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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!!
Thanks for all the advice and support, I am going to eventually try all of these recipes.
I tried making the ciabatta since this worked best with my schedule. The crust was amazing. I have been hankering for a good crust since I returned from France. the inside texture was not as holey as I would have like but it was still pretty good. My big problem was the taste. Maybe I am not used to homemade bread, but it tasted like matzo in that it tasted like flour nothing else. Butter corrected this problem, but still I am wondering how to get a more flavorful bread.
re: Will S.
Agree with chowser and GG. With Italian bread recipes in particular you need to be aware of what percentage of salt they're using. Tuscan bread is made with none, for example. Obviously if it's some specialty bread (e.g. with olives or prosciutto), not such a big issue. I'd advise getting a good bread book that discusses baking percentages from the library. (I love RLB's Bread Bible.) Read it not so much for the recipes but for the science. As Chowser points out, too much salt will mitigate against yeast production. Also, the longer and slower the rise - preferably rises [plural] - the more flavourful the bread.
Also, my first ciabatta was from P. Wells' Trattoria book 10 yrs ago at least. I was chuffed with the result. Good crust, lacy stretchy "holey" interior with excellent crust. The dough was so wet it was more batter than dough. I mixed it with a wooden spoon the requisite length time. Her writing was the first to impress upon me the advantage of small small small amounts of yeast, numerous rises, throwing it in the fridge any time you like. (Develops better character.) I used to keep her pizza dough in the fridge for 5 or 6 days (making a small pizza or a couple of rolls every day or two) . . . each subsequent "product" was rounder in flavour than its predecessor. I don't make that particular dough any longer but the lesson was enduring and invaluable.
p.s. bleached flour is to be avoided for bread w character, IMO.
This one requires an ovensafe nonstick pot and a sturdy spoon: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/589286
I have been successful liberally coating a regular pan or pot with cooking spray before adding the flour, yeast, salt, and liquid. You can either do the overnight refrigerator rise or a shorter rise at room temperature. I've used a variety of flour combinations and add-ins; everything works. You get a round loaf about 3" high. Cutting 4 even slices around the circumference leaves you with a square that can then be sliced for rectangular sandwiches, or hot dog "buns", if you desire. Not a traditional shaped slice, but so what?
I suggest you go to your college library and get a copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. If your library doesn't have a copy, see if you can get it via interlibrary loan. Easy recipes, only a spoon, bowl, and maybe an instant-read thermometer is required (I don't even own a stand mixer, but I've used this book many times). You can make freeform loaves if you don't have any sort of pan (in fact, many if not most, of the recipes don't require baking pans). I usually halve the recipes. The Olive Bread (using the olive oil dough) has been requested by friends in the past. A baking stone, while nice to use, is not required (though the earlier suggestion in this thread about using unglazed quarry tiles is a good one).
To give you a sense of ABIFMAD, take a look at the website (and Jeff and Zoe are wonderful when it comes to questions!)