Sunday, May 16, 2010

From Cinnamon To Salami

A few months into the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge, and I'm beginning to question the sanity of the whole affair. In case you, gentle reader, don't know what I'm talking about, here's the low down: A couple hundred home bread bakers have pledged to bake their way through Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice, one bread at a time. If you've got more burning questions, check out Pinch My Salt by Nicole, who inspired us all.

But let's return to the question of sanity. I can't wait to try some of the breads in the book, while others seem kind of...meh. So, why stick with the challenge, and dutifully follow one recipe after the other? Why not just run through the book like I do any other cookbook, picking and choosing the most appealing recipes? The answer is simple: cinnamon and salami.

If I were on my own, Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Bread would leap off the page and into my oven as soon as I opened the book. The photo is so enticing. The glowing auburn crust looks like it would crackle and crunch under its sparkly dusting of cinnamon sugar. And the crumb looks chewy and dense, sprinkled through with raisins and nuts. So, I had high hopes.

Alas, food porn -- you are a cruel, cruel tease.

How can any real life bread measure up when it lacks your lush lighting and artfully styled scenery? It's enough to give a bread/girl performance anxiety. It's kind of like real porn that way.

Don't get me wrong. The cinnamon bread was warm. It was comforting. And it was pretty tasty too. It just lacked the excitement that I was hoping for. The crust was more of a pale blond, and the crumb was more light and airy than I was expecting -- kind of like a sandwich loaf. And I felt a bit overwhelmed by all that cinnamon flavor. I didn't have buttermilk, so I used whole milk instead. I wonder if the buttermilk tang would have created a more satisfying and complex flavor? I was also very conservative with the nuts because I didn't want to offend the non-nut lovers in my family. But I think that an extra handful of nuts would have created a welcome contrast to the bread's soft crumb.

While I succumbed to the siren song of cinnamon, salami had no such effect. Casatiello is an Italian concoction, much like a buttery brioche stuffed with bits of cheese and salami. As a Chicago native, I am certainly not averse to a good sausage. But the salami-stuffed bread didn't really appeal to me, so I skipped right over it. I assumed no one would notice. I was wrong. Daniel, aka, @misterrios, reached across the interwebs from Germany and shamed (or should I say, encouraged?) me into giving it a try. He sung the bread's praises, as did many of the other BBA challengers. I still had my doubts, but I'm such a rules girl, I felt compelled to complete the challenge properly.

So I searched out some salami and some provolone and I got down to it. And I'm thankful that I did. The bread was so rich and decadent. How could it not be? The dough was enriched with milk, eggs, lots of butter and cheese. It was like the whole dairy case at play in one bread. And that salami? It was salty and chewy, and played well with all that gooey provolone cheese. And isn't it a beautiful thing to behold? The dough practically burst from its pan and formed a golden pillow of goodness.

Casatiello is the perfect picnic food -- you've got a whole meal baked right into one portable package -- salami and all. But I never would have known, if I hadn't tested my sanity with the Bread Bakers Apprentice Challenge. Of course, with about 30 more breads to go, my sanity is still up for grabs.


misterrios said...

Yeah, I didn't like the Cinnamon bread all that much. Warm it was great, but cold it was okay.

I don't want to say I told you so, but I'm very glad you made and liked the Casatiello. I made mine with veggie sausage and smoked scamorza and it was divine.

I think you're right about the challenge. It is insane, but you do get to make breads you would otherwise never make. I made white bread and could not stop eating it, even though I never buy it. Plus you learn a ton about baking by making such a variety of bread.

I can't wait to see what you bake up next!

Erika said...

@misterrios: You did, indeed, tell me so. English muffins are up next. I'm really curious to see how that turns out.

Abby said...

Yum, loved the casatiello! Definitely one of my top 5! (Cinnamon made it on my "won't make again" list, but then we're not so into fruit in our breads around here.) Glad you're having fun with the Challenge! =)