Monday, August 3, 2009

Bread Baker's Apprentice 11/43: cranberry- (or strawberry-) walnut celebration bread

Oh, Peter Reinhart. You are so very excellent -- and I expect so much from you -- that I am just shocked when I'm not over-the-moon in love with one of your bread recipes. Yet I know that not everyone is perfect, so The Bread Baker's Apprentice must, by the law of averages, contain a few recipes that aren't so fabulous. I know this rationally, but still, I am nonetheless surprised when one of your recipes falls flat.

And by "falls flat," I mean, quite literally, "falls flat." As in, this week's bread -- cranberry-walnut celebration bread -- did not rise nicely, even considering the seemingly excessive 3 1/2 teaspoons of yeast in the recipe.

(We are dog-sitting Mom's puggle, Rosie, this week. She had fun scrounging around for strawberries and walnuts that fell out of the dough during kneading.)

According to the recipe's narrative, Reinhart really enjoys his cranberries, especially in the context of Thanksgiving dinner. Thus, he states that this celebratory loaf fits in gorgeously with that holiday meal. I'm sure it does, for people who like cranberries. However, the only cranberry I like is one that has been transformed into juice and then shaken with citrus vodka and Cointreau, then served up in a frosty martini glass. I couldn't bear to make a double-braided loaf of bread from scratch and then ruin it with that tart fruit I so dislike. I had exactly 9 oz. of dried strawberries in the pantry, so I subbed them for the 9 oz. of cranberries called for in the recipe. Mmmmm. Now, dried strawberries I can do.

The dough is replete with chopped fruit and walnuts, so much so that Reinhart mentions that it will require patience to knead in all the extra bits. Given the high ratio of fruit and nuts in the mixture, then, I found it very difficult to roll the dough into the six smooth "ropes" necessary to create a double-braid. Strawberries and walnuts were falling out all over the place, and the resulting ropes were chunky and uneven. During the second proof, when the braids are supposed to swell and puff and generally take on their perfect outward appearance, my bread, well, just kinda sat there. I blame all the heavy fruit and nuts, which surely weighed down the lemon-scented enriched dough, preventing its rise.

(See what I mean? This bread is delicious, and does not deserve to look like this.)

Or maybe it's just me. Actually, it probably is me. The strawberries and walnuts seem a convenient target, but certainly something I did as the baker stunted the dough's rise. Oh well. So it didn't look smooth and braid-y and perfect. But damn, it did taste good. It is a damn fine-tasting bread. I will say it again: it is a damn fine-tasting bread. Especially toasted and covered with a hearty smear of salted butter. And through your guests might love the bread's flavor, if you were to make this loaf for a celebration of any sort -- depending on your skill -- it might not look as grand as you'd like.

But all I was celebrating yesterday was my ability not to fall off an ornery bucking Percheron-thoroughbred cross. My strawberry-walnut celebration bread was just perfect for that.


The Bread Baker's Apprentice challenge asks that we do not share the recipes from Reinhart's book. But I know you have a copy. So go figure out what dried fruit is in your pantry, turn to page 154 and get to braiding.

PS. Here is a secret: You don't have to braid the bread. You can bake it in a loaf pan or as a stand-alone boule. As a matter of fact, the next time I make it, I'm going the loaf pan route. But I figured I had to attempt the double-braid, at least once.

Also be sure to check out some of my fellow Bread Bakers' takes on the cranberry-walnut celebration bread:
  • Jeff of Culinary Disasters thinks this bread is kind of boring. I'm totally mopping up what he's spilling.
  • Kelly at Something Shiny made cute little cranberry-walnut braids.
  • Over at Ährelich Gesagt, Daniel's smaller braid fell off the back of the bigger braid. But the crumb inside looks amazing.


Arlene Delloro said...

Just got my copy of the book last night and read the parts coming before the recipes. Haven't decided yet which recipe to try first, though the Casatiello seems to be calling my name. I've taken a number of bread baking classes over the year, beginning with my course on croissant and brioche at the New School and, most recently, Holiday Breads at the CIA. I've made a few of Reinhart's recipes already. Thanks for inspiring me to buy the book, though I'm still not sure why the challenge group doesn't share the recipes. Was that Reinhart's request?

Nicole said...

I decided against cranberries too and subbed in dried tart cherries and pecans. I heard someone else say they had problems with the dough rising, but mine rose quite a bit and even made me question if there was too much yeast. I think it would have been beautiful if I hadn't accidentally overbaked it! :-) It was a little too dark on the outside, but the flavor was wonderful! But I think it was a little heavy and the fruit and light on the nuts...might change the proportions if I ever make this one again. Not my favorite by far, but I'm certainly enjoying it for breakfast.

Pete Eatemall said...

I liked the taste of the bread but it was a little hard to work with with so much fruit n nuts stuff.The ropes were a little hard to form. I added dried apricots, cranberries and walnuts. We'll, the neighbors liked it! Onto the next...Happy Baking.

Mags @ the Other Side of 50 said...

Do you think maybe dried strawberries bake/caramelize differently than dried cranberries? (I have no idea, just wondering) I think your bread looks lovely.

Dianne said...

Arlene, so glad you got the book! I hope you enjoy it! As for the challenge group not sharing Reinhart's recipes, I think that decision was made because the group is primarily about just baking the breads -- not blogging. The blogging part is totally optional. And I'm guessting that Nicole, our fearless leader, did not want to be responsible for starting a group that resulted in the entirety of Reinhart's book being transcribed onto the internet. I'm just guessing those are some of the reasons....Anyway, let me know how your baking goes!

Nicole, I totally agree. If I ever make this one again I'm definitely changing the ratio of fruit and nuts. And I'm enjoying mine for breakfast, too.

Pete Eatemall, so glad to hear I'm not the only one who had trouble forming the ropes! I just think the dough was too dense with "stuff" to be easily workable. Your addition of apricots sounds delicious!

Mags, thank you for the compliment! My problem wasn't so much in the baking -- the interior of the bread turned out nicely. It was the pre-bake final proofing where I had trouble, and I doubt the strawberry-cranberry substitution would have much effect on that. But who knows?!! Like I said, if I try this bread again I am definitely reducing the amount of fruit and nuts, to see if that makes a difference.

misterrios said...

I love your braid. Strange that the bread didn't rise as much because mine toppled over on the double braid. Maybe next time cut the strawberries into even smaller pieces?

Dianne said...

Next time: fewer strawberries, cut into smaller pieces. Great idea!

Cindy said...

I love the idea of dried strawberries. It sounds delicious. I love that you eat it with salted butter. I don't get all the hooplah over sweet butter. It has is's place in baking, but for pure eating enjoyment, go salted!