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More Musings on Mixing…

Pain au Levain Made Using New Mixing Technique

In a previous post (Musings on Mixing…), I described what I believe to be a fundamental difference between bread baking at the commercial scale and bread baking at the much smaller scale of the home baker.  At the commercial scale, spiral and oblique dough mixers are quite efficient at incorporating air into the dough during mixing, making overoxidation of the dough a real concern for the professional baker.  For the home baker, however, the opposite concern comes into play.  Conventional tabletop stand mixers are relatively inefficient at mixing dough.  Therefore, the home baker has to look for ways to increase air incorporation during mixing.  I concluded in the previous post that the only way for the home baker to do this effectively was through hand mixing.

Hand mixing, whether it be by a slap and fold technique like the one shown here or by just a series of folds during the first fermentation, can produce a nicely developed dough which yields a loaf having the desired open crumb with many large air cells (alveoli).  However, it is a technique not without its own challenges.  If performed improperly, hand mixing can lead to a loaf with large alveoli embedded within an otherwise doughy mass.  The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that there must be an easy way to use a conventional home stand mixer to produce a dough that would rival the quality of a professional, spiral-mixed dough.

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TARRP Bread

TARRP Bread

Sometimes, a wonderful creation can be stuck with a terribly unfortunate acronym.  When first published in the May 2005 issue of Modern Baking, Steve Barnhart of Bennison’s Bakery in Evanston, IL chose to call his richly-flavored bread, laden with tomatoes, Asiago cheese, roasted garlic, rosemary and Parmesan cheese, “TARRP” bread.  Little did he know that only 3 years later, an almost identical acronym “TARP” (Troubled Asset Relief Program) would come to represent the U.S. government’s response to the greatest financial crisis this country has seen since The Great Depression.

Its unfortunate moniker aside, this version of TARRP bread works wonderfully as a surprising synergy of what one might at first glance expect to be strongly competing flavors.  But make no mistake; this is a specialty bread.  TARRP bread is not one to have as a daily bread with meals but rather can almost be a meal in and of itself.

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Sticky Buns

Sticky Buns

I know.  It’s hard to get excited about yet another baking blog posting a recipe for sticky buns.  But before you leave here to go send those ”Happy New Year” e-mail messages to friends and family that you should have already sent (Freudian projection, anyone?), just take a few more minutes to read further.  These aren’t your ordinary, run-of-the-mill, sticky buns.  Taking a cue, once again, from my friend and baker extraordinaire James McNamara, these sticky buns are made with croissant dough, rather than the standard sweet dough used to make more conventional buns.  The result is a sticky bun which is light, flaky, sweet, gooey and nutty.  I guess I’ll just have to make going on that diet my resolution for the next New Year!

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Cloverleaf Rolls

Cloverleaf Rolls

For some reason, dinner rolls have always been the preferred style of bread at my family’s holiday table.  Perhaps it’s simply the comfort of tradition.  Or maybe the reason is a bit more utilitarian; the convenient individual serving size saves the space needed to slice bread at the table and makes it easier for everyone to help themselves.

Among the many types of dinner rolls, cloverleaf rolls make an ideal accompaniment to a holiday meal.  They are quick and easy to make, plus they have a rich, buttery flavor.  Their 3-lobed design also lends a festive look to any holiday table.

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Peanut Bread

Peanut Bread

Ever since George Washington Carver first started experimenting with the peanut plant in the early 1900′s, the peanut has become one of America’s most versatile legumes.  The peanut has become so ingrained into American culture that the USA team competing at the 2005 Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie decided to present a peanut bread as one of its contest entries.  Team USA named their bread ”Jimmy’s Bread”, a tribute to the 39th president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, who was once himself a peanut farmer.

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Cherry Pecan Bread

Cherry Pecan Bread

While trying to decide upon a bread to bake for the Thanksgiving Day table, I remembered a wonderful cranberry pecan bread that I had the pleasure of sampling some months ago.  The bread was a creation of a good friend of mine, James McNamara, the talented head baker at Wave Hill Breads in Wilton, Connecticut.  Cranberries, being a traditional staple of Thanksgiving here in New England, are what brought this bread to mind although, truth be told, cranberries are not one of my favorite fruits.  Not being one to shy away from breaking with tradition, I decided to substitute cherries for the cranberries.  The resulting bread is so good that it has me seriously rethinking my tendency to steer clear of bread ‘blend-ins’.

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Corn Bread

Corn Bread

Lately, I’ve been so fascinated by various regional French breads that I’ve all but forgotten that North America has its own traditional breads.  A case in point is corn bread.  To many people, the term ‘corn bread’ conjures up visions of the dense, sometimes sweet, chemically leavened quick bread that is a staple of many a Thanksgiving Day table.  To my mind, corn bread is a yeasted bread, based on wheat flour but with a substantial amount of corn flour used for its flavor, color and texture.

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Pain Normand

Pain Normand

For those of you who are regular readers of this blog, you may have surmised that I am not a real big fan of heavily flavored breads.  To me, the essence of bread baking is finding new ways to coax out the natural flavor of the wheat or whatever grain is being used.  Save the ‘blend-ins’ for ice cream, cakes and cookies.  One notable exception to this proclivity is pain Normand, an apple-flavored bread named for the apple-producing Normandie region of France.  Apple cider and small pieces of dried apple are what give this bread its subtle apple flavor without any cloyingly sweetness.

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Pain de Beaucaire

Pain de Beaucaire

I’ve always been fascinated by how the different regions of France have managed to maintain their unique cultural identities.  These regional identities can be evident even in the type and shape of the local bread.  For example, in Auvergne, bread is often baked in the Auvergnat form, a shape that is evocative of a type of hat worn by residents of the region.  In Beaucaire, bread is traditionally shaped through a folding process that is unique to the area.

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Le Petit Déjeuner

If I had to choose a single pastry that is the embodiment of all that is French viennoiserie, it would have to be the croissant.  In the U.S., croissants have been steadily increasing in popularity, particularly as the basis for a wide variety of breakfast sandwiches.  When properly baked, the croissant has a crisp, flakey exterior with a light, open and wonderfully buttery interior.  If formed in a rectangular shape wrapped around a stick or two of chocolate, the pastry takes on the name, pain au chocolat.  A croissant with a favorite spread, or a pain au chocolat, and a hot cup of coffee is a great way to start the day.

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