I Am Not The Next Bread Baker’s Apprentice

Whole wheat dinner rollsI’ve been interested in baking bread for a while, but so far I have only ventured into beer bread.  I’ve made it a few times and finally settled on this Red Fife and Beyond The Pale bread that is pretty awesome.  It was time to move on to something more adventurous – real bread!  With yeast!  And kneading! And rising!  I admit I have this romantic old-timey notion of baking fresh bread each day, remembering the smell in my grandmother’s kitchen as she made any number of delicious breads or rolls.  So, first things first, I wanted a cookbook specifically on bread.  I had narrowed it down to 3:

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking by Jeff Hertzberg, Zoë François and Mark Luinenburg

The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread by Peter Reinhart and Ron Manville

Although the 5-minutes-a-day idea is very appealing, I really want to understand the theory and basics behind bread before jumping into a simplified method.  As I’ve learned, bread baking is both an art and a science.  When deciding between the latter two books, I discovered The Bread Baker’s Apprentice contained something with the amazing name of Pain a l’Ancienne.  I was immediately smitten and I knew this was the book I wanted and the bread I would make.

Boy, did I have no idea what I was getting into.   I did, however, as soon as receiving the book and before even cracking the cover, run directly to the nearest natural food store to buy some yeast.  This is how it went:

Me:  Hi!  I’m looking for yeast?
Sales person:  Ok, what type of yeast?
Me:  Umm… I’m baking bread, so… are there different types?
Sales person: Are you using a bread machine?
Me:  No.
Sales person:  How much do you need?
Me:  I don’t know.  How much does it usually take to make a loaf of bread?
Sales person:  You know the little packets they sell at the grocery store, and how some recipes call for one packet?
Me:  No.
Sales person:  Have you made bread before?
Me:  No…
Sales person: (Looks at me skeptically) You’re going to need a recipe.
Me:  Oh don’t worry, I have a whole book, so I’m set!
Sales person: (Points to dry active yeast in the refrigerator section) This is probably your best bet.  (Shoots me another dubious look.)

Yeast – check!  I return home and pick up The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, prepared to skim the intro sections, choose a recipe and start on my bread baking adventure.  I flip directly to the Pain a l’Ancienne and start reading.  Wow, the recipe is four pages long.  Also, it takes two days.  And requires a bread-baking stone (apparently my pizza stone will work – yay, one thing I have!).  And misting the sides of the oven everything 30 seconds for the first few minutes it cooks.  SERIOUSLY??  Ok, no problem, so Pain a l’Ancienne is something I need to work up to.  I flip to the start of the book, hoping to find an easier recipe.  They’re in alphabetical order, so that’s no help.  Scanning the table of contents, I check each recipe with a name I’ve heard of that sounds interesting… they all take two days and involved numerous steps.

I go back to the beginning and start to read… The first 101 pages of the book contain an introduction, assumptions and rationales on how to use the book, and the 12 stages of bread.  Yes, 12.  How to measure flour (the proper way is to use a scale, which I do not have), the basket, or banneton for dough to sit in while it rises (which I also do not have), what yeast to use (fresh yeast was recommended, which, you guessed it, I do not have!).  In fact, I didn’t know there were different types of yeast (I know there are different strains which impart different flavours, in fact apparently you can capture wild yeast that exists in the air and grow your own!  How cool is that?  Ok, ok, one step at a time.)  I didn’t know the different between fresh, dry, active, instant, etc.

An hour later with my head spinning slightly (ok, maybe that was the wine), I put down the book, take to the Internets, and find this recipe for whole wheat dinner rolls from An Oregon Cottage which uses my Kitchen Aid mixer dough hook for kneading and takes less than 3 hours from start of finish.  The only small issue I had was getting them into “roll” shapes – I remember watching my grandmother do this and she made it look much easier than it is!  As you will see in the picture below, mine are all different sizes.  Otherwise, they worked out quite well.

Pain a l’Ancienne, I will conquer you someday, however today is not the day.

Red Fife Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls

2 tbsp dry active yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup local honey
3 eggs
1 cup milk
4 1/2 to 5 cups Red Fife flour
1 1/2 tsp salt

1. Dissolve the yeast in the water and set aside.

2. Cream butter and honey in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Add eggs and continue mixing. Add the milk and yeast mixture, mixing until combined (my ingredients didn’t combine very well at this stage – it was a bit lumpy, but this is ok, they still turned out great!)

3. Mix 4 1/2 cups of flour and salt in a separate bowl or measuring cup.  Add to wet ingredients in mixer and mix until combined.  Change to dough hook and knead for 2-3 minutes only, just until no longer tacky, adding a tablespoon or two of flour if needed. (NOTE: It’s ok if they still feel a bit sticky, but the dough shouldn’t come off on your finger when you touch it).

4. Let dough sit in bowl, covered, to rise for one hour. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead a couple of times, then let rest 3 minutes. (NOTE: The original blogger mentions a great tip of using a floured tea towel rather than getting a mess of flour on your counter – genius!)

5. Divide into 24 equal pieces (I used a big knife), shaping each into a ball and placing in a buttered 13×9 inch baking dish with the pieces touching.

6. Cover and let rise for one hour.  Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400.

7. Turn oven down to 350 and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

Makes two dozen rolls.  Goes great with Chicken Soup.

Dinner rolls out of the oven

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4 thoughts on “I Am Not The Next Bread Baker’s Apprentice

  1. Pingback: Family, Food and Thanks | Locavore Girl in the City

  2. They look good to me. I have made bread in a bread machine and without one. I recently tried my hand at gluten free bread in a bread machine and had success. My next step is to try it without the machine… we will see how that works out. I could just smell the bread cooking with your post and makes me excited for a weekend I can bake some bread 🙂

  3. I am very much enjoying your recent entries on bread making. For what it’s worth, my husband found getting started with breadmaking painful (also under the ‘tutelage’ of Peter Reinhart), but now just whips up loaves almost reflexively. He still has mountains to climb, but can now regularly say, ‘oh that’s much easier than it sounds’, because so many of the methods (like making a poolish) are second-nature to him now. So, take heart, and stick to it. Bread making is a wonderful old-time pursuit and well worth the time. Good luck!

    • Thanks for your support! I’m glad you’re enjoying my bread (mis)adventures. And it’s encouraging to hear that it will get better! The presence of these buns has been requested at Easter dinner this weekend, so I’m hoping they live up to expectations!

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