Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Little Poolish

I woke up last Sunday morning and decided to jump into a recipe from my new book. The recipe is called "Saturday Bread"...the idea is to mix it up and the morning and you have fresh bread for dinner. It is supposed to ferment for about 5 hours at around 70 temp for someone living in the Pacific Northwest like the author. Well the room temps in my house are quite a bit warmer than 70 degrees, so I wasn't sure exactly how long it was going to take for the mix to triple in size, but I had no plans for the day so I would just keep an eye on it...

"Are we going to see Star Trek today?"

"Uh...uh...but...uh...I'm making bread..."

So I am two hours into the fermentation and it could go for another 3 like it is supposed to or it could be done in only option was to park it in the fridge till we got back from the movie. After the movie it took it a few hours to warm up and finish the fermentation. Then shaped and baked it was done a bit later then dinner, but it was decent bread. Consider the minor hiccup.

Later in the week I tried to make a "weekday" bread that ferments overnight at room temp. In the morning I had dough soup, so I am not exactly sure what went wrong, but my guess is that I didn't properly account for the ambient temps and it over fermented.

But let's not dwell on that...let's talk about poolish. Pretend for a minute that you have a bakery and you want to make good flavor filled breads. Fermentation creates flavor, longer slow fermentation creates more flavor. So you mix up dough before you go home at night and leave it to ferment overnight. So far so good...but you have limited space to ferment enough dough to make all the bread you need to make. It turns out the solution is pretty easy, you just make a "pre-ferment". This is basically like a flavor concentrate that you ferment overnight then mix in with the dough in the morning.

Last night I made a pre-ferment called a poolish. It was equal parts by weight of flour and water, with just a tiny bit of yeast. (I mixed it up just before I went to bed hoping that I would be awake well before it went "too far"...)

When I got up this morning I seemed to have something that looked like what the book described so I went ahead and mixed up the rest of the dough. I am pretty sure I have mentioned before that I do not like working with "wet dough"...well this dough is wet. It actually seemed too wet to me even after it tripled in size it seemed like it would be too wet to hold a shape, but as I worked it into a ball it seemed to come together. An hour later it was in the oven baking...a few hours after that and half of it is already being digested.

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This might possibly be the best tasting bread I have made yet, but I do have a bit of a nit. This book recommends baking the loafs inside of a dutch oven that has been heated in the oven. This helps develop a thicker, crispier crust. I am not sure I am sold on this just yet...The biggest issue for me is that the bottom of the loaf gets really crispy...aka hard. The partial solution is to park the loaf in a plastic bag for a bit and it will soften up the crust, but the bottom is still a bit tough. I also prefer the batard over a round loaf, but a batard isn't going to fit into a dutch oven all that well, so for now I will continue to work the recipes as the book instructs...

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Party On...

Based on the state of the this blog it is entirely reasonable for you to assume that I have stopped making bread. You might even assume that I have "become bread", but I am not so sure that is all that reasonable of an assumption...

Anyway...I have been making bread about once a month or so, but did see the need to blog about it since I am pretty much at a plateau. I can make pretty good bread. I don't think I have achieved great yet, but I can definitely do pretty good. Good enough that even people that don't have to live with me say it is "really good". And I can do it without much fumbling around. I know how to do what I am doing, but it is time to get better...

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It is time to make bread that is not just "pretty good"...I want bread that is "I need more of this now good"...

I am not sure if I mentioned this before, but when I started making bread I wanted to make it as simple as possible. I knew that bread could be made with just a few ingredients, but wasn't 100% sure until I start looking for recipes. It turned out it wasn't all that easy to track down these simple recipes online, but eventually I figured it out. I think the first bread I made had 5 ingredients...flour, water, salt, sugar and yeast. The bread I am making now doesn't use any sugar. There is enough "sugar" in the flour to make the yeast happy so the only reason that recipe would have had it was to speed things up a bit, and speeding things up is only good for making "bread"...not good for making "good bread".

But I digress...flour, water, salt, yeast...that is all you need to make bread. The book I have learned from is great, but it is a book about making all kinds of bread, so there are only a handful of recipes in the book that make the kind of bread I want to make. Then about 6 months ago I heard about another book...a book I knew that I needed to have just from seeing the title...Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza

So a couple of weeks ago when I came into some "amazon money", I jumped on finally order the book. And after reading through the first few chapters it seems like it should be just what I need to go from pretty good to at least "almost great"...

Monday, March 26, 2012


Oh man...I completely forgot that I was supposed to be blogging. Actually I guess I also forgot I was supposed to be making bread. I guess I went about a whole month without baking. I did bake a couple times since my last blog post, but then took a little break. There was no particular reason for not baking, just lots of stuff going know busy busy busy. OK maybe it was more just being lazy, but I was out and about quite a bit really I was.

Anyway...I decided that I really wanted some bread this weekend. The plan was to make up a batch of dough Saturday night and bake Sunday morning, but we ended up over at EPCOT (see...busy) and it was a bit late when we got home and I really didn't feel up to making the dough. Actually making the dough is not the part that put me is the cleaning up. I am not a fan of the cleaning up so as tired as I was Saturday night it was something that I even wanted to think about.

