Monday, March 15, 2010

The bread flour quest

Sorry to bring this up again, but the Dutch must be the Europeans, who are least inclined to bake.  Here I am in the thick of Western Europe.  You can't swing a dead cat without hitting a corner bakery filled with bread and cookies, but somehow, please do not ask me how it is possible, I can't find basic baking supplies in Holland's largest city.  All I wanted was some bread flour, that was all I was asking for; to be more precise, that was all my cookbooks were asking for.

My cooking routine has been in a bit of rut lately, so I've been happy to take suggestions for our dinner menu from a fellow historian grad student who has been staying with us for a few weeks.  I think if it had been left up to me, we would have been stuck eating omelets or granola every night last week.  When he enthusiastically mentioned making our own pizzas for dinner one night, I was game.  The only concern I had was making the crust.  I had never made pizza crust before.  In fact, I had never made any kind of yeast bread, ever.  Kind of weird for someone who has spent more than half her life baking.  I did buy a jar of yeast once, but it sat in my refrigerator for a few years before I moved and decided to throw it out.  After looking through a few of my cook books I thought, "Hey, how hard can this be?"  Hmmmm....well, it's actually not that hard, but somehow I managed to fail on the first attempt.  I will blame the Netherlands, once again, for my major baking failure.

First trip to the stores in my neighborhood resulted in no bread flour.  Fine, I would just get some whole wheat flour and make a delicious crust like I once enjoyed here in Columbia, Missouri.  Problem, "whole wheat" flour here looks like someone took bleached flour and mixed it back with the wheat bran (kind of like graham flour). That's not what I wanted.  Then I spotted a bag with a German name on it that looked like whole wheat flour.  I asked Niek what he thought Gerstenmehl meant.  He had no idea, so I thought I would just take a chance and buy it.  Guess what, it does not mean whole wheat flour. 

Apparently it means barley flour (I have got to improve my German vocabulary) and has the consistency of semolina.  And this is what it looks like after it's been used as a substitute for bread flour.
That's also exactly what it looks like after it has been left to rise for two hours.  I covered it with a wet linen towel, went for a nice long run out in the semi-warm spring weather and came home to find a yeasty, heavy brick of dough.
I would have tried to make a crust out of it, but it crumbled in my hands.  Into the trash can it went where it made our house smell like the after-effects of a frat party.
The next day I did my regular tour de find-a-seemingly-common-American-ingredient through the supermarkets, natural food stores, and the British-American store.  Nothing, not one place had either a normal whole wheat flour or bread flour.  So, I resigned myself to using the all-purpose flour on hand thinking it would be awful and all the cookbook writers would come after me for daring to use bleached, bland flour in their glorious recipes.
Nope.  Nothing wrong with it.  It rose like a dream, and I fulfilled my fantasy of tossing pizza dough into the air.  Pictures were taken of that, but they're too embarrassing to share.  Our houseguest and Niek took a more sane approach to rolling out their dough and adding their toppings.
 ...mmm hmm, it was delicious.  I'll definitely be attempting the crust again, with or without the bread flour.  Too bad my neurosis to find the perfect ingredients and my frustrations with a foreign country stressed me out for absolutely no reason.  I'm still going to look for some bread flour, though.

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