Every once in a while I'll make a pan full of brownies, but that's just following the directions on the back of a box- that's not real baking.
My mom is a great baker. I've been in the kitchen while she works, double-checking the recipe and carefully measuring out the ingredients. Her baked goods inevitably come out great, but the secret to her success (in my opinion, anyway), is that she's a perfectionist. Once she let me help her drizzle chocolate on a batch of chocolate- and caramel-covered pretzels (which are, of course, outstanding), and if she was anyone other than my mom, she would have thrown me out of her kitchen.
The issue then, and now, is that I am not a perfectionist. Rather, I subscribe to another school of thought, characterized by, among other things, the 80/20 rule, 'perfect is the enemy of good enough', and my favorite, 'I'm hungry, when do i get to eat'.
This leads to the topic of today's post- baking bread. See, I love bread. I really love bread (and my occasional bouts of low-carb dieting only serve to make me crave it more). But actually baking it.. well, that has always seemed like a Sisyphean task, and worse, one with a razor-thin margin of error.
Sure, I read Mark Bittman's review of Jim Lahey's No Knead Bread in the Times, but .. flour? All over my kitchen? And having to clean it all up afterward? Worst of all, given my oft-observed complete and total lack of patience, coupled with baking's need for exactitude (closely related to chemistry, which has beaten me before), the end product would likely not be very good. And one thing I hate is spending a lot of time and effort on something that comes out badly.
My one prior attempt at baking bread was a perhaps over-ambitious challah recipe that came out so badly that neither Dave (my then-roommate) nor I would eat it. Stop and think about that for a second- a bread so bad that two single guys in their early twenties wouldn't eat it. That should give you a sense of how bad it was.
How did this change? I'm not totally sure. At some point, I came across this video of Belgian Beer Bread, and saw how easy it was. (Okay, fine, that's not quite true. My first thought was one of annoyance, since they made me watch the video to get the recipe. But then I watched it, and realized hey! this is much better than skimming yet another recipe. The video lets me see exactly what he does, and how and when he does it, mitigating the vague instructions too often found in written recipes.)
So on a quiet Sunday, I threw it together, and wouldn't you know, it came out great. Well, great for my first time. (Yup, you heard me, first time. I've decided that since no one but me remembers that infamous challah episode of several years ago, I can just pretend it never happened. Don't like that? Too bad, get your own blog.)
Here are some pictures from the Cranberry-Rosemary bread. (Special thanks to Mike and Rachael for giving us their rosemary plant when they moved to San Diego.) I used cornmeal so the dough wouldn't stick to the pan, and it came out looking like a mutant.. tasted good though.