Thursday, December 1, 2016

Bread Numbers 91 and 92: Breads of Affliction and Hope

I am an American who has spent much of the last few weeks in disbelief and sadness at the prospect of having a president who has unabashedly made racist, sexist, and otherwise bigoted statements. So after six months of making only old breads and not adding one item to the 108 project, I decided to make matzo, the bread of affliction, of liberation, and of hope, a bread that symbolizes that life is cyclical. A bit of inspiration at a dark time.

Online sources too
For bread #91, I roughly tried the Peter Reinhardt recipe from Whole Grain Breads. For bread #92, I took direction from recipes at a few different websites, some Jewish, some not, some "alternative," which for matzo means using any ingredient beyond water, flour, and salt, and which doesn't care about the 18-minute rule (explained below).

I grew up on the standard Passover matzos of Streits and Horomitz Margareten. Like cardboard right out of a box, but I loved it anyway, especially the whole wheat matzo, which remains my favorite.

Warning: Hebrew and Yiddish words are interspersed because they are so central to preparation and enjoyment of Passover, of which matzo is a central part.

Matzo in Hebrew refers to unleavened bread, which is eaten during the eight-day holiday of Passover to commemorate each year the quick departure the Ancient Israelites made in getting out of Egypt. As the story goes, and the Biblical Hebrew raises as many questions as it answers, the Israelites took their dough, which had not yet been leavened or risen, and left. They baked the dough later (and I do not know whether it was a few hours or a day), producing what were called matzo cakes, though it is generally called, even in the original text, just matzo.

Now, in modern times, to get a kitchen - including the oven - ready for the holiday, one cleans out every cabinet and gets rid of all chametz, which is anything remotely bread-like or already opened prior to the holiday. Much, much more is involved, but a full explanation could - literally - take all day and full explanations can be debated endlessly.

Forget the 18 minutes - this time
I will not go into the laws of Passover, except for two. (1) According to rabbinic law, one of the key regulations governing the making of acceptable Passover matzo is that it must be made in 18 minutes, counting from the first second when water touches flour until putting the dough into the oven. This intimidated me no end. (2) You have to make the matzo in an oven that has been made ready - or kashered - for Passover.

Since it is not now Passover, I baked on my regular - or chametzdich - baking stone, which would definitely not be kosher for use during the holiday because I use it all year round for making bread. Don't ask questions; if you have observed this holiday for your entire life, you know that the special aspects of it are a fantastically clean house when the holiday begins and a week-long celebration of an alternate food reality that results in family bonding and merriment, if only for the matzo-haters to be screaming about how they cannot wait for the holiday to be over. I never had that problem.

Recipe for #91

113g whole wheat flour
2g salt
85g water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Mix and then divide dough into four small balls. Knead each ball for maybe one minute, until smooth, and let sit for three minutes. The clock is ticking. Knead each ball again for about 30 seconds. On a well-floured surface, roll out each ball separately. I put a little flour on each before rolling it out. The rolling out is easy and quick. Eighteen minutes for a small recipe should be no problem.

Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees when placing dough in the oven. One baking stone will hold four pieces of rolled-out dough, with the possibility of a bit of overlap, which did not affect the final product at all. The recipe called for a half hour of baking, but mine was totally done at 23 minutes and might have been fine at 20. It was fine without dusting the baking stone or putting little fork holes in the dough, something I justified on the grounds that the Ancient Israelites did not have forks and actually I neglected to read that part of the recipe.

The matzo tasted great; it was crunchy and tasty, though maybe I will try a rye/wheat combination next time. Nothing to be afraid of here.

And then there was #92
The big difference between Breads #91 and #92 is in the baking, with significant changes in temperature and time. And one more difference in a key ingredient that is critical when embarking on anything new - patience. I was patient with bread #91 and more like Lucy and Ethel on the chocolate factory assembly line with bread #92.

