Thursday, July 16, 2009


No this isn't about that chain famous for pork floss buns which I confess I do enjoy....slathered with butter and topped with your choice of animal floss...a rather good fat and starch fix.

I have been fascinated with bread for a long time and like many of my food obsessions, am thrilled with the idea of making my own. This was why I immediately jumped at the opportunity to sign up for a bread baking course at ISCAHM 2 years ago.

Around the same time, our home kitchen was being renovated and my wife was in a food company, which gave us access to the annual kitchen and food service suppliers' trade show. I admit I am like many men, fascinated by the equipment that is attached to a hobby. Unlike other men though, I would rather go to the annual kitchen and food suppliers' trade show than the annual Trans Show. The time was right to procure a few tools along with my bread obsession - baking pans, an infra red thermometer, a good home oven, mixing bowls, scrapers, a multi-wheel pastry cutter and a compact bread steamer to name a few.

With the equipment and some knowledge, I have since been building the skill. I recall the time when making dough was a frustrating experience. I could never get beyond the mixing stage and my dough barely ever became the homogenous mass it was meant to be. In bread class, I saw the benefit of using a dough hook with a heavy duty mixture and started my own bread projects at home relying on my trusty 5 liter Kitchen Aid. This was all well and good and I did get some consistently smoothly textured, well-formed dough.

As several batches of bread passed on, I slowly realized I could comfortably mix and knead by hand learning to handle and feel the dough.

I found myself using less of the machine and more of my hands.

This became more satisfying and felt closer to all these romantic impressions of an artisan baker's craft. There was a tactile pleasure of the dough forming in my hands as the gluten developed and the mass became more homogenous and no longer its individual ingredients of flour, water, salt and yeast.

As in many pursuits, I typically 'switch off' when I do this, totally immersed in the experience of seeing the salt and yeast disappear into the flour, feeling the flour dampen with water, then form into clumps, seemingly unsure of whether to transform beyond an unruly mass of damp flour rags but finally yielding to the natural compulsion of getting kneaded together, proudly transforming to a pliable, flexible, smooth and homogenous ball of dough, ready for forming or fermentation.

The dough settles and again attains a different character after fermentation, filling with gas where the yeast consumes the sugar which it finds in the starch molecules. Like a different material, the dough becomes soft, feels more fragile but more flexible. It reluctantly gives in to the baker's manipulation, folding or stretching, pinching or rolling. Depending on the type of bread, the dough is left to ferment and balloon with even more gas, is chilled to inhibit or slow down fermentation or is prepared for the oven, for its final transformation.

The oven is, unsurprisingly, a key piece of equipment in the process. Baking the crusty, chewy european type hearth breads require baking temperatures in excess of 500 degrees F....something my old oven could only dream of, barely managing 350 to 400 degrees F and resulting in a bread that was so dense, it would collapse on itself before the crumb could form and the crust could caramelize.

The new oven stood up to this test and fired away in excess of 550 degrees, enveloping the dough in enough heat that transformed it to proud samples of fine breadmaking.

It's a continuous learning experience, this passion for bread-making. It is exciting and, like many of my cooking experiences, relaxing...the prep, making, waiting, baking and, ultimately, the sharing. The bread journey continues.

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