Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Caramelized Onion Bread - My first post as an official Bread Baking Babe!


It's been a great month for me.  I got invited to be part of a group of bread baking gals that I have been admiring and following since January 2010.  I was over the moon when I got the email and grinning and giggling all day.  I'm a little kid when it comes to things like that, and I love that it's a small, personable group.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed baking along as a buddy!  But this coveted title of Babe... whew!  I'm a happy camper.  And you will be too when you make this bread.  

Are you an onion lover?  You will love this bread.  This is an oh-my-gosh bread.  It reminded me a bit of Dan Lepard's Garlic bread that the babes baked in 2011.  The onions take a good hour to finish, but then they are the star attraction.  I was going to do them ahead, but forgot and ended up getting them done while I was doing the stretch and folds.  Good thing I did it right before I needed them or I would have nibbled away at them until I didn't have enough!  This is a loaf that takes some time planning as the whole process takes around 36 hours.  Not too much hands on time really, but a lot of resting and fermenting time.  I kept forgetting to get the starter going and knew I should start it late on a weekend.  I ended up remembering and hopping out of bed at midnight on a Saturday night and throwing it together since it only takes a minute.  Then I was good to go.  I wish I had made the whole batch instead of the half batch that gave me just one delicious loaf.  My loss.  I'll just have to make it again!  But we loved it with our ribollita soup.  It is a brilliantly flavored, chewy, artisan loaf.  I may just have to snag a copy of the Bien Cuit cookbook if all the results are like this!  Never mind, I couldn't stand it and grabbed a copy already!

I think I did get my bread to a bien cuit, pas trop cuit stage.  That is, well baked, but not overdone.  The bread is baked at a high temperature for a shorter time, which really enhances that Maillard browning reaction of the sugars caramelizing.  It's part of what makes a nice mahogany colored crust.  I even ended up putting it back in for a few minutes which I never thought I would do at that temperature.  Actually, another three to five minutes would have gotten it to the book pictures standard, but the internal temp was good for me so I pulled it.

Summary from the author:
"When I worked for Georges Perrier at Le Bec-Fin, they put raw onion in the sourdough, a practice that is quite common in France. I didn’t like the sharp, acrid taste at all, so Georges showed me how to get serious about caramelizing onions. His method takes a long time and a lot of stirring, but it’s so much better than the common shortcut of adding sugar to onions and sautéing them. I incorporated those onions into a baguette, which Georges liked a lot. Here’s the secret: The onion should be neither the centerpiece nor the last thing you taste; instead, it should be a persistent note in a chorus of flavors. For this recipe, I thought the fresh and slightly cooling sensation of buckwheat would play well with the other ingredients. I also used butter because it works well with caramelized onions, and honey, to extend the sweet finish the onions elicit. Georges would serve this bread with smoked meat, especially bacon or pancetta. I love it with brisket or anything you’d serve with caramelized onions. If you make traditional French onion soup, it would be an ideal crouton.”
Zachary Golper, Peter Kaminsky & Thomas Schauer. “Bien Cuit.”

I ended up yarding out a grain mill I had never used and grinding my buckwheat flour from hulled buckwheat, because I couldn't find the flour I knew I had. It was fun for my youngest to do the grinding though as it is a high quality manual mill. I also used a small portion of white spelt. I think the fresh ground buckwheat and the spelt contributed to the fact that I needed quite a bit more flour to keep the dough from being totally sticky. Like at least 75 g or more. I was careful not to add too much though and I think the loaf turned out beautifully!

To bake along with us as a Bread Baking Buddy, and I highly encourage you to do so, bake the recipe and post about it by the 29th of the month.  Then send your link and a picture to let us know how it turned out for you!  To see directions on where to send your link, go to the host kitchen at MyKitchenInHalfCups.

Caramelized Onion Bread
Recipe By: Bien Cuit
Yield: 2 medium loaves

~36 hours to completion


For the starter:
125 grams (¾ c + 2½ tbsp) white rye flour
0.3 gram (generous pinch) instant yeast
125 grams (½ c + 1 tsp) water at about 60°F (15°C)

For the dough:
425 grams (3 c + 2½ tsp) white flour, plus additional as needed for working with the dough
75 grams (½ c + 1½ tsp) buckwheat flour
15 grams (2½ tsp) fine sea salt
1 gram (generous ¼ tsp) instant yeast
350 grams (1¼ c + 3½ tbsp) water at about 60°F (15°C)
50 grams (2½ tbsp) honey
25 grams (1¾ tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
50 grams (¼ c) Caramelized Onions (recipe follows)
Dusting Mixture, for the linen liner and shaped loaves  (also follows)


1. Starter
Put the flour, yeast and water in a medium bowl.  Mix with your fingers until all of the flour is wet and fully incorporated. Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature for 10 to 14 hours. The starter will be at its peak after about 12 hours.  (If your kitchen isn't too warm, it will be very forgiving on time.)

