Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A loaf of love - hearth bread versions 2.0 and 2.1

"What are you talking about? I can't teach a cooking class," said Jason shaking his head as if I just proposed something totally naughty.

"But it's not a cooking class," I replied. "It's a bread baking class."

"Doesn't matter. I can't get up in front of all those people and talk. Why don't you teach it?" he replied hitting the ball back into my court.

"Hmm, let me think-- because I don't know how to bake bread!" I answered. That's not completely true. I can make good focaccia and brioche, but the crusty and holey artisan loaves give me serious hibby-gibbies.

"I'll teach you," said Jason lighting up enthusiastically, "and then you can teach everyone else."

I think he's been dying to teach me how to bake bread for years. The problem was that I never showed much interest. It was always fun to talk to Jason about his bread experiments*, the water percentages, and the types of flour. But to attempt them myself? No, thanks. The two day process involving insanely wet dough (kneaded by hand may I point out), slashing the top with a razor blade while managing not to deflate the dough, and shoving the loaves in the oven with one swift motion... I got shivers just thinking about it. I even look away when Jason does it. It seems like the loaves will go *splat* right against the back wall of the oven, but somehow they always end up right on the baking stone and within minutes the steam of ice-cubes makes them puff up and turn from wet mush into bread. Just like magic.

Artisan bread baking is like having a baby. It's a life changing experience one needs to be ready for. It usually goes much better if you figure out how to let the baby (or bread) join your life rather than how to stop your life for them. As my friend Olga, a neurologist who had 2 babies while doing residency, puts it: "The only way to go through it is calmly and happily." A few weeks ago, I decided that I was finally ready for real bread, and gave Rose Levy Beranbaum's "Basic hearth bread" a try, but it wasn't what I was hoping for. Jason's forensic analysis revealed that the dough wasn't wet enough, needed more salt, and longer rising time. My curiosity and desire to get magic to happen with flour, finally got the better of me, and so began my bread baker's apprenticeship with Jason.

We decided that I should follow Jason's recipe rather than Rose's the first few times, since I had the luxury of having him right there to talk me through it and answer my questions. The only difference was going to be that I'd shape the dough into boules (round loaves) instead of baguettes that Jason makes, since boules are easier to shape and get in the oven. I was also going to proof on parchment paper and slide it right into the oven instead of proofing on canvas and doing the dangerous transfer to peel and then to oven. The plan was for me to do the whole thing myself, but Jason would supervise the process and be there for moral support.

I weighed my flour, brought the water up to room temperature and soon my hand was stuck in sticky goo. Jason was holding Sammy with one hand and sprinkling flour onto my goo with the other. "You need to maintain internal wetness, but get enough flour on the outside to be able to knead it," he said. He is an amazing teacher in one-on-one situations. That's how I fell in love with him. He was my partner in physics, in fundamentals of electrical and computer engineering, and in computer architecture. In physics, we became friends; by the fundamentals, we had a secret crush on each other; and by architecture, we were in love. Ours was not a love at first site. It was an affection that grew out of understanding and patience. It grows each day, even after 8 years of marriage. But being stuck in that messy goo of dough with Jason by my side, gave me the kind of butterflies I haven't felt in my stomach since we were bending our heads over color-coded wires.

24 hours later, there was a bread sitting on a rack, cooling. You have to wait at least 2 hours to cut it, which always drives me nuts and kills my ability to function. It's just like being in love. I keep stopping by the kitchen every 10 minutes just to stare at it. Maybe at some point I'll be more nonchalant about it. We put Sammy to bed, had dinner, and finally it was time to cut the bread. Here is some advice if you want to learn to bake great bread -- don't try to make it for a particular occasion or a meal, at least not until you get good at this. If you go through all the stages of rising, proofing, and baking at your own pace, you won't have to restructure your whole day around the bread. When I start kneading dough, I look at it this way: at some point this week, we'll have bread.

