Monday, October 6, 2014

Bread - Number 57: Four Tries to Lovely Whole Wheat Bread

Puffy and pretty
Excited to have a beautiful, bubbly, puffy starter again, I made a bread out of a dough that was seconds away from being thrown into the compost as a mistake. Instead, following those bread instincts, I helped create a nice whole wheat bread, adjusted in pretty major respects from the 75 percent whole wheat recipe in Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast. Enjoyed a few slices for breakfast the next morning. Recipe below. I have to admit I followed the recipe - commercial yeast included - the first time I made it, before the starter was back to its old self. I decided not to count this as another bread in the 108 bread series because I have made many whole wheat breads. I changed my mind because it was a departure in terms of how it was made.

This recipe was adjusted for sourdough starter instead of commercial yeast, adjusted for timing so that I could make it during the week, and adjusted for a barely risen dough that after 22 hours in the fridge looked like it was not going to turn into a lovely bread. I did do the three stretch and folds recommended. This venture turned into a three-day bread.

Tried the recipe three times and the improved taste from earlier lackluster whole wheats, I believe, is the better quality flour, though it is more expensive and comes in small packages. Funny how that works. First time, not good, but promising. Second time, described below, pulled a good bread out of disaster. Third time, baked longer and produced a nice bread. A solid, tasty bread, but recipe is no star.

325g water
375g whole wheat flour
50g bread flour
150g starter
11g salt

Turns out to be 80 percent hydration, figuring a 100 percent hydration starter. I admit that's a guess; I do not actually weigh the flour and water when I feed my starter. 

Made this bread three times, each ever so slighty differently in terms of whether refrigerated or not and in terms of rising times. [Photo of another random mosaic. I like mosaics. I am superstitious lately about photographing any pre-ferments or doughs, as if the bread will actually be affected by something as totally unrelated as using my camera.]

Day 1
Mixed the flours and water for an autolyse phase (see Glossary). Covered and let sit for 20 minutes.

Mixed in the starter and the salt. Mix thoroughly. The starter was supposed to be 150 grams, but a few more grams fell in.

Over the course of the first hour, I did three stretch and folds. Let sit for 10  to 15 minutes before first stretch and fold. Do them over the course of an hour or hour and a half. I waited 20 minutes between each stretch and fold. The dough is somewhat sticky, but not bad. It should not stick more than a little to your hands and less as you get to the last stretch and fold.

Mistake #1
After the last stretch and fold, I put the dough back in the bowl, covered the bowl and put the dough in the refrigerator. That's the mistake right there. The recipe called for at least a few hours for the dough to rise on the counter and that is what this dough needed. I kept weighing in my mind whether overnight would be too much time and whether I would end up losing the dough. Why does that always seem like such a terrible outcome? In the fridge, the dough spread, but did not rise.

Day 2
On the evening of the second day (not meaning to echo the rhythm of Genesis), at 21.5 hours of dough fridge time, I took out the dough, did a stretch and fold, with the expectation of baking that night, and left the dough covered for 15 minutes. I shaped and left the dough covered for another 90 minutes. Not even the semblance of rising.

I was ready to throw out the dough. Instead, since this seemed like a completely lost cause anyway, I left the dough covered out on the counter all night.

Day 3
By morning, the dough rose some and had a good number of respectable bubbles. As a regular working person who cannot drop everything to tend to doughs, much as I would like to whenever a dough needs assistance, I put the nicer looking dough in the refrigerator until I walked in the door after work. That turned out to be after dinner, a total of 11 hours.

I preheated the oven to 500 degrees and put the top of the la cloche in the oven as well, right on the baking peel, which generally just stays in the oven. I shaped the dough, covered it and left it on a cutting board for an hour. Truth be told, I needed flour on my hands, the cutting board and a little on the dough itself as it was on the stickier side. One hour later: The dough had spread more out than up. Expectations were very low.

The only sign of hope was the result of the dent test. Denting the dough with a clean finger, it only partially sprang back. Sprang is way too active a word for movement of the tiny area of dough referred to. I then did a bit of a reshape to the now spread-out dough (not quite as spread out as a pancake, but with little structural integrity for something one expects to soon turn into a lovely bread).

