I feel as if I’m getting to the point in my bread-making experience where I’ve done just enough to know how very far I have yet to go before I’m really good at it. I take some small comfort in the idea that, having learned to play the violin as a child, the patience to pursue this slow curve is already trained into my hands. Here’s hoping the muscle memory kicks in as easily as it did when I was ten.
Feeling confident but not yet cocky about my basic country loaf, for try #4 out of the Tartine bread book I decided to mix it up just a bit and do a run of the baguette recipe using the fendu shape (also the version that appears on the cover of the book, I believe). In the end, I got bread alright, and plenty of it, but I also learned a lot of things. While nothing I did destroyed the end product, I think it will be a lot better next time when I mix the initial dough a bit more carefully (myself and my available bowls were overwhelmed by the sheer weight and volume of dough on the table) and, now that I have a a better feel for the flour and crease shape, I think I have a clearer understanding of how to get the correct look from the final loaf. Alas, I’ll just have to do it again. And again. Not to mention start purchasing flour in the large burlap-sack size.
I used to get seriously distressed when recipes didn’t work for me the first time out, and yet I have trouble following instructions to the letter. I learned to play music by ear and I find myself cooking more by picture and smell and feel than by any amount of typed direction. The more comfortable I get in my kitchen, the more value I place on making time to practice and play around with what I’m doing so that I’m actually learning something for the takeaway–risking mistakes for the chance of stumbling onto something more personally satisfying. It doesn’t make the occasional complete failure any less frustrating, but I’m just starting to understand that I’ve been in this place before.
I used to say that bread kneading by hand was a great way to vent stress and anxiety after a long day at the computer. But I have just learned something very important: watching your brand new KitchenAid stand mixer knead that same dough can be just as, if not more, cathartic. After years of insisting that this appliance was just a pricey gadget I could get along without, we have become fast friends and I suspect are unlikely to part ways anytime soon.
Anxious to get things swirling, I mixed up a starter for my usual King Arthur French Baguettes before heading to bed last night. On reflection, however, this recipe didn’t seem quite difficult enough to christen the new arrival. Did I recall a bread recipe that required kneading until “your upper arms are strapless gown-ready”? I did. Unable to waste my already-started starter, New York Deli Rye was simply added to the production docket.
Though I’d never tried out the rye recipe before, the baguettes have been made in this kitchen a few times already. This batch, however, was one of the best I’ve ever turned out. Perhaps less exhausted by the process than normal, I even felt that my shaping and baking were more professional. The spritzing and slashing and even the whole “ice in the cast iron under the loaves” were all accomplished. (In the case of the slashing of my dear baguettes, accomplished poorly, but I’ll keep practicing. When I did the rye, I fared a bit better. I found that it really helps matters to use just the very tip of a razor and say “aaaaand slash” aloud as you work.)
I don’t think the French need be jealous, but the New Yorkers may have something to fear over here in Baltimore. This is some seriously amazing rye bread. I did have to supplement the machine knead with a little old-fashioned counter work to get the dough a bit less sticky (one whole minute!), but I am quite confident that without a mechanical friend to lend a hand, we would never have gotten close.
Smelling pleasantly of yeasty bread, my kitchen is both toasty and full of potential toast! Now then, what can we mix next?