Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Martha Challenge

The Martha Saga continues.

I know I said she was dead to me, but I just couldn't walk away from her Pullman Bread recipe without conquering it. I made Peter Reinhart's Soft Sandwich Bread recipe from Artisan Breads Every Day a couple of times now, but it's just not doing it for me. Not like Martha's sandwich bread. Evil woman.

Reinhart's sandwich bread is tasty and has a great shelf life (especially in my handy Tupperware bread keeper). But it's delicate and tears easily when I try to spread it with peanut butter or even just butter. And it doesn't toast as evenly and thoroughly as Martha's denser, heartier sandwich bread. Plus it's a bit too sweet for my taste. So I decided I'm not going to let this she-witch with the minions and the bad instructions conquer me. I'm going to conquer her Pullman Bread recipe if it's the last thing I do.

So I made it again this weekend. I took notes on how long I baked it and how I covered it. Because I'm still working without a real Pullman loaf pan with the cover, I'm having to finagle the instructions (which Martha's minions lied about being accurate) to get it to come out right. Here is my latest result:

Not as pretty as I would like, but not horrendous either. It's taken some serious effort to try to modify Martha's instructions to work with a loaf pan sans lid, though, and I'm not quite there yet. It's tastes magnificent, though, and has a beautiful dense texture that toasts beautifully. The Big Guy and I made grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner with it tonight. Delish!

Here is where The Martha Challenge comes in. I challenge all you bakers out there to try this recipe also - with or without the requisite Pullman loaf pan with lid - and let me know your results. Are you up for the challenge? Here's the recipe.

Pullman Bread
Adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook

Total time commitment: about 4-1/2 hours

"Makes one 12-inch loaf. If you prefer a loaf with a rounded top, you can bake the dough without the lid in place; the baking time should be the same." (Famous last words, Martha.)

1-1/2 lb (about 4-1/2 cups) bread flour, plus more for dusting
3-1/2 tsp instant yeast
1-1/2 Tbsp coarse salt
1-1/2 Tbsp sugar
1/3 cup nonfat dry milk
2 Tbsp butter, softened
1-3/4 cups warm water (about 110 degrees F)
Spray oil, for bowl and pan

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flour, yeast, salt, sugar, dry milk and butter. Add the warm water and beat on low speed until the dough is smooth, elastic and uniform in color, about 5 minutes.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured work surface and finish kneading by hand, about five times, making sure all ingredients are fully incorporated and the dough forms a smooth ball. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Punch down dough in bowl. Pull the sides into the center. Invert the dough in the bowl so that it rests smooth side up. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise again until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour more.

Generously spray a 12" Pullman loaf pan with spray oil (or brush with vegetable oil), making sure to coat the underside of the lid (if you have one), as well as the bottom and sides of the pan. Set aside. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface. Roll out the dough to a 12" x 8" rectangle, with the long side facing you. Starting at the top, roll the dough toward you, gently pressing as you go to form a tight log. Tuck the ends in to make even. Gently roll the log back and forth to seal the final seam. Place the loaf, seam side down, in the prepared pan and slide the lid three-quarters of the way closed. (If working without a lid, cover with plastic wrap.) Let rise in a warm place until the dough is almost touching the lid, 45-60 minutes. (If working without a lid, your dough will rise in a rounded fashion about a half inch above the top of the pan.) Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Close the lid completely (or cover completely with foil) and bake, rotating pan halfway through, until loaf is light golden brown, about 45 minutes. Reduce oven temp to 350F, re-close the lid (or re-cover with foil) and continue baking another 30 minutes. [NOTE: These are Martha's instructions. My times were as follows: 30 minutes at 425F, then 29 minutes at 350F, checking it every five minutes in the last 15 minutes of baking. My oven tends to bake fast (fancy Whirlpool AccuBake(R) technology), so your results may vary. Let me know.]

Martha says to let pan rest of wire rack for 10 minutes, but I always just dump my bread right out onto the wire rack immediately after removing from the oven. Crust should be a deep golden brown and bread will sound hollow when tapped. Let cool completely before slicing. Bread can be wrapped in plastic (or stored in your handy-dandy Tupperware bread box) and kept at room temperature for up to 4 days.

This is The Martha Challenge. Are you in? Post your results below! Happy baking!

Snack Stadium!

