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.


Well, It Looks Ok

I began my journey to bread-bakerydom this weekend and thanks to my spouse’s near-frantic desire to bake banana bread (a success) and two different types of cupcakes (a failure and a success) in our lovely electric oven I did not get a chance to bake my first loaf. 

But the experience of making the dough itself was very enlightening.  I am apparently intimidated by baking.  I sat on the couch reading and rereading the recipe, the instructions, certain I would miss something before I had even started.   We went shopping and picked up the necessary items I would need and when we returned home and unpacked it all I looked at it and thought “wow, am I really going to do this?”  I then sat down again to reread the recipe until it was 7pm and I knew I needed to begin before it was too late. 

It wasn’t so terribly difficult once I got started but I still felt a hesitation when I started measuring out the flour and yeast and water.  There was something comforting in the actual mixing of the dough.  Stirring in warm water to the yeast, adding the salt, mixing again.  Then the flour, cup by cup.  After mixing the dough for about 3 minutes I realized two things. 

1.  The wooden spoon wasn’t going to cut it and I would have to use my hands, and

2.  Their “wet dough” method wasn’t really all that wet.

Without giving away secrets, the basic premise of this “make ahead” dough is that you keep it pretty wet and it will not only stay fresh longer in the fridge but won’t need to be kneaded.  The wet dough wasn’t so much wet as it was….doughy.  There is no other word for it.  It was what I expected a regular bread dough to be like.  I, of course, immediately assumed I had missed a step and reread the recipe yet again.  No, I used all the right amounts of ingredients and did exactly what the book told me to. 

I let it sit for a couple of hours, watched it rise minimally and then into the fridge it went.  According to the instructions it will rise again slightly both when you prepare it and let it sit on the pizza peel for 20-30 minutes and then another rise when you bake it.  I sure hope so because I was expecting something a little more science-fair worthy.  My dough only expanded perhaps a measly 25%.

I let it sit overnight and have been thinking about it since.  I considered making my first loaf last night but, as mentioned before, the kitchen was hijacked by another inspired baker.  I also considered making my loaf this morning, but a night of the spouse talking in her sleep, and a series of bizarre dreams that woke me up continuously, I was not in the mood to leave bed nevermind leave it almost an hour earlier than necessary.

So tonight when I arrived home I set to work.  I dusted and folded and let rise.  I preheated the oven and set up a steam bath, and let my very first little doughy baby bake.  Oh, the delicious smells that wafted.  About 30 minutes later we had victory.  About 20 minutes later we cut in.  Not only was the crust thick and crusty (oh joy!), the inside was dense and moist (mmmmm).  Added a little butter and we could hardly hear ourselves think over them yummy noises and crust crunching.

My final say on my very first bread baking experience?  Oh, I got this!  It is on!  Today was a boule, Wednesday I will try a baguette.  Ooh, la la!