Sunday, May 31, 2009

Martha vs. Nigella Bake Off

There's few things in life better than a good loaf of bread. I've tried most of the bakeries in the area, and all the vendors at the farmers market, but still haven't found one that both Matt and I love. I decided to try out two different versions and see if I can come up with one that we both love. I pitted Martha Stewart's Breakfast Bread against Nigella Lawson's The Essential White Loaf.

First up, Martha. I've made this bread before and I like it. It's much more substantial than most white bread, but it's reliable option.

Breakfast Bread
adapted from The Martha Stewart Cookbook
Makes 1 loaf
1 c. milk ( I used 1% because it's what I had in the house, but I've even used non-fat with good results)
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
1 package active dry yeast
1/3 c warm water (you want it to feel warm on your wrist but not hot. Like the bathwater for a baby)
3-4 c all purpose flour
1 egg, lightly beaten

In a small pot scald the milk then add the butter, sugar, and salt and remove from the heat. Let cool to lukewarm.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, dissolve the yeast in the warm water and then add the milk mixture. Mix 1 1/2 c of flour into the milk mixture until well combined. Add the egg and continue to mix. With the mixer on low slowly add more flour until the mixture comes together and doesn't stick to the side of the bowl. (Yesterday that took an additional 2 c of flour, but I've had it work for less than 1 1/2 c before.) Knead until smooth, approximately 7 minutes. Take the dough out of the bowl and knead by hand for an additional 2 minutes. (I do this because I like to feel that it really is smooth and I can tell if it's too wet or dry. You can knead it all by hand, but I really don't have the upper body strength for that.) Let the dough rise in an oiled bowl covered with a clean dishtowel until doubled in size.

Once the dough has doubled in size, punch it down and form into a loaf. It should look like a sandwich roll with the seam on the bottom. Place in a 9x5x3 pan, cover, and let rise again till it almost reaches the top of the pan.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 40 to 50 until brown and makes a hollow sound when you tap it. (It's usually best to test that on the bottom but be careful and try not to burn yourself while doing so.) Remove from pan and allow to cool on a rack. Slice and enjoy.

Here we have the whole loaf and then it sliced and ready for eating.
Verdict - good with a slight yeasty flavor. Including both rises, took almost three hours.

Next up, Nigella.

The Essential White Bread
adapted from Nigella Lawson's How to Be A Domestic Goddess
Makes 1 loaf

3 1/2 c all purpose flour (Her recipe calls for bread flour, but I only had all purpose)
1 package active dry yeast
1 Tbsp salt
1 1/3 c warm tap water (Nigella also recommends using water from boiling potatoes but I didn't have any handy. Seriously, who has that frozen in their freezer?)
1 Tbsp softened butter

Place flour, yeast, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add 1/3 c of water and stir, add more water until the mix comes together but is still slightly sticky and messy looking, then add the butter. Knead for at least 7 minutes until the dough is smooth. Again, remove and knead by hand for an additional 2 minutes. Allow to rise in an oiled bowl covered with a dishtowel until doubled in size. Punch the dough down, and form into a loaf and allow to rise a second time for about 45 minutes. (This can be baked either free form or in a pan. I used a pan to compare it to the Martha loaf.) Bake in a 425 oven for about 35 till it sounds hollow when tapped. Allow to cool and dig in.
The Nigella loaf just out of the oven and cut into. Notice Matt in the background helping himself to another piece of the Martha loaf.
Verdict - very good, but a little salty. I've never made bread without putting the yeast in water first. It took much longer for this to rise, almost 4 1/2 hours, but still came out with a good loaf with a very nice crust.

Final decision - The Nigella loaf won!! Even with a slight excess of salt it was still both mine and Matt's favorite.

Tonight we made sandwiches with the toasted bread, steak, arugula from the garden, caramelized onions and garlic, and garlic chive cheddar. Add a salad with lettuce from the garden and sauteed corn and you have a nice early summer dinner.

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