The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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honeymustard

Now, where were we?

I have left baking bread for a while now. I moved to the so-called big city into an apartment with a decidedly large living area but comparably small kitchen. Sharing with three other people caused issues and I really need reign over the whole thing when baking bread. I couldn't have it, so I instead gorged myself on what was locally available--and there are a decent amount of bakeries here in Halifax. I never stopped admiring and eating bread. Just stopped baking it, really.

Well, it's a new year and a fresh start. I've been in a new apartment for several months now which houses only me and my partner. He is quite happy to let me take over the kitchen, especially since he often reaps the benefits. I am determined to start again.

I've started my journey with a batch of Pain de Campagne from The Village Baker. I can already say that it's not a success. But all things relative, it's a success in that I'm starting again.

What a monster!

I can tell you what the problems were. Overproofed. I think the creation of the poolish was probably fine, but a warm kitchen assisted in causing this dough to rise too quickly. At a couple points in the proofing, I thought to myself, that's done now, you should move it forward to the next step. I ignored my instincts because it was a fraction of the time called for in the recipe, and it's been so long, I thought I should follow the steps to the letter.

I still moved things along a little faster than I was supposed to--rising for 45 minutes instead of an hour and a half, for example--but not fast enough, I don't think.

What can be done? The taste is fine, and the crust is actually lovely. The crumb itself is not terribly impressive--not even photogenic enough to show you, though.

However, I'm determined not to be upset about this. This bread will still be good for toast, for serving alongside a hearty winter stew, and for the first step of hopefully many. 

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honeymustard

So, in the last few days, I have had a couple fails.

(Not fails. Just methods that don't really work.)

First, I started a sourdough starter. It was going fantastically but then I suspect my father-in-law may have inadvertently raised the temperature of the room too high (we have wood heat and he does adore a good roaring fire, even this late into spring), and I think it did terrible things. Not his fault, I don't think he had any idea I was making a starter and even if he did, he wouldn't have known the implications. If I have the motivation, I'll start anew tomorrow.

Then, I tried this durum semolina bread. Or is it a durum bread? Or a semolina? Lots of comments ensued discussing the difference between the two. The bulk supplier I got mine from was inconveniently titled, "Durum Semolina." So apparently it's both. I never really did figure out whether or not I was using the correct type, but the bread turned out all right. Problem was, I decided to try to use my unrefined sunflower oil in the recipe. It would have been okay, I think, except that I find unrefined oils impart a certain taste in the breads which would be excellent in some ways, but not in others. I don't think it was paticularly good in this bread, and it ruined it for me. For a couple days, I was down on my bread luck, and I just allowed my family to buy bakery-bought bread. (Mind you, it's pretty good. Should you ever find yourself near LaHave Bakery in Nova Scotia, it's quite lovely.)

But we just ran out of bread, so I put my kneading hands on and went back to the basics. I baked Tassajara bread from the cookbook of the same name.

It wouldn't have been anything out of the ordinary, except that I used some yeast I found in the grocery store on my last trip. Just from Fleishmann's (that's all I can get around here), it was in a vacuum sealed package and labelled, "Bakery Format." A fair size bigger than the largest jar of traditional yeast but almost the same price, I gave it a go. Call me stupid but I wondered if it was some form of vacuum sealed fresh yeast because it was so tightly packed, it felt soft to the touch of the outside of the package. I opened it up and saw that it appeared to look like ordinary instant yeast. Slightly bummed but not deterred, I went ahead and made my Tassajara Bread.

My god, the results. They look incredible. This means nothing at the moment because I don't have photos up (camera is dead) but in the morning I'll post them for all to see.

Of course, nowhere near the most amazing loaves I've ever seen or anything, but these loaves have tripled in size at least. The rising times were cut in half, and if anything, I was afraid of over-rising/proofing.

Pending photos of course, I would be curious if anyone knows anything about this mysterious bakery format yeast. I'd never seen it before and Fleischmann's--at least the Canadian site--doesn't even list it among its products.

But in the end, I feel better about my baking. Turns out I'm not a total flop.

Photos to come!

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honeymustard

I have known for a while now that I would have to face my fear of wet doughs. Yes, fear. Absolute fear.


I am very good at breads that are relatively dry, and the only doughs that I've worked with that are wet weren't nearly as wet as the recipe I found here - Floydm's Daily Bread.


To be honest, I had a vague idea - at best - at what I was doing. I made a whole wheat poolish, and the rest of the flour was organic spelt. For good measure and texture, I added 1/4 cup flax seeds. I baked on a stone as directed.


Spelt & Flax Bread


For having so little idea about what I was doing, I feel pretty fantastic about the results. The rise was reasonably good, and the texture was perfect. I would hope for a slightly better crumb next time. But I'm not going to be picky after my first try.


