Bread! One of the most basic and ubiquitous of foods. Not your mass-produced, supermarket sandwich loaf… but real bread. Fresh out of your own oven. Is there anything better? If you just answered NO, then you need to get a copy of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.
I love fresh bread. I rarely buy bread from the supermarket. If I’m buying bread, even a simple sandwich loaf, I’ll buy it from our local baker’s shop, content in the knowledge that it was baked that very morning — because bread is at its best when it’s fresh. But homemade bread is even better. My Mum has made her own bread for as long as I can remember. Not every day, but on a regular basis. It used to be at least once a week, when I was younger. These days, with arthritis in her hands, she finds the kneading difficult and only bakes it occasionally.
I had baked bread on only a few occasions, mostly because of the time involved. Then, a few years ago, my wife got me a bread machine for Christmas. Brilliant! Fresh bread without all the work. I enjoyed the bread maker for a couple of years and then, just as the warranty expired, it began to develop problems with its baking cycle. That’s okay. I decided to use it to mix, knead and rise the dough, then bake it in the oven. Wow! I was amazed with how much better the bread was. And so I continued making my bread in this way.
I like all sorts of bread — standard white bread, French bread, corn bread, buckwheat loaf and my personal favourite… beer bread. You use beer instead of water — and you can modify the taste by the beer you use. I find that a honey beer (something like Bees Knees) works best, although Guinness is also pretty damn good.
I was enjoying experimenting with different types of bread, so my wife suggested that I should get a book of bread recipes. She did a bit of research and found Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.
This is an amazing book. It is so much more than just a book of recipes. In fact, only two thirds of the book contains recipes. The first third is about bread making in general. Reinhart tells you about his personal bread baking philosophy and then takes you through all the steps in the process, explaining the importance of each step, going into great detail about what each of those steps adds to the process. Understanding those steps and what they mean to the finished product has changed the way I look at bread.
I had never really understood why dough needed to be kneaded, or why it was important for it to rise, and then why it needed to rest after shaping, before being baked. This book explained all of this and so much more. I discovered the importance of shaping, and found out there is an important step that is completely ignored when using a bread making machine.
I still use my breach machine, but to a much lesser extent. It is now used purely for kneading… and even then, not with all breads. Yes, I now spend more time on a loaf of bread… but it is a much better loaf for it.
Tune in next time for some more adventures in bread making.
Catch ya later, George
Check out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.