Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Artisan Breads: The Baguette

Well, here it is. The worst best baguette I'll ever make.

Yes, you read that correctly. But let me repeat myself: The worse best baguette I'll ever make. It's true. It's pretty tasty, and it's definitely the best baguette I've ever made. In fact, it's the first "true" baguette I've ever made. But the truth of the matter is that it's actually a terribly executed baguette. I have a lot of practice ahead of me.

Let me give you a bit of info. On Tuesdays/Thursdays, I meet for Artisan Breads from 7:30am to 2:00pm. This is amazing for a number of reasons but here are the main three. First, it's Artisan Breads. I mean, true and authentic artisan breads. What's not to like about learning that? Second, my instructor is a true artisan - he's a younger chef who has studied and studied and studied artisan breads for over 15 years. He's a true craftsman. He's extremely energetic and passionate. I'm grateful for the opportunity to learn from him. (He's originally from Philadelphia; he told me where I could get a good cheesesteak.) Again, what's not to like? And third, I'll get to learn how to make tons of different breads (with some other fun things sprinkled in). I'm not going to tell you all of the details now, because there needs to be some anticipation for you to continue to read. But I can tell you, it's going to seriously rock.

Well, if I can figure out how to get better at this quickly, that is.

So, let me bare all here. The honest to God truth is that all of the knowledge I had about bread, making bread, working dough, etc. won't even amount to 1% of the knowledge I need to succeed in this course. It's quite a challenge because it's not an introductory level course, but I am taking it along with my introductory classes. Therefore, I'm behind my peers and it is quite intimidating and overwhelming. There's no place to hide in a culinary lab, and my lack of skills is pretty evident. I have to go in there and try my best. And let me tell you, this morning's session was really hard for me.

It's also frustrating when you labor over a piece of work and it doesn't turn out very well. Of course I want my preparations to be successful, but I guess I've accepted the fact that I need to learn the hard way, and that starts from the ground up. Hence, the worst best baguette I'll ever make (hopefully).

So here's a few bits of information I can pass on to you. Bread baking is a ten-step process; it's hard to find a really good loaf of bread in any form because in the retail world, people tend to take a lot of shortcuts for a variety of reasons (time, cost, etc). So learning this craft is truly a gift, but I can easily understand now why some people won't even want to take it on. There's no exact formula. Yes, there are ten steps that you follow, but what works one day may not work the next and what tastes great one day may not taste great the next even if you did things exactly the same. Dough is tricky. You need to basically form a relationship with dough - work it, fold it, shape it - understand its texture and get an overall "feel" for what it is telling you.

Where does my bread need improvement? In a lot of places. The main thing you can see, the area that shows differentiation in color, is achieved through a process called stippling. My stippling is terrible. I didn't make my cuts deep enough or at the right angle. When this bakes, this area should open up much more when steam is added into the oven. Also, my overall color should be darker. Contrary to popular belief, a better bread is darker in color.

Like I said, it's not easy. I have my work cut out for me. I just hope that I can get better each day. In the end, that's really all I can do.

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