Sunday, January 10, 2010

BBA Challenge: Getting My Mise En Place

I had my first adventure in bread land this weekend. Like other BBA Challengers, I took on Anadama Bread, the sweet little bread with the strange name.

I was anxious before I started because I was certain I would screw something up. My anxiety grew after reading Peter Reinhart's emphasis on mise en place, the importance of getting all your ducks in a row before you set out to bake. It wasn't the weighing and arranging that intimidated me, it was this passage from The Bread Baker's Apprentice:

"Mise en place is as much a mental organization as it is about scaling ingredients. Arrange to have as few distractions as possible, or factor them in as required. Minimize conversation, or you will surely make mistakes and forget an ingredient. Success in bread making, as in any facet of life, comes down to one word: focus."

Now, I know this from experience. I once forgot to add baking soda to a batch of Madeleines, and instead of golden fluted cakes, I ended up with a pan of rubbery gray door stoppers. And I envy the stylish mise en place of Ally at Goldphishe, who ended up with some divine looking cinnamon buns.

But I'm not sure I live a mise en place kind of a life. I've got two delightful little distractions, who need to be fed, wiped, and entertained constantly. "Focus" is not the first word I would use to describe my normal state of mind. I feared that failure to get my mise en place would be a massive road block on the road to baking glory.

The corn meal soaker in action.

I did manage to get the corn meal soaking overnight without too much trouble. But day two was a little trickier, schedule-wise. For all future baking endeavors, I would add these helpful bullet points to Peter Reinhart's Mise En Place Checklist:

  • Sweet talk husband into taking child number one to see "Alvin and The Chipmunks: The Squeakuel." Promise him delicious bread as payment.
  • Hypnotize child number two into taking a three hour nap.
It's a good thing she slept that long, because kneading took at least 30 or 40 minutes, not the 10 minutes alluded to in the book. I think I may have been a bit too dainty with the dough. As the dough failed one window pane test after another (ie, didn't develop enough gluten), and the internal temperature hovered below the desired 77-81 degrees, my frustration grew. I took that frustration out on the dough, and with one final burst of violent kneading, it was ready to ferment.

The rest of the steps went well, but the long kneading meant I was behind schedule, and the bread was going to have to compete with dinner for oven space. So, between proofing, baking and cooling, the bread was finally ready to eat as the kids were heading off to bed. Alex loves bread as much as I do, and had been looking forward to this moment all day. So before he brushed his teeth he padded into the kitchen in his fire truck pjs. As he munched on a slice of golden brown bread slathered with butter, he looked up at me with a huge smile and said, Yummy!

I had to agree. The flavor was sweet, the texture was tender, and it had a nice bite, thanks to the corn meal. I wasn't sure I loved the molasses flavor at first, but it definitely grew on me. And besides, everything tastes better with butter!

The next bread in the BBA Challenge is Greek Celebration Bread. But I'm feeling tempted to skip that step and go straight to bagels. In the meantime, we'll be enjoying our Anadama toast and turkey sandwiches.

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