Friday, August 15, 2008

Um, like, woah

When you've been doing something for a while, you naturally assume you get better at it. I've been baking bread regularly for about 2 years now, and thought that inevitably my technique was getting better. I adjusted things here and there, did little bits of experimentation, always with the aim of making a better loaf.

Well I can now report that things don't always work that way. As I was writing my post about bread baking, I began thinking back to some of the earlier stuff I'd made. In particular, my comment about not being able to achieve a great crust. I mean, it's true that without a commercial oven, it's nearly impossible to get that crunch. But my crusts hadn't always been this lacking had they? Of course Lindsey and I have been moving around a lot over the past couple years, and adapting to different ovens, different yeasts, different flour, etc. can take a little while.

But it turn sout I'd slowly drifted away from a cooking method that makes a much better crust. For whatever reason, I had little by little changed to baking faster at higher heat, and that's really not the way to go. Writing out my method for making my bread really made me think about why I was doing it the way I was, and in so doing I began to wonder about my baking method. So here's the better way to do it:

Heat your over to 450 degrees with dutch oven in it. When hot, put dough in dutch oven with a tablespoon or two of water and immediately put the lid on. Bake for a half -hour with lid on. Take lid off, and cook for another 5 to 15 minutes until deep golden-brown.

This produces a much better crust. Moral of the story: it's worth thinking about your cooking techniques rather than using them reflexively.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Really, it's true

Baking bread is easy. I know, I know, you've probably heard that before and found that the recipe in fact involved 10 steps, many hours, and obscure techniques. But this, I swear, really is easy. Put your ingredients (all 4 of them) together in a bowl, mix it up, let it sit, then bake it. That's it. It doesn't really have an intense crustiness but it does have a great full flavor that's a little sour if you let the dough sit long enough.

My technique is kind of an amalgamation of two recipes that have been printed in the NYT in the past couple of years:

I've taken both those recipes, played with them a little, and come up with a version that suits me just right. The recipe below makes two decent-sized loaves, but quantities are easily adjusted. Basically, you need to have a little more than twice as much flour as water by volume. This recipe also assumes you'll let the bread sit around overnight. If you want it faster, increase the amount of yeast, but I find the flavor just isn't quite the same....

In a big mixing bowl, dissolve 1/2 tablespoon yeast and 1 1/2 tablespoon salt in 3 cups water lukewarm water.

Stir in the flour until fully moistened. The dough should be shaggy and sticky. If dry spots remain add more water a little bit at a time.

Cover with a moist kitchen towel or loosely with plastic wrap, and let sit anywhere from 10 hours to 2 days (or even longer, if you want; just make sure the dough doesn't dry out).

When ready to bake, flour hands and counter well (the dough is pretty sticky). Take half the dough and shape into a boule (it should kind of keep its shape, but don't worry if it's a little flabby) (I usually wrap the other half in plastic wrap and leave it in the fridge until I need another loaf).

Now bread will bake in a hot oven no matter how you go about it exactly. This is just my favorite way of doing it, but it requires a dutch oven or something similar. About 35 minutes at 475 should do the trick whether you have a dutch oven or not.

Preheat oven to 475 degrees with dutch oven in it.

When hot, place dough in dutch oven. Pour a tablespoon of water around the edge onto the hot metal, put cover on immediately, and stick it in the oven.

After 15 minutes, take cover off and bake another 20 minutes or so.

Bread is ready when deep golden brown in color.

See, that wasn't so hard...

Our garden

Here is a picture of our garden at the new house. We are growing Crimson Sweet watermelon, French Round Zucchini, Italian Basil, 4 kinds of tomatoes, Lakota Squash and Musk Melon. This picture is from earlier in th summer, the tomatoes are much bigger now.