On Saturday, my son Ryan and I engaged in a bread-baking extravaganza. I’d requested the day as a Christmas gift–I wanted him to teach me how to make artisan breads. As an extra-special, wonderful bonus, he and my daughter-in-law, Dani, brought my beautiful granddaughter over to spend the day. Dani went shopping with her mother and sister and my husband did the babysitting while Ryan and I baked.
Although he bakes fantastic breads, Ryan’s not a professional baker. He and Dani are working on their doctorates in economics (yes, in addition to being new parents). Baking artisan breads is a hobby (edging on an obsession ) for Ryan. I taught him the basics of bread baking when he was a kid, and now things have gone full circle with him teaching me graduate level yeastonomics.
The night before our breadapalooza, as instructed by the master, I made two pre-ferments, a biga and a poolish, and left them out on the counter to do their yeasty magic. We started the first actual dough around 9:30am on Saturday. Our goal for the day–two batches of each of three varieties. Each batch made two loaves. The idea was that he would mix, fold and stretch, pre-shape, shape and slash two loaves of Italian, then I would do the same when my turn came. Repeat with potato rosemary bread and with rustic French.
Here’s the tricky part. I don’t have a commercial oven (alas), and I own only one baking stone. So only two loaves fit in my oven at any given time. We couldn’t make our Italian bread side by side because all four loaves would be proofed and ready to go in the oven at the same time. As a consequence, everything had to be staggered on the schedule. So what does any self-respecting doctoral candidate do to prepare for a breadapalooza? Create an Excel spreadsheet, of course.
I printed the schedule out on legal-sized paper and we taped it up onto the stove hood. That schedule was our lodestar. We spent half our time running over to check what we were supposed to be doing next. If you haven’t yet done the math–four loaves of each of 3 varieties of bread–we were making a dozen loaves. And because of the staggering effect, we had six sessions of mixing, six of stretch and fold, six of pre-shaping…you get the idea. Mass confusion at times, even with the schedule.
Which led to one bobble–the wrong batch of potato rosemary bread got shaped and put into the proofing basket. Instead of using the earlier one that my son had mixed, the one that wasn’t ready for shaping (which I had mixed), got prepped for proofing. This may sound like not a big deal, but when you’re going for perfection in appearance, crumb and taste, it was near disaster.
With a few adjustments, all turned out fine. The end results were quite spectacular as you can see from the picture.
It was a lot of bread, but it was oh-so-wonderful. And what a fantastic day with my son. Bonding over fermentation, gluten development, and autolizing. What more could a mother ask for?
If you’d like to see Ryan’s perspective of the day, hop on over to his blog entry at The Fresh Loaf. He’s got more pictures to admire.