Ghost loaves and other surprises

On the heels of my major Bread Battle loss, I decided to try to regain my confidence by baking a loaf I’ve made with great success before: Celeste’s Sunflower-Oatmeal Bread from The Bread Bible. The first time I made this bread it was huge and glossy with a dark, slightly sweet taste, perfect right out of the oven. The second time I made it, my efforts produced the peculiarly pale loaves below:

Ghost loaves

These loaves, flat, suspiciously white, and rather dense, did little to boost my morale.

Not completely discouraged, I decided to go big for my next attempt: the Filone. If any of you have been to La Ghianda, you’ve tried and loved the bread they serve with every meal. I hoped this bread would turn out similar to theirs and… it did!

Filone success

Quick detour as to why this is even more of a surprise success than usual:

Depending on your familiarity with bread making, you may know that one of the cardinal rules of the trade is to touch the dough as little as possible. Here are two vignettes from my Filone forging:

  1. The recipe says the dough, after ten minutes of kneading, will transform from “very wet and sticky” to a ball with a “tight skin on the outside.” I set the timer. It goes off. I am still unable to extricate my hands from the “very wet and sticky” dough. To the soundtrack of the beeping timer, I continue to knead for what I imagine to be three years but is probably only twenty extra minutes. I arrive at something vaguely resembling a ball.
  2. After carefully forming two 12″ logs, I wait for them to rise. Returning to the loaves, I find them inappropriately touching one another. Surgery is required. I sever the loaves, leaving one largely intact (pictured above on the right). The other is halved and both loaves are transferred to baking tins – notably not the requisite baking stone.

So, you can see: I had to touch the dough a lot. Baking rules broken and yet the bread turned out OK! A minor miracle if you ask me.

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