So you want to make bread at home. Now what? Trying to break into bread baking can be a daunting task: it's an entirely different language from cooking. What kind of loaf should you begin with? Do you use a bread cloche or a Dutch oven?
Martin Falardeau is a Montreal-based bread baker and the owner of Le Pain dans Les Voiles, the winner of many international prizes for his bread. I sat down with Falardeau during a recent trip to Montreal to learn a little more about the essentials of bread baking and to get some insight for beginners.
I met Falardeau at his bakery before his sensorial seminar "The Taste of Bread," held during Montréal en Lumière. He showed me around his beautiful bakery (and even let me try a couple loaves of bread). Falardeau answered a few of my questions about bread baking essentials for beginners. Please note that this interview has been translated from French:
1. Where's the best place to start as a new baker?
When you first start, you should use regular wheat flour, which thanks to gluten, is easier to work with. Otherwise, try a wheat mix with 15% to 20% of another flour.
2. Are there any books you recommend for a new baker?
The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Bread Baking and also any books by Jeffrey Hamelman.
3. What are a couple things a beginner bread maker should know about bread chemistry?
It's important to understand how the gluten network develops during kneading. Good gluten development will help retain the gases produced by the yeast during the rise and give the bread structure. You can learn more about gas retention here.
4. At home, do you use a baking stone, bread cloche, or Dutch oven or none of these things, and why? What do you recommend?
At home, I find that a plate of cast iron or a cast iron skillet work nicely. The important thing in bread baking is to try to prevent moisture loss: put two pans of water in the oven to create steam and then block the fan, if you can, to prevent steam from escaping. The heat in the oven should be hot, more than what books recommend, about 400°F.
5. What is the difference in the bread if you're using an old sourdough starter or a recently-refreshed starter?
Of course flavor [Ed: older starters give bread more sour flavor], but be careful because older starters can compromise the dough. An older starter can have almost too much bacteria in it, and bacteria attacks the proteins, which in turn destroys the gluten network.
6. What are some reasons my bread might taste bland?
Several factors. If the dough has been kneaded too intensely, the flour oxidizes and loses flavor; a very firm dough and a massive dose of yeast also makes breads taste bland.