L et's start with the obvious confession: I'm off my game. Way off my game. So far off that I don't even have a razor blade in the house to make a decent slash in an unbaked loaf of bread. Look at that picture! <hangs head in shame..>
Seriously, it has been almost five weeks of one handed cooking, baking, driving, and sitting on the couch with a good book (no, not that book, I'm swiping theKid's copy this weekend) — although, truth be told, there's been a lot more sitting on the couch and than cooking and there's been virtually no baking. (In fact, I'm back to using speech recognition for my writing, and in its usual slightly ironic take on reality it just wrote "virtually no drinking" instead of "virtually no baking" and that's just wrong, because there has been drinking.)
On the one hand, taking a break from a common, almost daily, activity is a sure way to remind you that absence truly does make the heart grow fonder. And it's been very easy to restrain myself from rushing into the kitchen because I usually have a pound or so of neoprene, Velcro, d-rings and let's not forget those lovely pieces of metal strapped to my wrist as a reminder of what I'm not supposed to be doing. Plus, pain as a backup reminder.
So when my copy of Daniel Leader's Local Breads: Sourdough and Whole-Grain Recipes from Europe's Best Artisan Bakers arrived I was conflicted, some might say of two minds. (others might say I'm always a bit schizophrenic so two minds is a slow day inside my head... but I digress.)
Local Breads: a mini review
Leader's journey across Europe in search of local bread specialties opens with a brief primer on ingredients, followed by a walk through of the stages of baking bread. A chapter on sourdough and other starters is followed by a collection of frequently asked questions about bread baking. These are particularly useful for beginning bakers who may be unfamiliar with the science of baking bread.
Each of the nine regional chapters opens with a bit of context, history, and local color as Leader invites you along on his quest for the taste of each place—the terroir, if bread can be said to have such. (I am enchanted by his description of Amos DeCarlo's dream-inspired Ferris wheel for biga!) Leader examines what sets apart one area's bread from another, and then offers some general advice about how to reproduce a particular type of bread, including things like how to blend flour to approximate European flours not commonly available here in the states. After the recipes, a brief FAQ about that collection of bread recipes wraps up each chapter.
Information about tools and techniques, such as instructions on shaping loaves, are accompanied by lovely sketches, which add an appropriately artisan charm to the book. The photographs, while straightforward and simple, actually show what the bread should look like rather than how esoterically artistic the photographer could get. I kind of like that.
On the downside, there are some inconsistencies in measurements that leave me wondering. In a single recipe, this recipe in fact, 1/3 of a cup of water weighs either 2.3 ounces or 2.6. (It's 2.66) I suspect this is due to Leader's stated preference for weighing everything in grams and the subsequent rounding during conversion back to volume, but it's confusing and I wish it had been addressed directly—as is, it looks like bad editing, which I am pretty sure is not the case. I would recommend using the metric weights, which seem to line up with the baker's percentages and which are, in any case, seemingly what Leader used when developing the recipes.
But the true test of any cookbook is the recipes: are they any good?
On that score, I am giving this book fairly high marks. Susan has been thrilled with the two recipes she has tried and Kevin says the focaccia is the best he's ever made. While I am at a loss to explain the gap between the glam shot of the filone in the book and what I made, I am also willing to take some of the responsibility — and since we're interviewing Leader soon, I have a chance to ask him about it.
On the other hand... there's the other hand, the left one to be precise. When turning the pages the wrong way hurts, the gap between tempting recipes and hand in dough looms large. Fortunately for me, I had a deadline pushing me in that direction of the kitchen and a Kitchen-Aid mixer waiting for me on the counter when I got there.
My month on the couch with my copy of Local Breads left me with about a dozen recipes I really wanted to try: sourdoughs, whole wheat sourdoughs, German rye, even a dark Silesian (Polish) rye that just be one of those lost breads of my youth, and a number of Italian breads, including the famous saltless Tuscan bread. Susan shined up her pointy hair and made an executive decision that we were going to make Italian breads, which mostly use a biga starter that takes just a few minutes to make and ferments in less than twelve hours.
Once the parameters were narrowed, my choice became fairly obvious, apparently to everyone. When I told Susan and Kevin that I was making Rosemary Filones, they both said "of course you are". (Hmm, was it the herb garden that gave me away?)
In some ways this was a great choice of recipes, I think one of the best things you can do to homemade bread is add rosemary and olive oil. Really, try it sometime. Almost any non-sweet recipe is improved by adding fresh rosemary and olive oil. In that department this bread did not disappoint, chopped fresh rosemary and a healthy dose of olive oil helps produce a loaf of bread that tastes like a summer afternoon in Italy. We served it to visiting friends two nights in a row, at their request.
But the crumb... Well, I said I was off my game.
I made this bread twice and both times produced a loaf that I would be happy to use for sandwiches. The crumb is evenly dense with a lot of small holes and the crust is distinct yet not too chewy. Sadly, this is not supposed to be a sandwich loaf.
Tasty enough but just not it.
I think that this is due to a combination of the recipe and my inability to do my usual hands-on approach to a new bread recipe and in this case a new cookbook author as well. The inability to manipulate the dough by hand really gets in the way of making all of the tiny adjustments that go into making any bread recipe work in real life. (The book also seems to have some inconsistency in the conversions of measurements and maybe this is a recipe where that is a factor.)
