Monday, May 25, 2009

BBA Challenge #2: Christopsomos

Just before baking


This week's bread was another recipe that was new to me: Artos, or Greek celebration bread. There are variations depending on the holiday, but I chose Christopsomos, or Christ Bread, which is made for the Feast of the Nativity, or what we typically refer to as Christmas. Slightly sweet, spicy, and filled with nuts and dried fruit, this bread was both delicious and beautiful. It reminded me a lot of the Italian Easter Bread my Mom always makes on Easter, although that doesn't have the spices.
I made two batches of this bread and shared with a few different people, as it makes a gigantic loaf! I chose to use the poolish starter, since I don't yet have any barm going. I used melted butter instead of olive oil in both batches. Also, I used toasted hazelnuts in one batch and slivered almonds in the other. We're not big walnut fans, but both of the other nuts were quite nice along with cranberries and currants. With the first batch, I forgot to start my poolish the night before I wanted to bake, so I made it in the morning. Then I got home late and rushed my dough through rising by putting it in a slightly warm oven. It worked, but the result was less than beautiful. It made one huge loaf that visually looked a lot like stretch marks! It was yummy, but I wanted to try again and see if I could do better on the shaping.
I started my second batch a few days later, with some of the leftover poolish, which had now had time to develop a little more character. I left plenty of time for slower rises, at room temperature, which was probably about 65 that day. Also, I decided to make two smaller loaves instead of one large one. The dough rose beautifully, was much smoother, and didn't have the uneven appearance of my first loaf. I'd thought the first loaf came out a bit dark so I tented the second batch with aluminum foil after the first twenty minutes of baking. I used the glaze on the second batch, and while it was a bit sticky, it really brought out the golden color of the crust and made it look pretty. It also had a nicer texture, not quite as fluffy, but still very soft.
I still had one cup of poolish, so I decided to make one more batch of bread. I left all the spices and orange rind out of the final batch and shaped half of it into hot dog and hamburger buns for our weekend cookouts. The result was very nice, soft buns that held up well to the meat but didn't overwhelm it. I actually still have half that dough in the fridge and will make pizza with it tomorrow night.
The Christopsomos was wonderful, and I will definitely make it again. I don't know that I will do the fancy shaping, but who knows! I thought it would have made great toast or french toast but really liked it plain with some butter.
Moving along this week to bagels. I haven't made those in a very long time, so that should be fun, and also is one the kids will likely enjoy helping out with.

Monday, May 11, 2009

BBA Challenge #1: Anadama Bread

Let the baking begin! Today I made the very first recipe for The Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge, and it happened to be one I haven't made before, Anadama Bread. (You can find the recipe here.) It's a nice airy loaf with a hint of molasses and a surprising bit of texture from the cornmeal. The caption on the photo was added by my husband, who apparently liked it. I think it would make wonderful toast, (will know for sure in the morning), and also a nice sandwich.
I made a couple slight variations to the recipe in the book. First, I added a Tablespoon or two of liquid whey to the soaker. This serves the purpose of neutralizing the phytic acid in the corn and unlocking more nutrients. (Phytic acid is an anti-nutrient found in whole grains, nuts, and some beans. It binds nutrients, making them difficult to digest. Soaking the grains in water with a bit of whey, yogurt, buttermilk, etc. makes them much more digestible.) Secondly, I didn't have the "light" molasses called for in the recipe, only blackstrap. I used about half molasses and half honey so the molasses wouldn't overpower the flavor. I'd say it came out just right. Also, I freshly ground dried corn, and the course setting on my grain mill still made it come out more like a fine cornmeal than like the polenta called for in the recipe. I thought it added a very nice little crunch nonetheless.
I decided to bake only one of the two loaves tonight, and left the other one, shaped, to proof in the refrigerator for a couple of days. I like experimenting with "time and temperature" and will be interested to see how the bread differs after an extended fermentation. I'll update this post and let you know after I bake it.
Update on Second Loaf: I had intended to bake the second loaf on Wednesday, the third day after mixing the dough. However, I didn't get to it until Thursday. I was a little concerned because by Wednesday evening the refrigerated loaf had fully risen and begun to collapse. I took it out Thursday morning, left it out for a few hours, and it rose fairly well. It baked up beautifully, and while I don't think it ever rose quite as high as the first loaf, I think I preferred it. It was a little more sturdy, but not at all dense, and had a more developed and complex flavor.
I'm excited about trying new recipes, and my family is excited about eating them.
Finally, I thought I'd share a few things I've learned that are helpful in baking excellent bread.
  • If you have a kitchen scale, weighing your ingredients is more accurate than scooping them into measuring cups. All of the recipes in BBA list weights. Use them, if possible.
  • Use filtered water for your bread, as well as for your steam pan and spray. The less "taste" your water has, the better your bread will be.
  • I prefer to use SAF Instant Yeast. You can buy it in a large-ish package at a restaurant supply store and it's much cheaper than buying the little jars or packages at the grocery store. Also, you don't have to pre-soak it in water; you can add it directly to your dough.
  • Buy an oven thermometer and check your oven temperature. Mine tends to be off by about 25 degrees, and that's helpful information. (If you're going to be using steam, take the thermometer out so the glass doesn't crack. Ask me how I know!)
  • I usually preheat my oven to 25 degrees hotter than the recipes calls for, than turn it down after putting the bread in; this compensates for the heat lost when opening the oven door, and allows for a more even baking temperature.
  • If a recipe tells you what the internal temperature of the finished loaf should be, use a meat thermometer, instant read if possible. This is a much more accurate test of doneness than time (or thumping.) Set your timer for at least 5 minutes earlier than the cooking time, and check then. Better to give it a few more minutes if it's not done than to overbake it.
  • Finally, the waiting is the hardest part! But, allowing the loaf to cool really does improve the texture and slice-ability of the bread, if that's important. Then again, there's nothing like a warm slice of bread thickly spread with melty butter.....


