Monday, September 1, 2008

The Next Loaf

I don't know how long I'm going to keep posting about baking bread using my mixer. It's not really all that notable and you guys don't really need to know about everything I cook. But since this week shows some marked reversion to the mean after last week's remarkable success, it's worth writing up if only so I can organize my thoughts and attempt to isolate the problem.

This week I decided to make an all-white-flour olive oil loaf. This recipe and the one from last week are adapted from Rustic European Breads From Your Bread Machine by Linda West Eckhardt and Diana Collingwood Butts--a book that served me remarkably ill for a couple years before I gave up in frustration and gave away my bread machine. Despite that history, the recipes are easy to translate to my new mechanized method and are make sensibly-sized batches for the bachelor chef. Other bread cookbooks I've looked at have recipes that make two three-pound loaves or 18 rolls. Who needs that much bread?

This particular recipe starts with 1 1/2 cups bread flour, 2 teaspoons yeast and 5 ounces water stirred together, covered and let sit overnight. No problem there.

This morning I added the rest of the ingredients: another 1 1/2 cups bread flour, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar, 2 Tablespoons fruity extra virgin olive oil and, skimping a little due to the humidity, 4 more ounces of water. That goes under the bread hook for 15 minutes of kneading. And here's the problem. The dough came together at the start, but after a couple minutes it loosened up into a very wet and sticky dough. I added a few more Tablespoons of flour but it just soaked them up with little notable change in texture. Since I wasn't planning on handling the dough or letting it sit on any open surfaces it could slump out on I figured I could let it be, but I'm baffled as to why I always end up with a much wetter dough than the recipe authors do. Am I using different, less dense flour? Wetter water? The humidity can't contribute that much moisture, can it? Next time I'm going to pack down the flour first in kind of an anti-sifting procedure and see if that makes the recipes work eight.

So once I was done kneading I dumped the dough into an oiled plastic bucket to rise. The recipe said to give it an hour to double in size but it was already near triple by a half hour and that's with using less yeast than called for. Hyperactive modern yeasts? Hot Miami kitchens? I dunno.

Again I used the no-knead baking method with the pre-heated container. I'm still using my clay cooker which gave the loaf a bit of shape. If I used a dutch oven I would have ended up with a focaccia-esque flat round loaf. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose.

After opening the cooker half way through baking I got a strong whiff of the Play-Doh failed-rise scent I remember from my bread machine days, but the loaf looked like it at least kept most of the extra-high initial rise even if it wasn't getting a second lift in the oven. After another half hour the temperature inside the loaf was still a little low so I gave it some more time, then again and again without much change. With a wet dough like this that's not too surprising, but after 20 extra minutes it was starting to burn so out it came despite a few missing degrees in the center.

You can see that the crust looks kind of shellacked. That's a seriously hard crust, but it's rather thin so it adds a nice crackly edge to each slice.

Inside you can see that the crumb is surprisingly light and tender.
The flavor is milder than last week's rustic loaf, but the straightforward wheat flavor is accented by the toasty crust and aromatic olive oil. So, despite the difficulties along the way, a tasty success. I think I have my food-blogging with all that cooking and thinking about cooking I've been doing to thank. I'm more able to understand what's happening and more comfortable adjusting as I go along than I was back when I was failing with my bread machine. Next time I think I'll try a recipe I never had the guts for before: French butter loaves.

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