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Another reason to bake bread…

February 25, 2013
4 ingredients, many breads

Four ingredients,  many breads

These are further observations about the process of bread making.  Go to  “Reasons to take up bread baking”  for more.

It was a sourdough bread making weekend these past couple of days.  Refreshing the starter, trying to evaluate when it was at peak potency,  determining the recipe,  and planning the schedule were all part of the preliminary.   Then it was time to actually start making the bread.  Every loaf of bread whether simple or more involved always fills me with some anticipation.  It’s  hard to resist opening the oven door as the loaves bake.  I feel a little anxiousness, hope, and a sense of  exploration as I go through the process of bread making. No two loaves are exactly alike no matter how closely tied  they are.  Sourdough bread seems to heighten the emotions a little more. After all, it is a two-day process with much more time and effort involved.  There is a lot to learn from mistakes and experience, especially for a self-taught relative newcomer to the craft like me.  Along the way  however, I’ve also had several “Wow” or “sense of wonder” moments that say more about the nature of bread making  than anything else.  The first time was when I made the  “Greek Celebration Bread” from Peter Reinhart’s “The Baker’s Apprentice”.  This was one of the very first breads I ever made. When I opened the oven to check the progress just several minutes into the baking (not recommended by the way,  because of the loss of precious heat!) I was taken aback and surprised at the burst of oven spring. The loaf seemed to have a life of its own, and in fact dough is filled with living yeast giving up its life as it leavens the bread.  The second time was when I made “Tom Leonard’s Country French Bread”,  a sourdough bread recipe from Maggie Glezer’s “Artisan Baking”.  I was very surprised at how well it came out even as I knew it was strictly beginner’s luck.  It looked like a professionally made loaf with a hearty and nuanced flavor in the crust and crumb and a network of holes that looked just like the photos in the book.  Reflecting back, I’d say that besides luck,  the success was also a testament to the great instructions in the book.  Furthermore,  I was absolutely amazed that a mere  1 1/2 tablespoons of starter was enough to leaven the 4 pound (1.8 kilo) loaf.  Another time was just a couple of weeks ago when a poolish I made vigorously bubbled when I left it to ferment for several hours.  A bubble would rise to the surface every few seconds and pop. I couldn’t stop gazing at it.  It seemed like the poolish was alive and indeed the live yeast was busy feasting on the sugar inherent in the flour.  Again, it seemed like a magical event was happening before my eyes.  One more time I could add is when the crust from a batch of French bread I just removed from the oven began crackling and continued to do so for a good 30 to 45 minutes.  The evidence was too minute to visually see what was happening on the surface of the loaves,  but the delicate popping sound was mesmerizing.   I’ve read that a crackling crust is a desirable quality in a freshly baked loaf. That time, and that time only, all the elements came together  to create just the right condition.  The vast majority of baking sessions don’t evoke such a sense of  amazement,  but those kinds of moments are one reason I keep going.  If you have any similar experiences to relate about your kitchen, please share!  I’d like to hear them.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Robert Gonzalez permalink
    February 26, 2013 12:11 am

    Just beautiful to read of your courageous intimations. An inner experience that is probably as old as bread itself. Bravo for reminding us to be in sensation as we create.

    • February 26, 2013 1:43 am

      Thanks very much for the positive feedback Roberto! Learning to be in tune with baking is an ongoing process for me.

  2. March 1, 2013 9:49 pm

    You are right to be proud of your bread-making successes! Yesterday I made Buttermilk biscuits except that I didn’t have any buttermilk and substituted Greek plain yogurt instead. They came out much better than I expected and are delicious. The recipe called for yeast AND baking powder. It also said that the dough would keep in the fridge for several days. What is not to love about this recipe!! I can have fresh biscuits at least until Saturday, maybe even Sunday, if the dough lasts that long!

  3. March 2, 2013 1:18 am

    I find baking is forgiving most of the time. It might not be exactly right because of a mistake, but it will very likely taste just as good.
    Those biscuits sound pretty good!

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