Bread Tales, Continued


Artisan BreadThis week I started a small batch of dough to bake later in the week, or on the weekend while I figure out a few details on my baking odyssey (and do some online research on a number of related issues). Probably just a small loaf  this time, and I’ll likely do it in a pan. I plan to start a larger batch of dough, Sunday with the goal of a longer-term cold fermentation. And possibly a sourdough starter.

The last loaf I made, a mere three days ago, is almost gone.  Funny how homemade bread gets eaten so quickly.

I baked it in the inside ceramic bowl from a crock pot (result pictured below). The loaf was big and tasty, good consistency for sandwiches and toast, with a great crust. But not perfect.

The bottom 1/4 inch was not as fully cooked as the rest – not doughy or raw, just a trifle under-cooked compared to the top. After a day in the fridge, it was barely noticeable.

I had also mixed a little margarine into the dough before the rising. Not really sure what difference that makes, so I left it out for the subsequent batch.

I think I should have divided the dough into two parts rather than try for one big loaf. I’ll know better next time.

In the interim, I’ve been busy reading Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, trying to figure out what I’m doing to bread that isn’t what they do. The pictures in the book make my mouth water, but the results confound my abilities.

Basically I want simple, chewy, tasty loaves. I have the style exactly in mind – our friend Bill brings us “rustic” loaves from a Guelph baker that match my ideal bread. I’ve not found anything locally – even at the farmers’ market – that matches them.

I just haven’t managed to replicate it myself. Not that my efforts have been bad, just not what I have in my mind as my ideal loaf.

I have the crust and the taste working for me (although the crust is chewy, it’s not quite as crunchy – perhaps I need more steam during the baking), but the inside – the “crumb”  - isn’t what I want. It’s good bread, very edible, but has a texture more like commercial sourdough bread than the artisan breads I’m aiming for. Still, I’m pretty happy with what I’ve managed after two decades or more of not baking. Besides, I’m having fun and learning a lot.

Back to the book. One reviewer wrote:

The basic idea behind these books is to be able to have wonderful, bakery quality bread in your own home and on demand. You whip up a “master batch” of dough that has enough water in it so the molecules in the bread can do their thing and you don’t have to knead the bread. This master batch stays in your refrigerator, covered loosely, for up to two weeks. When you want a fresh loaf, you just cut a piece of the dough from the master batch, form the loaf, let it rise on the counter and bake. Easy peasy. I can tell you, I was skeptical.

Well, turns out, these books are everything they claim to be. Sort of little bread miracle guide books.

If you don’t know this book, it’s the most-talked-about bread book on all the baking/cooking sites and blogs. Mine arrived two days ago, so I’m not too far into it and still working on recipe numero uno and the basics they discuss up front. It starts with simple recipes, and progresses. With some luck, I’ll be able to bake in parallel with their recipes.

My latest loafThis week, I bought a bag of Five Roses unbleached flour. To date, I’ve been using Robin Hood homestyle white (“best for bread”) which has produced consistently good results. I’m not sure what unbleached flour will add to the mix, but the book recommends it, so I’ve decided to give it a try. Next loaf I’ll use it.

The loaf at the right is my latest. It’s hard to see from the picture, by the centre is more than 4 inches tall. The diameter was about 9 inches. Good consistency except for the very bottom 1/4 inch. The last of that loaf will be eaten with tonight’s soup dinner.

It’s been the perfect bread to accompany soup, for beans-on-toast and toasted, then lathered with peanut butter.

Well, almost every bread goes well with peanut butter, even the commercial loaves. Peanut butter is a staple in my diet. The litmus test for bread is how well it receives peanut butter. Does it do it well both raw and toasted? Does it intervene in the taste or sit in the background? Is it chewy?

The other thing I did with this loaf is proof the yeast in warm water with a tiny dollop of molasses, hence the slightly yellow colour of the crumb. The five-minute-artisan bread recipe skips proofing, but I’m experimenting on the effect of these styles. No oil was basted on the top this time, but the margarine in the dough seems to have made it slightly sweeter and saltier.

I also made a trip to the Bulk Barn this week to buy some small amounts of multigrain and rye flours, for later baking experiments. I want to make grain breads, soon.

I was a bit disappointed to find that none of the local grocery stores I visited sold rye flour, or had anything more than the basic “whole wheat” flour as an alternative. I had a hard time finding basic wheat germ, too – and ended up with a small bottle for a pricey $5! Exotic flours like spelt and quinoa – no chance in the local supermarkets. Bulk Barn, fortunately has them.

I remember buying a far wider selection of flours in supermarkets in Toronto, but that was a long time ago. Is it a local thing or a franchise decision to limit the flours to the few available? Not sure, but as I progress in my baking, I expect I will want to expand beyond white flour. I’ll have to find alternate sources, I suspect (maybe the food co-op?).

So far, no pumpernickel flour anywhere. Might have to make a trip to Toronto sometime soon if I want some. Flour run, get some volume to store (can I freeze flour?). This reminds me: look up recipes to see if I can make anything with masa harina or corn flour (aside from tortillas and polenta, that is). I can get both locally. Fresh tortillas are a real delight (we ate them in Mexico a lot and the taste of a fresh corn tortilla is worth the trip). But I don’t have a tortilla press, so I will wait on making them until I have one.

Can I use either with wheat flour in a bread? Why not?

I need some tools or equipment, too, methinks. First of all, a baking stone. I’ve been using a cookie sheet and some Pyrex, Corningware and ceramic pots. This week I bought a Cuisineart cake ring (to keep a boule from spreading too far).

Every site I surf to recommends a pizza stone for baking artisinal bread, but the comments about them and the reviews told me I needed something thick, and long-lasting. Stones can break and crack, so you need to treat them carefully. I’m looking into a granite slab, too. Something about an inch thick. Stones like these have other uses, including helping spread heat evening in an oven for other types of cooking. More research is needed…

Other options are cast iron pans and “baking steel.” I checked out a Lagostino cast iron pizza pan at Canadian Tire today. On sale for $99. Ouch, even if it’s a $50 savings. Baking steel is $80 plus $50 shipping. I can’t justify that cost (yet). After all, part of the reason I’m baking is to (eventually) save money. But the reviews of the steel are good enough to make me perk up and pay attention. Maybe I can justify one after I’ve got a bit more experience under my belt.

The other option is the “Dutch oven” baking – using a cast iron or thick ceramic pot (with lid). I did something similar with my most recent loaf, but I had to remove the lid early because the dough rose rapidly enough to bump the glass. Might want to consider a smaller size pot.

I tried to find a pizza stone locally, but nothing that was quite what I wanted. And all were round. I want rectangular. And thick. At least 1/2 inch. Anything thinner is, it seems from my reading, more prone to cracking. I don’t so a lot of  pizza yet, but the dough is pretty easy and having a stone may inspire me. I’ll go online and keep looking. Amazon has some that tempt me. I’ll let you know what I get.

One thought on “Bread Tales, Continued


  1. A nice little loaf in a pan came out of the oven this afternoon. Same recipe, just different baking utensil. So far all my efforts using the basic recipe have worked out very well. Consistently tasty, good crumb texture, fabulous crust and overall it’s been rising well.
    Not quite the rustic texture I hoped for, but good nonetheless. I’m still experimenting and every loaf has been delicious! Awaiting a baking stone and pizza peel to see what else I can do. Have to be patient and not try to do too many at once – we’d end up with a lot more bread than we can eat!
    Started a new batch of dough for mid-week baking.
    Will post photos later.