So first thing Sunday morning I jump in the kitchen and mix up my dough. The problem now is timing. As I have mentioned my recipe calls for an hour overnight proof in the fridge, but I want to cook it the same day. The trick is to find a compromise that gives us some decent flavor and good proofing. I starting by leaving it out on the counter for about an hour. This gave the yeast time to do the bulk of their "lifting". Then we went into the fridge for about 4 hours. This in theory let some flavor develop. Now back on the counter for 45 minutes or so to wake things up. After shaping another hour before going in the oven. I think it could have used a little more time after shaping, but by this time I was ready to eat it and knew that I still had another 20 minutes of baking and at least 45 of it went in the oven.

Overall it came out very good. I am pretty happy that I went from start to finish without looking at the recipe and didn't screw anything up. I did double check my ingredient cheat sheet just to make sure the numbers in my head were the same ones written down, but that doesn't really count does it? The only thing that I am still kind of struggling with is getting the shape exactly like I want, so next time I will have to manage my time a bit better and give the shaped loaf more than hour to rise.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Flat Bread

Today I applied the knowledge I have been acquiring baking bread to make something different. My bread books have recipes for pizza but as with all of the recipes in the book they require an overnight fermentation, so I went off on my own.

The recipe is essentially the same as the french bread recipe, but it has less yeast and adds a bit of sugar. Then I followed the same procedure I would have used if I was making a loaf of french bread, but when I got to the point where I would have put the loaf in the fridge I just left it on the counter to continue rising. This gets things done in a few hours, but in theory sacrifices some flavor. I guess I will have to try it again with the overnight fermentation to see if it really makes a difference.

Yes the cheese is yellow...I decided to try making pizza pretty late in the afternoon and only had cheddar cheese in the fridge, but...I also had some sopresatta in the fridge. All in all it was a pretty good pizza and I figure it only cost me about $2.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Hands On

I guess I need to make a slight clarification...apparently when I said "I made bread by hand" there was a bit of ambiguity there. I realize now that I might have given the impression I used only my hands to make the bread...

So here's what really happened...I put the flour in a bowl with the yeast and the salt. Then I took a big spoon and stirred it up. After it was mixed up pretty good I made a little well in the center and dumped in some of the water. Then I took the big spoon and started pulling flour into the water, stir, pull in some flour, stir, pull in some flour, stir, and more water, stir, stir, stir. Eventually it started to become dough and I couldn't really stir so I used the spoon to just kind of moved the dough around in the bowl. Then I did the kneading bit with my actual hands.

In order to make up for my lack of clarity I figured I should make some bread using only my actual hands. I could copy and paste the previous paragraph to right here then replace "stir" with "squish", but I think I will just let you pretend that's what I did. It worked, but I think the spoon did a better job and my hands were less messy. It turned out to be considerably less messy than I expected, but yeah the spoon is better.

Anyway the results were pretty much the same, so I guess since the bread doesn't seem to have a preference I will stick to using the spoon.

I am also going to need to work on some more creative ways to photograph all this bread...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


I made bread! Yeah I know I said that before, but this time it is the real deal.

Before I get into that I should probably talk about the other thing I made that was most definitely not bread. It was supposed to be San Francisco was something more like a brick. I am pretty sure that I didn't screw anything up, so I am assuming that I don't have a good starter. I guess I need to decide if I should start over, or if I should try to strengthen what I have going already...hmm.

Now for something completely different...

Last night I did something new...I guess if you want to get really technically what I did was actually "old", but it was certainly a first for me. I made bread completely by electric mixer. It was pretty fun actually and I managed to do it without making a huge mess. I only made a half batch so I am sure that made things a bit easier. In order to make the baking process go as quick as possible tonight I went ahead and shaped the loaf last night before sticking it in the fridge. As I left work I called and had my assistant take the dough out of the fridge and fire up the oven. A couple of hours after I got home there was some really great bread quickly disappearing from the cutting board.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Still Baking

Yes, I am still making bread. I have just been a bit lazy about posting. The problem with being lazy about updates is that I have to remember what's been in the oven since the last update...

I guess I should start with the pain au levain. I think that is frenchy for sourdough. About a week ago I had what I figured was a good healthy sourdough starter so I started on the first sourdough recipe in the book. Everything seemed to go pretty well up to the baking. I made up both loaves figuring I could just bake them at the same time. The first sign that there might be a problem was that they didn't seem to grow quite as much as they should. After baking them for a very long time they never cooked all the way through. I am not sure exactly where things went wrong. Could be that the yeast just wasn't as healthy and strong as I thought, but there was something else odd. The tops halves had big air pockets like you want to see, but the bottom were very dense. So the problem could just be that I screwed up the shaping. The last potential gotcha was whole wheat. The recipe had a some whole wheat flour and I have heard that whole wheat flour gain be a bit more difficult. There was some good news...the bread had great flavor.  

So last night I started up a batch of "San Francisco Sourdough". The big difference is that this recipe has no whole wheat flour. In theory my starter is a bit healthier and stronger so it should perform better. I also only made half a batch, so if things go all hinky again there will be less wasted flour.

After the sourdough failure I was a bit discouraged so I decided to make another batch of french bread. I can't quite make it from memory yet, but I am getting pretty comfortable with the process. One area that I am still not real happy with is the shaping. What I am doing seems to work, but I know that it isn't quite right. I have been watching some videos and think that I am on the right track, but the thing you can't really learn from a video is touch. I am not sure how much pressure I am supposed to be using, so I just need to keep practicing.