Monday, September 29, 2014

A Continuing Love Affair with Bread Making

Dad & Me at right, at Atitlan Lake, Guatemala January 1971
I have always loved making bread. I started at age 21 while living in Guatemala, and never stopped. While pregnant with my first child, my Mom and Dad came down to visit me in Guatemala. By that time I'd had more than enough time to become homesick for a lot of the foods I grew up with. While I loved the foods in my new adopted country, still those other, older food memories called to me. I went to Guatemala at age 20, knowing nothing about cooking. Growing up, I watched my Mom cook, watched her making bread once in a while, cooking daily, baking. She let us kids help out and make cookies sometimes. I was not adventurous back then and didn't make an effort to learn. I recall loving to watch her making her bread.

Mom & Me, Guatemala, January 1971
Then there I was, in another country. Living with my in-laws meant my food was always made and presented for meals. I still had no need to cook. But the time would be coming when it would be necessary, so I asked Mom for recipes for different things she made throughout my childhood. Chicken Paprikash. Holupki. Her Beef Ribs and Sweet Cabbage.  Her bread (which morphed into My Kitchen Aid Mixer Bread. She gave me the recipes, and I copied them into the back of one of the few cookbooks I owned at that time. I attempted making bread the first time while still living with my in-laws; it was a less than stellar outcome, but nonetheless, a good experience, one that I have continued to this day 40+ years later.

A few years back I was introduced to Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread and remained so enchanted with that bread I made it constantly for about 3 years. Then earlier this year I was given a stack of bread making books. I have been documenting my experiments with making some of these breads here in my blogs ever since. The first book I started working with was Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice. I made about 10 of the recipes in that book, and there are more I would like to make, though some of them have been particular favorites, like the recipe for Pan a L'Ancienne, which I have made 3 times so far and plan to make again today. The next book I started working with is Maggie Glezer's Artisan Breads Across America. So far I have made 3 recipes from this book; Dutch Regale's Finnish Rye, Sullivan Street Potato Pizza and now Essential Bakery's Columbia Bread. 

Columbia Bread, before and after baking
This third recipe was a success in various ways. One, I took the time to make 3 iterations of the VERY firm starter over 2+ days, ensuring it was active enough to make the bread with no added commercial yeast. This did indeed make the bread grow far better than expected. Since my baker's lame is dull, and is not the type to be able to switch out blades, I sharpened a knife in order to slash the bread before baking - without draggggging through the delicately risen loaf. The slashes were perfect. The bread browned in the oven unlike any I have made yet, making the slashes stand out perfectly. It was by far, one of the prettiest breads I have made, to date. 

Beautifully baked Columbia Bread
There was only one problem. The taste was just meh. Texture was nice, crust is chewy and crispy, color is lovely. The bread grew beautifully despite no yeast but the starter. But the flavor is lacking. Because of the length of time it takes to make this bread, with very long slow rises, I had hoped for better flavor. At one point I thought to deviate from the recipe and actually refrigerate the dough overnight, once formed into loaves, and bake the following day. Now I am sorry I did not do this, as it may have given the bread better flavors. I am not totally sure I want to go through this whole process again, if the bread lacks flavor. I am now leery. Actually, I am beginning to be a little leery of the recipes in this particular book. Maybe they are not "translated" well from a huge bakery's recipe, down to an individual home recipe. Do not know. But it makes me want to set the book aside completely. The first bread I made, Dutch Regale's Finnish Rye, was delicious. And pretty. The second recipe was Sullivan Street Bakery's Potato Pizza, and I documented my trip through that recipe on September 17th, 2014. I was not a total fan of the recipe, at least as given in the book.
Perfect slashes and great color

The Columbia Bread recipe is made with mainly white flour and a little added freshly ground whole wheat and rye berries, and wheat germ. Just the fact of mainly white flour seems like it should have tasted better. I have never been particularly fond of just plain whole wheat. I like it mixed in with other things. Despite this, when i made the Poilane Style Miche, from Peter Reinhart's book, made with only whole wheat, the flavor was just incredibly good. I would repeat that recipe in a heartbeat! I love the flavor of rye, when I grind the rye berries fresh, and have made many, many varieties of rye breads, from extremely dense styles to light and fluffy. 

I am unhappy with the ultimate outcome, because flavor and texture is what bread is all about. When flavor is only so-so at the very best, it is not inspiring. Maybe it's time to try another of the books!

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.