Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Elusive, Perfect Bread Loaf

Monday lunch was pretty good yesterday. I made Navy Bean soup with ham (yup, finally used up the end of the Easter ham), and I thought it was delicious, although I haven't heard back from any of my customers. I must be part Tuscan because I could eat beans almost everyday.... For the before, or after, depending on one's dining pleasure, I also made a green salad with cucumber, sweet onion, Blood Orange, feta cheese and a sherry vinaigrate. Then everyone received a wonderful bread, thanks to A Hunger Artist, made into individual rolls. And for dessert, after much deliberation (more like an incompetent Iron Chef wringing her hands while asking herself what should I make, oh what should I make?), a trifle with chocolate-orange pound cake, triple sec (on the cake), blood orange zabaglione, and whipped cream sweetened with blood orange zest. I could have eaten all that zabablione by myself in one sitting so I gave the extra away. What will power!

About the bread, however. It still didn't have the air pockets, holes, open crumb, or whatever you call it that I want in a bread. It was tasty. And one of my friends said she preferred the white rolls because this bread was a bit chewy. I took that as a great compliment because I've been trying to get some more "chew" in the bread. Everyone else seemed to like it fine, although one person said they couldn't tell the difference. Oh well, we all have our specialities. Anyway, I now have become a bit more obsessive about making the perfect loaf, well, a perfect loaf for my likes, so I turned to some of my cookbooks in an attempt to discover the "hole" problem.

Elizabeth David, one of my favorite food writers (even her cookbooks make delightful reading), proved disappointing only because I couldn't figure out the key word she used for "crumb, holes, or whatever she calls it." This key word bit frustrated me immensely. I must confess that I didn't re-read all of English Bread and Yeast Cookery in my search for air pockets so I imagine that the answer may be in there somewhere. Thus, I somewhat failed myself.

Turning to Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads, I found some descriptions that mentioned those unattainable holes, but, alas, I again found no specific direction. Finally, I picked up Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Bread Bible, and after finally figuring out that, to her anyway, my air holes are referred to as the "crumb," I did find some suggestions and information on why I didn't have the crumb I sought, and how to get it.

With appropriate bibliographic details (Beranbaum, Rose Levy. 2003. The Bread Bible. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. p. 303), I quote the information:

"One of the great challenges of making rustic loaves is producing the type that boasts big holes, such as the baguette, ciabatta, and pugliese. I have found that what produces this desirable crumb is:

> An acid dough (use of a dough starter and long cool rising)
> Underdeveloped gluten (from less mixing time)
> A high water percentage, to create a very wet dough
> A slow rise
> Gentle shaping
> An overnight rise of the shaped dough in the refrigerator."

Well, I have failed in the acid, mixing time, and gentle shaping categories. I think I can correct all of those, but the gentle shaping will be tough. For me, kneading bread dough is rather meditative. Oh well, sometimes change is good. I was especially encouraged by her suggestions when I read that it took her nine tries before she finally achieved the big holes necessary in ciabatta. Okay, I love to eat bread, so nine tries is actually promising....

The Bread Bible is a very good cookbook, but I will be the first to admit that I am daunted by recipes that go by weight. I don't have a great scale, and, I just cannot see those old Italian grandmothers actually weighing their ingredients. It's somehow anomalous to have to weigh ingredients for something that has been successfully made, without written recipes, for hundreds of years. But maybe, just maybe, since I don't have an old Italian grandmother standing over my shoulder, I'll just have to weigh in order to achieve the perfect loaf. I'll let you know what happens when I try again....


peppylady (Dora) said...

Hi I put a search in blogger for "Boundary County Task" and your blog came up and see your from Northern Idaho and had to check out your blog for most part when I run into a Idaho blog.
I don't say much or leave without saying a word.
Not many liberal around here in Idaho.

I haven't made bread in ages but cooking a pot of bean with ham bone.

Stop by at my blog.

Anonymous said...

Can you tell me where you cna purchase blood oranges in Idaho?

Linda/IdahoRocks said...

I believe they're usually at the local grocery stores (Safeway, Western Family) in fall or winter. You can check with your local grocer.