Monday, July 5, 2010

Pain a l'Ancienne & Happy Bread Baking Anniversary to Me

A year ago, I was a bread baking failure. I could kill yeast faster than squashing a bug. I could produce the least risen, toughest, densest bricks, suitable for home building or weight lifting. But a loaf of bread? Nope, not a chance.

My first pan of rolls still looks beautiful to me

Then I saw a post by Anne that gave me hope. She gave us her neighbor's recipe for quick dinner rolls and all but said it was idiot proof. I was hooked. I was still in the midst of the Great Kitchen Reno so all cooking was done on the grill, all dishes washed in the bathroom sink. It took me more than six months to get up my nerve and it was the result of deciding to join the Bread Baker's Apprentice event and finding it was closed. I wondered if I'd ever learn to make yeast breads. Then I remembered Anne's rolls, and I made them. They worked. They smelled amazing while baking. I ate an astonishing number of them, froze some of the dough and baked it as garlic rolls. I was so excited I could have issued a press release, but I wrote a post instead. Nancy invited me to join the Slow & Steady Subgroup of BBA, and I did.

A year has passed since that fateful night when I made Anne's rolls. I've tackled bagels, pizza dough, brioche, focaccia, French and Italian breads, challah, ciabatta (the first was a fail so I made it twice), English muffins and more. Every step of the way, I had this book by my side:

I love this book. Not to be overly dramatic, but Peter Reinhart changed my life. So to celebrate my first year as a bread baker, my year of yeast if you will, I made Pain a l'Ancienne. This is a classic bread that is basic as it gets: flour, salt, yeast and water. That's it. Those ingredients, the bread baker's basic four, ferment over night in the fridge after kneading. The next day, I let the dough come to room temperature and finish doubling before shaping the loaves. I saved half of the dough to make pizza for dinner another night. My loaves ended up much longer and skinnier than I planned, but they baked up incredibly crisp and crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside. We loved this bread! We ate it with some flavorful olive oil and both found it impossible to resist. M. said that if I hadn't told him I made it, he would have thought it was from Paris. That's his highest form of praise.

A year ago, I never would have imagined I would have been capable of making all the wonderful breads we've enjoyed this year. I never would have believed I would stop buying bread, insisting on making all of our bread. I couldn't have known that the rare failure wouldn't discourage me but would make me analyze the reasons I failed before making the recipe again.

Many of you have given me tips, advice and encouragement over the last year, and your kind words and support have meant more to me than you'll ever know. I especially want to single out Nancy and Audrey, who both encouraged me to join the S&S bakers. And Anne, without whose recipe I probably would still be labeling myself as a bread making failure not a bread baker, will always have a place at our table and a spot in my heart.

Yup, I made pain a l'ancienne. It was no big deal.


rebecca said...

Your breads look beautiful!

Di said...

Way to go, Leslie! Congrats on a year of yeast baking. =) Everything looks really good. I'm another one who tends to remake recipes that don't turn out well the first time.

Nancy/n.o.e said...

Yay, happy anniversary, Leslie!!! I'm so glad that you are a S&S baker, but even gladder that you took the bull by the horns and became an honest-to-goodness bread baker! Your Pain a l'Ancienne is a thing of beauty. I still can't get the big holes, but love the taste of the bread anyway.

Joy said...

Your baguettes are gorgeous!!! Your rolls are beautiful, too. Congratulations on all your accomplishments and growth this year!

Kayte said...

Oh, the PLaAncien looks have the best texture inside! We loved this one, too, but mine didn't look nearly as nice inside as yours does. Great job. Such fun to hear how you got started and see the photos of the breads...we are so happy you gave in to Nancy and Audrey's encouragement (note I did not call it arm twisting) to join S&S! It wouldn't be the same without you. And, it is so nice to have someone that we can arm twist, oh, of course I meant encourage, onto other ventures we all wildly come up with on a whim at the spur of the moment. It's just nice to have a player! Love your bread, and those rolls do look so wonderful. Happy Anniversary...what a nice one to be celebrating!

Mags said...

Without making it sound cult-like, or adoring false gods, I agree that Peter Reinhart changed my life forever too as it relates to bread baking. We truly have become bread baking apprentices! Great job Leslie!

Anonymous said...

Happy anniversary! The pain a'lancienne is fabulous! I hope to make something that lovely someday!

Gloria said...

What a great post Leslie! Very inspiring. I've never attempted making bread of any kind, but have always been curious. Your breads look wonderful. It always takes a few failed attempts to make something even better! Kudos to you! I've saved your post for when I get up the nerve to make bread one of these days.

Seattle Pastry Girl said...

Leslie you inspire me ! The bread looks amazing...I'm heading for Peter Reinhart's book on my shelf right now and picking something to bake this week !
Thanks for sharing,great blog,delish looking food and really enjoy your writing.

Hanaâ said...

Reading your post gives me hope. I'm much better at making anything-with-yeast but I still have my "moments" (still too many, if you ask me). Your bread looks gorgeous and so does the crumb. I've made this bread last year and it was a big hit too. It's amazing how something with such simple and few ingredients can turn into so delicious. We ate ours buttered aside a bowl of homemade soup :o)