Making bread again, if you can stand it

In the past I have used the Julia Child recipe/method, as well as the Cook’s Complicated, er, Illustrated recipe/method, also that Irish guy Patrick Ryan and more recently I’ve been using the Slovak, Ethan Chlebowski’s YouTube video and recipe/method. I got to thinking about their respective recipes and decided to compare them. So I made a list converting everything into grams so I could be comparing apples to apples. And if you think that that exercise didn’t nearly break my head open, you are mistaken, numbers ugh—even with a computer doing the work. They are all different in their methods and in their recipes. And by that I mean quantities of every component is completely different in each recipe and the methods are wildly different.

So I decided to make my own bastard loaf. Two ingredients from the Cook’s Complicated, diastatic malt which makes the bread brown more deeply (and I happen to have a pound of it and you only use a teaspoon at a time) and a quarter cup of whole wheat sifted to remove bran. I essentially used the Slovak recipe which is the wettest dough but not so different from Julia and I used Julia’s salt quantity and I let it sit in the refrigerator for 2 days which is sort of the Irish guy’s deal. But I think they’d all agree that giving the dough a long cold rise really creates flavor. Or maybe I was creating monster. And it turned out I was!

But it was not the one I might have imagined. I try never to get angry or in any event express myself in anger. Really, anger is useless and so I try to remain as calm as I can when things aren’t working out (Which is not to say I won’t succumb occasionally to hysterical frustration). This, however, was not one of those remaining-calm occasions. As I may have mentioned before, when you have as foul a mouth as I do there is absolutely nothing you can scream in anger that feels equivalent to the situation since I use all those bad words all the time in circumstances not nearly as dire as this.

I was able to get one unblemished loaf out of this fiasco. And even the ones that weren’t prefect were pretty damn good. And home made butter for chrissake.

A recipe follows. I don’t want to put myself up there with the gods of bread I’ve mentioned here but for me this worked better than any of their recipes/methods and to be honest, I just want to have this as a record since I often gasbag on about how fabulous this or that is and then I don’t write the recipe down and it is then lost to the ages.

My French bread recipe/method

500 gr Flour (includes 1/4 cup of whole wheat flour sifted to remove the larger bran)

12 gr Salt

1 packet Yeast

1 tsp Diastatic malt

370 gr Warm water

Add the yeast and a tablespoon or so of flour to the water, mix and let sit

Add the malt and salt to the flour and mix. When the water has formed bubbles of yeast, add and mix the water into the flour. Probably I should have used my hands but I used a wooden spoon. Cover with a towel, not goddam plastic, and let rest 15-20 minutes

—As an aside here I have come to realize that the timing of stuff is super flexible. It’ll be fine but longer is better. Until it sticks to the goddam baking sheet, that is.

At this point I emptied all of it onto the counter and did a little kneading just to incorporate all of the flour and I put the dough in a clean bowl. Cover (I used a silicon cover thing) and let rest for a half hour.

Now comes the gluten production. Take a corner and stretch and fold, make a quarter turn and repeat, do this 4 times total then cover and let rest 25 minutes and repeat 3 times resting between each stretching session.

Now it goes into the refrigerator covered (I will admit to using plastic wrap here, which I reused later) for 48 hours. This seems like overkill but I dunno. I think you gotta do this. You may need to bop this down if it’s getting too big for its britches…I mean bowl.

After that you have to let the dough come to room temp or 65 degrees. I used a thermometer to temp it and it took over 3 hours to do this (Of course it was -5 outside)

When it’s reached 65 degrees you portion it out and shape the loaves. I put mine on that miserable bread pan to which my bread bonded. I had floured it but next time I will spray Pam on it or use parchment strips. Now it needs another long, say 1.5-2 hour rise. I covered it with that same plastic and a linen towel.

Preheat the oven to 475, or 450 on convection. I have aluminum pans with lava rock into which I pour boiling water so the interior of the oven is steamy. And then I cut the loaves and spray them with water like you use when you iron. Oh, like you iron.

Put the loaves in the oven and after 5 minutes turn them around and spray them again. Bake for an additional 15-20 minutes. And then pry them off the pan and let them rest for at least 2 hours.

So now I’m confused

Now that I know that my oven temperature is not right I have to adjust the temperature and, apparently, the time. Picture one at the left is the bread in the oven frantically rising. (The two pans on the bottom rack in the picture are lava rock which gets doused with boiling water to create steam, don’t ask me why this is, I am simply following orders, although not Julia’s) Anyway, I made the oven way hotter to something close to what Julia prefers. And the bread rose in a flash.

It also browned way faster than usual (and unevenly, I must say, for a billion dollar KitchenAid [just sayin’] oven) but in the end the bread was even closer to French bread than any other loaves I’ve managed to accomplish in the past even if it was only in the oven for 15 minutes instead of the usual 25. So I dunno, this is maddening. 

The problem here is that I’ve made it with the wrong temperature many times and the timing was fine now with the right temperature the timing is waaaay off. Where is Julia when I need her?

Slightly less fussy than Jamaican hand pies

But just as good. These are Julia Child’s French cheese tartlets (recette ici). You still have to make and roll out dough which I don’t like so much but at least you just fill the little mini muffin crusts from the top and don’t have to egg wash and pinch them together like you do a hand pie.