Also, I wanted a harder crust, but I think that has to do with a) my stone and b) a better method of steaming.

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honeymustard

Challah and I have a history.


When I was 15, I tried making my first bread. Having watched my mother (but never having helped her) since I was little, making bread (particularly oatmeal brown bread) from scratch, I figured it would be a snap. After all, I was able to pick up my mother's cookies and cake recipes with no problem, so what's so different about bread?


I was about to find out.


Ambitious as I was, I took the prettiest bread in the recipe book I could find, and that was definitely challah. But challah fooled me three time s in a row, and I failed each time I tried to make the bread rise. I didn't realize how much a process, an art, bread making was at the time. Now I feel bad for belittling bread-making. But I've made up for it over the last decade. But--for no reason in particular--I'd not tried challah again since those failed three tries. I suppose I don't really have a real reason; I'm painfully Protestant and not at all Jewish, not a speck. But it doesn't stop me from admiring the loaf.


My admiration got the best of me, and I used the White Egg Bread recipe from Tassajara to make it into a couple loaves of challah.


Challah


I fully admit this isn't a traditional challah. It doesn't stop it from being pretty fantastic though. I did a four-strand braid, which I've never done before, and was able to accomplish through the help of my would-be sister-in-law, who watched me meticulously (and I thank her for it).


In order to brown the loaves, I put in on the lowest rack in my oven for the first 1/2 hour, and then brought it up to the highest for the second 1/2 hour after applying a second layer of egg white wash. They browned nicely, but I would still like to achieve that really elusive, beautiful, high-gloss finish at some point. Ah well. I'm working on it.


This successful bread came after a very unsuccessful try at caraway rye bread that was such a fail that I'm ashamed to even post about it. The whole process worked beautifully, except that in the final rise, it seemed to flatten for some reason. I've never had that happen before, so I have no explanation. I don't want to talk about it.


But in all seriousness, this bread makes me happy. Challah and I have come to a truce, for now. And all of it that was in the house is already gone.

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I have had a lot of difficulty lately with hot cross buns. What an insane notion. A simple sweet bread, which I never normally have issues with, was driving me insane. I don't have a solution as to how or why. The yeast I'm using is completely fine in other recipes, and I'm quite a meticulous and careful baker most of time. And now it is Good Friday, and if there's any time in which I should make them properly, it's now.


The success was in the timing.


Hot Cross Buns


I chose an orange glaze instead of the traditional powdered sugar icing. The tops aren't as nicely browned as I'd like, but still browned. The rise was exactly as I'd like it to be. And wouldn't you know? It was from a Better Homes & Gardens cookbook. Sometimes the easiest recipes are the best ones.


Next time I'd do it by hand instead of the stand mixer. The recipe calls for using the stand mixer, and since I've failed with hot cross buns twice this spring, I didn't dare stray from the recipe for fear of a third time. But as much as I love my KA, it pulls and tears the dough in a way I don't like, especially for forming rolls later. Maybe this upcoming Easter sunday would be a good time. And also, I'll be using currants instead.


But for now, I'm just glad they (finally) turned out.

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I made up this type of bread, hence the bizarre name.


Lately I've been baking almost every day. But today, I made a frittata for supper (with the help of my sister-in-law) and we used up the ten eggs that were in the house. It somewhat limited my options for bread, though there are plenty of bread without them, I know. But I was also limited on time.


I used the Tassajara recipe for "French-style bread," which I've had a lot of success with in the past. I decided to add poppyseeds. About 1/3 cup of them. Why? I happen to have an excess of them in the house, for one, and secondly I've always been curious why I hardly see savoury breads featuring poppyseeds, except in the case of topping.


I found out why.


French Poppyseed Clovers


First of all, this bread is very pretty. I made them into clovers by shaping them into three balls and putting them in two greased muffin tins (again, my sister-in-law sped up the process by helping). The texture is quite lovely in terms of the crumb and there was nothing wrong with the rising, etc. But I think the poppyseeds were a mistake.


They seem to adopt a strangely salty taste in the dough, and don't add much in terms of flavour besides that. I'm trying to imagine in what situation I could eat these, and I can't really see it. Beside a soup? That's stretching it.


In any case, with my father-in-law visiting (did I mention I have a lot of family around right now?), they will disappear anyway. He will eat any of my breads, whether or not they succeed. As he said when he ate some of my "meh" hot cross buns, "Keep on failin.'"


In conclusion, this might have been fine had I resisted the urge to be weird and put in poppyseeds. Lesson learned. Next time I'll save them for the ridiculously amazing recipe for poppyseed pastries I have.

