Monday, March 16, 2009

Art vs. Science

Cooking is an art; baking is a science. Are you familiar with this truism?

For the past two weeks I have been attempting to bake bread. Of all things--bread; sans bread machine. I have never in my life attempted to make bread. Sure... I've made a banana bread here and there. Quick breads are nothing more than a giant muffin if you think about it. I can handle muffins. Six year old girls can handle muffins; Easy Bake Ovens make sure of that. But the bread I attempted, foolishly with no training (pastry school drop out), was not a quick bread. It was a yeast bread. The mother of all yeast breads in my book: po'boy bread. Not quite a French baguette, not quite a loaf of sandwich bread. The inside texture is expected to be light, airy, almost non-exsistent. The outside crunchy, chewy, and golden brown. Mine was none of the above.

Did I expect it to be perfect on the first try? Not really. I was hopeful, of course, but not cocky (which is rare in the kitchen). I did, however, expect it to be edible.

My first loaf was possibly the biggest insult to po'boy bread ever created by a native. It was ugly and overly salted. It was incredibly dense, almost biscuit like, but not in any way light and fluffy. Maybe the abandoned love child of a brick and a sponge would be a better comparison? The recipe I used was vegan, which should have been a red flag right there, but I carried on. Flour, salt, yeast, water...those all sounded like perfectly logical things to include in a French Bread recipe...what else could you need? Well, obviously something else, although I have yet to figure out what. It didn't even SMELL like bread while it was baking. That's a sure sign of a mis-step. It went from baking sheet to trash in 60 seconds, still so hot it melted right through the garbage bag (a fact that didn't come to light until the following day when the trash was to be taken out). A word of advice: never try to conceal the evidence of a baking experiment gone awry in a plastic garbage bag if said evidence is still 4000 degrees and fresh from the oven.

Attempt two was no more successful, nor was three or four. I have wasted to date a bag and a half of flour, numerous pinches of salt, and have laid oh so many unsuspecting yeast organisms to rest only to come up empty handed on the bread front. I am doing extremely well on bread-shaped doorstops however, if you know anyone who is interested.

Cooking is an art; baking is a science. Cooking is an art; baking is a science.

I am not a scientist. I do not enjoy the precise measuring of ingredients, or making sure this is exactly that temperature before adding those. Where's the fun in that? I much more enjoy tossing things together in a haphazard flurry of inspiration, sort of like Pollock. Yes, if cooking is an art, then the chef is an artist, and in such scenario I would be Jackson Pollock. Chaotic, controlled, genius. (I have some nerve don't I? lol). This is probably why my french bread resembled one of those loaves you can pick up in the children's toy section: the only portion of the bread baking process I enjoyed was the kneading and was not eager to quit once I was going. It was the only ACTION of the whole act. Bread making, for those who don't know, goes a little something like this: Stir; wait. wait. wait. Mix; wait, wait, wait. Knead; wait, wait, wait. Punch; wait. wait. wait. Form; wait, wait, wait. Bake; and then in my case: dump. You'll notice one word repeats itself numerous times in this whole deal: wait. One of my least favorite words on this planet.

Wait. Ugh. WHY? I have no patience when it comes to food. I want it now. It's ironic that I am a member of the Slow Food Movement isn't it?

To cut this long ramble short, today's post was intended to be Po'boy bread. The give-Leidenheimer-a -run-for-his-money type bread that would make your friends stand in awe of your baking prowess. However, cooking is an art, baking is a science and I have yet to develop the patience to get it right. So what I have for you is, well, probably going to be a little disappointing for a number a reasons. One, it isn't bread of any kind. Two, it's not typically New Orleans. 3.) It's a salad. and 4.) It involves shaving vegetables, which is just as time consuming as baking bread ( to me, but it's action oriented and that makes it better somehow). It's a carrot salad.

Julienned carrots dressed in a simple vinaigrette is one of my favorite French dishes. It doesn't involve a complicated sauce, ham or butter. There is no kneading or waiting involved. You don't even really need patience, knife skills, or that much time if you pick up one of those bags of pre-shredded carrots at the market. It's fresh, crunchy, and figure friendly...not what one typically thinks of when you say French food. It's just what you need when you've gotten completely frustrated that lump of dough sitting on your counter defying you to turn it into something edible.

Shaved Carrot Salad

2 or 3 carrots, peeled and shaved or julienned
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoons Creole mustard
Maldon salt or Fleur de Sel and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and enjoy.

This technically will serve about 4 if you are serving it as a side dish, unless I get to it first, in which case it serves only me.


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