True confessions: I’m a little wired up about bread baking. I do it weekly. Sometimes daily. The process never ceases to fascinate me. The day I stop being thrilled about a loaf of bread – before, during and after its creation – is a day not worth living for.
Once a new, gorgeous loaf is out of the oven and cool enough to touch, I have to photograph it. I’ve been sharing much of this on Instagram and now it’s time to showcase some of my bread progeny here.
This is one of the first artisanal varieties I attempted back in the 90s when I baked just about every recipe in Amy’s Breads by Amy Scherber and Toy Kim Dupree. Amy owns a bakery in NYC and has come up with a brilliant sponge starter that offers an apt stepping stone to the next level up: the sourdough starter.
Olive bread is always a big hit, especially with my friend Danny who used to come to high school with olive sandwiches painstakingly created by her adoring mother who sliced olives off the pit and wedged them between two slices of buttered bread. We thought Danny’s sandwiches were pretty weird back then. Little did we know she was a gourmet trendsetter.
I wanted to rise my loaves in bannetons like the French master bakers do, but I was too cheap to buy them. Unavailable for purchase in Toronto, I found my first ones online at King Arthur Flour. All my American cookbooks had King Arthur Flour in their “Where to Shop” section but I choked when I saw the price: US$35 for a single basket! Fortunately, my mother was willing to fork over the big bucks when she found them on my birthday wish list. I have treasured these light, airy baskets ever since.
Here is a semolina sesame loaf that has spent the night in the refrigerator tucked inside a banneton, sealed within a large plastic bag. I dust (no, shower) the banneton with rice flour before I turn a shaped loaf upside down and into it for the long, final rise. The ridges of the reed basket form the circular pattern on top of the loaf which I flip on to a bread paddle lined with parchment. I simply cannot bake free form loaves without parchment paper. It works like a charm.
Photographing loaf after loaf can get a little monotonous. I found a new backdrop with my living room couch! Ikea never looked so good.
My bread club has been doing communal bakes from the bible: Bread by Jeffrey Hamelman. The first time I made the recipe (pictured below) I used a preferment with a pinch of instant yeast (as the recipe instructs) but a fellow baker suggested I forget the yeast and use a starter instead. I’ve been toying with roasted Yukon gold potatoes, sage and even spelt in several adaptations for a couple of weeks.
As my sister once observed, “You just can’t leave well enough alone, can you?”
It’s true, I can’t. This photo above is my first attempt at Roasted Potato Bread and it looked and tasted amazing. The crust was a deep amber, the residual rice flour from the banneton added artistic flare and flecks of Yukon gold potatoes and sage peaked through the crumb. But I had to mess with it, because my inner bread critic thought that crumb was too tight.
Here above is the glorious result of my second try when I broke from the recipe and used a tablespoon of my trusty starter to make the preferment into a levain. Getting too technical? None of this really matters unless you are a bread nerd. And my friends are willing to listen to me talk bread as long as they get some bread.
Like my friend Randy.
He will nod and listen and say, “Uh huh, uh huh,” for hours of a monotonous Mado monologue on bread. He hardly says a word until the end, when he slips in, “Have you ever thought of cinnamon raisin?”
Many loaves go in his direction. And when there is a dry spell, he’ll text me to say hello, finishing off with, “Some say white bread gets a bad rap…” That’s Randy-speak for “I want.”
And in this case, he got.