Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Confusion and Clarity

More than a year ago, when I first heard they decided to close my department, I approached Ashkelon College with a plan to move our program over to their already existing and highly successful Graphics Program. The idea was to graft onto this program a separate track, offering students the possibility of studying Graphics and then a specialty in Printing Technology. After several discussions, drafts of plans etc. I was informed they had dropped the idea for lack of interest. Imagine my surprise, then, to receive an email yesterday from them informing me that they were in fact trying to institute my plan in some form. Are they just being polite and running with my program? Maybe. Still it is intriguing. I am still determined to make a go of it in the baking world... don't misunderstand. Still it is reassuring to think I could have a cushion in the form of a part time job teaching what I do anyway while building the baking business on a parallel track.

In that spirit I went to pick up my 'uniform' yesterday at the store for professional clothing (jackets, safety shoes, bandannas etc.) Tomorrow I will get my tools of the trade and have them engraved with my initials. Next week, May 12 we actually start the course. I am more than ready. In addition, I have decided to teach myself cooking techniques using Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking (2 Volume Set)
 as a guide. I admit I am inspired by the movie Julie and Julia. If you haven't seen it you should. I thought it was great especially the scenes where Julia Child (Meryl Streep) is in Paris training at the Corden Bleu. The 'stuck-up' attitude of the other students and the instructors at the school and especially the administrator were so funny ("Ms. Child, you have no great talent for teaching. You can teach Americans, if you wish, they will never know the difference!") but, of course, in hindsight, the movie was not inaccurate. Julia Child's culinary greatness lay in her ability to simplify and demystify French Cooking. She made this great cuisine accessible to everyone and explained the techniques, not in thousands of recipes, but by demonstrating essential techniques through classic recipes. This way, as she explains, you could adapt the techniques to create countless variations. In time, you would not need recipe collections hardly at all. They would become superfluous as the ingredients would suggest the preparations. Anyway, inspired by the movie, I am going to start going through her book. I figure, if over the next few years I can 'master' techniques from several major cuisines (French, Italian, Chinese) as well as a few others (Thai, Indian, as well as essential techniques like grilling etc.) I can become an accomplished chef, and have some fun and eat well on the way.

Last week and this I have been experimenting with a 'classic' herb bread recipe I found online (Idon't remember where, sorry!). This is a whole wheat bread that divides whole wheat and all-purpose flour equally so the bread is not too dense and heavy. I have been trying to create a bread with a crunchy crust that preserves a soft, not too crumbly crumb. I want a sandwich bread that is savory (hence the herbs) that will be perfect for grilled meat, steak and burgers etc. as well as cold cuts or even a nice sharp cheese with some Dijon mustard spread over nicely. I have now made the loaf twice and this is the latest tweak. The latest loaf came out almost perfect... perhaps a little more steam and one minute less in the oven. In the meantime, good eating and more experimenting next week. Here's the recipe and instructions. Enjoy!!

Whole Wheat Herb Bread

Prep Time: 10 min
Total Time: 3 hours 40 min
Makes: 1 loaf (1 1/2 lb) -- 12 slices

1 1/4 cups water
1 1/2 cups all purpose or bread flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons dry milk
2 tablespoons butter or margarine -- softened
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
2 teaspoons bread machine or quick active dry yeast
1/2 cup dry-roasted sunflower nuts

The original recipe was for a bread machine. If you go that way, and I use my machine sometimes but mostly for making dough, then just add the ingredients in the order recommended by your manufacturer, set it for white bread cycle (add the nuts after the first mixing - after about 10 or 15 minutes - and bake. It will fill your kitchen with a wonderful smell of baking thyme and basil.

If you decide to shape the loaves yourself, then mix all the ingredients and then knead for about 10 minutes to produce a smooth slightly sticky dough. Place in a well-oiled bowl and turn to coat and then in a warm location until doubled (about 1.5 hours). Then turn out the dough onto a floured surface, knead to degas and shape into a loaf the same length as your baking pan. Oil the pan and place the dough to rise again until about 1 inch (2.5 cm)above the sides of the loaf pan (about 45 minutes). About ten minutes before finishing the second rise pre-heat the oven to 350F (175C) and bake for 25-30 minutes. I sprayed the loaf with water just before placing in the oven and also sprayed the sides of the oven generously to create a steamy environment. The resulting loaf is crusty on the outside and with a soft yummy interior. Enjoy!!

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