For my birthday, my sister Suzie bought me Crust and Crumb by Peter Reinhart, and I was excited to get started on the delicious sounding recipes. However, the book takes bread making very seriously and has some required reading before starting baking. So I got going on my homework, diligently reading the introduction and first two chapters on ingredients, tools, baking methods and preparation.
I learned about how to check for proper gluten development when kneading, how to determine the right time to put the bread in the oven, how to generate the right amount of steam in a home oven for proper crust development and how to form different types of loaves.
Then I started looking at the recipes to determine where I should start. Since most of the recipes require preferments and multi-day rising and rest times, this involved a bit more planning than I usually put into bread. I decided to start with two types of preferments — a biga and a poolish, and then see what I could do with those.
With the biga, after an overnight refrigeration, I made a simple rustic bread. This bread rose like no other I’d ever seen — an hour after mixing the biga and the rest of the ingredients, it was spilling over the edges of the mixing bowl, so I decided not to let it go for its 4-hour rise time and separated the bread into 3 pieces after less than 2 hours.
The 3 pieces again doubled in size in the next hour or so, and then after I gently shaped the oblong loaves, those rose even more before I put them in the oven.
Though the baking turned out a little uneven since I used two racks, all the loaves were quite good, with the two loaves on the upper rack having a much better crust than the considerably paler and softer loaf that was on the bottom rack for most of the baking time. I thought the air holes inside would be a bit bigger, but there were at least quite a few. I might have needed to be more gentle while forming the loaves. Overall, though, quite a success.
With the poolish preferment I decided to try a sweet rustic loaf. Peter wrote about having this loaf as a healthier replacement to croissants and other breakfast breads, so how could I really resist. I mixed together the dough, which was very soft, let it rise, and then cut it into wedges. The wedges were so soft that they pretty much became mostly round puddles of dough, so I was worried something went wrong. After a night (or three — I baked 2 batches) in the fridge, my eight little loaves looked even more pathetic, sitting slack on their parchment paper, but I decided to push forward anyway. And am I glad I did!
My rustic sweet breads puffed up immensely in the oven, forming beautiful, browned, crispy loaves with an incredibly open and shiny crumb. The bit of powdered sugar dusted on after baking also added an incredible last bit of sweetness to this only slightly sweetened loaf. The breads looked incredible and tasted at least as good.
I didn’t take a kitchen shot of the beautiful crumb, so here’s one I took at the party I brought them to with my iPhone.
I also tried one of the pizza dough recipes from the book. Since the recipe for the poolish preferment ends up making a ton of the gooey mixture, I wanted to see how much I could make in the few days that it would be good. The pizzas turned out very well, with a chewy, New York-style crust that browned nicely, stretched extremely thin when shaping, and supported the pizzas well. Unfortunatley, I didn’t take any photos — we were so hungry we gobbled the pizza right up! And Evan and I both agreed that while it was a good pizza, it just wasn’t as light and fluffy and flavorful as the pizza dough recipe I’ve been using from The New Vegetarian Epicure.
In all, though, an awesomely successful week in bread making for me. I learned a lot about making bread in the process, too, and even the Montreal Bagels I made last weekend, which I’ve been making for nearly a year now, were better because of my new knowledge.
Thanks for the gift, Suzie!