The Baguette is in Sight

The only problem with this photo is it doesn't do much to describe the amazingly crisp crust and deep flavor that has been achieved. I've not been able to do as many trials as I wanted. Been a tad busy lately. I've basically been targeting just the variable of the day in an unsystematic approach but have enjoyed quite a bit of success lately. I'm repeating the prep a bunch lately and will give all the details when I'm convinced of it's reproducibility.

The highlights are: i. a combination of flour (bleached white, wheat and rye) is used, ii. baking method that makes use of that baguette pan (like the one depicted), iii. steaming the oven using a quick general method that can be used in an electric oven as well as gas (without blowing out the pilot), iv. use of a greater concentration of poolish (starter) than is used in Dan Leader's book "Bread Alone".

I'll disclose when I've achieved good reproducibility.


I have died and gone to heaven

This childcare thing definitely has its advantages. Today, I used my favorite slow cooker, the Weber grill to make dinner. I took a bone-in pork loin roast (4.2 lbs, ca. $12) and gave it a quick rub of brown sugar, paprika, salt, pepper, cumin, parsley and threw it on the weber this morning. Indirect heat, dome temp about 240 to 300-deg-F from 10 am to 4 pm (I originally started it in a 250-deg-F oven at 8 am, but just couldn't go through with it), fat side up, thank you. I've done pork butts in the past but this pork loin was by far a superior cut. Much less fatty and after the 8 hours smoking was up, I removed the dark brown-barked piece of meat, let it rest tented with foil for 30 minutes and pulled it apart. Pulled pretty easy. Then simply cut up the meat and dressed it with a quick sauce of ketchup and cider vinegar (the spices and fat coming from the cooked meat). I then let the mixture sit for 30 minutes before putting it on sesame seed buns with coleslaw. Unbelievable.

It was the simplest pulled pork I've ever done. I think the better cut was crucial and also getting a bone-in piece may have helped the meat to cook more thoroughly (in just 8 hours). Traditionally, pulled pork (done by the REAL (not the dysfunctional gang at alt.food.barbecue) pit masters) is done for 18 hours at a much lower temp. This is a pretty darn close approximation.


Clubbing Baby Seals with a Baguette

Had a bit of a breakthrough but not ready for any big disclosures / recipes. I actually have been playing around with bleached white flour. In many baking circles, if you use bleached flour, you may as well knead dough with one hand and beat baby seals with the other. Motivated by food-loving curiosity, I decided to investigate why bleached flour is so bad.

I read several patents from General Foods and found that bleached flour is not necessarily bad. In some processes, portions of the wheat kernel are lightened (bleached by various means) to remove unwanted bitter flavors. In many processes, this doesn't interfere with the health benefits afforded by the wheat kernel and in at least one instance enhanced the availability of anti-oxidant components within the bran. It seems there's quite a bit of demand for whole wheat derived flour without the flavors associated with the dark color. The problem most people have with bleaching is most of it is currently done with chlorine containing agents which may introduce unwanted by-products. Most processes now are trying to achieve bleaching using non-chlorine containing methods.

But in some recent tests in my kitchen, I've been getting some serious volume in my rises (a good indication of the outcome of a bread) using bleached flour. I still have a ton of comparisons to do but have narrowed down the flour, yeast, yeast charge and basic recipe I want to concentrate on for the comparison. Results eventually.


Country Wheat

This is a bread I made this weekend. I used Dan Leaders' Bread Alone book using a poolish method. The specifics were as follows:

1. Poolish was prepared from 75 grams water (2.5 oz), 75 grams white flour (1/2 C) and yeast 1/4 t (Fleischmann's active dry) and mixed like a batter and let set for 12 hours.

2. The final dough was mixed in a bread machine (for 10 minutes, use mixer of your choice) by mixing all of the resulting poolish, water (300 mL, 1 1/4 C), white flour (Pillsbury all purpose, 400 grams), wheat/rye flour (1:1 by weight, Pillsbury, 50 grams), additional yeast (1/4 t) and salt (8 grams, 1.5 t).

3. The first rise, 2 hours at 75-deg-F, punch down and rest 20 minutes, punch down again and shaped by placing into a banetton* and letting rest for 1.5 hours (while oven preheated at 450-deg-F).

4. Inverted on peel, slashed the surface and baked on clay tiles in oven (with shot of steam from a squirt gun on the walls) for 35 minutes. It could have cooked another 10 minutes, the center was a teeny bit under - this is a nearly two lb loaf.

I did the dough twice, the second time I made a baguette shape. I donated it to a friend's dinner before I got to take a picture but it was good and looked even better. I haven't used Leader's book in a while but was glad I did. I revisit old baking books to test out new flour and anything else I do differently to see how the loaf changes as my methods evolve. This one recipe (it's his most basic poolish recipe) never really seems to change. And that's why it's a good one to start with in case anyone wanted to try it. I recently saw his book for $10 used on Amazon.

*Note: A banetton is what's used to hold the final shaped dough in an inverted position while it rises prior to baking. They are available for a zillion dollars from King Arthur's flour but I use some cheap round basket from Pier 1 and line with a flour sack towel, liberally dusted with flour. the dough is placed in it and covered with the other half of the towel to rise.


Le Frickin Baguette

Our daily bread is a simple loaf but the most challenging. It is a basic french baguette made by a simple recipe using a straightforward process. The recipe is trivial:

200 grams water
3 grams active dry yeast
300 grams unbleached white flour
5 grams salt.

It is made by adding the ingredients, in that order, to the bowl of a mixer (or bowl of a bread pan - I like bread machine mixers) in what is called a straight dough preparation. Basically, a straight dough prep is mix everything together for the final dough (no starter, poolish, biga, etc.), let rise, punch, let rise again, punch again, let proof (another rise) in the form of the final loaf and launch into the hot oven for final baking. This simple recipe has been tackled by Julia Child (and many others) in some, but not exhaustive detail. The process is deceptively simple. Some of the factors diffcult to control are: flour (I hate King Arthur's), yeast (there is no rigorous and quantitative quality check for home bakers), kneading method, baking method (cooking surface, how to steam the over, type of oven, ...), etc. Even the way the final loaves are vented prior to baking can have a profound impact on the final oven spring and consequently appearance and taste of final loaf. But despite these and many other factors I can only try to control, I tirelessly pursue reproducibility. Another big problem is frequency of baking. While baking several times a week may sound like enough, baking several hundred times each day is probably the only way to observe reliable trands. So the infrequency of the method actually becomes a parameter to deal with. Very frustrating. I won't deny this is a total obsession but one of my more healthy and fun outlets. I only mention this in case someone asks "what's the recipe for your simplest bread?".

It's not a recipe, it's a lifestyle.

p.s.: Short of a full experimental design approach to finding a better method, I'm currently looking for a surrogate endpoint to make an evaluation of some of the parameters I now believe to be the most critical. I'll be considering the brand of flour, brand of yeast, yeast charge, kneading method and relating those to the volume of the dough after the first rise in a controlled environment chamber (probably the bread machine). I'll keep you all posted on the results.