With Nadia and I starting our European vacation this week, I’ve been super busy in the weeks leading up to now such that baking hasn’t been an option. From hospital and dentist check ups to rounding out our travel goods to wrapping up reservations across the pond, it’s been a productive, yet whirlwind-y, last couple of months. For all those who know me, I’m going to assume your first thought isn’t about the vacation itself but rather, “What about the three puppers?”
Fortunately, Nadia’s mother, Bonnie, has graciously offered to house-sit for us and watch our three doggos. With all of the prep winding down, I had an idea. Nadia credits her baking skills to Bonnie, so I thought it to be
exciting demoralizing interesting to bake for not just one, but two accomplished bakers. Before Bonnie arrived, I texted her and asked what her favorite baked good is- whole wheat french bread. As an avid reader and being no dummy, of course, she knew what I was planning. Though, I can’t imagine that she also assumed that I wanted the disappointment to be palpable.
The cliff. I’m going off it.
Not only will I be baking Bonnie’s favorite good, I’m also going to ask her to partake in the judgment process. As others may remember, I did attempt some french loaves a couple months back with moderate success, save its cake-y texture. I had been wanting to do this, as I had heard from some of you fine readers that I should revisit some earlier recipes after getting a few bakes under my belt to see if I can apply anything I’ve learned through this process. Suffice it to say, today’s bake will be my first in the re-bake series.
With all my proverbial body parts crossed for good luck, it begins.
As badly as I was hoping to shame a recipe of Bonnie’s own, I was a little surprised to hear she didn’t have one, nor had ever baked it herself. Slightly to my dismay, I instead located a recipe via Taste of Home.
5 cups all purpose flour 2 cups stone ground whole wheat flour 1/2 oz active dry yeast 2 1/2 cups water 1 tbsp sugar 1 tbsp salt 1 tbsp butter 1 egg white, beaten 1 tbsp water yellow cornmeal Combine the flours then combine three cups flour mixture and the yeast. Heat water, sugar, salt, and butter to 115°-120°. Add to flour and yeast. Beat on low for 30 seconds, beat for three minutes on medium. Stir in remaining flour to create a soft dough Turn onto a lightly floured surface, knead until smooth and elastic (roughly six to eight mins). Place dough in a greased bowl and allow to rise in a warm place, until doubled (~one hour) Punch the dough in the dough face to push out air. Divide in half and let rest 10 more mins. Roll each half into a 15x12" rectangle. Roll up jelly-roll style. Pinch seal and turn ends under to form a smooth loaf. Grease and sprinkle baking sheet with cornmeal and place each loaf seam side down. Make slashes every 2 1/2 inches on top of each loaf. Cover and let rise until doubled (~one hour) Beat egg white and water, brush loaves. Bake at 375° for 20 mins. Brush again with egg wash and bake 15-20 more mins or until golden brown. Cool on wire rack. Devour
Seems easy enough, right? But isn’t that what I always say? When reading through/re-typing the recipe, I think the thing that gets me is the formation of the loaf itself. Jelly-roll style? I mean, what the actual fuck? I’m having a hard time envisioning what the end result looks like. I definitely don’t see the lovely, airy, middle as a continuous loaf, but rather layered, like a snail’s shell, and probably poorly at that. 🤔
Additionally, I’m still having trouble knowing what the dough should look like at its various stages. This lack of knowing is the yeast to my rising feeling of anxiety.
In an attempt to quell this anxiety, I read through the french loaves post. Un/Fortunately, what I wrote feels more narrative and silly than providing actual advice. I return to my anxious state and begin the process.
There’s a 5:2 all-purpose flour to whole wheat flour ratio. I’m not down with that- it just doesn’t seem whole wheat-y enough. I’m changing it to half and half arbitrarily and am blissfully unaware of how this may affect the dough/loaf. C’est la vie seems aptly appropriate. Also, the whole wheat flour doesn’t necessarily say “stone ground,” but has “Stone[-Buhr]” in its name and is deemed probably sufficient for what is needed and begin the flour mixture
Oh shit. In my lamenting to Nadia about 1) not having an adult beverage on hand for this bake and 2) not being “socially acceptable” to drink my non-existent drink or its alternative (red wine) before 10 am, I lost count of how many cups of flour I’ve added to the mixing bowl already. It’s either five or six total, though I know I’m still missing a half cup each of whole wheat and all-purpose.
