Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Great Asiago Cheese Bread Challenge

About two weeks ago, Lis over at La Mia Cucina and I were exchanging emails back and forth with a furious pace about important topics like fruit in sourdough starters, growing up along the Great Lakes, and 80's Hair Bands. Lis was sick with that awful head/throat/upper chest cold so many of us in this merry little band of food bloggers have been fighting on and off all winter. So naturally, our missives turned to foods we crave when we are sick. Mine included, of all things, McDonald's Big Macs and their vanilla shakes (Who would have thought that Wikipedia would have an entry for Big Mac??!!). Lis had only two foods she wanted, sweet potatoes and Panera's Asiago Cheese Bread toasted. She waxed very poetically about the crumb and the crunchy, cheesy top of the bread and how the zing of the cheese was perfectly matched with the sweet of the dough. A little digging on her part on the Panera website produced a complicated recipe for the bread based around a grape sourdough starter with overnight ferments and fussy steps. The recipe, while completely authentic and correct, was lots of work with lots of time involved; especially for someone not feeling well and just wanting their feel good bread. So, I offered to see if I could find a quick, easy, down and dirty way to short-cut the Panera recipe for a novice bread baker.

Studying the Panera recipe, I made a few assumptions about how to make the bread without having to go through creating a starter and long, overnight ferments but I would need to do some actual taste testing on the Panera bread to be 100% sure I was on the right track (darn). So off to my local Panera I went to purchase a few "control" specimens: two asiago cheese bagels and one asiago cheese loaf. Consuming one of the bagels on my drive home confirmed some of my hypothesis: the bread was very soft and chewy with a sweet tang undertone and that a sponge method probably would produce similar results in chewiness and texture. With a few ideas of how to shorten the time, all that was left was to figure out the exact proportions and ingredients.

Knowing that potato bread is a favourite for sandwiches because of its soft and chewy texture and has a golden colour, I decided to use as my base the potato bread recipe from Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Bread Bible. Other recipes I took some inspiration from are Rose Levy Beranbaum's cheese bread from The Bread Bible and the cheese bread recipe from The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion: The All-Purpose Baking Cookbook. It took two attempts at making this bread before I was satisfied I had a recipe that was fairly easy to duplicate and had the same taste and texture as the Panera asiago cheese bread.

The first attempt was basically the potato bread recipe from The Bread Bible verbatim but with 1 1/2 cups of grated asiago cheese and 1/4 cup less liquid (to account for the moisture the cheese would add). It was tasty and soft with the right look but didn't have the chewy texture of the Panera bread nor enough of the tang. For the second loaf, I decided to make some adjustments to the ingredients and proportions as well as the sponge ferment time. The first adjustment I made was to increase the amount of potato starch in the recipe. Potato starch adds chewiness to bread which is why you will see ingredients like instant potato flakes and potato water in Canadian white bread recipes (not breads from Canada that are white but a "type" of heartier white bread popular in the US that is denser than traditional white bread). Not wanting to add more liquid to the recipe, I decided to stir into the potato water 3 tablespoon of mashed potatoes and then strain the water to get out any undissolved bits of potato. I also decided to add bread flour for more gluten (more gluten = bigger chew) and dry milk (softer crumb). Letting the sponge ferment longer than called for in the potato bread recipe would mean the yeast had more time to develop tang from the release of gasses. I also added 2 Tbsp of plain yogurt to get instant zing; a trick from a fellow sourdough baker who likes really zippy sour in his bread. The results this time were an almost perfect copy of the Panera Asiago Cheese Bread; chewy and dense with a super soft crumb and more tang.

Basically making this bread has six steps: Sponge, Make Dough, First Rise, Shape Loaf, Second Rise, Bake. Each one of these stages has a few mini-steps. Also, while this is shorter than the Panera Bread recipe which takes 12 -16 hours plus, making this bread takes about 7 total hours.So, here we go!

Breadchick's Copycat Asiago Cheese Bread
inspired by Panera Bread and Lisa of La Mia Cucina. With special thanks to Rose Levy Beranbaum and as always King Arthur Flour (Sounds like an Oscar acceptance speech doesn't it??)

1 medium high starch potato (I used Yukon Gold)
1 cup plus 3 Tbsp unbleached all purpose flour
3/4 cup potato water
3 Tbsp mashed potatoes
1 Tbsp honey
1/2 tsp instant/rapid rise yeast

Step 1: In a large glass bowl or 2 1/2 quart plastic container with lid, combine flour and yeast and set aside.

