Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Art of Baking Bread - by Lily

My friend got me interested in bread baking recently. Who wouldn't love a fresh loaf of bread first thing in the morning? So I got myself a brand new bread machine as a Christmas “treat”. It has dual blades with option of self-programmable process. I was eager to try it out.

My first loaf was done during the day because I wanted to watch the process and make sure the machine functions well. I followed the French bread recipe, my sons’ favorite, and the bread turned out very well, crusty outside and soft and chewy inside. Then I started to set up the machine at night time and program it so we can have freshly baked warm bread ready for breakfast. The first try turned out all right, a bit dense than the first loaf I made. I figured it’s because the liquid wasn’t warm so the yeast action was slow. I increased the time for kneading and rise and the second try turned out perfect. To wake up in the morning in the aroma of freshly baked bread is just heavenly.

Then I started being creative, adding different spices and trying different flavors. Things went awry. My bread was still good to eat but it was either too dense or having a gnarly top. This is like failed experiment, very frustrating, and I am determined to get it done right.

Saturday afternoon while I was browsing in the library, I realized that I should get a book on how to make bread. There were plenty to choose and I picked one with pictures and detailed explanation on techniques. Of course the book is about making bread by hand, not the quick and easy machine made bread. But the explanations on the action of each ingredient and the purpose of each step are very helpful. Each type of flour and yeast has its own trick, the amount of salt and sugar all matters, even the type of water makes a difference. I guess I didn’t fully understand the function of each ingredient before I started fooling around with the recipe, a big no-no in doing experiment! And with bread machine working overnight you don’t have the option to adjust the amount of flour or water during the process; the machine won’t wait extra five minutes for the bread to proof better if the yeast action is slow. So everything has to be fairly precise.

“Drooling” over the pictures of various delicious breads I also realized there is a big difference between wanting and liking to do something and mastering and perfecting it! It is the consensus that the bread made by hand kneading is the best. But how to knead the dough, how to fold it, how to recognize the texture of the dough at each step, all of these matter and all of these take experiment and practice to perfect. I guess I’ll have to wait until I retire to master that skill. For now, I’ll focus on getting a perfect loaf out of my bread machine every time (preferablyJ).

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