Hello from CT
My name is Sonya and I joined this forum a couple of months ago and have been lurking, learning and absorbing lots of great information from everyone here!
I currently live in eastern coastal CT (Mystic) and shortly after moving here in '07, decided to take the plunge into baking yeast breads. I was lucky enough to have a mom that baked all of our bread - no Wonderbread graced our kitchen ;). I remember helping her with kneading and shaping of the loaves and rejoicing when the fresh bread would come out of the oven, with its unmatched wonderful smell. I've been really into cooking and baking (quick breads) for much of my adult life. And my first job in a small cafe back in high school gave me my first exposure to the wonders of chewy, crusty French baguettes. For years after, I would occasionally have bread that good in a restaurant but could never find any baguette worth calling itself that in the grocery store bakery, and I never knew why. At the time, it never occured to me to try and make my own. For some reason, I always had the idea that yeast breads were either difficult and/or time-consuming to make, so I never ventured down that path even though I had purchased packets of yeast on a couple of occasions while living back in AZ...good intentions that never materialized, alas!
After relocating from northern AZ and a radical career change that allowed me to work from home, I decided to try some yeast breads. I used what books I had at hand: Joy of Cooking and The Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook. I was able to produce very good breads, mostly whole-grain sandwich loaves, that were, of course, superior to anything purchased in any grocery store bakery. Last year, I came across a bread baking book at Borders - it was on the breads of the world and had lots of fantastic pictures in addition to recipes. It was only $5, so I had to get it. There was a recipe for French baguettes using a sponge - something I'd never come across in the other books. So, I tried it. The resulting bread was as good as any baguette I'd had in a restaurant and approaching what I remembered coming from La Boulangerie (the bakery we'd buy our baguettes from in Tucson) - chewy, airy and full of flavor. The guests we had for dinner that night also raved about the bread...and that was the beginning of my quest to make better bread. I'm always one to tinker and experiment with recipes anyway, and I started doing that shortly after I started baking breads. I had some failures along the way, mainly because I followed the directions in the recipe too faithfully and didn't rely more on my experience as to what had worked (note to self: never bake any yeast bread at temps below 400 deg., regardless of what the directions say).
I found Dan Leader's Bread Alone in a used bookstore a few months ago, and while it's a bit repetative as far as the recipes go, it nontheless taught me a lot and I was able to produce even better breads using his techniques. After reading the reviews on amazon.com and this forum, I knew I had to get some more bread books, so I checked out the BBA at our local library. Wow! For a science nerd like me, the use of formulas and detailed discussions of enzyme action and the effect on flavor and gluten production was right up my alley.
I recently got a part-time job at a local gourmet cheese shop/bakery/cafe here in Mystic: The Bleu Squid. It helped get me out of the house, gave me a steady paycheck (not always something that happens when you're self-employed as an artist) and allowed me to expand my culinary skills. This weekend, Olde Mistic Village (where our shop is) is hosting its first Garlic Festival. In preparation, we decided to offer roasted garlic & cheese pizzas. I was responsible for the recipe and making the pizzas, and I used the Neopolitan recipe in the BBA, modified using ~1/3 whole wheat flour like I do at home, for our pizzas. Using his bakers formula, and not knowing what to expect as far as the festival went, I did calculations for 10-lbs. of dough. The pizza was a huge success - we sold out of all 10 pizzas we baked, and people were apparently raving about how good they were. It's all in the crust, baby! It felt great, esp. as an amateur baker, to have contributed to the success of our day yesterday - we had near record-breaking sales with the variety of garlic goodies we offered, along with our regular menu and bakery items.
If anyone lives in the area, the Garlic Festival is going on today from 11-3 p.m. It's right off Exit 90 on I-95. Or, if you're in the area, stop in some time and say "hi" to myself or Connie (the owner/baker)! You can come check out our artisan cheese that will go GREAT with your artisan bread, and maybe have "The Best Grilled Cheese Sandwich in the Universe" while you're at it. The cheesecake brownies and mixed berry crumbcake are awesome as well.
Long, rambling intro - sorry! I type fast, so that tends to happen. I look forward to learning more, pushing my baking and culinary skills and sharing anything of interest that I can with the folks here.
Cheers and happy baking,