Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Perfect Bread

I've been doing this nearly three months and still have not blogged about one of my favorite food activities: baking bread.

A number of years ago, my wife gave me a Kitchaide mixer and I was off to the races. I have experimented with many bread recipes and bake most of our bread. I bake two loaves at a time, cut them in half (unless they are whole wheat or rye which keep better so a whole loaf stays fresher longer) and freeze them. They unthaw quickly, about three to four hours, and lose virtually none of their taste.

By far the best bread book I have found is the Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhardt. I bought this book years ago at the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia (a very cool place, but that's another story) and have still only baked about a third to half the recipes.

Unlike most cookbooks, every one of Reinhardt's recipes comes out perfectly. His secret is pre-ferments, relatively small portions of dough that you mix the night before, allow to rise for several hours and then keep overnight or longer in the fridge. Reinhardt is a food scientist and his book has long, highly technical discussions on the chemical reactions that result from this process, but the bottom line is fantastic tasting bread.

This weekend I made what my wife loves calls "the perfect bread": Reinhardt's potato rosemary bread. The key is the leftover mashed potatoes which give the bread a unique smoothness that perfectly compliments the cool of the rosemary and the airiness of the loaf.

Here is the recipe:

The night before mix together 2 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour, half a teaspoon of instant yeast and 3/4 to 1 cup of warm water. Form into a ball and knead for four to six minutes. Place in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise two to four hours until doubled in size. Remove and knead to de-gas. Return to bowl, cover with plastic wrap and put in fridge overnight. It will keep several days.

About an hour before making bread, remove the dough from the fridge and use a pastry cutter to cut it into 10 pieces. Cover with a towel and let sit about an hour.

Put pieces in the bottom of a stand up mixer bowl with a cup of leftover mashed potatoes and a tablespoon of olive oil. In a separate bowl, mix 3 cups plus 2 tablespoons bread flour, two tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast. Mix and add to mixing bowl along with 3/4 a cup plus 2 tablespoons water.

Mix with a mixing hook until it forms a ball. Turn out onto floured surface and knead for 8 to 10 minutes. Put in bread bowl and cover with plastic wrap. After two hours, dough should have about doubled. Remove and cut into two pieces. Flattened out each piece, roll into loaves and put in oiled loaf pans. Cover and let rise for about an hour.

Place in 400 degree oven and bake for about 20 minutes, turn and bake another 15 to 20 minutes until loaves should hollow when thumped on bottoms. Put on rack to cool.

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