Have you heard about this whole Snack Stadium - or Snackadium - phenomenon? I first saw a few pictures on Pinterest last year and I was intrigued. People had made these elaborate, mammoth football stadiums out of lunch meats and submarine sandwiches. I started heckling my "sister from another mister" Rachel about building one, since she and her hubby are the queen and king of parties and elaborately theme party munchies. She told me no, she would have to take out a second mortgage to pay for the ingredients! You can kind of get where she's coming from when you take a look at the size and scope of some of these suckers.

Source: Huffington Post
So this year when I started seeing these foodie marvels buzzing around Pinterest again...and even making an appearance in my favorite magazine, Every Day with Rachael Ray, I started bugging the crap out of Rachel again.

I sent her pins.

I emailed her links.

I texted her taunts.

But I think it was the all-out, down-and-dirty, gaunlet-to-the-ground CHALLENGE, accompanied by this image, that finally convinced the party people to give it a shot. I mean, come on. If you can do this, you win. Period. Party King & Queen Forever.

So Rachel started taunting me about this epic Snack Stadium they were building, telling me to prepare to be amazed. These crazy people were up til 3 a.m. working on it the night before the Super Bowl. And when we arrived at their house for the party, we were, indeed, amazed. Good work, Gollahers!!

Cue angels singing.
The football field is a cheesecake. O.M.G.
Ariel view from the Goodyear Blimp. Check out the adorable football-shaped brownie bites their daughter made!
Look at the cute little goalposts made of bendy straws!
Dips and condiments served separately
The Gollaher gang once again proved they are the party masters. And this Snack Stadium didn't break the bank! It doesn't have to be expensive cold cuts and cheeses and craziness to be impressive. I told Rachel we need to go into business together to build and sell Snack Stadiums next year for Super Bowl. (She thinks I'm kidding but I'm kinda not.)

So, what impressive snack stuffs did you have for Super Bowl??

Life Takes Over...But Baking Continues

The Big Guy was chastising me last night for not posting a new blog entry in a couple of weeks. But that's what happens when you have too many irons in the fire.

The last couple of weekends have been busy! I tried three new Peter Reinhart recipes, all of which turned out splendidly. And all of which came from his book Artisan Breads Every Day. I've referenced page numbers below.

My biggest problem when it comes to blogging about my baking experiments is remembering to take the darn photos. I get all caught up in the process of baking and forget about the need to document the steps visually. Or, I remember to take a few photos during the process, but when the finished product comes out, it's so delicious that it gets devoured before I remember to snap a shot of the end result. That's what happened weekend before last. We served the French bread - using Reinhart's Lean Bread recipe (page 46) - to guests on Saturday night with dinner, and I was too busy entertaining and enjoying the evening to capture it "on film." The sandwich bread I have no excuse for other than laziness. I thought about taking pictures of it a couple of times before we devoured it, but was too lazy to go do it. Meh, it happens.

Here are the baguettes made from the Lean Bread recipe and the Soft Sandwich Bread (page 105) loaves as they were rising:


Pretty, aren't they? I wish I had captured the finished products as well. But as the title says, life takes over.

The Lean Bread recipe tasted great, but the dough was a bit tricky to work with. So the next weekend I went with Reinhart's Classic French Bread recipe (page 49) to fulfill the request for bread boules for the Super Bowl party we were attending. My girl Rachel was going all out with a Snack Stadium, so I had to bring the goods in the baking department to accompany her soups. This time I remembered to take photos of the finished product but not of the steps it took to get there. Feast your eyes on these beauties:

I made them small so that more people could try them, and so that no one was tempted to fill up on soup and miss out on the glory that was the Snack Stadium. When making these bread boules (pronounced "bowl" by the majority of the world, but "bow-lay" by my dear hillbilly co-worker Heather), I went with a tic-tac-toe pattern of scoring on the top so we would have a guide to cut around to remove the centers of the boules for soup. Since there was not a scrap of bread left in the end, I'm calling this one a winner. Woohoo!

Now, you want the recipes? Go buy Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day! I promise you that even if you are a complete novice baker you'll find these recipes simple and easy to follow. I would reproduce them here, but every recipe comes with 3 pages of instructions. Don't be intimidated by that! The 3 pages of instruction is what makes these recipes so easy to follow. Reinhart doesn't leave out a single detail, therefore you're not left confused (unlike with Martha's recipes) and wondering if you've done it right.

Get in there and start baking! Or ask me for samples. Either way. Enjoy!