Concession to bit of hope
I guess there was a glimmer, a spark, if you will, of hope conceded because I used the lame to make the cross-shaped slit on top (okay, yes, I think of this as the Jesus slit) and quickly put the dough in and the top of the la cloche on it. I used parchment paper on the bottom of the dough because I can be a wuss about the fear of sticky dough being ruined just as I am ready to slide it into the oven.

Right away, I reduced the oven temperature to 475 degrees. Total oven time at 475 degrees was 39 minutes. (Read below: Changed this the next time around.)

And what happened?
I opened the oven door after a half hour to remove the top of the la cloche and the parchment paper. Whoa, nice oven spring, I exclaimed to myself. Nine minutes later, the bread was ready (thank you oven thermometer for your precision) and not only was it beautiful, thanks to my resuscitated starter, but it made wonderful crackling noises for anyone willing to listen carefully in a quiet room. That would be me.

And this bread had a lovely slightly sour taste the next morning when I ate some slices for breakfast. Delicious. Much pride and a smile.

Third time around
Again, three days in the making, but allowed the dough to rise this time before putting it in the fridge for 36 hours. Forgot to do the autolyse, so I did an extra stretch and fold. Really, a prize baker I could never be; not inclined for the detailed organization one would need on an instinctive level. Breath. Accept myself.  

Mistake #2
Shaped and baked right out of the refrigerator without a final rise. I think the bread would have risen a little more with an hour and a half of resting time before baking. Baked this time at 500 degrees for 44 minutes and improved from the last time. Nice oven spring, a beautiful appearance and a tasty bread. A bit squishy in the middle because it needed that final rise. Really kicking myself for that one. There could be a fourth try of this recipe to get the best out of it. IF I do that, I will change the post completely so that it is not a rambling, and-then-I-did-this-and-then-I-did-that bore.

Last try
Bread #58 finally came together when I cut out the refrigeration from the equation and remembered to start with an autolyse phase. I still felt (1) my final rise was too long at an hour and 15 minutes, and (2) perhaps did not need that extra stretch and fold before shaping, but the dough was beautiful and strong - at 75 percent whole wheat. An accomplishment. The disadvantage of this bread is that it really needs a whole day. I could adjust with a much smaller amount of starter for an overnight rise, but I would have to run around like a crazy person in the morning for a final rise, heating the oven, and baking before leaving for work. Not going to happen. Or I can adjust for an overnight rise, shaping, fridge storage, and final rise after work. Doable.  

Monday, September 29, 2014

Ode to Mr. X at the Zabar's Fish Counter

Wandering thoughts while my sourdough starter revives after time away

I'm considering a babysitter for my starter, but that's another story. The following is bread related: Nothing goes better with a bagel, (best with garlic, onion or sesame seeds on top), or an onion roll, than lox with cream cheese; maybe add a slice of summertime ripe tomato and some red onion. Heaven if the lox is fresh and perfectly sliced.

To be a connoisseur of anything is to be difficult to please. I am so difficult on lox quality that there is no deli or supermarket or specialty purveyor in the entire Washington, DC, region from whom I will buy lox. It is thick; it is pre-cut; it is, sin against sin, pre-packaged in terribly thick slices that do not taste fresh. I go to New York and I go to Zabar's, only because at Broadway and 80th, it is blocks away from my in-laws. Only in New York is there competition for good lox. You can even go to Jersey or Long Island (Bagel Boss is the best there) and have options. Over the years, I have come to know the men behind the Zabar's fish counter, masters all, but Mr. X, Mr. X is unforgettable.

So who is Mr. X? And why does he deserve an ode?
I have been thinking about writing about Mr. X for some time. He is an artist, pesky, sullen and amazing at what he does. He works behind the Zabar's fish counter.
He is an artist of an ancient and unappreciated task; he slices lox. Who cares; why would I even have a favorite person and why him? 

Mr. X slices the lox so thin that it is translucent. Mr. X is unfriendly; he doesn't make chit chat. After years of serving me every so often, whenever I am in town or just passing through solely to buy the lox he slices (that's no exaggeration, by the way) he does not know my name, my children (who are old enough to visit the city and relatives on their own, willingly buying lox, packing it with some ice and a cold storage bag for the ride home). I know absolutely nothing remotely personal about Mr. X. He does not share.

