All I ever wanted was a little food science

Baking class was frustrating last night, and I think I fully realized the difference between my definition of a “good class” versus what the other students believe to be “good.”

We were working with yeast breads last night. I don’t have a ton of experience with yeast breads, but worked quite a bit over the summer and fall to develop, what I believe to be, one of the best pizza dough recipes I’ve ever had. It took me months of experimenting and learning about hydration ratios, etc., but I finally landed on an excellent dough that is perfect for the home cook’s oven.

That particular dough recipe is kind of like my base/control recipe, on which I base and compare everything else. It’s a high hydration dough at 72-ish percent. So last night in class, after reading the pizza dough recipe chef handed to us, I asked what the hydration ratio was, or if he could tell me the formula (which had slipped my mind) so I could figure it out.

Chef did the equivalent of patting me gently on the head and saying, “Now, now, little girl. Don’t you worry your pretty little mind with such things.” I was furious and frustrated. I tried to explain that I was just using the ratio as a benchmark so I could tell if the dough was correct. I know what a high hydration dough looks and feels like, and wanted to know the ratio of the recipe he gave to us so I could compare it in my own mind for future reference. He told me the ratio didn’t matter because he goes by “feel.” In my opinion, that’s all well and good if you know what you’re “feeling” for, but if you’ve never made the dough before, then it helps to have some sort of reference point. It was a moot point to him. (and he wins the car [Saturday Night Live])

I rudely spent the first part of class searching the Internet on my phone for that ratio formula (because it wasn’t in our book), and pouted. Yes, I pouted. I pouted because I realized the entire semester was going to be very much like last night — monkey see, monkey do: make the recipe and don’t ask food science questions because you’re not going to get the detailed answer you want from this general baking class. For the details, I was going to have to take a specialized class (which I don’t really want to do).

Once I got over the fact that I’ll have to conduct my own food science investigations, I let the evening coast by without a care in the world. We made “acceptable” doughs. They could pass for decent at chain restaurant, but I will never make these recipes again.

The pizza dough won’t be baked until next week, so I’m not sure of the results on that yet. The focaccia we made was OK. I wasn’t crazy about the texture. To me, focaccia should be rustic and big with crazy tunnel structures running through it. The recipe he gave us came out like white sandwich bread. And I know why: hydration and short fermentation!

We also made Lavash (above), which actually came out pretty good. You can’t really mess up flour and water crackers.

With a big sigh, I go back to my original thoughts about this class from last week — I should have taken Baking II immediately after Baking I, before I got too far along in the program.