I was a big fan of the PBS series Baking With Julia when it aired in the mid-nineties. I remember the episode where Martha Stewart boasted about the quality of the eggs laid by her chickens, and Julia told her to bring some the next time. And when Julia hosted Philadelphia’s Esther McManus to bake croissants…and when she cried when she tasted Nancy Silverton’s twice-baked brioche.
I’ve owned the cookbook Baking With Julia, written by Dorie Greenspan and based on the series, for a long time but have only baked a handful of the recipes. So I was intrigued by the idea of participating in the bake-and-blog-along organized by the women who started the website Tuesdays with Dorie and baking my way through the book.
That said, my heart sank when I read that the first recipe to be tackled was white loaves, the first recipe in the cookbook. While I value mastering the basics and appreciate simple food well prepared, my family rarely eats white bread. We’re more whole grain people, and I’ve gotten into the habit of substituting whole wheat flour for up to half of the flour in most recipes for baked goods.
But I couldn’t opt out of the first recipe. There are RULES in this endeavor. So Saturday I got to work and baked the white loaves. I found the recipe very clear, and the instructions detailed. I had only two minor issues while preparing the dough. During the mixing and kneading, my 12-cup KitchenAid mixer (which is not a heavy-duty model) was struggling to handle the amount of dough and the resistance of the dough. It was getting hot, and I didn’t want to blow out the motor. After five minutes in the machine, I removed it and kneaded it by hand for eight minutes, as suggested in the recipe. The second glitch was with the shaping of the loaves. Folding the dough as described in the recipe, I wound up with more of a fat rectangle than the roll shown in the accompanying photo, but I plumped it up, dropped it in the pan, and it turned out fine.
The process is very quick from start to finish. The recipe uses a full tablespoon of yeast, and the rising times are short, just 45 minutes in a bowl, and another 45 minute in the pans. Here is the dough before and after the first rise.
I loved the idea suggested in some of the comments on the Tuesdays with Dorie website of making one loaf a cinnamon swirl bread. For the swirl, I used a scant 1/2 cup of cane sugar, 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts, 2 tablespoons of a cocoa mix that includes some sugar, and 1 tablespoon of cinnamon. Since the recipe calls for shaping the dough into a 9″ x 12″ rectangle and folding/rolling it to fit the bread pan, it was easy to adapt to the cinnamon swirl.
The bread is very very good, completely satisfying and with a texture that is smooth and even, yet chewier than most sandwich bread. It also slices beautifully. We polished off most of the plain loaf on Saturday and enjoyed the cinnamon swirl loaf for Sunday brunch.