In his white work smock, he snarls and ignores you if you smile or say something. He offers no recognition that he's ever seen me or anyone else before. He is not at work to socialize, apparently. He just takes the order and slices. And to watch him slice is to witness pure poetry in motion and that's before you bite into the lox he sliced and appreciate in every cell in your body that he has transformed a fresh and delicious food into something exquisite to behold and to taste. 

Mr. X doesn't spend his time shooting the breeze with his colleagues as the others do. He doesn't talk sports. No, whatever is going on in his mind, his hands attend only to the that bit of fish under his control.

We extol Mr. X's talent around the dinner table as we eat the lox and bagels or onion rolls. We hold a slice up to the light. We say what a master he is. We wish that the next time we find ourselves on the Upper West Side, at Zabar's, hopefully at a time when the store is not crowded, that Mr. X is available. And if we are there at the most crowded of hours on a Sunday morning, we patiently wait, assessing the line, thinking thoughts that maybe our turn will coincide with Mr. X's finishing up with one customer and announce our number.

Really, you never saw such transparent, gorgeous slices of lox. Get a fresh bagel or one of Zabar's delicious onion rolls, some cream cheese, maybe a tomato slice and a little red onion, make a sandwich, leave a slice of lox or two to eat right after, walk to the park (that's Central Park), find a pretty spot, and enjoy your slices of heaven. You might never leave New York.

[Photo of the fish counter at an unusually quiet moment on a weekday afternoon.]

If you have never bought lox, it is expensive. You will doubt the worth of this expensive fish. Don't doubt; order the nova. That's the variety of lox. If you say "nova lox" the guys behind the counter will give you that look, which means you have no idea what you are talking about. Just say nova. Some people, like my dad and my niece, are fans of the pickled lox, which is an entirely different food product, does not require slicing, and appears disgusting to anyone who does not eat it. Same for herring, which they also have at Zabar's and any self-respecting appetizing fish store. (Also whitefish, sable, etc.) 

A nod to the onion rolls ...
We go through a little passage in the store to the bakery and typically buy a dozen or two onion rolls, but up to four dozen if we know we won't be in the city for a while. They are doughy; they have a good ration of onions to dough; they smell great. They are like the onion rolls from my Brooklyn childhood and the old Ratner's (I cried at the demise of that institution). Another treat. Sometimes we add knishes, corned beef, and chopped liver or go upstairs to the kitchen tools. Though I am a vegetarian, these treats tempt me off the wagon. If you want rugelach, get the cinnamon; but this is not Zabar's specialty, though it's not bad.

P.S. This post is filed under "bakeries" because Zabar's has one, tiny and crowded as it is. And I did mention breads. I hope by next week to be baking the next bread. For now, I am making old ones and with commercial yeast. I know, terrible. I think the starter will be completely resuscitated tomorrow, in time to make a tried and true whole wheat bread. That starter requires a good week or two of TLC before it forgives me for going on vacation.

P.P.S. He has a name, Mr. X, but he seems like a very private person and I have no right to identify him by name or otherwise.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Italy - Bakery to Bakery, and Some Wine

I oogled the wood-fired brick ovens. I sighed with happiness when I saw signs in bakeries saying "lievito naturale." I ate a cookie that contained at least a stick of butter. Fantastic and I don't even like cookies. In all of the great art, some truly amazing art, I looked for bread. [Photo of bread in a painting. This was the best photo of that series.]

The bread, the wonderful bread - lievito naturale and pane integrale - meaning sourdough and whole grain breads, respectively. The foccacias. The breads of weirdly, non-uniformly shaped loaves: as if no one had gotten the memo that every bread of a particular type should look exactly the same. The smells and sights of the ovens. The cecci in Lucca, the town's own specialty of chickpeas ground into a kind of pizza shape and baked the same way. The buccatellato, a raisin anise bread that seemed like a cousin to my vanilla, cinnamon raisin Jewish High Holiday round challahs. 