I’d say I’m 78% certain there are six cups already added and decide to move on. I can’t do anything about it now. I laugh in the face of exact numbers.
please don’t royally bone me, baking gods
I also just remember to have forgotten (what a sentence! English is insane) to include cornmeal in my photo. Heh, at least this time I remember corn meal does not equal corn starch. Anyway, I get my lovely 1:1 whole wheat:all-purpose flour mixed and then question what the fuck half an ounce is in yeast. As I’m questioning this, I realize that warming water, butter, sugar, and salt to 115-120° basically means “hot water out of the tap is good enough.” I blast my water mixture to 160°+ and now have to wait for it to cool. Honestly, though, I’m just excited to use my infrared temperature gauge again for purposes other than fucking around.
No matter, I still need to figure out the math on converting teaspoons to ounces for this cursed yeast. To the Google! Google says 1/2 fluid ounce should be about three teaspoons. It’s all basically the same to me and I get the yeast added to the three cup mixture of flour. My water is still at 146°. le sigh
I prep the handheld mixer, though I’ve not used one since I was like, 12, for pancakes or the like, “helping” my parents I’m sure. (Hi Mom and Dad!). I’m assuming the worst when I use this thing.
adds ice cube
117.7°! As I go to add the water mixture, I see a bunch of crystals clumped in the middle of the pan. Goooooodamnit. I didn’t stir it. Like, at all. I frantically stir to dissolve the salt and sugar, while hoping to maintain my precious five-degree window. I somehow gain four degrees to 121° and am pleased. I add the mixture to the flour and begin the showdown with the beater.
With far less batter flung in places for Nadia to find later than expected, it all goes as planned, I guess. I asked if Nadia wanted to lick the beater things, she gave me a disgusted look and declined. Rude.
Stir in remaining flour to create a soft dough
Hmm… Does this mean to beat the rest? Or simply hand mix? I decide to slowly scoop and gently fold one cup at a time, with no good reason for deciding this over any other method…
Go figure, I quickly get impatient and add the remaining cups of flour and stir.
I get the mixture just about to where I can begin kneading and require a picture. I ask Bonnie to assist and she says those sweet, sweet words, Hey, that looks like a dough. Success! It seems I may be on the correct path.
I start kneading and holy shit, this is hard. I think this is the first bake that required kneading where I wasn’t just smooshing wet dough, so clearly I’ve never done it properly (read: had incorrect dough) prior to this. I turn and knead until my arms are ready to fall off. I check the clock and only two minutes have passed 😱
[five more life hating minutes pass]
I’ll be damned- this looks like a dough on the rise.
[60 minutes pass]
Phew! This shit is BREAD.
[60 more boring minutes elapse]
My expectations at this point are 13/10, would bread again. I get the initial bake going and pull the loaves out after 37 total minutes. I slice an end off and notice it’s still a bit wet. 8.5 minutes later, I try again.
Success-ish! The dough still feels a touch wet, but it’s also more dense than a collapsing star, so I’m disinclined to wait any longer.
- Yeast still smells like Barkeeper’s Friend cleaning agent
- Kneading dough is super difficult
- 1:1 whole wheat to all-purpose is, indeed, not a good ratio
- After rolling the loaf, one needs to account for it continuing to raise, so the seam has to be completely underneath the loaf
Appearance (Nadia | Bonnie): 6/10 Cakies “It looked better before slicing into it.” | 6/10 Cakies “It’s pretty.”
Appeal: 7/10 Cakies “Smells so good. Eggwash was effective, nice color” | 7/10 Cakies “Smell is great. Well, we are starving.” 😦
Taste: 6/10 Cakies “It’s hot bread and butter” | 8/10 Cakies “It’s good!”
Overall: 7/10 Cakies | 8/10 Cakies
Best part: Smell, eggwash was effective | Taste, crunchy crust
Worst part: DENSE. “It’s really thick and it melts/sticks to your mouth” | “Agreed, dense.”
Overall, I’m moderately happy with this bake. Clearly, I goofed with the different flour ratios. I think my expectations and pride started to soar a bit too close to the sun before going into the oven. This less than ideal result has dashed my confidence back to where it should be. Low, on shaky ground.
My first french loaves also suffered from this cake-like density. The recipes did originate from the same website… As much as I’d like to blame the recipe, I’m sure there’s something I’m doing that’s making this go a bit awry.
Did I apply any lessons? Probably not, at least not he most critical one- don’t improvise. Maybe I’ll learn improvisational skills with cooking do not translate the same to baking.
That being said, warm bread and butter is pretty damn tasty. Even dense, warm bread.