If you’ve been following me, you already know that I’ve been doing the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge for almost 20 weeks now. Peter Reinhart’s Light Wheat Bread recipe was a perfect chance for me to gauge exactly how much I’ve learned in the process. I first made this bread in February of this year (long before the Bread Baker’s Challenge began), following the recipe and instructions given on Smitten Kitchen’s blog. The photo below shows the result:
I certainly made a visually passable loaf of bread that time. But the texture was so heavy that I ended up making bread crumbs out of most of it. To the recipe’s credit, it was still a much better loaf of bread than most breads I had made with whole-wheat flour in them. But my family wouldn’t eat it. The slices felt more like slabs. Toasting them made them worse; they simply became dried-out slabs. I went back to baking bread from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. (By the way, I happily met Zoe Francois – one of the authors of that book – at BlogHer Food last weekend. She has a giant genuine smile and very sweet energy.)
Fast-forward 7 months, with 4 months of weekly bread baking and 180 pages of reading under my belt. (And a whole lot of learning from my fellow bakers!) The same recipe made a loaf of bread so light that I’ll swear it had angel wings. Toast made with it was the perfect crunchy vehicle for the apricot-vanilla bean jam I made this summer.
I’ve learned that everything makes a difference when you bake bread. Weighing the flour, rather than measuring the flour by volume. Having a loaf pan with the correct dimensions. (Notice the shape of the bread in the first photo and then in the second.) The incredible flavor profile a pre-ferment can add. How much moisture does the air in my kitchen have today? How much moisture is in the flour? What’s the difference between sticky and tacky? How do I know, by feel, when I’ve reached the perfect ratio of flour and liquid? When is the kneading process done? When is the dough finished rising? How do I keep from over or under-baking the bread? I know not only the questions to ask, but how to adjust my baking process to reflect the answers!
Almost half-way through this challenge, I realize I’ve learned a lot. And I’ve only just begun. Rye bread is rising in the kitchen right now. Did you know that rye has glutelin instead of wheat’s glutenin? Neither did I.