A damn good knead
After reading a lot about baking bread it can start to sound more like science than baking:
The overwhelming amount of equipment used: cloches, stone baking sheets, banetons, lames, couches, pump sprays, peels, scrapers etc;
The numerous varieties of flours & yeasts, starter recipes, and kneading techniques.
All this and more but having come from a technical background I can handle that, just.
But then, when you start in, the science goes out of the window and bad magic enters. You follow a recipe to the letter, you go as far as using a thermometer to check for correct conditions, you follow all the advice you can find (there’s a lot & it’s often conflicting) and then what comes out of the oven? A concrete cow-pat!
So, thinking you must have missed a trick, you start over and go through the whole process again. You follow the exact procedures again and this time the result is OK.
What changed? The direction of the wind? Thw waxing of the moon? There is no precise answer.
For the beginner there’s certainly great scope for confusion from reading too many books & articles on the subject.
To start off with, quantity measurements for ingredients can trip you up. Units range from cups, teaspoon/tablespoons, fluid ounces, millilitres, grams, dashes, drops, pinches and drizzles & of course US & Imperial weight systems.
Then there’s yeast: There are currently 3 kinds available here in the UK.
Easy-blend/Fast-action/Instant/Bread Machine/Rapid Rise. Depending on the recipe it can be called any of these names. Helpfully, this comes in standard 7gm sachets. I weighed the contents of one today: 5gms!
Dried/Regular/Granulated/Active dry. Apparently this has to be dissolved or proofed before use but I’ve seen recipes where either this isn’t mentioned or it’s stated that it’s not necessary. Proofing directions also differ in that it either has to froth madly or that just a few bubbles will do. Some say just add water, others say add sugar too.
Fresh/Cake/Compressed. Not easily obtainable in the UK. Some say dissolve it, others not.
Recipes use either of these yeasts but to convert from one to the other by weight is not always straightforward. It depends on how much flower is in the recipe apparently.
Here are a few nuggets of advice I found:
- “Fresh yeast is commonly sold in .6 ounce ‘cakes’ which are equivalent to one 7 gram package of active yeast”.
- “The size of a block of fresh yeast can vary depending on the supplier”.
- “If you encounter a recipe that calls for fresh cake yeast you can easily substitute instant yeast by dividing the weight of the cake yeast by 3”.
- “2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast = 1 pkg. active dry or RapidRise Yeast = 1 cake fresh yeast”.
- “1 teaspoon instant aka instant active dry = 1-1/4 teaspoons active dry or 1-1/2 teaspoons fresh cake yeast”.
- “For 1 packed tablespoon/0.75 ounce of cake yeast use 2 teaspoons instant yeast or 2-1/2 teaspoons active dry”.
- “10g of fresh yeast = 1 teaspoon of dry yeast”.
- “1 ounce of active dry yeast equals: 10 teaspoons (tsp) in active dry yeast”.
- “Active dry can be used at 50% of the weight of fresh yeast and instant dry can be used at 40% of the weight of fresh”.
Oh, I forgot to add an essential piece of equipment to the list: a calculator!
Personally, I much prefer to stick to grams, partly because my scales don’t cater for spoons and it’s kinda neat that that 100ml of water weighs 100gm.
However, none of the above helps me to bake a decent loaf so I’ll just keep practicing until I can casually toss about 500gm of flour, some water, a pinch or two of salt and roughly enough yeast into a bowl and start mixing & kneading, because that’s what I like most about this bread malarkey: a damn good knead.