food: Rustic Italian Loaf

Step the second on my journey to the heart of baking.

This time I extracted my template was extracted from the exemplary America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book.  Their fastidious testing regime pairs well with the exacting nature of baking- little did I realize essaying my Rustic Italian Loaf would become a two day marathon.

And yet.....it looked so easy!

Well, technically, it is easy, at least with a Kitchenaid fitted with a dough hook on the counter- there's not much to it other than mixing stuff and shoving it around a little then stuffing it in the oven.  A breeze for anyone more adept at scheduling and planning than your humble narrator.  But I'm a fellow who looks at a map and just sees a bunch of crazy lines- I know they have meaning beyond the abstract of graphics on paper, but until I make the journey I don't understand them in a meaningful way.

So I glanced over the recipe, decided it looked simple enough, and stepped onto the path, mixing up the sponge before bedtime on Thursday.

What the page (and screen) fail to fully convey is the oddly cadenced, rigidly specific time scale of the project.  It's like one of those throwback Olympic events where a mundane task (running, skiing, riding) is punctuated by strictly defined action (shooting a pellet gun, crossing a water hazard, vaulting an obstacle).
I read it like that one Gary Larsen cartoon-

(a note on the uncanny nature of Google- I found this cartoon by typing 'gary larsen dog' into search, auto-fill did the rest...creepy.)

The recipe laid everything out clearly, but what I saw was "make sponge, wait a while, knead dough, wait a while, bake bread, WHEEEEE!  

So, the sponge went fine.  
There's leeway with it, the recipe calling for 6-24 hours, with longer being better up to a point.  So instead of starting in the morning, I started in the afternoon.  Which is why I ended up taking it out of the oven at about 1am.  There were a few more "wait a whiles" that expected, and a couple of them lasted several hours.  And  to get it out of the oven when I did I skimped on the final rest. cutting the suggested two hours down to 45 minutes.

Lesson?  Start in the morning.
Also, a tip I picked up reading some of my other baking books- you can slow things down whenever you like by sticking the dough in the refrigerator.  Too late for this loaf, but a handy tip for the future.

The result?  Amazing, even minus the suggested baking stone (I substituted a preheated baking sheet) & spray bottle of water to mist the crust with.  It was slightly malformed, sporting a right-angle turn at one end that Meek dubbed "the Tumor", but the flavor was unimpeachable.  Better than any locally available bread aside from the spectacular offerings of the Third Street Bakery, which if you're lucky is open twice a month. It was the recipient of Fuss' ultimate compliment- I made him toast in the morning, and after eating out the soft part like he always does, he started in on the crust, which he never does.

I'm looking forward to a better equipped, more informed second attempt.   If I can scrounge up a camera there may even be pictures...

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