Italy - one thinks of wine and food. Yes, there was fine wine (really nice brunello) and delicious food (some in unexpected places); there was gelato and pastries on practically every block; but I pursued a bread quest. I wish I could have lived in Italy for six months, enough time to traverse the country and try out bakeries across cities and in every region. Rome alone would require at least a month. [Photo: Hipster bakery in Florence right near the Ponte Vecchio.]

Forno is Italian for oven and for bakery. And true bakeries there were. Outside the city centers, one could find fornos that sell mostly bread or an even a combination of bread, pastries, and something called pizza, but really a thick, almost pastry-like rich foundation for cheese, vegetables or and meat. (Pizza as we know it was sold, with thin crusts, but in separate establishments.) There are also lovely, tiny fruit and vegetable shops the size of a walk-in closet, little cheese and meat shops (weird mix if you grew up or are kosher especially because most of the meat is pork), and places to eat outside, whether at a piazza or on one of the benches attached to a building on a side street, not to mention the ubiquitous eateries.

Fiorenze bakery without a name
Go to the synagogue in Fiorenze (Florence) if only to get away from the huddled masses of tourists in the city center. It's a beautiful and meditative place. Very un-churchlike. (No one buried there; no images of faces; no sculpture; beautiful, dark graphics that evoke the Middle East.) On the way, on a street with the best ground view of the Duomo, you will have the opportunity for a fantastic meal, including fresh bread, a pastry-like foundation for spinach and ricotta, and that cookie I mentioned. 

It's on the Via dei Servi. Down the street, back toward the Duomo, there's a tiny place for good  lampredetto (if you eat meat and pork; I don't, but my husband loved it), and one of those stores smaller than an office with some fruit. Sit outside to watch the world go by. [Photo of the outside of the bakery.]

 You know you are in the right place when the bunch of Army guys who guard the synagogue show up for lunch en masse at your favorite bakery. [Just below, photos of the back of the Florence bakery without a name. That's where the bread and cookies are sold.]


[Photo of the fruit and vegetable store right by the bakery. That's the outside and the inside.]

Go to Lucca for this bakery and, okay, the famous ancient wall

Lucca is a lovely town, not too small, with plenty to see and do. Or one can do nothing but stroll on the wall, eat well, drink and listen to music. The town is worth a visit just for the wall, just to hear Puccini's arias sung in a church, and just for the wonderful bakery, Forno Casali.

Forno Casali is hidden on an ordinary side street. The customers were all Italian, including some truck drivers who began eating the fresh focaccia the second they left the bakery. The corn foccacia seems to be their specialty, but their pane integrale/lievito naturale and everything else we sampled were all excellent. I did not find this place myself; I read about the bakery on a food blog, A Cook Gone Mad. I stayed quiet and ordered, saying nothing of my bread blog or my crush on this gem of a bakery. Perhaps my crush was so intense I could not get the words out. Also, I was proud wherever I went when I could transact the simple business of ordering and paying in Italian.

I did not take photos of the inside because it was such a gem of an ordinary place that I did not want to taint it with my tourist excitement. I did, however, take photos of the outside.The address is 31 or 32 on Via Guinigi.

The wall is fantastic even if you know nothing of its history, but go to the free city museum, which has a lovely demonstration of when the wall was built, expanded, and finally made into a public park. As with much in Italy, the Romans were the first in this endeavor.

Don't forget to attend a Puccini concert in the church. 


After the stroll, before the stroll, or whenever you are walking around (except on Sunday or mid-day or afternoons on a couple of days), visit Forno Casali. If it is morning, add a cappuccino somewhere else. Stand, listen to Italian being spoken, and enjoy the bread as you walk along. Daydream and wander over to the church at about seven in the evening to hear some Puccini and whatever songs are accompanying his music that evening.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Hooked on bread making - some more rules and observations

1. No matter how many breads one makes, there will be an ever-growing list of breads one hopes to make in the future.

2. You have a life away from bread making. Tell yourself to respect and enjoy that. Tell yourself to fit the dough activities and baking around your life and not, the other way around.

3. At least occasionally, ignore rule #2. This might be more than occasionally.

4. When you are in the groove - reference rule #3 - you will fantasize about five or six a.m. wake ups to get a dough in the oven or set to rise at the right time. You will be excited about that.

Madison, WI, political "theater": watched while eating cheese bread.

