Monday, May 13, 2013


Ask me, at any given moment, what I want to eat and there's an excellent chance I'll say bread. I love bread. Were I forced to give up every other food in the world save one, that one would be bread. Bread is also somewhat of a nemesis. I believe that the standard serving size of bread is one loaf. I believe bread is a meal. I believe bread is an inalienable right. These beliefs are the enemy of a trim waistline and a diet sufficient in nutrients.

So bread and I have lurid affairs. We meet secretly and occasionally. We are passionate in our time together knowing that it can't last. Often I don't even dress bread up with toppings but will devour it unadorned. When we are apart, I am mightily tempted by bread, even mediocre bread, but I stay my hand knowing that bread and I will be together again soon. I play favorites with bread and am, while polyamorous, discerning.

I have made a bread from time to time, but given my propensity for entire-loaf-consumption, don't make a habit of it. Yet even the best of intentions get tested. My mother wanted a baguette pan for mother's day and it seemed silly to just buy one while Amazon was already delivering to my house. I've never made a baguette, so the prospect was interesting. I do like eating baguettes...

I was all set to make a plain white version when the same bad influence mother pointed me to the 20% wheat version profiled in The New York Times Magazine earlier this year. Since I happened to have wheat flour in the house, I figured what the hell. The recipe couldn't have been simpler and the dough quickly took shape. A half hour or so in the oven nestled soundly in the baguette pan and there were three tiny loaves ready for the sharp-toothed embrace of my mouth.

The verdict? For a loaf I whipped up in a minute in my house with a conventional oven? Pretty good. But there is much room for improvement. I'll start with the flavor. When I have a wheat bread, I enjoy a little something extra: malt, honey, molasses, something to highlight the wheatiness. Since this recipe had all of 4 ingredients (5 if you count water), this extra oomph was absent. My next iteration will likely try adding one of the above. Fearing overcooking, I likely took this out of the oven 4 or so minutes too soon. The bottom crust is perfect, the top crust a little too pliable. This bread isn't quite white and isn't quite wheat and I think I'd prefer one or the other. I think if one made this recipe with 5% wheat flour instead of 20%, the result would be a nice, slightly complex white. I'm also debating beginning my own sourdough starter. These are not good thoughts as they imply more bread.

Like any good affair, though, the key is to not make mistakes that could lead to discovery - where discovery in this case is 15 pounds of additional stomach attributable solely to bread. If bread and I are to continue our assignations, we must moderate. This means that either a lot of leftover bread is headed to the freezer or everyone in my neighborhood is about to find homemade bread bundles on their doorsteps.

Not-Quite-Whole-Grain Baguettes from Mark Bittman, New York Times

100g whole-wheat flour
400g all-purpose flour
10g salt
6 instant yeast

Add the above to a food processor and turn on - slowly add up to 1.5 cups of water until the dough comes away from the sides (and looks like dough), then keep the machine running another 30 or so seconds.

Transfer the dough to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap while it rises over the next 3 hours (the colder your room, the longer you may need - mine rose over 4 hours).

Divide the dough into thirds and shape into rough logs, then cover your logs with a towel for 20 minutes (very lightly flour your work surface if needed).

Roll the dough into more baguette-shaped configurations and put them in your baguette pan and let sit for a half hour. Use this time to preheat your oven to 465.

Slash the tops of the loaves (next time I will do one long cut down the middle as opposed to many short ones for aesthetics) and bake until a thermometer inserted in the loaves reads 210. Cool on a rack (but not for too long since you know you want to break off a warm piece and start eating).

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