Okay, I know this is not a very appealing photograph. I do like it, though, because it illustrates a few things.
See the ultra-shiny crust? This illustrates what happens when you steam your bread too much. It’s like shellac. Not really the effect I was going for.
See how dark the crust is? This illustrates what happens when you don’t really remember how to operate your oven (this would be your occasional oven, not your most-of-the-time oven) and the oven display is broken so you have no visual clue that you’re operating it incorrectly, and you haven’t really turned the temperature down when you think you have. The very learned Raymond Calvel said it is nearly impossible to overbake bread. Maybe I should gain some satisfaction in knowing I nearly accomplished the near-impossible. (I say nearly because the crust did not burn. It’s just very very dark. Again, not the effect I was going for; merely very dark would have sufficed.)
See how the resolution of the photo is not very good? This illustrates what happens when you do something brainless, the details of which you’d rather not get into at the moment, and end up wrecking your DSLR camera, and have to use your little point-and-shoot (and then have to crop the photo so the really dark parts of the loaves are conveniently omitted).
Okay, lessons learned: Don’t pour too much water into the steam pan. Read The Fine Manual (and better yet, call the oven repair guy). And don’t be stupid. Simple enough.
Now consider this photograph:
I like this one because it illustrates that even when a few things go wrong, you can still end up with a pretty nice, 50%-whole-grain, fruit-and-nut-laden, pleasantly-dense-and-chewy, thinly-sliceable, great-on-its-own-or-with-soft-cheese kind of loaf.
People who work in family planning have an aphorism: Hope is not a method. That is excellent advice when it comes to birth control, and it applies pretty well to baking too. Think things through, have a plan, protect yourself from unintended consequences.
For example, one thing you might think about, if you have some yeast that’s sat in the refrigerator for a while, is to check the expiration date before blithely throwing it into some brioche dough that you plan to use for a rhubarb tart. This could go a long way towards protecting yourself from the unintended consequence of unrisen dough.
Sometimes, though, things just happen. You get caught up in the heat of the moment, in the passion and excitement and anticipation of that perfect … brioche, and your careful plan is suddenly miles from your consciousness, and before you know it … well now, wasn’t that a big “Oops!”
Meet my new mission in life: Horst Bandel’s Black Pumpernickel from Jeffrey Hamelman’s Bread. I made this for the first time over the weekend (yes, it took all weekend) and can verify reports that it is not a breeze. It wasn’t a disaster; I definitely have something edible, but it could be so much better. I’ve been bitten and I know it will keep after me until I get it right.
This is a heavy, dark, dense bread made from rye meal sourdough, soaked and cooked rye berries, cracked rye (which I substituted for unavailable rye chops), a small amount of high-gluten wheat flour, and an old bread soaker. It tastes fantastic. So what’s wrong with it? Two words: overhydrated and underbaked. Instead of being pleasantly moist like pumpernickel should be, mine could be called downright soggy.
This is what over-steamed bread looks like. Like someone took a varnish brush to the crust. In fact the photo doesn’t do justice to the shine on these loaves. You can see your reflection in them.
Here in our tiny sometime-(not-often-enough)-house (where my husband and I, having shipped our daughter off for adventures in places unknown, can claim a few days of quiet sunshine, blissfully uninterrupted by the teenager’s constant lamenting that her life is waiting for her back home, so when can we leave already?), there is a perfectly good oven.
But this, my sometime-oven, is different from my most-of-the-time oven, and I clearly haven’t mastered it yet. Last time I baked bread in it, when I poured water into the heated steam pan, the steam came pouring, and I do mean pouring, out of the vents. Leading me to wonder if there would be any steam at all left for the bread in there. So this time I sprayed the hell out of the loaves with water first, as extra insurance. Too much insurance, as it turns out, which is why the bread looks like some giant plastic Happy Meal toy.
“I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Have you ever wondered idly to yourself, “Hmm, I wonder what would happen if I tried to make bread with only sourdough starter, ground sprouted wheat berries, salt, and a little sweetener (brown rice syrup, say)?”
Or have you ever thought, “I’m in the mood for a doorstop, I wonder what would be the best way to bake one?”
If so, you’re in luck; here’s my short answer to both questions:
The taste wasn’t bad, and it was almost edible in small doses. I’ll try this again, but to tell the truth I’m a little sick of sprouted wheat for now. And are you sick of hearing about it from me? I thought so.