Whoever said, “Man cannot live by bread alone” clearly didn’t live in my house. To that end, I’ve embarked on a series of 3 consecutive weekly classes in bread making, hoping to hone my skills or at the very least make and eat lots of yummy things.
Our first class was Tuesday night. Ten strangers introduced ourselves, commenting on each other’s aprons (the best one: printed with unpronounceable Scottish phrases) and gleaning levels of expertise. We ran the gamut from novice to knowledgeable.
Few things bind people together more than a shared interest; in this case hunger, as the class runs from 6-9 pm and no one had had dinner. As we descended on the snack table – samples of the bread we’d soon be baking – things quickly loosened up.
And then the work began. Abby, our intrepid instructor, handed out sheets of recipes (blue emmer sandwich bread, sourdough and challah) and led us back to the industrial kitchen where we started our first loaf.
First lesson: Measure your ingredients by weight, not volume. Turns out, it’s more accurate since flours vary in density, and it’s easier too. You put a bowl on a scale, set it to zero, and reset it to zero after you’ve added each ingredient. To quote the Monkees, now I’m a believer.
The whole group got down and dirty as we over- or under-loaded our bowls, covered ourselves in flour while dumping it out to re-measure, and got sticky bits of dough in our hair and jewelry. (Note to self: don’t wear a watch.) If you’re a clean freak, this “sport” may not be for you. One tip if you don’t want to keep running to the sink: keep a bowl of extra wheat flour available and rub your hands in it to remove most of the dough.
Then we started kneading. Not only is this a great upper-body workout (3 hours of standing and punching dough should cancel out all those calories, right?), it must be one of the earliest forms of therapy. PINCH! That’s for your annoying neighbor. POUND! That’s for your obnoxious boss. FLATTEN! That’s for every bad relationship you’ve ever had.
We also learned a great trick for preserving your starter if you don’t make bread multiple times a week: Roll some of the sticky starter in wheat flour and keep rubbing until it dries out into a crumbly nub. Abby says it will keep for quite awhile in the fridge (will have to ask how long “awhile” is) until you’re ready to reactivate it.
To keep your starter bubbly and active you’ll have to feed it 1-2x a week. (Starter is a fairly demanding pet but at least it won’t pee in the house!)
Keep it loosely covered in the fridge. A day or two before you plan to bake, dump out about 90% (this takes self-discipline as it seems so wasteful), then add back equal parts water and flour (half wheat/half bread flour) – making at least 130g (1 cup for your recipe plus extra to maintain it). Cover loosely and let it sit out on your counter for 8-10 hours. When the starter gets airy and fragrant, repeat the process.
If you don’t plan to bake for a few days, feed your leftover with more flour than water or dry it out as suggested above.
Exhausted but exhilarated, we left with three batches of dough to bake on our own, plus a dried nub of starter to resurrect. Abby encouraged us to name our starters – hers is Shiva. Since I have a tendency to kill mine on a regular basis, I’m naming him Lazarus.
“Meh” on the blue emmer bread. It was kind of flabby and spongy. A little too much like health food and not enough like “indulgence”.
“Yay” on the sourdough method, although the amount of dough we made was a bit small for my cast iron Dutch oven. And my usual method yields a darker, crisper crust.
“Pretty good” for the challah – I prefer the recipe in the Silver Palate Cookbook. DH says this one reminds him more of a brioche.
Looking forward to this week’s class. Especially the snacks.
p.s. Final tip: Don’t add salt with the rest of your ingredients. Let dough hydrate (aka rest) for an hour and then mix in the salt. Apparently it interferes with gluten production. Did not know that.
[main photo source: pixabay.com]