Monday, August 6, 2012

Professional Bread Anyone?

Just a little back-story here, to let the excitement build...

Once upon a time I went to a deli and asked if they made their own bread, since they had a brick oven on the premises. After chatting for a bit, he offered to let me look at his cookbook. Thinking this was the 'secret diary' of baking (complete with handwritten recipes), I was ecstatic.

The next day I stopped by, he handed me a book- it was not what I expected. It was not the hand-written Tome of Bread-making Knowledge full of secret recipes handed down from someone's great grandmother. It was a professional cookbook; one that didn't have recipes, but formulas. Yes, you heard me. Formulas. This was not an ordinary cookbook.

First, this book was over five hundred pages long, and wasn't just filled with bread recipes. It had everything from fish to desserts, from fancy pastry to how to properly cook different cuts of beef. And this man let me take the book home to study it for a few days. Study was indeed the correct word. You see, this book was used for big-time culinary school students. I was holding a book I would never have held without paying a college tuition!

After reading the first few pages on bread (yes, there was no tiny pre-paragraphs before a formula/recipe in this book), I'd realized that this was no book I could learn in a few days. I couldn't copy it either, since it had about a thousand pages of text to scan. So I did the next best thing- I took the ISBN number, copied it, and returned the book to the deli guy. I would buy my own book if I could!

The good news was that the book was available to buy- for one hundred dollars. Being the savvy shopper I am, I did a little snooping. It's a good thing I did too, because I found another book by the same author that focused only on the culinary arts of bread-making. Both were on some obscure site I'd never heard of, but that wasn't the best news- both books were selling for a whopping one dollar apiece! Shipping for each was about three dollars each. I couldn't hit the 'Buy' button fast enough! A few days later I was holding two professional culinary cookbooks worth a small fortune (at least to me!) for a paltry eight dollars total.

I was in pig heaven.

I flipped through the pages slowly, savoring the diagrams of the six-fold flaky pastry, the shaping of artisan breads, and even how to make hoagie rolls and other baked goodies. But there were two small issues. One, the formulas weren't in cups and teaspoons, but pounds and grams. Despite the wonders of the internet, no one could really fathom just how much flour was in a pound (the best guess was 'about'  four cups), and this was an exact art, so I couldn't just guess. Two, there was a secret ingredient that I didn't have, that made the bread rise better and make the crust softer. It wasn't essential, but I wanted to do it right- besides, who doesn't want a softer crust and better rise?

I got back online and ordered a baker's scale and the secret ingredient (malt powder, aka diastatic malt powder). They should be here in a few days. We also went to Lancaster and bought unbleached flour and unbleached bread flour (25lbs. each), so when my goodies arrive I can start the baking process! Of course I want to see if I can measure it out in cups and teaspoons if possible, as well as break down the amounts as well- after all this is not a restaurant and I don't need twenty loaves of bread at a time! Of course, if I made it all up and froze some, it would last longer....or had a bunch of friends over for sandwiches....or donated some to a shelter...the possibilities are endless!

I'm no longer in pig heaven- I am in bakers' heaven!

I can almost smell it baking...can you?


lynnmosher said...

So cool, Beth! I l-o-v-e homemade bread. Thanks for the secret ingredient. I'll have to get some. Would love to know your favorites.

Beth Brubaker said...


I think my biggest fave would be rye bread. I've never been able to make that soft, chewy crust, and now I'm going to try experimenting to see if I can! :)

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