Julia’s recipe is sort of easy if you have crème fraîche on hand. I made one batch with crème fraîche and then another but I used sour cream instead. There was no difference at all. I also used some paprika for no real reason since it has no taste. I added chopped muffuletta to some, and olives and capers, bleu cheese to still others.

All of them were really really good.

Thanks again Julia

I am inching closer and closer to real French bread. It isn’t rocket science but it is an equation. Thankfully I’ve become far less agitated when I’m making it. I just saunter into the kitchen like I own the place and Blam, there it goes. Three and a half cups of flour, a packet of yeast, one and three quarters of a cup of lukewarm water and salt. Mix, knead, and walk away.

There’s just nothing to this except the ingredients, a little muscle and time. Well, and heat. I was quite blasé about the bread rising this time and it may have over risen slightly. But the bread was FABULOUS. If I closed my eyes I could see myself in France. Of course, any time I close my eyes I see myself in France in a beret with a red scarf and an insouciant expression on my face as I snap my fingers at the garçon

As luck would have it, I did not have my phone when I cut it open and it was crispy crunchy on the outside and soft and airy on the inside. I am not sure what I did differently this time. But you can bet that I will be doing this again soon minus the snapping of fingers.

Closer and closer

My second attempt at making a French baguette using Julia Child’s recipe and method. It was VERY close. The texture in the interior was a little too dense but much closer than any other attempt I’ve made. I now have the fortitude to soldier on. Just kidding, I’m just plain nuts, ain’t nothing stopping me until I get it right.

I am so sorry Julia

Can you ever forgive me?

I have tried about 40 different ways of making French bread but somehow I never thought to ask Julia Child. She was there all the time. And it was the perfect loaf (almost). Cook’s Complicated indeed. Paul Hollywood, whatever. How did I not come to her first?

That I have not thought to try her recipe and method is astonishing in that I have all of her cookbooks, watch and rewatch her shows. I have read the books she wrote, the letters she wrote (collected in book form), the books written about her. I dream that I meet her and for some reason always thought I would meet her in real life. That did not happen. And I imagine I will not meet Jacques Pepin either. I am sure we’d have been friends. Julia and/or Jacques, I’m not fussy. Well, I am fussy but not about that.

The bread I made was easy enough. Relied on visuals rather than specific times and she explains things in an easy to understand way. It really came out nicely with a crispy crackly crunch like French  bread but the interior, called “the crumb,” was too dense. Not light and airy enough. It was delicious but just a bit off the mark crumb-wise.

There actually are some people I call “the Crumb” but we won’t get into that now.

You can watch her video here. I miss her.

Debone air

Being the optimistic kinda guy I am I have high hopes for Thanksgiving. I went whole hog, so to speak, and bought a heritage breed (Bronze, I think it’s called). It cost $132 (the label says $107 but I had to put a $25 deposit on it. I know. Insane. But, well, free range, organic blah blah blah. Walkin’ the walk.) with the intention of deboning it and stuffing it as I have done a few times in the past.

I deboned it watching the Jacques Pepin/Julia Child video on PBS (which I have bookmarked). This is not as easy as you’d imagine. I had to keep washing my hands to back the video up and watch him effortlessly snap the freakin’ thigh or some goddam thing—I was completely unable to accomplish this by any stretch of the imagination. He just rips the meat and skin off of the carcass like he’s taking off his socks. This is not how it works. Plus he did this in less than 5 minutes. Over hour later I was still trying to locate the yadditti-yah joint or whatever (“eet ees jusht below dee shouldah—do turkey have shoulders?). It was hell. And just an absolute mess. The place was an abattoir. 

In the end, I managed to arrive at the same destination, we were just on different conveyances. He was in a car, possibly a Maserati, I was on foot with only one shoe and there was a pebble in it. It took me an hour and a half.

I rationalize making this much effort because the cooking time without bones is dramatically reduced, carving it is miraculously easy, the presented turkey carved with the stuffing in it is beautiful, and I can use the carcass to make stock in advance. Which I did.

Now, on to grasping the mysteries of the butcher’s knot. (YouTube video) I was never good with knots.

And Happy Thanksgiving.

Cauchemars de poisson…fish nightmares

Fucking Whole Foods. Days before I settled on serving sole meuniere for French class I made a special trip to Whole Foods to make sure they carried it. They did indeed. 

I don’t get exactly high on the idea of fish but I enjoy a culinary challenge. And so, channelling my best Julia Child, I took a deep breath and forged ahead. Unfortunately on the day of the meal when I went to pick up the sole at WF, they were out of it. I asked the fish person what I could use instead of sole, she said, “nothing.” Gee, thanks for the help. The menu was set there was nothing to be done. I bought cod. 

What a mess. It tasted fine but it looked like hell. Julia would have been horrified. I certainly was the next morning when I woke up and the reek of fried fish assaulted me first thing in the morning. 

The pros and cons of making pastry

Oh wait, I can’t think of any pros. I’m not that much of a dessert eater so I could live without pastry. And I certainly can live without making it. Ugh.

Pros: Not too much

Cons: Making it

And while Julia child may be able to patch these damn things up all real nice like. I am not capable of it apparently. Fortunately it will be filled with some chocolate substance and the cracked crust will not be so evident. And pie weights, don’t get me started.