Friday, December 28, 2012

The quest for the perfect bread....

My first experience with really thinking about food came when I was in high school. I worked at a specialty foods store called Pasta at Large. Up until this point, I had had an agnostic relationship with food at best, most often opting for whatever was easy and available, or often nothing at all. It was certainly not a healthy relationship. I went to work for the awesome owner of PAL, and a lot of that turned around for me. 

The store specialized in homemade pasta and ravioli and fresh bread, the most popular being sour dough and the french baguette. While I never had the opportunity to cook at the store, I learned a lot from the owner and the women who worked in the kitchen. Making pasta and serving empanadas, chicken con pollo and fennel salad opened my eyes to food that was so different from what I was choosing for myself at that time (often plain, dry chicken sandwiches and raw vegetables). I looked up to the women I worked with, and I loved the smell of the baking bread and new sauces that were constantly coming out of that kitchen. 

Far and away my favorite item that we made at the store were milk bread dinner rolls. I can't even describe to you the magic that happened when those rolls came out of the oven. Anyone who tried one, bought a dozen and they were always gone in a heartbeat. 

Since committing to making most of our bread at home, I have been on a quest to recreate the deliciousness. I have tried at least a half dozen milk bread recipes, but nothing has come close. I'm sure that I won't be able to really ever capture the awesomeness that Pasta at Large did, but I'm trying! They had magic wands, I'm convinced.

I discovered this recipe the other day, while searching for a specialty bread for the holidays. The original recipe came from the Tasty Kitchen blog. Here's my version:

Mix together over medium heat until thick:
  • ⅓ cups Flour
  • 1 cup Milk
  • 1 cup Warm Milk
  • 4 teaspoons Dry Yeast
  • 6 Tablespoons Sugar
  • 5 1/2 cups Flour
  • 2 Teaspoons Salt
  • 4 whole Eggs, Divided
  • 4 Tablespoons Butter, Softened

Combine the 1/3 C flour and 1 C milk in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat until the mixture thickens, but don’t bring it to a full boil. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. 
In a small bowl, mix the warm milk, yeast and sugar. Whisk to combine and let the yeast start.
Combine flour and salt. 
Once the first flour mixture is cooled off so that it won’t kill the yeast, mix in with the yeast mixture and add 2 large eggs. Mix with the dry ingredients. 
Mix the dough,  then add the softened butter. Work it in. 
Knead the dough about 5–8 minutes.
Remove dough from the bowl and knead on a lightly floured cutting board until smooth.
Oil a bowl and let the dough rise until doubled (about an hour). 
Once risen, divide the dough into sections. The sections should be as big as a dinner roll or larger. Once baked, the easiest way to serve is to pull the bread apart, so your sections should be based on your serving amount. Take the sections and flatten to about a 1/2 inch thick. Roll the section as you would a cinnamon roll. Combine and press together in a lightly greased pan (round or loaf). 
Let rise under plastic wrap for about an hour. Brush with a lightly beaten egg wash. Bake at 350ºF for about 30 minutes. Check at the 20 minute mark, to make sure the bread isn't browning too much because of the egg wash. 

It's a great recipe, but it's not my Shangri La. The search continues! - Kim 

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