Monthly Blog Post: Rose’s Bread Bible Bakers April 2017

“The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight…”

M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating

Our Bread Bible Bakers project for the month of March was originally Walnut Fougasse.  I honestly did bake the recipe in March but must admit that I was really very disappointed in the outcome and delayed writing the post for a full month.  I was really lacking in enthusiasm about this one, and waited another month to edit the post — definitely not like me.  I had never had a fougasse before, so as a result of my profound disappointment in this recipe I sought out another fougasse recipe which I baked for comparison.  I had intended to try this one again but just never got up enough enthusiasm to try it again until tonight.

So what was wrong with this bread recipe the first time around?  I found the dough to be very tough or dense and very difficult to work with.  In fact, the dough was so tough that the whole process of kneading in the walnuts by hand was a challenge, and kneading in additional oil after the dough had risen was a mess.  This was so bad that I found myself checking Rose’s website for possible errata to explain this.  The only unusual ingredient was the scalded milk which should not have caused a problem.  I just don’t know what happened here, the flavor of the bread was OK, but the texture and appearance really weren’t very good.

The next day I did a bit of research on fougasse and found a number of recipes.  None of them used as much oil, and none had you knead it in during the rising process.  None of them used milk as the liquid either.  I ended up with a very delightful bread based on this Fougasse recipe with olives and herbs from Saveur magazine.  I was a bit jaded from my experience with the Walnut Fougasse so I cut the recipe by 2/3 to make a single loaf just in case it didn’t turn out well, but as I said it was delightful.

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Fougasse with kalamata olives and herbs

Fast forward to today, as I finally sat down to write this post.  I decided to give this one another try as I wanted to just double check the measurements.  Once I measured the flour I decided to go ahead and bake this one again.  I typically use my kitchen scale for measuring ingredients like flour, and the first time around I measured 1 imperial pound as the recipe called for.  This time I measured using the dip and sweep method, as well as using both imperial and metric measurements with my scale to check accuracy.  I got the same result with all three methods which as Martha Stewart would say is a good thing.

Next, I scalded some milk since it needed time to cool.  I even went to the trouble of looking for advice on scalding milk which I found here on allrecipes.com.  Nothing earth shattering here, although they specifically advised to let the milk cool to 110°.  I dutifully did so using my instant read thermometer (it was actually down to 95° by the time I was ready to mix).  I did not check the temperature the last time so don’t know if this was a factor or not.

This second batch of dough was still dense, but after letting it rest for 15 minutes I did manage to knead in the walnuts by hand.  Although my walnuts were pre-chopped I did chop them even more based on my experience last time.  I do think having them chopped pretty small is key to kneading them in successfully.  Kneading in the first tablespoon of oil was OK, but I found myself having the same fundamental concerns about this recipe as I did the first time.  It is really hard to get a nice smooth dough with this recipe and approach.  Although the finished texture the second time seemed to be a little better, this recipe is still a no go in my book.  It is such a no go, that I was pretty unmotivated on photos for this post as well as the writing.  This is the first and only failure I’ve experienced with The Bread Bible.  After baking this one twice, I’d say to this recipe “hey, it’s not me, it’s you.”

I’d love to hear from others who have made this recipe with success or who have tips that might help.

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