A guide to making 44 kinds of bread

BOOKMARK

Master baker looks at complexities of a basic product

October 02, 2002|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,SUN STAFF

Six-thousand years after its appearance, bread not only sustains, it delights, fascinates, mystifies and even inspires revolution. Peter Reinhart, master baker, can tell you all about it.

A full-time baking instructor at Johnson & Wales University and writer of three previous bread books, Reinhart has written not a bread history but a guide to its deepest mysteries. These abundantly illustrated pages unfold in formulas (bakers don't say recipe) and techniques for making 44 different breads - alphabetically arranged from New England's anadama to whole wheat.

In considering the science and the poetry of its subject, The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread (Ten Speed Press, 2001, $35) has been a smash on the award circuit. It won 2002 cookbook of the year honors from the country's two most prestigious arbiters of cookbook excellence: the James Beard Foundation and the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

Reinhart adapts a life's experience and lessons learned in French boulangeries in a book accessible to the amateur and the experienced home bread maker. The baker's mission? Simple: "unwinding the complex carbohydrates to release their foundational sugars through mastery of fermentation, and by roasting the proteins to draw forth their nutlike flavors, while fully gelatinizing the starches so that they do not mask any of the flavor."

Of course.

How could anything so basic as bread not be deeply complex, perhaps explaining the fascination it holds for those considered foot soldiers in the "bread revolution" mentioned frequently in Reinhart's text. Not a shot has been fired in anger, but great passion has evidently been invested for years by bakers in the United States and abroad in quest of an utterly transcendent bread experience.

To the unschooled ear, this sounds like news of a "wheel revolution" in pursuit of some ultimate roundness. Notwithstanding the fact that the first bread apparently appeared some 6,000 years ago in Egypt, there is evidently more to be known, new stuff to try.

Ah, when it all works, results can dazzle. As Reinhart suggests in this description of a fellow trying some sort of Uberbaguette in Paris: "I watched his face as he chewed, the realization that there was another level, never experienced even here in the baguette center of the universe, that was now entering his orbit."

White Bread

Makes two 1-pound loaves

4 3/4 cups unbleached bread flour, plus more if needed

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/4 cup powdered milk

3 1/4 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons instant yeast

1 large egg, slightly beaten, at room temperature

3 1/4 tablespoons butter, margarine or shortening, melted or at room temperature

1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon to 1 3/4 cups water, at room temperature

spray oil

1 egg, whisked with 1 teaspoon water until frothy, for egg wash (optional)

sesame or poppy seeds for garnish (optional)

vegetable oil for seasoning (optional)

Mix 4 3/4 cups flour, salt, powdered milk, sugar and yeast in a 4-quart bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer). Pour in egg, butter and 1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon water and mix with a large metal spoon (or on low speed of the electric mixer with the paddle attachment) until flour is absorbed and dough forms a ball. If dough seems very stiff and dry, trickle in water until dough is soft and supple.

Sprinkle flour on the counter, transfer the dough to the counter, and begin kneading (or mix on medium speed with the dough hook), adding more flour, if necessary, to create a dough that is soft, supple and tacky but not sticky. Continue kneading (or mixing) for 6 to 8 minutes. (In the electric mixer, the dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick ever so slightly to the bottom.)

The dough should pass the "windowpane test" -- that is, it should stretch and hold together to the point where it is paper-thin and translucent. It should register 80 degrees. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it to coat with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

Ferment at room temperature for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size (time will depend on room temperature).

Remove the dough from the bowl and divide it in half for sandwich loaves. Mist the dough lightly with spray oil and cover with a towel or plastic wrap. Allow to rest for about 20 minutes.

Lightly oil two 8 1/2 -inch by 4 1/2 -inch loaf pans and place loaves in pans. Mist tops of dough with spray oil and loosely cover with plastic wrap or a towel. Let dough stand at room temperature for 60 to 90 minutes, or until it nearly doubles in size.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush the loaves with the egg wash, if desired, and garnish with poppy or sesame seeds, if desired, or score loaves down the middle and rub a little vegetable oil into the slit.

Bake the loaves for 35 to 45 minutes, rotating 180 degrees halfway through for even baking, if needed. The tops should be golden-brown and the sides, when removed from the pan, should also be golden. The internal temperature should be close to 190 degrees, and the loaves should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.

When the loaves have finished baking, remove them immediately from the pans and cool on a wire rack for at least 1 hour before slicing or serving.

-- Adapted from "The Bread Baker's Apprentice"

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