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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Breaking bread for a little peace

Today was a difficult day. There were definite moments of awkwardness which were a bit distracting, I think.

We did break making today, with a couple from Connecticut. He is a bread maker and owns his own bakery (I think). She was one of the writers for a baking textbook, On Baking, and gave us an overview in the morning about the different types ingredients and techniques used when making breads. Differences in yeast, flour, temperature, processes, etc. I think on the surface it was a great pair of teaching, both practical and theory, but I don't know how well it came across.

We made a variety of breads today, all requiring different amounts of yeast, rise time, proofing time and baking environments. First we made a quick simple roll bread, slightly yeasty, soft and very spongy with a very soft, light crust. These were fun to form, taking lumps in our hands and rolling them between our cupped hands and the flat work surface, you got these perfect little balls that had a nicely sealed and formed bottom. We placed as many as we could into a round cake pan and let them proof together, making them all rise together in the pan. You could see the seams of the rounds meeting, but it was one entire loaf, really cute.


Most groups had bread that doubled in size, ours never did, for some reason, but ended up quite good anyway. It was a very light bread that I normally see in steakhouses. They always give you this huge loaf of bread for the entire table, a practice I never completely understood, since your next course is likely a very large steak.

We also made a pizza dough which smelled lovely and had a really great pungent smell from the yeast. Every group made their own pizza dough, but the pizzas we eventually made we actually made with the pizza dough the baker had made in the morning, allowing us to take home our own doughs (more on that later). Watching him shape the dough into small circles looked easy, and it was, as long as you started out with dough that was pre-shaped and in good condition. It was really interesting to see the dough take on the shape and slowly stretch itself out, knowing there was nothing special in the dough except a well controlled amount of basic ingredients at very specific temperatures.

The crust baked up nicely in the pizza ovens, I thought, but was unlike any pizza dough I had had before. It was crisp on the bottom, but overall, it seemed a little fluffy for pizza crust. It was a little biscuit like. If you bit into it, you could actually see the little tunnels of air in the bottom, making it look almost spongy. It wasn't bad at all, it made some nice pizzas with a good crunch, but it was unconventional. The dough that we had made in the groups and took home did actually end up much closer to the thin crust doughs I'm more accustomed to. I think allowing them to slowly rise and punch them down a few times let more air in and out making the dough chewy and thin at the same time. The pizzas we made at home ended up being perfect, even though Charles and Priscilla had said in class a pizza oven needed to be hotter than the home over could accommodate and should be baked on a stone. I did crank up my oven as high as it went, but I baked it on a tray and it turned out just fine. Really delicious actually. And it made the house smell wonderful.

We also made baguettes, which I'd never done before and certainly had no idea would be so complicated to make. Beyond making the dough, the rising, the punching down and the forming of the dough was hard. Making the little log shapes was surprisingly difficult, because a baguette should taper off at the ends. I think we were so used to trying to roll and shape things evenly that it was a little difficult to wrap our heads around changing the technique we knew. After shaping them, they had to rest again in the cloths. Eventually, we we able to cut them, to give them the distinctive pattern, and bake them. Baking them was actually more complicated than forming the dough because we needed to add humidity to the oven. The humidity helps the break form the hard, thick crust on the bread. I never completely wrapped my head around how much water needed to be poured into the pan in the oven. Does it vary based on temperature of oven, size of oven, time it takes to evaporate or number of baguettes baking?

The baguettes looked... not great. And we all couldn't help but taste them hot out of the oven. Big mistake. Not only did I singe almost all of my taste buds, the bread was just bad. Priscilla explained that breads couldn't properly develop all their flavors until they were closer to room temperature. It makes sense, of course, but it's hard to listen to logic when you see something right out of the oven.

We had so many that lots of us were able to take a few home. I threw them in the freezer, taking them out as needed and letting them defrost/warm up in the oven. The baguettes that were so unremarkable in class still looked bad but were really wonderful. Perfect amounts of fluffy and crunchy. It almost made me want to make them at home... an them I remembered how much effort was involved.

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We made the pizzas at home and they were great! I did one with mushroom and another one was a strange assembly of things Jason wanted on a pizza.

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