Cooking Through Ratio: Doughs and Batters – Bread

Sliced Baked Baguette
Sliced Baked Baguette

It’s the method that I’m after and so as I mentioned previously, I will be embarking on a journey and cooking my way through Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking in a series entitled Cooking Through Ratio. This post is my first installment in the series.

Bread is one of those things that seems so hard to make. My mother was always “scared” of making bread. She’s a great cook and so making it seemed difficult to me. It’s one of those things that only bakers seem to know how to do. Ruhlman’s  Ratio opens up with bread dough, an interesting challenge for the bread making averse. “Everyone should be able to make bread when they want to, but rarely do we because of the perceived effort involved. When you know the ratio for bread, bread is easy.” (p. 5) I was up for the challenge.

A key component of ratio based cooking is the scale. The reason for this is that it helps produce consistent and repeatable results. It takes the inconsistency out of cooking when dealing with volume based measurements which can vary greatly due to simple changes in aeration or humidity in dry ingredients for example.

The basic ratio for bread dough is 5 parts flour, 3 parts water, some yeast and a bit of salt. This produces a versatile lean dough that can be modified based on the cook’s will to produce many variations.

I had never worked with yeast or bread flour as the basic ratio calls for, and combined with a stand mixer equipped with a dough hook, this was going to going to be a unique experience for me in more ways than one.

Last night, ingredients and hardware ready, I measured out the flour and water inside of the mixing bowl, added yeast and salt and set the mixer on the correct speed (2 in my case) for mixing dough. The mixer went to work and a little over 10 minutes later my dough was mixed and ready to rise. After about an hour, I tended to the dough which had doubled in size, needed it a few times to rework the gluten and redistribute the yeast all inside the mixing bowl. I then covered the bowl with plastic wrap and placed it in the fridge to rest over night.

Tonight I took my dough out and made sure my oven was pre-heated to 450 degrees which was easy and quick to do after just having made stuffed green peppers. I wanted to make a baguette for my first attempt, so I rolled it out on the non-stick cookie sheet I planned to bake it on which was generously floured. I covered the bread with a moist towel and let it rest for 10 minutes while I placed a cast iron skillet into the oven on the lower rack to warm up. This would be used in the next step to create steam.

After 10 minutes, I poured a cup of water into the skillet to create the steam which as the book instructed would help produce a nice crispy, crunchy crust. The sound and amount of steam created was much more than I expected. The kitchen always has its surprises.

For 10 minutes, the bread baked at 450 degrees before lowering the heat to 375 degrees for the remaining 50 minutes. I took the bread out of the oven and knocked on it a few times listening for a hollow sound. The bread delivered.

Baked Baguette
Baked Baguette

Set to cool on my counter a few minutes, I sliced it open and tasted it. This is heaven. The warm slice was so delicious I was actually upset that I did not make more dough for bread later on in the week. Overall I was surprised that something that seemed so hard was actually so simple to make. For a collective 15 minutes of actual work I was able to enjoy fresh bread at home, a pleasure all should experience.

Cooking through this series is going to be a fun endeavor, one which I am glad I took upon myself.

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