Bread bakers know the joy of soft crumb and crisp crust

November 08, 1998|By Rob Kasper

I COMPARED NOTES on bread baking with a couple of pros recently. For almost an hour we discussed dough, flour and glazes, the finishes that are brushed on the top of loaves.

As an amateur who bakes bread about twice a week, I didn't need to be sold on the joy of bread-making. So when this pair of professional bakers, one French and one Italian, came to town to promote their new book "Ultimate Bread" (DK Publishing, 1998, $25), I skipped over the "why-would- anyone-want-to-bake-bread" part of the interview. Instead I went straight to bread-making tips and baking techniques.

I was looking for ways to jazz up my basic bread. I use a baguette recipe, but instead of forming it into long, thin loaves, I form it into round, fat loaves.

Eric Treuille, the Frenchman who once worked as a mitron - or baby baker - in his uncle's boulangerie and is now program director of the Books for Cooks Cookery School in London, said putting a glaze on my bread would liven it up.

Brushing a mixture of honey and orange juice - 7/8 honey to 1/8 orange juice - on the warm loaf after it comes out of the oven could add a slightly sweet flavor to the crust, he said.

His Italian partner, Ursula Ferrigno, who grew up on a farm in southern Italy and who now runs a cooking school in Umbria, suggested that I try brushing my bread with olive oil, both before it went in the oven and again when it came out of the oven. The oil, she said, added flavor and made the crust glisten.

As the bread experts talked, I scribbled.

Ferrigno said that using a high-quality bread flour is important. She preferred the King Arthur's brand. They both approved of the technique of putting baking stones, or tiles, in the oven. These help radiate the heat evenly in the oven, they said.

Ferrigno said that when she wants a crisp crust on her breads, she places a baking dish filled with ice cubes in the oven to add steam. She puts it on the bottom rack while the oven preheats. She puts the loaf of bread in the oven above the ice cubes. As soon as the ice cubes have melted, she removes the baking dish. This seemed easier to me than the steam-making technique I had been using, spraying the sides of my oven with a water sprayer.

As for yeasts, Ferrigno advocated fresh yeast, because she grew up baking with it. Treuille preferred using a "sponge." He dissolves dry yeast in lukewarm water, then carefully mixes the liquid with a wooden spoon in a well of salted flour until it forms a paste. Next, he lets the paste sit for 20 minutes, until it doubles in size, then he adds more liquid and flour. I was intrigued by these yeast-handling techniques, but in the end, decided to stick to my former dough-making method of using instant yeast and mixing it, along with flour and water, in a food processor.

I might, however, try substituting some milk for the cup of water I normally use. This switch, Treuille said, would make the interior, or crumb, of the bread softer.

Before the bread makers left, I got a recipe from them using leftover bread. They told me to grill four slices of leftover bread, then rub one side of the hot bread with the cut side of a clove of garlic. Finally, they said, sprinkle the bread with about 4 tablespoons of olive oil and salt to taste. The olive oil should be high quality, they said. But the crucial ingredient is the bread. It has to be stale and homemade.

Pub Date: 11/08/98

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