Because crazy isn’t enough: undertaking the BBA challenge; #1

Published December 6, 2011 by livinggraciously

I do love my sourdough bread, but baking it has become so simple and automatic that I feel like I’m getting rather lazy. There are many lovely, wonderful breads out there that I haven’t been learned to bake yet. But randomly baking breads didn’t seem like a practical method of building my baking skills.

I am not alone in this desire to develop and hone good bread baking skills. A whole group of bakers have undertaken a challenge to bake all the breads in Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread — and impressive and detailed book featuring 44 different breads, plus the possibility of a few adaptations. The people who first cooked up The Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge years ago have, many of them, completed all the breads and written quite entertainingly about them.

As is often the case, I’m coming quite late to the game. But a good idea is a good idea, so today is Bread One. The original idea was to bake through the book in order, one bread a week. My goal will be to finish by the end of next year. I’m getting a bit of a head start, but I’m not going to try for a new bread every single week. For one thing, some of the breads are holiday breads, so I’m going to aim to match those to feasts. For another, I can’t ignore my poor sourdough! Shelob* needs to be baked with at least every week or so. There’s only so much bread one couple can eat (though I have noticed that if people are coming over, getting through a bread is not really much of a problem).

A couple quick notes on the book. First, the breads are arranged in alphabetical order, which doesn’t really fit into the mindset of building on a set of skills, but the first third of the book is all about technique, so if you are undertaking recipes here you would be wise to read that through before getting started. Second, I will not be including recipes because, unlike a recipe here or there from an assortment of cookbooks, this would be far too many recipes taken from a single source and that’s stealing.

So here we are, on week one, Anadama bread. It’s a wheat and cornmeal bread sweetened with molasses, supposedly of New England origin. Ferrett, being from New England, immediately confirmed that he had never, in fact, heard of such a thing. Oh, well, who knows.

One of the things you quickly learn about making artisan breads is that if you get up bright and early to start them on the morning of baking day, you are quite likely already too far behind to finish them that day. Artisan breads often take at least two, and occasionally three, days of preparation. Now, this doesn’t mean that you are slaving over them for hours at a time every day, but it does mean that you had better read your recipe at least a day in advance and make sure there isn’t some kind of preferment that needs to be started the night before. In the case of Anadama bread, that initial start is to soak the cornmeal in water overnight. Easy enough!

The rest of the dough was quite straightforward the next morning, the water, yeast, and half the flour going into a sponge for an hour, then the remaining ingredients and time for kneading.

I knead all my dough by hand. Even though I am the proud owner of a Kitchen Aid mixer, I love the feel of dough and the way it changes under my hands as the gluten forms. It’s a matter of preference, but I’m a hands-on gal.

I was worried that the dough wouldn’t rise well with the cornmeal in it, but it doubled nicely on the first rising. The dividing of the dough called for two 5″x9″ pans, and stated that half the dough could be put aside in the fridge for a day or two. I baked one loaf in the 9″x5″ pan, but I think I will use a smaller 8.5″x4.5″ pan for the second as it rose pretty well on the proofing rise but didn’t really fill the pan. And I got NO oven spring on it whatsoever.

The final result:

Though the loaf tested as completely done, it fell a bit as it cooled. The crumb was pretty even:

A little dense at the bottom, but not bad.

What really matters, though, is the flavor. I was a bit skeptical going in, but I have to say that this was delicious. It would make an excellent substitute for cornbread, and was tasty enough that I could see it being served as the special bread at a nice restaurant, and if we are having company it would be fun to bake individual breads in miniature loaf pans. We had friends over this evening, and there is only about 2″ of the end of the bread left.

I’m glad there is dough for a second loaf in the fridge.

I went into this regarding Anadama bread as kind of a throw-away first loaf in the book. I figured I’d make it this once and be done with it. But as it turns out, this is an easy and delicious bread, and I will definitely be making it again. I think it might do well as a whole wheat bread, too. Bottom line is, a winner with which there will be more experimentation.

*When jumping up from bed at 11:30 at night because I realized I’d forgotten to feed the sourdough, I muttered in a Golum voice, “She needs…to feed. She’s always hungry.” And in that moment named my wonderful sourdough starter Shelob.

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