Yes, the competition was minor. All who signed up were able to participate, and, if you successfully baked a yeast bread and filled out an eight-page booklet about your work, you received a blue ribbon and were rewarded with three dollars. Even then, that wasn't much.
But I was eager, and I decided to make potato and onion dinner rolls. They required an overnight rise (which I now know helped them ferment and helped extract those delicious flavors from the wheat). They required a light misting with water, to help simulate conditions found in professional bread ovens. They had a light egg wash to bring out some color during baking.
Did I mention that was my first time ever baking bread?
Those first potato and onion rolls did end up being somewhat successful, earning me a blue ribbon and that coveted three dollar prize. However, the baking experience only demonstrated to me that I could successfully follow a recipe and achieve a desired result. 14-year-old me just had no understanding of the beauty of bread making, how yeast can coax flavors out of the bread, how a slow fermentation can work wonders, and how the same base ingredients can be modified into countless unique breads.
Perhaps current me still isn't quite sure, but with The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread by Peter Reinhart, a delightful birthday gift from Thomas and Alyna, I'm learning.
A few years ago, Pinch My Salt challenged bakers to bake through The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread, completing each of the recipes in order. Pinch My Salt started the journey a few years ago, but the group has just taken off, and new bakers are constantly taking on the challenge.
So, with the Anadama Bread, I'm officially beginning the BBA Challenge and starting out on a journey toward true knowledge of bread. It's a delicious bread with a delightful myth behind it. According to Wikipedia, a fisherman was angry at his wife Anna for leaving him with nothing but cornmeal and molasses. After she left, he threw in flour and yeast and tossed the bread in the oven, cursing his wife the entire time shouting "Anna, damn her." Inspired neighbors are said to have adopted the recipe and changed the name slightly.
This bread incorporates a delicious mix of cornmeal, bread flour and molasses. The cornmeal soaks overnight with water, so that the natural sugars trapped in the corn are released. The soaker is followed by three rises and a long knead. I kneaded the bread by hand, which gave me a good sense of how the bread came together. These loaves rose beautifully, almost ridiculously well.
After enjoying a fresh slice with butter, I reminisced more about 14-year-old me. I thought about the first dish we learned how to make in Home Ec: egg-in-a-hole toast. I cut a circle in the bread, buttered it, put it in a hot pan, and cracked an egg in the middle. A perfect dinner after a day of bread baking.
As part of the BBA Challenge, we're agreeing not to post recipes from The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread. If you're inspired, get the book and bake along with us!