Wednesday, December 22, 2010

BBA Challenge #43: Roasted Onion and Asiago Miche

So. Here we are. Shredded Asiago.

I've really been dragging my feet towards the end of the challenge. Not just because I didn't want it to end, but mostly because I couldn't find Asiago in Berlin. True, I was only half-heartedly trying.

The thing is, finishing the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge meant finishing a significant part of my baking education. Before I started the challenge bread for me meant measuring in cups, and always forgetting if I already had five or six cups. It meant a tablespoon of yeast and a tablespoon of salt. It meant baking bread either as a boule or in loaf pans, with no other possibilities.

But even as early as Brioche or Ciabatta, bread became transcendental. It might have been baking the Casatiello, which remains my favorite bread of the book. I remember slicing the first piece off the mushroom shaped loaf and just thinking about how much crust this piece had. In fact, it might have been all crust. It might also have been when I made my own starter in anticipation of the sourdough section. Or when I began baking 2 kilo sourdough miches as "practice" for the Poilane-Style Miche.

This bread, as well as the last one are included in the Gracenote section of the book, and are cheese-laden celebrations of what bread can be. For this bread, I really wanted to make everything as in the recipe. No changes, no shortcuts.

The Asiago was not easy to find. I asked at several cheese counters and shops in the city, and in an act of desperation, I posed my question on Twitter. In hindsight, I could have asked at KaDeWe, but it's not usually a place where you can find anything easily unless you shop there regularly, which, really, should not turn into a habit. I really only go there when I'm desperate or can't find something anywhere else, and I guess I wasn't at that point yet.

Despite her initial suggestion to use Parmesan cheese, as she had done for her bread, AP269 was the first to suggest Centro Italia. Further recommendations followed from Peggy at and Küchenlatein. Poking around on Centro Italia's website, I discovered that they have two locations (Now they have three, one just opened in Prenzlauer Berg). There's one near the Schloss in Charlottenburg, and one in the middle of nowhere in Marienfelde. Luckily for me, the one in Marienfelde was about ten minutes closer, and only required a single train. So, I decided to go to that one the following weekend.

That weekend, I looked up the train schedule, double-checked Google Maps and noted the hours. I left for the Marienfelde location.

It was closed.

Somehow, in the rush that defines the weekend, I had only written down the hours of the Charlottenburg location, which is open two hours longer on the weekend. So, Marienfelde? Closed. When I got home, I checked the train schedules for when I would have to leave for Centro Italia on Monday morning with enough time to get to work. I was determined to get this cheese.

On Monday, I arrived at Centro Italia two minutes before nine. There were three guys smoking just outside the entrance, and I just assumed they were also waiting for the store to open. Of course, I thought it was normal that people would be waiting in front of a large Italian supermarket waiting for it to open in the early morning. After about a half-minute of talking amongst themselves, one of the guys told me that I could go in.

I should have gone directly to the cheese counter and fled. But, instead, I went down every aisle. Zucchini spread, Linguine (!), nine thousand different kinds of tomato sauce. It was amazing how much stuff they managed to pack into such a small space.

I walked out of there with two kinds of olive oil, as well as assorted Italian groceries. When I was at their very extensive cheese counter, I asked about the Asiago and the guy didn't even flinch when I told him I needed a half kilo.

When I finally got home that night, I went to work measuring flour, but when I read down to the rest of the ingredients, I quickly realized we had neither chives nor green onions. So much for starting the bread. I had to wait until that Thursday to pop over to the grocery store after work and nab the last two bunches of green onions. I was looking everywhere for fresh chives in the pot (many fresh herbs are sold in a little pot in Germany, in case you want to try to grow them). No dice. I settled for a small box of frozen chives.

And then. I was able to start the last bread in the Challenge.

I've actually been meaning to write an entire post about this device. It's a Mouli-Julienne from Moulinex. I first heard of it on David Lebovitz's wonderful post about Celeriac salad, he pretty much raved about it, and after a bit of quick googling, I found a picture of it, and then, finally, found one on ebay. Amy refers to it as the "Eiffel Tower" which was puzzling until one day I took it out of the cabinet and the long part was on top, which made it look just like the tower. Take a second to look at it closer, and tilt your neck if you have to.

Asiago is a strange cheese. Not sharp like cheddar or some of the drier Italian Cheeses, and not as mild as say, aged Mozzarella.

As I was peeling the wax and paper from the cheese, I discovered these traces of the name. They were probably there just to make sure I hadn't accidentally bought a different cheese. Then again, it could have been "Asiag" cheese, and not Asiago.

And in under a minute, with the help of the "Eiffel Tower" I was done.

I set up my mise en place for the challenge one last time. The thing about having all your ingredients at the ready is that it is so convenient. You're not searching for the salt, and then measuring it out, cursing the spoon scale for being in two pieces- the spoon part on the drying rack, and the scale part in your baking drawer.

As usual, I used my Electrolux DLX/N26/AKM4110W. Just Add Water. And then everything else. It's odd how I haven't really mixed dough by hand ever since I got it at the beginning of last year. And to think that I bought it because I wanted to make pizza. I've made more bread than all the pizzas I've eaten since then.

Of course, when you have an ingredient that is a bit rare, you tend to go overboard with hoarding it until you need to use it. This was a warning for Amy and I, just in case we decide to make grilled cheese with the precious Asiago.

