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..

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Baking Course with Marco Ropke

Compliments of my beautiful "wife" I received a wee bread-making course for my birthday. It was quite a bit to take in, 4 hours on two consecutive nights, so 8 hours of full-on bread-making. Fortunately a lot of the techniques with yeast breads are similar so they kind of reinforce each other. And there's always the recipes he printed out to refer to although I wish I had a video camera to record the lot!

Anyway first night we made a brown toasting bread and some dinner rolls.The wholewheat bread is pretty tasty, the rolls were really crunchy when i brought them home and then next day they were WAY softer. I preferred them softer. The one that looks like a hand was called a mano, it may be tricky for me to actually remember how to do that one.
I was the only one in the class not taking notes! Feck it.

Also on the first night we made starters for making bread the second night, one for the baguette we're going to make and one for a cuban sandwich bread we're trying.These starters are known by several different names depending on what country you come from. Sponge, biga and poolish are some of them. You make them up about 16 hours before you're going to make the bread, probably takes about a minute and half to make them. They're really wet mixtures of flour and water and a bit of yeast, they ferment like bastards and then they get added to the bread dough ingredients.
I think one of the things that surprised me the most is how wet doughs seem to me. Maybe it's because I only ever made soda bread before but my tendency to add flour to dough until it looks right is now going to be eradicated cos I know what looked 'right' to me was in fact completely wrong!

Second night we made shedloads of bread... really. The course ran on a half hour later than it should have and the last loaf of bread didn't even get baked fully! This is the first time this course has ran so Marco is still feeling out how many breads he can fit in in a night and obviously was a bit ambitious, one of the breads will be cut for the next beginners course.

This is the motherload that resulted! Bagels, which were made the night before and left the fridge to develop flavour overnight, a variation on a baguette in the front and another one hiding in the middle, a brown bread on the right front which has carrots and carmelised onions added to it, a flat bread with parmesan, pumpkin seeds and rosemary baked on to it and an oatmeal loaf hanging out at rear left there which is undercooked and has been frozen.
I'll be able to take the oatmeal one out of the freezer and throw it in the oven for 10 mins to finish it off and it'll be like fresh!

I must get to work now, I have a fair idea what I'm eating for lunch.

Oh I nearly forgot, NO KitchenAids were used in the making of these breads, Marco is not a fan, likes to get hands on which I can understand, his website is

Monday, June 7, 2010

Before there was KitchenAid...

....there was Hilti...

This was my mixer before I got notions, possibly one of my best ideas ever (you can imagine the ingenious ideas I normally come out with). I combined power tools and kitchen gadgets together. Of course this would be one of the most expensive whisks in the world I would imagine but as I'm a carpenter I just happened to have it lying around!
I have to say.... it works really well for whipping. It's got two speeds ... fast and too fast. It's probably got enough torque on it to drive a dough hook as well but fortunately I don't think I could fit one in the chuck and it would have been way too fast.

It's been superceded now ... go back to work Hilti!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

And in the beginning there was KitchenAid...

Right so, the theory, and hopefully the practice, of this blog is to endeavour to bake wonderful bread. Other stuff may come out of it but the prime reason for buying the KitchenAid is to make bread. Yeasty, crusty, wonderful bread.I don't know very much about yeast bread apart from what I have learned in the last couple of weeks since getting the Red Divil. My mother never baked yeast bread, my father didn't get up at 3 am every morning to start the ovens in a bakery, I have vague memories of my sister Gráinne rising bread at home but that's about the limit.

 In terms of equipment (other than the KitchenAid) I have;
one broken oven,
nothing for proofing,
one loaf tin,
one thermometer
some plastic bowls,
a counter-top (vital!)

Already I have made many mistakes, I didn't take pictures of those cos I didn't think I was going to document any of this but as of today I will be trying to make amends.

So far I have made a yeast bread/baguette that could easily double for a police baton it was so heavy. I made another loaf that was considerably lighter but could still be used as ballast in a hot-air balloon and of course I have used the Red Divil for making scones. No yeast at all in those and so they turned out beautifully.

Today I am trying this recipe.
So far I'd like to say it has gone well but in fact I almost burned out the Red Divil. This recipe is to make 3 loaves of bread. I can report that I found the limit of the Red Divil to be half that. So there must be some sort of thermal fuse (which I guessed cos the fuses in the house didn't go) that resets itself. Or else (like my Hilti impact gun) there is a torque setting which, if exceeded, doesn't allow you to use the machine for an unspecified length of time (Hilti... about 30 seconds, KitchenAid... who the hell knows)

So what I did was divide the dough into 3 and mix them all separately and then throw them back together (literally). Seems to have worked so far.

I have only one loaf tin so I have put a third of the dough into that and put the rest into a pyrex dish that's about twice the size. There's a good chance that this is not going to work very well, we'll see.
Currently it looks like this on the left.This is good dough ... it rose quite well I think!

In the oven for the required baking time plus a few minutes cos as mentioned above our oven is slightly broken and God knows what temperature it actually is inside.

The finished bread turned out like this.

This is really really good bread .. that blog is a godsend! It's soft and tastes like those breads they give you in restaurants (good restaurants!) before you  have your tasty meal.
What I mostly wanted from this escapade was a bread I can use for sandwiches every day and I've got that already after only a week.

Things are looking good....