Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Art of Making Bread

Bread making is believed to date to Neolithic times. In today's world, many cultures and their culinary habits are defined by their techniques of bread making. Bread is an essential part of the cultural and religious structures of many societies (Give us this day our daily bread). While leavened bread is typically a product of Western cultures, many Eastern cultures such as in India, use unleavened bread (for example the chapati) though we too have versions of leavened bread like naan which is typically fermented with yogurt. Most East Asian cultures use noodles or rice, though there are instances of use of steamed bread.

I have always been fascinated with the techniques of making bread, to say nothing of the beautiful warm comforting smell of yeast that fills the house when you bake bread. In all fairness my bread making while adequate has never reached the professional levels that one aspires to. So today I attended a lecture by Craig Ponsford who is the Chairman of the Artisan Bakers of America and who was the coach of the US team that won the The Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie (the world cup or Olympics of baking) in the Baguette ad Speciality Breads section of the competition.

I was disappointed by the fact that there was no live demo though he did show how to mix flour quickly. He has promised to return in a few months and conduct an actual class. However his 'theory' lecture was quite fascinating and exploded some cherished myths. For example:

  • Kneading and punching in the dough is absolutely not needed
  • There is no need to mix yeast in water to activate it anymore -- it can be used directly.
  • The best temperature for the dough to rise is 20-25 degrees not more. It's not a case of warmer the better.
  • Pre-fermenting is absolutely essential to get that texture and consistency.

Never having given up the nerdish habit of taking diligent notes, I copied all his instructions down and they are available at my recipes site (search for Bread). Some more stuff on bread making is available at Craig Ponsford's site.


Meena said...

Nice notes. But the proof of the bread, as of the pudding, is in the eating. Bake some and get it to IMSc for us to sample!

Shubashree said...

Do invite some external witnesses too...
I never heard about this - wd u post news of such workshops on yr blog?

AmOK said...

I thought this would be an article on how to make more money in the recent economy. I was quite disappointed to find it is about actual BREAD plus it exploded all my myths.

I would agree with M. The proof of the baking is in the heating. Bake some and send it on. My address will appear in a future comment. Thanks for a delicately flavoured post.

Sitabhra said...

"The best temperature is... 20-25 degrees not more"
There goes my hope of ever making any decent bread in Chennai ! :-)

Rahul Basu said...

not really. As Craig said, if you have a cool room (he meant A/C I guess) where you watch TV etc. just have the dough sit next to you watching TV!!!

BTW I have a thermometer at home and it always seems to show around 30 degrees. So I guess, you may need an A/C in Chennai just for making bread (and I thought you needed an oven -- silly me!).