Recap of Our First Homemade Bread "Taste-and-Tell"

Last night we held our first "Taste-and-Tell" for the Chicago Amateur Bread Bakers.

We started the event with a "lightning round," in which each baker had 5 minutes to present his/her yeasted loaf and tell how it was made. In all, seven bakers presented a total of eight breads. The evening wrapped up with time for general discussion.

C.Y. presented Turkish simit, a simple bread made of flour, water, salt, and yeast. Before baking, the bread is twisted into rounds, dipped in honey, and then dipped in sesame seeds. The honey does something (none of us is sure quite what) to cripsen the crust of this light, airy snack. The simit fragment (below) is covered in Japanese black sesame seeds:

C.Y. reported that simit is available from street vendors in Istanbul, and that it is traditionally enjoyed dipped in honey. As I write this post, I am enjoying the fragment above with some local honey--delicious. Thank you, C.Y.!

T.Wo. and P.M. both brought sourdough loaves (please see fragments, below). This was a treat for me; I have been missing and craving sourdough since our last trip to San Francisco. T.Wo.'s (lower left) was baked in a dutch oven. One of P.M's loaves was also baked in a dutch oven (lower right), while the top bread fragment (below) was baked as a free-standing loaf. (Please read more about P.M.'s loaves here.)

T.Wo.'s loaf was beautifully scored with a square pattern of slashes. The crust was heavenly--a bit chewy while at the same time a bit crunchy.

P.M brought each of us a small sample (60 grams) of sourdough starter, so that we could start our own sourdough cultures at home:

To feed the sourdough starter, one adds 120 grams of water and 120 grams of flour. That is, 1 part starter to 2 parts water, 2 parts flour. Then leave the starter to ferment, either on the kitchen counter, or in the refrigerator. Feed the starter periodically, as needed.

I had been curious why some sourdough breads taste very sour, while in others the sourness is barely detectable. T.M. explained that in a sourdough culture, yeast and bacteria multiply at different rates. And it's the bacteria that give the sourness to a bread. If you would like a starter to impart sour flavor to a bread, keep it in the fridge, where the bacterial growth will outpace that of the yeast. If you would like a less sour loaf, maintain the starter at room temperature, where the higher rate of yeast multiplication will keep the sour bacteria in check. This was the most interesting thing I learned from last evening.

We also sampled T.M.'s moist oatmeal sandwich loaf, made with buttermilk and molasses. And D.P.'s focaccia topped with crumbled blue cheese, caramelized onions, and thinly sliced pears. Both were delicious. It wasn't until we arrived home, that I realized I left my samples of these breads behind. So unfortunately I have no photos of them.

And now for a brief review of our own loaves. As we expected, husband's high hydration (85%) baguette has a crumb full of lovely, large holes:

They tasted marvelous. On the downside, the crust was a bit chewy--not the flaky, crispy baguette crust for which he was aiming. And the baguettes were a bit flat, instead of having a satisfying, rounded shape. In conclusion, husband says he thought this was a fun experiment, but he will return to baking his 75% hydration loaves.

As I feared, my challah's crumb was too tight, and this made for a dense, heavy bread:

So I have some work to do, figuring out how to make my challah--which looks so nice--be fluffy and light on the inside. On the positive side, I received comments that the flavor is good, and the crust has that "satisfying challah taste."

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