I’ve always been an innovator. Though I can create things independently, I’m much better at tweaking and improving an existing process. And I’m not boasting when I say that I’ve had a successful career in software development being an innovator. Call it a quirk of my personality; it’s just who I am.
When I picked up bread making a few months ago, within a week of playing around with recipes from Ken Forkish’s excellent book “Flour Water Salt Yeast,” (FWSY) I started experimenting with different variables in the bread making process. One of those things was what I kind of felt was breaking free of the Dutch oven.
While I loved all the content in FWSY, just a few times into making some of Ken’s bread recipes, I started feeling confined. I didn’t want to just make boules. I wanted to make buns and baguettes. I wanted to make pan bread and batards. But with a Dutch oven, I had one shape and one shape only: The shape of my Dutch oven. It felt incredibly limiting even though I was still learning.
So I started using a baking stone to bake all my bread; actually, two of them as I have a double-deck oven. That opened up a whole new world to me and literally forced me to learn about working dough and forming the gluten network structure. It forced me to learn how to properly shape all kinds of dough to create surface tension. It forced me to learn how to use steam to get a great oven spring.
Once I stopped using a Dutch oven, I had a few epic fails, mostly with collapsing loaves that would come out fairly dense. I’m smiling as I write this because they were ugly loaves! I’m a lot better with shaping now, though I realize I still have a ways to go. But in spite of that, I have a sense of freedom now that I’m not using a single baking medium.
Which leads me to the title of this post…
I was recently on an online forum where people share their bread making techniques and their finished products. Ninety percent of the folks shared their boules, which made me immediately think that they used a Dutch oven. I’ll be honest: When I read how they were making their bread, I immediately thought they kind of cheated.
I know. It makes no sense. These loaves were legit! Great crust, great crumb, and I imagine, great-tasting as well. But having graduated beyond the Dutch oven, I couldn’t help but feel that they were limiting themselves to just that style of bread. I immediately felt ashamed for thinking that, which is why I’m writing this post – kind of as an apology for being a bit condescending.
The plain fact of the matter is that I have completely geeked out on home-based bread making. I spend hours every day researching different techniques and adapting them to my home kitchen. I want to learn how to make all types of different bread. I want to experiment with different hydration rates and different flours. And the funny thing is that I can’t even eat 95% of the bread I make because I have high blood pressure! 🙂
So I realize that my journey is completely different from others. And to avoid ever descending into sanctimonious behavior, I’m going to share my journey in this blog.