June 26, 2007

More bread!

Typically, when I attempt to improvise while baking it tends to end in disaster. Which is why I'm so proud of this bread! I've been baking sandwich-type loaves successfully for about a year now, but for whatever reason simpler, "rustic" breads have given me some trouble.

After watching these videos from the fantastic "Baking with Julia" TV series on the making of french bread, I decided to give it a go, despite the lack of a recipe. I used what I felt would be the appropriate amounts of water, flour, yeast, and salt, for one loaf, mixing in the flour until I had what seemed to be the "correct" consistency, let it rise slowly, shaped the loaf using the techniques demonstrated in the video, and baked on a pizza stone at a high temperature until it looked done. And the results were really great. The bread was light but not too airy with a chewy texture and a nice hard, crackly crust. The one thing that was lacking was a depth of flavor. I might try to address this next time by creating a sponge, and perhaps letting the dough rise overnight in the fridge.

I'm not going to post a recipe because a) I didn't measure my ingredients, and b) I have a feeling that this success was somewhat of a fluke, so once I've baked this a few more times and have a recipe I feel confident in, I'll post it.

That being said, I think that a good loaf of bread has as much to do with technique as with ingredients. Some factors that contributed to the success of this loaf were:

-lots of kneading (15-20 min)
-"folding" the dough before the first rising (as demonstrated in the video)
-using less yeast and giving the dough a long rise
-the baking stone
-moisture in the oven during baking (provided by preheating a metal pan in the oven, then just before the bread is added, pouring a cup of water into the pan, thereby creating steam).
-experience: I hadn't realized how much knowledge I'd accumulated over the past year (especially from my failures) about what works and doesn't work in breadmaking. Practice makes perfect (or as close as I'm ever going to get).