Sunday, November 21, 2021

Roasted Apples, Sweet Onions, and Aged Cheddar Sourdough Bread



There is a point in mid-autumn, a breaking point, when summer finally surrenders, and the cold winds announce their arrival. When the scent in the air begins to change from happy and floral, to ripe and opulent. It’s the honeysweet, buttery smell of the harvest, but with crisp, tart undertones, the emissaries of the impending winter. You close your eyes and all those scents, all those flavors come together, bringing back the essence of the falls before. The good, happy falls. The last carousel ride in the park before they close for the season; the candy apples at the concessioners stand nearby, glossy with caramel like the beads of an amber necklace; the rustling of the thick, wet blanket of leaves as you jump on it. The walk back home with your dad, your hands in his pockets, because it had suddenly turned cold.

All those scents, all those flavors, all those memories come rushing back, leaving you with an all-encompassing sensation of warmth and happiness. It’s making you feel safe and grateful. It’s making you strong; ready to take on new challenges and move mountains, knowing that’s in you, that it has always been in you.

That’s how this bread feels like. It’s pure comfort and joy. It’s encouragement. The feeling that stays even when you have finished the last bite. Reminding you that there is so much good around us. We just have to believe in it, no matter what.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Baker’s Notes

choice of ingredients: The pairing of Pink Lady apples, sweet onions, and aged cheddar makes for a wind-whirl of rich, savory flavors. If you can’t get hold of Pink Ladies, use Honeycrip, Joangold, Braeburn, or any other tart-sweet apple that holds its shape when baked. If you don’t have sweet onions handy, use yellow. If you don’t have access to Henry Hotspur's Hard Pressed cider, choose a semi-dry hard cider that has a distinct aroma of apples and a clear, crisp taste. Don’t used apple cider -- it will make the bread too sweet.

fermentation: The sugars from the apples and cider will compete for liquid with the levain, and bulk fermentation should be longer than what you would do for a sourdough bread with the same formula, but without inclusions. Probably an hour or so extra. Also, all the additions will cause the dough to behave differently. The volume rise, the jigliness of the dough, the bubbles on the surface, and other signs bakers typically rely on in calling the end of bulk fermentation, may not be as prominent because of the inclusions. At the beginning, I used to under-proof this bread, playing it safe, and it took me some trial and error to get a good feel for how it's supposed to behave. 

Total formula

195 g (60%) Central Milling organic Artisan Baker's Craft Plus
111 g (34%) Central Milling organic T85 malted flour
 20 g (6%) Central Milling organic whole rye flour
280 g (86%) Henry Hotspur's Hard Pressed Cider
 65 g (20%) levain at 100% hydration
  7 g (2%) kosher salt
 72 g (22%) roasted apple dice (from 2 large Pink Lady apples)
 72 g (22%) roasted onion ribs (from one large sweet onion)
 91 g (28%) aged sharp cheddar, cut into ¼-inch dice

Dough temperature:

Location: New York City (low elevation)

My baking schedule:

 7:15 am prepare levain
 7:30 am prepare cider
10:00 am prepare inclusions
10:30 am autolyse
11:45 am mix in levain
12:15 pm mix in salt
 1:00 pm coil fold
 1:45 pm coil fold
 2:45 pm laminate, add apples, onion, and cheese
 3:45 pm coil fold
 5:00 pm coil fold (optional)
 7:00 pm shape
 7:30 pm retard

-- next day –

 9:30 am bake

Total bulk time:
7h 45min

#1 Prepare levain (7:15 am)

In a small bowl, mix 20 g strong starter, 36 g white bread flour, 4 g dark rye flour, and 40 g water. Transfer the levain to a clean glass container and cover loosely with a lid or plastic wrap. Wait until the levain has almost tripled in volume. In my proofing oven at 78°F it takes about 4 to 5 hours.

#2 Prepare cider (7:30 am)

Once you are done making the levain, prepare the cider. Pour the cider into a wide bowl. Leave uncovered to let go of carbonation.

