Monday, January 21, 2013

How to Bake Bread Like an Idiot - Part One

I chose the title of this post very carefully. This is not an attempt to do some sort of "complete idiot's guide to baking bread" for people that have no experience baking and need a primer. Rather, this is an attempt to explain how an idiot bakes. I'm talking about general idiocy as opposed to baking-specific idiocy (although you'll probably find that the former term umbrellas the latter). Any useful information contained in this post is purely coincidental.

Humans have been baking the staff of life for thousands of years, way before anyone knew what yeast was. It pretty much happened by accident.  Basically: white bread is easy. Really all you need is the following:

2 1/2-ish cups white all-purpose flour (I've had really good luck substituting half whole wheat flour)
1 cup warm water
1 yeast packet from the grocery store
2 tsp salt
1 tbl olive oil
maybe some rosemary or Italian seasoning or something

I've heard that baking recipes should be followed as specific instructions as opposed to suggestions. I made up all those amounts right now, off the top of my head (we're off to a great start already!). This should get you pretty close though and mostly you'll just have to adjust flour/water mix.

Before everything comes together it helps a lot to rehydrate your yeast and get everything churnin'. Take your water, add like 1tsp sugar, put in your yeast packet and stir everything up really good. In like 10 minutes it should be frothy and weird looking. That's science! Later you're going to eat those (alive) yeast bodies once you've used them and they've outlived their purpose to you. For now just let them be, fucking like (microscopic) rabbits and generally living with no knowledge of their future. Maybe take a second to contemplate the tenuous nature of existence. 

Put all the other stuff (minus water) into some type of vessel. I don't care what you use. A plate probably won't work but some bowls may be big enough. Is your yeast bubbling? Add that too. Stir everything up really good until it turns into a big mess of dough. Once its a pretty solid mass and doesn't stick to your fingers, start kneading. I'm not really sure how to explain kneading but it's sort of like controlled smashing. I feel like I just sorta "knew" what kneading was before I ever needed (pun) to do it myself. Like one of those animal instinct things? If you're feeling scared I bet you could look up some Youtube videos that show things in more detail (technically I just described ignorance and not idiocy so I don't feel compelled to explain further). Keep kneading for awhile. Add some flour if it's too sticky. Add water if it's not sticky enough. How do you know? If the dough sorta amorphously envelopes your hands then it's too sticky.

Once you've got a good ball coat a bowl with some olive oil and throw in the dough to rise. Cover with saran wrap. Now's your chance to go drink a few beers and reflect on how easy things have been so far. Check on it in a few hours. Has it like...doubled in size? Knead it a little bit more and transfer the ball to whatever you're going to bake it in. I've been using a really cool cast iron dutch oven I got for Xmas. It gets super fucking hot and the lid weighs like a million pounds which helps keep in moisture. Cover the dough in saran wrap again and pop the lid on that sucker. Wait another 30-60 minutes for the dough to rise again.

You've probably noticed by now that this has taken you a good chunk of your afternoon. This is why baking sucks. Now's a good time to start like 3 separate projects. Drink some more beer, start chopping vegetables for dinner, think about what your next music post will be about (drone maybe?). Clean your bathroom. The beer should have kicked in by now which should lend a nice sense of urgency to everything. Turn your oven to 375 and let things come up to temp (oven thermometers cost 5 bucks and let you easily control temperature). The dough has certainly had enough time to rise; no need to check on it, just pop the whole thing in the oven.

Once it's been long enough to get distracted by something else you're gonna want to remember to look at the time on your phone because you forgot to note when you put in the bread. It's probably only been like 10 minutes so subtract that. You seem to remember thinking that the bread will be ready in about 45 minutes but you can't remember where you read it. Put your phone away and immediately forget everything you just did, including both the current time and the calculated bread start estimate. Watch a couple Youtube videos about capitalism and the death of the middle class to get you angry for dinner.

For dinner (at least this last time) I ate some walleye fillets that my dad flew in from Wisconsin for Xmas (this is really not a meal typically eaten with bread, nor is it really relevant to the lesson). While the butter is melting on the skillet you may want to ruminate about the statistical probability of being the only Californian eating walleye. How would you even calculate that? Just as you begin to fry the fish remember to check the time. It's been about an hour since the bread went in (wait did you say it had been like ten minutes before? Or was it closer to fifteen?). Oh well a little extra time can't hurt. Turn off the oven and take out your bounty. Remember to use oven mitts! The fish cooks really fast and needs most of your attention so just let the bread sit for a few minutes.

Once the fish is cooked you can finally take a look at your bread. Grab the handle on the lid with your bare hands. It will probably be about 350 degrees. At this point there are three possibilities:

  1. Recoil in pain. Every time!
  2. Depending on the beer intake and your reflex time you might do that thing where it takes a couple moments to realize you just burned your hand. You may have even had enough time to lift the lid off the pot.  Instinctively let go of the lid and let it crash on the floor. It's gonna be hella loud and may even crack your tiles. The lid will be completely unharmed, however.
  3. Similar set up to 2. above, however this time you attempt a "grocery man's kick." This is actually a pretty cool move where you try to "catch" or "cushion" a dropped object with your foot. I've saved a couple of glasses and plates this way (I'm kinda clumsy). If the lid lands on its edge on your toe then you probably just broke your toe. If you're not wearing socks then you definitely just burned your foot.
Oh well whatever. The bread is actually pretty good! Your roommate may ask you what the weird shiny "skin" stuff is. I dunno, nothing probably. Maybe flour? Let it cool enough that you can touch it comfortably with your un-burned hand. It's best still warm and I've found I can basically just eat it plain when it's fresh out of the oven. A little butter or cheese is awesome too but you don't want to overpower the taste of the bread. 

About a day after you finish the loaf remember that you forgot to take the saran wrap off the dough.

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