For bread #92, I tried whole rye, then half rye, and finally I ended up with 100 percent whole wheat. I used the same proportions and amounts of flour, water, and salt. The whole rye was so sticky that it would not roll out. So I mixed it to make it half whole wheat flour and I put in the right amounts of more water and salt. 

By this time, the clock was ticking and not the 18-minute clock so much as the have-to-make-dinner clock. I still wanted to do a 100 percent whole wheat matzo following the rye. This is exactly the point where the patience ran out and I threw lots more regular flour on the counter, the rolling pin, my hands, and the rye/whole wheat dough. It was looking good in the rollout at first. I believe that with some patience, there would have been a nice matzo produced; but when that stickiness started and the clock showing the late hour, I chucked the dough in the garbage and proceeded directly to do the completely whole wheat version.

I had preheated the oven and the baking stone for one hour in a 500-degree oven. 

I quickly rolled out the whole wheat dough. I made it thin, but probably not as thin as bread #91 - all awry with the patience ebbing. I baked the dough for three minutes and it appeared beautiful, but the taste not so much. It was like a cross between a cracker and pita bread, therefore not satisfying as either.

Virtues can be a challenge

Even with an 18-minute rule in the back or forefront of one's mind - patience is a necessary virtue and practice in making even a quick flat bread.

Two good results: I know I can make matzo (will probably try a half rye again), and I did not think about politics at all.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Bread Number 90: 70 Percent Rye with Spices

This recipe was adopted from a recipe for spiced rye rolls in Daniel Leader's Local Breads. I did 73 percent rye and I also made a rye starter beforehand. A slap on the back for some good planning. Apologies in advance if my math was off at all.

I grew the starter over the course of a week, having begun with maybe five grams of my regular starter, and adding only rye flour and water. I did three or four feedings.

150g rye starter
356g water
120g bread flour
365g rye flour
10g salt
4g caraway seeds
2g fennel seeds
2g dried chives

I added different spices than are in the original recipe and I recall a little less definitely that I altered the percentage of rye as well. The dough is has a hydration percentage of 80 percent.

The recipe called for kneading and I poo-pooed that instruction initially. I did one stretch and fold at 23 minutes, but the dough was not hanging together, so I switched gears and kneaded for three minutes. One should always be gentle with rye. It is much more sensitive a grain than wheat.

I covered the dough and let it rise for 6.5 hours. This is what teleworking is for. Instead of chatting with co-workers on the way back from the bathroom, I checked the dough and pondered for 20 seconds whether it was ready. Very productive.

Baking preparation
A  rye with such a high hydration percentage will not do well, in my opinion, without support. I made this bread in a loaf pan. I covered the loaf pan with the top of an oblong la cloche. It's a little clumsy kind of arrangement, but with slow movement, it works well.

First, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Rye does not need super high heat.

Second, place the top of the oblong la cloche in the oven to preheat. Let it preheat for one hour while you do the final rise.

Third, oil hands.

Fourth, use those oiled hands to put the nice, goopy rye dough into the loaf pan and cover. The final rise happens in the loaf pan. This is a plus because no further handling of the dough with actual hands is necessary. 

The final rise was another place where I diverged from the recipe. I did a much longer final rise. After feeling like the first rise could have been longer, I added a half hour onto the final rise, which, conveniently, matched the preheat of one hour and made me feel comfortable staying with my usual final rise duration.

I kept the 450 degree temperature throughout the baking. Baking time of 40 minutes.

There was some rise, but not much. This is a rye and though rye is lovely, it does not do the glittzy, glamour of a spectacular wheat oven spring.

This bread had a wonderful taste of a dark rye with nice spicing that lent flavor without overpowering the bread. Very pleased.