#3 Prepare inclusions (10:00 am)

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Peel and core the apples and slice them into ½-inch dice. Oil a baking sheet lightly to prevent the apples from sticking. Place the apples on the sheet in one layer. Roast for about 20 to 30 minutes, or until the apples are dry and slightly caramelized around the edges. Set aside. Cut the onion into thin ribs. Place on a slightly oiled sheet in one layer. Roast for about 20 minutes, or until the onion ribs are golden and slightly caramelized around the edges. Set aside. Cut the cheddar into 3/8-inch dice

#4 Autolyse (10:30 am)
Measure out 280 g of cider. Hold back 15 g of cider. In a mixing bowl, combine the flours and 265 g of cider. Mix until no dry bits remain. Cover and leave for 75 minutes.

#5 Mix in levain (11:45 am)

Add the levain to the autolyse. Using your fingers, pinch in the levain, then apply gentle scoops, stretching the dough up and folding it into itself, for about 4 minutes, until the levain is fully incorporated.

#6 Mix in salt (12:15 pm)
In a small mixing bowl, combine the salt and the remaining 15 g of cider. (If the dough feels too slack, hold off on the cider, if it feels too tight, add more as appropriate.) Mix well. Add to the dough. Pinch in slowly with your fingers, then apply gentle scoops, stretching the dough up and folding it into itself, for about 5 minutes. Keep doing this until the salt is fully incorporated and the dough feels silky, and then give it one minute more. This is important to build strength in the dough from the beginning, since it will have to carry a lot of inclusions. Gather the dough into a round and transfer to a bulk fermentation container. Cover and leave for 45 minutes.

#7 Coil folds (1:00 pm, 1:45 pm)
Perform two coil folds separated by 45 minutes, to build initial strength in the dough. Once the inclusions are added to the dough, it will be difficult to manipulate it further, and the inclusions may cause damage to the gluten structure. After the second coil fold, let the dough rest for an hour.

#8 Laminate and add apples, onions, and cheddar (2:45 pm)
By now the dough should have developed a lot of strength and is ready to take in the inclusions. Lightly wet the work surface. With wet hands, release the dough from the bottom of the bulk container on all sides and place it onto the work surface. By pulling the dough from the middle and not the sides, stretch it into a large square as much as the dough allows you without tearing it. Reserve about 20% of each ingredient. Spread one third of the remaining apples, onions and cheddar over the middle third of the dough, fold over one side, apply the second third of inclusions on top of the folded area, fold over and apply the remaining inclusions. You will end up with a stripe of dough. Now spread half of the reserved mixture over the middle third of the stripe, fold over one side, apply the remaining inclusions on top of the folded area, and complete the fold, resulting in a neat square packet. This way of applying inclusions helps maintain even distribution of ingredients in the final loaf. Place the dough into the container, cover and leave until the end of the bulk. 

#9 Coil fold (3:45 pm)
Perform a gentle coil fold to organize the dough.

#10 Optional coil fold (5:00 pm)
The dough should be quite strong by now, and the packet should hold its shape well, but if you feel that the dough still needs work, perform another gentle coil fold.

#11 Shape (7:00 pm)
Lightly flour the work surface and the top of the dough. Flip the dough onto the work surface, so that the dusted top is now facing the surface. Shape the dough and place it into the banneton, seam side up. Put the banneton into a plastic bag or cover it with plastic wrap. Leave for 30 minutes.

#12 Retard (7:30 pm)
Transfer the loaf to the refrigerator to proof overnight. I usually keep the temperature in my refrigerator at 35°F-36°F to prevent any further rise in the dough.

#13 Bake (9:30 am)

One hour before baking, place your baking vessel in the oven and preheat the oven to 500°F. When ready to bake, remove the banneton from the fridge. Flip onto a parchment paper. Lightly spray the bread with water – this helps develop a nice crust and makes scoring easier. Wet the bread lame too, score the bread, and transfer it to the baking surface. Spray a little bit of water around the bread and cover. Bake for 25 minutes, covered. Remove the lid, reduce oven temperature to 420°F and continue to bake for another 25 minutes. This bread has a lot of sugars from the apples and the cider, so keep an eye on the crust; if it starts to burn, cover it with a foil in the final 10 minutes of the bake. Remove the bread from the oven and cool on a wire rack for at least two hours before slicing.