April 11, 2020
You have nothing to fear but… baking bread?
Not interested in what I have to say? I'll try not to take it personally.
For many newcomers to the kitchen, baking is scary. And baking bread is the scariest. There’s this thing called the baker’s percentage (wait, there’s math involved???), there are precise measurements, temperature readings, and not to mention the dreaded notion of yeast and ‘proofing‘.
When I was growing up, I wasn’t allowed to rough house anywhere near the kitchen if their was bread in progress. I might deflate the precious dough! And there were stories of the first bread my mother ever made that came out as solid as a brick. During my first job in a kitchen in high school, the assistant chef told me that I had to move quickly when working with bread dough so that the yeast wouldn’t exhaust itself.
There are an unlimited number of baking horror stories out there and myths to go along with them. I’m here to tell you that it’s all a load of poop.
Now don’t get me wrong – I’ve FAILED. And you might fail too. But it’s part of learning and experimenting. And 99% of the time, if you find a recipe that works for you, stick with it and it will never let you down.
My biggest tip for not failing is to follow instructions! Don’t start substituting ingredients on the first try unless the recipe provides reliable alternatives. Don’t try to make a recipe that calls for instant yeast with sourdough instead. At least not at first. Get some experience working with simple, straightforward recipes, and then you can spread your wings. It’s like the Karate Kid, ok? You must wax on, wax off a million times before you can karate chop a pile of bricks.
My second tip is don’t get discouraged. There are a million food blogs out there with beautiful photos of the most amazing looking food. What they don’t tell you, is that they’ve failed too. They also have an expensive camera that takes great pictures and this is their full time job. They have the time to work on a recipe and get it right. They’ve also taken classes on how to plate and photograph food. Many of them have culinary backgrounds. What I’m saying, is that if your food doesn’t come out looking like it was made for the cover of a magazine, that’s ok. Does it taste good? Were you happy when you made it? Did it fill your house with delicious smells? Then that is all that matters. Karen in the Hamptons can take her perfect crumb coated cake and shove it!
Now that I’ve got you pumped up from my pep talk, let’s make some frickin bread already! Since this may be your first attempt at sourdough baking, we’re going to start simple. There’s no kneading involved, no mixer necessary. All you need is time and patience. Oh, and a dutch oven.
My husband got me my first dutch oven for my birthday. *insert fart jokes here* Generally, it’s frowned upon for men to buy women kitchen things, but I LOVE IT! The dutch oven is the most amazing kitchen tool you can have. So I’m insisting that you get one if you don’t already have one. They make amazing soups and stews, they braise meat, they can even make french fries! But the best thing of all? They make the most delicious, crusty bread.
Many no-knead sourdough recipes have a bunch of convoluted steps involving placing the bread on a floured cloth and tipping it over seam side up when you bake it. These instructions are setting you up for failure. This dough is sticky, so getting it from your floured cloth (assuming you floured it enough!) and then inverting it into your smoking hot baking vessel is going to make you want to cry. Skip all of that. Once shaped, put your loaves in a bowl on top of parchment that you’ve sprayed with cooking spray and dusted with cornmeal. Then, when you’re ready to bake it, simply lift the parchment out of the bowl and into the baking vessel. No flipping, no tears.
My other tip for dealing with this sticky dough, is to let a spatula do the work for you. You can keep your hands and counter goo free this way! This recipe calls for stretching and folding the dough every hour for a few hours. Here’s a video to show how you can do this with the spatula instead:
That’s really all there is to it.
- Don’t be afraid.
- Follow instructions.
- Don’t get discouraged
- Practice, practice, practice
You’re gonna be making bread just like Karen from the Hamptons in no time.