Oct 262009

Today’s post from the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge brings you Artos, a Greek celebration bread. The book includes three versions – the standard bread, a Christmas bread, and an Easter bread. They all use the same basic enriched dough recipe that is flavored with spices, zests, and extracts, but the holiday-specific breads include fruit and nut embellishments that are specific to the season. The Easter bread even features red-dyed eggs atop the loaves.

Even though the rough goal of this group is to do one bread a week, when I realized that I don’t have to work today and that I probably have a lot of trips coming up that will preclude any bread baking at all, I decided to go ahead and press on to bread #2, even though I just baked anadama bread yesterday. The loaf offers you the choice to either use a sourdough starter or a poolish. I do indeed have a cute little seed culture named Zeke that will one day be a starter (stay tuned for that!) and if I had waited to bake until this weekend he could have been used, but since I was feeling antsy I had to go the poolish route. Poolishes are really simple – the hardest part was scaling the 23-ounce formula down to 7 ounces. This is one of the things that I really like about using starters – they offer such a huge flavor payout for what is essentially zero extra work. All they require is a bit of planning ahead and then you let the enzymes and the yeast do all the hard work making your bread delicious!

The bubbly poolish
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So an hour before mixing the dough, I pulled the poolish that I made last night out of the fridge and mis en placed (no, it’s not a verb, but I like to wordsmith) everything and began. I’ve been baking so much these last couple of days that I actually ran out of bread flour, so I threw in a couple of teaspoons of wheat gluten and rounded out the flour’s weight requirement with all-purpose. Disaster averted. But, alas, here’s when things began to get… sticky.

I am normally a pretty tolerant and patient baker, but as I was kneading this dough (or, more accurately, smearing it across the countertop) I kept thinking that a more accurate name would be Greek Frustration Bread. One of the reasons I start out my knead in a machine is so that I don’t end up adding too much flour to try to make up for the stickiness of a freshly-mixed dough, but as I watched the dough resolutely refuse to form into a ball and instead just creep up the hook every ten seconds, it became clear that I was going to need to add more. So I added a little, then a little more, and then before long I was adding amounts of flour that I’ve never had to add to a dough before. The stand mixer was doing such a miserable job of kneading that I honestly thought the dough would be ready faster if I threw the hook across the room, so I took it out and started kneading by hand with a lot of flour, my bench scraper, and a temper that was barely kept in check. I was pretty furious with myself for skipping the autolyse, but it’s pretty clear to me now that even if I had waited 20 minutes after mixing to start kneading, I still would have had to battle sticky, sticky dough.

Sticky, sticky mess, under a blanket of flour
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After kneading for about ten minutes (and adding even more flour), the dough still stuck to my hand when I picked it up and inverted my hand – no gripping involved! This was just the sticky mass of goo resisting the force of gravity – that’s how sticky it was!. Oh, Internet, I tried to get pictures of that for you, but it didn’t work out this time. Before you complain, next time you’re up to your elbows I’d like to see you get this shot without assistance! But I digress.

After adding my entire supply of sprinkling flour (I keep one of those Parmesan/crushed red pepper shakers you see in restaurants filled with bread flour for sprinkling the stuff on the counter – makes it so much easier!) the dough finally became merely tacky instead of sticky, meaning that when I pressed my hand on the dough and lifted it off, the dough would very briefly stick but my would hand came away clean. At this point it passed the windowpane test, so an hour and ten minutes after I initially mixed the dough, I declared victory and squirreled away the dough to ferment.

The dough finally passes the windowpane test
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Finally, tacky (not sticky!), smooth, supple, and elastic!
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Keeping in mind yesterday’s over-ferment, I checked the dough often, but it went the full 90 minutes suggested in the recipe before testing done. The dough was so tacky, however, that it was difficult to test for doneness – if you poked even a wet finger in there, it stuck to your finger when you pulled it out. Now for shaping. The loaf looked huge – and almost every blogger out there commented on its enormous size – so, keeping storage in mind, I decided to divide the dough into two equally-sized boules. The dough shaped beautifully, the top never tearing now matter how tightly I stretched the gluten, and, again, was fully proofed at the end of the recommended time. The dough, covered only in damp kitchen towels, already smelled intoxicating, so I couldn’t wait to find out what it smelled like as it baked.

Proofed boules, about to go in the oven!
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Sure enough, before long, a delicious aroma wafted through the house. It reminded me not so much of bread as it did of Danish pastries, which surprised me not at all because of the common flavors within: nutmeg, lemon (zest in the bread, extract in the pastries), and almond extract. Not that I minded: on the contrary, since Danish pastries are one of my all-time favorite foods, both for taste and for sentimentality’s sake. Because of this delicious smell, I had a very hard time not cutting into them right away, and was able to wait less than two hours before I had to put some of it in my mouth!

Freshly baked, golden brown, and smelling like a million bucks
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The loaves browned beautifully. I opted not to put a glaze on them, wanting to taste the flavors of the dough alone, and looking back, I’m glad that I didn’t make one of the fancier variations. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! The bread is unquestionably delicious, perfect as a dessert or, toasted, as a treat with coffee. It would also be devastating as French toast! I’ll definitely be making this bread again. Just, y’know, with more flour next time.
See also: Heather’s Artos.
Next up: I tackle New York City-style bagels head-on!

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