New Beginnings + A Bread List

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You know that quote about how every end is a new beginning? Well, today more than any other day feels like an appropriate time to use it, for today is both the last day of my bread study AND my last day of high school!

It’s surreal to say the least. In my head I’m still making plans about breads to make and topics to blog about, all the while forgetting that my project and high school are officially over. As tends to happen when I delve into topics, I feel as though I’ve opened a Pandora’s box into the world of bread. One could spend years learning about each of the ingredients and processes that go into bread-making, experimenting with infinite combinations and proportions, or studying the centuries-long relationship between man and bread– and indeed, many do.

When I started this project back in December, I had a million different ideas about the direction I wanted to go and wrote an outline to keep myself on track. In the end, I put my outline aside and let the project unfold on its own. This was partly intentional but mostly done out of convenience, as I quickly realized how hard it can be to stick to a timetable given the demands of modern life.

Overall, I’m happy with the way my project turned out. I learned about French bread from the perspective of an artisanal baker, and read my way through numerous cookbooks, blogs and articles. I tasted exquisite loaves from the gastronomical center of the world, made bread using pure trial and error, and documented the entire thing in my first-ever blog. If I could do one thing differently, I would devote more time to making a sourdough starter and experimenting with wild yeast breads. Still, I’m glad I started with simpler, yeasted breads as the experience I gained will be useful when it comes to making more challenging loaves.

While my project is finished, my education is certainly not. Next fall I’ll be attending a liberal arts college in British Columbia, Canada (hence the photo with the mountains above), where I plan to pursue my love of learning, writing, cooking, baking, and many other things. I’ve also decided to continue my blog for the time being and see where it leads me. For all I know, it could shift from a blog about bread to a food blog to a blog about life in general! The possibilities are endless, and I look forward to seeing what becomes of it.

So there you go. It may sound rather final, but consider this more of an update than a goodbye. For my last piece of writing for this project, I figured I’d devote an entire post to recent breads I’ve made. Here is, in no particular order, a summary of the breads I’ve experimented with over the last month. Enjoy!

1. Ciabatta, Poolish Version

From The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart, pg. 135

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Ciabatta was definitely one of the more difficult loaves I’ve made. I had fun stretching and folding the layers, but didn’t have much luck achieving the large holes that ciabatta is known for. I also struggled getting the dough to rise in my cold kitchen. For anyone else with this problem, here’s a tip: put your dough in an unheated oven along with an open pot of boiled water. The steam will heat up the oven just enough for the bread to rise. If you’re worried about the dough rising too fast or the air becoming humid, put a thermometer inside the oven and take out the water when the desired temperature has been reached.

To find a similar (but more successful) version of the ciabatta I made, check out this woman’s blog.

2. Simple Yeasted Bread

I made this bread on a whim when the weather outside was drizzly and I felt like eating something warm and comforting. It’s a simple bread that uses rolled oats and tastes a bit like an English muffin. The best part is that it only takes a couple hours to make. The original recipe comes from Gran’s Kitchen by Natalie Oldfield and can be found here on the 101 Cookbooks blog.

3. Challah

From The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart, pg. 133 (you can find a thorough, step-by-step version of the recipe I used here)

Challah is probably my favorite bread of all time. My love for it is somewhat odd, as I am not Jewish nor have I ever taken part in Jewish traditions. Rather, I have fond memories of it from elementary school, when I used to trade Goldfish crackers for my friend’s challah during snack hour. For those who aren’t familiar with challah, it’s an enriched bread made with oil, eggs, and sugar. The bread traditionally has 12 braided strands, but 3 strands are enough to create a plump and impressive loaf.

4. Buckwheat Bread, Gluten-Free

From Wholehearted Eats blog (find the original recipe here)

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Over the last few months, I’ve been searching for gluten-free breads to accommodate my brother’s new diet. (My mom realized his skin problems were largely connected to gluten and, much to my brother’s chagrin, made him cut back on his bread/pasta intake.) I found this “unbelievable buckwheat bread” that uses buckwheat groats, psyllium husks, chia seeds, olive oil, baking soda, water, and salt. As you can see, I sprinkled some additional poppy, sunflower, pumpkin, and flaxseeds on the top. The loaf came out good but moist, so I would suggest toasting the slices before you eat them to make up for that missing crunch.

5. Pita Bread

From Crust & Crumb by Peter Reinhart, pg. 140 (a very similar recipe can be found here)

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I considered not posting these photos as my pita bread looks nowhere near as good as it tasted. (It’s the inside that counts anyway, right?) But, as my new saying goes, practice makes better. And perhaps with some practice, my pita bread will someday resemble the neat, round pockets one finds at Middle Eastern restaurants and grocery stores.

Wonky appearance aside, this bread was delicious and some of the easiest I’ve ever made! I used half all-purpose flour and half whole-wheat flour, but you can use whatever proportion you like. It goes great with hummus, tabbouleh, curries or anything, really.

6. Socca (Gluten-Free Chickpea Flatbread)

Socca isn’t exactly bread, but I still wanted to include it as it’s a great recipe for those who are gluten-free. Originally from Nice, France, socca is made by mixing 1 cup chickpea flour, 1 cup water, 1½ tablespoons olive oil, and ½ teaspoon salt. Leave it in the fridge for an hour, then cook it on the stovetop or in the oven, and voilà! Socca is comparable to a pancake, but it can also be used as a pizza crust, burrito, naan, pita bread, etc. It’s extremely versatile and very delicious! You can find an article and instructions on how to make socca here.

7. Rye Bread, Sponge Method

From The Village Baker by Joe Ortiz, pg. 114 (find the recipe here)

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Again, the aesthetics. I know they’re not great. But hear me out! This was my first rye loaf and I was pretty happy with how it turned out. To bring out the tangy flavour of the rye, I made a poolish (or pre-ferment) and let it sit for 3 hours before mixing in the remaining ingredients. The dough was super sticky when I kneaded it, so I would suggest adding more flour until the consistency is easier to work with. Next time, I’ll try proofing the dough in a banneton and see if it comes out more plump.

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