Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Cider Bread

I've been meaning for the longest time to do some recipe posts here, and when I tried a new bread recipe this weekend, I finally had the time and presence of mind to take some pictures.

Crust Porn.

So beer bread, apparently, is a thing. I've read that a few tablespoons of beer will enhance any bread's flavor, and I've seen breads wherein most or all of the liquid is replaced with beer such that the beer flavor is prominent. It always seemed like a cool idea.

However, I hate beer. I saw no reason, therefore, why I couldn't do the same thing with hard cider. We'd recently found a tasty line of craft ciders at The Great Guilty Pleasure (that is, Whole Foods), and they make one with molasses and Irish stout yeasts that seemed like it would assert itself well in a wheaty sourdough.

Crispin "Lansolowne"

I used Thom Leonard's Kalamata Olive Bread (sans olives), from Maggie Glezer's Artisan Baking Across America as my base recipe with regard to proportions of flour vs. starter vs. liquid, but I altered the composition pretty significantly. Incidentally, if you want to get started with sourdoughs, I can't recommend the above book enough. In addition to giving fantastically detailed directions, and recommending a solid rather than liquid sourdough (more reliable and lower maintenance for those of us who actually have a life), the book itself is just gorgeous.

Cider Bread

The morning before bake day, refresh the starter. That night, make levain. On bake day, mix the dough and ferment about 4.5 hours. Shape dough and proof 2 hours. Bake about 40-50 minutes at 435 F.
Makes two biggish loaves. Total time-- about 24 hours from the final sourdough refreshment. Active work: About an hour and a half to two hours if you're doing it for the first time (or stopping to take pictures!), more like 45 minutes to an hour if you're more practiced.

For the levain:
  • About 3 tbsp firm sourdough starter, refreshed 8-10 hours prior (I'll do a sourdough tutorial sometime.)
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water, filtered if you can help it (not because you fear "chemicals" but because, in my anecdotal experience, hard city water can do weird shit to your yeasts.)
  • 3/4 bread flour (if you can afford it, use King Arthur. Seriously, you'll thank me.)

For the bread:
  • Fermented levain
  • 1 1/4 cup lukewarm hard cider that has been allowed to go flat (the higher quality and darker, the better-- read: NOT Woodchuck.)
  • 2 Tbs beer (you want a light beer that isn't too hoppy, like a lager or a Belgian wheat beer.)
  • 3 Tbs boiled cider (this can be either sweet or hard cider that you have boiled down to a thin syrup, or you can buy it premade. I used about 2 cups of the stuff pictured, added a teaspoon each of molasses and honey, and boiled it down to about half a cup. I actually used about 1.5 Tbs in this recipe, but I think it could use more.)
  • 1 1/3 cup bread flour
  • 1 2/3 plus 3 Tbs white whole wheat flour (if using regular whole wheat, reverse this and the above proportion.)
  • 1/4 cup plus 3 Tbs whole rye flour
  • 1 Tb salt


 The night before baking--

In a non-metal bowl (apparently, metal can inhibit the growth of yeast), dissolve the starter in the lukewarm water. Add the flour, and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula (you want something wide and fairly flat to do this most efficiently) until quite smooth. Cover with plastic wrap, and leave at room temperature for 10-12 hours. It should be bubbly, very well expanded, and just beginning to sink in the middle.

Like this.

Bake day--

Scrape the levain into a nonmetal mixing bowl, and add all your liquid. Stir to dissolve the levain.
In another large bowl, mix your flours. I always whisk them together before adding the liquid, which insures even mixing and has the advantage of breaking up any lumps. Pour in the liquid and levain, and stir until all the liquid has been incorporated and you have what Maggie Glezer describes as a "rough dough."

But not as rough as this. You want all the flour mixed in.

Once the dough is fully mixed, turn it on to a board, and knead it for 10 minutes or longer, until it's smooth and shiny, and the gluten is visibly beginning to develop. You can check this by performing what's called the "windowpane test". Take a small piece of dough, and gently stretch it out between your fingers. You should be able to stretch it so thinly in the middle that it's translucent.

In practice, I find that the more whole grain flour you have in a dough, the harder it is for the dough to pass this test. So if you don't get a perfect windowpane (as I haven't here) at the end of a long spell of kneading, don't sweat it. This particular bread will be rising long enough to more than compensate. Getting the gluten development right at first blush is more of a concern for sandwich breads with short rises.

