Sunday, June 27, 2010

Today I tried to make bread....

Ah God if I could ever just follow a recipe it'd surely be better baking all round....

An important thing to know about me and how my foibles and traits apply to baking... they do not go too well together.

Firstly, I tend to change things. I see a recipe and it calls for certain amount of something ... sometimes I approximate. If there's anything I learned from the baking course last week it's that it's difficult to get away with that when you're making small batches of bread.

Secondly, I have a very bad memory. Already I cannot remember parts* of what we did last week and I see no reason why that should stop me making bread ... I'll make it up as I go along. Forget hundreds of years of French bakers perfecting their art ... I'll feel my way along with my instinct developed over weeks (nearly) of baking French baguettes!

Ok so onto the actual bread-making. I decided I would make some soda bread while I was farting around in the kitchen. I hurt my back over the last couple of days and it got particularly bad today so only a couple of hours work in the basement suite I'm renovating and then back home for a lie down. So I got a recipe from my recently acquired Darina Allen book  which was recommended by my friend Ann. It's a nice book ... nice indeed.

Anyway I threw it all in the mixer and decided I could just as easily double the amount in there, which I duly did. That was grand .. nothing wrong there but when I took it out of the mixer I decided that it was pretty small and I didn't need to divide it into two loaves again. This is where the memory thing evaded me. My original plan had been to make scones out of the other half and add sultanas which I had pre-soaked overnight in rum and Grand Marnier. This got completely forgotten.

I ended up with a massively thick loaf of bread which our oven cooked at too high a temp.** really crusty with a doughy centre ... exactly they way you don't want your bread to be! In an attempt to save it I cut it into pieces and cut it some more and now I have lots of smaller loaves of bread that have thick crusts and doughy centres .. .and they're funny shapes!
Terrible start to a days cooking.

And so on to something that's WAY more complicated and way less tolerant to errors... French baguettes.

Straight away I have a problem you see. I don't have a weighing scales. I do everything in cups normally cos it's North America and that's the way they do things .. and I have to say it's trés convenient and I like it.
However, the course last week and the resultant recipes all dealt in grams... this makes things a little tricky.
So the recipe I've got calls for

2520g of Strong bread flour
42g yeast
1500ml water
72g salt

I wanted to half the recipe cos this makes about 10 or 12 baguettes so I was going to put in 1260g of flour. Now my latent memory told me that 1kg of flour was 4 cups.
This is patently wrong.
I trusted my memory for some reason... probably cos I forgot it couldn't be trusted.
4 cups of flour is about 500g.
So first mistake over with and I'm already heading towards disaster.

In the cookery school Marco uses fresh yeast. This is not readily available stuff and I certainly don't have any in my cupboard. Fortunately you can use other yeasts instead, of which two stand out.
One is active dry yeast and the other is instant yeast.
The supermarket that I go to re-packages stuff under their own brand. One of these packets is what I had in my cupboard. I have no idea which kind of yeast it is and yet it is so important for this recipe to know because for active dry yeast you halve the amount you put in and for instant yeast you halve that amount again (25% amount of fresh yeast to clarify).
I decided that I probably had active dry yeast and I also decided that seeing as I still didn't have a weighing scales that a teaspoon was probably 8 grams.
This was quite the leap of maths and imagination.
I ended up putting in 3 teaspoons of some kind of yeast into half the amount of flour I was meant to.

The water was the only thing I got right.

So I ended up with this slurry of a mix of dough. It fairly fell over the counter edge it was so sloppy. I persevered though and even though I still didn't have any facts to back up my instinct, I decided that the dough was just too wet even for a baguette.

I added a minimal amount of flour to get it back into shape, and somehow, without going into too many details and making this ,already long story, longer, I managed to get something resembling a baguette dough.

Another trick of the trade that Marco showed us was how to get the baguettes to keep their round shape on the bottom.

When you have a soft dough and you let it rest, it's natural tendency is to sag and have a flat bottom. Baguettes however, have a round bottom. They do this, traditionally, by taking French linen and making ridges in it so you end up with a series of troughs that your baguettes are gently swaddled by. This supports the bread while it is proofing (the final stage before entering the oven) and should give it a more torpedo-like cross-section.
I have no linen.
I decided to make my own version.
I went to the Creative Marketplace (an artist supply shop in Vancouver) and got some painting canvas. It's really cheap and I got more than I'm ever likely to need for 6 bucks. I doubled it over and took our sowing machine; ran a couple of lines of stitches down it to make it thicker and voila... a baguette bra. No wire to be seen!

Ok so first two baguettes have come out of the oven ... they didn't maintain their round bottom but they taste so feckin good it's sinful. Will have to bind my hands not to eat the lot!!
Loads of air pockets, fantastic crust and lots of flavour .. not sure how I arrived at this result and I'm glad to put this experiment in writing so I can repeat it.
I think I may have come up with a new recipe...
....note to self this was cooked at 400F in our oven even though the recipe says 350, I don't know how many minutes but twas around 35 to 40 I'd say.
Also I put a pan of hot water underneath the bread while it was cooking to keep some moisture in there on the second lot and flicked lots of water on it with my pastry brush .. about every ten mins.

This is my end result this morning.

*Parts does in fact mean almost everything...
**See the way I try to avoid blame on that one..

1 comment:

  1. God they look fantastic. I have some french cheese that was made to go with them. I may have to break into your apartment in the middle of the night to try them... i'm sure you'd offer some if i asked but i think breaking in, in the middle of the night, adds some excitement.