Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Art of Perfection

Perfection.  What does that word conjure up for you? Intensity? Frustration? Mindfulness? Exhilaration? Or, all of the above?

Now, notice that my title is the ART of perfection.  There is perfection, and then there is PERFECTION.  One implies a frustration of a sort, and the other implies the careful, mindful planning of a process to achieve a certain goal.  I give you Gluten Free Bread and a knitted sweater.
How on earth, you say, can these be alike in any way shape or form?  Well, it's about the process and the perfection of that process to produce the most delicious GF bread and the best fitting sweater ever.

I have always avoided knitting any clothing other than gloves, mittens, socks or hats.  Scarves and shawls don't really count either.  Anything with an armhole constitutes clothing.  Until I discovered the necessity of GAUGE or the process of perfecting the stitch count to match the pattern. Yes, yes, I know - you should always make a gauge.  Well, I have - been there, done that, but for some reason I could never do it correctly and I always ended up with a sweater big enough for 2 or a teen Tee that would only fit a preemie.  So I'd give up and wing it.  Enter - perfection.  I decided that it was time to put my Big Girl Panties on, as a dear friend of mine would say, and master that gauge.  There is no trick.  Step 1 was to change my way of thinking - gauge is important.  Period.

Step 2 was to figure out the relation between needle size and yarn weight and size and the pattern.

 It's about finding the right needle, or the right yarn, or if you have neither and can not find a balance, then learning how to knuckle down and do the math.  Sometimes just using bigger needles only make the stitch look sloppy and loose, and too small a needles make the stitch too tight and the fabric won't flow.  So, over and over again I've made my gauge samples.  Kept them, labeled them, analyzed them, re-did them, re-measured the pattern, re-calculated the stitches until I came up with a proper size.  Sometimes it meant changing yarn.  Yes, that beautiful sport weight Merino would have to go and in it's place a DK weight.  Or bring out the calculator and start figuring out what size I would have if I could only come up with 5 stitches per inch instead of the necessary 4 with that beautiful Merino.  It can work.  It just takes patience, mindfulness and intention and voila - you have perfection.

We are all creatures of habit.  Mine is to skip the gauge process and wing it.  My other habit is to use measuring cups when I bake.  I've always used measuring cups.  I was brought up with measuring cups.  In fact I was probably given a set of silver measuring cups instead of that little silver baby spoon that was so often given by the adoring Grandparents, Aunts, etc. We all think we MUST HAVE measuring cups in order to bake.  NOT.  Enter the kitchen scale.  It is now my friend. Yes, I will still use my cups, but when I bake my gluten free breads it is the scale that will be my most valuable tool.  Now how does this enter into perfection you say?  Gluten free baking is not easy.  That is not if you are a perfectionist like me.  I am a bread baker from wa-a-ay back. I even have credentials.  I developed the Sour Dough section for the Joy of Cooking back in the late 60's.  Yes, those recipes are mine.  So you see dear reader - bread and how it looks, tastes, smells, feels and even breaks apart is important to me as a baker.  Ok.  Throw all that out the proverbial gluten window as I now have to be careful of eating anything with gluten. GF breads/doughs will never look, feel or taste or even bake or work up like regular gluten breads.  Step 1 was to change my way of thinking.

Step 2 was to figure out just what these GF flours and starches do.

For several years now I have been trying to make a decent GF bread.  All the recipes I came across used cups for measuring.  None of them explained why there were say millet and bean flours and potato and tapioca flours.  Why those, and what's the difference.  Many online searches and books later I came across this web site.  It was an eye opener and has given me hope that yes, there is the perfect GF bread loaf out there.  Gluten Free Girl explains the reason for weighing your GF flours.  They don't act like regular gluten flours.

Enter perfection.  When you weigh a flour it is exact and that is truly important in baking gluten free breads.  Just like making a sweater and perfecting the gauge, so it is important to weigh your flours to get that yummy loaf.  So off to the store to obtain a really good kitchen scale.  It is now my friend and best buddy.  It allows me to be precise in my measuring.  The first two loaves have come out just about perfect.  Now comes the good part.  I have my tools - I can now make my own 'gauge' as it were for my breads.  I can add a little more of one flour or a little more of another starch to get just the right look, feel, taste and rise out of my dough.  I can work on that perfection of my GF doughs.

And so to give credit where credit is due, my first successful bread has come from Gluten Free Girl's recipe.

She also has put up a video explaining how to measuring your flours, percentages of flours to starch (which I never knew was important until I read her blog).

Step 3 in the saga of GF is to create the perfect Sour Dough.  Gluten Free of course.   And in my knitting, Step 3 is to tackle that little lacy pattern Tee for my Sister.

Oh the joys of perfection.