I'm here to write a blog post about making bread. Max asked me to write the post, because he is too bashful to ask me directly "Mark, will you teach me how to make bread?" I love that guy, he's adorable. Max's bread writeup is pretty good. The only thing I would add to it is to keep a lab notebook and write down everything that you do. You should actually pay attention to things like rise times, water temperature, flour : water ratio, etc. All of these ingredients are cheap as shit so I don't wanna hear any bitching. And when I said cheap as shit, I almost meant it. There was SOME exageration. Not a lot. Bread flour is 25lbs for 9 bucks at Costco : http://www2.costco.com/Browse/Product.aspx?prodid=10182367&whse=bd_115&topnav=bdoff&cat=7020&hierPath=6221*6360*7020*&lang=en-US
Chicken shit is 25 lbs for 6 bucks http://www.groworganic.com/sup-r-green-chicken-manure-partially-composted-25-lb.html
Steer manure will of course be cheaper, but I do not recommend baking with it. If you are just starting out in the kitchen, the best thing you can do for yourself right now is to start with good ingredients. They are much more forgiving. Somewhere there is a joke about cow-pies. I didn't make it. If you made the joke as you were reading it, good on you, start your own blog. Or write for this one. That's what I do. If I haven't successfully dissuaded you, here is some cheap steer manure: http://www.homedepot.com/p/t/100619087/5yc1v?catalogId=10053&langId=-1&keyword=manure&storeId=10051&N=5yc1v&R=100619087#.UQYUcydWyuI
You will notice that it is sold by volume, not by weight. This is very dangerous. Most bakers measure their ingredients by weight, not by volume so there will be some extra work if you want to adapt an established recipe to substitute cow shit for flour. It is my recommendation that you use 75% regular flour; 25% shit, as the shit has quite a strong flavor. The same ratio works well for rye and whole grain flours. Back to bread.
Max did a pretty good job with his bread. Don't leave the plastic on yours like he did. I mostly used sourdough kept as starter. If you have a friend with starter, that is the best way to get some. Whatcha do is
1) Add flour and water to the starter. Let it get bubbly.
2) Split the starter, save some for later.
3) Add more flour and water to the part you are not saving for later. Also some salt is good.
5) Let it rest & rise.
I know that isn't a lot of instruction. Get up on youtube. Seriously, who gets their breadmaking advice from a blog? Watch some videos, they aren't long. The important part is to pull a skin on your bread. If the video you are watching doesn't mention pulling a skin at all, you are either watching a dumb video or it is for a different kind of bread. Sourdough should have a skin on it. Also if you are doing sourdough, I like to make the rise times really long. The sourness comes from the lactobacilli bacteria which live symbiotically with the yeast. All the yeast does is add bubbles to make it rise. Yeast goes crazy with heat, but bacteria don't need it, so if your kitchen is cold at night, a super good way to go is to form your dough into a bread shape, with the skin pulled on it, then leave it to rise overnight. It'll be cold in your kitchen, so the yeast will work slowly while the bacteria go crazy. In the morning your loaf is perfectly risen and your dough is sour as hell, in the best of ways. My advice is to let it rise on the sheet you are baking it on, since the dough will be hard to move without destroying its pristine risen-shape. Once you've made about 5 loaves you can just start wingin it. You'll poke the dough and decide it is not the right consistency, then fix it. Easy-peasy.
Here is a funny story. I once baked a loaf of sourdough in the shape of a heart. I gave it to a girl on Valentine's day. The only trouble was that she went out clubbing downtown about 5 minutes before i got to her apartment, but her roommate took the loaf and said she'd give it to her later. I guess she ate the loaf with her friends when they all came back from the bars that night. I guess you could say I simultaneously gifted 5 girls on Valentine's day, but didn't score with any of em. Shit. Was that funny?
Here is another funny story: My sourdough starter kinda died because I ignored it for a week. This is how I know I am not ready to have children. Fortunately, I had given some starter to Nick so that he could bake sourdough (I heard it got him laid, so I take some credit for that). He gave some starter back to me, so it was like I had resurrected my dead child or something. Anyway, I made a loaf of bread, and completely fucked up and spaced on step #2. I know, like, fuck that is pretty early to fuck up on. The loaf was okay, and I realized later what I had done. I didn't really miss it, and I was at a crucial decision point in my breadmaking career anyway : 25lb bag of flour was 95% empty. Buy more? Don't buy more? Don't buy more.
