Sunday, February 24, 2008

Beer Bread

When I bake bread, I feel like an alchemist because I’m taking something basic – flour, yeast, water, and salt – and turning it into something extraordinary. What further astounds me is that I can take those same four ingredients, manipulate them various ways, and achieve a myriad of results. I’ve been fascinated with baking bread for about two years now, so you’ll see a lot of my baking experiences posted on this site.

I’m still learning, and while I can feel like an alchemist baking one loaf, I can feel like a complete schmuck baking the next loaf. My goal is to be completely honest in my blog, and along with my successes, I’ll also share my failures. My baking experience Saturday was a failure. I tried baking the beer bread from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s book The Bread Bible. Most beer bread recipes you’ll encounter are quick breads that can be mixed and immediately baked. In those breads the rise is achieved by using baking powder and beer, rather than yeast. The recipe I was trying was a traditional yeast-based recipe that involved two rises. The bread is similar to the Black and Tan bread at Wheatfield’s Bakery in my hometown of Lawrence, Kansas. After the first rise, I carefully shaped the loaf and placed it on parchment paper for the 2nd rise.

At this point the loaf looked like a work of art. I was proud of myself because shaping loaves is something that I don't always do well. However, I was about to ruin all of my work. I was in a hurry to get this loaf in the oven, so that I could watch the KU Jayhawks battle the Oklahoma State Cowboys in Big 12 basketball. I rushed the slashing of the bread. You'd think that slashing a loaf of bread would a be simple affair, but I've never quite mastered it. I admire bakers who can slash decorative designs in their loaves. I, on the other hand, usually end up mutilating my loaves and sometimes deflating them. This was the case Saturday. I put too much pressure on the knife and deflated my loaf. My loaf ended up being as flat as the Jayhawks played Saturday.

On Wednesday, March 12th, I'll attend a class on Crusty Artisan Breads sponsored by King Arthur Flour Company. That evening I'll be the annoying pupil in the front row asking all of the questions about shaping and slashing.

Get back on that horse,


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