Saturday, June 21, 2008

Too Hot to Eat

Ah declay-ah, it is hot. Too hot to think about much of anything. I'm not interested in cooking. I'm barely interested in eating! (Now that's hot!!) It reminds me of when I was in Greece a number of years ago. We didn't stay anywhere that had air conditioning, and it was June. Imagine, if you can, being in Greece, surrounded by some of the world's best food, and not being interested in eating. Torture? I think so. The only thing I could eat was Greek salad, and for breakfast yogurt with honey. (The BEST!!) But other than that, it was just too hot.

Well, here in San Diego, I don't have air conditioning, either. I have 2 ceiling fans - one for the bedroom, one for my office. I just came back from buying a third one for the living room. Usually I don't need these fans until August, but then came global warming, and my cat and I pass out on the floor together almost every day. Salads. Cold shrimp. A glass of chilled white wine. It's all I've been able to manage.

Then I remembered that I hadn't posted about the 3rd bread I made, back when I could stand the idea of turning on the oven. I saved this bread for last, because this bread made me stop dead in my tracks. It is from Peter Reinhart's book "The Bread Baker's Apprentice", and it's his "Pain a l'Ancienne". In his first chapter "What Is It About Bread?", he tells of visiting a friend of his who lives in Paris. He informed his friend that he would bring the bread, and his friend replied "That's OK, we have a great boulangerie around the corner." But Reinhart insisted, telling him that his bread was from Poilaine, a master bread baker.

When Reinhart arrived, he noticed that there was already a baguette on the counter, next to the pot of boef bourguignon his friend had made. They all sat down and decided to compare the 2 breads. They started first with the loaf from the local boulangerie, which Reinhart described as "pleasant". Next, they tore into the bread Reinhart brought. The first thing Reinhart noticed was that the holes were larger than the typical baguette. It was also creamier, not as white. I'll let him describe the rest of the scene:

"Michael chewed off a bite, the crackle of crust slightly cracklier than the local bread's. 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. He visibly displayed a series of emotions on his face, swinging from smiling sublimity to furrowed anger, than back the other way. He was on a pendulum ride as the room grew silent and all attention focused gravitationally on him, getting weightier by the second. In my memory I see the lights getting dimmer, with a spotlight on Michael's face, but I know this is just a trick of my own mind. But what did happen was this: He slowly picked up his local baguette and looked at it, then looked a the a l'ancienne baguette on the table, then back to the one in his clenched hand. As if in slow motion, he threw the local loaf against the wall, where it smashed and fell to the floor. His wife said sharply, "Michael!"
Michael turned to me and said, 'You've ruined me. Are you happy?'
'Yes, actually. I am happy,' I said.
Then we all smiled and enjoyed dinner."

Until I made this bread, I thought that was a charming, if exaggerated story. Now I know better. I've used this dough to make pizza (sensational!) as well as to make this bread. I have no idea how Reinhart get's his loaves to form baguettes. The best I could do was to make ciabattas - best served with a really good olive oil.

Makes 6 baguettes, 6-8 pizzas, or one 17x12 inch focaccia

6C (27 oz) unbleached bread flour
2 1/4 tsp (.56 oz) salt
1 3/4 tsp (.19 oz) instant yeast
2 1/4C plus 2 TBS to 3 C (19-24 oz) water, ice cold

semolina flour or cornmeal for dusting.

1. Combine the flour, salt, yeast, and 19 oz of water in the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment and mix for 2 minutes on low speed. Switch to the dough hook and mix for 5 to 6 minutes on medium speed. The dough should be sticky on the bottom of the bowl but it should release from the sides of the bowl. If not, sprinkle in a small amount of flour until this occurs (or dribble in water if the dough seems to stiff and clears the bottom as well as the sides of the bowl). Lightly oil a large bowl and immediately transfer the dough with a spatula or bowl scraper dipped in water into the bowl. Mist the dop of the dough with spray oil and cover bowl with plastic wrap.

2. Immediately place the bowl in the refrigerator and retard overnight.

3. the next day, check the dough to see if it has risen
in the refrigerator. It will probably be partially risen but not doubled in size (the amount of rise will depend on how cold the refrigerator is and how often the door was opened). Leave the bowl of dough out at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours (or longer if necessary) to allow the dough to wake up, lose its chill and continue fermenting.

4. When the dough has doubled from its original prerefrigerated size, liberally sprinkle the counter with bread flour (about 1/2 cup). Gently transfer the dough to the floured countre with a plastic dough scraper that has been dipped in cold water, dipping your hands as well to keep the dough from sticking to you. Try to degas the dough as little as possible as you transfer it. If the dough is very wet, sprinkle more flour over the top as well as under it. Dry your hands thoroughly and then dip them in flour. Roll the dough gently in the sprinkled flour to coat it thoroughly, simultaneously stretching it into an oblong about 8 inches long and 6 inches wide. If it is too sticky to handle, continue sprinkling flour over it. Dip a metal pastry scraper into cool water to keep it from sticking to the dough and cut the dough in half width-wise with the pastry scraper by pressing it down through the dough until it severs it, then dipping it again in the water and repeating this action until you have cut down the full length of the dough. (Do not use the blade as a saw, use it as a pincer, pinching the dough cleanly with each cut). Let the dough relax for 5 minutes.

