Saturday, December 08, 2018

Yeah, right. Bread. You said "go to bread."


So, um, hey. Not sure if anybody's still around since the last time I posted. But if you are, a quick summary of the last five years: I'm still brewing, though not nearly as frequently as I used to since it's getting harder to find eight consecutive weekend hours that aren't already booked. I mean, considering how long I kept brewing after having THREE kids, I had a good run, right?

Anyway, the reason I'm back... The lack of brewing has led me itching for something with a similar combination of art and science, but a significantly reduced time commitment. The one weekend when I was stomping around complaining that we were out of good bread, it hit me... Beer is liquid bread, right? So I guess that makes bread solid beer? Okay, that sounds kind of gross, but the reality is I love good, crusty bread and I'm getting tired of the two or three options at our local grocery store. So I've decided to give it a go!

Now the whole reason I started this blog was because I was bad at keeping paper records of my beers, and I wanted to be able to easily access old recipes, notes, etc. So for the time being, the reason I'm back is so I can do the same with my breads. Much like some of my early brews, I'm sure I'll look back in a few years and laugh at some of the things I did, but you gotta start somewhere, right?

So with all that being said, I'm now three loaves in (not as exciting as three beers in, but much more socially acceptable on a Saturday morning), and I'm happy to report that all three have been damn tasty. I've found two basic French bread recipes/methods that I really like--this one that only takes an hour and this one that takes two and a half--and so for now my plan is to stick to those methods and mess around with the ingredients for a while. Once I feel more comfortable with the various ingredients, I'll start getting more geeky with the baking side of things.

The first loaf I made was the 2.5-hour recipe, which is a boule (round loaf) baked in a dutch oven. I was really excited by how good it was (and the fact that I didn't screw it up). The ingredients are pretty straightforward (though very high percentage of water):

2.5 c / 300 g flour, 1.25 c / 300 g (100% baker's percentage) water, 1.5 t. / 9 g (3%) kosher salt, 1 t. / 4 g (1.3%) sugar, 2.25 t. / 6.5 g (2.2%) active dry yeast

and the flavor profile is fairly neutral. Nothing mind-boggling, but great for toast (which is honestly how I eat about 90% of my bread).


The crust is perfect--not too chewy, not too hard--and it's big enough for a couple meals but not so big that I'll feel the need to eat bread with every meal for three days so I don't have to throw half of it out.

The second loaf I made, the one-hour recipe, was also really good, which is awesome because it's so quick but didn't feel like I was sacrificing flavor for the sake of efficiency. The one-hour recipe is a Vienna-style loaf that has a somewhat thinner crust and is slightly larger. It's a tad sweeter and uses honey instead of sugar:

3.5 c / 420 g flour, 1.5 c / 360 g (86%) water, 1.5 t. / 9 g (2%) kosher salt, 1 T / 21 g (5%) honey, 1 T / 8.5 g (2%) active dry yeast

Again the water percentage is high, though not as high as the boule recipe. And Leah found the touch of sweetness gave the bread a touch more flavor than the first loaf.

So for my third loaf, I decided to adapt the recipe of the second loaf but for the first method (with the dutch oven). So here's what I came up with:

2.25 c / 270 g flour, 1.25 c / 300 g (110%) water, 1 t. / 6 g (2%) kosher salt, 2 t. / 14 g (5%) honey, 2.25 t / 6.5 g (2.5%) active dry yeast

In hindsight, it would seem I used too much water (I didn't actually calculate percentages until now) but somehow it still worked. I had to leave for hockey while it was rising so Leah actually baked it, and she reported that it was done about ten minutes quicker than it was supposed to. But I think the end result is pretty much what we were shooting for: the flavor of the second loaf with the crust of the first.

Looking back on the first three loaves, I think I'm most curious about the high water content and why it seems to be working. The general rule of thumb is 5:3 flour to water, and percentages above 75% are generally reserved for stuff like ciabatta and pizza dough. My breads are definitely on the rustic side, with decently large holes, but they don't strike me as different from any of the crusty breads I buy at the store. But I'm wondering if I should cut down a bit in future recipes.

Anyway, in the short term, I'd like to experiment with different types of flour. I bought some dark rye flour and would like to try making a dark rye boule. I'm also thinking of trying an unbleached wheat with a seeded crust. As much as I'm tempted to reduce the water, part of me figures if I've made three loaves I'm happy with I shouldn't mess around too much.

Additionally, I've got two ideas that are a little more outside-of-the-box. First, I'm thinking of trying to tweak the Vienna recipe into a cinnamon raisin bread. I may even try that later today. And second, I'm gonna do some research on making bagels since that seems fun.

Like my beer posts, I'll try to use this blog to keep a good record of my successes and failures for future reference. If any bakers out there have any thoughts or comments, I'm all ears!




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