Anyone who is around me very much is aware that I am turning (or maybe have already turned) into a bread nut. Since I was raised in San Francisco I can’t help but be partial to a wonderful sourdough, but truly I love them all. I’ve made a lot of bread over the years, too… my copy of A World of Breads by Dolores Casella was well worn by the time we packed up for México. I didn’t bring it with me, thinking that it would be too warm to bake here.
Well sometimes it is too warm to bake, but that isn’t stopping me. Before my trip to San Francisco in April I shopped online for some things I needed for baking, primarily sourdough starter and vital wheat gluten flour. Little did I know, though, that when I returned I’d take a bread baking class from Hector Peniche of Molika Bakery and Restaurant and find myself more absorbed with baking than I had ever expected.
Several dozen loaves later I was lucky enough to take a general baking class from him and enjoy learning about making sweet pastry (pâte sucrée), crumbly pastry (pâte brisée) and puff pastry. The class was wonderful and I loved being around a group of people who really care about good food. The ideas that bounced around the room kept me energized for days.
Knowing that I’ve been baking a lot lately several people have asked me what I’ve learned. Well, quite a lot. I have read most of three books:
I bought the Silverton on Hector’s recommendation and the other two were gifts from a wonderful friend who is moving soon. I don’t think I could have put together a more compatible collection. There is just so much to know, and I am working hard at learning.
So I thought I’d put together some information that might help a person wanting to take up bread baking, especially in México.
- One of the main issues bread bakers face is that the flour available here is soft wheat flour. Hard wheats come from areas with cold winters and soft from everywhere else. It’s the hardness that gives you more gluten, and gluten is what gives the dough its elasticity. You need elasticity so the bread will rise, so it’s pretty important. You can compensate for the low gluten flours by adding a bit of vital wheat gluten or malt syrup/extract to your dough. Unfortunately I haven’t found either of these here or in México City, so have your friends bring them to you or get them when you visit NOB. You’d add about 20 grams of vital wheat gluten per a 1 kg recipe, so a couple of bags will last a long time.
- The act of kneading the dough is what develops the gluten. If you (or your machine) is tired and the gluten still hasn’t developed, let the dough rest for 40 minutes and then continue to knead.
- If you want a nice crust on your bread, use a baking stone. I have read that you can use unglazed terra cotta tiles, too, but I happen to have two pizza stones and I use those. You want to heat your oven thoroughly, and it should be hot – 450 F. Leave the pizza stones in the oven while it’s heating and slide the bread onto the stone from a peel. I don’t have one so I just put tin foil on a cutting board and when it’s floured the boule (shaped dough) will slide right in. The thing the stone does for you is because it is very hot it encourages the bread to rise quickly – before the heat in the over fixes the outer crust. I love the term “oven spring” for what happens when your dough goes into a hot oven.
- For a nice crust again, you need steam. Before the bread goes into the oven, spray-spray-spray. Then spray once or twice in the first five minutes of baking. After that, leave the door shut so the steam stays in! The purpose of the steam is to again allow the crust to stay moist until the bread has lifted as much as it can. Don’t spray the bread, spray the sides of the oven.
- Before your bread goes in the oven you’ll want to spray it with a bit of water and sieve a bit of flour on it so it will brown nicely. Then give it a signature – slice the top so that it can grow in the oven. Some breads may need to be sliced all the way around to allow them to grow, too.
- If your bread is a boule shape (round, artisanal shape) don’t try to make big old long slices (like I had been.) Cut the whole loaf in half, then set the cut end of one half on the cutting board and cut slices off that. Boy did I feel dumb when I heard that!
- If you want your bread to last longer, add a little fat. My most recent success was a loaf of olive oil – kalamata olive – sundried
tomato – rosemary sourdough bread. That’s it, above. It is wonderful, and I made it! I didn’t even follow a recipe, just adjusted the sourdough one until the dough just “felt right.” When I cut into that bread and took a taste – well, that was a pretty big moment for me. I’m already thinking about what I´ll make next!
I am keeping a “web journal” of my baking here.