About a year later I started making croissants. Those are a real panty-dropper (in simulations only). It's basically just like making bread, except instead of making it into a bread shape and letting it rise then baking it, what you do is you roll it out real flat, put a LOT of butter on it (way more butter than you would ever actually put on the bread if you were eating it as bread. I use 3 parts flour, 2 parts butter), then fold that sum'bitch up like a letter, roll it out again, fold it, roll it, fold it, roll it. You should now have 19 layers of bread separated by 18 layers of butter (they are REALLY thin layers, altogether added up should be about 1/4 inch). Hopefully you rolled it into a rectangle shape, because yer gonna cut it into triangles. OF COURSE any polygon can be cut into triangles. I know all about regular and irregular geometries. I'm just sayin that the only 2 easy shapes to roll are a rectangle and a circle, and circles might be the only shape that don't cut nicely into triangles. Go for the rectangle. Cut that rectangle into triangles. Isosceles triangles work really well here, although almost any triangle will do. It is mostly important that the height is greater than the base. This helps with the rolling. Roll them suckers up, put em on yer baking sheet, and let em rest & rise. Ya might wanna cover em in plastic wrap (be super gentle). Take the plastic wrap off before you put them in the oven. Yer also gonna wanna brush them with a beaten egg just before ya bake em. That makes them nice n brown n crusty on top. This doesn't help the flavor much, but is especially useful if you are trying to sell these to strangers for money. They HAVE to look good. Well, they don't HAVE to have to, but it sure as shit does help, and if you are real forreal selling pastries for money you are livin on a shoestring and your profit margins are crap and a half, so every bit counts. Consider the eggs a wise investment. You can brush, like, 10 or 12 croissants with one egg. Maybe more, depending on how big your croissants are. Again, check out youtube. There's a billion videos, most of em are good.
The croissants will be awesome when they come out of the oven. They will be great the next morning. Second morning they will be okay. They won't be good on third morning, you should bake new ones. What you should do is start a croissant co-op in which participating members take turns baking croissants and delivering them to other members so that no one person is baking every god damn fucking night I mean seriously people it isn't hard it just takes a little bit of time and a little bit of giving a god damn crap why is everyone dependent on me this is bullshit bullshit BULLSHIT.
Here is a funny story about croissants. I was working on a farm in France, where croissants originated and are also super popular to this day. Some girl from England who was working on the farm had to go back to England and was sad because she had never had a fresh croissant while she was in France. I am the fucking MAN and woke up at the asscrack of dawn to start the yeast for the croissants which I baked for breakfast at 8am on her last morning. You can see pics of this on my facebook and also my okcupid profile http://www.facebook.com/numberfiveextratendon , http://www.okcupid.com/profile/markstambaugh . The punchline is that this girl was living on a farm in France, working with French people, also Belge and German and Swiss and whatever, and the AMERICAN made the croissants. It's the collective shame of the Europeans present which makes it funny. Ha ha ha. Oh man. Fuckin' Europeans.
So that's basically what I know about bread and croissants. Croissants are cool because you never have trouble giving them away, so you can make a lot of them for practice/science. DO NOT EAT THEM ALL YOURSELF, YOU WILL GET FAT AS A HOUSE. Guys, it is true that ladies go crazy for a man who can make croissants (that is why this trick is called "the panty dropper"), unless he is FAT AS A HOUSE. HOUSE-LIKE FATNESS TRUMPS ALL. Even with blind chicks. They can feel your fatness as you walk, shaking the earth with every step. Best to just give away as many croissants as you can. You won't miss em.
Here's a funny story: My thesis defense was basically a joke (Max was there, he can tell you), but I am a Master of Science anyway, because I baked a bunch of croissants and brought them to the defense with an assortment of jams and jellies and other spreads. The good stuff, from Trader Joe's. I had a lot riding on these pastries (the fruits of my entire collegiate experience). I wasn't gonna fuck em up with some Safeway-brand fruit-flavored spread (95% corn syrup, 4% unlucky bugs, less than 2% of the following : fruit, flavor).
There ya go. I hope ya learned something. It feels good to have all of these stories compiled in one place. I'd never realized how many bread stories I had. I'll add more here as I think of them.
Here is a song about hipsters because this is a music blog. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lVmmYMwFj1I