Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Broken Bread

I suck at making bread. I can reliably make perfect French bread using my bread machine - you dump in flour, salt, water, butter and yeast and six hours later, you pull out a big rectangular loaf of bread that tastes pretty darn good. Zut alors! (get it? Cuz it's French bread!) But my success rate with other sorts of bread - even from the bread machine - is distressingly low.

I tried once to make dinner rolls using basically the same recipe from the same bread machine cookbook and they came out as dry little hockey pucks. The difference? Me! I had to take the dough out, cut it up into dinner rolls, and then bake them in the oven. Somehow, I broke them.

I also found a great-looking recipe to make Outback Steakhouse-style brown bread. I even went and got special flour to use in it (I forget what kind - wheat? Rye? I still have most of the bag around here somewhere). It was lousy - it didn't rise right and came out dry and crappy-tasting. Strike two - broken again!

Sunday, I tried to make true Italian bread for the first time. I again needed special flour, because it's just not real Italian bread if it doesn't have semolina flour in it. And let me tell you, finding Semolina flour is a pain in the nuggets. I finally tried an Italian imports store over in North Syracuse and they had it, so I was able to proceed. I went into an online forum I frequent and asked for advice on tried-and-true Italian bread recipes. I wanted ones I'd know worked from people who'd actually used them. I got one and decided to give it a try.

I followed the directions to the letter, even getting out a candy thermometer to make sure the warm water for the yeast was the optimum temperature (and it did seem to foam up nicely). It seemed to rise nicely the first time, but when I made it into a dough ball and set it out to rise the second time, it was... unimpressive. It got bigger, but it seemed more air than substance - a great big dough-glob that was puffed full of air but ready to collapse at any time. I dunno - it just didn't seem right. In the end, it baked up merely okay - it wasn't terrible and the flavor wasn't bad, but I still think it should have risen a whole lot more than it did. It was a really easy recipe, but somehow I broke it.

What's most surprising to me, in fact, is that my recent attempt to make Olive Garden-style breadsticks actually worked! It was a very similar recipe to the Italian bread (minus the semolina flour, but otherwise along much the same lines) and I made it one afternoon while I re-watched The Watchmen on DVD (which was pretty good, though I never read the comic so I have no basis for comparison there. Also, I wish the blue guy had worn pants.). And I'll be damned if it didn't come out spot-on perfect! It's the exception to the rule, however. As a baker, I'm 1 win, 2 losses and one that could generously be called a tie. I may need to stick to my bread machine.

Here's the breadsticks recipe, straight from Good Morning America:

Olive Garden Breadsticks
A Top Secret Restaurant Recipe
Olive Garden Breadsticks
From the Kitchen of Todd Wilbur
Servings: Over 8
Difficulty: Easy
Cook Time: Over 120 min
Anyone who loves Olive Garden is probably also a big fan
of the bottomless basket of warm, garlicky breadsticks served
before each meal at the huge Italian casual chain. My guess is
that the breadsticks are proofed, and then sent to each restaurant,
where they are baked until golden brown, brushed with butter and
sprinkled with garlic salt. Getting the bread just right for a
good clone was tricky -- I tried several different amounts of yeast in
all-purpose flour, but then finally settled on bread flour to give these
breadsticks the same chewy bite as the originals. I discovered
that the two-stage rising process is also a crucial step to making the
perfect Top Secret Recipe for these very popular soft breadsticks.

2 tablespoons granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon warm
water (105 to 115 degrees F)
16 ounces bread flour (3 cups)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened

On top:
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

Dissolve the sugar and yeast in the warm water in a small
bowl or measuring cup and let the mixture sit for 5 minutes,
or until it becomes foamy on top.

Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl. Use the paddle
attachment on a stand mixer to mix the softened butter into
the flour. If you don't have a stand mixer, use a mixing spoon
to combine the butter with the flour. When the yeast mixture
is foamy, pour it into the flour mixture and use a dough hook
on your mixture to combine the ingredients and knead the
dough for approximately 10 minutes. If you don't have a stand
mixer, combine the ingredients and then knead the dough
by hand on a countertop for 10 minutes.

Place the dough in a covered container and let it sit for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until it
doubles in size. When the dough has doubled, measure out 2-ounce
portions and roll the dough between your hands or on a countertop
to form sticks that are 7 inches long. Place the dough
on parchment paper-lined baking sheets, cover and set aside
for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size once

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Bake the breadsticks for 12 minutes, or until golden brown.
When the breadsticks come out of the oven, immediately
brush each one with melted butter and sprinkle with a little
garlic salt.

Makes 12-13 breadsticks

No comments:

Post a Comment