Saturday, January 29, 2011

Anyone can cook!

Or bake! I starting a baking project because we plan to make our own breads once our restaurant opens. We are considering a baker/pastry chef, but how awesome would it be to do it ourselves?? It's actually a lot easier than I thought it would be especially since I have a great book, Tartine Bread, which gives step-by-step instructions. I decided to start w/ the basic country loaf, and bought 25 lbs of AP flour from Costco so I can experiment cheaply. Making a starter is the first step. By allowing water and flour to sit around and make bubbles for a week with a little attention each day, you no longer need commercial yeast. Suits me, and our artisanal concept.
After you starter becomes "predictable," you can work on a leaven, which as I understand it, is simply a starter that is more calculated. You measure out proportionate weights of water and flour, and leave it to ferment with just a smidge of your original starter for about 12 hours, or overnight. So far I've made 2 batches. The first batch had a leaven that was left out for 16 hours, the second had a leaven of 6. You know it's ready to go when it floats in water. The flavor was slightly more pronounced with the first batch, but the final products were more or less equally aerated. This leaven is key to the bulk fermentation, or the paper mache stage, as I see it. You mix lots of flour with warm water, salt and the leaven and you get a sticky wet mess that you flip around every half hour or so for 4 hours. A proper leaven, and proper flipping for that matter, initiates the accumulation of air in your dough. Chad recommends to wet your hands before flipping, but I found that that adds extra water and makes the mache more messy.
The next stage is more lovely than the paper mache stage. Basically, you allow your dough to stretch out and rest on a bench...or cutting board if you aren't fancy enough to own a baker's bench. This stage seems the most bread-like, because you're actually pulling and stretching on the dough. With Chad's method, you never actually knead the dough, which is a little disappointing because I've always imagined bread-making to require some kind of obscure baker's "touch," but at the end of the day if you can get the same results without actually working, I'm down. After a very calculated 4 hour final rise, I noticed my dough gained about 25 percent in volume and was light and fluffy to the touch. At that point, I knew it was time to throw my cast iron combo cooker into the oven to heat. My first batch had to go without rice flour because I didn't have any so the bottom crust got thick and dark. I also scored the loaf with a dull knife so the surface looks almost silly. The second time, I used rice flour exclusively and the bottom crust was much more palatable. I also sharpened my knives (I'm not quite sure why he recommends a razor instead of a sharp knife, but I suppose I will learn once I get a razor). These are my first and second attempts, side by side.

Anyway, I think I did a pretty good job. The crust was light and crackled, the tunneling was very pronounced, and the bread had good flavor. A few deviations from Chad's method - I don't have a bench knife, a razor, a thermometer (TM told me on my first batch that the temperature of my water was somewhere between 65-70 degrees, so I guess I don't really need one), or a small scoop. The only tools I would say are absolutely key (for Chad's method, at least) are a digital scale and a cast iron oven. Also, I did both rises (bulk and final) during the day, which for the last few days meant in 75 degree weather. We didn't get to eat the bread until 11pm at night. Since we'll be baking for lunch and dinner service, I'm trying my third batch with a final rise in the fridge so that I can bake first thing in the am. Also, my former boss at Le Pain Quotidien just shipped some very fancy organic wheat flour to me. I'm super excited to see how the results improve with a better product.

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