Friday, February 26, 2010

Mi Panadería

This week I undertook several baking projects. Baking is becoming a new thing of mine - for better or worse I guess. I love cookies and I enjoy baking with friends as a kind of social thing…I don't dislike baking. But, it has really always been more Jeremy's thing. This is true for one simple reason - Jeremy likes to stick to the "rules" and I like to make up my own. Cooking was my thing, baking his. This started to change when our youngest was born. I took some time off from work and started cooking more - we spent less time cooking together. Then, I just started baking more. Now, with Vilma doing more and more of the cooking (she knows very little about baking), I tend to do the baking. It's my specialty now…I guess. I am finding it much more experimental here than I did at home. That's good. It means I get to make things up and try out new ideas. I used to have a subscription to Cook's Illustrated , but gave it up a long time ago because (1) it was very light on the veg options and (2) I never had time to cook any of the recipes. Now I realize - HEY! I should restart my subscription.

Some Foreign Service friends of ours gave us Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day before we left for post. I had already been baking some of the bread using the recipes the authors have available on line, but once I had the book in my hands I found myself reading and studying the recipes and trying to find ways to perfect them given the difference in product quality and climate here. I have found that the humidity greatly affects the outcome of most baked goods - especially bread, biscuits and muffins. I have already written about my adventures in hunting down unbleached and whole wheat flours, but even though that is no longer a problem, I am still baffled by things like brown sugar, coconut and chocolate (the DR is a major exporter of these products, but they are just not quite the same here). However, I can say, despite continued confusion in some areas, my bread production seems to be smooth sailing. I have now purchased enough oven stones to turn my oven into quite the panadería and was able to easily bake seven fresh loaves for an Embassy bake sale benefiting the US Embassy Haiti FSN (Foreign Service Nationals) Relief Fund.

One area of experimentation that is still in process is my tortilla production. I have been using a recipe that I got from my mother-in-law when we lived in Japan and first started making our own tortillas. Somehow here though, it just isn't turning out correctly. Don't get me wrong - flat bread that you put things on is pretty much food of the gods around here, so I can't mess up too badly. But, they are still not perfect and therefore, I have work to do. The biggest problem is that they're turning out too bready - they puff on the skillet, but instead of getting chewy, they kind of get more like Naan (which I have made here too). I was doing a little research today and I think I may need to change flours. This totally cracks me up because the zeal with which I hunted down unbleached flour was only perhaps matched by the fanaticism of Dominican baseball lovers. Seriously - do not come between me and my unbleached flour! The tortilla problem, I think, is that the gluten content in the unbleached flour is too high. But, I don't want to just use that baby powder looking dust they sell here…perhaps I can mix whole wheat? Split the difference - decrease the gluten content slightly on the batch, but go for at least a hint of healthfulness by adding the whole wheat? I sound scientific here, but trust me, I have no idea what I'm talking about. Remember - I use Wikipedia and say things with conviction - that's pretty much it.

Hmmmm…gotta' go - I have pizza to make - hoping it doesn't turn out like crackers because I ran out of yeast when mixing up the dough and I was too lazy to get dressed and go get more. Stay tuned for a final tortilla update - too bad I can't offer a taste test.


  1. I'm so jealous. One of things you cannot find in CJ/El Paso is a really good crusty bread. There's OK bread, but it's not crusty. And that bread at the top of the post makes me want to visit DR!

  2. I have a friend who is a professional pastry chef and may have an answer to your tortilla conundrum.
    Should I poke him about it?

  3. Jake - The way I see it you have two options (1) come to DR and eat my bread or (2) buy the book and learn to make your own. Given that, I'm guessing we'll see you soon : ).

    Dylan - sure.