Monday, March 7, 2016

Moving on up

Thanks for stopping by!

I've moved The Bread Maiden to a new home on WordPress.  New posts can be found here:

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Preston Yancey's white bread, attempt #5

Now that I'm over the hump of the nine weeks, I decided it was time to get serious.

No more messing around.  I was going to follow Preston's recipe exactly this time.  No mistakes.  No forgotten salt.  I would do each step; even the ones I found superfluous or downright mystifying (grinding the salt?).

And for the most part, I did.  I think I may have forgotten a bench rest somewhere in there.  But otherwise, this is probably the most accurate bake I've done.

New to this baking attempt are: grinding the salt, kneading the dough, and spritzing the dough with water before baking it.

To make Preston Yancey's recipe this time, I used:

1150g of all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
3.5 cups of warm water, divided into 2 3/4 cup, 1/4 cup, and another 1/2 cup because the dough was seriously dry
4 teaspoons of salt (come on, Preston.  One tablespoon and one teaspoon? Do you think I have all the time in the world to wash dishes?)
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 tablespoon of honey
2 teaspoons of yeast (or one packet)
1 tablespoon of oil

1. Mix together the flour and 2 3/4 cups water in an extra-large bowl.  Set aside for 15 minutes.

2. Pour sugar, honey and yeast over 1/4 cup water.  Set aside for 15 minutes.

3. Grind your salt using a mortar and pestle.  Ponder why I am doing this.

4. When the yeast mixture is nice and bubbly, pour it over the flour and water mixture and knead to combine.  Now add the salt.  Add another 1/2 cup water if your dough needs it.

5. Lightly flour your counter.  Knead your dough for five minutes until it is nice and smooth. This step combines my two least favorite activities in baking: getting my counter and floor covered in flour, and kneading.  Don't you know your bread will do that for you if given enough time, Preston???

Eh, this wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be.  The dough absorbed most of the flour as the gluten formed, so there wasn't too much to clean up in the end.

6. Let your bread rest on the counter while you clean your extra-large bowl.  Coat the inside of the bowl with oil.  Shape your dough into a ball and place it smooth-side up.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise for 2 hours, stretching and folding every so often, until doubled in size.

7. Take two clean cotton towels or cloth napkins and coat them with flour.  Place each inside a medium-sized bowl.

8. Divide your dough into two equal halves, then shape each one into a ball.  Place it smooth-side down into your proofing bowl.  Cover with the corners of the towel and refrigerate your dough for an hour.

9.  Place your dutch oven in the oven and preheat to 500 degrees F.  When the oven is ready, remove the lid of your dutch oven and gently drop your dough into the dutch oven so the smooth side is now on top.  Spritz the top of your dough with water from a spray bottle, then score the dough with a razor blade.  Return the lid to the top of your dutch oven.

10. Bake at 500 degrees F covered for 15 minutes, then bump the heat down to 450 degrees F and bake another 15 minutes.  Remove the lid of your dutch oven and bake a final 15 minutes, until the crust of your dough is very hard and the bread is nice and golden brown.

It turned out quite nicely!  And more importantly, because I remembered the salt, it was also tasty.  A minor quibble again is that the holes did not turn out very big.  Despite the small holes, the crumb was light and airy.  My family used it to sop up buffalo wing sauce.

As hard as it's been to follow the instructions, I think overall it's been a good thing.  There are several improvements to my baking that I'm going to carry forward to my other recipes, namely the three-step baking process for crispy crust, the refrigerated proofing bowl method, and using a razor blade to score the loaves.

Sometimes it's hard as a baking autodidact, because cookbooks aren't always clear about why each step is important.  For a long time, I didn't understand why you only lightly cover your dough with a towel during the final rise before baking.  I thought you were trying to keep in the moisture; I didn't realize that you were trying to dry it out a little bit!  I also didn't understand why you would use a couche or proofing bowl; now I know that it helps your dough (especially high hydration doughs) keep its shape during the final rise and not spread out too much.  That's why I set out to document the science behind the baking process, so I could understand for myself and my readers what dough does. 

In any case, I have learned a lot already from this process of making the same bread over and over again.  I probably would not have kept up with this recipe otherwise.

Friday, March 4, 2016

My favorite posts

I recently updated my About Me page to include some favorite posts I've done.  I figured it would give new readers a sense of who I am as a blogger.