Anyway, so how was it? A huge improvement from Try 1. The bread had great flavor, good level of chewiness, and the crust wasn't burnt, like my first try at hearth bread. But there was still lots of room for improvement. I didn't get the holes I was hoping for, and the crumb was a tad doughy. Jason had a suggestion for each problem. I used all-purposed flour for this bread as he does for baguettes. AP flour has less gluten resulting in smaller, more even holes that are perfect for baguette. But since a boule has more crumb vs crust, it needs more structure, and bread flour would be more appropriate. Jason explained that it would give me bigger holes and more chew. The doughiness, he said, was simply under-baking.

My second try of Jason's recipe was all by myself. Sure I could do it with Jason around, but could I handle this unruly goo on my own? I made another batch using bread flour, longer baking time, and higher temperature. The results -- big holes I was dreaming of, good chewiness, and very crisp crust. Jason gave me an approving nod when he got home. I thought I got a bit carried away and over-baked it slightly. But with bread, it's better to over-bake then under-bake. Although I think it was my best try yet, I think I can do even better next time. That's one of the cool things about bread. It's a perpetual learning experience.

I don't think I mentioned the source for this bread recipe yet. It's our heroine and great source of inspiration, Julia Child. Jason modernized it by using SAF instant yeast, bread stone, and ice-cubes, but we owe the basic technique of extremely wet dough and long rises to her.

At some point, I'll write up Jason's recipe in the gory detail necessary to reproduce his wonderful bread. Meanwhile I'll just post some of my lab notes.

Basic hearth bread, 2.0:
16 oz AP flour, plus extra for kneading (amount unknown)
4 tsp Diamond Crystal Kosher salt
1 tsp SAF instant yeast
1 3/4 cup water, 70-90 F
  • First rise 3 hours at room temp, then continued overnight
  • Second rise at room temp around 3 hours
  • Proof: 3 hours on a rimless cookie sheet lined with parchment paper
  • Baking: preheated oven to 450F for 40 minutes, slashed the dough, added 8 ice-cubes on the bottom of the oven, immediately slid the parchment paper onto the stone. Baked for 13 minutes. Reduced the oven to 400F. Opened the door for 20 seconds to let out steam and rotated loaves. Baked additional 19 minutes. Internal temp was 200F. Cooled on rack.
Results: Perfect level of salt, good flavor, moderate chew, crust needs to be crisper and browner, a little doughy inside, small holes

Basic hearth bread, 2.1:
16 oz bread flour, plus extra for kneading (used 4.4 oz)
4 tsp Diamond Crystal Kosher salt
1 tsp SAF instant yeast
1 3/4 cup water, 70-90 F
  • First rise 3 hours at room temp, then continued overnight
  • Second rise in the fridge overnight, plus 2.5 hours at room temp next day
  • Proof: 2 hours, 40 minutes on a rimless cookie sheet lined with parchment paper
  • Baking: preheated oven to 475F for 40 minutes, slashed the dough, added 8 ice-cubes on the bottom of the oven, immediately slid the parchment paper onto the stone. Baked for 10 minutes. Reduced the oven to 425F. Opened the door for 20 seconds to let out steam and rotated loaves. Baked additional 24 minutes. Internal temp was 200F. Turned off the oven, cracked the door open, and left the bread on the stone another 5 minutes. Internal temp was 209F. Cooled on rack.
Results: Very crusty (almost too much, but not burnt), perfect large holes, good flavor, good chew, a tad dry inside. Next time, take out at 200F.

* please note that Jason's bread journal and recipe are a little out of date. He's made great progress since 2007, but finishing a Ph.D. thesis, starting a job, and becoming a father interfered with keeping up his bread notes.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

mmmm look great!

Paz said...

That's a good-looking bread. Yum, yum, yum! And a beautiful and happy-looking baby. ;-)

Paz

Tracy said...

I love that picture of your baby. (The bread's not bad-looking either.)