So, there’s this show on Netflix right now called The Great British Baking Show. It’s a British reality show of which PBS ran a season stateside in the last year or so about a baking competition, and, without gushing too much, it’s one of the happiest reality shows I’ve ever seen. The contestants are genuinely nice to one another, the judges aren’t mean or overdramatic in their criticisms, and at the end of each episode when someone has to be cut, everyone’s genuinely sad to see them go.
Also, there’s so much food porn that it’s ridiculous (true story: after watching the first episode of the season, which was on cakes, Rachael and I had an emergency late night grocery run for the express reason of getting some cake; we rarely, if ever, crave cake).
Anyway, we binged this show, and as it was winding down and I was salivating over the fancy bread episode, I said to Rachael that I wanted to make some fancy bread. We agreed that that would be a fun activity for a long weekend, and so we did it.
The thing about making breads is that they’re much more involved projects than other kinds of baking, so we set aside a whole day for the activity, and I picked out a recipe that looked to me to be about medium difficulty: something that was satisfactorily fancy, but without being so finicky as to be frustrating for novice bakers like ourselves.
The recipe I picked was Cook’s Illustrated’s Rosemary-Olive Bread, which has a total bake time of about five hours. We got some bread flour and pulled out the dough hooks for our stand mixer (we got our mixer for our wedding, and this is the first occasion we’ve had to use the hooks; Rachael had forgotten that we even had them) and we set to work. Because it’s fun to take pictures and this whole project was my idea, I documented various steps in the process, which can be seen below.
Here we have the dough after it had been through its first rising and we have just added the olives. It still looks pretty floury at this point, but with each successive rising, we saw the dough get more and more shiny.
One of the odd things we’d never encountered before was folding the dough midway through its third rising. I had to look up some Youtube videos on bread making to understand what the directions were saying about folding the dough over a few times before covering it to rise some more. You can see a few olives peaking out at this point!
After the dough was folded and risen the second time, we had to divide and shape it into two balls. We don’t have a bench scraper, so to cut the dough we used the dull side of one of our cleaving knives.
There was a brief resting period after we split the dough, and then we got to shape it into loaves. This was the last major rising before it was ready to go in the oven. You can see in the picture that we left the dough on one of our silicone mats to rise. The recipe apparently expects you to have a baking stone, but because we are bread-babies, we don’t have that particular kitchen tool. The alternative that the cook book suggests is taking a baking sheet and flipping it over in the oven so you can bake on the back of it. We did that and just slid the entire mat on top of the sheet when it was finally time to go in.
One last cosmetic thing we did was slashing the loaves down the middle to expose more of the olives. The recipe doesn’t explain why you do this (or why it expects you’ll be able to make a slash that’s three and a half inches deep), but the end effect is really nice (our slashes were relatively shallow, and in the end we found that the splits on top of the loaves were much less pronounced after baking). One other thing is that you apparently have to keep the top of the bread moist during the first five minutes of baking here, but we didn’t have a clean spray bottle that we could put water in, so we just painted each loaf with water before putting it in the oven. This picture was taken while I was repainting the loaves (the recipe says to spray them with water twice while they’re in the oven).
There was no picture of the finished bread in the recipe book, so we weren’t sure what they’d look like when they were done, but we were really satisfied with the deep brown color we got on the crust. They looked a little burnt in places, but that really didn’t detract from the flavor. As you might expect, one of these loaves didn’t survive the evening it was made.
After we cut into it, you can see that the inside is a nice white color to contrast with the brown crust. The recipe says you’re supposed to let the loaves sit for two hours to cool to room temperature, but Rachael and I figured that was a waste of a good fresh bread.