Recipe 1 – Lean Bread

I was excited and fearful all at once. It was time to get this project started and produce some lean bread, the first recipe in the textbook herein called The Book. Lean bread is basically crusty French bread. It contains only four ingredients – flour, water, yeast, and salt.

The Book lists large batch recipes. This one called for five pounds of flour. My mixer could never handle that. Plus, do I really need eight loaves of bread? The entire book is this way so I have an added challenge of having to shrink down all of the recipes. I decided to make two loaves. I must have spent an hour on my calculations. I had to look up conversions – pounds to ounces (1 lb equals 16 Oz), ounces to grams (1 ounce to 28.35 grams), etc. Sadly, I did not calculate correctly. The first batch did not rise and the finished product was a mess, undone and entirely too salty. Oops. The bread was under dome and just plain awful. Second batch was worse because I was trying to hurry it along but no rise and too salty. That figures because I didn’t adjust or taste the dough. Lesson learned. I was hoping I would have wonderful, fresh out of the oven bread to bring to the neighbor’s dinner party but alas, no. I was brave and let everyone try it. Hey, it’s ok. I expected failure because I’ve never made bread before, but it still stung.

I regret not taking a photo of the inside, but here are some from those batches.

On Sunday, I tried again. I admit I was starting to doubt my abilities after that second batch failed. I told my husband and he encouraged me not to give up and look at different recipes like I was thinking to do. But, my husband reminded me that I could do this and he sat with me and helped me recalculate the measurements. He also brought out a scale he had that performed exactly as I needed – .1875 ounces, really? I am so appreciative of the support because this is a big project and undertaking and I need a cheerleader. I decided then and there I would make it as many times as it took to produce something edible. And guess what? Third time’s a charm. Yay me!

Was it perfect? No it wasn’t perfect – I had trouble with the preshaping and final shaping of the loaves. I opted to freestyle and thankfully it worked. I got the rise I was expecting and it was just… fun. I was so proud. Giddy. I felt like I just climbed a mountain. Well I imagine that’s how I would feel if I ever climbed a mountain which I have not but hey, I did it. Here are some pics from my third attempt.

I’m ready to make bagels on Friday. I ordered the ingredients on Amazon and got them on the weekend. I will spend that day making the dough and watching Cable Girls on Netflix, my new favorite binge. Hopefully we will have yummy delicious bagel treats on Saturday morning. It’s also possible that I’ll have another fail or three and have to redo it but this time I’m ready. This is an adventure after all and I need to enjoy the journey.

“Let there be work, bread, water, and salt for all.” Nelson Mandela

Let’s Do This!

I haven’t always been someone who bakes. I can’t even remember when I started getting interested in baking – maybe it was in my 20s. I don’t even recall making cakes or cookies when I was younger though I know my mom used to make bundt cakes – the kind you got from a box. I think it was Pillsbury. Anyway, I dabbled as I got older – making Toll House cookies, a cake from a mix, things like that. One day I decided I would try and make something from scratch. Couldn’t tell you what it was but I’m guessing it came out ok. I started realizing that baking was something I could do. You just follow the steps and voila – sugary treats await. Of course, it’s not that simple but I learned from my missteps. NOT failures – missteps. I make the distinction because every time I screwed something up, I learned from it and moved on. I started challenging myself to do things that I had never done before, like yeast breads or pie crusts. I made cinnamon rolls one day from scratch which took all day long. It was a Paula Deen recipe I found on the web and it was a hit. My neighbor and I ate the entire pan. I made lots of things like that, but mostly easy stuff – cookies, brownies, banana bread, muffins, cupcakes. There was the occasional challenge and fail – lemon meringue soup, anyone? I also had a particular friend who shared my love of baking – she’d done a lot more than me and I was so impressed with her “goods.” I wanted to be like her. (Jill S., you rock.)

I went to Paris in 2008 with my father, step-mother, and brother. It was my first time going to Europe. I was 38 years old. It was awesome. I fell in love with French pastry then – mainly eating it. I told my dad that if I ate nothing but pastry and bread for each meal while in Paris with some occasional cheese, I didn’t want a lecture. It was Paris! Weight be damned!

When I was dating my husband (2011), we stopped in a kitchen gadget store one day and I saw a book on classic French pastry – sweet and savory – written by a French pastry chef (Pastry by Michael Roux). It not only had detailed recipes, but it had lots of photos of how things should look along the way which I found extremely helpful. I bought the book and started challenging myself to make things in the book. I decided I would take one type of pastry dough and make it each winter. First up was pie dough – pâte brisée and the like. Essentially pâte brisée is a butter crust that’s more delicate and crumbly than other types. There are variations depending on how much butter is used with additional fancy french names that I won’t go into here. I didn’t get through the book as planned because having a baby and being sleep deprived will do that to you, but I did attempt other recipes including choux dough – think cream puffs and eclairs – but I failed at getting through the book.

Things kept going and spinning in different directions from there. Having a child made me more interested in cakes – I wanted to make all her birthday cakes and so it started picking up from there. My creativity started to increase and I realized I just love decorating cakes, too. I honestly discovered I LOVE all aspects of baking. I adore the television baking competition shows too, though I have no desire to go on them because I hate being rushed. I made the Sofia the First cake with fondant cutouts. It turned out better than I had hoped for. I made unicorn strawberry cupcakes for her last birthday, and just this past weekend I made my best cake yet. Was it perfect? No. Was it really good though? Hell yeah! At least I think so and that’s all that matters (though awesomely I got great feedback – yay me).

Eric_cake

I got the crazy idea over the summer that I wanted to teach myself pastry arts and write a blog about my experience. Not just any blog. I wanted to do something different. Sure, writing about new learning experiences isn’t anything new, but maybe I could make it more interactive – invite people to join me on this journey and have them learn/entertain me while I do my thing. I’ll fail. I’ll succeed. We’ll laugh. We’ll cry. We’ll eat. I’ll work on that. Anyway… I decided that if I wanted to be a pastry chef without going to school, maybe I should get a textbook that would be used by those learning the craft. So, I purchased Mastering the Art and Craft of Baking and Pastry by the Culinary Institute of America. This book is HEAVY – a whopping 1,116 pages of heavy. I originally thought I would just try every recipe in the book and just see how it goes. I may veer from that initial idea since there are entire chapters on topics. For example, the chapter on icings, glazes, and sauces has almost two hundred listings alone. I might just pick and choose at some point, but I think it’s a good starting point for my blog. I hope you check in now and again to see what I’m up to. I’ll create an Instagram account at some point. Maybe even a Youtube channel. Stay tuned and thanks for stopping by.  -Dina

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton