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April 20, 2014

Food Thread: Baking: It's Not Science....It's Magic [CBD]

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Matzoh 1.jpg

The conventional wisdom is that cooking is an art and baking is a science -- requiring precision and consistency and rigid attention to detail. And if you satisfy those requirements you will be rewarded with marvelous crusty breads and glorious cakes and you will be the marvel of the neighborhood.

It's a dirty filthy stinking lie, perpetrated by an unholy cabal of flour mills and sugar barons and the natural gas industry.

Any variation in humidity, temperature, density of flour, potency of yeast, and dozens of other things can, and often does make a huge difference in the final product. That's why accomplished bakers will add extra water, or a pinch less of yeast or salt, or knead it for a few more minutes or let it proof at a warmer temperature for just a few minutes less.....

And why is that? How do they know? Because they made a pact with the devil. In return for baking those scrumptious, yeasty sourdough loaves and incredible dinner rolls that are just perfect with the sauce and a dab of good butter, they will toil in the third circle of hell for eternity.

And what makes me think of glorious baked goods and the soulless monsters who bake them?


And the extremely crappy matzoh I bought.

I usually buy an Israeli brand that is actually rather good, but I couldn't find any this year, so I settled for something baked in the People's Republic of New York City. In the hipster heaven of Brooklyn no less.

Awful. Redolent of cardboard.

So of course I stole a box from my parents, but still, Passover is eight days long, and nowhere in the story does one box of matzoh last for eight days.

But how tough could baking matzoh be? There is no yeast, there is no rise, there is nothing but a mandated 18 minute maximum time for the entire process. Yet somehow bakers manage to screw it up.

So I tried. And guess what? it is easy, fun, and makes great matzoh! I used a pizza stone, which I think is much better than the recommended bottom of a sheet pan. But other than that...I just followed the recipe -- sort of -- and the results are much better than any commercial stuff I have ever had.

(If anyone wants the modified recipe, e-mail me at nynjmeet at optimum dot net.)

This baguette recipe is modified from the King Arthur Flour recipe I found on their web site. The original did not yield a particularly lofty or airy bread; it was too dense to be called a baguette. So I changed it to a longer, colder rise, and that worked well.

Classic Baguettes

• 1/2 cup cool water
• 1/16 teaspoon active dry yeast or instant yeast
• 1 cup unbleached bread flour

• 1 teaspoon active dry yeast or instant yeast
• 1 cup to 1 1/4 cups lukewarm water*
• all of the starter
• 3 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
• 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt, to taste
• *Use the lesser amount in summer (or in a humid environment), the greater amount in winter (or in a dry climate), and somewhere in between the rest of the year, or if your house is climate controlled.

Make the starter by mixing the yeast with the water (no need to do this if you're using instant yeast), then mixing in the flour to make a soft dough. Cover and let rest at room temperature for about 14 hours; overnight works well. The starter should have risen and become bubbly. If it hasn't, your yeast may not be working. Dissolve 1/4 teaspoon of yeast in 1 tablespoon lukewarm water with a pinch of sugar, and wait 15 minutes. If nothing happens, replace your yeast, and begin the starter process again.

If you're using active dry yeast, mix it with the water, then combine with the starter, flour, and salt. If you're using instant yeast, there's no need to combine it with the water first. Mix and knead everything together—by hand, mixer or bread machine set on the dough cycle—till you've made a soft, somewhat smooth dough; it should be cohesive, but the surface may still be a bit rough. Knead for about 5 minutes on speed 2 of a stand mixer

Place the dough in a lightly greased medium-size bowl, cover the bowl, and let the dough rise for one hour.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased work surface. Divide it into three equal pieces.

Shape each piece into a rough, slightly flattened oval, cover with greased plastic wrap, and let them rest for 15 minutes.

Working with one piece of dough at a time, fold the dough in half lengthwise, and seal the edges with the heel of your hand. Flatten it slightly, and fold and seal again.

With the seam-side down, cup your fingers and gently roll the dough into a 15" log. Place the logs seam-side down onto a lightly greased or parchment-lined sheet pan.

Cover them with a cover or lightly greased plastic wrap, place in the refrigerator, and allow the loaves to rise overnight till they've become very puffy.

Remove from refrigerator at least two hours before baking to complete the rise.

Towards the end of the rising time, preheat your oven to 450°F.

Using a very sharp knife held at about a 45° angle, make three 8" vertical slashes in each baguette. Spritz the baguettes heavily with warm water; this will help them develop a crackly-crisp crust.

Bake the baguettes until they're a very deep golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove them from the oven and cool on a rack. Or, for the very crispiest baguettes, turn off the oven, crack it open about 2", and allow the baguettes to cool in the oven.

Yield: Three 16" baguettes.

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posted by Open Blogger at 03:55 PM

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