And then, as quickly as the shredding, the dough was done. Normally, I just walk away and then check on the dough periodically, eyeballing it to see how done it is. This is actually easier when I'm doing periodical stretch-and-folds, since the more difficult the dough is to fold, the closer it is to the end of the first rise.

After the allotted three hours, it had risen to between one-and-a-half and double. Perfect.

Despite what the book said (to do it the night before), I roasted the onions as I was making the bread. Yes, that is a quarter sheet pan, only because a half-sheet pan doesn't fit in the oven if I want the door to close.

After the second rise, the bread is flipped over onto the peel and brushed with olive oil.

Then dimpled just like Foccacia.

And, like any good Foccacia, topped with the ingredients. Except that this time they were cheese and onions.

Normally, I just put flour on the peel and flop the bread onto it, score it and immediately load it into the oven using quick jerking motions to get the loaf from peel onto stone. The difficulty is compounded because the breads I love baking are actually the same diameter as the width of the stone. So I have to make sure that the bread is not falling off the back of the peel, and that I've approached the oven symmetrically, so that the sides fit on the peel. If I've done enough stretch-and-folds, the dough tends to just sit on the stone and not move. With doughs with considerably less structure and strength, the dough tends to melt to the edge before oven spring kicks in with its rising power.

With all that in mind, I decided on parchment paper for these loaves. I had a bad experience with a pizza sort of sticking to the peel and going onto the stone half-up and half-down, so I didn't want to chance it, especially with all these toppings and the very rare cheese!

I only remembered afterward that many in the Challenge had written about their onions burning in the oven, atop the bread. I also have the tendency to bake my loaves much darker than most others I know. Perhaps it's because I use darker flour, or because my electric oven has an exposed heating element at the top. Or maybe because I crank up the oven to the max and forget to turn it down. I'm not sure.

The crumb was absolutely lovely, with irregular holes, as well as tons of moisture. Perhaps because I kept to the recommended baking times and didn't overbake it to get it browner.

I was a bit disappointed that the onions burned, but they weren't so burnt that I had to pick them off.

When sliced, the bread took on a near-magical quality. All that cheese! It certainly added flavor to the bread, but you could barely recognize it in the crumb itself.

Though this was supposed to be a three-day bread, the bread sort of somehow started overproofing in the fridge during the last rise after only an hour, so I just took it out and baked it. This is the second loaf, just before going into the oven.

And the bottom of the second one the next morning. I froze half of the first loaf as soon as it came out. The other half we inhaled that evening with soup. I also froze half of the second loaf, and snuck slices from the non-frozen half. Note the smoothness of the bottom. Usually, I love the wrinkled flour dusted bottom of loaves, but for this one, I didn't mind.

It was perfect.

I have enjoyed baking with these other finishers of the BBA Challenge. I hope to be able to add your name soon!

Sally from Bewitching Kitchen
Phyl from Of Cabbages and King Cakes
Cindy from Salt and Serenity
Oggi from I can do that!
Sarah from My Runchey Life
Paul from Yumarama
txfarmer's blog (in chinese)
Abby from Stir it! Scrape it! Mix it! Bake it!
ap269 from Family and Food
Anne Marie from Rosemary and Garlic

If I've forgotten you, please send me an email or a comment with a link to your post and I'll include you in the blogroll.


  1. Congratulations!! I thoroughly enjoyed reading your adventures with the Asiago miche...and both loaves look absolutely perfect. What new baking adventures await?!

  2. Congrats! Your loaf looks delicious ~ I love the mild nutty flavor that Asiago cheese imparts. It's a favorite of mine on top of bagels.

  3. Daniel,

    I love your blogs. The trips through Berlin to find ingredients fascinate me. What are you going to do now?

    Anne Marie

  4. A huge congratulations!! I'm not quite halfway through the challenge and it's inspiring to see yours come to a close. I look forward to your new adventures- wherever they take you.

  5. Congratulations! I look forward to reading about your baking adventures in the future. I think the BBAC group needs to find a new book to bake our way through.

  6. A bit late to add my congrats to you, but better late than never!

    Loved reading your post, made me a bit nostalgic about the BBA CHallenge and all the fun I had baking my way along the book

    What's next for you?

  7. This has me salivating... fascinating bread! Next time you're at Centro Italia, you must try their salsiccia, it's amazingly good. Worth a trip to Berlin alone, if you ask me... ;)

  8. Weird. I missed this post! How could I???? Congrats on finishing the challenge. Hilarious post, awesome bread. I think I'll have to go to Centro Italia to get some Asiago to REALLY finish the challenge, huh? Or does Parmesan count ;o)?

  9. Have you ever tried to grow your own chives? I'm not sure about Green Onions, but chives are almost impossible to kill if you have a window box - umm, do people have window boxes in Berlin? - or even a little space inside in a spot that urban plant growers might call: some direct sunlight. You can't put much else near them, they tend to take over whatever space they're given, but they really don't need attention. At Thanksgiving, I'll go out back behind my parents house, dig through some snow, because yes there's snow enough snow that you have to dig in November, find that their plant, the one that's been there since I was little, and cut some off chive-y fan-tans.

  10. Congratulations on finishing!! What a wonderful journey!!! :)

    And this bread looks like a divine one to finish up on! YUM!