Can I cook? Many who have met me since I married Dave would be surprised to find out that I can, in fact, produce delectable foodstuffs. Just because I don't cook regularly (or almost ever) doesn't mean I can't. I like to cook, and I love to bake. If it has flour in it, I'm all about it. In fact I have long wanted to make bread and fresh pasta regularly but never could fit it into my schedule. But now with Dave and Jessie both heading out into the world for work and school all day, every day, starting next Monday, I'll have more time and fewer distractions.
Last week I made my first foray back into bread-from-scratch, and it was a memorable effort--though not in a good way. I couldn't find my old, dog-eared copy of the Tassajara Bread Book so I looked on the web for a likely recipe. Neither the experience nor the bread lived up to my memories of baking from the TBB so I went on Amazon and ordered another copy to work from until mine shows up again. When it arrived, I spent a lovely evening reading through it and was so inspired by all the yummy looking recipes that I decided to commence a Julia and Julia-esque project of working my way through all the recipes in it and documenting the experience here.
Today I opened it up, dusted it with flour, and started with the basic yeasted bread recipe. Right off the bat it was better than the web-recipe experience. Instead of measuring the temperature of the water with a thermometer, I used my wrist (and followed with a thermometer as back-up because I was wound a little tight). I also followed the process described in the book--not just the recipe. Edward Espe Brown, the author, goes into great detail about just how to stir the sponge and later, the dough. He lists the merits and qualities of each particular flour and expounds upon their effects on the final bread. He explains why to use milk powder as opposed to whole milk, what egg does to the crust, and exactly what yeast does in warm water with a sweetener.
Then there's the whole zen aspect of kneading the bread. I have always loved the illustrations in this book and the eloquent verbal sketches of how your hands--fingers to palms--interact with the dough. To knead is to go for the stretch, not the tear. Done correctly it creates an elastic structure in the bread that supports the airy loft provided by the yeast. And unlike my previous experience, it wasn't done for a number of minutes, but for a number of actions, lending a more relaxed pace to the process.
So my bread today contained 57% organic whole wheat flour and 43% organic unbleached white flour. A 1/4 cup of brown sugar was the sweetener for 2 tablespoons of yeast. Canola was my oil choice, I did add a cup of powdered non-fat milk, and I didn't either add an egg or wash the crust with egg before baking. The process for making this bread includes a rising for the sponge, two risings of the dough, and a final short rising of the loaves. The sponge rising and the second dough rising are optional, but I went ahead and did them all. Our new stove has a proofing setting for bread in the small oven so I used it for all the risings but the loaf rising. Unfortunately, we only have one metal loaf pan (I do NOT like silicon bread pans because the bread swells the sides of the pan way out) so I did a country loaf on a cookie sheet and a loaf in the loaf pan. Because the cookie sheet is too big to fit in the small proofing oven I had to use the large oven and I got the temperature too high for the last raise (the loaf raise). As a result, the bread was a bit more dense than I intended, and the country style loaf was pretty flat (the yeast started cooking and dying before it finished rising). But it was tasty!
The crust never got to the shiny dark brown described in the book, but maybe that's because I didn't do the egg wash. By the end of the day I had learned a couple of important lessons. First, a large glass bowl (of the kind in a stacking set of glass bowls) is not a good bread bowl. You need a bowl that is tall so you can cover it with a damp towel and the dough will still have room to rise. Second, if you want to have fresh bread for dinner you really need to start making it about noon as it still needs an hour to cool after it has finished baking before you can cut it.
Tonight's country loaf, better than last week's paltry effort but still needing some tweaks, was served slathered with butter, drizzled with honey, and alongside a delicious beef barley stew that Dave made. It was a perfect meal as our temps never got out of the 70's throughout our grey, rainy day--it almost felt like fall. Tomorrow I will cut into the loaf from the loaf pan and see if it is any different in texture or density.
Next up: Sourdough starter!