Bread is no doubt my favorite food. Not plain Jane sandwich bread, but chewy, crusty magical loaves and rolls. Give me a good chewy bagel, a flaky croissant, an airy Italian loaf, a baguette with a crunchy crust and light interior, or a loaf of rustic bread -- thick, chewy and crisp - crackling almost - full of air holes and slightly tart on the inside. Heaven.
I've been making bread for years. I started when my children were babies. I was given a bread machine for Christmas, I think. They were all the rage. I started making all our bread in that machine and by the time it broke down from sheer exhaustion, I was hooked. I never replaced the machine and instead learned to knead by hand. I started with "safe" breads -- white bread, dinner rolls and the like. Then I ventured into bagels and pretzels. I started buying special equipment -- rising bowls, a bench knife -- and ingredients -- flour from King Arthur, good quality yeast and specialty flours. I made sourdough starter. I had some success and some failure but I always had fun.
I love the feel of making bread. Its like training a young horse -- but in a day or two, instead of years. You start with raw ingredients, stir them together and let them sit. I start many of my breads with a biga or poolish which is just flour, water and pinch of yeast. Then it sits on the counter, covered, overnight and the next day it looks like a wet sponge. It's ready to become more. Just like your young horse. I add the remaining flour and some salt, dump it on the counter and get to work. When I start kneading, it is a shaggy mess that clings to my fingers and looks like it will never amount to anything. But I keep at it. And I let it rest a few minutes, so it can absorb what I'm doing. Eventually, the dough changes under my hands and becomes smooth, silky and resistant. It pushes back at me. Then I let it rest some more. I form it into loaves or little balls to become rolls. It rests some more. Then it goes into the oven -- maybe fancy with sesame seeds and a slashed crust to let the inside spring high; or maybe simple rolls snuggled next to each other.
In recent years, I've started trying to make more rustic artisan breads. They are tricky. You don't use as much (or any) yeast. It's a trick to get fantastic crust from a regular oven. Bread bakeries have ovens that can shoot steam into the interior, creating great crust. I use a spray bottle or a pan on the bottom of the oven with some water.
My friend, Terri, makes amazing bread. When she lived in California she would use our group of friends as guinea pigs to try the breads she made. They were amazing. Recently, she posted on FB the two books she uses the most when baking bread. I couldn't help myself. I went straight to Amazon and ordered them. Then I read them and I went to the King Arthur site and ordered high gluten organic flour with the appropriate protein content to make those thick crusty loaves. I'm going to start feeding my sourdough starter and get it in shape to bake.
Last night I made naan. Its an Indian flatbread that you get at restaurants to sop up your curry. It has a wonderful chewy texture and is cooked in a tandoori oven, so it looks a bit charred. I found a recipe that promised to deliver naan without the tandoori. It started with a mix of flour, water, yeast and yogurt that grew bubbly over a 24 hour period. After kneading and resting, I shaped it into balls.
Meanwhile, I picked a couple artichokes from the garden and whipped up a vinaigrette.
I put my largest cast iron pan on the stove and while it got hot, I rolled out one of the balls of dough. I pricked it all over with a fork, like you would a pie crust, misted it with water and put it in the pan. It cooked covered for about four minutes. Then I uncovered it and flipped it over.
Meanwhile, Brett took our steaks out to the BBQ. When he came back, dinner was ready. I opened a bottle of wine and it was amazing. We, um, drank the whole bottle. It was that good. It was from the Paso Robles wine country here in California. It's called Per Cazo ZinG. We are going up to the area tomorrow to move my son out of the dorms. We may have to go buy the winery and get some more.