Sunday, May 17, 2009

Bread Baker's Apprentice: Anadama Bread


This is my first post for a new baking group that I recently joined, and am incredible excited about -- a group of 200 bakers who have vowed to spend the next year or (two!) baking their way through Peter Reinhart's James Beard Award-winning book, the Bread Baker's Apprentice:


I have a hard enough time keeping up with the three blogging groups that I am already in, TWD, CEiMB and Barefoot Bloggers, so I initially questioned the wisdom of signing up for another one. But I just couldn't resist this particular group. First, it is all about baking bread. I've dabbled in a little bit of yeast baking over the past six months or so, and I have wanted to do more, but as a non-self-starter, I felt that I needed the external motivation of a formal(ish) group that has no rigid posting requirements with no draconian consequences for failing to comply with group rules.

Really, the only real Bread Baker's Apprentice ("#BBA," to use the Twitter hashtag) group rule is that you must bake through the Bread Baker's Apprentice in order, but you can take as long as you want to do it. There are not even any posting requirements (although we all know that if you don't blog about what you made for dinner, there is no proof that it actually existed). So this group is really like a college independent study program -- sure, you can sleep til noon, spend the afternoons sunbathing in the quad, and play beer pong with plastic cups of Natty Light by night -- nobody's going to stop you, and you might even fool 'em, but deep down you know you'd only be hurting yourself. Well, we're all here because we want to bake bread/learn more about baking bread, so you won't catch us slacking off, even without Rules or a Scary Enforcer.

While many people in the group plan to bake and post weekly, I and several of my favorite blog friends, Nancy, Kayte, Audrey, and Jessica, thought that an every other week posting schedule would be more realistic for us. So we are aiming to post #BBA challenges every other Sunday or Monday, starting today (or tomorrow!). So, without further delay . . .

The first recipe out of Bread Baker's Apprentice is Anadama Bread, a classic New England cornmeal and molasses bread. In the introduction to the recipe, Reinhart shares one version of the story behind the bread's name: a Massachusetts man who was upset at his wife for leaving him, and for leaving behind only cornmeal mush and molasses when she left, exclaimed "Anna, damn 'er!," which was later modified by "more genteel local Yankees" to "anadama." Having grown up in New England, I think the likelihood of that story being true really depends on what part of New England you are talking about -- get into the wrong part, and the local Yankees would have been more likely to work an F-bomb into the bread name. Be that as it may, I couldn't wait to try this traditional New England loaf, so I started out one night with . . .

THE SOAKER

I think part of what has scared me away from bread all these years is the esoteric terminology -- biga, poolish, pre-ferment, soaker. It's enough to send a non-science-minded person running to the nearest bakery. Flip through this book quickly and you will see phrases like "enzyme-catalyzing process," "protein molecules" and "pH level." But I think that our sensei does a fantastic job demystifying the science behind the art of bread making.

Psssst -- it's just cornmeal and water mixed together.


THE DOUGH

After the soaker does its thing overnight, it's time to make the dough, which starts with flour, yeast, the soaker, and water. After the sponge begins to bubble, mix in additional flour, salt, molasses, and butter, and knead for 10 minutes. I used the dough hook on my Kitchen Aid for the kneading. I know that I should knead by hand so that I could learn to get the proper "feel" for the dough, but I have a sweet little one year old who says no a lot and lives on my hip, which renders me one-handed the vast majority of the time. So Kitchen Aid it will be for now, and I hope to get a feel for the dough whenever Caroline works out her separation anxiety issues, hopefully sometime before she hits 30 pounds.

After the dough has been kneaded the proper amount of time, you can check for readiness with the "windowpane test," which involves stretching a small piece of the dough to see if it becomes transparent, but holds together. You can also check the internal temperature of the dough (I did both - check, and check). Once it's ready, transfer it to an oiled bowl and let it rise 60 or 90 minutes, until it doubles. This dough rose beautifully for me. Then divide it up, shape into loaves, place into bread pans, and proof until the dough crests the pans:



Then bake it. I got a little "oven spring" while my bread baked, although my three loaves ended up rising to slightly different sizes, even though they started out exactly the same weight.


Wow, we really enjoyed this bread! We had it fresh out of the oven with dinner the day I made it, and made a couple of different sandwiches on it over the course of several days (our favorite was a BLT!). But my hands-down favorite way to enjoy anadama bread was toasted with butter. I was glad that I made the full recipe, because I was thrilled to have extra loaves to share to say "thank you" (in the way that only New England molasses bread can) to people who helped us out over the past couple of weeks.

Special thanks to our group's fearless leader, Nicole from Pinch My Salt, for organizing this challenge and for taking on the large administrative job that comes with it. I am already completely smitten by this book, and I've got the bread baking bug bad. One down, fifty or so more to go!

32 comments:

Natashya said...

Beautiful Cathy! I am so proud of your wonderful bread!

Melissa said...

What a great group to join, Cathy! You have your work cut out for you with all of this baking and cooking you'll be doing. I'm sure your family will be veeeery happy! The bread looks fabulous!

Audrey said...

As I sit here, waiting for my anadama toast to pop, I'm recalling how nerve-wracking this project was for me. (Stop..140 characters!!!) (No, it's OK. Keep going.) Usually, when I make bread, everything that can go wrong goes wrong, and the bread comes out fine. This time, everything went right, and so I wasn't expecting much. It must be the quality of the book and the good friends I'm baking with!

Wasn't this good? It was a great recipe to start with, too. Yours looks gorgeous! It's a pretty bread, too...I love the color. I went with the New England/Thanksgiving-y theme and made my first sandwich with really good turkey and that Stonewall Kitchen cranberry chutney, but I'm eagerly anticipating that BLT. (WFs was OUT of lettuce. How does that happen?)

