Last night I celebrated a much needed victory.  After my lackluster bread-bowls this past weekend I was feeling…well, less than successful in my baking quest.  I knew I had a good dough, I knew I had made some elementary mistakes, but I knew that my shaping needed work. 

When I arrived home last night I got to work doing two things. 

1.  Make a great looking Boule

2. Practice my focaccia-making skills

I failed miserably in the boule-making deparment.  I even watched a really great bread forming video on You Tube (thanks The Fresh Loaf!).  The fabulous baker, Ciril Hitz, author and instructor at Johnson & Wales, gives a quick tutorial on how to form some basic bread forms. 

Shaping Video

The video and tutorial were great and I even set up my laptop on the kitchen counter to follow along but found that the surface I was working on (large wood board) and the surface he was working on (countertop?) created totally different results.  I could not get my boule to look anything like his, so I tried for the next best thing and created a pretty darn handsome baguette.   Sure, it was still a little bulgy in places, but for my second attempt I was still pretty happy.

My real triumph was my very first focaccia!  It, also, wasn’t without it’s difficulties and imperfections. For example, I began reading the wrong recipe and didn’t realize that I had to shift the dough to a cookie sheet covered in parchment paper until I already had the spices and cheese on top of it.  So I stood there with 3 spatulas trying to move it with as little tearing and dripping as possible off my wood board and onto the parchment paper.  But, once there and into the oven it went our apartment was filled with amazing smells.

I took about a pound of my new olive oil dough, rolled it into a ball and then used my hands to push and pull it outwards, pound it down, into an almost square shape.  Once done I drizzled a little olive oil on the top and then sprinkled with garlic powder, rosemary, and grated parmesan cheese.  Into the oven it went after sitting out for 20 minutes and after baking for 25 minutes out it came. 

The final product tasted fabulous!  None of the flavors overpowered the others, the dough was chewy and soft, like a thick crusted pizza, and now I cannot wait to try other toppings.  And next time I’ll make more dough as this one focaccia seemed to use half of the dough I had made.  If I make these into gifts I’ll need a lot more dough.


And Now, A Little Something Personal

So I bake.  So what.  Some random person out there in New England is baking in her apartment.  Yeah? And? 

It’s not just about baking.  It’s about life.  I’m out here, struggling with my weight, struggling with family issues, struggling with money, and enjoying my first year of marriage.  But who am I?

That is a story for my memoirs…yeah right.  In short, I’m an over-weight, 32 year old, executive assistant with a bachelors degree, married to a woman, and is currently estranged from her parents. 

With the new year starting I think about all the years I made resolutions and blew them off.  Last year was no exception.  However, this year we have real goals, immediate goals.  This is the year, THE YEAR!  We will start a family, we will pay down debt, we will get more active, we will take steps to realizing our dream of owning our own coffee-shop and bakery.   Personally, I will try to make better food decisions.  More salads and less steak.  I will try to add meditation back into my routine.  I will try to read all the books I’ve bought that have sat on shelves, made moves almost across the country to stay by my bedside, just in case!  I will try to keep our apartment clean, not just on weekends.  I will try to be a better wife, more listening, more giving, more understanding.  I will stop being a peacekeeper, giving in and compromising just to keep everyone else happy.

Does any of that sound familiar? 

And currently, besides all that, I’m baking.  I’m not great at it, I’m perhaps passable.  My loaves are lumpy, my baguettes are bulgy, and my boules are ballooning.  But I’ll get there, and this time I won’t give up and add this to my long list of resolutions that I don’t keep.

What resolutions are you making this?

The Great Bread-Bowl Caper, Part 2

What a fiasco!  So I spent most of Friday cleaning and prepping, running errands and then crashing in order to be ready for Saturday’s 2nd Christmas.  We had 9 people scheduled for dinner, all hearty eaters, and I needed to make sure my bread-bowls came out great.  I set up three batches of dough, one from earlier in the week and two new ones.  Seeing those three large containers of dough in my fridge was a thing of beauty. 

Saturday morning began with a frenzy of activity.  I immediately set up my two baking stones in the oven, a pan at the very bottom for the steam bath, and began to pull chunks of dough out and form them into balls.  However, using the first and oldest batch of dough turned out to be difficult as it had these hard lumps in it.  Not good.  Unsure if that meant the dough went bad or not I opted for safety (would hate to give my family and friends food poisoning on a holiday weekend) and tossed the whole batch and made a new one.  No biggy, right?  I had two more batches of dough and the new batch only needed about 2 hours to rise.  By the time the first two groups of bowls were finished baking I figured the new batch would be ready.  The trouble came in that I realized I had now run out of yeast so if I needed to make another batch I was out of luck.

Then it all went down-hill.  Despite my best efforts and plenty of flour my dough boules were sticking to the pastry board, they were sticking to the pizza peel despite plenty of cornmeal, and once in the oven and happily cooking they began to expand in all the wrong places.  ACK!  I knew I’d need to make a few extra to be on the safe side I sent my wife off to purchase more flour and yeast.  Run!  Fetch!  Hurry!  Thanks!

So, in my frazzled state I reset the oven too high and when I checked on my second batch of bread I saw that the tops were starting to brown quite a bit.  I resolved the issue but then noticed an slight burning smell.  The cornmeal!  I hadn’t dusted off the excess cornmeal from the first batch and it was now burning on the pizza stones.  I couldn’t open the windows (old building and old windows) so I turned on the ceiling fan and began to grab the pizza stones, take off the bread bowls, and dust off the cornmeal.  Unfortuntely, in my attempt to do this quickly and smoothly I caught my arm on one of the racks and now have two lovely burns.  War wounds! 

So once the second batch was once again in the oven and cooking my sweety arrived home with flour and yeast and I made another batch of dough to be on the safe side.  My second batch of bowls looked no better than the first, but this set of three were much browner and slightly tougher.  Determined, I set up my next batch when my sweet wife reminded me that it was her turn and she needed the oven to make the desert.  Ack!  

I took that time to take a shower and to try to relax.  It was just my family and our dear friend after all.  I wasn’t trying to win a contest.  I was only up against my own expectations.  Well, in my cool, reserved new attitude I went back and threw on another batch, completely forgetting my steam bath because the pan was no longer at the bottom of the oven to remind me.  My wife had used it for her desert.  Oy.   The last batch was easiest and I had, in fact, needed ALL my dough, every last ounce.  The results were not ideal.  Some lopsided, some over-cooked, the crusts varied, the crumbs varied, but I had 11 passable bowls.  Then our friend Rob arrived and I began the stew.  

Rob, being a bread maker himself, made sweet comments about how great everything looked and smelled, oohed and ahhed profusely over my bread bowls.  And while everything simmered we watched cooking shows and chatted, Rob napped for 20 minutes (he had been driving all week and was exhausted), and then the rest of the night went off without a hitch.  The bread bowls were a hit.  As expected people gorged themselves on appetizers and snacks so by the time the stew came out no one was hungry enough to really dig into the bread…which I guess was a good thing considering I tried mine and despite the stew soaking into it was still quite hard. 

So, all in all it wasn’t a huge success but it wasn’t a disaster.  The bowls got made, some got eaten, everyone was impressed, and I learned a lot about baking.  Rob had a few bread-bowl making pointers that I will definitely take into consideration the next time.

In the meantime my fridge is empty of dough, all having been used up Saturday night.  I think now is the time to try my hand at the Olive Oil dough recipe.  Still haven’t figured out why my poll isn’t showing up, so if you have thoughts about what kind of focaccia I should try, let me know!  Comment!