I have always loved bread. Well, love probably isn’t quite a strong enough word. I’ve always been deeply passionate about bread. Eating it, kneading it, watching the beautiful proofed boules swell in their bowls, and the amazing way the smell of its baking makes any place feel homey and comforting.
Unfortunately, I’ve been a hopeless baker for most of my life; I’ve turned out an embarrassing number of doorstops over the years, which my friends and relatives ate anyway, bless them. In college my mom gave me a bread machine, which I used faithfully for ten years before I had my first real bread breakthrough: the famous New York Times No-Knead Bread Recipe. Combined with what I’ve learned from rearing my sourdough starter, I’ve finally gotten a little bit smarter about bread, come to understand what a dough should feel like, how it should look as it rises, how not to force all the little bubbles out when shaping a loaf.
This year, after visiting a friend whose husband is really into baking (like “takes professional-level classes at the Culinary Institute of America” into baking), I came back home with a burning urge to level up in bread. My Christmas wish list this year was half books, and half baking equipment from King Arthur Flour: red SAF yeast, a proper banneton, and a copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day — a wonderful primer on wet-dough, long-fermentation breads, written for novice bakers. [Thanks, Brian! I promise I will gift your family with much better bread from now on!]
Yesterday I went out and bought a baking stone and a “peel” (kitchen hack: I subscribe heavily to Alton Brown’s theory that the only unitasker in your kitchen should be your fire extinguisher, so my “peel” is actually a rimless cookie sheet that I can use for other purposes — and it’s the exact same size as the baking stone, so if I proof the loaves on it, I know it’ll fit on the stone. Look at me bein’ SMRT.) so that I can finally move away from the Dutch Oven method of baking my loaves. Not that it hasn’t been great, but I’m limited to what I can plop down into the pot, which means no shaped loaves or baguettes.
I also bought one more book to use alongside Five Minutes — Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Bread Every Day. I was intimidated by Reinhart’s earlier book, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice when I took it out of the library a few years ago, but this one seems pretty rudimentary, which is good for me. I figure that between those two books I should be able to teach myself the artesian bread basics.
I started last night with Reinhart’s pain a’lancienne, and holy dang his dough-kneading techniques are complete magic. I can tell already that this is going to be the start of a beautiful project. The next thing I want to do is the Five Minutes OMGORGEOUS pain d’epi. Seriously, is that not the most beautiful bread ever?
Who knows? Maybe in a year or two I’ll be ready for the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge!