Saturday, January 2, 2010

Bread Baking

Happy New Year everyone!
What did you get for Christmas? I was lucky to get some new cooking equipment, so that in 2010 I can prepare more meals at home, and we will eat healthier but tastier food. I usually cook at home, but have to go to the store every few days to stock up on food that is appealing. Veggies, meat, and bread don't keep for very long. Now I am going to try to change that, with my new FoodSaver (that's for a different post) and with a book that I hope will really help.

I read Clayart, a usenet kind of email list for potters, and the subject turned to bread. Strangely, potters and bread seem to have an affinity. Bread and clay have many of the same attributes, and potters seem to like to eat well. Someone brought up a book that they really use, that has a recipe for bread that can be stored in the fridge for up to two weeks, and only takes five minutes a day to prepare for baking. You don't have to do it every day, either, as you do with sourdough starters. The bread will sit until you are ready to bake! Well, I thought and thought, and decided that I wanted to get the book and try it.

I won't give away the recipe here, because the authors of the book deserve to make sales for their effort. The book is well worth the price, and you can follow along and see if my efforts end up making something that you would also like to be able to make. But the idea is that a very wet dough keeps well in the refrigerator, and actually develops nuance as it sits. Then, whatever portion is desired can be removed, allowed to sit for 40 minutes, and then baked.

The recipe was simple: all-purpose unbleached flour, instant yeast, warm water, and salt. That's it. I had a lot of bread flour, but not as much all-purpose since Allison did some baking here over Christmas, so I used half bread flour and half all-purpose. The bread flour has a higher protein content and might be a little tougher in the baked product. I deducted a little flour when making the recipe, as they said to do if using bread flour. I might have deducted too much....

Anyway, the KitchenAid was an invaluable tool for mixing. Have I TOLD you how much I love my KitchenAid? It gets a workout around here! Almost daily. It's my most beloved kitchen appliance. (Granted, the competition is small, because I have an ancient toaster, a crock pot, and a rice cooker... the microwave doesn't count, that's for the guys) If the KitchenAid were human, I would give it a raise, or maybe I would adopt it like a child. Any way you look at it, the stand mixer does more than its share, and the cookies were a breeze this year! But I digress.

Back to the bread!
You mix up the dough, by putting the yeast and salt in the water and then adding the flour, all at once. When it's fairly well mixed (it took about four minutes) then you put it into a container that will allow it to double, and set it out on the counter for a few hours. Two hours did the trick, but the book says that more or less is all right too. Finally, into the fridge it goes. I divided the dough between a Corning Ware casserole deep dish, and a big measuring cup/bowl. Covered them each with Saran and sure enough, next morning they were both doubled.

I ran out to the Carlsbad Outlet Mall and caught some after Christmas sales, buying an oven thermometer and a baking stone. Those were the bare essentials, everything else I either had, or could improvise. I'd been wanting an oven thermometer, suspecting that my oven runs hot, and sure enough it does, but only about five degrees. The baking stone is interesting, it's like a big flat piece of light terra cotta clay. It is porous, so it absorbs the moisture from the baked goods and gives a crisp, crunchy crust. It was only about twenty bucks.

So here is one container of the bread dough, ready to start baking:

It's quite soft and sticky, not like the usual bread dough. The book warns that it will be soft, and you just have to get an eye for adjusting it! So I sprinkle cornmeal on top of a cookie sheet with no sides (because I didn't want to buy a pizza peel, that flat wooden board with a handle that they form pizza on and then slide it off onto the pizza stone).

I pull up and cut off about as much dough as a size of a grapefruit, and then with floured hands it gets pulled and stretched down each side, like you are pulling it from the top and tucking it underneath. Turning and pulling, turning and pulling. The dough is still very sticky and doesn't want to stay in a ball. I begin to think that it's a little too soft, but will fight the instinct to add flour. Try it this way first, then adjust in future loaves. Here is the dough, resting...

Forty minutes later, the oven is preheated, the stone is preheated, the oven is about right,


the dough is looking like a cross between a frisbee and a pita.


Determined not to give up, I slog ahead... dusting it with flour and then cutting a crisscross pattern on top. But the dough is so soft, it doesn't cut, it just sort of... oozes. Well, maybe it will taste good anyway.

Maybe? Like Nan bread or something? Hmmmmm.....

So I open the oven, put in a pan with about a cup of water in it, then sprinkle the stone with cornmeal. Which immediately smokes a little and smells like popcorn. Not bad, at least it doesn't catch fire and burn my arm hairs off! I grab the cookie sheet with the dough on it, and try to slide it onto the stone. It's supposed to just sort of skid off, intact. Nope. Standing in front of the hot oven, with the smoking cornmeal, I try to slide it off, but end up rolling it over on itself as it .... sllllluuuuurrrrrpppppps off and onto the stone.

Apparently it WAS too soft. Way too soft. Well, nothing to be done now except plan for the next encounter.

Here is the cookie sheet with the skid marks:

It's been about twenty minutes, let's take a peek....

Hey, it's rising! Aside from the odd shape, and the surface covered with cornmeal, it's not half bad! This just might work! (with a little adjustment, wait till you see what I try next!)

It's then that I notice that the light streaming through the window has a distinct bluish tint. I clean my glasses, but the blue remains. It's the smoke from the cornmeal! I TOLD you it was smoking! So hey, it's a lovely day, open the window... and see the little birdies in the garden, eating from the feeders:

The bread is done, or at least I think it is, so I pull it out....

It's kinda cute, in a lumpy sort of way. I've grown attached to this first effort. Think I'll call it Fred.

When I asked hubby if he wanted a piece of "Fred and butter" he was a little hesitant, but he shouldn't have been... Fred tasted about like he looked. A little bland, and not very confident. I think that the dough needs a little more salt, maybe. Also, a couple of days in the fridge to get a little 'nuance'....

EDIT, later- Making another batch, I realized that the recipe didn't need more salt, I needed a brain implant. TABLESPOON, teaspoon, TABLESPOON, teaspoon (face plant) Just send me to remedial reading class, please.