Bread Number 89: Whole Wheat, Farro, and Serious Procrastination

Here I am, no closer to actually starting the challah challenge than I was a year ago. All it takes to be ready is get out the ingredients and begin, but my wonderful family is actively opposed to the making of any but my traditional, tried and true challah. I can use that as an excuse, but I have plenty more, none of which amount to a hill of beans because I am perfectly capable of this. And now, on the cusp of a month on the road, I am devising a plan to involve people other than said family members, people who will be willing to act as taste testers.

As for the plan to make matzah, I have been reading and reading about it, discussing the derivation of the Hebrew word, and procrastinating. I might make it later today if I do not get sidetracked with packing.

Now for a nice combo: Whole wheat and farro is a fantastic combination.

50g farro flour
350g whole wheat flour
200g starter (all purpose flour and water at 100 percent hydration)
310g water
11g salt

All of the berries were ground into flour immediately prior to making the dough. The aroma is heavenly. 

Mix the water and flour. Cover and let sit for 30 minutes. 

Add starter to autolyse, mix part way, and then add the salt. Needed to use my hands to mix this dough thoroughly.

I did four stretch and folds, each 15 to 20 minutes apart. Then I let the dough sit, covered, in a warm - not hot - kitchen of about 74 degrees for seven hours.

Shaping and baking
Preheated the oven to 500 degrees with the oblong la cloche inside. I then shaped the dough into an oblong shape, but fatter and stubbier than a baguette. Covered and wrapped the dough in a facsimile of a couche with the beeswax covering instead of a real couche or plastic, though the beeswax material is hard to clean.

Did a one hour final rise. Put slashes across the top of the dough. Before plopping the dough into the dangerously hot la cloche, I sprinkled - liberally - rice flour on the bottom. I have had bad experience with dough sticking to the bottom and the sides of the oblong la cloche. The rice flour works like a charm. 

Plop dough into la cloche, cover, and close that oven door. Reduce temperature immediately to 480 degrees.

Next time, I will roll the dough in the rice flour as well because it stuck to the sides. I got out the dough with a knife, but, frankly, I almost burned myself, just missing touching the outside of the super hot la cloche. One should really heed the instructions one gives to one's children in these types of situations. I was lucky to have avoided a good burn.

Baking time: 30 minutes

Beautiful oven spring. Fantastic taste.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Pre-Passover Pause and Spring Cleaning

I will be baking bread, just taking a break from the 108 Bread project. Tradition stands in the way, though only for a few weeks. My personal ritual is to start cleaning the minute that the Jewish holiday of Purim is over, which is now, which means angst, planning, scrubbing, and dusting until the holiday of Passover begins. Oh and shopping for items we only eat during Passover or which are bread related, such as mayonnaise, and, in my house, require a crappy mass-produced kosher supermarket replacement that often gets tossed after the holiday.

Not enough time for maintaining a chametz-related - Hebrew word meaning leavened - blog.

Zero bread - but just for a week

Now the central culinary aspect of the week-long festival is the absence of bread, any bread-like product, and, for many Jews, a whole list of other foods. I won't go into details; otherwise this post would become a PhD thesis. All leavened products and crumbs - hence the spring cleaning - are out, unless I have banished them to a sealed closet or cabinet. 

As bread #89 will be a matzo and I do not eat matzo between Purim and the start of Passover, I will delay this next venture. I want the first taste of matzo during the first Passover seder to taste special; it's not law, it's mishegas (a Yiddish word for a kind pf personal craziness). Also, I would like to use my very chametz-related baking stone, which would render the home-baked matzo so unkosher for Passover that even the dog would refuse to eat it on the holiday and cause him to scream out about a complete sacrilege being committed. He would probably scream with a Yiddish accent, a la any older Brooklyn person or Bernie Sanders. 

