english muffins, hitz-style

I recently finished my first year in the Baking and Pastry Arts program at Johnson and Wales University. Many of the formulas we used in my breads and Viennoiserie classes came from Ciril Hitz’s books, Baking Artisan Bread and Baking Artisan Pastries and Breads. Chef Hitz is our department chair at JWU and occasionally teaches in the weekend program (in which I am enrolled). So far, my interactions with him have been limited to relaying messages from him or hitting him up for equipment and/or supplies, including one occasion in which I narrowly missed (by inches!) whacking him in the face with a transfer peel. So unless he’s forgotten or he’s extremely forgiving, I’m actually pretty happy I haven’t had him for an instructor yet. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure we all look the same in uniform anyway, so it probably doesn’t matter.

This English Muffin formula is from Baking Artisan Pastries and Breads. It’s different from my previous attempt in that these muffins are baked rather than cooked on the stovetop. The batter is scooped into the muffin rings and proofs on a sheet pan for an hour before they’re baked. Unfortunately, I only have four rings, which isn’t a problem when you’re cooking them the other way because you can only fit four rings in a pan anyway, but it is an issue when you have to proof a dozen at once. I ended up using the four rings, plus the four largest circle cutters from my school knife kit. I know: 4 rings + 4 circle cutters = 8 muffins, not 12. This was not apparent to me even though I was overfilling the molds because I had extra batter. There’s a reason all the math I do involves a calculator; I clearly can’t even count. At any rate, no serious harm was done, as they turned out fine.

We really enjoyed the chewiness from the multigrain soaker that was added to the batter. Chef Hitz suggests using a packaged seven-grain mixture, but I made my own three-grain combination — oats, flax seeds and wheat bran — basically what I could scrounge up from my freezer stash. There’s also some white whole wheat flour in the batter for additional nutritional oomph. The crumb wasn’t as filled with nooks and crannies as a store-bought muffin, but this might be due to my improvisational molding (and overfilling). I didn’t hear anyone complain though!

soft dinner rolls

I’m currently finishing up my next to last class for the school year — Principles of Artisan Bread Baking. It’s the first year class that I had been waiting for all year, and while it’s been fun and thoroughly educational, it’s also so well within my comfort zone that I haven’t felt terribly challenged. Perhaps it’s a mental thing — I’m simply not petrified of failing in this class. However, there’s one thing that has me completely stymied: “braiding” dinner rolls. I put that in quotations because it’s not really a braid — it’s made from a single strand of dough — but it’s twisted to look like a braid. I’ve been over it many times and had Chef and more adept classmates show me the technique again and again and I’m confident I’m doing it the same way they are…. it’s just that the final product doesn’t look quite right to me.

My practical is this Sunday and I know the dinner rolls are one of the products I will be graded on. I have to make a total of three shapes — the braid, a twist and a dog bone (sort of like a double twist). I’m not concerned about the last two. I made rolls today and practiced the braid. About halfway through the dough I think I may have had a breakthrough but then again, I’m not sure. We’ll see on Sunday.

classic french bread

Even though I’ve haven’t been posting regularly lately, I do still bake (recreationally speaking) very regularly. My hard drive is chock full of photos of baked goods, but I can’t find the time to blog any of it. However, JWU will be out for the summer in 12 short weeks and rest assured, I plan to resume my regular posting.

One of the things I’ve been making regularly at home has been bread. My go-to bread lately is the Classic French Bread from Peter Reinhart’s most excellent Artisan Breads Every Day (and I’m not just saying that because he thanks me — and over 500 other people — on page 215) — it’s just a straightforward, tasty, really consistent recipe. What I love most about it is that with a little bit of planning and very little fuss, we can have quality bread with dinner. Peter’s method in this book is to mix the dough the day (or a few days) before you intend to bake. You then refrigerate the dough overnight (or up to 4 days). While the dough is in the fridge, the flavor develops and deepens. On baking day, you shape the loaves, then proof and bake. It really produces some of the best bread we’ve ever eaten.

scali rolls

I made these the other day when I needed something bready to go with the chicken chili I was making. The recipe is from Bakers’ Banter, and looked like something I’ve made a number of times before. Unfortunately, as it so often happens these days, I didn’t manage my time very wisely and when it came time to braid and divide the dough, I was scrambling. I haven’t braided dough lately and couldn’t quite remember how best to go about it and then I kind of hacked the braided loaves into irregular lengths. Oh well. They were still tasty.

garlic grilled bread and eggplant caponata

More grilled bread, more caponata! I made this to take along on our trip west to see James Taylor at Tanglewood (the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra), although we ended up eating much of it at home the next day since it poured the evening of the concert and it was difficult to handle a large golf umbrella and a glass of wine and bread and caponata all at once.

Like the earlier grilled bread and caponata, these recipes were from King Arthur Flour’s Bakers’ Banter. This dough was made with garlic-infused olive oil and contained no cheese. It also had a higher ratio of semolina to flour which gave it more of a pita bread (without the pocket) texture — chewier and less soft than the Asiago bread. Sadly, the garlic flavor was so subtle as to be barely discernible. I wasn’t crazy about this bread and found myself wishing for the Grilled Asiago Rounds.

The eggplant caponata was very like the zucchini caponata I made before, just with eggplant instead of zucchini. The chunks were a little less defined (mushier) than in the zucchini caponata — just a little different but still very tasty.

english muffin toasting bread

More fun with overproofing here. I thought I was being super watchful but I misjudged how warm my kitchen was and how quickly the bread was proofing — it was ready a good 15 – 30 minutes earlier than expected and I was caught with an unheated oven — doh! But enough about that; let me tell you about this bread!

I first read about the English Muffin Toasting Bread on the Baker’s Banter last winter. I’m not sure what made me remember it now, but we were running low on bread and it sprang to mind. Much like English muffin batter, it’s made from a very wet dough and contains both yeast and a smidge of baking soda for leavening. The inside of the loaf pan is dusted with stoneground corn meal. The result is a bread which, tastewise, bears a remarkable resemblance to an English muffin, but without the messy dance of flipping half-cooked batter and muffin molds on a hot griddle. When sliced and toasted, the bread’s exterior is slightly crunchy and the interior is smooth and creamy. The crumb wasn’t as open and craggy I was expecting, but that’s probably due to the loaf’s sinking in the oven. But the best part of this recipe may be the quickness with which one can whip up this bread — a mere 90 minutes from start to finish! I’m looking forward to trying this one again — I’ll let you know how it goes!

bread baker’s apprentice’s white sandwich bread

We’re staycationing this week and (this is really unrelated) we’ve been trying to eat down our fridge and pantry (and stay out of grocery stores). We ran out of bread (all those sandwiches we’ve been making for our beach days!) and so I whipped up the white bread (variation 1 for those of you with the book) from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. I was super-diligent this time and kept a close eye on the bread so that it did not overproof. Still, the loaves were not super tall — I was expecting more oven-spring — but they were a beautiful golden-brown and had a rich buttery flavor. This morning P. made fried egg sandwiches (with cheese and bacon) on toast from this bread. Yum! 🙂