5. Mistakes, perhaps big mistakes, will be made at five and six a.m.

6. Your instincts will be correct 90 percent of the time, no matter what the recipe  printed in a book or on a webpage states. You will be in the dark about determining what is in the 90 versus the 10 percent, often too late. Let it go; just learn.

7. I am still figuring out when time can be set aside to delve into my sourdough challah quest. Definitely not at least until October because I have lots of High Holiday baking before then.

Digression for personal conflict
This all brings me to the minor personal conflict between my religious Shabbat practice and making bread. I work full time, giving me limited evening slots for bread-related activities and then the weekends off. I am attached to Shabbat, to the approximately 24-hour weekly practice of putting away the cell phone, the laptop, even mostly TV and radio (okay, not movies, yet), and not shopping or doing laundry. I generally go from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Adding to that the walk to synagogue, the walk back, attending a rather traditional service, though an egalitarian one, and a slow afternoon, and I have a day set aside for peace, reading, talking to friends, even study and sometimes doing some art (that's a little deviation from more religious folks). This set aside of time is very peaceful, contentment-producing, and recharges my batteries.
Windmill in Mendocino in Northern California.

Yet the urge to work on breads is strong and pulls me away from Shabbat every once in a while. That is the downside of not being formally or officially religious; I do not have strict limits and I am not part of a whole community that observes those restrictions. I tried earlier on in the 108 bread project to rationalize bread making on Shabbat, but really, to me, if it feels like work, it is work. And when I do work - even lovely, joyful bread work - on Shabbat, then Shabbat does not happen; it is taken away for that week, lost is that one peaceful day to savor. 

8. No matter what else is going on, my thoughts return at some point in the day to doughs, to breads, and to fantasies of Roman-inspired wood-fired ovens. 

9. Not only are there an endless number of breads I would like to make or variations to try out, the more breads I make the more I want to rescue the mediocre ones by making them again with some seemingly brilliant tweak (or tweaks).

10. The more photographs I take of a particular sponge and dough in its various incarnations before turning into a bread, the greater the chance the bread will not be good. This is my karma; you have yours.

11. I have anxiety with every bread. I worry it will not turn out well. I worry that I am moving on to the next stage too early or too late. I worry that I am getting it all wrong. Only once in a while I am right. I have been on the 108 breads quest for about a year and a half and this stays true no matter how many times I have made any kind of bread.

Bread- Number 56: Seven Days to a Generic White Bread

Warning: Really long and not very informative post. All in all, a bread that could be skipped.

Originally intended as a temporary post because I wanted to try this bread again and  update the post, the post will remain as is. The thought came to me that instead of spending more time on a just-okay white bread, when I already have the perfect white bread recipe, I should move on to interesting grains that I have not tried. The current quest is to experiment beyond whole wheat, spelt and rye. The challah quest is still on hold due to my family's objections to making any changes to my traditional challah recipe.

How a three-day bread became a seven-day bread and turned out just okay

Not a bad or terrible bread, but decidedly mediocre and lacked the character of whole grains. In a world where it is not difficult to make a fantastic bread, why make a mediocre bread again? Oh, the answer is that I suspect this could be a really good, if not great, bread and, if I play around with the recipe, I will find that great bread lurking nearby, waiting for me. As approximately one third of the recipes I have tried fall into this category, I have to convince myself not to spend all of my time rescuing breads that did not go well.

Maybe I should not have taken pictures. I forgot to do the slashing. Both jinxes.

This recipe is based on a summer recipe from Flour, Water, Salt and Yeast by Ken Forkish. I have not yet reviewed the book because I want to try a few recipes.  So far, not enthusiastic. I am not in favor of the lack of sourdough recipes or the exact amounts of time noted without descriptions of the desired texture and appearance at each stage of dough activity.

Sourdough cheapskate
I could not stand the recipe instructions relating to the levain build that advise making what are mass amounts of sourdough starter, the majority of which the recipe declares should be discarded. If I actually baked several breads each week, that would be rational advice because I could otherwise employ that discarded starter. But at present I am making one bread per week, maybe two, and I refuse to waste so much starter.

