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Sep 27, 2009 11:23 PM

Bread Making -- college edition

I have wanted to make bread for a very long time. Over the summer I made some delicious croissants but now I am back at my college dorm sans kitchen aid mixer. I basically have no tools beyond the basics -- a cookie sheet, a bowl, a large wooden spoon etc. and an electric oven of dubious quality. So no pizza stones or other hoity toity tools. Elbow grease only. Anyway, I am wondering what kind of bread I should attempt. My goal is to make a baguette but I have heard that making a good one is rather difficult and I can't afford to waste bags of flour.

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  1. If you can make croissants you can certainly make a baguette or a hearth-style loaf. I make a lot of bread (up to 3 lbs flour at a crack) strictly by hand. You might want to look at the Cook's Illustrated no-knead bread revisited recipe which would seem ideal for your situation, but any decent bread book would have lots of recipes suited to your needs. I learned to bake bread by working through Beard on Bread by James Beard when I was in college - never had to throw anything out.

    1. Well, Will, when it's a question of finances your best bet would be to start with something that is essentially fool proof. My first thought is a 'no knead" bread. But unless you have a Dutch oven or similar vessel that's probably not feasible.
      The next choice I would suggest is a simple Ciabatta loaf. A pizza stone is nice for preparing that bread but it isn't essential. A baking sheet with parchment paper serves nicely.
      I suggest you try this one:
      Try to find a flour that has a protein content greater than 10%. 11% - 12.5% is a good range. You don't need bottled water, but if you local tap water is highly chlorinated you may want to cook off the chlorine or, if it's laiden with minerals, you may want to pick up a bottle of distilled water. The stuff from your super market that is commonly used to fuel steam irons is fine. You dont need "purified" water. Also, for this recipe, any olive oil will work just fine. You don't need to pay for high priced gourmet olive oil.
      Best of luck and, if you're interest in making bread runs deeper than a simple curiosity, you'll find this group indispensable:
      One last point. Any time a bread formula refers to rise timing with words like "90 minutes or until doubled in bulk", remember to watch the bread, not the clock. If may double in 20 minutes or 2 hours. It's the development of the dough you're interested in, not what time it is.

      1. Is it cost that you don't have a stone? I bought unglazed quarry tiles for 30 cents each at Home Depot and only needed six to line my oven. You can bake a baguette on the cookie sheet, with pretty good results. It only requires 450 degree oven. Mixing/kneading can be done by hand--when dough is wet, I stretch it more like taffy and only start kneading when it becomes more like dough. The pictures in this site are helpful.

        Also, you can bake focaccia in a cookie sheet, as long as it has sides.

        1. Thanks for the advice and encouragement. Its funny, but I think a lot of cooking simply requires a bit of courage and reading your posts have emboldened me. Its not so much a money issue as it is an issue of time. A bad batch of bread is is another trip to the grocery and an hour or two making it again, plus waiting for the dough to raise. I'll try something this weekend and let you know how it goes.

          1. Will: you really don't a stand mixer to make bread. Breads been around for 10,000 years. I've come to hate those things b/c so many recipe authors assume that everyone has one. Hence everyone thinks they need fancy 'quip to turn out stuff our grandparents made routinely w/o. It's all so disempowering (not to mention consumption driven). Lots of people who live in small spaces don't want to use up valuable counter space with stand mixers and microwaves. If you can make croissants you do it all: after all croissants are a cross between laminated dough and yeast-risen bread. My suggestion is to begin with pizza. RLB's no-knead is delicious. But why not deliberately start with something that DOES require kneading? It'll be one more success you can chalk up to the power of your own perseverance and self-sufficiency. Go Will!!!