Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Courage/Failed Bread

I was probably eight or nine when I made my first (failed) attempt to make bread. I was definitely an ambitious eight/nine year old, because I decided that I would make baguette. I guess I figured that as a student at the French school, I had the right to reach for the top and make the simple but practically impossible to perfect crusty, golden brown loaf. What I ended up with was a dense, over floured white log which would have probably been ideal as a fire starter come to think of it. Maybe it was the fact that I forgot to knead the dough, nonetheless the visions I had of myself as a grown-up adorned in white with a cloud-like hat upon my head went right out the window. Aside from the pain of personal failure, I was also devasted because this bread was intended as a Mother's day gift (made the day-of) and I was left with something likened to semi-edible playdoh for my mom. I tried to cover up my tracks (more for myself than for her) and pretend the bread fiasco never happened, but any good thief knows that flour leaves some serious tracks; and, well I was busted. My ever-pragmatic mom thanked me for thinking of her and then suggested that I leave bread-making to the professionals, because no matter what homemade bread was never as good as what you could buy. I didn't believe her then; and I don't believe her now. After all, breadbaking started off at home.
So, several years later and an ocean away, I find myself living in Italy and my desire to learn about food and learn to make the "un-makeable" is overwhelming. I have decided to put my failed past behind me and try to make bread again. I have no training, no reason to think that I am capable of doing so, other than the fact that I am desperate to succeed, desperate to burn my fingers on the freshest of crusty, golden goodness.
I am proud to announce, I am getting there. Well the burned fingers part is taken care of, and as for the perfect bread, I think it will happen on the next try. Italians are by far some of the most regionalist people I know, and the debate over which bread is best is practically never-ended.
My favorite is Sicilian bread, unlike bread from other regions, it uses salt and is topped with crunchy sesame seeds. I decided to try this one first. It was good, definitely edible especially dipped in succulent italian olive oil. It was a little denser than I wanted and the top crust was slightly leathery (the bottom crust was perfect!). I identified a few of the mistakes I made and tried to rectify them today when I made a Rosemary-Walnut Boule.
Huge improvements, the inside was fluffy and flavorful, and the leatheriness was less of an issue. Next, I am going to try out the Focaccia alle Cipolle I keep buying at the panificio on my street.
I am 98% confident that tomorrow's attempt will be "the one." If not, well then definitely the day after tomorrow's. That's the thing about cooking, you can just keep trying, time after time until you get it just right.