Fun with Bread

Following a power outage in our building, the routers are a bit screwy. This gives me a few free minutes to write about a hobby I've recently taken up: Bread. I've never baked my own bread before a few weeks ago (in fact I have never used yeast before). While there are a lot of great references out there, I decided to follow Julia Child's french bread recipe in The Way to Cook, at least in part because I trust this book, and in part because Julia advises the cook to use a food processor (which I have) rather than a stand mixer (which I don't have). After mixing, resting, hand kneading, first rise (40 minutes) and second rise (two hours) I got to shape the dough, and this is the most interesting part. The technique needed to create the long thin baguettes seemed a little complex for my taste, so I elected to divide the dough in half and create two round loaves. The trick here is to create a "gluten cloak"-- a tightly pulled web of long gluten strands-- on the smooth side of the round (this will ultimately be the top of the round). Then the dough rises again in its shaped form; the last step before baking in a 450° oven on a stone is "slashing" the dough with a razor blade-- this allows some of steam to escape and looks nice in the final product. Here's one loaf from my first batch:

I also made Julia Child's recipe for hamburger buns, which is a lot of work (sadly, no pictures). The results were very nice, however, and they looked especially great painted with some egg wash and dusted with sesame seeds. A few weeks later I made another batch of french loaves:

Most recently I tried the America's Test Kitchen sandwich bread recipe. This is a nice quick recipe: if you are well organized you could execute it start to finish in just over two hours. The bread includes milk, butter, and honey, which makes for a soft, slightly sweet, slightly yellow bread which I found to be better than anything available at the supermarket:

Once the hot weather breaks I hope to do some more experiments: I think the french bread could be better-- it's a little dense and the little air pockets in the bread are a bit too fine and too uniform, I think...
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