Step 2: Peel potato and dice into small cubes, place in medium sized sauce pan. Add to 2 cups cold water and bring to boil. Let boil for 20 minutes. Don't worry if the cubes break down, we're going to mash the potatoes and we want lots of starch in the water. Strain the potatoes, reserving the water. Mash the cubes into a very fine mash using a food mill or potato ricer (or lots of elbow grease). Let potato water cool to 110 degrees and stir in 3 Tbsp of mashed potatoes until potatoes are dissolved. Using a very fine strainer over a liquid measuring cup (coffee filter in a strainer works if you don't have a fine mesh strainer), measure out 3/4 cup of potato water. Set aside remaining potato water, you may need to add more liquid during the dough stage.

Step 3: Add potato water and honey to flour mixture and mix thoroughly so there are no lumps of flour. Cover your glass bowl tightly with plastic wrap or if you are using a plastic bowl/lid combination, make sure the lid is on tightly. Place in a warm place (70 - 90 degrees. I like to use my oven with the oven light on for my warm place). Let ferment for 2 hours or until tripled. The sponge will be extremely bubbly and look like a billowing cloud.

Dough/First Rise
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp bread flour (12% gluten or more)
1 Tbsp dry non-fat milk
1 Tbsp instant mashed potato flakes
3/8 tsp instant yeast
3/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp plain (not vanilla) yogurt
1 1/2 cups of grated Asiago cheese (reserve 1/4 cup for top of bread)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Step 1:Combine flours, dry milk, potato flakes, yeast and salt into a medium bowl and add the fermented sponge (Since I use a 2 1/2 quart plastic bowl/lid combo for my sponge container, I use my sponge bowl as my mixing bowl/proofing box so I add the dry ingredients directly into my sponge). Stir until almost all combined. This will look dry. Do not add any liquid though.

Step 2: Stir in yogurt and cheeses. Dough will be sticky but shouldn't be runny. If runny, add more all purpose flour, 1 Tbsp at a time until dough is sticky but not oozy. If still dry, add more potato water, 1/2 Tbsp at a time.

Step 3: Turn dough out onto a well floured surface and knead for 5 minutes. Dough will feel lumpy due to cheese but will have some "spring" when done kneading. Let dough rest for 10 minutes to relax the gluten. Pull the dough into a ball. The dough should feel moist but not sticky. If still sticky, knead a bit more flour into the dough, 1 Tbsp at a time. If you add flour, let dough rest for 10 minutes and test for moist firmness again.

Step 4: While dough is resting, clean out sponge container and smear unsalted butter all over the container and lid (if using container with lid). Gather rested dough into round ball and place back into prepared sponge container. If using glass bowl, smear some butter on top of dough ball to prevent dough from sticking to plastic wrap at end of rise

Reseal sponge container or tightly cover glass bowl with plastic wrap and return dough to warm place to rise for 1 1/2 hours or until double.

Shape the Loaf/Second Rise:
Step 1: Remove risen dough from warm place and very gently deflate by placing fist in middle of risen dough and pushing down. Do not "punch" dough, we want some air to remain in the dough. This is what creates "holes" in the finished bread.

Step 2: Turn dough out onto very lightly floured surface. Dough will be very springy and bouncy to the touch. Gently press and stretch dough into a rectangle about 6 1/2" wide by 12" long. If dough keeps springing back, stretch dough a little, let it rest about 5 minutes, stretch dough a bit more, let rest and repeat until dough is about right size. (This is the gluten in the dough acting like a rubber band. Gluten is what gives bread its chew).

Step 3: With the dough rectangle oriented like this:

Starting at the top, fold 1/3 of the dough down towards you like a 3 fold business letter.

Fold bottom third of dough up and away from you to cover the first fold.

Place in buttered 8 1/2" by 4 1/2" glass loaf pan, seam side down. Brush melted butter on top of dough, cover loaf pan tightly with plastic wrap and return to warm place. Let rise for 1 hour or until dough begins to touch plastic wrap. Remove the plastic wrap and let dough continue to rise until about 1/2" above edge of loaf pan.

Baking the Loaf:

Step 1: If you are using your oven for your warm place, remove the risen loaf from the oven. Pre-heat the oven at 350 degrees.

Step 2: Gently brush top of risen loaf with and egg white wash (1 egg white and 1/2 tsp water combined). Sprinkle reserved grated asiago cheese on top of risen loaf

Step 3: Bake bread for 40 minutes or until golden brown. An instant thermometer inserted into the center of the bread will read 210 degrees when bread is done.

Step 4: Warning!! This is the hardest part of this recipe. Let bread cool COMPLETELY on a wire rack. If you cut into this bread while it is even slightly warm, it will get all gooey and soggy. If you want it warm when you eat it, heat it for 10 - 15 seconds in the microwave or toast it!

So you can see how my copycat loaf compared in looks to the Panera loaf, here are some pictures. The Panera "control" loaf is sitting on top of my bread.
Crumb and texture:

Crust and Colour: