I learn by doing. I read obsessively about topics, experiment, and read some more. And then I consult the experts. By that point, I've read and experienced enough to have a meaningful conversation.
My ice cream obsession led to...a professional machine with built-in compressor (to churn batch after batch -- no freezing the bowl between batches) and 100+ tried & true recipes. When my obsession hit a fever pitch, I consulted with food scientist Shirley Corriher and Alice Medrich on the role of starch in ice cream.
It's like that.
For years, I've been a bread baker voyeur. I've taken classes with experts in the field, traveled to famous bakeries all over the world, toured wheat farms, read textbooks and countless books on baking, and have staged alongside the captain of the world champion baking team.
But I never made my own bread.
I just watched, and read.
Last week, I took the plunge and made my first yeasted loaf. Inspired by this hauntingly delicious challah, I attempted my own. The results were passable but nothing like the challah she made. It lacked the depth of flavor that is the hallmark of a slow rise.
I tried again, armed with an intriguing recipe by James Beard. Instead of mixing the water, yeast and a bit of sugar and waiting for the yeast to work its magic, Beard's recipe jumps right in and adds it all together...liquid, yeast and flour. The addition of eggs and milk enrich the flavor substantially, and sesame seeds scattered across the top, toast beautifully.
Already my mind was spinning with possibilities. What if I replaced the water with something more flavorful, like onion stock? What if I chilled the dough between risings? This recipe calls for only two risings, but I have another recipe that calls for four. How would that change the final outcome?
You see? The genie is out of the bottle, and my bread obsession is in full swing. If you find a loaf of bread on your doorstep, that's me...parsing out experiments.
***Many thanks to Charlie for sharing this recipe. As he notes, if you're new to baking, it's a great bread for beginners.