Saturday, April 1, 2017

Bread-Making Equipment (with occasional remarks on technique)

Compared to photography, or opera, or boating, bread-making is a pretty inexpensive hobby. Nevertheless, there is a somewhat dizzying array of implements available to help (and sometimes hinder) you, all available in a vast range of prices.  Many of the implements have fancy French names, and come to think of it, if you figure it on a per-fancy-French-name basis, bread-making must be about the cheapest hobby there is.

This post describes the equipment I have settled on at the moment as most helpful for me, with some comments. In the spirit of full disclosure, the products below have links to Amazon. If you use those links I will get a modest rake-off. If it's just as easy to use them that's great, but please don't feel obligated or pressured.  King Arthur Flour also sells a lot of equipment and is very much worth supporting.

I have divided the post into sections: "can't live without it," "use it but could live without it," and "own it but don't use it."

Can't Live Without It

Top of the list for "can't live without it" is a digital kitchen scale, as I have previously noted at length. If I were going to buy one today, I would get a Jennings CJ4000, as recommended by thesweethome.com, about $26 on Amazon as of this writing.  You can get a good scale for cheaper, but this one claims to go down to half-gram accuracy, which is helpful if you want to measure yeast or spices by weight.

You need to mix your dough and let it rise ("bulk fermentation"). If you do both in the same container there is less to clean up, always a plus in my book! I use a Cambro 6-quart round translucent polypropylene bucket (or "food storage container" as they call it). For any Europeans who might be reading, you can see that a quart is slightly less than a liter.

 Cambro 6-quart round translucent polypropylene
Every word of that description is significant

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Making Bread with Natural Leavening (Sourdough Starter) Needn't Be Complex or Time-Consuming

OK, let's get a few things out of the way.  I don't really like to call bread made with natural leavening "sourdough" because a lot of people immediately turn off, saying, "I don't like sourdough bread."  Naturally leavened bread doesn't necessarily taste sour. The phrase "naturally leavened" is a little leaden and pedantic, so I instead favor the French word "levain," which sounds pretentious and, uh, pedantic. Oh well, "You pays your money and you takes your choice," as they say.  "Starter" works pretty well when it's not ambiguous.

Here are the top six reasons why I bake bread using natural leavening, in rough order of importance:

  1. It tastes better.
  2. It tastes better.
  3. It tastes better.
  4. It stays fresh longer.
  5. It is healthier (lower glycemic index).
  6. It seems amazing and delightful to me that the only store-bought ingredients in my bread are flour and salt. The water comes from the tap and the yeast comes from the starter, and ever-renewable resource.
So if the first objection is "I don't like sourdough," the next set of objections seems to be that baking with starter is intimidating because it is complicated and time-consuming. I would say: It can be, but it doesn't need to be.  Here's what works for me. It does add an extra step or two, but it's worth it.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Helpful Books on Bread Baking

tl;dr (that's internet for "executive summary"): If you want to make really good bread with minimal effort, go for Jim Lahey. If you want the next step after that, so you can make great bread with a bit more effort, go for Ken Forkish.

This post discusses some of the bread books I've used, and the pluses and minuses I've found. I hope it's of interest to you, and if you decide to buy any of them I hope you'll use the links here, because Amazon says they will give me a small kickback.

My aunt, Barbara Walker, taught me to make bread when I was about eight, in her kitchen in Ossining, NY.  I probably made it a couple of times and then stopped, but I remember unearthing the recipe one Christmas maybe three or four years later and making bread for all my friends and dropping off loaves at their houses. Apparently after that I was known to my friend Margy's grandparents as "the boy who made the bread."  There was kneading, and rising, and punching-down, and a bunch of stuff to do.