Tuesday, September 15, 2009

BBA Challenge #15: Italian Bread; On Scoring, and Rosemary Potato Bread

So, I have to confess something.

I made this recipe in the same week as the French Bread when we got back from Paris. And it was. Well. I don't know how to say it. I sort of goofed.

Now, we all have our moments when we are distracted or doing other stuff or just plum waiting for the bread to rise and bake so we can leave the house and do other things.

These are not the times to bake. Baking requires patience. And knowing how to let go of something you are creating. For a few half-hours, that is. One of the reasons I love to bake is that I am creating something that grows on its own. I don't need to tend to it like I would a Risotto, nor do I need to check on it every two minutes while I am preparing another dish and attempting to get them both to the table at the same time.

Bread. Is nothing like that. It is slow. It is calm. It just sits on the counter and waits. Bread baking is not about following directions, but, rather, following a process. You can follow directions and make competent bread, but you can learn how to bake and make excellent bread just by using a bread formula as a guide.

This is why I love to bake. I can do other things while the bread waits. While the bread bakes. The bread waits in the kitchen like an old friend, ready for you to help transform it into something beyond the sum of its contents.

Sometimes, though. You forget about your old friend. Or you are doing something else while your friend waits in the kitchen.

I goofed. I did it wrong. This time.

Perhaps the most influential factor in my distraction was this. There are three pre-ferments here. Two for two different miches, and one biga for the Italian Bread. You'll have to have a little patience on the miches. I'll get to them.

Despite the ridiculous number of different ingredients, I got the mise en place right. I even put everything in a separate bowl. I used Type 812 flour, as I do whenever the recipe calls for Bread Flour. I get this flour at a specialty flour store a couple minutes away by bike.

I actually hadn't done much bread by hand ever since I bought my mixer. But in this installment, the mixer was busy with the miches. Yes, the distraction.

Here are all the ingredients save some of the flour. I scraped the bowl down and dumped it on a floured board. Then added some more flour for dramatic effect and that is how I got the opening photo.

I actually had not kneaded in quite a while, so I had forgotten how the dough begins all runny and sticky and ends up silky and smooth. I did get a windowpane on this one, but I haven't figured out how to do windowpane shots and not drop everything. Perhaps if I had two more hands?

After the bulk rise, I cut the bread into one big loaf and rolls. I was going to bring the rolls into work for Monday morning breakfast, but...

Here's the shaping on the nifty perforated pan I bought a while ago. I use it because the sheet pans here fit the oven perfectly. That is, they leave hardly any room for air circulation. This is the smallest one I could find, and it almost takes up the entire oven area. I still have to put it on a rack, though, as it is about 1cm short.

From the photos it is fairly evident that I forgot. That I didn't check on the bread after a half hour just to see how it was doing all alone in the kitchen. I was probably catching up on reading my favorite blogs, though.

This is what came out. No oven spring. And I overbaked it. Too dark. I could say I blamed the malt powder, but, really, I only have myself to blame.

The thing that really irked me was the oven spring/scoring thing. Nothing happened. I expected the bread to blossom, particularly after reading this great post by Kelly from Something Shiny.

So, ever since reading about it on The Fresh Loaf, I had wanted to try the razor-blade-and-wooden-coffee-stirrer-as-lame trick. I have to tell you, it works wonderfully, but I have discovered that you really need to keep these things in mind.

1) The loaf cannot be overproofed. If you look at the three pictures above you will see what I mean. This is why all the directions say to bake the loaf when it is 1 1/2 times the size, and not doubled. You get nice oven spring, and the loaf will burst out where you cut.

2) You have to have good surface tension on the bread. Which means you have to shape it well when you shape it.

3) Most importantly, you have to do it with the full strength of your convictions. In the book, Reinhart mentions that he sometimes tells his students to say the word "slit" as they are cutting their slits into the bread. I have to say that this has helped me quite a bit, as I am concentrating on the blade and the slits, and not on the dragging that sometimes occurs when surface tension is not right, or when I am not doing it with feeling.

Of course, if the slit is not deep enough, you can take your lame and slice again. Just try to slit it in the same place so that no one will be able to tell.

Okay. So Italian Bread didn't work out. But are you ready for this?

You are allowed re-dos. With bread you can eat the evidence. In the above case, the bread was rock hard after a day, so we didn't eat it after that, though. But you can say. Okay, I made the bread. It didn't work out. Let's do it again!

