I've just received a copy of the Bread Baker's Apprentice by the bread guru Peter Reinhart, so I thought I'd join the BBA Challenge and work through the book systematically and post my progress. It's a very thorough book with about 100 pages of instruction in the beginning (which I love - I really enjoy those cookbooks that are half textbook, half recipes) and beautiful photographs throughout. Check out pinchmysalt.com for the rundown of how the challenge works. It happens to be one of my favorite blogs as well!
First bread in the book: Anadama Bread
It's cooling as I'm writing this and I'm doing my best to not break into it too early. I am on day three of this process, so I suppose waiting a few more minutes isn't too terrible...
This bread is made with a cornmeal soaker, which I started two days ago. You whip it up and let it sit overnight to release the goodness in the cornmeal. Then the next day I assembled the rest of the dough, which included molasses along with the standard bread ingredients. I used about half whole wheat bread flour and half unbleached all-purpose white flour... I now realize that I probably should've used the whole wheat flour for the sponge instead of using the white flour at that stage, but I don't think it's a major crisis. I never achieved the 'windowpane effect' with this dough, so I was a little concerned, but fortunately the bread turned out just fine.
After shaping the loaves last night, I placed them in the refrigerator to bake today. I had to let them proof for about four hours before putting them in the oven (since they came from the cold fridge, they had to be warmed back up to room temperature and then proof, hence the four hours as opposed to one or so). The smell of bread in the house was just lovely, and now that I've pulled them out to cool, they look great. I'm counting down to the moment I can try some :)
One thing about the book that doesn't jive with me is the fact that Reinhart discusses using plastic wrap or other coverings in the detailed pages in the first section of the book, but in the recipes only mentions using plastic wrap. I would classify myself as a "plastiphobe" when it comes to things in my kitchen or things I'm going to eat or drink in general, so the last thing I wanted to do was put plastic onto the dough. Instead, I have some heavy cotton dinner napkins that I bought specially for bread baking and placed a wetted napkin over the dough. When I had to refrigerate the dough overnight, I also covered it with foil to make sure that the cloth (and therefore dough) stayed moist. It seemed to work out just fine, so that's what I'll go with in the future.
WHOA! I just tried the first slice and I can't believe this came out of my kitchen! It's light and fluffy with a little grit from the cornmeal on the crust adding a nice texture, a bit of flavor from the molasses, a pretty light brown color, and somehow a little buttery. I might add a pinch more salt next time, but this is just great! I'm not so sure I want to share....