While learning new recipes is (almost) always fun and delicious, learning a new kitchen technique is something that I do not focus on quite enough. So when I saw the theme of this months Bread Baking Day challenge, I was intrigued. This month's challenge, hosted by my dear friend Jenni, is all about beautiful breads - any kind of bread, as long as it is deliberately beautified using any beautification technique we choose. And, believe it or not, there are plenty. You can use herbs, seeds, nuts, fruits, vegetables, or a variety of painting of stenciling techniques to create gorgeous images right on the crust of any loaf of bread.
While all of the techniques looked impressive, the one that caught my eye was one referred to as "loaf painting," where images are painted onto the surface of the bread. The usual medium, from what I have seen, is a mixture of instant coffee grounds and egg yolk, though one very successful and talented bread artist actually creates colors using concentrates of various ground grains or seeds.
I do not have instant coffee, so I chose to create a concentrate using dark cocoa powder as the base of my "paint".
I simply combined one part dark cocoa powder and two parts water in a small saucepan and whisked the mixture over medium high heat until it reduced significantly into a thick paste.
Then, using an egg yolk, I created different concentrations to see if it would effect the color of the finished product. I saved some yolk itself, had one mixture of more yolk than cocoa concentrate, one of mostly the cocoa with just a bit of yolk, then I had the pure concentrate, too, in case I needed more.
As far as the bread was concerned, I wanted a simple canvas, so I chose to make baguettes using the french bread recipe I used when making fougasse. I baked the loaves just until they started to turn golden, then little miss and I started painting.
She was amazed when I told her we'd be painting on bread. We used the different "colors" as best as we could, but it didn't give quite the color variation we were hoping for.
All of the cocoa variations looked the same, and the plain yolk, rather than just adding shine or highlight, like I'd expected, still looked pretty yellow when baked.
Regardless, we both really enjoyed both the process and the finished loaves.
Little miss was worried that the bread would taste like chocolate due to the cocoa paint (I served the bread with soup at dinner that night and she didn't want chocolate minestrone...), but it didn't effect the flavor at all.
I am not much of an artist, but I think I want to try my hand at this again. I think this technique would make a fun centerpiece at an event or big dinner, and that being able to customize loaves for friends, families or occasions is a very fun skill to add to my repertoire.
I can't wait to see the round-up of this challenge to see the other beautiful loaves created this month. Thanks for the awesome topic, Jenni!
Decorated French Bread Baguettes
(bread recipe from J's Kitchen, painting technique adapted from Chef Tess Bakeresse)
For the bread:
500 grams bread flour
5 grams active dry yeast
10 grams salt
375 ml water
Stir yeast into the flour until evenly distributed. Stir in salt, then water, and mix until the dough begins to form.
Transfer the dough to a clean work surface. Continue mixing/kneading the dough by stretching it out and folding it over onto itself repeatedly and from each direction. Continue working the dough until it comes away cleanly from the work surface and is not (or, for me, is less...) sticky.
Move the dough to a floured area of your work surface, and shape the dough into a ball (as best as you can - it is still a wet dough). Transfer the dough into a lightly oiled (large!) bowl, cover it with a tea towel (or plastic wrap) and allow it to rest for at least one hour.
After the dough has rested, turn it out (carefully) onto a floured work surface. Generously flour the top of the dough, then cover with a tea towel and allow it to rest for another five minutes or so.
Divide the dough into two equal pieces and shape each into a baguette. Set baguettes onto a baking sheet, spray with cooking spray, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rise for another hour.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Just before placing the loaves in the oven, dust the tops with flour and slash the top of each loaf with a sharp knife.
Bake the bread for about 15-20 minutes, just until the loaves begin turning golden brown.
Carefully remove the loaves from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack.
Using your prepared "paints" (method I used below), paint your design onto the crust of the breads.
Return breads to the oven and bake for at least five more minutes, until the breads are done.
If you are using multiple colors or shades, start with the lightest color first and return the loaves to the oven for a few minutes to set the "paint" prior to layering the darker colors on top.
Remove completed breads from oven and transfer to wire rack to cool.
To prepare the "paint," combine one part cocoa powder and two parts water in a small saucepan. Whisking constantly, heat the mixture over medium high heat until the mixture is thick. It will reduce quite a bit.
Set the cocoa concentrate aside to cool.
Once the cocoa concentrate has cooled, carefully separate an egg - you need the yolk here. Reserve the white for another use (or to egg wash the loaf when you are done, if you want). Mix the yolk up, then combine a small amount of the concentrate with a small amount of the yolk to create a paint-like consistency. Theoretically, you can vary the shade by varying the amount of concentrate/yolk in each mixture. This didn't work for me, but I have complete faith that it should.