I used elementary school math to build the levain little by little. All would be used in the bread. I started with 25 grams of my own starter, took out a new, clean jar, and started the levain for this bread. Jars are another class of items I hate throwing away, so I keep a bunch in a kitchen drawer. (Also in this category are plastic bags, the few new ones I still get, rubberbands, markers, shoeboxes and post-it pads.)

I also halved the recipe because I did not want two large loaves. I'm not sure why every baking book, or almost every one, gives two-loaf recipes. Do they think everyone wants so much bread at once?  

Day 1 - Monday evening

Start levain build.
25g starter
8g water
12g bread flour

Mix and cover. Leave out on kitchen counter.

Day 2 - Tuesday
Morning - Put tiny levain build in the fridge during the day because too rushed before work to do the next step. 

Evening - mixed into levain:
33g bread flour
24g water
Mix, cover, and put levain into fridge for 24 hours.

Day 3 - Wednesday evening
Removed levain from refrigerator and let it sit covered on the kitchen counter overnight. 

Day 4 - Thursday morning
Seeing that this recipe will be stretched from three to, perhaps, up to seven days, I am continuing to feed the levain and deducting those feed amounts from the final dough. This morning, I fed the levain with:
65g bread flour
47g water

Mixed, covered and put in fridge.

Day 5 - Friday
Worked at home - for reasons other than this bread - and midday took the dough out of the refrigerator. Took a few minutes to do final levain build. I only added small amounts of flour and water to perk up the levain before doing heavy work on Day 6, the next day.
26g flour
18g water

Mixed, covered and put in fridge.

Day 6 - Saturday
Kitchen was about 78 degrees and took levain out of fridge at 5 a.m. Let the levain sit out on the counter until it was ready to mix into a dough. It was recommended in the recipe that this would take five to six hours. At the tail end of this time would be the autolyse of the water and flour that would be mixed into the final dough.

The kitchen was not nearly as warm as it would be during a typical Washington, DC, summer. The temperature outside was in the 60s. Generally, at this time of year, the morning temperature in the kitchen is 85 degrees and the temperature outside at about 80 degrees. These small differences and the relatively cooler temperatures make a significant timing difference, however.

I kept the levain under a close watch. (Photo: Levain build after four and a half hours.) At 5.5 hours, the levain had almost flattened, so decided to mix the flour and water for the autolyse.

Autolysed the following mixture for 25 minutes.
293g bread flour
362g water

Big mix
Mixed together the autolyse and the levain. Added the 10g salt. Mixed very thoroughly to make sure that the salt, which is difficult to see as it is spread into the dough, was actually spread evenly throughout the dough.

Before going on, here are the total amounts of the ingredients.

Total ingredients
471g water
441g bread flour
10g salt
These numbers include the initial 25g of starter. The hydration percentage was a whopping 107 percent.

Manipulating and resting the dough

After mixing the dough (see photo) , I did four stretch and folds over about an hour and a half, each at 22 to 25-minute intervals. I fit this in during one old friend's visit and going to the movies with other friends, which was quite the challenge and was the reason I shot up in bed panicked just before five in the morning, when I recalled that the final dough is supposed to be refrigerated overnight and baked in the morning, a near impossibility on a Monday morning and too late for early-Monday-morning eating. 

I let the dough rest in the warm kitchen for five hours. (Notice in the photo the dough practically bursting with fat bubbles.)

OMG, this was a wet dough. Makes sense now when I figure out this was a 107 hydration percentage. The recipe instruction that advises flouring one's hands is totally wrong. Do not handle this dough without wetting hands first. Otherwise, trust me, those hands will be covered with a wetter-than-silly-putty substance that resists being pulled off palms and fingers. At five hours, I shaped the dough, which was barely possible due to its consistency, though it was a cohesive dough. Covered it with the bees wrap cover, and left it in the refrigerator for just about 12.5 hours.

Pre-heat the oven to 500 degrees for an hour. I also preheated the oblong la cloche as this is the vessel du jour in the household with the current preference for baguette-shaped breads. This means storing the dough on parchment paper in an oblong-shaped container and taking the easy way out to transfer the dough to the hot la cloche using the non-sticky, easy-to-handle parchment paper. 