Engineer Baker said...

Beautiful! I'm really enjoying baking through this too, especially with the flexibility of the group rules.

Peggy said...

Okay now I am seriously worried about you. I fear the legal field is losing you to the joys of baking/cooking Cathy! What can I do to prevent this? Food vs. law - OMG - I can see where this is heading. Your bread looks fabulous. Are you sharing? :)

Jessica said...

The bread looks delish! I'm so glad that I'm baking along with you and the rest of this bread crew. Your bread looks wonderful and I love the pictures!

Karen said...

I loved the idea of this group but decided not to join 'cause I'm sure I wouldn't be able to work it in every week! Now I see that some of you are doing it every other week, and that sounds more reasonable. I think I'll give it a go (unofficially)!
Fabulous job on this loaf, by the way!

Megan said...

Wow - you certainly are ambitious. I contemplated joining but chickened out at the last minute.

I'll be following along, though, and enjoying it vicariously through you!

Nancy/n.o.e said...

You manage to make this crazy project sound almost reasonable, Cathy! So far the bread rewards (and the camaraderie) have made it worthwhile! Crazy how the cornmeal really shows up - mine was nowhere near that coarse. Love this bread! Great job.
Nancy

Tracey said...

Your bread looks phenomenal Cathy!! I love the step by step explanation. Can you believe I live in New England and don't think I've ever had anadama bread? I need to remedy that soon.

AJM said...

I have the bug too! Will be fun baking along with everyone-

Andrea

vibi said...

Good grief Cathy! How do you do it... 3 young children and quite a few baking groups... Hummm!? I think after all, it must be the everyready's pink bunny's genes you have!!! LOL

Bravo on a well accomplished first baking challenge!

Pamela said...

This is so great, Cathy! I am very impressed by the bread bakers out there. I am excited to be able to read all about it! I know you'll do wonderfully!! The bread looks fab!

Di said...

Great job, Cathy! I like how you can see the cornmeal in your loaves. I only had fine cornmeal, so you can't see it as much in my bread. I might have to make this again once I get some polenta.

Elyse said...

Wow, Cathy, this bread looks fabulous. I love the idea of bread-making, but it's always been somewhat intimidating. I can't wait to see you bake along with the book. It's going to be so exciting!! Sorry that I’ve been an absent commenter; I just finished up my law school exams and am finally getting around to my google reader.

pinkstripes said...

Yay!! Your loaves look fantastic! I'm so glad they were a success. I'm having so much fun with BBA.

Steph said...

A 4th baking group! I have to admit that you make joining really attractive. No rules.. well, almost. As much as I love homemade bread, I don't think I have the patience for it. I get too anxious during rise time.

Barbara Bakes said...

I haven't made bread for so long. Yours looks fabulous! I can just imagine the wonderful smell of it baking!

Girl Japan said...

I am still terrified, you should have seen my bagels... "har-har"!

This looks delish, I buy the bread but I am too scared to attempt making it. Well-done my friend, well done!

Kayte said...

Love the college analogies. Your bread is outstanding...and it was such fun to see the drop-everything-go-to-Wms-Sonoma-for-new-bread-pans pans...LOL...those are very nice...well worth braving the rain with kids. LOL. I am just referring everyone over here for actual process...figured I was going to be low key at BBA and not show process shots each time, but you have put me to shame, yes you have. May have to reconsider. Great job...very fun baking with you.

Jennifer said...

Your blog post falls under the catagory of "you learn something everyday" for me, as I had read the term "windowpane" before, in a pizza dough recipe (maybe Altons?) but didn't know what it meant, so thanks!

I am also so impressed with the bread baking. I've baked it in the past and have had irregular results. I wish I could join the group, but my kitchen is not air conditioned, so heading into summer, I just can't imagine doing that much baking. (I'm going to have a hard enough time getting my twd and sms baking done!)

Madam Chow said...

Your bread turned out beautifully! And my favorite way to eat it was toasted with butter, too!

Pam said...

Nicely done. You really inspire me to try baking bread - it has always been scary for me. This looks fantastic and I bet the BLT tasted divine!

Teanna said...

AH! I still haven't started yet!!! And I like the way you think about food/blogging - if you made a dish, but did not photo it, did the dish ever exist in the first place?? The jury is still out on this one.

Gorgeous bread! I love that last shot - it looks so gooooooood!

Bridgett said...

Wow, these loaves look gorgeous and congratulations on signing up for another baking club. You are a brave woman! I am so glad they turned out so well.

burpandslurp said...

it looks sooo good! would be perfect with a bowl of chili!

Proud Italian Cook said...

Wow Cathy, You're so adventurous, another group you joined, your family must be so happy they get to eat all your good food. I love how the texture of this bread looks. I'd love to pop a slice in the toaster right now!

Katherine Aucoin said...

Cathy your bread looks beautiful! I love that it made several loaves.
The detail in your pictures is fantastic.

I'm apprehensive about baking bread...I;m leanring little by little and your are de-mystifying the terms for me.

Debinhawaii said...

You never cease to amaze me--that bread looks perfect! Good luck with going through the book. Being not a baker, but a bread lover. I look forward to reading and living vicariously through all of you! ;-)

Lady Baker said...

the bread looks FABULOUS...
You crack me up..you are such the 'joiner' :)

Enjoy! Can't wait to read up more on the recipes!

Cakelaw said...

Excellent looking loaf - I have now ordered this book, along with Sweet Melissa's.

Lia "online learning" Scott said...

your loaf looks perfectly fine

 
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