Monday, January 18, 2010

Baguettes, part un

I sat down all day yesterday and read The Bread Baker's Apprentice (TBBA) from the start up until the recipes (which don't start until about the middle of the book). Reinhart shares a few stories about how he got started and his first trip to study in Paris where he got to spend a day with each of five artisans who each have their own way of making bread. He then goes into a very satisfying amount of detail about the science of bread, the different types of flour, and an explanation (written for a lay audience) of chemical processes involved in fermentation. I should've guessed that bacterial fermentation as well as yeast fermentation contributes to the flavors of bread, but who would've guessed that gluten isn't a natural protein structure in flour, but one that forms from the dimerization of two proteins in the endosperm? One other nice thing is the Reinhart uses commercial yeast for all of his recipes and let's time create the complex fermentation processes. Ok, so I bought some bread flour (high pre-pro-gluten content) and I'm ready to go.

One strange convention in baking is that percentages in a recipe are not really percentages, but given as a ratio to the amount of flour. So a recipe with 1 kg of flour and 500 g of water is said to be 50% water, when we all can see that it's really 33% water by weight. I'll use this convention, even if it grates on the spirit.

The recipes are laid out in alphabetical order, which is how I'll try to make them. The advantage is it's essential random, giving me experience with different techniques as I go. But, I'm going to start out with an exception. In order to prove the value of this book to Aryn, I'm going to start with a baguette.

The basic timeline the book has for making french bread is:

Evening of day 1: mix up dough, let rise for one hour and then move to fridge overnight to ferment.

Day 2:
- Take dough out of fridge, cut into 2 cm cubes and let come to room temp (1 hour)
- Put dough cubes into fresh flour, yeast, salt mixture. Add water, make into big batch of dough and knead (10 minutes)
- Leave for second ferment (2 hours, RT)
- Shape into baguette, leave to rise (~ 1 hr)
- Slit, bake (30 minutes)
- Cool (30 minutes)

Ok, first problem is that Aryn is never going to let it cool for 30 minutes, no matter how much I protest that it's still baking and forming a matrix and breaking it open now will let all the moisture out. We'll see how long I can push her on that.

The real problem is day 2. The bit about the night before is fine, but the rest of it takes 5 hours on the day of baking, not really an option when I work all day. This is going to require compromises. I can do the second ferment all day (is 10 hours really that different from 2 hours?), but there's still 1 hour in the morning and 2 hours to bake it when I get home. Nothing much to do about that, we'll give it a try anyway.

Meanwhile, it seems that someone else got the same book I did. Norma posted some beautiful pictures of homemade bread to facebook, and the layout and design look very similar to the layouts in TBBA. I'm glad to see I'm not alone in my quest to make my own breads.

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