This is a dough that goes straight from fridge to oven. For yet another time, I forgot to use my lame for pretty slashes. I immediately reduced the oven temperature to 475 degrees. The bread baked for 38 minutes, but I think I should have removed it at 33 or 34. It was beautiful, a completely classic-looking baguette. What promise in that appearance. Beautiful color and oven spring.

  But, alas, looks are not everything, as we've all been taught; it was a white bread and not an incredible one. The taste lacked the character and depth of a good whole grain bread and did not supply the cheap, delicious taste of a really good white bread.

Very excited to escape plastic wrap
My new purchase, used for the first time with this bread, was bee's wax covering, called Bee's Wrap, which operates as a reusable plastic-like wrap. It is made of cotton and treated with bee's wax and jojoba oil. Bee's Wrap is a small business in Vermont that seems like a cross between a commune and Santa's workshop. On a different note, if several bees contribute to the wax, should this be bees' wax and not bee's wax?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Bread - Number 55: Good, Basic 100% Whole Wheat

Bread - Number 55: A few adjustments on the brain

Mea Culpa.The recipe for this bread is Oaty Whole Wheat from the River Cottage Bread Handbook (with some revisions), but, despite writing a note to myself in my bread notebook, I forgot the oats. However, as the oats are only used as a coating, the actual taste cannot be much different. That's what happens when I wake up super early on a Sunday morning to make a bread. I will try - with another note to self (which usually works, though not foolproof) - to include the oats next time. In fact, I will substitute some of the whole wheat flour with oat flour for an oat taste throughout.

Still, a really nice basic whole wheat bread resulted, though I would change the oven temperature and timing. The River Cottage Bread Handbook has specific oven temperature recommendations. More on that below.  

I used a white whole wheat, which might be a good idea to change to regular whole wheat on the next go around with this one. I would expect a nuttier taste with a regular whole wheat and some oat flour mixed in.

Ingredients and Instructions

241g water (1 cup)
82g starter
200g white whole wheat flour

Mixed well, covered and put in fridge overnight. I took out the sponge in the morning, and this being a very warm day (about 85 degrees; not super hot at all for a DC summer), I only left the sponge out on the kitchen counter for 6.5 hours. In fact, at 6.5 hours, the sponge looked like it already might have been a bit past its peak. Next time, on a warm day, I would use less starter, but keep this amount for a fall or winter kitchen.

62g water (1/4 cup)
300g white whole wheat flour
10g salt
1.5 tbsp coconut oil (I failed to weigh this.)

Add all of dough ingredients to the sponge and mix well. I suppose one could do an autolyse for 20 to 30 minutes with just the flour and water before mixing into the sponge, but I felt a little too pressured for time. 

Knead for 10 to 15 minutes and amaze yourself at how movie-like a dough, practically satiny, you are creating. Not sure if that texture was the result of kneading or the coconut oil. The dough, however, was not oily in the least. When I think of how intimidated I was by the whole idea of kneading, this accomplishment made me feel oh so proud, as if I had earned every dough spot on my bread apron.

Three manipulations
Shape the dough and cover. I did three dough manipulations over the course of two and a half hours. The recipe calls for the dough to double in size between manipulations, but really, I can never quite tell the difference between "oh that's quite a bit bigger" and doubling. Don't sweat this.

I let the dough sit covered for an hour and then took it out of the bowl.

According to the River Cottage instructions, I pocked the dough with fingertip dents. Then, for good measure, I did a stretch and fold. I then shaped the dough and left it covered for 45 minutes, whereupon I followed the same routine. I repeated once more after another 45 minutes.

Due to conflicts with other stuff going on in my actual life - and after I had already given up much-needed shoe shopping due to my bread obsession - I covered the shaped dough and put it in the refrigerator until the next day.

Baking too early in the morning
Really, my brain does not process actual information before 9 a.m. Written down, plain as the nose on my face, on a blue sticky note no less, was the instruction to coat the dough in oats before baking. 

But it was 7 a.m. and I was psyched to get the dough all baked before walking over to the farmers market. I preheated the oven to 500 degrees, read the Sunday paper, and, an hour later, all I could fit in my brain was the need to slash the dough. I completely forgot the oats. C'est la vie.

