Monthly Archives: May 2010

#40. White Bread Makeover – from Drab to Fab!!

As I turned the page to our next challenge in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice cookbook I was a little disappointed to discover that we would be making white bread.  Now don’t get me wrong here.  I’m not one of those nutrition nuts who never lets anything put whole grains pass her lips.  And I’m not such a food snob that I would never eat regular packaged white bread.  I happen to believe that certain foods call for squishy white bread.  When it comes to a peanut butter and jam sandwich, the softer the bread, the better. 

No, my disappointment stems from the fact that we are nearing the end of the book and it seems kind of anti-climactic to be making  simple white bread so close to the end.  However, the breads are listed alphabetically in this book and so thrilling brioche, ciabatta, cinnamon buns and cranberry walnut celebration bread were at the beginning of the book and white bread comes near the end.  Perhaps Peter Reinhart should have called it Basic White bread?

As I stood at my kitchen counter, trying to muster up the enthusiasm to tackle white bread, my beautiful rosemary plant caught my eye and I had divine inspiration.  I was going to give my white bread a makeover.  You know, like on the cover of all those beauty magazines, where they promise that you can go from drab to fab in 10 minutes! My plain Jane white bread would be transformed into little buns in the shape of knots and topped with poppy and sesame seeds and  coarse salt.  I also planned to make a second batch using buttermilk instead of water in the dough.  These would become rosemary and roasted garlic cloverleaf rolls.

Most white bread recipes are enriched with milk of some sort, as well as egg, butter or oil and some sugar.  I used skim milk powder and water in my first batch.  The added fat came from butter and an egg. 

The dough comes together very quickly in the mixer.  Then it is allowed to ferment for until it doubles in size.  This happened in an hour.  I weighed and divided the dough into 18 equal pieces and formed rolled out 8 inch ropes.  After a 10 minute rest the ropes are twisted into knots.

Making knots is a simple way to dress up plain dinner buns.  Think of it like taking your everyday ponytail and twisting it up into a french knot.  Although my hair is never as cooperative as this dough was.  These knots were a joy to make!

After an hour of proofing time the knots received a thin layer of egg wash and a sprinkling of poppy and sesame seeds and some coarse salt. Fifteen minutes in a hot oven and they were done.  Crunchy on the outside from the seed topping and soft on the inside. 

For my second batch of white bread, Peter Reinhart offers a buttermilk variation.  He admits to being a “buttermilk guy”.  My kind of guy!  And while we’re on the topic of buttermilk, I have a bit of a pet peeve.  Why is buttermilk only sold in 1 litre containers?  I use a cup in the recipe and the rest just goes bad in my fridge.  That is, until I discovered that you can freeze the leftover buttermilk.  So now I can be a buttermilk girl whenever the whim strikes.

To create my little garlic rosemary cloverleaf rolls, I roasted some garlic for about 45 minutes until it was nice and squishy.  I mashed it with a fork and kneaded it into the dough, along with some chopped fresh rosemary.

Once the buttermilk dough had proofed, it was divided into 18 equal pieces.  I used a scale to save my sanity.  Each piece is further divided into 3 and then each little piece is rolled into a ball.  Then the little balls go into greased muffin cups and are set aside for final proofing.

Another hour and they had swollen to fill the pans. I sprinkled them with a bit of chopped rosemary and coarse sea salt.  Into a 400 oven for 12 minutes and they emerged golden brown and adorable.  Almost too cute to eat, but the aroma was too intoxicating to resist.  They were pillowy soft and melted in your mouth.  I really loved them! 

Makeover mission accomplished.  I think our girls were really glamorous!

#39. Vienna Bread


I was surprised to learn that Austria was the center of the bread universe hundreds of years ago.  These days French and Italian breads hog all the glory, but in fact, these wonderful artisan breads came to France and Italy courtesy of the Austrian-Hungarian empire.  It was there that the technique of adding steam to the ovens was developed.  The French have taken this method and developed, arguably, some of the best breads in the world, but it is the Austrians, specifically, Vienna bakers that we have to thank for this idea.

So this week, in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge, we pay tribute to Vienna Bread.  What makes Vienna bread different from French or Italian breads is the enrichment of the dough.  A little sugar and malt powder are added to help brown the bread and some butter and an egg to help tenderize the loaf.  I decided to make little pistoles (hoagie shaped buns) with my dough.

I also decided to treat the buns to a little Dutch Crunch topping. Made popular in Eastern Europe by Dutch bakers, this topping is a paste made of rice flour, bread flour, instant yeast, sugar, salt, vegetable oil and water.  You brush it on the dough before baking and the paste dries and cracks during baking, giving the surface  of the bread a mottled appearance and a crunchy texture.  Ever since I read fellow BBA Challenger Phyl’s post of his Vienna bread, I have been dying to try this topping.  It reminds me of my dry scaly dragon skin in the winter.  Not a very appetizing comparison, I realize, but kind of cool to look at.

The day before making the dough a pate fermente is prepared.  This is a starter, made with  flour, water, salt and yeast.  Peter Reinhart promises that this pre-ferment adds so much character to the finished bread.  On day 2 the dough is mixed up until satiny smooth and supple.  It rests for about 2 hours, until doubled in size and then is divided into 12 equal sized pieces.


Each lump of dough is formed into a little round ball.  This is so much fun to do!

Then after a 20 minute rest, the little balls are formed into pistolets (hoagies).

At this point, the dutch crunch can be mixed up and brushed onto the rolls, or you can wait about 90 minutes  until the rolls have proofed and are almost doubled in size and brush just before going into the oven.  If you brush them before proofing you get a more dramatic mottling effect.  I decided to brush half the rolls before proofing and the other half just before baking so I could compare.  The paste reminded me of a papier mache art project.


The buns proofed for about an hour and then into the oven, with a steam pan underneath to help enhance the crunchy topping.  The buns which were brushed before proofing (at the bottom of the photo) had a much more pronounced mottled appearance.  The mottling was much more subtle on the ones where the dutch crunch was brushed on just before baking (top of photo).

One bite through the brittle crackling topping yielded a soft pillowy interior.  These were fantastic.  Although I generally like my bread with a bit of chew, the salty/sweet crunchy topping and the fluffy tender inside were addictive.