I re-did the French Bread, but that will get its own post. I'm combining the Italian Bread and its re-do because I took like zero pictures of the Italian Bread process. I was making some Rosemary Potato Bread along with Italian Bread #2, because we had made potatoes. Yeah. Any excuse to bake.

Here's the second bake of Italian Bread.

I baked them on my incredible blue steel pans from Matfer that I scored at Mora in Paris. I waited until they were about 1 1/2 times their pre-shaping size then scored them.

This was the classic Italian Bread cut. One single long cut down the length of the bread.

I saw them expanding in the oven during the first few minutes and knew I had done everything right. I didn't need the stars and planets to align, just a little bit of care and carefulness.

Even the bottom was golden and gorgeous!

I did sideway slashes for the second loaf, but I think I must have shaped it funny because it was lumpy and thin in the middle.

We used this loaf to make Veggie Sloppy Joes out of a failed Chorizo attempt of mine. We were too busy stuffing our faces to take photos.

This is the crust shot of the larger loaf. I actually made the biga seven days prior, on a Saturday. I had planned to make the bread during the week, but had no time due to work, cooking and movies. Because of this, the bread had a slight tang, and our friend that was over thought it tasted like sourdough. The flavor was through the roof! Of course, after three days, the gluten starts breaking down, but in this case, it still worked. Just look at those holes.

I sliced it up to photograph it, but it was just an excuse to pop the slices into my mouth. Very yummy.

On the same day, I had also made a triple batch of Rosemary Potato Bread. Becuase we were swimming in bread, I called one of my colleagues who lives a few blocks over. I gave her a loaf of the Potato Bread as well as half of the larger Italian Bread loaf. She said, as many have said prior, that I should totally open a bakery.

I laughed. I do get that quite a bit, but I think it is just because they have not had really good bread. Oh, wait, Germany is full of really good bread. I mean really good bread that has no rye in it!

If you have made it this far, I'm going to give you a little eye-candy. I experimented with scoring on the Potato Bread.

This was the first loaf. Proofed just enough, scored. Into the oven.

Because the oven is rather small, I can only bake one bread at a time, so this one had an additional 40 min proofing time. It was already well risen, so it didn't expand as much.

I actually forgot to score this one, but it was the size of the first one, so it probably wasn't going to expand any more.

So you may ask when I have the time to make all this bread. The truth is, I don't actually, but I usually can carve out some time on the weekend to do a whirlwind marathon baking session, or just time our visits to the market with the initial rise of the bread.

Again, a shout out to Nicole from Pinch My Salt for coming up with the Challenge.

I'm very behind in blogging, but I've got tons of breads coming up! See you soon!


  1. Your re-do of the Italian bread looks incredibly good!!!!!

  2. I love it when a blogger is honest...is willing to share his/her goofs and successes. Bravo!

  3. Great write up, as always. Full of information and helpful advice.

  4. Daniel, I'm hungry for your bread. Have you looked at the recipe for the rye bread? Can't find the flour here, have one more place to check,but I may have to send off to KA. Your post got me excited for the upcoming weekend and my relaxing time with bread.

    Anne Marie

  5. Amazing. I think, maybe, we just sit and eat our way through those beauties!

  6. Your redo's do look great! I cant wait to get back to baking bread again...the few weeks off did me good...on to Kaiser rolls...a new favorite..we'll see. Love all your pics! I will be back for more! Happy baking!

  7. Wonderful post. Bravo to you for re-doing the italian bread. I also have major screw-ups when I try to do too many things at once. Your slashing is wonderful. As you pointed out, in order to get a great shash you have to catch the loaf before it over-proofs! Not always easy.

    The potato bread is a work of art!

  8. Wow, those re-dos are exceptional! I am hungry for good bread now, and looking forward to the rosemary potato one.

  9. The second batch of Italian loaves look beautiful and the tangy flavor sound extra yummy. I love the potato bread too and the write-up.:)

  10. Daniel,

    Those second run loaves of Italian look fabulous.

    I think your skinny-in-the-middle loaf turned out that way simply because the slashes were on the ends and didn't bypass each other in the middle. So the centre ended up with a solid band of tight crust. Still, the insides look really delish.

    So how did you find the Potato Rosemary bread? I've made it previously but that was a fair while back and I don't actually recall how it was other than "I liked it" when I made a fast post on it (pre the million photo post style).

    And I'm deadly envious of your access to brotforms. Just sayin'.

    I'll check back soon to see how you do with the Pain a l'Ancienne.