5. Prepare the oven for hearth baking, making sure to have an empty steam pan in place, and a pizza stone if you have one on a shelf. Preheat the oven to 500 degreesF (or 550 if your oven goes that high). Cover the back of two 17x12" sheet pans with baking parchment and dust with semolina flour or cornmeal.

6. Shape the dough by cutting each half into 3 strips. Flour your hands and carefully lift one of the dough strips and transfer it to the back of the pan, gently pulling it to the width of the pan (or to the length of your baking stone). Score the dough strips, slashing the tops with 3 diagonal cuts. Because the dough is sticky, you might have to dip the razor blade or serrated knife in water between each cut. You may also omit the cuts if the dough is not cooperating.

7. Take 1 pan to the preheated oven and carefully slide the dough, parchment and all, onto the baking stone. Or bake directly on the sheet pan. Make sure the pieces aren't touching. Pour 1 C of hot water into the steam pan and close the door. After 30 seconds, spray the oven walls with water and close the door. Repeat twice more at 30 second intervals. After the final spray, lower the oven setting to 475 degreesF and continue baking. Meanwhile, dust the other pan of strips with flour, mist with spray oil, and slip into a food-grade plastic bag or cover with a towel or plastic wrap. If you don't plan to bake these strips within 1 hour, refrigerate the pan and bake later or the next day. If you'd like to bake them as rustic, ciabatta-style breads, leave them at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours and then bake. As the loaves proof, they will resemble and perform like ciabatta.

8. The bread should begin to turn golden brown within 8 or 9 minutes. If the loaves are baking unevenly at this point, rotate them 180 degrees. Continue baking 10 to 15 minutes more, or until the bread is a rich golden brown and the internal temperature registers at least 205 degrees.

9. Transfer the hot breads to a cooling rack. They should feel very light, almost airy, and will cool in about 20 minutes. While these are cooling, you can bake the remaining loaves, remembering to remove the parchment from the oven and turn the oven up to 500 degrees F or higher before baking the second round.


Anonymous said...

Your loaves look fabulous! I have heard such great things from all who have made this bread, I need to try it. But not any time soon, I'm afraid -- we too are wilting in the heat and the though of turning the oven on right now is most distasteful. Try to stay cool!

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Beautiful bread! I've never tried a Peter Reinhart recipe, but I've tasted some of his breads made by friends who have an outdoor bread oven, and they are absolutely heavenly. Of course the thought of turning on the oven in the heat of summer is not too appealing....

Toni said...

Susan - Thank you! This is actually one of his easier recipes as it doesn't require a starter of any kind. But definitely wait until it cools down!!!

Lydia - An outdoor bread oven? Ohhhh.... Can I come over and play?

Anonymous said...

Mmmmmm... I can imagine the smell of it. I really must go to France someday and have a proper baguette, because I'm sure it's just way better than I can imagine! But, in the meantime, this will have to tide me over, but not until it gets cooler of course!

Nora B. said...

Such a dramatic reaction from Michael! Your loaves look fabulous - perfectly crusty. This recipe looks more straightforward than some others, so I should give it a try. Thanks for sharing.


glamah16 said...

You have really mastered this bread baking. Great post.

anya said...

Heat waves seem to be rendering everybody into 'suffering eaters'. :) The same here. I've got so many things in my 'to-try-and-then-eat' list, but I physically cannot. Too hot. And then again, fresh fruits and young vegetables is a blessing!!

And your bread is now definitely in my list! For cooler times though. ;)

Susan said...

Ciabatta is on my list of fascinating breads to bake. Your efforts really paid off, Toni.

I've pretty much lost my appetite, too, w/ the heat. I'll bet your garden is glowing, though.: )

Stella said...

I'm so happy to see that you've been baking more often! And your loaves are just irresistible... Yummmm...

Unknown said...

Ann - Yes, you must go to France! You must go for the bread and also for the photos.

Nora - If you ever get around to trying this bread, you'll understand the reaction!

Courtney - Well, I don't think I'd call it "mastering", but it's a great meditation!

Anya - Yes, for cooler times!

Susan - My garden glows when it gets sufficient water!

Valentina - Well, I was baking more often when the weather was cooler!

Katie Zeller said...

They look wonderful - especially with the lovely olive oil...
It's a conundrum in the summer - my kitchen is finally waem enough for bread to rise well - but, then too hot to bake it. Must get outdoor bread oven!

A_and_N said...

Hi, the bread looks great but I was wondering if sugar isnt a necessary ingredient to activate the yeast?

Cynthia said...

Your loaves make me hungry! I have been meaning to make ciabatta for a long time now but things just seem to be getting in the way. I'll definitely try and get it done over the summer.

Chris said...

You are a bread goddess!