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I have recently taken up the role of assistant manager at the coffee house where I work. It's a job I wanted and I enjoy thus far, but the initial stress can be slightly overwelming. Bread baking has becoming a pacifier, a soother.


So I tried this recipe. It was recommended to me in one of the forums here, and true to the recipe's claim, it was amazing.


Ciabatta


The crust was absolutely unreal. While I love and appreciate crusty breads, I enjoy breads that have a softer but chewy crust, and it delivered with a creamy interior. No need for butter, though it wouldn't hurt. It might benefit from olive oil. I made the version that allowed for some semolina flour, which might make a difference in the flavour. I baked it on a preheated stone and sprayed water on the interior of the oven. The recipe indicates that the dough had to triple in size in 2.5 hours. Mine tripled in just under 2.


While it turned out fairly well for my first true ciabatta (I've made my fair share of fake, Americanized versions - see Betty Crocker), it wasn't without its flaws. One of the four loaves developed a giant air bubble and as a result, it was completely hollow. I suppose I could have stuck a sausage in there and pretended it was meant to be that way. I also wished for a darker crust, but I shouldn't complain too much. As I say, I'm entirely happy with the crumb for the most part and certainly the taste. I'll give it another go and be sure to expell more gas next time.

Gross.

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honeymustard

I have recently taken up the role of assistant manager at the coffee house where I work. It's a job I wanted and I enjoy thus far, but the initial stress can be slightly overwelming. Bread baking has becoming a pacifier, a soother.


So I tried this recipe. It was recommended to me in one of the forums here, and true to the recipe's claim, it was amazing.


Ciabatta


The crust was absolutely unreal. While I love and appreciate crusty breads, I enjoy breads that have a softer but chewy crust, and it delivered with a creamy interior. No need for butter, though it wouldn't hurt. It might benefit from olive oil. I made the version that allowed for some semolina flour, which might make a difference in the flavour. I baked it on a preheated stone and sprayed water on the interior of the oven. The recipe indicates that the dough had to triple in size in 2.5 hours. Mine tripled in just under 2.


While it turned out fairly well for my first true ciabatta (I've made my fair share of fake, Americanized versions - see Betty Crocker), it wasn't without its flaws. One of the four loaves developed a giant air bubble and as a result, it was completely hollow. I suppose I could have stuck a sausage in there and pretended it was meant to be that way. I also wished for a darker crust, but I shouldn't complain too much. As I say, I'm entirely happy with the crumb for the most part and certainly the taste. I'll give it another go and be sure to expell more gas next time.


Gross.

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honeymustard

My partner's father and sister are here to visit. They each occupy one of the downstairs rooms that I meticulously cleaned before they arrived, so much so that I drove myself into hand-wringing worry over each minute detail in their rooms. Then the cobwebs in the other corners of the house laugh at me.


Bread calms me down, I think. There's something about nurturing it into life (and--in the oven--subsequently killing it, I suppose, but I don't think about that) that I find calming. I rekindled this years-long love of bread-making while sitting in a cramped hostel room in Taipei right before Christmas.


There was literally no floor space save for a two-by-three foot area where the door swung open in on our tiny apartment. We'd just had our Christmas Day supper. We'd found a hole-in-the-wall restaurant where the owner spoke just enough English and we spoke one or two food words in Mandarin to get across that we'd like chicken soup. He brought us two different kinds. He gave Dave his bowl and said, "Good for man." A minute later, he brought me mine, and said, "Good for woman." He smiled, waited for our reactions. Dave loved his while I didn't like his, and I loved mine while Dave wouldn't touch mine. What a wise man that had served us. He offered us zong: spiced rice with pork wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. The spices were just reminiscent enough of Christmas that I didn't miss the overwhelming bright lights, electronified versions of Christmas carols, or ads delivering guilt trips about not giving your loved ones enough presents. But let's be serious, I didn't miss it anyway.


Chicken Soup & Zong


Besides, I had already gotten all my relatives and friends presents, and now it was my turn. To be there when I first arrived back in Nova Scotia, I ordered the Tassajara Bread book. It seemed only fair that as an amateur bread baker, I have a cookbook focused on bread alone.


I feel selfish, because with that bread book, I gave myself more than I had anyone else on my Christmas list. Breads were springier and lighter, tastier and more beautiful. I felt in control of the bread for once, and I fell in love.


I set about to Google many times thereafter, finding more recipes, wanting to find more people who wrote books like Edward Espe Brown, those who seemed to understand the art much more than Betty Crocker. Eventually I found many sites, and it's almost overwhelming. I'm learning how to make bread all over again.


Poolish Baguettes


So for my first trick, I made poolish baguettes. From this recipe. Schmiechel is not amused because she cannot eat it.


Unamused Schmiechel


But my visitors can eat bread. And they will eat all of it.

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