Thursday, May 28, 2009

pain d'epi

In the spirit of such Internet bake-alongs as Tuesdays with Dorie and The Daring Bakers, a group of ambitious baking bloggers recently started The BBA Challenge, in which they are baking every recipe from The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. Such a challenge very much intrigued me because I am, at the core, a bread baking devotee, but I was reluctant to participate because I've been feeling kind of overwhelmed by my dwindling time as a full-time at-home parent, particularly with the kids' summer vacation coming up. Then I remembered that I recently completed my very own "bake Peter Reinhart's entire book" challenge, baking from his upcoming Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day, for which I was a tester (one of 500 or so!) for 6 months.

During the course of the testing, I purchased Artisan Breads in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois, but never found a moment to bake from it before now. So earlier this week I baked the Pain d'Epi (Wheat Stalk Bread), which I selected because (a) I've never made Pain d'Epi before and (b) it was one of the recipes in the book that used bread flour (which was all I had in large quantities in the house at the time). Each recipe in the book makes enough dough for a few loaves -- the idea being that you mix up a large batch and retard it in the fridge until you are ready to make some. You can then lop off a hunk and bake a loaf at a time, saving the remainder for another day.

As this was my first attempt at baking from the book, I haven't yet gotten the technique down. It's actually really simple... maybe too simple for me. I'm not used to being so carefree with my bread baking and I actually like fussing over and kneading the dough. Artisan Breads in Five Minutes a Day is relatively freewheeling in that regard. I like very precise instructions (which is why I love Peter Reinhart so much, I guess). I also live and die by my kitchen scale. Artisan Breads in Five Minutes a Day measures ingredients by volume rather than weight and refers to dough sizes as "a grapefruit-sized" or "cantaloupe-sized." I suppose this makes it very beginner-friendly and low on intimidation, but it's not a natural fit for me.

My Pain d'Epi (four separate loaves) varied a lot. Generally I would say the 30 minute final proofing was inadequate -- my loaves barely rose. I should've gone with my gut and proofed them longer. Also -- something odd -- the bread was really salty. The recipe called for 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt for a 4-pound batch of dough. I didn't question this but the resulting saltiness was overwhelming. My salt-loving 11-year-old even pronounced it "too salty to eat." I noticed that another recipe in the book (the master recipe) calls for 1 1/2 tablespoons of kosher or coarse salt, which would actually be less salt (if measured by weight) than 1 1/2 tablespoons of table salt. I'm wondering if that was a detail that got lost somewhere?

Anyway, next up from Artisan Breads in Five Minutes a Day -- I'm going to go back to the beginning and make the master recipe. I'll let you know how it turns out.

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