It's hard to be humble.
A new book paints the dramatic role Kansas plays, both agriculturally and culinarily, in the crafting of artisan breads.
In "Artisan Baking Across America: The Breads, The Bakers, The Best Recipes," author Maggie Glezer gives the Wheat State more than just a gentle nod of appreciation. Glezer spent time with Thom Leonard, co-partner of WheatFields, 904 Vt., reviewing his approach to creating perfect crusty loaves with delicate insides that burst with rustic flavor. Although Leonard of Lawrence no longer bakes at WheatFields, his techniques and approaches to dealing with the bakery's huge wood-fired oven is recorded for posterity.
WheatFields partner Chuck Magerl has seen the book and understands Glezer's decision to feature Leonard.
"I've known Thom for 20 to 25 years now. His experiences are mythical in terms of food and business," Magerl said. Leonard also was a key player in the rebuilding of the bakery after the fire in April. "He was instrumental in bringing the bread back alive."
Glezer also heaps praise on our upstream cousins in Manhattan who have created a Midwestern mecca of milling at Kansas State University and farmers farther west who grow pest-resistant and higher-yielding strains of wheat. The result of their efforts is nothing short of superlative supply side gastronomics.
The lavishly photographed book also pays a call on notable artisan bakeries around the country, from California to New York.
"Artisan Baking" (Artisan Press, $40) has been crafted into the required reading for Bread Baking 101. The nimbly written book assumes the reader is there to learn as much as possible about great breads and then gives it to them. Glezer is an American Institute of Baking certified baker who specializes in teaching and writing about bread baking for amateur and professional bakers. She has contributed to Fine Cooking magazine and written technical columns for the Bread Bakers Guild of America newsletter and King Arthur Flour's The Baking Sheet.
In the chapter titled "Baking Basics," Glezer reviews the equipment, ingredients and techniques bakers will need. Then Glezer launches into her cross country tour with the recipes she's gleaned, pausing now and again to provide colorful commentary on ingredients, techniques or a baker's mental approach.
Each recipe is complete from a variety of standpoints. They are marked for level of difficulty. Ingredient measurements are given by volume and weight, as well as metric, so bakers can use the method familiar to them. Each recipe also gives directions for how to prepare each bread dough by hand, by stand mixer or in a food processor. Sorry, no mention of bread machines, here. This is, after all, artisan baking.
The book offers two of WheatFields' recipes: Thom Leonard's Country French Bread and Thom Leonard's Kalamata Olive Bread. Unfortunately both recipes are listed as "Advanced." And when Glezer says advanced, she means it. Even the recipes for beginners can cover several pages. Here's one for Macrina's Cinnamon Monkey Breads from the Macrina Bakery and Cafe in Seattle. The monkey bread is not a true monkey bread that can be pulled apart. Instead it is sliced to reveal swirls of rich apple butter. It can be made in less than a day or can be stretched out over two days to accommodate a hectic schedule. As its base, the recipe uses the Baking Team USA Sweet Dough recipe. (For space reasons only volume measurements are given here.)
Clearly, one can tell that artisan baking is a labor of love. But maybe there's something to that.
After all, you can't spell "loaves" without "love."
Baking Team USA Sweet Dough
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
6 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened (leave chilled if mixing by food processor)
Microwave the milk on high power for 4 minutes or heat in a small saucepan on top of the stove until bubbles form around the edge, steam rises and the milk smells cooked. Let it cool to 105 F to 115 F. Sprinkle the yeast over the milk, stir and let stand for 5 minutes to 10 minutes.
To mix by hand: Add the flour to a large bowl, then add the yeast mixture and the eggs. With a wooden spoon or your hand, mix the dough just until well combined. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let rest for 15 minutes to 20 minutes.
Add the salt to the dough and mix the dough in the bowl just until combined. Turn the dough out of the bowl and knead until it is smooth and strong, 5 minutes to 10 minutes. The dough will at first be gritty with the salt, but it will soon dissolve. Add half the sugar and knead the dough again until the sugar dissolves; add the remaining sugar and knead the dough until the sugar is fully incorporated and the dough is very smooth. Finally, add the butter in 2 additions and knead it into the dough until the dough is satiny smooth, soft and glossy.
By stand mixer: Add the flour to the mixing bowl, then add the yeast mixture and the eggs. Mix the dough just until well combined. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let rest for 15 minutes to 20 minutes.
Add the salt to the dough and, using the dough hook, mix the dough on low speed until it is smooth, about 3 minutes. This is a soft dough that will never clean the bowl. Add the sugar in 2 additions then the butter in 2 additions, mixing until each addition is completely incorporated before adding the rest. Continue to mix the dough until it is satiny smooth, soft and glossy.
By food processor: Add the flour and the salt to the work bowl fitted with the steel blade and pulse to combine. Remove the cover and add the yeast mixture and eggs. Process the dough until it forms a smooth ball and begins to fog the work bowl. Remove the dough from the work bowl and knead it by hand to cool it and redistribute the heat. The dough will feel fairly stiff once it cools off. Return the dough to the work bowl, process it for 30 seconds, remove it again and hand knead to cool it. Repeat this process 2 or 3 times more until the dough is very smooth and strong. Return the dough to the work bowl.
With the machine running, slowly add the sugar through the feed tube and process the dough until the sugar has dissolved and the dough is smooth. The dough will be very sticky at this point. Remove the dough and hand knead it to cool it again. Return the dough to the work bowl. Cut the butter into chunks and add about half to the work bowl. Process the dough until the butter is incorporated, about 30 seconds. If the dough is very warm, hand knead it again to cool it Add the rest of the chunked butter and process it again until it is fully incorporated, about 30 seconds. The dough should be very smooth, extensible and silky.
To finish: Place the dough in a container at least 3 times its size and cover it tightly with plastic wrap, or after rolling it in flour, place the dough in a large plastic bag and seal the bag well. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours or up to 2 days. Let the dough warm to room temperature for 2 hours before shaping.
Macrina's Cinnamon Monkey Bread
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 recipe fully risen sweet dough (see above), warmed to room temperature
1 cup apple butter
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg, beaten
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
Butter two 9-inch by 5-inch baking pans and line them with 12-inch by 9-inch rectangles of parchment paper, leaving the 5-inch sides bare.
Combine the sugars and spices in a small bowl. Roll out the risen dough into an 18-inch by 10-inch rectangle, about 1/2-inch thick. Spread it with an even layer of the apple butter, drizzle it with the melted butter and then sprinkle it with the spiced sugar mixture.
Roll both long edges in so they meet in the center in a very long and narrow double roll. The dough is very thick so you will be able to roll the sides only once. Flip the dough seam side down and cut it crosswise in half so you have two 9-inch long pieces. The top of the dough will retract when you cut it, exposing the filling. Place the loaves seam side down in the prepared baking pans, cover them well with plastic wrap and let them proof until risen to the tops of the pans, 2 hours to 3 hours.
About 30 minutes before the dough is fully proofed, arrange a rack on the oven's bottom shelf and clear away all racks above the one being used. Preheat the oven to 325 F.
Brush the tops of the loaves with beaten egg, and sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Bake until the breads turn a rich brown color, 40 minutes to 45 minutes, rotating them halfway into the baking. Let cool for 10 minutes, then immediately remove them from the pans onto a rack, using a spatula to loosen the breads if necessary. (Do not allow the breads to cool in the pans or the sugar will harden and they will stick in the pans.) The breads will crack and seem to collapse as you remove them from the pans, but this is their correct final shape.