Dr. Strangeloaf or How I Learned to Love the Tom

Grocery prices have been on the rise as of late, so I decided I'd make bread this week rather than spend $3 on a loaf of disappointing store-bought cardboard. Great plan, until it was oven time, where with a little egging on from my wife (should I? do it! should I really? DO IT!) I decided to try for a "boule" rather than just making the two regular loaves.


I'll even make some scores in the top like they do in all these fancy artisan baker books! Ahhahahaaa!

And so, I preheated my pizza stone in a 400 degree oven, and when the beeper signaled the oven was ready I plopped a massive round of dough, intricately scored with my pathetically dull, serrated bread knife, onto the hot stone and pushed the mess into the oven. Honestly, my only concern was bake time. I wasn't sure if 40 minutes was going to be enough to bake the bread through. After all, it was two loaves worth of bread compiled into a single boule.

When the beeper signaled the oven's work was over, I opened the oven and pulled out this behemoth. I was quite confounded with the results - a mix of shock, disappointment, concern whether it was baked through, and concern whether it was going to attack me. I started chuckling uncomfortably while devising how on Earth I was going to slice this thing for sandwiches and I said to my wife, "It looks like I just pulled a damn turkey out of the oven."

The funny part is that the bread turned out incredible. Golden and crispy on the outside and a doughy, moist, and delicious crumb on the inside. We cut off the "drumsticks" and ate those for a snack. My wife had hers with just butter, and I had mine with butter and blueberry preserves - Mmmm!

I learned a few things, so this fiasco wasn't all for not. One thing I learned is when the directions say it's for two loaves, it means it. The other lesson I learned was a kneading technique that I've been wrestling with since I started making bread over a year ago. Maybe some of you have this same problem, and while my potential solution is still in it's theoretical stage, it certainly sounds like a logical solution.

My Kitchen Aid mixer is only 9 cups, so some of the larger bread recipes, and especially the bagel recipe I use from Peter Reinhart, simply don't fit in my mixer. Sometimes I have to cut recipes in half or even thirds so I can machine knead the dough, or if dividing the dough isn't feasible I'm stuck hand-kneading. Either way I can never achieve the windowpane that's ideal for that perfect loaf.

Most bread recipes have you add flour little by little until dough has achieved the proper stiffness, and to add a little water if the dough gets too stiff, which never happens to me until all of the flour the recipe calls for has been added. Adding water at this point is counterproductive because in my experience it adds time to kneading and the added moisture never really distributes through the entire dough.

My theory is that all of the flour a bread recipe calls is required even if only for volume purposes (ie I went with stickier bagel dough one time and only got 11 instead of 12 bagels). If adding all of the flour makes the dough too stiff, and then adding water at that point makes a mess, then the option is to add a very small amount of water between the small additions of flour. The moisture is required to help the newly added flour incorporate into the dough mass as well as create a nice pliable dough ball when finished that can achieve the windowpane.

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