When I travel, I typically spend a fair amount of my time focused on food. From the oh-so-rich avocado sandwiches in Mal Pais, Costa Rica (you have never seen so many fresh avocados -- and yes I mean more than one -- stuffed between two halves of a bun), to simple pizza bianca from Forno in the Campo de'Fiori in Rome that continues to haunt my tastebuds, I love finding local foods when I travel. My very favourite culinary travel notes have to do with bread. Typically breads that are a specialty in the region and which elude my Vancouver based kitchen. I adore bread -- which I've mentioned before -- and I would by lying if I told you haven't thought about planning vacations around opportunities to return to some of the better loaves/slices I've enjoyed abroad. At the top of my list are: the pizza from Forno in Rome (and experience not to be missed), Danish rye bread (available from any bakery in the country it seems) bursting with whole rye berries and a sour taste that pairs so very well with fresh european butter and raspberry jam, and a baguette sold by one particular alimentaire in the very small and old town of Radda in Chianti. This baguette from Radda is in fact the strongest motivation behind my desire to bake bread. It was a dark, rich multigrain. As dark as a rye bread, but with an almost burnt caramel flavour as well as a very deep nuttiness. It came in small baguettes, and often sold out before my partner and I had a chance to get to that particular alimentaire, but it was prized by us both when we managed to get a loaf. It was perfect as it was, but was particularly lovely with a bit of hard cheese, like a Padano. Oh how I think about that bread.
So yes. My breadmaking, aside from the pleasure it brings me with each loaf I create, is about one day -- and I expect this day to be in the far off future -- being able to replicate that one loaf from Radda. I may need to go back between now and then for another sample as reference, however. I've been progressing in my bread experimentation. I tried the French Bread recipe from the January issue of Living, which made two very successful yeasted white French rounds. A learned a fair bit about dough textures through that recipe. The dough started out really wet on the first knead and I thought it would never hold together, but through patient kneading the texture changed entirely and the final product was quite lovely actually. It is a recipe I'll make again, though it didn't really have the depth of flavour I'm looking for. I picked up a copy of Local Breads, by Daniel Leader, a couple of weeks ago, and Martin has been teasing me for reading about bread before I go to sleep ever since. This is a man whose passion for bread I can deeply appreciate. Part recipe book, part how-to guide for making artisan breads, and part travelogue it is a book for bread lovers and bakers. So far I made Rosemary Ficelle, two long loaves of Italian bread (with a yeast starter) studded with fresh rosemary and coarse sea salt. The recipe was extremely easy to follow and his step by step instructions (with variations catered exclusively to KitchenAid users) include FAQs and notes on what to do if things aren't going according to plan.
It is a beautifully written and designed book, focusing on artisan breads from France, Italy, Poland, German and the Czech Republic. I was originally looking for Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads, as recommended by Heidi, but was smitten with Local Breads for two recipes: one for a German whole rye bread that uses a rye starter to ensure that the bread is gluten free and has that distinct sour rye taste that I fell for in Denmark; the second is the recipe for Forno's rustic pizza from the Campo in Rome (both bianca and rosso), which he learned from the master baker there himself and claims to have adapted to work in the average home oven (which can of course never replicate the huge brick wood burning ovens of Forno). Given the reverence and delight with which he speaks about each baker he shared recipes and techniques with, I'm inclined to believe that under his written tutildge one can learn a lot about breads.
My next hurdle is to successfully start and nurture a sour starter. I may start with the rye starter, but as always I need a bit more time and energy to devote to things like monitoring a jar of flour and water. One of the things I find so useful about the book is the photos and illustrations of successful doughs and problem doughs, in addition to well thought out FAQs. When I do give my first sour starter a whirl, I think I'll photograph it for the small segment of folks out there also interested in giving this a whirl, so you can see what a successful (or failed) starter looks like from day 1 to 6 or 7 when it should reveal itself as a winner (or not).