Saturday, October 17, 2015

California Baking...On Such An Autumn Day (With Apologies to The Mamas and The Papas) - Part The Second

Once we finished devouring the biscuits Denise and I made, I had several hours to contemplate my second San Diego baking adventure: teaching my nephew, Robbie, something about baking bread. I'd chosen this recipe from King Arthur Flour, which is turning out to be quite the resource for me. Again, this was a recipe I'd never made before, so I was taking a chance using it to teach Robbie about bread baking. 

Truth be told, though, all I really wanted to do was give him a good first experience, and regardless of how the bread turned out, I'd be successful in that goal. Because even when you turn out a bad loaf of bread, you learn something and grow as a baker. At least that's how it's been for me...and I've made a lot of bad loaves of bread. I just wanted us to get our hands covered in flour, and inhale the smell of the yeast, and fill the kitchen and the house with the aroma of sugars caramelizing in the oven as the bread baked. That experience I knew I could give him.

Sidebar On My Nephew's Baking:

My brother an I are sci-fi nerds in general and Star Wars nerds in particular. His first child is no different, which usually made shopping for him pretty easy. One year for his birthday, which falls right between mine and my father's, I bought him a Star Wars cookbook because it was cute...and included a recipe for "Wookie Cookies". He actually made some and said they were pretty good. My brother told me that he's been interested in baking since then. So, I guess you could say that it's a little bit my fault that my nephew enjoys baking. 

Sidebar On My Nephew's Baking Ends.

Of course, I had to wait until after he got home from band practice before we could start. This was a good thing because it gave me time to prepare myself for the lesson. A teacher should never stop learning as far as I'm concerned and I figured I would learn a thing or two by the time we were finished. More on that later.

Once Robbie got home and washed up, we started with a quick tour of our work space, set up everything mise en place, and give him a brief lesson on the type of yeast, Saf Instant, we'd be using to bake the bread. Then we got into mixing...

Mix masters!
...and kneading. 

Prep the hands. Prep the table. And prep the mind.
I had to smile as I showed him how to knead bread dough. I don't think he realized how much work it would be – how much arm and upper-body strength he'd have to use. It was a kick watching this young man, whom I used to be able to toss into the air with one arm, get his hands covered in flour and wet dough.

Gathering it all together...
...and press, roll, fold, press, turn, fold-fold-fold, press, turn...
Although he's tall, almost as tall as I am, he hasn't filled out yet, so he had to really throw himself into working the dough. Trooper that he was, though, he stuck with it for the full eight minutes. (Nice little workout, yes?) I'm not sure he got the more subtle techniques of using the heels of your hands and rolling the dough while pressing down. Or how to gently lift and turn as you knead. Heck, I'm only just now getting the hang of it, but I'll be able to help him figure it out. It's really a shame that we're on opposite sides of the country; I'd love to have more time to teach him all these nuances I'm beginning to learn for myself.

That's something I really wanted to impart to him was that even though it seemed difficult, he'd get better at it the more he did it. I know that I felt a lot of discouragement at his age when things I wanted to do didn't come easily. I also wanted to get teach him to appreciate some of the unexpected elements of baking, such how amazing the dough begins to smell as it's coming together...and later how the kitchen fills with the aroma of the dough rising as the yeast does its thing. It's not all about the smell of baking (although, yeah, it kind of is).

The results of our kneading were different, as I expected.

Checking on the rise...

And again...
I had to hold myself back from laughing when I called him in to check on how things were progressing. He kind of couldn't believe how big the dough in our bowls had gotten. He'd never seen yeast bread rising before.

Remember when I said I learned a valuable lesson or two myself? Well, Here's where one of those lessons comes in: be a bit more aggressive with punching down my dough. Why? Because:

Second rise looks good but we're not even halfway through it...
Halfway through the second rise, my dough was still doing some powerful rising (and Robbie's wasn't rising quite enough). And...

She's gonna blow!
 ...*foom!* Too much carbon dioxide production! I supposed I could have taken the dough out of my pan, punched it down and then shaped it again, but I didn't want to overwork it. I think I'm conditioned to chilly things are in my kitchen at home; that makes the yeast have to work harder to get dough to rise. Not so in San Diego at the tail-end of summer. I just let my dough do what it was going to do; we'd just see how it baked up.

And this led me to another lesson: never leave home without an instant-read thermometer! After the biscuit experience of that morning, I knew we'd have to bake the bread a little longer than the recipe called for. So, after what I thought was an appropriate time, we pulled the loaves out of the oven.

Looks good!
Oh. Did I mention that my brother and his wife don't have a cooling rack? We ended up using a cooking rack for their grill. I love doing the MacGyver in the kitchen! Everything looked good...

Prepare for the first incision, Mr. Baker!
Nice cut!
...but both loaves weren't fully cooked. By this time my Rob, Wynter, and I had to leave to pick up Michele at the airport, so I put the bread back in the pans and left Robbie with instructions to check on them at ten minute intervals and they should be done within a half-hour. I pinged him via text twenty-five minutes later and he told me the bread was done and quite tasty! I knew he was right because I had a couple of slices toasted the next day. Mmmmm!

And thus ended my San Diego bread baking adventure. I hope I get to bake with my nephew again soon because this was way too much fun!

Currently listening to: Pockets - Come Go With Me



  1. I love this sentence in about a dozen different ways, "I just wanted us to get our hands covered in flour, and inhale the smell of the yeast, and fill the kitchen and the house with the aroma of sugars caramelizing in the oven as the bread baked."

    And this may be one of my favorite posts here, ever :)

    1. It was one of my favorite days, from start to finish, to write about on here, too. We all had so much fun in that kitchen!