Adventures in bread baking

In my last post I related my bread baking past and told you about Peter Reinhart’s amazing book The Bread Baker’s Apprentice (see “Give us this day, our daily bread”). In today’s post, I thought I would share with you some of the things I learnt from this book.

Mixing and kneading is not the first step. I had always throught that it was. You get your ingredients, mix ‘em together and start kneading. No! According to Reinhart, the flavour of a bread will be greatly improved with an earlier step called a pre-ferment. There are a number of different pre-fermenting options, ranging in complexity. In the most basic version you mix together your yeast, some of your flour and some of your water. Then you leave it to ferment for an hour or so, until you start to see a little bubbling. This releases the flavours locked in the complex wheat molecules within the flour. After you’ve done this, you can add the rest of your ingredients and continue with mixing and kneading.

The pre-ferment.

Reinhart reckons that any loaf of bread, no matter the recipe, can be improved by adding this step. And you know what? He’s right! I’ve now taken several of my favourite bread recipes and added this step and the difference is definitely there. Much tastier bread!

The finished product.

I never realised that shaping was important… but it is. There is a section in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice about shaping, taking you through the steps for various different types of loaves and rolls. It’s all about surface tension. This is so important, not just to the look of a loaf or roll, but to the texture of the crust.

French bread. It is so distinctive, with its crusty crust and the uneven holes in the crumb (that’s the technical term for the inside part of the bread). The crusty crust is created with steam. In a commercial kitchen this is achieved by pressing a button on the oven, which releases jets of steam. Of course, domestic ovens don’t come with this option. But Reinhart tells you how to achieve the same effect with a tray of water and a spray bottle. Yes, it’s a little fiddly… but so worth the effort. Take a look at this…

Mind you, although my crust was absolute perfection, my crumb was far from ideal. It had the small even holes of a sandwich loaf instead of the large variable holes of traditional French bread. I know what I did wrong… too much degassing. I will be more careful the next time.

In addition to the techniques I’ve mentions, this book also has lots of practical little hints. For example, as much as I like corn bread, I’ve always been a little disappointed with the too-firm texture the corn meal (polenta) gives the bread. Reinhart’s solution — soak the corn meal overnight before making the bread. Simple! Genius! Why hadn’t I thought of that?

Here are a few more of my breads…

Whether you’re wanting to learn about the bread making process or simply looking for some great recipes, this is the book for you. And it doesn’t matter what stage you’re at with your baking. There is a lot in there for the beginner as well as the accomplished home baker.

As my bread baking experience increases and my loaves improve, I feel that I may actually be approaching the status of Bread Baker’s Apprentice.

Catch ya later,  George

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George Ivanoff

LITERARY CLUTTER: Bookish bloggings from the cluttered mind and bookshelf of Melbourne author, George Ivanoff. George is the author of the YOU CHOOSE books, the OTHER WORLDS series, the RFDS Adventures and the GAMERS trilogy.

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