So last month I checked the ebook of BREAKING BREAD: A Baker’s Journey Home in 75 Recipes by Martin Philip because I heard it had some excellent sections on bread-baking technique. It does, though I’m not sure how easily I can apply them to recipes from my other bread books.
I actually skipped over most of the text in Philip’s book. A lot of it is food memoir and I don’t care that much about what food recipes mean to him or the nostalgic feelings he has when cooking his family’s traditional dishes, etc. (I had a similar problem with Michael Twitty’s The Cooking Gene, though that was a better read). I was reading for the bread directions, nothing more.
Philip’s technique advice is much more rigorous than most bread books. He recommends measuring flour amounts down to the gram rather than by volume, and says water temperature has to be exact. Dough needs a precise temperature to rise best and morph into the best possible loaf: if the ideal temperature is 76 degrees, for example, and your kitchen is at 70 degrees (normal for my kitchen this time of year), you want water at 88 degrees. That’s a lot cooler than I usually use. He favors folding the dough — stretch it up, drop it back in the middle — several times during the initial rising, without much kneading.
I was skeptical, but I must admit the results were impressive. After weeding out several breads with a sourdough starter — I dislike keeping and maintaining starters because I don’t use them that much — I settled on an oatmeal bread. It had a “soaker” which was oats in water, oil and milk, but it was a one-time deal, no starter left on hand afterwards (obviously I could throw out a starter after I’d made the sourdough, but I’m slightly obsessive about not wasting food).
I had to guesstimate the temperature — no thermometer handy — and working with an ebook was frustrating (check recipe steps, flip through to detailed technique instructions, flip back … over and over again. Much easier in hard copy). Regardless, I ended up with a very good-looking and very tasty pair of loaves.Did it taste better than other breads from other books? Not really? Did it taste good? Definitely. And the two loaves rose way more than mine ordinarily do. Not that my loaves are leaden or lifeless, they just don’t rise a lot. Is it just that some loaves don’t rise, or have I been doing it wrong all this time? And if so, which part of Philip’s approach made the difference? I’m guessing it’s either the water temperature or shaping the dough more carefully before the second rising.
If it’s the water temperature, I’m not sure this is a lesson I can apply to other breads. Philip gives a desired dough temperature to shoot for, but my other books don’t do that. At 70 degrees in the kitchen, the right water temperature ranges from 88 to 100 degrees depending on the desired dough temperature. Without a desired temperature to shoot for, I’d be flying blind. Though even 100 degrees is cooler than the water I usually use, so perhaps cooler water will help. Although that flies directly in the face of the usual recommended temperature for yeast, so I’m nervous … but I can proof the yeast in water in advance. If cooler doesn’t work, then I use hotter and try again before adding it to the bread.
If nothing else, the oatmeal bread was great. I copied a couple of the other recipes out; if they work out too, I may just buy the book.