So this morning I made one last batch with bread flour, which should better support that hugely open crumb — but which also absorbs more water than AP flour and I didn't really adjust for that — and it was a bit better. Not better enough to make me grab the camera, just a little bit.
I think that I can do better with this, and when I can use both hands again, I shall try. Next time: More water, a hotter oven for better oven spring, and real slashes. In the meantime, I want to see what the rest of you do with it. Please bake some and show me what you make.
Rosemary FiloneRecipe reprinted from Local Breads: Sourdough and Whole-Grain Recipes from Europe's Best Artisan Bakers by Daniel Leader (c) Copyright 2007 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.Click here to continue reading the post and comments...
This is the original recipe from Local Breads in its entirety, with my baking notes [in brackets].
Allow 9 to 17 hours to mix and ferment the biga;
10 to 15 minutes to knead;
1-1/2 to 2 hours to ferment;
45 minutes to 1 hour to proof;
30 to 40 minutes to bake
Makes 2 loaves (~20 ounces/560 grams each)
baker's peel or rimless baking sheet
bench scraper or chef's knife
Ingredients | US volume | metric volume | US weight | metric weight
water tepid (70 - 78F/21-26C) 1/3 c | 80 ml | 2.3 oz | 65 g
instant yeast 1/2 tsp | 2.5 ml | .1 oz | 2 g
unbleached all purpose flour 2/3 c | 160 ml | 3.5 oz | 100 g
Nine to 17 hours before you want to bake, prepare the biga. Pour the water into a small mixing bowl. With a rubber spatula, stir in the yeast and flour just until a dough forms. It will be stiff like pie dough. Dust the counter with flour and scrape out the dough. Knead the dough for 1 to 2 minutes just to work in all the flour and get it fairly but not perfectly smooth. (This is a very small amount of dough, about the size of a plum.) Lightly oil the mixing bowl. Round the biga and place it back in the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Leave at room temperature (70 - 75F/21 - 24C) for 1 hour, then refrigerate it for at least 8 and up to 16 hours. The biga will double in volume (to about the size of an orange) [Mine came to slightly above the one cup line on a pyrex measuring cup], becoming glossy and porous, and will smell mildly acidic.
Ingredients | US volume | metric volume | US weight | metric weight
biga about 1 cup | 237 ml | 5.9 oz | 167 g
water tepid (70 - 78F/21 - 26C) 1 1/3 c | 320 ml | 10.6 oz | 300 g
instant yeast 1 tsp | 5 ml | .2 oz | 5 g
unbleached all purpose flour 3 1/4 c | 770 ml | 17.6 oz | 500 g
sea salt 2 1/4 tsp | 12 ml | .5 oz | 15 g
extra virgin olive oil 1/3 c | 80 ml | 2.3 oz | 65 g
fresh rosemary coarsely chopped 1/4 c | 60 ml | .4 oz | 10 g
Mix the dough
Remove the biga from the refrigerator and uncover it. It will be soft, airy, and a bit sticky. Scrape into a large bowl. Pour the water over the biga and stir it with a rubber spatula to soften it and break it into clumps. Stir in the flour, olive oil, rosemary and salt until a dough forms. [I added the yeast too, even though the copy editor did not.]
Knead the dough
By hand: Lightly flour the counter and scrape the dough out onto it. Knead the dough with steady strokes until it is silky, smooth, and elastic, about 13-15 minutes. Check that the dough is well-developed check that the deal was well developed by pulling off a golf ball sized piece and stretching it into an opaque windowpane. If the dough tears, knead for an additional two to three minutes and test again.
With mixer: With the dough hook, mix the dough on medium speed (four on a Kitchen-Aid mixer) until it is silky, smooth, and elastic, ten to twelve minutes. Check that the dough is well developed by doing a windowpane test, as described above. If it tears, knead for an additional two to three minutes and test again.
Place the dough in a clean bowl, cover and let rise until double in bulk.
Divide and shapes the loaves
Cover a baker's peel or rimless baking sheet with parchment paper and dust it with flour. Lightly dust the counter with flour. Uncover the dough and turn it out onto the counter. With the bench scraper or chef's knife, cut the dough into two equal pieces (19.7oz./560g each). Shape each piece into a log about 12in. long. Place the logs smooth side upon the parchment paper, at least 3in. apart, and cover them with plastic wrap.
Proof the loaves
Let the logs rise at room temperature (70 to 75°) until they spread and look puffy and light, nearly doubling in size, 45 minutes to one hour. Press your fingertip into the dough and your fingerprint will spring back slowly. [Even my oddly dense bread passed the 'puffy and light' and fingerprint tests.]
Prepare the oven
About 1 hour before baking, place a baking stone on the middle rack. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
Bake the loaves
Slide the loaves, still on the parchment, onto the baking stone. Bake until the logs are dark caramel color, 30 to 40 minutes.
Cool and store the loaves
Slide the peel or rimless baking sheet under the parchment paper to remove the loaves from the oven. Slide them, still on the parchment, onto a wire rack. Cool the loaves briefly, then peel off the parchment paper. Let them cool completely on the rack, about one hour, before slicing. The olive oil in the dough will help to keep them moist. Store in a resealable plastic bag at room temperature for three to four days. [Or freeze.]