I’ve discovered a nasty element of food blogging. Not that I haven’t suspected it for quite some time, but only just recently have I finally faced it head-on and answered back. I speak of the food blogging concept that once you have posted on a given dish or food, you shall never re-visit that same dish or food, because …, I guess because of some bit of foolishness that creeps into the brains of food bloggers that suggests that doing so would be making our posts stale, or less than exciting. And to that I say, For whom?
I’m sorry, all you faithful regular readers – all two of you – but when it comes to choosing what I write about, only I matter! I decided this long ago when I first decided to do this blogging thing. Yes, I thought about it for a long time -seriously- and finally came down to a rationale for doing this at all – I decided to blog because it would be good for me mentally – it would help sharpen my writing skills, maybe even teach me something about the various subjects I’d have to research, maybe even provide a venue for learning more about cooking and baking. But above all, what I wanted to avoid was ever having a feeling of obligation – or a loss of the freedom to do whatever I wanted to do, for whatever reason I wanted to do it! That means never having any advertising, which just eventually makes all writers hypocrites and dishonest (you may see occasionally a few bits of advertising on the bottom of my posts, but that’s WordPress’s, not mine – if I want to use their software free of charge, I agree to let them put a few advertisements there. Sorry!).
But I digress – my wordy intro above is simply to say that my subject today is something that I’ve already posted on once, namely, Pumpernickel Raisin Bread. And why not? It’s a bread we love – and even more importantly, I’m not going to bake something new just to have a “fresh” post. Besides, every time a baker bakes, he/she learns something new -or should- so, why not?
Whatever – my sourdough starter was eager -and quite ready to be put to good use – and so I put together a bread we both love. Having found no better recipe to follow, I again used Daniel Leader’s formula from his book, Bread Alone – and here was my initial post. Yes, this loaf is a bit more labor intensive than most, but then, it’s more delicious than most too – so …
As you can see, it baked up attractively, but of course, I made my usual number of mistakes on it, prime among them, not checking the recipe when baking time came alone – I have this innate desire to bake from memory, which I believe stems from the fact that I can’t remember shit, so of course I think that baking from memory somehow makes my memory better! Does this work? Somehow, I think not! Anyway, my mistake was to set the oven temp to 400F rather than 375, and to bake for maybe 50 minutes instead of an hour and 15. However, I did use an instant thermometer, and it measured 211F before I pulled them – so maybe the hotter oven made up for the shorter time – ? The bread doesn’t seem to have suffered, so maybe I dodged that bullet.
But I did make a second error – which sadly can also be attributed to a diminished memory – when it came time to slip the two boules into their baskets for the final rise, which in this case was an overnight in my splendid outdoor BBQ grill and proofing enclave, I failed to place them in the baskets upside down. By that I mean, when you finish forming the round, tight, boules, it is best to place them in the baskets with the seam side up – this is so that when you are ready to move them from the basket to the oven, you simply have to tilt the basket onto your peel, or parchment. In my case, I would have had to try to turn the loaf over once more, so that the perfect side was on the top.
So, as I slid the first boule out of it’s basket, I found myself looking at the seams which I had not pinched closed quite tight enough, and now they were suggesting that they may, in fact, open as they baked. My initial thought was to try and turn the loaves over, but I knew if I did that, I’d lose a good deal of their rise – my second thought was to let them go ahead and open as the loaves expanded, and we’d see later how much damage that would incur. Luckily -again- it didn’t open all that much, and in fact, it looks rather natural as it turned out. But I still believe that the best option here is to remember to place the boules in the basket “seam side up”, and to close those seams as well as you can.
I also learned a third thing with this baking – and this is perhaps the most important of the lessons – one of my frequent errors in baking is to over-proof. I know it, but I still commit the same error over and over – Why? Well, we can start with the declining memory, but more subtly, I think it may be because I’m unconsciously enamored with the magic of the rise – I simply love to see the result of bread rising! Better bakers know that many breads -like this one- only need a minimal rise prior to baking, because for whatever reasons, they have phenomenal oven spring. In his book, Leader is quite clear about this fact, and had I been more observant, I’d have seen that, and perhaps my bread would have been better for it (if you look at the visual differences between this baking and my initial baking, the difference is quite obvious.).
Perhaps the really good thing about having baked the same loaf several times is that as your experience grows, so do your expectations – you may begin to look for near perfection, and it then only takes a minor flaw or two to put you in critical mode. Your friends may look at your loaf and wonder what the hell you’re talking about, as it looks simply fantastic to them.
What’s interesting to me about all this is that I may be the least critical and most easily satisfied person I know – I simply can’t be bothered worrying about these kinds of things. Sadly, this character flaw may well stem from never having been good enough at anything to get over the first hurdle. But I guess we all tend to have this “perfection” gene hidden away somewhere, ready to jump out and bother the hell out of us at any given time.
I guess it’s the price we food addicts must pay for wanting to eat well.