Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Banned! All Over Some Pieces of Clay

A few days ago, I posted about the places I'm not allowed with adult supervision. Since then, I've received quite a few emails and a few comments wondering what the story is behind my being banned from the Watertown, MA Home Depot.

Just to put everyone's minds at ease (and probably destroy my reputation of being a bad girl), I wasn't banned because of any illegal activity or for anything awful. I was banned because I took some pictures of a box of unglazed quarry tiles in the flooring department.

Yup, I am banned for life from the Watertown, MA Home Depot because I took a picture for this blog.

It all started out so innocently. A few years ago when I was still living in Boston/Cambridge, I had reached a stage as a bread baker where I wanted more from my breads. I had mastered loaves made in loaf pans. I had even mastered keeping a sourdough starter alive for more than three weeks. I was ready to play in world of free form, artisan bread.

I did my research about how to get the best oven rise from these types of bread and every article I read said I needed a hot, stone like surface to achieve this. In other words, I had simulate a hearth oven in my home oven. The cheapest way I found was not to invest in an insert or even a pizza stone (and in fact most pizza stones are too small for this) but to go to my local hardware store and purchase enough 6 x 6 or 4 x 4 unglazed red clay quarry tiles to cover one rack of my oven! (Unglazed is key, most glazes contain lead and other nasty components that will get transfered to your bread... yuk!).

I measured my oven rack so I knew how many tiles of what size I needed and I was ready to go get my baking surface. Since I knew the small mom and pop hardware store in Harvard Square I liked to frequent didn't carry flooring, I was left with no choice but to head to the closest Home Depot. I was all giddy. This was going to be great! I could document the whole process from buying my tiles, to "installing" then on my oven rack, to baking my first boule and then blog about how to get a home style hearth and how Home Depot could help!!

It was a Saturday and the place was mobbed. After driving around the parking lot for about 20 minutes, I finally found a place to park W's car and making sure I had my digital camera, I walked into the store and headed to the flooring department. I found my tiles right away and pulling out my digital camera I took a picture of the 6 tiles I needed stacked on top of the box they came from. I even took a picture of the label so the next person who wanted to try making a home hearth at home would know the exact tile to go get from their local Home Depot. I got a few strange looks but then that is normal for me. And then the guy in the orange vest walked over...
"Um, excuse me, Ma'm. You can't take pictures of our products."

"Excuse me? I'm just taking a picture of the tiles for my baking blog because I want to make a hearth surface in my oven to bake bread."

"Well, you can't take pictures"

"Why not? It's just your average quarry tile. Not like you have a secret formula for them or they are illegal to purchase"

"It is because of national security reasons. I need to see you delete those pictures so I don't have to take your camera and then I'm going to have to ask you to leave and please do not return to the store because you will not be allowed to come back to this store. If you return, we will be forced to have you arrested for trespassing."

EXCUSE ME?!! National security reasons!!! In Home Depot!!!!! In Watertown, MA!!!!!! I'm being put on some national security watch list in Home Depot, in Watertown MA by some pimple faced, over zealous, paranoid assistant flooring department manager because I want to bake some bread on some plain, unglazed quarry tiles. Not wanting to cause any trouble and more specifically not wanting to spend my nine bucks in that store, I left...

And drove to the Lowes in Woburn, MA where not only was I allowed to take pictures but as soon as I explained to the guy in the flooring department why I only needed six tiles, he said that was really cool and that one of the ladies in the kitchen design department used the tiles for the same thing!

My unglazed red clay quarry tiles from the Woburn, MA Lowes

Before I knew it, he had gotten the lady over to the flooring department where we swapped bread stories and she gave me few tips on what to do to care for my tiles and how to heat them and other really cool ideas for getting the most out of simulating a bakers oven at home.

I've been happily using them ever since as well as directing anyone who wants to make a simulated baker's oven out of unglazed quarry tiles to their local Lowes, especially if you live in Watertown, MA.

My Lowes quarry tiles in action with my black olive, cilantro, and sun dried tomato bread boule

So, there you have it. The reason I'm banned from the Home Depot in Watertown, MA.

Now, if you thought that was hoot, you really would get a kick out of how I was almost banned from the Traverse City, MI Cherry Capital Airport for trying to smuggle some chocolate cherry fruit cake home in my carry-on bag...

Black Olive, Garlic, Cilantro and Sun Dried Tomato Bread

adapted from Paul Hollywood's Cypriot Olive and Cilantro Bread found his 100 Great Breads

4 1/2 cups of bread flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp dry active yeast
1 1/2 cup warm water
1 cup black olives, pitted and chopped
1 head garlic, roasted
1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes, soaked and diced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Roast the garlic and remove cloves so that they remain in one piece. Allow to cool.

Proof the yeast in 1/2 cup of warm water. While yeast is proofing, measure out flour into a mixing bowl and set aside. Pour proofed yeast, remaining water, and olive oil into a large stand mixer bowl and combine using the dough hook. Add salt and then slowly 1/2 cup at a time, add the flour until a wet dough is formed. Remove bowl from stand mixer, the rest of this bread has to be done by hand.

Add olives, sun dried tomatoes, roasted garlic cloves, and cilantro to the wet dough mixture and gently combine so that the garlic cloves remain whole. Pour dough onto floured surface and slowly add remaining flour by handful until a slightly sticky but firm dough is formed. Allow dough to rest 10 minutes. Test dough for stickiness. The dough should be soft and ever so slight tacky but not sticky.

Gently knead dough for about 5 minutes until very pliable and soft. Put back into the bowl and allow to rise until double.

Gently punch down and divide dough into 2 pieces. Form two boules and sprinkle with flour. Set boules on parchment paper corn meal prepared baking sheets and cover lightly. Allow to rise until double about 1 1/2 hours.

While the boules are rising, place one of the oven racks in the middle of the oven and the other at the very bottom and pre-heat oven to 425 degrees. If using baking stone or quarry tiles, make sure the tiles/stone are in the oven on the middle rack when you pre-heat. This will take about 1 1/2 hours. It is important to allow the tiles/stone to heat all the way through to achieve the extra spring.

About 5 minutes before you are ready to bake the boules, place a large pan filled with ice cubes on the bottom of the oven and pour 2 cups of hot water over the ice cubes and quickly shut the oven door. The difference between the ice cubes and the hot water will create instant steam.

Unmold the boules and quickly place them in the prepared oven. Shut the door and do not open the door until the loaves are golden brown and the internal temperature of the loaves is 200 degrees, about 3o minutes.

Remove boules from the oven and cool on wire racks. Allow boules to cool completely before slicing.