kaisers and challahs and boules…oh my!

This wasn't the best week, especially bread-wise. Let's just forget about the can of white paint I spilled on the driveway–the BLACK driveway. And my much-loved, well-used Sassafras  baker that I broke when I dropped a 6-qt Cambro full of flour (which also broke) on it. And the soy sauce I spilled on my brand-new jeans (which did NOT come out in the wash). And the tray full of tomato seedlings I killed. Okay? Okay. Just the bread.

First, I needed to make a new batch of pizza dough to freeze. I had a bit of 00 flour and decided to use it, instead of the AP flour I normally use. You would have thought it was a GOOD omen that I had EXACTLY the amount of 00 flour I needed, to the gram. But you would be wrong. I know you need to make adjustments in the amount of water when using 00, but it has never, ever worked out for me. Maybe it's the flour (sure, let's blame the flour), maybe it's me, but I always end up with a lump o'dough, no matter what I do, and this time was no different. It might as well have been stone. So into the trash it went, with much lamenting, and I started over with AP (success!) Wasteful, frustrating fail. Strike One in the bread department.

This is how the challah looks when it's NOT squashed by the oven.

This is how the challah looks when it's NOT squashed by the oven.

Then I made some challah, which I've made dozens of times before. But apparently my oven shrunk or something because the loaves that always fit in beautifully on the two racks Did. Not. Fit. They rose and then hit their limits and totally flattened out. Squashed challah. Oh, they tasted just fine but they certainly wouldn't win any prizes in the beauty department. Aesthetic fail and Strike Two.

On Saturday, I had a rye sourdough with olives on the agenda. Now I have to admit, I haven't been too thrilled with this particular formula  (which I won't divulge–yet–because I'm convinced it's not the formula or its creator as much as it's me) the two times I've made it in the past. The first time it came out…meh. Far from my favorite sourdough. The second time was an EPIC fail. Dense, flavorless, flat, bad. I tossed both loaves. But third time's the charm, right? Wrong. This time it really WAS me. My levain was bubbling away and ready to go, I had everything measured out…or so I thought. When I have to heat water to a specific temperature (I keep a Brita pitcher on the counter so I always have water at room temperature) I have a VERY bad habit of not measuring at the start. This way, I can nuke it and then if it's too hot, I can add some room-temp water until it gets to the correct temp, at which point I SHOULD measure out exactly what I need. But do I do this? Sometimes, yes. But more times than I care to think, no. And I didn't this time either. Which I didn't realize it until I had dumped probably twice as much water as I needed into the levain and then dumped THAT into the flour and ended up with a big gloopy mess. But hydration is good right? RIGHT?!? So I kept going and hoping for the best, knowing it was probably in vain. Which it was. To be honest, I wasn't expecting much (Motto: Expect the worst and you're never disappointed. Quite the optimist, I am) even if I hadn't screwed up the water, but I was PISSED that all of those damned olives went to waste.  A LOT of olives. EXPENSIVE olives. MAJOR fail and Strike Three. I needed some redemption. Fast.

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I turned to Old Faithful, Ken Forkish's Flour Water Salt Yeast. I've been baking my way though this wonderful book, one new bread each week, but I'm up to the levain breads and was behind on my starter. So I decided to revisit a bread that was a favorite with everybody (okay, they've ALL been favorites): Harvest Bread with Poolish. And things were going along just swimmingly. I was all set to set it out for the rise, when I realized I forgot to add the yeast. Which was sitting right there, all weighed out, on the counter. ACK! A little last minute pincer-ing and folding and all was well with the world again. As it always does, this bread came out beautifully. I got to use my new enameled cast-iron oval dutch oven and I love how the bread looked. (I'm totally converted to baking in cast-iron but it does seem to discolor the interior enamel. And if that's going to happen, I'd rather take a chance on a DO that costs $30 than one that costs $230 {cough LeCreuset cough]. I've had great luck with these inexpensive bakers.)

The crust was crackly and crispy, the interior was open and creamy, and my parents and sister, who were gifted with the second loaf, have asked me to bake it for them again. Back in the win column. Woo.

I was flushed with success and pondered my next yeasty conquest. We planned a Memorial Day BBQ for two, here at Casa Shaggy Dough. Mr. SDS is big-time into barbecue and had a  brisket smoking away that was just begging for a nice sandwich roll. And what could be better than a crispy kaiser? Now I've made these several times, a different recipe each time. None really wowed me. They were all lacking that certain something. That New York Jewish deli something. But I happened to be perusing some of my bread books when I saw a photo in Nick Malgieri's Bread caught my eye. The perfect looking kaiser roll!

I had a mishap-free, although somewhat crowded bake, since Mr. SDS and I were both jockeying for space in the kitchen at the same time. (Our galley kitchen is the major through-way in our house and a little on the small side–although I can imagine that people who deal with New York City-size kitchens would spit in my eye if they heard me say that). I did get a little overzealous with the kaiser stamper and nearly stamped through a couple of the rolls but otherwise the odds of ending up with a true deli kaiser were lookin' good.

And… drumroll…they were fab! They had the look, the lightness, the thin crispy crust, the soft inside. Perfecto! And with Mr. SDS's superbly tender brisket and the sweet onion applewood barbecue sauce we picked up at Williams-Sonoma plus a bacon, green onion vinegar potato salad? Yes please. I feel redeemed and whole again. Kaisers rule, OKAY! Party on.