Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Mexican Beer and French Bread

I was a counter person for my first real job. I would wake up at 6:oo A.M. and walk a half-mile to get to Wildflour Baking Co. on Sierra Madre Blvd here in Sierra Madre. I'd put the hot danish and croissants onto the trays, and make the coffee. The French artisanal baguettes and loaves going into the giant ovens at around 9 o clock. Every other afternoon, I'd have to help form the loaves of bread for the next two days. One person weighs them out on a scale, the other shapes the loaf, places it in a basket where it's going to sit overnight in the fridge. I never got to be a baker there, but I got to handle my fair share of bread, and so I started baking it from scratch.

On Monday night, I went to a birthday party potluck in Altadena and brought some French rolls that I made late in the afternoon. The invitation said it was a BYOB. I only had enough money for gas, and so I made a poor man's offering, while Chason bought a 12-pack of Negra Modelo. We both brought the same thing, just in different forms.

The rolls turned out delicious. I minced a few springs of rosemary and threw it into the flour mixture along with the coarse sea salt, to make for a tastier, more subtle flavor.

Yesterday I took on the bread again! This time I added a little cardamom. I use Julia Child's recipe as a springboard, from her book "Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol II."

Cardamom Loaves

1 cake of yeast
(what I have)
2 1/4 tsp Fleischmann's Active Dry Yeast
1/4 warm water (about 100 degrees F)
1 tsp sugar for proofing

Dissolve yeast into warm water. Add sugar to mixture. If it doubles in volume and becomes foamy in ten minutes, the yeast is active and ready to go.

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, taking care to loosely scoop, and level off with a knife
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cardamom powder
1 1/4 cups tepid water

Mix yeast and water into flour mixture, and begin to cut the liquids into the flour with a bench knife. If you don't have a bench knife, use a rubber spatula.

Many others have tried to do what I tried to do. Check out their story.

After the first kneading process, which takes about 15 minutes by hand, when the gluten molecules are bonded at the dough is 'springy,' the bread is left to rise in a bowl for 3 1/2 to 5 hours. Covering the dough in plastic wrap, and the bowl covered with a folded towel. Make sure it's at around 70 degrees, nowhere that's too drafty. Wait until it has tripled in volume. Dough can be left to rise overnight in the fridge, which takes about 9 hours. Perfect for making Friday or Saturday night before you go to bed for the next day's dinner.

In my case, I started the dough at 10:45 a.m., and punched it down at 3:30 p.m., so I did Julia justice. This time you knead the dough for about five minutes, pinching out any gas bubbles in the dough.

I let it rise for another 1 1/2 to 3 hours, at which point it had doubled in volume. I was supposed to wait until triple volume, again, but I was running out of time. I cut the dough into three, and formed them into demi-baguettes.

From the formed stage, they're supposed to rise another 1 1/2 hours and double in volume, but I let them settle for 30 minutes before going in the oven. Can you guess which one I formed first?

In the end I was happy. I cracked one open and slapped some SmartBalance spread on it. The resulting bread was slightly dense and a little yeasty, but that was the price to pay for using the proportions of yeast+flour. Come to think of it, when I do it again, I'll either decrease the yeast amount or make sure I have the time and equipment (canvas, cornmeal, razor for slashing the loaves) to make the bread the way Madame Julia intended it.

By the way, I haven't seen Julie and Julia yet, but I'm very excited. I imagine I will cry bouillabaisse tears of joy.

Cheers for beers,

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