But I didn't anticipate how hard it would be to pick just a few!  Looking over my posts, I saw so much in each of them.  So much of who I was when I wrote them.

I just couldn't pick a handful.  So here is the list I ended up with, and explanations for why I picked them.

Adjusting to the new normal, part I Reflections on early motherhood with Little Bread Dude #1

Adjusting to the new normal, part II Early motherhood with Little Bread Dude #2

Argentine sopaipillas Because it always feels really meaningful when I make recipes I enjoyed during my study abroad year

Chocolate crema cake My friends' daughter had just gotten her diagnosis and everyone was trying to be strong and celebrate her first birthday

Chocolate red wine cake I fangirl over Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen

Cider bread and big changes I announce my pregnancy with Little Bread Dude #1)

Easter bread I wax philosophical about my faith journey

Easy granola bars I cheer Mr. Bread Maiden's accomplishment of running a marathon

Edible finger paint  Back when I thought I could control Little Bread Dude's artistic process ;)

The Science Behind... the baking process in eight sentences with crappy illustrations Because I was cracking myself up when I wrote it

Wiener schnitzel and cooking with kids Because my little guy almost made me cry I was so proud of him

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Adjusting to the New Normal, Part II

I was curious, so the other day I counted.  Since the revitalization of this blog around November 2015, I've published 53 posts.
very first picture I uploaded to this blog, back in 2008
The Bread Maiden has been around 8 years, during which time I've published 139 posts.

Which means 38% of my posts have been published in 3.5% of the time my blog has been in existence.

What has led to this huge spike in posts?  Good question.

Starting in November, blogging suddenly went from being something I like doing once in a while to a full-blown feverish desire that is showing no signs of waning.  At any given time, I have between five and eight drafts or ideas that I'm working on.  I have posts scheduled to publish on facebook every other day for the next two weeks.  As soon as I hit publish on one completed post, more ideas come pouring in. 

I've been reflecting on why this might be.  It's not like I suddenly have tons of time - in fact, with two kids, I have less time to blog.

And yet, I believe Little Bread Dude #2's birth was the catalyst for my writing boom.  His arrival was a reminder of the importance of community, and of the communal nature of food.  In the months after his arrival, I let my community feed me and care for me.  My family and friends have been so amazing.  They've bounced my baby, brought casseroles, taken my oldest for adventures, and let me take my time to adjust to the new normal.  They haven't complained when I moved our book club to my house.  They've flown in from all over the country; they've sent me late-night texts just because they know I'm awake.  I'm so grateful.  Thanks to them, I felt healed, and not just in a physical sense.

Eight months out, I'm feeling really good.  Getting back to my previous routine like book club and teaching Sunday School feel less like rigid obligations, and more like a comfy bean bag chair that still has my imprint from before but shifts around a little to make room for the new me.

After having each of my babies, time slowed down, and my world contracted for a while.  So many hours were (are still!) spent in the quiet of the early morning.  The repetition of folding mountains of laundry, of recording ounces pumped and ounces gained, of changing diaper after diaper, of singing songs to a squalling audience of one, can be drudgery or as a way to enter the spiritual realm of the ordinary. I think there's a reason so many monastic orders focus on repetitive practices as a way to see God's presence.

This time around, I really felt connected to the divine in the mundane, and wanted to get my hands deep in dough again.   As I've read more and more books on bread, and more books on spirituality, I've seen their intersections more clearly. I'm not the only one - Peter Reinhart, Shauna Niequist, Preston Yancey, Sarah Miles, Lauren Winner, and many others see it too.

As Shauna Niequist says in her book, Bread and Wine,
"It's no accident that when a loved one dies, the family is deluged with food.  The impulse to feed is innate.  Food is a language of care, the thing we do when traditional language fails us, when we don't know what to say, when there are no words to say.  And food is what we offer in celebration-- at weddings, at anniversaries, at happy events of every kind.  it's the thing that connects us, that bears our traditions, our sense of home and family, our deepest memories, and, on a practical level, our ability to live and breathe each day.  Food matters."

Bread symbolizes so much - communion with each other and with God.  Peter Rollins says, "God is not the solution to all our problems. God is in the midst."   Baking bread is the way I feel connected to my spirituality, even if I'm still trying to figure out what that means. 

