Sunday, 27 June 2010

Buttermilk honey bread

I'm not dead yet ! I feel sorry for the lack of updates in the past 2 or 3 months. Life has just been too chaotic around here lately. I had to go throught the announcement that my department was closing down, so some tough choices were made. Don't worry guys, I still have a job and everything is fine, but the changes were not made in the best way possible. Lots of confusion happened, with misinformation and so on. Had to take on a whole new training for the new department to which I was assigned, and I gave myself some time to get used to it.

But now back to business, with some bread !

This was the first time I made bread by hand. It seemed very complicated, but really the hardest part is to wait for the yeast to get into that leavening action, to get the yummy airy crumb inside. I did however, wondered why I had so much trouble kneading the dough at first... folks... don't hesitate ! If you think that you're not at the right consistency, even if you followed exactly the instructions, you're probably right and you need either to add a bit more moisture OR a little flour. Yeast is a living thing, and even in our standardized world, it will always have a slight difference from batch to batch. It's a tad hard to explain, but you'll know what I mean when you give it a try.

I've actually made two batches of the bread in the same week. Photo above shows the first batch of hot bread just out of the oven, with melting butter on top. It's quite an adventure to know when exactly to remove the bread, since we aren't accustomed to the real thing anymore. Most people will eat this soft (and full of preservatives) sandwich bread from the grocery, which is nothing like this beauty you'll get out of your oven. I'd never imagined I'd knock on my bread to judge it's doneness, without ruining it.

Here is some advice when making this recipe, especially if it's your first time.
  • If the dough is sticky, ligthly dust your work surface.
  • To make the seeds of your choice adhere to the bread, sprinkle them after you've brushed your dough with the egg glaze.
  • If your bread is turning darker than you'd like, but the baking isn't done yet, simply slide a piece of aluminium paper and place it loosely on the top of your bread; the global heath will still cook the bread, while the aluminium will reflect  it off the top, avoiding to burn it.
  • Achieving the braided look isn't difficult at all. Split the dough in three equal portions, roll them out (yeah, like plasticine !), braid them together, then coil on itself and tuck the last end of the braid under everything. The smaller the braid, the better looking it'll be, because the pattern will look more complicated.
  • For conservation, I placed mine (once cooled off !) in a bread bag I had saved from my local bakery. It's probably better to eat it in the following 48 hours after you bake it. Do eat it fast, because bread without preservatives won't last as long as regular store bought bread.

Second batch I made was actually to bring to a Beltane feast with friends in Quebec city. I sprinkled it with sesame seeds. As you can see the texture is already better and the braiding got some skill up too ! The bread was a hit at the gathering. It has a slight tangy flavor and the sweetness is quite subtle. Still, I've been amazed at how it tasted and I think I've gained enough confidence to tackle another one of those recipes soon !

Buttermilk honey bread

Makes 2 23x13 (9x5-inch) pan loaves or 2 freestyle round loaves.

3/4 Cup (180g/ml) Warm water (105°-115° F/40.5°-46° C)
1 Tbs (1 envelope/7g) Active dry yeast
1 Tsp Castor sugar (I used regular granulated sugar. You can also grind it to make it finer)
1 1/2 Cups (360g/ml) Buttermilk, warmed just to take off the chill (alternatively, brought up to room temperature)
2 Tbs (30g) Unsalted butter, melted
3 Tbs Runny honey (heat it, it's easier to pour)
1 Tbs Salt
6-6 1/4 Cups (765g-768g) Unbleached all-purpose flour (I used regular white flour)
1 Egg, beaten, with 1 Tbs Milk or cream (for rich egg glaze)

How to
Pour warm water into a small bowl. Sprinkle yeast and sugar over the surface of the water. Stir to combine and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. Cover with a dish towel. In a large bowl (or in the work bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment), add buttermilk, butter, honey and yeast mixture, and stir to combine. Add salt and 2 cups flour. Beat hard to combine. Add remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, beating with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula after each addition, until a shaggy dough is formed.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead about 5 minutes, until dough is smooth and satiny (if kneading by machine, switch from paddle to dough hook and knead for 3-4 minutes, or until dough is smooth and springy). Place dough in a greased bowl. Turn dough once to grease the top and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature until double in bulk, 60-75 minutes. Gently deflate dough with your fist. Turn dough out on a lightly floured work surface.

Grease two 23x13cm (9-by-5 -inch) loaf pans or a baking sheet for freestyle round loaves. Cover lightly with plastic wrap or a towel and let rise until fully doubled in bulk, 30-45 minutes. Twenty minutes before you put the bread in the oven, preheat oven to 190° C (375° F). Brush top of loaves with egg glaze. Put pans on the center rack of the oven and bake about 45 minutes, or until loaves are brown, pull away from sides and sound hollow when tapped with your finger. Remove loaves immediately to a cooling rack. Cool completely before slicing. Enjoy !

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