Saturday, January 30, 2010

No Recipes

I was reading the current Art of Eating this morning. A magazine I have always loved deeply. This winter issue was especially heartening - to see friends in there, Nancy Jenkins with mushrooms and Hank Shaw with ducks. But what really caught my attention was the bread article by James MacGuire. I was literally shaking with excitement, wondering why this has been under my "to read" pile so long.
And as I read of Polaine and flour grades and finally the recipe with exacting measurements, my eyes began to glaze over. Wait, I love baking bread, everything about it! I am on the verge of building an oven, making the damned bricks myself, by hand. Where and why did I lose interest?
It then occured to me that I am constitutionally unable to follow a recipe. Or even precise directions. Making bread, I do not want to measure anything. I want to feel the dough, let it go where it wants, knowing full well it will always be different depending on the weather and the whim of the Gods.
SO this morning at about 8 I just whipped out some of my darling starter, more than I would usually use, being inspired by the article honestly, though I have a gloppy starter not a solid levain. I am not baking every day. Nor can I imagine anyone would or could unless you were running a bakery - which is exactly the problem with most of the bread books. They measure everything meticulously for consistency. If my bread flops, so what?
This one way fun. Maybe two cups of starter I'd fed the night before so it was bubbly and violent. Then a pour of whole wheat, a pour of rye, a glug of honey. Some bread flour. Nothing measured. No recipes. It was stiffer than I expected. Let it rise two hours then knocked it down and shaped into a football. Three more hours sitting on a piece of parchment under a big bowl while I pulled out a tree from the side yard. A BIG one. Had to cut it all up, and I am aching.
Baked it at 550, lots of steam with Buster carefully following every move. He is an apprentice. And take a look. Who needs recipes? Seriously.


Peter Hertzmann said...

Ken, I both agree and disagree with your basic premise. I think what you really mean is that it is unnecessary to always follow a precise set of quantities and instructions. When you bake bread, you use your experience to inform your playing. You may not be following a precise set of measurements but you still have an informal recipe in your head that tells you this ingredient may work but this one probably won’t. Otherwise you could throw plaster of Paris in your French bread instead of flour—it’s looks similar.

daniel john said...

Totally settles with you Peter that an informal recipe in your head that tells you this ingredient may work but this one probably won’t.

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eda said...



Ken Albala said...

Het Peter, Yes of course. You have to know bread is made with flour not plaster and the basic procedure. But the way we define recipes nowadays is precise measurements of a set of ingredients and strict instructions. I guess I'm suggesting informal unwritten recipes, learned by experience rather than instructions.

And eda, you don't say?

Will said...

yes, recipes are awful. Exacting recipes, like you say. They're an awful crutch for people who can't cook, and people who can don't need them. It's strange to me this isn't a more widely held view.

Lise said...
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Lise said...

I bought The Lost Art of Real Cooking after hearing about it on The Splendid Table and was wondering if you could post a few pictures of the different stages of the starter, because I'm a little lost as to what it's supposed to look like. English is not my first language so I guess that words might just not talk to me the same way a picture would :) Thanks!