Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Science of Bread

This weekend I took Breadbaking (Level I) with Erik Knutzen at The Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano. When I heard that the class was being offered, I immediately jumped at it. I've made bread a couple times before and both times I found the bread lacking. Lacking a good flavor, texture, everything. I like the idea of making my own bread, so I decided to peek behind the curtain and hope to come out with a decent understanding of how to improve my outcome.

What I learned was that there's a science to baking bread. Or perhaps I should say an art since artisan bread is a pretty big deal in the bread baking world. Whatever. Tomato, tomahto. So let's look at the recipe and I'll share some tips I learned.

Secret #1 to making bread: You need a digital scale. 
For real. Apparently, using measuring cups is incredibly inaccurate. In fact, you could be off on your measurement by up to 30 percent. Weighing your ingredients gives a more accurate measure, which is important because of hydration level. (I won't go into that right now. But if you're serious about the bread game, hydration level is a big deal. I'm planning to do more reading to get a better grasp on it as I try out different flours.) If you don't have a scale, you can measure, but I can't guarantee anything.

Secret #2: You need to make a gas bag. 
You won't be kneading this recipe, so the gas bag is created in the shaping. Honestly, I can't remember what else he said about this, so I'm just going to move on. Nailed it.

all purpose flour (King Arthur's is best)- 400 grams (3 cups)
salt- 1 1/4 tsp (you don't need to weigh this)
instant yeast- 1/4 tsp
bottled water- 300 grams (1 1/3 cups)
hydration ratio: 300 grams water divided by 400 grams flour = .75 or 75%

Use Diamond Crystal salt or sea salt with no other additives. No iodized salt either.
Buy the jars of yeast, not the packets. They're a rip off.
Okay, why bottled water? Because some tap water has elements that alter the bread. I can't remember exact names. Can you use tap water? Yes.

1. Combine dry ingredients in a bowl.
2. Add water and mix until dry ingredients are incorporated. Don't knead or over mix! Just integrate the water and dry ingredients.
3. Cover container with airtight lid and let sit at room temperature for 18 hours.
4. After 18 hours, shape into a boule and place in a floured canvas/linen/kitchen towel. Let rise for another 2 hours.
5. A half hour before it's time to bake, preheat the oven to 475 degrees and place your cast iron pot in the oven to heat the pot.
6. Dump your boule onto a floured cutting board and slash a 4 inch square onto the top of the loaf with a sharp razor blade or knife. Carefully pick up the loaf and plop into the preheated pot or casserole dish. Put the lid on the pot and bake for 30 minutes.
7. After a half hour, take off the lid and continue to bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the loaf is chestnut brown in color. When done, remove the loaf from the pot and let cool on a rack for an hour before slicing.

Using a digital scale
Place your mixing bowl on the scale. Turn the scale on. It'll zero out the bowl. Now pour in your dry ingredients. After mixing them together, place the bowl on the scale and turn it back on. It has now zeroed out the bowl and flour, so that you can accurately measure your water. Go slow! 

How to shape a boule
I wasn't quite sure how to explain this, so here's a link to a video. It's a wee bit different than how it was done in class, but the general principle is the same.

Follow up comments
Once you have a boule, you'll place it on a floured piece of fabric. Cover up your bread with the towel and place it back in your bowl. Linen or canvas are the suggestions, but a kitchen towel will work too. This is your new proofing towel. Don't wash it. Keep it floured and your dough won't stick. You can keep it in a plastic Ziploc to keep it from inviting bugs. The first few times you use it, make sure to flour the top of bottom of the bread too since you'll still be developing your towel or it'll end up sticking.

Why cast iron? A covered cast iron pot creates steam. It doesn't matter whether or not the pot has enamel coating.

Your slash mark doesn't have to be a 4 inch square. It can be an x or a line or whatever. Just slash it.

The chestnut brown color assures that you'll have a nice crust and that the inside is cooked. 

The reason to wait for the bread to cool isn't to torture you, but it's because the inside is still baking. Let it cool before you eat it. Or don't. If you don't mind the texture of your bread being messed up, then whatever. But waiting the time and having a great loaf is incredibly satisfying. 

I hope I didn't confuse or overwhelm y'all. I promise it's really simple. It's measuring, mixing, resting, shaping, and baking. However, the little tips and tricks will be what helps to make for more consistent, successful bread. If you have any questions, let me know and I'll try to answer them.