Monday, February 16, 2009

I Did It!

Yesterday, I accomplished something that I honestly did not think I could do. I baked bread from scratch! In my Simple Pleasures post a week or two ago, I confided how I wanted to learn to make bread from scratch and was actually feeling some pressure to do so since my parents had given me a bread-related cookbook for my birthday. And as of now, it is now my absolutely favorite cookbook. I was also very intimidated by the prospect of making bread because the recipes violated two of the key principles I use when cooking. One, the recipe involved equipment I do not own. In this case, a pizza peel which I have since learned is the wooden slab that chefs use to take pizzas in and out of an oven. The recipe also contained terms that I did not understand, and the recipe was over a page (actually 5 pages with lots of explanation) long. I'm still not exactly sure what a gluten cloak is, but the pictures and description were very helpful.

After visiting two grocery stores, I found all the ingredients. The unbleached unsifted flour kind of threw me for a loop. I then had to master the scoop-and-sweep method of measuring flour. I didn't realize determining ingredient amounts was so complicated, and I have apparently been measuring all wrong for many years.

Next came the mixing which was a bit challenging since I do not own a stand mixer. I honestly never thought I would make any dishes that required one, but I am having second thoughts and thinking about investing in the appliance now.
The directions also very clearly stated not to knead the dough, and it was hard to resist doing so when I had both my hands in it.

Next came the hard part . . . waiting. The dough had to sit for several hours which was so hard for me. I am not a patient person. I am definitely an "I want it my way, and I want it now" kind of gal. Regardless, I found something else to do and managed to leave the dough alone to rise.

The tricky part- making the gluten cloak- came next. First, I had to cut a grapefruit-size hunk of
dough out of the batch. I wasn't really sure about this because I don't eat grapefruit and can't recall ever buying one either. So I took a shot in the dark and sliced off what looked to be about a pound of dough. Then within thirty seconds I was supposed to shape it into a roundish lump that resembled a loaf of bread.

The bread-to-be then had to sit for another forty minutes before I undertook the dust and slash technique. I'm still not sure why I was supposed to dust and slash, but for whatever reason it apparently worked. Now the loaf was ready to go in the oven.

It baked 30 minutes and ta-da!!!!
After baking, it tasted fabulously with a hard crust and soft inside. I have to admit that I was raised to be a bread snob. My father lived in France for several years as a teen where he rode his bike to the village bakery for fresh baguettes everyday. I was indoctrinated that the best bread has such a hard crust that it can't be cut with a knife, only torn with the hands. And guess what? My bread is like that. I was so pleased with the results that I immediately prepared another loaf so I could send one over to my dad. The best part of my recipe is that one batch of dough makes four loaves so I still have enough dough for two more crusty loaves waiting to be baked in the fridge.

Now that I have mastered the basic boule, artisan free-form loaf, I think I am brave enough to branch out to the other recipes in my cookbook. I'll probably try the baguette next, then perhaps chocolate bread, pita, batard, beignets . . .

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