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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Give us this day, our daily bread

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.

One of my loaves — a standard sandwich loaf.

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

PS. Follow me on Twitter

 

Check out my DVD blog, Viewing Clutter.

Latest Post: DVD Review & Giveaway — Doctor Who: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy

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