My late father started baking bread when he was in his 60’s, so it’s now time for me to again get serious about taking up a family tradition. Something that fits with fall.
I’m going to make another $215 dollar loaf of bread this weekend.
I know….how can you spend $215 on a single loaf of bread? Easy in the Ure family. In fact, I have plans for a $463 loaf, too.
Before we empty-out the checkbook, let’s talk a bit about bread.
My dad’s specialty was a recipe for Cuban Bread that appeared in the old Wall St. Journal publication called the National Observer. Unlike the more manic mainstreams of the day, the Observer had what we really liked in our family: News that someone had a) taken the time to report on and b) then put it into a useful context.
For example, I remember a great series on the morality of trying to feed all the poor people of the world. The problem, well-articulated in the article – was “If you feed, they will breed.” Well, now we’ve been there.
Without going into the 3-day conference on the morality of that issue, and resource depletion and such, it was not only solid journalism (missing in action for the past few decades except in places like the Christian Science Monitor) but it was coupled to brain cells.
It was while reading one of their food columns that pappy came across the Cuban Bread recipe.
What set his bread apart from store-bought bread was his study of James Beard’s food cookery jots. He discovered the key thing to getting a perfect loaf was to use stream – and lots of it – during the initial part of the baking process.
The only Seattle bakery that came close was Gai’s Bakery…it’s “outside man” passed away a dozens years back.
Don’t know if you realize it, but you can now buy a counter-top steam and convection oven for the home. See the Cuisinart Steam & Convection Oven, Stainless Steel. but be sitting on your wallet when you look because its about $248-bucks.
Ah, this is how I get to the absurdly expensive loaf.
But let’s start with the $215-dollar loaf. The main cost item will be a big, serious mixer. We opted for the KitchenAid K45SSOB 4.5-Quart Classic Series Stand Mixer, Onyx Black which was only $200-bucks. Make sure it still comes with the whisk and the dough hook.
A ten pound bag of flour is another necessity, along with a half-dozen packets of dry yeast, a bit of sugar (long discussions can focus on just this one point of proofing) and water plus (depending on tastes) milk, whipping cream, or butter for a super moist loaf.
French. or in our case Cuban Bread, is a bit cranky when comes to cooking. You can’t toss it like a pizza on a heated rack (sprayed with lecithin/Pam spray). And if you cook it in a straight loaf pan, the sides are usually just plain wrong. So you’ll need something like the Chicago Metallic Commercial II Non-Stick Perforated French Bread Pan which will account for the last $15-bucks.
Of course, if you’re planning to do a lot of baking, a jug of Carlo Rossi Paisano is useful for the cook, too.
Weather should be just right. I like days after we’ve had some rain (we had an inch on Wednesday) because the atmosphere isn’t too dry. Yeast likes warm and moist. Earlier this week, the forecast was calling for Saturday to be 83 with showers and 80 percent humidity at baking time. It doesn’t get better for yeastie-beasties.
We’ll gloss over the Gold Medal versus King Arthur argument on flour.
The main difference between a French and Cuban Bread is that the island version of a loaf has a teaspoon of sugar in it along with a tablespoon of butter (or whatever you want to call shortening – but we don’t do lard).
Most Cuban Breads simply raise once (artisan of lazy bread) or twice (yummm…) and then the top is “slashed with a palmetto leaf.” Screw that…a sharp bread knife works fine.
Where the major difference (and contribution pappy made to the art of loafing, so to speak) was in the application of steam. To do a French bread nice and crusty, you put the loaves in the oven on the next to high rack (warm up there) and in the middle or lower part of the oven you put a large pan that you let get hotter than blazes.
Into this, a minute or two before popping the loaves in to cook, you pour boiling water. Enough so it will take about 15-minutes to evaporate off (as steam) during cooking.
When you do this to a Cuban Bread, you get a creamier center and still maintain the crispiness of the French crust.
The way commercial kitchens get this kind of a loaf is the use of a BIG steam oven. However, they ain’t cheap! The Cuisinart unit may be on Santa’s list this year.
It’s also worth nothing that I plan to do a few experiments this fall using our prepper oven because it’s fired by propane. And we all know the reason gas stoves turn out better baked goods is what? The moisture from the gas flame, of course!
Since we have in our prepping stores a Camp Chef Camping Outdoor Oven with 2 Burner Camping Stove (another $200 bill) I might set that up the bread making and do the whole thing outside. (This works out to a different way to bake a $463 dollar loaf by the time you get the 20 pound propane tank and fill it.)
If my sleazy salesman skills are still dialed-in, I’ll make a couple of large loafs and then make some rounds for dinner. The sleazy salesman part is where between now and Saturday morning where I’ll be begging and cajoling Elaine to make her delicious clam chowder.
There are few things better than a good crusty loaf, cooled for an hour, and then it’s top cut off. You scoop out the still-warm center with a spoon and put just enough butter on it to cause the medic units to be go on standby.
Then, ladle in a solid bowlful of clam chowder. Toss in the finishing shot of sherry (or whatever’s handy) and feast on. Eating the balance of the loaf bowl to finish. More butter is allowed.
If she doesn’t fall for it, pan-seared filet medallions in a green peppercorn sauce on fresh slices works, too.
We’ll confess it’s not traditional Texas cooking, but then again our tastes have always been “location independent.”
And the best news of all? The price of such fine bread is way cheaper for the second loaf. Flour and fuel, depending on whether you culture your own starter…but that leads us to the Sunday breakfast discussion about sourdough starters. And we both have work to do.
Write when you lose 10 pounds,