I spent three weeks at the San Francisco Baking Institute ten or so years ago as an introduction to the art and science of artisan bread making.
There is science behind the art; each recipe starts as a precise balance by weight of four basic ingredients – flour, water, salt and yeast. The art is getting the dough shaped into the perfect baguette, boule or batard.
Each day, each class member baked 10, 12 or more loaves as practice. After 3 or 4 days, the class was breaded out. How much gluten can one eat and not become at least gluten intolerant?
My solution was to bring home all of my loaves and as many as I could from the other bakers. We lived in a SF loft with 50 other units. I placed bags of bread in the common area every day for three weeks at 5pm, and by 7 the bags were empty.
Our final was to bake every type of loaf we had been taught (photo above) and then create a 6-pound sourdough round. 6 pounds! Our building got most of my grand finale, but the round was saved for the next day when my friend Brian and I played golf at our favorite course. One look at the loaf and our green fees and cart were comped and the staff divvied up the loaf.
It amazed me how grateful people were to receive a simple loaf of bread and would ask years later if I was going to restart the tradition. They didn’t care if it was ugly or a work of art, they just loved having a fresh baked loaf every evening. It was like walking home in Paris with a fresh baguette under your arm, but without the jet lag. How civilized.
So one challenge from The List is to bake and distribute 65 loaves of bread over the year. Last night I baked two loaves using two slightly different No-Knead Recipes from Jim Lahey at Sullivan Street Bakery in NYC and the NY Times Minimalist Food Editor Mark Bittman. Each was to be a round shaped loaf with only the amount of water different.
Remember the first paragraph about the art and science of bread making? This cook off is a perfect example of how a seemingly insignificant variance changes the outcome.
The science part of Lahey’s recipe was the crux. Jim measured precisely in grams while Mark used cups and teaspoons. Lahey called for 345 grams of water while Bittman’s was for 1 5/8 cup (no weight given). The difference in lay terms is a tad more than 1/8 of one cup, but the results were significantly different.
Lahey’s dough, when proofed into a round, held its shape as a round by its leathery surface tension. Bittman’s dough with just 1/8 cup more water couldn't and sagged into a thick Frisbee with a shag carpet surface.
When baked, Lahey’s round was round with a nice “ear” – the open cut you see on the top of artisan breads (red pot). Bittman’s was more of a ciabatta without the ear and character of an artisan bread.
But, cut a slice from each and slather with butter, they both taste great. And that makes all the difference in the world to the happy recipients of the first loaves.