Okay, let's be real, there's no such thing as the "perfect" loaf. I hate that term and you see it everywhere on the internet. "The Perfect ___" is everywhere you look. My version of perfect very rarely matches up with anybody else's version of perfect. My version of delicious, on the other hand, can match up with many others. Words matter. Everybody's writing for SEO and to bring traffic into their websites, and sometimes it leads to sloppy writing. I would rather read something real, that comes from the heart, than something designed to drive traffic. And yes, I do realize that those two things can co-exist, it just doesn't seem to happen very often.
We've been baking a lot of bread lately. It's been fun and the only real clunkers have come when I've tested other people's recipes. Not because they weren't good recipes, but because some of the conversions were off. Interestingly I've found that it's rare for all of the conversions to be wrong, there's usually one or two in any given recipe, which is just enough to throw the entire loaf off kilter. It's been a wake-up call for me because I know that we've missed conversions here and there in our books. Sometimes they start out correct and get changed through the many, many editing passes, and sometimes we look at them for so long that we see the right number even when it's wrong. Considering the number of times a manuscript is read and the number of people that read it, it's amazing that any mistakes make it through the filter. But it happens to the best of us.
Here are a few things I've realized about bread baking over the last few weeks. Don't make it harder than it needs to be. Just because it's a no-knead recipe doesn't mean you can't use the mixer. Some of these doughs are still hard to mix by hand so let the paddle do the work and then follow the recipe as described. No one will be able to tell the difference. Technique matters. We used the no-knead pizza dough from our book Ideas In Food to make a country loaf. Stretched thin and baked quickly at high temperatures it makes delicious pizza. Proofed as a loaf in an oval pan and then transferred into a hot dutch oven and baked at 450°F for 30 minutes covered, followed by 25 minutes uncovered, it make a gorgeous country loaf. Formed into a tight log and proofed in a loaf pan, it makes a nice loaf of bread, to which you can add bacon or cheese or olives or nuts or whatever your heart desires. A good basic bread recipe is very versatile, depending on the steps you take towards baking it. Like so many things in life, you can shape it into whatever form suits your fancy. So don't stress the bread baking, just let loose and have fun with the process.
January 28, 2005