The Art of Bread Making

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For me bread evokes all sorts of good memories. Growing up in the 70s Mrs. Baird’s white bread was what we ate and I remember visiting the factory where we sampled freshly baked bread with lots of butter- it was wonderful. In my 20s, three girlfriends and I did the backpacking/Euro rail trip through Europe and had bread almost daily- café au lait with bread/jam for breakfast, a French baguette with cheese and pâté for a picnic lunch (after biking to the Castle Chenonceau), Italian bread with our pasta for dinner…oh how I wish I was there now.  More recently, one of my favorites is Macaroni Grill’s rosemary focaccia bread- I could probably eat a whole loaf by myself! Now, whenever my family and I dine out we always make a point to comment on the bread that’s being served. So, am I a bread snob? No. I don’t think so. I would like to think of myself as a bread aficionado.

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Sarah showing us how to de-gas the dough

 

Earlier this month, I jumped at the chance to attend an artisanal bread making class. The bread class was a two-day course at Los Poblanos taught by pastry chef, Sarah C. It was the perfect introductory class and just what I needed to jumpstart my journey into the art of bread making. At the simplest level, bread making consists of mixing and manipulating only 4 ingredients: flour, water, yeast, and salt. Following Sarah’s 14 steps of bread making, one can produce a beautiful, delicious product. She stresses the importance of using high quality ingredients, which will make for a better tasting bread.

  • Flour- use bread flour, it has the highest amount of protein, 12%, of all the different types of flour; protein=gluten and gluten is what provides structure for the bread; use organic if possible because it contains live cultures which enhances flavor
  • Yeast- there are 3 different types: active dry or instant dry, fresh and wild (harvested from the air); 100% fresh = 50% active dry = 40% instant dry, use this ratio if you are using a different yeast than what the recipe calls for
  • Water- its role is to hydrate and always add less than you need to in the beginning because the amount of water will depend on the humidity level in your environment; use the highest quality of water
  • Salt- slows yeast down, strengthens gluten, controls the color of your product, and adds flavor; use fine sea salt or kosher salt not the large flakes which will “tear” the dough

At the next level, one can pay closer attention to the details of time (for kneading and fermenting), temperature (for fermenting), and types of pre-ferments to change the texture of the crumb and the taste of the final product. For example, one would knead a sourdough dough longer than a French bread dough. Incorporating techniques such as the windowpane test (stretching the dough to examine for webbing and tearing) can guide the bread maker on when to stop kneading. The bread maker can use temperature to either speed up or slow down the process of bread making. This is useful when you have time limitations. You can also affect the taste and texture of your final product by using different pre-ferments- biga, pâte fermentée, poolish, or regular sponge. Try making the same bread with different pre-ferments to find out what you like. Furthermore, if you like a crispy crust, you can add steam to the baking process.

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The windowpane test

 

What I look forward to is the day when I find myself at a certain comfort level where I can experiment, create and expand my repertoire. Fine tuning my sourdough starter to my taste, getting creative with ingredients such as bleu cheese/nuts/fruit, or trying different types of flour would definitely make me a well-educated bread aficionado. Achieving this level of adeptness can lead me to endless bread creations!

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One of my final products- Dinner Rolls

 

My first solo attempt at making bread has been the basic sourdough. After studying my new bread book, The Bread Maker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart, and using what I learned from class, I was successful at producing two loaves of bread with a crispy crust and creamy crumb. Whole Foods watch out, my bread is better than yours! Since practice makes perfect, my family and friends can expect to be eating lots of sourdough for now. Maybe a year from now I will have the basic French baguette and Italian ciabatta perfected and ready to share with friends and family!

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My sourdough bread

 

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This was really good!

 

“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.” – James Beard

Tips:

  1. Baking bread requires special kitchen tools- a scale with ounces and grams modes, a bench knife for cutting dough, a bowl scrapper and a thermometer.
  2. Never put dough down the sink drain- it’ll clog it up
  3. La Montañita Coop (on the west side) carries New Mexican flour from the Sangre de Cristo Agricultural Producers. I heard it’s supposed to make really tasty bread.

Date of bread class: January 4-5, 2014

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2 thoughts on “The Art of Bread Making

  1. I really enjoyed your bread making story, It made me think back to when you baked those fabulous scones for us many years ago. It’s so exiting to your growth in the culinary arts. Will chocolate be a part of this journey? Looking forward to much more of your very informative articles. Miss you in Texas.

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