Baking advice
I let the oven preheat to 500 degrees with an oblong la cloche for an hour. Right before baking, I took the dough out of the fridge and slashed it with my lame, one of my favorite tools (though nothing is more adored than the Danish whisk). My tip for not burning oneself when transferring the dough is to sit the shaped dough on parchment paper, which I hold and transfer with the oblong-shaped dough right into the la cloche. 

Heeding the recipe instructions, which include tips for temperatures depending on the appearance of the crust at 15 minutes in, I checked the dough after 15 minutes. It was pale. According to the author's suggestion, I reduced the oven temperature to 425 degrees. Total baking time was 40 minutes. The bread is very good, but I suspect it might have turned out just a tad better if I had kept the oven at 500 degrees and only baked for 30 to 35 minutes. More time, probably about 40 minutes total, would be necessary to bake a boule.

The bread had wonderful oven spring and that without adding the recommended bit of commercial yeast. The taste is very good. I will definitely try this one again: (1) with the oat coating and some oat flour, (2) a darker whole wheat flour, and (3) keeping the oven at 500 degrees.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Bread - Number 54: Slightly Improved Dark Rye

This is a situation where the border between redoing a bread and doing a new one gets fuzzy. But this bread became an instant favorite, so why not give it extra space? Plus, I'm happy to make it to 54 - the halfway point to 108, which I despair of reaching unless I soon start branching out a bit more. Seems like I struggle to make any breads other than the favorites because the first 54 have produced quite a bunch of really great breads that I am comfortable with.

So, yes this is a remake of bread #53, my first dark rye, but a bit different and easier. And look at that gorgeous oven spring. I feel proud.

Ingredients and instructions

100g water
20g starter
100g rye flour

I would use this amount of starter or less in the summer. My kitchen stayed at approximately 80 degrees (Fahrenheit) all night. In the winter, I might use some more and adjust the flour and water amounts in the dough accordingly.

Mix well and leave covered on counter overnight, or my case 9.5 hours.

2 cups water or 473g
255g bread flour
320g rye flour (I ran out; it was supposed to be 340g)
12g salt
1 tbsp. caraway seeds (I did not weigh these)

Now that I'm over the exceedingly sticky nature of this dough and I feel no compulsion to knead a rye dough, this bread was a much more easy going experience than the last. Mix all ingredients in the order listed. Cover and leave on counter for 2.5 hours. Might take a little more time in a kitchen below 85 degrees.

Before shaping, sprinkle dough with flour and sprinkle board with flour. Do one stretch and fold. Shape. As this was not a dough to keep its own shape, I used a loaf pan - pre-sprayed with non-stick spray. Cover with plastic and leave on the counter.

Update upon making this bread a few more times
Here's an alternative to the advice in the last paragraph: Forget sprinkling the dough with flour. Wet your hands, lightly wet the dough and wet the board or counter top you will be using to do the stretch and fold and shape the dough. I could not believe how well using a small amount of water worked. It did not stick to my hands or the counter. My inspiration on this was a video on making a rye bread (scroll way down for the "cocktail rye video"), including handling the dough at this particular stage.

Before baking
Due to the wetness of the dough, it will be - okay, it was for me - impossible to tell when this dough was ready to bake. I preheated the oven after shaping the dough to give both an hour before baking. I just assumed an hour would be okay.

In a list form:
  • One hour before baking - preheat oven to 500 degrees.
  • Preheat top of oblong la cloche in oven. It will roughly fit over the loaf pan. 
  • One hour before baking - shape dough and let rest.
  • Just prior to baking, sprinkle caraway seeds on top of dough. 

Gently cover loaf pan with top of la cloche. Be careful as the top of the la cloche does not exactly fit the loaf pan.

Immediately reduce oven temperature to 460 degrees. After 15 minutes, reduce temperature to 440 degrees. I think I left this dough in the oven for another 25 minutes, but it might have been 20. Immediately take bread out of loaf pan and let rest. My general rule is two hours.

Big, nice oven spring, a beautiful dark brown bread and an amazing taste. This is a keeper. I will take pictures next time, promise. I have to say that although this bread was based on a recipe in the River Cottage Bread Handbook, I have substantially altered the hydration, I did not knead at all, and I stopped even referring to its instructions. I still like the book.

[Editor's Note: No text changes. Photos were added.]