Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Lesson in Bread

Day 2 of Baking and Pastry

Our breads and pastries are analyzed each day by Chef K and the class. Chef sets one of each item on the table, and we gather around. First he dissects the breads, scrutinizing the color, the crumb structure and texture, the taste and appearance. The breads today were quite good - the crusty French rolls more flavorful than yesterdays, the soft rolls almost perfect, the semolina loaves properly crusty but needing a bit more salt and a healthy dip in some good olive oil.
Then the cookies and fig bars. Delicious. The chocolate torts had fallen because the eggs were over-whipped. The coconut flans were made interesting by using palm sugar and jaggery for the caramel. My creme brulee was just right, but the recipe made them far too sweet for my taste (just about everything we make is too sweet for me, so I just take a nibble). Yes, we have to taste everything!


To produce the perfect loaf of bread is to master yeast.
With the ideal combination of time, temperature, and ingredients, the yeast convert just enough starch into sugars to provide for a nicely browned crust, plenty of yeasty, bready aroma, and the supple, elastic yet tender crumb structure that signify an extraordinary loaf. Too much warmth or time, and the yeast grow too exuberantly, exhausting their supply of food. The fermentation shifts from one that digests the starch and produces carbon dioxide and alcohol to one that digests the sugar and produces acetic and lactic acid (desirable in just a small quantity for tangy sourdough breads). The result in an overly sour bread with no external caramelization (a dull, pale crust), and crumbly, tough innards. How sad.
Then there are the little details, such as having the proper humidity while the dough is proofing. Too dry, and the loaf will develop a tough skin and won't rise enough while baking. Or if the dough (for rolls in particular) doesn't proof enough, the bottom of the roll will be round instead of flat. Even the scoring of a loaf influences the final bread. The right cuts on the top of the loaf ensure that the bread rises to its full potential without being lopsided. I never knew bread was so temperamental before!

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