I'm an annoying date – whenever we go out to dinner I start to think about if I could reproduce the dish we are eating. I poke, I prod, I sniff. My first criteria when choosing where to eat out is whether or not I could make food as good as the restaurant can offer. If I can, the restaurant is generally out! This line of thinking is a slippery slope because it leads you down roads like my Cambodian crepe adventure. My most recent slippery slope has been with bread baking.
My new boss is a bread baking aficionado. He claims that there are only 3 types of bread in the county of Los Angeles worth expending his caloric allowance on: the bread at the Daily Grill, a Whole Foods white label batard that is only sometimes available, and his own, home-baked bread. His secret is his levain which is a living, yeasty organism, that gives life to his bread.
As I sat down to sip my daily iced chai and plow through emails one morning, my boss popped into my cubicle, bringing with him Christmas in July. Encased in a small container, he granted me a child(?) of his treasured levain and a bag of the best flour for bread baking. Yes, I had arrived. Or so I thought.
In between matters of great work importance, my boss started to impart tidbits about the craft of bread baking. And with all of these tidbits of knowledge, I started to get concerned about my ability to pull off a successful loaf. The key first step in bread baking is making sure you have the proper setup.
Lesson #1: The science of baking requires determining the perfect underlying ratios and then using a scale to weigh ingredients and ensure accuracy. Think about it – a warm cup of water is going to be a different weight than a cool cup of water, which could mess everything up. Translation: go buy a scale.
Lesson #2: Bread bakes at a high temperature. Translation: go buy an oven thermometer to make sure your oven doesn't tell lies. I recommend giving the oven a test ride by cranking up the heat, seeing if it it can hold that heat, and that your kitchen has the proper ventilation to deal with the whole situation.
Lesson #3: Home bread needs to baked in a covered ceramic container. If you use le creuset, the high heat might change the color of the enamel, so be forewarned. Translation: thank your hubby's mama for insisting that you register for a giant ceramic heath ceramics container that (so far) is perfect for the job.
Lesson #4: Prepare to become a sir or madame mix-a-lot. If you have a KitchenAid mixer, thank your lucky stars. Translation: look online at kitchen aid mixers, decide you can't afford one, and move on with your life.
I'm still perfecting my approach, so will post the recipe when (if ever) it's ready. If you are a friend of the food blogosphere, you will have heard of the Sullivan Street Bakery approach. My approach is a mix (pun intended) of this long rising, no kneading method and the method outlined in Crust & Crumb. I love how frontier woman I feel when a loaf of bread is baking. The best part is that the bread lasts SO much longer than anything you buy. If you are interested in baking your own bread, I really think the Sullivan Street method is the way to go. Unless your boss gives you a levain starter.