Sunday, October 25, 2009

Rise and Shine

I decided that this will be the fall and winter that I learn how to bake bread. I'm not talkin' quick breads like banana, zucchini, and peanut butter (yum). I have those down. I'm talkin' the real deal: yeast bread.

I'm a carb-o-maniac. I love bread, a lot, but have never actually made anything using yeast (with the exception of frozen bread rolls). When the weather turns cold and it's time to start making pots of soups, stews, and chilies- nothing is better than fresh, warm hunks of bread and butter to soak up the broth and mop up your plate. This year when the crock pot and stock pot come out, I'll be prepared with yummy homemade rolls and loaves of bread...which might also save me some money!

I told a few friends that I was interested in taking on yeast-breads, and got a lot of help! Now, along with the gooey dough on my counter, I'm ready to rise to the challenge. Kat helped by giving me a few of her special time-tested Artisan bread recipes that she bakes in a cast iron skillet, along with a few tips! Before I got that far though, I needed to learn the basics of yeast. Who better to teach me than my friend M.Anne- a bread lover who is going back to school to become a chemistry teacher? Yesterday, Amanda and I headed up to M.Anne's for a lesson in baking. We prepared three recipes- cinnamon rolls with sticky sweet 'goo,' Gourmet's Parmesan Pull-Aparts (in memory of Gourmet, of course), and dough for Five-Minute Artisan Bread.

While Amanda and I kneaded and mixed, M.Anne taught us the science behind yeast, explaining what makes the bread rise, and how to make it work every time. With bowls of dough rising, we gossiped, drank tea, laughed at the recipes and suggestions in her retro cookbooks, and played with her curious kitties that wanted in on the fun. It was a really fun fall day, the perfect way to get out of the cold and the rain. It was also delicious.

The cinnamon rolls were gooey and sweet, with the perfect soft crumb and sticky sauce. I brought a dish of 15 cinnamon rolls home to Evan, Mike, and Mark. I have about 3 left. The Five-Minute Artisan bread is a really cool recipe that involves making the dough, then keeping it in the fridge, allowing you to pull off hunks to bake when you need (or want) it. The perfect thing to make on a weekend, and have around during the week. I haven't baked a loaf yet, but the dough is all ready for me. The Parmesan Rolls were amazing- soft, buttery, flakey, and cheesy- tender on the inside with a lightly browned top. We ate them with M.Anne's homemade cream cheese (she makes bread, she makes cheese...the two things I need to survive). These pull-apart rolls are for sure going to join my Thanksgiving line-up from now on (ya hear that, Mel and John, we're having these rolls this year, and I won't take no for an answer)!

All in all, it was a great day in the kitchen- I spent time with friends, learned a few valuable lessons, and only gained about 5 pounds. And I have some delicious new recipes to add to my collection- and these ones really rise and shine.

Parmesan Pull-Aparts
From the late, great Gourmet Magazine

2 teaspoons active dry yeast (from a 1/4-oz package)
1 teaspoon mild honey or sugar
2/3 cup warm milk (105–115°F), divided
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour plus 2 Tbsp for sprinkling
1 1/4 cups grated (with a rasp) Parmigiano-Reggiano (1 1/3 oz)
1 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into Tbsp pieces and softened
1 tablespoon water

Stir together yeast, honey, and 1/3 cup warm milk in mixer bowl and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. (If mixture doesn't foam, start over with new yeast.) Whisk together flour (2 1/2 cups), cheese, and salt, then mix into yeast mixture along with remaining 1/3 cup warm milk at low speed. (You can also do this by hand, as we did). Increase speed to medium and beat in 2 eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat, scraping down side of bowl occasionally, until a very soft dough forms, about 3 minutes. Beat in butter, 1 Tbsp at a time, until dough is elastic, about 2 minutes. (Dough will be very sticky.)

Scrape dough into center of bowl and sprinkle with remaining 2 Tbsp flour. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Punch down dough (do not knead) and turn out onto a floured surface. Cut dough into 12 equal pieces and roll each into a ball by cupping your hand and pushing dough against work surface as you roll in a circular motion. Arrange rolls 1 inch apart in a buttered 9- by 2-inch round cake pan and cover with a kitchen towel (not terry cloth). Let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled and dough fills pan, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375°F with rack in middle.

Whisk together remaining egg with water and brush on tops of rolls. (You will have leftover egg wash.) Bake until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Loosen edges of rolls from pan with a sharp knife and invert rolls onto a rack, then reinvert and cool at least 20 minutes.
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