2. Dough
Stir together the white and buckwheat flours, salt, and yeast in a medium bowl.
Loosen the starter with about one third of the water, then transfer to an extra-large bowl along with the remaining water and the honey.  Break up and distribute the starter around the bowl with a wooden spoon.
Add the flour mixture, setting aside about one-sixth of it for later.  Continue to mix with the spoon until most of the dry ingredients have been combined with the starter mixture.  Switch to a plastic bowl scraper if you have one and continue to mix until incorporated.  At this point the dough will be sticky to the touch.
Push the dough to one side of the bowl.  Roll and tuck the dough, adding the reserved flour mixture and a small amount of additional flour to the bowl and your hands as needed.  To do this, flatten the dough slightly, then catch one edge with the scraper or your hand, and roll it up to the center and push down and back slightly.  Do this with all four edges as for a square, then flip the dough and repeat.  Continue rolling and tucking until the dough feels stronger and begins to resist any further manipulation, about 10 times depending on your flour and kitchen.  Then gently tuck the sides under toward the center.  Place the dough seam-side down, in a clean bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel.  Let rest at room temperature for 45 minutes.

3. Stretch and Folds - there will be four
For the first stretch and fold, lightly dust the work surface and your hands with flour. Use the bowl scraper to release the dough from the bowl.  Set it seam-side down on the work surface. Gently stretch it into a roughly rectangular shape.  Fold the dough in thirds from top to bottom and then from left to right. Again, gently tuck the sides under toward the center. Place the dough in the bowl, seam-side down, cover the bowl with the towel, and let rest for 45 minutes.

4. For the second stretch and fold, repeat the steps for the first stretch and fold, then return the dough to the bowl.  Cover with the towel and let rest for 45 minutes.

5. For the third stretch and fold, gently stretch the dough into a rectangle. Squish the butter into pieces with your fingers and distribute them over the top of the dough. Using your fingers or a spatula to spread the butter across the surface of the dough. Scatter the onions evenly on top. (I used half again as much onions as it calls for.) Roll up the dough tightly from the end closest to you. Turn it so that it is seam-side up and gently press on the seam to flatten the dough slightly. Fold in thirds from left to right and then roll and tuck a few times to incorporate the butter. Turn the dough seam-side down and tuck the sides under toward the center. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with the towel, and let rest for 45 minutes.

6. For the fourth and final stretch and fold, repeat the steps for the first stretch and fold, then return the dough to the bowl, cover with the towel, and let rest for 20 minutes.

7. Line a half sheet pan with a linen liner and dust fairly generously with the dusting mixture.
Lightly dust the work surface and your hands with flour.  Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces, a bench scraper works well for this.  Press each piece into 9 by 5-inch (23 by 15 cm) rectangle, then roll into a loose tube about 9 inches (23 cm) long.

Let rest for 5 minutes. Press each piece out again and then shape into an oval about 12 inches (30 cm) long.

Transfer to the lined pan, seam-side up, positioning the loaves lengthwise. Dust the top and sides of the loaves with flour. Fold the linen to create support walls on both sides of each loaf, then fold any extra length of the linen liner over the top or cover with a kitchen towel.
Transfer the pan to the refrigerator and chill for 12 to 18 hours.

Set up the oven with a baking stone on the baking rack and a cast-iron skillet on the lower rack for steam, and preheat to 500°F (260°C).

8. Using the linen liner, lift and gently flip the loaves off the pan and onto a piece of baking parchment, seam-side down.
Place the dough and parchment onto a baking peel or flat baking sheet.
Score the top of each loaf with a lame or sharp paring knife. Working quickly and carefully, transfer the loaves on their parchment to the baking stone.

Pull out the hot skillet with thick potholders, add about 3 cups of ice cubes, then slide it back in and close the oven door.  Immediately lower the oven temperature to 460°F (240°C).
Bake the loaves, turning them about two-thirds of the way through baking, until the surface is rich brown, with some spots along the scores being very dark (bien cuit), about 25 minutes.

9. Using the baking peel or potholders, transfer the loaves to a cooling rack. The bottoms of the loaves should sound hollow when tapped. If they do not, return to the stone and bake for 5 minutes longer.

Let the bread cool completely before slicing and eating, at least 4 hours but preferably 8 to 24 hours.  This bread lasts exceptionally well.

(I didn't bother to clarify my butter.)

(Makes more than needed for this recipe, batch may be halved)
Makes about 275g of onions and 215g (a generous cup) of onion butter

453g (1 lb) unsalted butter
907g (2 lb) onions (about 4 medium)

1.  Melt the butter in a saucepan without stirring it.  Skim off the foamy layer and discard.  Pour the clear yellow liquid into a medium saute pan, leaving the solids in the bottom behind.

2.  Heat the butter over low heat until it bubbles gently, adjust heat if necessary.  Add the onions.  After a few minutes, use a wooden spoon to gently move the onions and see the bottom of the pan.  Brown bits should be starting to form.  Scrape them back into the onions.

3.  Adjust heat to keep the contents bubbling gently and repeat the process of scraping in the brown bits every 15 minutes or so.  The onions should reach a rich amber color in 1 to 1½ hours.  Toward the end of the time, lower the heat and check more frequently to prevent burning the onions.
(Because that would be simply tragic!)

4.  Set a fine mesh strainer over a bowl or measuring cup.  Put the onions in to drain off the excess butter.  Reserve the required amount for your recipe.  (Don't eat it all!)  Onions will keep in the fridge for 3 days and the strained butter for up to a week.

The dusting mixture, a blend of semolina and white flour, can be used on the kitchen towel, linen liner, or proofing basket, and the top and sides of the dough. The semolina, which is slightly coarser, helps keep the dough from sticking. The mixture is not part of the dough itself, nor is it used in shaping or stretch and fold techniques as the semolina would change the quality of the dough into which it was incorporated.

To make the Dusting Mixture, combine one part fine semolina flour with five parts white flour.  A large batch may be kept on hand if you bake often.