Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Day for Baking: Part Heart, Part Science

Today I felt like baking. One of those unexplainable urges that occur on a winter Saturday...(Perhaps filling the void left by the end of the college football season and the winding down of NFL playoffs!)  Whatever the reason, I wanted to put on an apron and pour myself and my heart into the process of baking.  What is it about baking that feels more like an emotional experience than a household task?  I'm sure it has to do with memories, and the physical warmth of the kitchen on a cold day, mixed with the amazing smells, and promise of amazing flavors.  It's some kind of magic that soothes and encourages.                                                                                                             
Blah, blah, blah.  Enough of waxing poetic...                                                                                                                                                           
I got up this morning and went right for my bowl of cracked wheat artisan dough in the fridge. (No apron... Pajama pants.)  I had a little battle with the soft dough, trying to shape it into a large baguette shape, so that, hopefully, it would yield slices large enough to make reasonable sandwiches.  Even cold, it was threatening to sag into more of a flattened mound than a loaf, so I placed it in a glass baking pan and buoyed it up by packing folded towels in around it. I hoped to keep it rising up, rather than out.                                                                                                                                                                                                 
It worked fairly well, and in an hour and a half, I lifted it gingerly from the pan, made slices in the top and set it on the baking stone.  I poured water in the hot pan underneath to create steam and shut the oven door.  The loaf was already flattening....But when I returned in 15 minutes to insert the probe so I could finish the loaf to 190 to 200 degrees inside, the loaf had poofed nicely taller and I was satisfied.  I was even happier to see upon cutting this loaf that it actually had some good sized air bubbles I'd been lacking in previous artisan attempts.                                                                                 
Next, Princess Sassy texted me, asking if Princess Eager (11) might like to make a spectacular batch of cookies to welcome and reward Prince Steadfast after a long and successful day of wrestling competition.  I asked what kind they were hoping for, and she said that he actually wanted brownies.  I'm not a big cookie fan, and making them gets a little tedious.. Brownies, though, just suited my yearn to bake, so I snatched the job for myself.  --I should have waited awhile, because they won't be here for a few hours yet, and the hopefully gooey, uncut brownies are torturing us all!                                                                                                                                                  
I need to make granola, but 'need' stuff is not the type of baking that appeals to me today, so I left the kitchen to Princess Eager and her specialty chocolate chip cookies (we'll have a crowd of kids here tonight), and checked the Gardenweb Kitchen Forum for interesting discussions.  The discussion that caught my eye was OT: Time to take a reading break....The Science of Baking.... by Txpepper.  In the post, she linked an article written for The Atlantic by Joanne Chang, concerning the science of temperature in baking.  So now I could immerse myself in baking while enjoying a cup of something good, and sitting back with my feet up...a break from my oh-so-not-so-busy-day.  I've been interested in the science of cooking and baking since my Foods Science class in college.  This article was actually the 3rd in a series, so I printed all 3 and headed, mug in hand, to enjoy them snuggled into a comfy chair. (I just can't read, or at least enjoy reading, lengthy articles on a computer screen.)

These are the 3 articles, plus her specialty cookie recipe:
I really liked her!  She had me chuckling by paragraph #2, and completely relating to her in paragraph 3.  The relationship distanced when she so passionately pursued restaurant work and became a pastry chef, but I kept reading and kept enjoying, living vicariously through one who did what I never will. She's just enough scientist and pastry chef mixed with a good dose of real person to be able to communicate the concepts in an interesting and understandable manner.  Her cookbook is now on my list, and I may even make the chocolate chip cookies.  (Another recipe to make then refrigerate...Grumble, grumble.) It's a huge bummer that the things I am drawn to learn to bake are things I shouldn't be eating!  Good thing I have a crowd who will force themselves to take that bullet for me.


  1. Funny, I also made a pan of brownies for what turned out to be a long and successful day of wrestling. (I brought them to the tournament.)

    The bread looks great! GF bread has a tendency to spread out sideways. I'll have to try your rolled up towel method for an artisan type loaf.

  2. Have you ever tried those baguette pans that are perforated and have room for 2 or 3 loaves next to each other but in separate little troughs? I wasn't sure how that would work since then the bread wouldn't be in contact with the baking stone.

  3. RHome, the bread looks gorgeous and thks for the links to the articles. Like you, I can't read at length from a screen. I'm becoming more of a baker so this may inspire me further!


  4. I haven't tried them(or even seen them before.) But now I'm off to Williams-Sonoma to have a look-see.

  5. Hi, Liz! Thanks for coming by and I hope you enjoyed the articles.

    LaxS, Williams-Sonoma has a "French Bread Pan" and Amazon has French Bread and Baguette pans.


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