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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Boring Bread 2 and 3; Wheat Bread 1

Here commences another flurry of baking! The Hubby will be starting his Super Exciting New Job this week, which means he won't have time to pick me up for lunch, which means... we need bread! Lots of bread!

I'm using my handy-dandy bread recipe from last time, with experimentations this time. (DH: So what's your control? Me: Ummm...the bread from last week? DH: You HAVE to have a control! Me: Look, if you want to make the bread, feel free. If not, leave me alone.) (Ok, so maybe I'm not the nicest person when I'm figuring something out and somebody else is poking me.)

Experiment 1: Less flour, dough was kinda sticky. However, as I kneaded it, it became smooth, which made me wonder whether I didn't just happen to put in the right amount of flour in this time, and whether in the past I haven't just used too much flour because I got impatient. Subsequent question: How wet CAN the dough be before you start kneading, and still smooth out during the kneading? Sounds like a few more batches need to be experimented on, especially as I have a sneaking suspicion that the less flour I can get in, the lighter the bread will be.
I will also be trying the method of not punching the bread down quite so much this time, to see how that works out. It's in the oven rising, with the oven off and the light on.

Experiment 2: I forgot to add less flour because I had heard that a hand mixer can work for mixing bread just as well as a spoon (go figure), and in my enthusiasm for hand mixing I didn't remove some flour before I added the wet ingredients. So I added more warm water until it was about the same level of stickyness as Experiment 1, but this batch is on the top of the fridge, where it will rise all night.

Experiment 3: isn't started yet. I'm running out of bread flour, so this time I'll be starting a whole wheat flour sponge (all wet ingredients + yeast + sugar for yeast to eat; half the flour) and letting it rise overnight as well.

To be updated as progress occurs.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Plain Boring Bread

I don't make good bread. There's always something that eludes me. Usually I end up with good flavor but a heavy, dense texture. And since bread is a fairly staple food, I'm making it a project to learn to make it well.

I found a recipe here - http://www.reluctantgourmet.com/blog/baking-recipes/basic-bread-recipe/ - for a totally basic bread recipe, the sort that tells you how to make good bread (http://www.reluctantgourmet.com/bread_making.htm), and doesn't promise that if you add this or that magical ingredient your bread will transform from dull and lifeless to fluffy and flavorful. Flour, water, yeast, salt, and a little sugar for the yeast to eat - this is how bread has been made for millenia, and this is how I want to learn to make it. Fluff can be added later, and this same website even tells you how to do it, here: http://www.reluctantgourmet.com/bread_making_ingredients.htm.

I apologize for making you copy and paste web addresses. I'm too sleepy to add hyperlinks, however, because of how long this darn bread took.

So I weighed my ingredients instead of scooping them into cups, which struck me as something I might have been able to figure out myself if I had thought about it for three seconds, since flour can be very light or very dense depending on how you scoop it, or if you're fancy, sift it. I don't sift my flour; this may be part of my problem. However, this time I weighed the flour, with a coffee filter inside a colander (which together weighed 4.2 oz, and I passed high school science lab so I remember how to take that into consideration). I was intrigued by the "window pane test" criteria for kneeding, and I kneeded the dough easily 3 times as long as I ever have before. I can see the point in it, too; up till now I've considered myself done pretty much as soon as the ingredients have completely integrated, and I still thought I was kneeding forever, but this time I really felt the smooth texture of the dough when it was kneeded enough.

Have I mentioned that this bread took forever to make? It rose for a good solid 2 hours before a poke to the side wouldn't make it bounce back. Ridiculous. It was on top of the fridge, but that obviously wasn't warm enough. Henceforth I will either let it rise overnight on the kitchen table, which is cooler, or try the trick of putting it in the oven with the light on. The good thing is, I hear that the longer it rises the better the flavor, and this bread did have a rich, almost-tangy flavor.

The instructions said to press all the gases out of the dough, and I pressed it down more enthusiastically than I have before. Maybe that was my problem. Maybe I shouldn't have taken the directions at face value like that. In the future, we shall see.

The first picture I have is of the shaping process. I was remiss. In the future I will take pictures the whole way through so better cooks than I can tell me exactly where I go wrong. Be that as it may, here it is shaped and ready to rise again:



The second rising took at least an hour, which is about right according to the instructions, but good grief! I was starting to wonder if we were ever going to have bread tonight! I admit, I may have baked it before a finger indentation didn't
quite spring back anymore, but I don't think that was my main problem.

I put a dish with ice cubes (six of them, to be exact) on the bottom rack of the oven to give it the crispy crust that my handy-dandy recipe talked about, and let it bake...and bake...and bake. It SAID it was supposed to get golden brown. You can see the picture yourself. If there was any BROWN in that crust, then I must be very misinformed about my skin color as well. MAYBE some golden. Maybe. But it looks pretty much in desperate need of a tan. I finally took it out because my husband decided it had been in quite long enough, and he was right. It certainly sounded hollow when tapped, and the crust kind of resembled those Mensa rolls that you could chip a tooth on by the time Friday came around, you remember? But no golden brown.





Annnnnnnd...it tastes great, but the texture is, predictably, heavy and dense. After reading this website here - http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/1708/how-do-you-make-light-and-fluffy-bread - I think I may have a) added too much flour while kneeding it the first time, or b) punched it down too enthusiastically. Sigh. Well, here's to another try! It's supposed to be easier using bread flour than whole wheat, and I WILL master the easy recipe before I start substituting other stuff. I may half the recipe, though. Otherwise I'll be buying bread flour every two days and feeding most of the bread I make to the dogs. Is it possible for two people to eat this much bread and not get fat? I guess we'll find out...

The Birth of the Food Blog

I want to be good at cooking! Oh, sure, before I got married, I thought I was a GREAT cook, because occasionally something I made would turn out tasting yummy. Never mind the fact that it was always one-pot dishes that looked completely uninteresting, I still thought I could cook.

Only, I can't. Marrying someone who CAN cook often changes one's entire perspective. My husband's food always tastes exactly like it's supposed to, not the close approximation that mine is, and it always looks good. Instead of a monochromatic mush that tastes savory and spicy, his food is colorful and beautiful as well as savory and spicy. This is a whole world I never knew existed; I certainly have never cooked that way.

Plus I've recently gone vegetarian and have thus discovered that I really don't know how to make vegetables. I made curry last week, and it was bland. I've told everyone I know about the bland curry, pretty much, and I'm still in shock about it. I thought if you put the spice in and let it cook, it was a failsafe method of making sure it would be hot. But apparently I failed at even that.

So I am starting a food blog to chronicle my adventures in learning to cook, and to provide a reference (probably just for myself, because I don't know who would want to take cooking lessons from ME) of my favorite and least-favorite recipes, tweaks, and methods.

Let the cooking commence!