Hubby has taken a serious interest in bread making. When he first started on this journey about 6 months ago, I kind of figured it would be short lived, maybe a few weeks. But it seems his new found forage into the world of bread is turning out to be more of an undiscovered passion. Hubby is a science guy at heart, which is very much required to get exactly the right combination of flour, yeast, salt and water...the basis of nearly all bread recipes. Hubby has been doing quite a bit of research on bread. I use good old fashioned cookbooks and of course food blogs when I want to take on a new food project. Hubby has a tablet and You Tube. I don't know how many videos he's watched on bread making, but he's been checking out everything from home bread bakers to master bread makers in France, night after night. Apparently I've been in the dark about the variety of volume of content on You Tube.
The first type of bread he tackled was the baguette. I want to say he made baguettes at least every other day for 2+ weeks, until he got it down. And he wasn't just making one baguette each time, it more like 4 - 6. That's a lot of baguettes. They all got taste tested, but many ultimately ended up in the trash. It was impossible for us to eat or store the amount of bread he was making. And unfortunately, it's best eaten the day it's baked, so giving it away to friends, neighbors or passers by was a challenge. Some of the baguettes turned in to croutons and others got sliced up and placed in the freezer for who knows what? More croutons. Maybe bread pudding? Bread crumbs? Suggestions are welcome!
After all those baguettes, he can now make them with ease. Although I think he longs to have access to the types of ovens used in France that provide the proper steaming capabilities required to get that wonderful crusty exterior that "makes" a baguette. In the meantime, a pan of water at the bottom of our home oven does just fine.
My favorite way to enjoy the baguette...warm out of the oven, sliced and dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette.
Hubs moved on from baguettes to challah bread. Challah is a childhood favorite of his. Again, You Tube was his source of choice. He made 3 braid challahs, 6 braid challahs, mini single rope challahs looped around to look like a braid. Again, it was hard to keep up. Though some did go to waste, much of it is stored in our freezer. Fresh or frozen, it makes a fantastic french toast (more on that shortly). And I'm positive it will make a wonderful bread pudding, once I get around to making it!
From challah, Hubby then went on to sourdough and that's where he's been for the last couple of months. Sourdough is a whole other animal that requires a "starter". This is where the whole science of bread making really begins to mystify me. I'm sure I'm going to butcher this, but a starter is very simply, a combination of flour and water and a lot of patience. Over time your starter catches yeast in the air. Did you all know there is yeast in the air? I had no idea. When you've captured enough yeast, it starts eating the flour/water mixture and bubbles begin forming, releasing carbon dioxide (and sometimes alcohol).
Whoa, we're getting a little too sciencey!
You stir your starter daily and feed it more flour and water over time it starts to develop flavor. Some bread makers have starters that have been going for decades, even hundreds of years, which totally blows my mind. Hubby's starters are just beginning their journey. We have starters in our fridge, on top of our fridge and on our counter top at any given time. This magic mixture is what apparently gives the "sour" taste to sourdough bread. Several of Hubby's starters have bit the dust but he's got a great whole wheat starter going for a while now. For 4th of July he made a white wheat sourdough round that was insanely delicious (the white comes from the bread flour and wheat comes from the wheat starter). It was even more delicious when we slathered it with homemade rosemary garlic butter. Sorry, no sourdough pictures. We were too busy eating it!
Now I'm wondering what type of bread Hubs will take on next...I have a request in for some cinnamon swirl bread.
In the meantime, I wanted to share one of the ways I found to use some of the soft and lightly sweetened challah bread. In search of a recipe, I consulted my favorite source, the Cook's Illustrated Cookbook. I honed in on french toast, even though it's not typically one of my go to breakfast items. Truth be told, if I'm going to have something sweet, I'll always opt for a piece of cake or pie for breakfast. Seriously. But in reality I don't have cakes or pies laying around on most days (thank God!), so I thought our bounty of challah bread would be a great opportunity to give french toast a shot.
I have to say, I'm a convert. I think the secret to great french toast is most definitely the type of bread you begin with. So kudos to Hubby for making a fabulous bread! I love how pretty challah is.
I've made this french toast twice now and have been completely smitten with the results each time. The first go round I used fresh challah and the second (pictured below) I used frozen. Both turning out just perfect. And the nice thing is the same exact same instructions below can be used whether you are using fresh or frozen. The french toast is perfumed with cinnamon and vanilla...slightly crunchy on the outside and soft inside. Top your french toast with warm syrup, fresh preserves, berries or even a sprinkle of powdered sugar. I am not much of a maple syrup fan so I typically use preserves, slightly warmed. I topped our last batch with homemade jumbleberry preserves I made recently to use up a surplus of strawberries, blueberries and cherries. The preserves were a big hit and worked really well with the french toast. Jumbleberry recipe coming soon!
Treat you and your family to a special breakfast this weekend!
P.S. I can't promise anything, but I'm working on getting Hubby to do a guest post on one of his bread making adventures. If you are interested in hearing more about bread, leave a comment to cheer Hubby on! He's a little shy when it comes to this sort of thing. ;)
from Cook's Illustrated Cook Book
8 large slices of hearty white sandwich bread or challah bread
1 1/2 cups whole milk, warmed
3 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus 2 tablespoons melted
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place a wire rack on baking sheet and place the bread on the wire rack. Bake about 16 minutes, or until bread is dry throughout but with a slightly moist center. Flip bread halfway through baking. Remove bread and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 200 degrees and place wire rack and baking sheet back in the oven. You will be transferring your cooked french toast to keep warm.
In 9x13 pan add milk, egg yolks, brown sugar, 2 tablespoons melted butter, vanilla, cinnamon and salt and whisk until fully combined. Place bread in the mixture and allow to soak about 20 seconds per side, until saturated, but not falling apart. Transfer bread to a plate or baking sheet with a slotted spoon, allowing excess liquid to drain off.
Heat a 12 inch skillet (I used non stick) over medium low heat and melt 1/2 tablespoon butter. Add 2 slices of bread and cook until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes per side. Once done transfer to the wire rack in the warm oven. Repeat cooking process with remaining slices, cooking 2 slices at a time and adding another 1/2 tablespoon of butter for each batch.
Serve warm and top with your favorite topping such as syrup or preserves (slightly warmed) or fresh berries.