Monday, May 11, 2009

Bring on the Bread Baker's Apprentice--Anadama Bread

Apparently I'm a joiner.

I like assignments and groups. I like Tuesdays with Dorie, which I found myself describing to Matt's mother (with his help) as a kind of book club. Without constant occasions, my baking obsessions can seem purposeless, and while I'm trying to rein myself in, the truth is I may always be the kind of person who has a few too many pans of brownies or fruit tarts to sheepishly push on the neighbors. Having baking book clubs makes this tendency feel a little less aimless. I'm not just making some ridiculous dessert for no reason...oh no, I have an Assignment. As an added bonus, baking book clubs tend to increase my skills, get me to try new techniques, and are largely free of the annoyances of real book clubs (i.e. listening to other people's aimless or forced opinions on books), but with the full complement of interesting shared experience.

It's the modern sort of movement--loosely connected, purposeful, but without a lot of person to person contact. Mostly it's just me and my butter and sugar and flour. And then there are those moments when I have to explain to the rest of the world why I'm crazy and 'just happen' to have 'extra' brownies/ice cream sandwiches/lemon tarts around at all times. Admittedly, there's a part of me that kind of loves that too.

The only thing that's held me back from joining more and more of these groups is a nagging worry that they will take over my entire baking life, rendering this blog merely a chronicle of something that hundreds of other people are also doing, and someone has already put into a book. That would be boring. I've been flirting with Daring Bakers, but they're only once a month. Joining another weekly group is a big step, and it certainly couldn't involve more tart dough or buttercream. Even I have limits.
My resolve of originality was overcome, though, by a new group started by Nicole of Pinch My Salt. This group, somewhat more loosely organized than TWD, is baking its way in order through Peter Reinhardt's The Bread Baker's Apprentice. First, I already had the book. Second, it seemed like a good crash course back to the baked good that started this blog--Bread. Loyal longtime readers may have noticed that bread posts have taken a back seat lately. I still make bread, but not as often or as obsessively, and less frequently from my sourdough starter, which is looking a little weak in the back of the refrigerator these days. Also, it tends to look the same regardless of type, and I don't feel like my photographs are that exciting. It just looks like another picture of the same loaf. It's time to turn that around, take better pictures of the whole process, and try out some variations.
The BBA (as it shall henceforth be known), is kind of an odd book. It starts with an extensive section on technique, and only halfway through the book does it move on to 'formulas'. These vary extensively, and the order in which they appear doesn't always seem to follow a clear logic (the first two recipes are for Anadama bread and for Greek Celebration Bread, neither an obvious choice). I have some issues with the layout--recipes often span several pages, or can be difficult to follow even on one page, but Reinhardt is a master teacher and I am excited to learn from him.

The first week's 'assignment' was an old New England (yeah, New England! Go Celtics!) specialty, Anadama Bread. This bread has many variations, but is always made with some variation on cornmeal and molasses. Reinhardt's version starts with a day-long soaker of cornmeal (I used a coarse polenta) and water. This soaker is then added to a sponge, which is supposed to ferment for an hour. I forgot it and left the house, so it actually spent something closer to 8 hours on the counter. I added a bit more yeast to the final dough in case I'd exhausted it, but the results were very positive. I put the dough into the refrigerator to rise overnight, woke up at 5:30 to put it out on the counter, slept until 9:30, at which time it had nearly tripled. (Are you sensing a theme here?) I shaped it anyway, and stuck it in the loaf pan to proof, then baked it off.
It's not the best bread in the world--(we have Pane Genzanese for that), but it is a perfect sandwich bread, with a soft fluffy texture to rival Pepperidge Farm. I think it might have a future as French toast.


Kayte said...

Your bread looks wonderful. I'm in TWD also and am just learning how to bake, bread is foreign country to me, so it is nice to have posts like yours to view as I begin mine this morning. First rise is happening! Beautiful bread.

Susie said...

I loved reading your adventures with the book and the first loaf.
As I was reading I was thinking I would read it grew OVER the counter. LOL.
Great job.

The Bon said...

I also thought that it would make stellar french toast. Yum.

Anonymous said...

I agree that this isn't the greatest bread, and that it makes a good sandwich bread. Someone suggested ham, which is probably a good idea. I'm not a big fan of sweetened breads but it was a fun learning experience. You did a good job, from the looks of things.

Anonymous said...

Looks like you're in another book club, now! Beautiful pictures.

Vivian Darkbloom said...

I love love love anadama bread. Perhaps we could skip cupcakes and just have anadama with cream cheese?

Katya said...

I'll make you a loaf for your honeymoon, Michelle.