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Last week I gathered various Amazon gift cards I had collected over past months and applied them to my order of a nice chef’s knife and a brand new hardcover book (I never do that, even with gift money). The knife is the sharpest I have ever used (fingers, beware) and it makes chopping veggies much less of a hassle and in fact, less of a risk—dull knives cause more accidents. The book is this one by baker Peter Reinhart. His previous bread cookbook was a huge hit, but I don’t have it, and I was encouraged to get this new one on account of reviewer comments such as “this is Reinhart lite” and that it was probably the most thoroughly tested cookbook ever. I like thoroughly tested recipes. That’s why I suffer from Cook’s Illustrated dependency. Anyway, I do have some bread baking experience but it’s not been altogether successful, and I’m no scientist in the kitchen. I don’t need pages of explanation about different bacterial strains in sourdough before making it confidently. I just want straightforward directions about how to make good, crusty bread. In the past I’ve come close, but not close enough to justify the extra planning involved in making “slow” bread rather than a quick sandwich loaf, and my results were kind of sporadic.

Once I can get some pineapple juice I will start a seed culture so that I can begin experimenting with the sourdough recipes in the book. For now I’ll concentrate on the simple instant yeast recipes, like the French bread. I have a stand mixer that handled the double batch for me, but the texture of the dough made it a dream to finish kneading (the machine or your hands knead it for 2 minutes, then you knead by hand for another minute). I didn’t have to add any extra flour and it was perfectly smooth and tacky, so I’m pretty sure this would be quite easy to knead entirely by hand. Since the recipe makes two large loaves, I went ahead and divided it into two bowls: one I will bake tomorrow after a long night in the fridge, and the other will sit for about 4 days until I want to bake again. Reinhart says the quality of the dough begins to deteriorate after that point, but it can be kept in the fridge up to a week. There were also directions for freezing the dough! I love the flexibility. I honestly had no idea yeasted dough could sit for so long without slowly overgrowing and taking over the fridge.

We’ll see how this effort at artisan breadmaking turns out. I hope that the mediocre rye bread I had to buy in a pinch last week is the last loaf of bread I purchase for a long time.

Edited next day:
more thanks go to Susan for pointing me to The Fresh Loaf forums. I made generous use of the collective expertise there today when my bread was rising slower than molasses in…February, let’s say. It was sort of a silly question but the tips that flowed in were well worth posing it. Now I know to let my baguettes rise longer when I make them later in the week, DV. :)

Here is the finished, slightly diminutive loaf. It does have good flavor, a fine crust and a delightfully chewy texture.
bread

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