Getting Lost in the Process
Before I say anything that's going to totally appall some people and actually offend other people, I want you all to know that I really love this site, and seeing all your creations and reading about your experiences has inspired me to try many new delicious things. Thank you all!
I want to talk about the recipes and the methods used to turn flour into bread. And I really don't care whether you call it a recipe, a formula, or a percentage. What I care about is whether or not it will hold some butter without making a mess. And I also don't care if you measure by volume or weigh each ingredient to the micro gram with a digital scale. I personally use the measurements "some", "a little", "a little more" and "a couple handfuls". But's that just me.
I am fully aware that there's a world of different flours, yeasts and other ingredients available. I don't know what kind of wheat my generic white flour is made of. I don't care if the yeast came out of a packet, off of a block or was harvested wild in field of rye. I care if the yeast I have will make my bread rise.
And it doesn't matter to me if you knead it, slap it, or fold it so long as it gets to the consistency you need it to be.
And it really doesn't matter to me if it rises in a warm spot or a cold spot so long as it rises. I also don't care if it's in a bowl, a basket, or a pan, or wrapped in linen. And shape away to your hearts content. Baguettes, batards, boules, loaves, rolls, flat, tall, round, square, scored, washed, sprayed, sprinkled, or dusted. Remember, my main goal is to have a tasty product which will hold butter without making a mess.
And when it comes to baking, it doesn't matter to me if it's a commercial professional grade oven, wood fired, electric, gas, indoors or outdoors, if it gets hot enough to bake your bread in somewhere between twenty minutes and two hours, I'm good with it. And it's immaterial to me whether you cook it in a pan, on a stone, with some steam, with some lava rocks, if it's baking, you've done good!
I have a friend who bakes and follows recipes to the letter. The EXACT letter. He will call you to ask the specific farm the grain for the flour came from. He will want to know what the ambient humidity in his kitchen needs to be. He's going to want to know what the temperature of the stone needs to be and exactly how much steam he needs to generate.
He's got an awesome set up, if there's anything in the oven his kitchen resembles an intensive care unit in a state of the art hospital. He can hook up to eight probes into whatever is baking and measure external and internal temperatures, pressures and humidities. He can tell you that in his oven the back left top corner is seven tenths of a degree warmer than the space in front of the window in the oven door. Amazing things to know, but if it doesn't taste good or hold butter without making a mess, I'm really not interested.
Me: It smells like your bread will soon be done.
Him: No, it's not. The recipe said to bake for one hour and 15 minutes. It's only been 45 minutes, it's not done.
Later, while peering in over door...
Me: Hey, this bread, is really, really getting dark.
Him: No, it's not done, there's still 15 minutes to go.
Ten minutes later
Me: It smells like your bread is burning.
Him: I'll take it out in 5 more minutes.
So in five minutes he gets out to the kitchen, and spends 20 minutes removing probes so that he can open the door and removes a blackened, smoky loaf and announces that this recipe is no good because the bread has been overcooked!
My whole point is that sometimes we can get so caught up in the details that we lose sight of the loaf. So when a newbie asks what's the most important thing you need to start making your own bread, I'm going to say:
Some flour, yeast, water and a little bit of salt...