This is what it is all about: Grilling up a great burger and putting it on the best tasting bun you can lay your hands on (left) or making a panini on a rye bread that tastes better than anything you’ve been able to buy (right).
As I mentioned in a blog called CATCH UP from 2007, I’d always wanted to make my own hamburger rolls after trying the great fresh baked rolls at Fuddruckers Hamburgers. I had zero background in cooking and baking always scared me a little. But with the encouragement of some friends who bake, I took a class from King Arthur Flour who are headquartered nearby in Vermont. The class made me realize that it is a skill that is attainable. Not to mention even my beginner’s results are better than most anything I can buy. As I was making some paninis lately, I started thinking about the possibility of learning to make my own rye breads, sub sandwich rolls and kaiser rolls. The final push in this direction came last Friday when I made my own pizza dough (see GRILLED PIZZA FRIDAY). It was during this session that I saw some advantage in time and ease of use in using a hand mixer. But before I dropped $70 on a hand mixer I had to decide if I was going to have enough use to justify the purchase. It was then I decided that if I was going to buy the mixer, I was also going to commit to trying to learn to make some of these other bread types too.
A couple simple tools you should get are a dough whisk (left) and a pastry blender (right).
Some other items you will need are some stainless steel sheet pans & containers for your dough (left). While you can shape them by hand a hamburger roll pan is another nice item to have (right)..
But to begin at the beginning, what do you need to get started? Not to much actually, a lot of it you may already have. You will need several sizes of mixing bowls from small to large, measuring cups & measuring spoons-all of which you may already own. You probably have a rolling pin around which helps with your pizza crusts. I had already picked up some half and full sized sheet pans for bring food out to the grill, so these now serve my baking needs as well. You will need a utensil called a dough whisk and another called a pastry blender which are short money and are shown in pictures above. Another inexpensive item is a silicon or plastic dough scraper. You will need some airtight storage containers for your flour and yeast which are relatively short money. You may also want to invest in some hamburger or hot dog roll pans, although you can also shape them buy hand.
Two nice to have items are a hand mixer (left) and a digital scale (right).
The final two items I will mention are not mandatory but very nice to have. The first is a digital scale which I described in a blog entry called THIS SCALE MEASURES UP. Many recipes for baked goods are given by weight and volume. The problem with volume measurements is that pesky air we all breathe. You can fill a measuring cup with flour, but depending on how tightly you pack it you can end up with a vastly different weight. The weight is going to depend on how much is air and how much of the volume is flour. For consistent and repeatable results a scale is key. Like many of the tools you use for baking, it does double duty. I use my scale all the time now for other things. For example it can help me take 2 pounds of hamburger and divide it evenly into six 1/3 pound patties. The other item which I just picked up is a hand mixer. I borrowed one to use for my pizza dough making session and there was a good use case for one. Two things actually. One was it got the dough where it needed to be faster than it would have by hand. The other was that some of the recipes I have been looking at say you really need to use a mixer. The time thing is big for me is big. One of the reasons I can even do this is I am working from home more often. Still a few minutes saved here or there may be the difference between baking or not baking on given day. As for the dough that is tough to hand mix, I bought a heavy duty 9 speed Kitchen Aid hand mixer which I hope is up to the task.
Hamburgers and hotdogs taste even better on your home made rolls.
The last key to this whole baking thing and probably the most important in my humble opinion, is to get some hands on instruction. There are all kinds of books and DVDs on baking, but one of the keys to baking success is judging when the dough is ready by feel. While books or DVDs can describe the feel you are looking for, nothing beats having someone there who can tell you when the dough feels right and you can then also feel it for yourself. I took my classes at King Arthur Flour’s headquarters in Norwich, VT. They have a really great facility and the Bread 101 class I took was excellent. I went in knowing nothing about baking and came out with several loafs of bread and scones I made myself. Better yet I was able to repeat the results on my own. If you live in New England or are planning a vacation up this way, by all means take a class. Also be sure to look in their baking store on the premises. It has all of the tools and ingredients you will need. I will put some links to their website at the end of this post, where you can visit their online store or look at the class schedule. They also have great recipes that have so far resulted in excellent baked goods for me. You can display most of these recipes by weight or volume (if you don’t have that scale yet). With regards to their brick and mortar or online stores: I will say that you are not going to find the lowest prices you may pay for this gear, but the gear they sell borders on professional grade and will last a long, long time. If you aren’t within reach of Norwich, VT there are usually baking classes offered at local community colleges or there may be a culinary school in your area that offers this type of class. If you are lucky enough to have a family member or a friend who bakes, use them as a resource. But the bottom line is you should really get some hands on help to get started.
Grilled pizza on your own home made crust is about a good as pizza gets (left) and the right bread is the key to a great panini (right).
I am really excited about this new dimension that is being added to my grilling hobby. As I have trying more advanced recipes, it seemed a shame to pair them up with a less than stellar bread. Plus assuming you have the ingredients on hand, your bakery is always open and will bake whatever you need to order. Thus far I have started using fresh herbs and spices whenever I can and now I want to start baking my own breads. I was thinking the other day that the next thing would be to start growing my own herbs or vegetables. This is where I plan to draw the line, although I am going to start investigating some of the local farm stands. Of course I never seriously thought I’d get around to baking my own bread either, so we shall see.