Curiously enough, this respite also allows me to procrastinate a bit more for the last 18 breads of the 108 bread project, the challah quest. I promise to complete this and get onto other possibilities, like selling bread, or teaching bread baking, or writing a book about bread baking from the perspective of someone who lives a normal life, fantasizes about bakeries, but really is not fit for the uber-organized requirements of the baker life, such as getting up before 7 a.m.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Bread Number 88: Lovely Multiple of Four for My Group of Four Peaceable Writing Compatriots

It's 8:30 a.m. and I have a challah dough almost ready for braiding, a sponge sitting on the counter - made this morning - and the flour for that dough ground and protected in the freezer in a ziplock bag. I'll come home late this afternoon from the husband's minor surgery and finish that dough. The challah will be baked and cooling off by 10.

Just because I have not been working on this blog does not mean an absence of home-baked bread. I've been so busy with research and projects at work, so accustomed to and in the rhythm of making favorite breads, so procrastinating - oh yes - the upcoming challah challenge to finish up the 108, that writing here has taken a seat way back in the bus.

For you, my writing lady pals

From time to time during monthly dinners and writing critiques that are the rituals of the Blockheads, my writing group, I keep my pals up to date on the 108-bread project. They have been known to bite into and enjoy the fruits of this quest. About a month ago, they laid down a challenge. That challenge was to make a bread dedicated to them, a bread especially for them. But of course.

Four of us and 88 the next number - kismet. I would make a bread with four kinds of grains and two kinds of seeds and enjoy the mathematical loveliness of the number 88. Perhaps something took exactly 11 minutes along the way. Really not sure.

I bought whole wheat, rye, spelt, and farro berries, which can be used to make food other than bread, though I have not yet tried any of those. I made my usual sponge, described below, used my flour mill machine (a piece of genius), and mixed up a dough with a wonderful aroma. I added caraway and sesame seeds. Next to my much-loved rye bread, I think this one is my favorite. And I am so glad that my writing pals supplied the idea. I dedicate this bread to them.

To Rose, Jill, and Franca: Women whose writing I always look forward to reading, whose company I enjoy, and whose analyses give food for thought. 

This post is long overdue. I did the first try of bread #88 back in February and a second try three weeks ago. This is the recipe for the second try, which turned out to be a super delicious bread, at least to my happy taste buds.


100g starter (100 percent hydration)

200g water
200g bread flour

I let the sponge rest for 10.5 hours in the kitchen.

150g whole wheat flour
84g spelt flour
40g rye flour
26g farro flour
11g salt
4g sesame seeds (plus more for the top of dough when baking)
4g caraway seeds (plus more for the top of dough when baking)

All of the whole-grain flours were freshly milled by my brilliant German flour milling machine.

Stretch and folds and resting

Yes, I've become blase, I do things somewhat by rote, but that's because I've succeeded already in this 108-bread quest. I've learned so much that I'm not thinking,pondering, considering every move. I've discovered good moves that work well and just need monitoring.

Usually I do four stretch and folds, each separated by 15 to 30 minutes. This time I did three. The dough was ready; it had a decent amount of rye and spelt, which do not seem to require as much manipulation. Sometimes the best instinct is to stop. I did three stretch and folds at 20 minutes apart. I slightly and quickly shaped the dough.

I put the dough bowl, covered, in the fridge for 24 hours. When I put the dough there, it was almost 7:30, a perfect time to bake the next evening. 

Baking with rye and spelt

I did not go super high on the oven temperature here because of the rye and spelt, which, I've read and observed on breadtopia videos, do well significantly below 500 degrees. I preheated the oven - with the baking stone and top of la cloche inside - at 480 degrees. 

I shaped the dough, sprinkled on some water, and then sprinkled more sesame and caraway seeds on top. I also made an X-slash on top. I admit that I have not gotten at all creative on that part.

Upon putting the dough in the oven, I turned down the temperature to 460 degrees. At 15 minutes in, I turned it down further, to 440 degrees. I turned it off completely at 37 minutes. (That's a result of a previous mistake that ended up being spectacular.)

Total baking time: 42 minutes.
Taste: Fantastic. One of my favorites. Everyone seemed to like it. 

