Soft Pretzels

According to Elle, who chose soft pretzels as the bread of the month for our little band of twisted sisters known as the Bread Baking Babes, the traditional pretzel shape is meant to resemble folded hands, and they were schoolboys’ rewards from the monks for learning their prayers. This is fitting, because after the first batch I made, which called to mind Winnie-the-Pooh falling head-first into the honey pot, I was certainly praying for a better outcome the second time around.

Praying hands? Not so much.

Praying hands? Hmmm …. looks more like like a pretzel to me.

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Vienna Rolls

Yes, I am delinquent Babe. I have no excuse for being two days late with these wonderful Viennese rolls that our wonderful Viennese Astrid assigned to the Bread Baking Babes this month.

If they don’t look exactly Viennese on the outside, it’s because I chose to apply the “Dutch crunch” topping suggested by Peter Reinhart, from whose book, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, Astrid selected this recipe. So these little torpedoes are crispy crackly on the outside, soft and fluffy inside, and lightly sweet throughout — a very nice treat for breakfast or tea.

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The Babes Have Buns!

This month the Babes were treated to the perfect summer bread: soft, buttery burger buns, chosen by Sara.

Because timing is not my strong suit, my buns did not get the chance to hold the burgers they were intended to. They did make lovely almond butter sandwiches, though. And I’m thinking the sleek and slightly sweet dough could also make fantastic cinnamon rolls…

The recipe was quick and easy. I made a few tweaks and a few notes:

  • I measured the flour according to the weight given in the recipe (625 grams), but I wonder if this was too much, since the equivalent volume was given as 4 cups. This would make a cup equal to 156 grams — on the high side for sure.
  • I substituted 10.4 grams (about 3 1/3 teaspoons) instant yeast for the 4.5 teaspoons of active dry yeast in the recipe.
  • I measured a tablespoon of Kosher salt, the amount the recipe called for, and found that it weighed 15 grams. I cut that back to 12.5 grams to make the salt 2% of the flour weight, which I usually find to be about right.
  • Instead of rolling out the dough and cutting it into squares, I divided it into 12 pieces of 100 grams each and rolled them into balls that I flattened slightly with the palm of my hand.
  • I proofed for 30 minutes as directed by the recipe, but this was too short for the temperature of my kitchen (yes, it can be cool on July mornings in Northern California). The crumb, while soft, was a little dense. This could also be because I had too much flour.
  • I baked both sheets of buns at once, using my oven’s convection setting at 375F for 16 minutes.

You need to check out the other beautiful Babes’ buns — you’ll find links to slider buns, barbecued buns, square buns, rounds buns, sunflower seed buns, buns, buns… on my lower right sidebar!

Soda Bread With Herbs

It seems we Bread Baking Babes were a busy bunch this month, so Ilva kindly provided us with a bread that is ever-so-quick but oh-so-delicious.

I love yeast, but it’s a slowpoke, so soda bread (leavened by baking soda, imagine that!) can save the day if you need a bread fix fast. I got home from a busy work day at 5:30, and by 6:30 this fragrantly herby loaf was out of the oven, even though I had to take time to figure out the volume of a dessert spoon. (It’s 2.4 teaspoons, but I used a tablespoon of each herb; other than that, I followed the recipe exactly.) The bright combination of sage, rosemary, and chives is perfect, but other herbs could work just as nicely.

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The thing I love about the Bread Baking Babes, aside from the fact that they are true bread sorceresses as well as babes in every sense of the word, is that I always learn something new with each assignment. This month I learned that Stromboli is not only Pinnocchio’s evil puppet master, but a rolled Italian bread filled with all manner of deliciousness. Kind of like a spiral calzone.

Elle (Feeding My Enthusiasms) chose this one for us, based on Heather’s (girlichef) tempting example. As Elle noted, the dough is fairly basic, so the focus can be on the filling. I made a few ingredient changes, substituting smoked mozzarella for the smoked Swiss, soppressata for the pepperoni, and adding a 12-ounce jar of roasted red peppers. Very tasty, but not meant for people on a low-sodium diet!

Behold the prosciutto, cheese, soppressata, peppers, basil, and garlic, ready to roll:

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Did I Or Didn’t I?

Well. I was going to write about how Dan Lepard’s rustic garlic breadNatashya’s charge to the Bread Baking Babes this month — came this close to getting made without the garlic. About how I (oh-so-uncharacteristically) caramelized the garlic ahead of time, and about how that was exactly the problem: that garlic was so damn good, I had to use every ounce of restraint I could muster to keep myself from eating it any which way. About how I wanted to spread it on my toast, I wanted to top a hamburger with it, I wanted to mix it into my granola and ice a cake with it. About how I wanted to smear it all over my… well, never mind.

And then I would produce photos of the bread to prove that I really did exercise that restraint — and wasn’t I happy I did, because wasn’t that bread as good (or better!) as anything else I could have done with that garlic?

[Note to self: in the future, verify that all photos have uploaded correctly before reformatting the camera’s memory card.]

But you believe me, don’t you? Even without photographic evidence, you know I really made that bread. Right?

Or am making it up? Did I only imagine that those ciabatta-esque, olive-oil-rich loaves, each brimming with an entire head’s worth of sweet, creamy caramelized garlic cloves, instantly became my all-time favorite version of garlic bread?

Only one thing to do to know for sure: make it again. I think I can manage that.

And as for photos of Dan’s garlic bread, the other Babes have come through masterfully, so mine will not be missed at all. See my right lower sidebar for the links. And then do yourself a favor and start caramelizing some garlic, right now. Send posts to Natashya by April 29 to be included in the yeastiest garlic fest on the web.