Kneading, by the way, is where I always break the rules of the recipe. The original directions call for you to knead the dough "on an unfloured board." Now, there's a reason for this. If you want the sort of open crumb texture and gorgeous, irregular holes that grace breads from the best bakeries, you're going to want to keep your dough pretty moist, since open crumb is created by a wetter dough which will allow yeasts room to let off more gas and to create the irregular pockets in the dough which translate to holes.
Unfortunately, I have always found that in practice, "unfloured board" usually translates to "board with a thick layer of dough stuck to it." One solution I have found which works reasonably well is to keep the board and one's hands wet, and to use a bench scraper. However, over the long kneading period this bread requires, continually doing this means the dough gets TOO gloppy.

So I alternate between water and flour. I try to start with water and go for as long as I can with it before the dough gets almost too gloppy. Then I use a judicious amount of flour, alternate maybe once or twice, and finish off with flour. This seems to work out fine. Or, if you're a lucky bastard, you can use a Kitchen-Aid, and the whole point will be moot. But know that I am jealously eyeing you.

Anyway. Once the dough is smooth and shiny, knead in your salt until it's fully dissolved. You should notice that the dough tightens up considerably at this point. Place the dough in a large, clean, lightly oiled mixing bowl, and cover with oiled plastic wrap or a wet tea towel.

After 20, 40, and 60 minutes, you need to turn the bread. Basically, what this is is extra kneading. It stretches the gluten and tightens the dough. Turn the dough out on a lightly floured board and gently stretch it out into a rectangle.

Fold it so the long sides come together, and then fold it again the other way, so that you have a nice, tight, vaguely squarish packet. Put back in the bowl, and repeat after 20 minutes. 

After the last turn, leave it alone for about 3 and a half hours. Yes, this seems like a ridiculously long time. Yes, it's necessary. And yes, you can go out and have a life during this three hours.

 After the first rise, or "ferment," the bread should be quite well-expanded and bubbly, though it needn't have doubled. Turn it once again onto the board, and cut it in half. Flip the halves skin-side up, and form them into rough rounds to stretch the skin over the top, all the while being VERY careful not to press out the bubbles. You want those bubbles.

Place each round skin-side down on the board, and form gently into a rectangle. Fold one long side over to just short of the center, and then fold the other long side so that it covers the new edge, as if you were making an envelope:

With the heel of your hand, carefully but firmly press the long end together so that it seals. Tuck the ends under, and place seam-side-up in some sort of vaguely oblong form, lined either with oiled plastic wrap or a HEAVILY floured tea towel. (I use rectangular baskets lined with tea towels. They have a horrendous Christmas design on them, but they had the advantage of being a. the proper size and shape, and b. being $1.50 apiece.) Let rise (the second rise is called the"proof" for about two hours.

About an hour before you are ready to bake, place your baking stone on the bottom rack of your oven, and place a wide, shallow pan of water on the top. Heat to 435 F. You want to do this so far in advance in order to get your stone good and hot. Refill the pan of water as necessary.

After two hours, turn your loaves onto a peel or a rimless baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. CAREFULLY brush or scrape excess flour off the loaves with a razor blade or sharp knife, making sure not to squash or nick them in the process.

With a wet razor blade, cut slashes in the bread. Hold the blade at a slight angle, cut deeply and deliberately, and whatever you do, don't tear.

You can do a number of patterns, but keep in mind that the way the bread expands means that if you cut one straight slash down the center, your loaf will turn into a pancake. I borrowed the following "wheat ear" pattern from another recipe in Artisan Baking:

Slide the loaves onto the stone. If you have a little spray bottle, generously mist the oven atmosphere with water before closing the door. Check after 15 minutes, and rotate the loaves if your oven at all unevenly. Bake for 25-35 minutes longer, rotating again if necessary, and if you have any doubt, bake it a few minutes longer. With bread in general, and especially with hearty, crusty sourdoughs like these, it's always better to err on the side of overbaking. A slightly overdone crust is far, far better than a gummy center.

The bread is done when the crust is a deep, dark chestnut color (the bottom should actually be teetering towards the color of semisweet chocolate-- not black, but a rich, deep, vaguely reddish brown) and when the bread sounds hollow when tapped with a fingernail on the bottom.

Place on a rack and allow to cool for AT LEAST 45 minutes before slicing into it. I know, the lure of hot bread is impossible to resist, but if you cut it before it's done releasing steam the crumb will become gummy.

Slice and enjoy with pretty much anything. It's delicious with only butter or creme fraiche, but it also goes beautifully with jam, and it's robust enough to stand up to cheeses or even smoked salmon. We plan to have grilled cheese (Cabot/Jasper Hill clothbound cheddar, my recent favorite!) and apple sandwiches with it tonight.

Holes! Victory is mine!

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