3 Months of Homemade Bread for Alex (Part II)
I wrote earlier about the birthday present I gave Alex: A promise that for three months there would always be fresh homemade bread in the house. In Part I, I shared some of the more interesting recipes I’d made, as well as a few insights gleaned from all this bread-making. In this update I’ll provide more of the same.
Some of the hits from the past few weeks are:
- Whole wheat garlic knots using this Joy the Baker recipe. These are great, but you should double the garlic/butter/parsley mixture, and maybe even incorporate some into the dough. I’m starting to suspect that many recipe authors play down the amount of butter and oil their dishes require, hoping that cooks will figure it out on their own. I can’t count the number of times a recipe has asked me to sautee something in 1-2 tbsp of olive oil, when what’s really required is more like 3-4 tbsp. This seems a little silly, since the results can only end with cooks thinking poorly of the recipe, either for being wrong or for producing bad food. Joy the Baker doesn’t seem likely to be playing this game, but who knows.
- English muffins using this King Arthur Flour recipe. I omitted the “pizza dough flavor” – what an abomination. I love King Arthur, but I wish their recipes didn’t include so many of their own products. I already have ancient grains in my pantry; I don’t need to buy your ancient grain blend to make this bread. Pre-made mixes and blends make me sad. I didn’t omit the sugar in this one but should have. I did skip using English muffin rings, since I don’t have any. More on that below.
- Zucchini-sweet potato quick bread using this recipe from Joy the Baker. This is one of the recipes that makes me pretty confident Joy the Baker isn’t underestimating how much “bad” stuff the recipes require. If anything, I think she overshot it here. I halved the sugar and this bread was still too sweet for me. I also substituted plain non-fat yogurt for 2/3 of the olive oil. At the end of the day I think I’m just not into quick breads; they’re too much like dessert, which is not what I’m after when I bake.
- A gorgeous white bread loaf using Mark Bittman’s no-knead recipe. I could go on and on about this one. The crumb, the crust, oh my! I am pretty sure this is the best homemade bread I’ve ever had. It’s also quite easy on the eyes. The odd thing about the recipe is that it’s not as fast as the name makes it sound. Just because you aren’t kneading it doesn’t mean you aren’t doing other stuff. And the waiting time – 18 hours! – is just nuts. But if you time it right, say by starting late the night before, you can definitely make it work. I’m looking forward to trying the variations Bittman has created on this, including a whole-wheat version and a faster version.
This is all in addition to an awful lot of ciabatta, our absolute favorite bread. Applying lessons learned like “kneading really does matter” has helped us take this bread to the next level, something we didn’t think was possible after having made it dozens if not hundreds of times. Some other lessons learned from this most recent batch of new bread recipes include:
- You can almost always replace at least 1/4 of the white flour with a whole grain. I can barely taste the difference, and when I can it’s usually for the better. I also know that every little bit counts.
- You can usually improve bread by halving the amount of sugar it contains. There’s no need for a quick bread to have 2 cups of white sugar, and English muffins don’t even need 2 tablespoons.
- Squirting water onto bread has more effect in the last few minutes it’s cooking than in the first. This theory is unverified, but that seems to be our experience so far. We do this a lot when we make ciabatta.
- Sometimes you don’t need the fancy gear…but sometimes you do. English muffins taste just as good when you make them without English muffin rings, and they don’t look half bad either. Ravioli without a pasta maker to roll out the sheets, however? I won’t be trying that twice.