Bread Part 2
It’s now been almost three months since I bought a jar of yeast and set out on my bread baking journey, inspired by Paul Hollywood, Mary Berry, and my baking waifu Amanda. I have learned a lot in the pursuit of the perfect french bread loaf, and I have returned to you with the lessons I gathered along the way. There is so much that recipes themselves just don’t prepare you for before you start cooking.
I hear in a lot of places that cooking is instinct. This flies in the face of the supposed rule that baking is a science. If you were primarily a cookie baker (like me) before going to bread, the exactness is hard to break. It serves bread only to a point; then it all comes down to instinct and feeling. When it comes to bread, I didn’t have this.
I can cook pasta to perfect al dente by instinct alone. I know my salmon is ready by the color, when to flip my steak by feeling in own chest. Is my water for my yeast too hot? Hell if I know. Did I use too much water even if it's right on the nose with the recipe? Apparently. I struggled week after week to find the sweet spots. Every Saturday morning was an exercise in trial and error.
I woke up, made my grocery list, and started my dough. Every time, it felt like the water came at a different temperature. The yeast activated immediately, foaming up, or it did nothing at all. I put my faith in a bread god which failed me more often than it heard me. I did not know the prayers the bread god wanted to hear. It was luck when I got a good loaf, and I did everything I could to replicate that luck with little success.
With the heat now settling into the Delmarva peninsula, the measurements and proofing time are all over the place. The ‘feeling’ for baking is so temperamental! It’s like the bread just isn't into the mood to let me do my thing with it. Not that I can blame it, really. I get moody when it's hot too. So I’ve changed the kind of recipes I try when I can't trust the weather. The Italian loaf I replicated week in and week out just acts differently in the summer climate.
I have plans to start trying flatbreads that cook on the stovetop to see if that works any better for me in all of this heat. Dining In has a good sour cream flatbread recipe that appears reliable, and I’m sure I’ll talk about it at the end of the month when I finish my cookthrough.
My hope is to continue learning the feel for bread in the same way I have learned to feel other food preparations. Everyday, I get a little closer. Though the conditions change, some things don't. Time is nothing to bread. It ebbs and flows, and the yeast works when it wants to work. Patience is key in this kind of cooking, and it's an exercise in developing this supposed virtue.
I’ve got to tap into the community surrounding baking out in the internet. Pinterest has been an invaluable resource as I try new loaf recipes, but I also think it may be worth picking up a cookbook. I have learned a lot in other cooking from the cookbooks I’ve used each month. What are your suggestions for baking cookbooks?
What kind of cooking have you experimented with this year? Are you struggling with it, and can I help you? Let me know in comments here or on Facebook. I am looking for topics you, my readers, might be interested in exploring together.
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An idea born in Normal, Illinois, Eating Normal hopes to chronicle the eating Experiences of a Red bird.
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