wants either the challah or the holiday bread recipe for Beth Hensperger, please comment. I’d post it now, but my book is on the other side of the room from me and I’m currently hiding in a sleeping bag for warmth.

~ Mikan