We had a wonderful, relaxing, and fun-filled weekend together. It's rare to have a weekend without a lot of plans, places to go, or things to accomplish. The weather was beautiful, some of the nicest we've had this year. On Saturday we took the kids to a park and went to Farmer's Market, then enjoyed fresh veggies and steak that Erik grilled.
Since my mom is on the other side of the country with my grandma, and Erik's mom is in Arizona, that left just us, the "little family", to do something yesterday. I woke up to find vases of flowers in the hallway, fresh from our yard. Peregrine and Poppy were just about bursting with excitement at the place they'd set for me at the table, complete with a flashing Bubba Gump cup (with a rose taped on the side) and candy cane, which were Poppy's contributions, and a homemade card, pot of tea, homemade coaster, and a dollar, all courtesy of Peregrine. Their sweet happy faces were enough to melt any heart.
After church, we headed east, toward the Cascade mountains. We drove along the river, enjoying the beauty of the day, and ended up at one of my favorite spots, a natural hot spring that has been developed with a lodge, campground, and two pools. The best part though, is the gardens. You cross the river and walk along paths that lead into meadows, alongside ponds, and to my favorite place, a secret garden. The kids had a great time running about in there, dipping toes in the water, playing hide-and-seek among pillars, splashing in the fountain. I enjoyed watching them play and just getting to be together on Mother's Day (or what my husband refers to as a "Hallmark Holiday".)
For most of my life my big ambition was to be a wife and mother, and I am incredibly blessed with this family God has given me. I give thanks for my own mother, an amazing example of selflessness and love; she has poured herself into her children for close to 40 years now. I hope to be like her "when I grow up". And I also am so blessed and thankful for Erik's mom, Michele, who is like a second mom to me, and another wonderful example for me to aspire to. There are moments when my life feels crazy and overwhelming with these three small people in my care, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. They bless me in so many ways, and I pray often that I will grow in love together with them.
Now it's back to the reality of what happens when Mama doesn't do any housework or laundry for a couple of days! I hope your weekend was blessed too!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

The Bread Baker's Apprentice

I've been baking bread from this book for a few years now, and recently found this group of crazy bakers who plan to try every recipe in the course of a year. I tend to make the same few recipes over and over, so this should be fun. If you've ever wondered how to bake crusty artisan breads or just expand your bread repertoire, this is an excellent book. The first section of the book explains the science of bread; how all the enzymes, gluten, time, temperature, and various ingredients work together to make bread what it is. I found it a fascinating read. When my kids are older this is going to find its place in their homeschool curriculum, complete with lots of baking of course! The recipes themselves are well written by Peter Reinhart, and are well laid out and easy to follow. And the bread... delicious! Now, if I could just get Erik to build me a stone oven in the backyard....

Does anyone else want to join me in the challenge?

Friday, May 01, 2009

One (Three Times)

We're carrying on the fine tradition of allowing our "yearlings" to have all the fun they like with their first birthday cake. While none of them have gotten up and danced in their cake like I did, they've all thoroughly enjoyed it! Here they are, in order of appearance in our lives, the stars of our very own little reality show, part sit-com, part drama: