A Boy and His Dog, I Mean, Dough

Zak’s second loaf of bread, pictured with the rest of dinner and the banneton which he used for proofing the dough. The shape of the basket made an interesting spiral design on the bread.

So, the end of February seems like a good time to talk about New Year’s Resolutions.


Well, I think so. By this time, most people have either finally gotten around to keeping their resolutions or have already broken them and gone on with life. Which is usually how it happens with me, but this year is different. This year, Zak and I made a pledge to each other to each learn a new, and useful skill.

I pledged to pick the guitar back up and learn to play it again and get it right this time around, and he promised to learn how to bake bread so we could do something fun in the kitchen together and he could contribute positively to our household caloric intake.

As you can see from the picture above, he is doing quite well. That is the loaf of bread he baked yesterday that we had for dinner. I put together the platter of sliced gouda, Pink Lady apples, a Bosc pear and some roast beef with wasabi. Yes, you can tell by looking that I studied under folks who were food stylists and worked with Martha Stewart. Yeah, every now and then I have to make the food pretty. It just happens.

But don’t look at that, look at the pretty bread! It turned out really well; he used the recipe for Basic Hearth Bread in Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible. It turned out very, very well–especially since it was only his second attempt; he even added a pinch of cardamom and allspice without fear of “messing up” the recipe. I was proud of him.

The crust was fantastic, chewy without being shatteringly crisp, which Zak doesn’t much care for. The crumb was tender, but with many irregularly shaped holes that give artisan breads their character. It was fragrant, but the spices were delicate and not overpowering at all. His timidity with the kitchen served him well in this instance; it gave the bread a definite lift in flavor without being in the least bit obtrusive or overpowering.

He is getting very into baking; we bought the banneton just yesterday and used it for the final proofing of the bread, because he wanted to see what difference it made in the shape and the crust. The week before, we bought a baking scale so he could more accurately measure ingredients as well as a baker’s lame, which is a curved razor used to slash the bread dough so that the crust splits evenly.

The first loaf of bread before being cut by the baker’s lame, pictured in the lower right corner.

My previous attempts to get Zak to learn to cook have been failures, however, I think that the combination of the precision which baking requires and which appeals to his orderly way of doing things, and the forgiving nature of bread have combined to intrigue him.

His first loaf of bread, which he made a couple of days ago, was from the same recipe, but he ended up leaving the sponge in the refrigerator for around 36 hours total, which is about 32 hours more than Rose suggests. He became very anxious about it, and was certain that he had destroyed his poor little yeasty fellows, but I assured him that bread dough is very forgiving (and the SAF yeast we were using was a nice, strong strain) and all would be well. He was overjoyed when he took it out and kneaded it, then began the proofing process, to see that not only were the yeast beasties alive, but they were very active.

The first loaf of bread, after having the sponge sit in the refrigerator for 32 hours, the kneading and proofing continued in a more normal time frame.

When he baked it, a delicious aroma filled the kitchen, and when he took it from the oven, he was overjoyed to see such a pretty golden crust. We rubbed it with butter to keep it soft, and set to eating it for dessert.

I liked the bread–the yeast had a long time to transform starch into sugars, and some of them stuck around in the bread and gave it a nice, complex aromatic flavor. The crumb was very chewy and strong, owing in part, I suspect to the long, slow fermentation and the hand kneading. But he wasn’t satisfied with that, so he made the same recipe again, only this time, he followed the directions more carefully.

In either case, I think that he is quite well on his way to becoming a good bread baker. Which is not only a useful skill, but it is a tasty one as well.

His next plans are to experiment with Rose’s Heart of Wheat recipe, which uses bread flour and wheat germ, which she says makes whole wheat flour minus the bran, which make whole wheat bread bitter. I eventually want him to give focaccia a shot, but his very first bread, naan, which was quite good, made him want to try something other than a flat bread for a while.

Whatever he ends up doing, I will update everyone here.

Too bad I can’t post samples for everyone to taste on the site, but while the Internet is great with words and images, it hasn’t yet managed to transmit flavors and scents yet.

As for me–I am on my way to learning how to play Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.” The first night I took up the guitar, I picked out the opening notes by ear, and memorized them, then two days later, Zak gave me the chords, which I am remembering how to play.

Not bad for a woman who last really tried to learn guitar over twenty years ago.


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  1. Definitely dough, not dog. Dogs smell bad & are dirty beasts. When they ferment, it’s not a good thing.

    But, vis a vis, “A Boy and his Dog,” I like to think I have good taste.

    Comment by crazyquilt — February 24, 2005 #

  2. Too many bakeries these days rush the rise of bread, and so it suffers in flavor. We rise most of our breads in a retarder (keeps the temperature at 55º-60º) at least twice as long as recommended (and for up to 2 days) because a cool, slow rise allows the yeast beasties a chance to mature. The normal temperatures used to raise bread force the yeast to mature too quickly so they miss a lot of the flavor development in favor of loftiness. Sourdough, after all, is nothing more than dough that rises and matures for weeks to develope that yummy flavor.

    What Zak got is what we call a “soft” or “semi-sour” sourdough. If he’d left it another day or two to rise, then it probably would have “soured” and he could have used the dough as starter for several fresh loaves of bread.

    Way to go, Zak!

    It sounds as if your guitar learning is giving you more pleasure now than it did the first time around.

    Comment by Noddy — February 24, 2005 #

  3. Yes, one of the things that our baking instructors emphasized over and over was that bread develops the most flavor if you retard the proof as long as possible. If Zak gets really into making bread, we may well invest in a proof box; failing that, we can get a small refrigerator and set it to close to the proper temperature.

    So far, he is a bit intimidated by sourdough, but I told him he is doing great and not to worry about it. So long as you give the wee yeasties all of the things necessary for life–food, water, air, shelter and love, they will grow and make great bread that comes alive for you.

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — February 24, 2005 #

  4. Oh, wow. That’s your husband’s second loaf? Geez, am I the only one that needs a slow learning curve? I started off ambitious with sourdough as well. Boules didn’t really work too well for me. I guess a towel in a bowl didn’t really cut it, especially when the towel was a bath towel…

    I wish I could comment constructively on your guitar learning experience, but I’m musically challanged. I have the fingers for piano, but nothing else. 😉

    Comment by Allen Wong — February 24, 2005 #

  5. Hey, Alan!

    Zak also has the benefit of having someone who took baking and pastry classes with master bakers in the house to steer him along. Like, when it comes to using the lame, I am there to show him basically how it works by demonstrating in the air over the bread the kind of quick movement it takes.

    And, too, we have no trouble buying equipment like scales and banneton, so that helps.

    Keep at it–bread takes diligence–and a bit of care. And Noddy is so right–the longer you let your dough proof at a lower temperature, the better. Good bread cannot be rushed.

    Now, I am off to make dinner. Yes, late dinner, but oh well.

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — February 24, 2005 #

  6. You guys are so COOL!

    Comment by Zarah Maria — February 25, 2005 #

  7. Thanks, Zarah–I will tell Zak you said so.

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — February 25, 2005 #

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