While I was on maternity leave, my friend Christen told me she was leading a discussion group at our church on spirituality and food.   I wished I could've taken the course.  But more than that, I found myself wishing I could've taught it (sorry, Christen).

I knew then that I had to start teaching again.  Hosting Bread Camp always reminds me how much I love sharing my knowledge with others. If I can't make Bread Camp happen as often as I want to, this blog is another way I can share with the widest audience possible.

Speaking of teaching (pardon the tangent), I have to tell you a funny story that happened yesterday: in the morning, Little Bread Dude wanted to learn how to make his own oatmeal.  I helped him measure out the ingredients, then press the buttons for 2-0-0-start on the microwave. 
Then in the evening, he was complaining about dinner so I told him he could make his own dinner.  Fully expecting him to give in and admit he could not, I watched him take out three eggs, crack them into a bowl, put them in the microwave, press 2-0-0-start, and dang, if he didn't cook those eggs.  I was too impressed to be angry anymore.
my favorite baking student
All that to say, I have less time to bake than before, but I still carve out that time.  I've found the combination of baking and blogging to be immensely satisfying.  I really missed baking after I first gave birth, which is the same way I felt after I had Little Bread Dude #1.  I wrote about it a little bit here.

So here we are.  Adjusting to a new new normal, one that expands to fit all the searching and questions and stillness and practice and drudgery and magic.

And, as before, what it is... wonderful.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Going rogue on Preston Yancey's white bread, attempt #4

I'm at week 4 of Preston Yancey's Out of the House of Bread.  At this point, this bread should be coming out perfect. I'm not really sure why it's still giving me so much trouble.  I don't think anyone else can tell, but I can tell and it's driving me crazy.

This week, I dreamed of making baguettes.  I figured this recipe would work with a few tweaks.

It's sort of funny; each time I make the recipe I simultaneously move closer and further away from the original recipe as written.  For example, this time I got the ingredients mostly right, but gave them a longer rise and shaped them differently - into baguettes!  Then, I let them rise using a couche (a technique introduced to me by Yancey) and got to try out one of his techniques I had hitherto not needed: spraying the baguettes with water before scoring them to get a crispy crust.  

If you want to learn more about why I'm making this recipe multiple times, check out this post.

Mistake #1:  Wrong flour.  This wasn't really a mistake so much as a failure to plan.  I ran out of all-purpose flour at 400 grams, and had to substitute whole wheat for the other 800 grams.  Not the worst problem ever, but it does affect gluten formation.  Whole wheat flour has less protein content than AP flour and absorbs more water.  I added 800 grams of water (instead of the usual 775g) initially, then another 1/2 cup with the yeast, sugar and honey mixture.

Mistake #2: No salt.  I added the yeast mixture but completely forgot the salt this time. I think it's because there's no step that 'reminds' me to add the salt.  There's the autolyse so I remember the flour and water, and the yeast mixture has yeast, sugar, honey, and water.  There's no mixture requiring salt, so I forget to add it.

This time, I wanted to maximize flavor, so I only added 1/2 teaspoon of yeast so it would have a long fermentation time.


Added oil and yeast mixture

Again, to maximize flavor, I covered my bowl and let it ferment overnight in the refrigerator.

After I refrigerated it overnight, I took the bowl out the next morning and let it rise on the counter for another four hours.  Then I divided the dough into eight pieces, rolled them out into baguettes, then let them rise another hour in my floured towel couche.

Now I had a bit of a problem.  The baguettes would not fit in my dutch oven, but they still needed conductive heat for oven spring.  I used a heavy baking sheet upside down.

I used a plastic placemat as a peel to transfer the dough to the oven.

I had to straighten them a little after the transfer

Spraying the baguettes after scoring them.  This picture is blurry because the sprayer created lots of steam!

I was very happy with the results.

I was also very happy with the crumb.  Look at those nice holes!

I was hosting the after-church fellowship hour, so I cut these up and brought them with my soup.  Even without salt, they got rave reviews.  The whole wheat ended up being a benefit because they didn't go stale as fast as regular white flour baguettes. 

Have you ever taken a recipe and made it yours? How much do you think you need to change it before you can call it your own?  Please leave me a comment below!