Behold The Mighty Staff Of Life!

There are few things in life I love more than a really good piece of bread, except perhaps the Everyman, or a really good piece of bread with some freshly churned homemade butter.  I find it so incredibly fascinating that the same 3 or 4 ingredients (flour, water, salt, yeast) can create such a myriad of different flavors, textures and effects through such minute variations.

I’m not talking about chemicalated Wonder Bread though, but a nice crunchy baguette or crusty sourdough.  I’ve waxed poetic over the joys of focaccia over the years, and dabbled in bagels and crackers.  However, my Achilles heel has continually been my lack of know-how and experience when it comes to more artisanal bread matters.  I’ve turned out plenty of delicious quick breads using my bread machine but somehow anything more complicated always seems to literally fall flat.

Several weeks ago I attempted to grow my own levain, in the hopes that it would help me work towards becoming a better baker.  I’d found incredibly detailed instructions on by (apparent) bread guru Rose Beranbaum.  About a week into the process I ended up killing the levain (which I’d named Frankenstein) by forgetting to feed it a few too many times.  I dejectedly flushed him down the sink and a week later decided to start again.  This week’s levain is far from robust, but does not appear dead, so thank god for small miracles.  I’ve named this one Bride of Frankenstein, and hopefully in a few more days I’ll get a chance to see what she tastes like.

All of this failure was convincing enough for me to decide that I needed to get educated.  I went out and purchased a few books upon the recommendations of several food bloggers I respect.  I don’t believe that The Bread Bible by Rose Beranbaum is the kind of book for me.  While many people swear by it, once I started paging through and reading some of the instructions, the book began to overwhelm me.  Everything was a little too precious and intense, which had the effect of making me feel like I’d never be able to successfully produce anything from its pages.  Perhaps once I have more confidence with bread I’ll be able to revisit this book with better results, but for now, it has been shelved.

The other book I purchased was by contrast, a revelation.  Local Breads by Daniel Leader was full of beautiful, glossy photos of food I’d want to eat (and so would you).  And it was written in a simple and straightforward enough manner that I began to feel that I could do this.  I picked the first real recipe in the book because it says it’s the simplest, but it also happened to be one of the types of breads I wanted to master the most; Parisian daily bread (baguette).  The recipe is clearly laid out, and while the process might be long, overall it is quite easy.  There are several different intervals for rising, proofing and fermenting, but for the most part it’s pretty hands off.  Towards the end you get to knead the dough a few dozen times with your hands, but the recipe can be achieved with 90% of the manual labour done by a stand mixer.  About 4 hours later your loaves are ready to meet their toasty oven and steam sauna.

Twenty two minutes after that I had 3 batons of caramel-coloured heaven.  The bread had a burnished, slightly chewy crust, with the large, irregular holes and crumbs that I’ve been lusting after throughout my bread-making past.  Next time I might try to make them a bit longer and bake them a little more, but these are all such minor variances now that I’ve reached baguette nirvana.

Based on my initial experience alone and the multitudes of recipes I’ve uncovered and yearn for in this book, I have no problem strongly recommending that you buy it.  Trust me, the delectability of Parisian daily bread more than pays for the cost of the book itself.  But don’t take my word for it, have a look for yourself.

Until next time…

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2 Responses to “Behold The Mighty Staff Of Life!”

  1. [...] the baking front, I’ve been nurturing the Bride of Frankenstein for several weeks now, and her progress has been quite promising.  Now that I only need to feed [...]

  2. [...] address the taste issue, I poured in what I thought was a reasonable amount of the Bride of Frankenstein.  I’ve always been somewhat of a kitchen rebel (as I believe most good cooks are) and even [...]

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