End note: I have to get back to putting in photographs. I miss the visual element. I like looking at bread and slices photos.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Bread Number 81: A Tasty Variation

The variation on Bread #81 is a stretch on the term variation because I changed quite a bit from the original recipe. This is a delicious whole wheat and requires no sponge phase. I did do an autolyse, partly because it's an easy way to build strength in a wet dough. This bread also fits with the whole wheat theme of my last couple of breads. Because this bread turned out so well, it is worth its own blog post.

The only reason I did not bother with a sponge was pure laziness. We enjoyed the winter storm festivities of gathering with neighbors for long dinners, watching two feet of snow accumulate, doing some artwork, and my solitary snowstorm accomplishment of binge watching a season of Girls. (Yes, the characters are spoiled and self-absorbed, but I love watching shows about New York, particularly Brooklyn, and it's well written. I thought the disrespect toward Iowa was a bit much.)

So there I was on a Sunday morning without any dough. 

553g whole wheat flour - freshly milled
528g water

Mix, cover, and let sit for 25 minutes. Incredible how quickly just the two ingredients combined and rested magically become so dough-like.

Add to autolyse:
100g starter 
12g salt

Hydration percentage: 96 percent

I did two stretch and folds, each 40 minutes apart. Be careful, the dough is slippery and extra stretchy due to its high hydration percentage. I let the dough rise in a 70-degree closet (my little warm spot in the house) and then put it in the fridge for seven hours. No bread on Sunday, but it was ready on Monday. Love DC because with two feet of snow over the weekend, no one was going anywhere on Monday and we had fresh bread.

Baking preparation
Preheat oven to 470 degrees for one hour with dutch oven inside. Sprinkle rice flour onto the bottom of the very hot dutch oven. Shape dough, though it will not hold a shape due to its wetness. Slash the top a few times. Not sure how well a pretty slash design would work, though it might if you get that dough very quickly into a hot oven.

Baking time: 52 minutes
Taste: Absolutely wonderful 

Next try: Shape the dough on a wet surface and with wet hands because - you got it - it's a wet dough.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Bread Numbers 86 and 87: Lovely Whole Wheat

Splendid whole wheat breads, each 50 to 60 percent whole wheat. These are impressive in their superiority to any bakery bread. Indeed there's no reasons other than variety or getting out of the house to eat anything other than a fine whole wheat bread with butter for breakfast. Super yummy, and that is a technical term.

Breads #86 and 87 had my usual sponge, with no whole grain flour. The doughs, however, featured whole wheat flour and seeds. My suspicion is confirmed that the household members will eat anything with caraway seeds and declare it delicious. Sesame seeds do not produce the same exuberant response, though I really like them.

Same sponge for breads #86 and 87
100g starter
200g water
200g bread flour

Mix, cover, and leave out overnight or all day for eight to 10 hours. Never misses and produces a bubbly beauty of a sponge.

The dough, indeed, the whole process for these two breads is so close as to be a mistake not to consider them refinements of one bread. But the whole matter of what constitutes a different bread is rather arbitrary.

Bread #86 will be listed first, then a comma, and then amount of the ingredient for bread #87. For some significant ingredients, the amounts were the same for both breads.

303g whole wheat flour - freshly milled and smelling so lovely in an early-morning kitchen
128g, 113g water
12g, 10g salt
4g sesame seeds
0g, 6g caraway seeds

Mix, cover, and do four stretch and folds, each 15 to 30 minutes apart. Let rise on counter. 

I then put each dough in the fridge for about 24 hours, and baked right from the fridge.

Baking preparation
Preheat oven to 470 degrees for one hour with a dutch oven inside. Shaped the dough, sprinkled with water, and sprinkled with caraway (only bread #87) and sesame seeds. Before plopping the dough in the dutch oven, I also sprinkle the whole bottom with rice flour to prevent the dough from sticking.

Baking time: 56 minutes
Gorgeous oven spring
Taste: Great for bread #87 and okay for bread #86