Saturday, January 24, 2009

Bread making begins

My friend Lisa has promised to teach me how to bake bread. It's an intimidating notion, this prospect of baking with living yeasty organisms, shaking your spatula at them and asking them to grow. I decided to take the task in parts, starting with less of a bully, parmesan pull-aparts. They sound so playful, don't they? Their picture in Gourmet magazine shows them as stately, golden, gazing up at the camera with a look of obstinate professionalism. For some reason I neglected to take after photos. So you'll just have to believe me that they are quite gorgeous and glazed.

I was ecstatic when I mixed the warm milk with both the honey and the yeast, and in just a couple of minutes the yeast decided to break into action, foaming and frothing and proving to be alive. I always fear these tasks in a cold home, but if you give it just what it needs, like the right temperature of milk and maybe even heat your mixing bowl, it'll feel the love and rise up to your every request. Probably a close second though, to seeing the yeast and then the dough rise is the satisfaction of punching that dough down and feeling the air poof and collapse the entire thing.

I made a double batch of these, mostly because I had lots of everything they needed, and took one portion to work. They disappeared, leaving traces of golden crumbs throughout the office desks and floor. They gave an extra sort of reason to persevere on a below zero winter day. Hm. These rolls are actually very similar to the rolls I grew with my mom making. The parmesan definitely is very evident and a good savory punch to accompany a nice winter bowl of soup.

Next, before my lessons with Lisa begin, I want to make salt-speckled cracked-wheat topknots.

Parmesan Pull-Aparts
From Gourmet, February 2009 edition

2 tsp active dry yeast (from a 1/4-oz package)
1 tsp mild honey or sugar
2/3 cup warm milk (105-115 F), divided
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour plus 2 TB for sprinkling
1 1/4 cups grated (with a rasp) Parmigiano-Reggiano (1 1/3 oz)
1 tsp salt
3 large eggs
5 TB unsalted butter, cut into TB pieces and softened
1 TB 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 form, start over with new yeast. Whisk together 2 1/2 cups flour, cheese, and salt, then mix into yeast mixture along with remaining 1/3 cup warm milk at low speed. 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 TB 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 TB 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 9x2" round cake pan and cover with a kitchen towel (not terry cloth). Let dough rise in a draft-free place at room temperature until doubled and dough fills plan, 1- 1 1/2 hours.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees 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.

NOTES: We keep our house quite cold, so I usually turn the oven on low, open it to release some of the heat, turn oven off and oven light on, then place rolls to rise in the oven. Also, if you make a double batch of these, you will only need five eggs, not six. They freeze fine, but are best fresh. Thaw them completely if you freeze a batch, then reheat on a baking sheet at 350 degrees for 5-10 minutes.
In retrospect, I would have cooked the rolls closer to 20 minute then 25. They continue to bake a little when they are removed from oven, and I love my bread a little less dry.

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