Friday, January 30, 2015

Current Fantasy: English Bread Making Classes

For professional reasons only, ha ha

Have you ever peeked at the courses page of the Real Bread Campaign website? Do you imagine combining a trip to England with lessons in sourdough and whole grain baking? I do - a lot of the time. 

I admit there was a while when I fooled myself that one of the week-long courses at the San Francisco Baking Institute (SFBI) would do, but without English accents, English countryside or cities, or farmhouses with sheep outside, or at least nearby, San Francisco does not pass muster. As for being in the US, SF has none of the convenience of the East Coast or the charm. (Sorry, I like the city, but I'm an East Coast woman. I don't quite get the SF hoopla.) SFBI doesn't have cute descriptions of organic oases or a fermentation paradise - again combined with the English accents.

Perhaps that British bake-off show is to blame, although in their endeavors beyond bread I just become convinced that my pinnacle would be amateur hour compared to the contestants. I'd be more likely to learn to sew and audition for Project Runway, one of my guilty pleasures, than making some kind of cake I've never heard of. No, the allure of Britain is a definitely a combination of accents and loveliness.

I would love to take some bread classes and write about them here, especially because thus far I've been self-taught, with the aid of books and online bread forums. Might be nice to learn someone's technique in person. Might be nice to enjoy the camaraderie of a group lesson.

What's keeping me from booking the airline tickets and the classes? Apart, of course, from a full-time job, there are two reasons.

1. Expensive trip. Yes, a trip somewhat journalistic in nature, but I don't think I could collect enough by crowdsourcing and I'm pretty sure such a trip would not qualify for a deduction on my taxes.

2. I will not drive in England. Even being a passenger in a car over there makes me anxious and becomes an exercise in utter confusion. I never get to the point where I know which lane one is supposed to be in or turn to. This could prevent a trip to one of those baking schools or bakeries on the edge of a sheep meadow.

Truly, though, I get pretty overwhelmed by the incredible array of bread classes over there. I should actually seriously peruse the list and make some decisions, then figure out a financing plan. These seem like obstacles that would not stop any plucky heroine.

Our heroine would burst out into song right about now, perhaps with a dance number. Did I mention I went to the same high school as Neil Sedaka, albeit years later? And Neil Diamond, by the way. It's the ocean air and the proximity of good pizza that contributes to the genius of the students.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Bread Number 66: Wonderful Melange of Flavors

So important: No tragedy resulted from a violation of my personal no-bread-making-activity-before-5-a.m. rule. 

Flaxseed, whole wheat and arrowroot with sponge, soaker and long preferment - sounds much more difficult than it is. Basically, there's 20 minutes of weighing and mixing one day and either the next day or that evening another 10 to 15 minutes; then maybe a total of another minute prior to baking. This might be a bit of an exaggeration. Still ... Easy, but impressive, delicious and beautiful. [Photos are of my hometown of Brooklyn, NY and bread #66.]

I mixed up the soaker and the sponge for an overnight rest. The next day, mix the two, add a few more ingredients, do some stretching and folding, and put in the fridge if you have an actual life to attend to. When you decide to bake, once the oven is preheated and the dough is shaped, you are done. A dough that leaves plenty of time to go out to the diner with the spouse, and even say yes when he presses to go shopping for those kitchen cabinets you said you would find, because the whole kitchen project seems to have embedded different time lines and senses of priority in our brains.

I made this bread twice as my digital scale is acting peevish, making me wonder if it is either having hiccups or preparing itself for permanent retirement.

Everything in grams

Water 100 224 48 372

Starter 100


Bread flour 100
80 180

Whole Wheat flour

Flaxseed meal

5 5 10

Arrowroot flour

69 69

Is that not a gorgeous table? So neat, so clear about which ingredient was added and when. Such a visual representation. How sad, it was not saved with its cheery orange lines. That's what made it gorgeous. In case the table is not one's preferred format, the ingredients are listed at the end of this post.

Actual information
Okay, that's an 80 percent hydration dough. The table does not include the unweighed sprinkling of sesame seeds on top just before baking. I should also say that I used the same Danish whisk, uncleaned in between sponge and soaker, so that the soaker would get a wee head start on fermentation, which it did. Not much as there was salt in the soaker.

Always remember to cover the bowl. I used shower caps to cover the bowls of soaker, sponge and the dough. The shower caps can be cleaned and are reusable.

4 a.m. and no mishaps
The soaker and sponge were made at 4 a.m. I put the heat up in the kitchen early so that they would be ready to be mixed into a dough about mid-day. Yes, I could have mixed up the soaker and sponge the night before, but I got lazy in the evening and we had a nice gathering until late with the spouse's colleagues from the office.

The only difference between the first and second tries of this bread was in the amount of starter, which I accounted for in adjusting slightly the bread flour and water amounts. The activity of the dough and the eventual bread all turned out the same.

Resting, mixing, and so on
9.75 hours for the soaker and sponge to rest. Mixed up the dough and did three stretch and folds, plus a couple of minutes of kneading, every 15 minutes. Let rest for thereafter for 3.5 hours. I admit I started out with only 40 grams of bread flour to add to the final dough, but added more right away, then 20 grams with each stretch and fold, because the dough was so sticky. About what I did the first time before the digital scale had a tantrum and would not permit further weighing. Fortunately, it came back to life with the next bread.

At the end of 3.5 hours, my brain turned off due to the 4 a.m. wake up. I could not decide what to do with the sticky dough that had risen nicely. Shape and put on a floured towel in a bowl? Put in an oiled bowl? A loaf pan? I procrastinated. Just shoved the dough bowl, with its shower cap cover, into the fridge. 

I only left the dough in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. My husband asked if we were going to have fresh bread for Monday morning and I suddenly remembered - OMG, time to get ready to bake before the brain shuts off for the evening. A 4 a.m. wake up does not bode well for nighttime thinking.[Photo of the door to Mile End Deli. Great chopped liver and I'm a vegetarian. Still, could not resist when it was made with schmatlz.]

Preheat oven for one hour at 470 degrees with dutch oven inside.

I removed the dough bowl from the fridge and lightly, perhaps not so lightly, sprinkled flour on top and underneath all around the dough, to prevent utter stickiness. I shaped the dough quickly, sprinkled on sesame seeds and did three slashes on top. I put my floured hands underneath the dough and pretty much dropped it into the dutch oven. I remembered to put back on the oven mitts before placing the lid on the dutch oven for baking.  

Try not to be nervous, but rather achieve a sense of calm, when removing the top of the dutch oven prior to placing the dough inside, and then when plopping the dough in the dutch oven. I use oven mitts and a kitchen towel. Super hot.

Total baking time of 45 minutes; I removed the top of the dutch oven at 30 minutes. Kudos to my thermometer for telling me when the bread was actually fully baked as it looked lovely way too early to be taken out of the oven. Beautiful brown bread and so, so good. This is why I learned to make bread. Yum-mmmmm-y.  

Here's the promised list of ingredients

Totals for all ingredients
Water - 372g
Bread flour - 180g
Starter - 100g (82g on the first try, with adjustments elsewhere)
Whole wheat flour - 174g
Flaxseed Meal - 47g
Arrowroot flour - 69g
Salt - 10g

Ingredients listed in order of appearance for each phase.

100g starter
100g water
100g bread flour

174g whole wheat flour
47g flaxseed meal
224g water
5g salt (Don't sweat this. The last time I mistakenly added 6g and then only 4g to the final dough. That goes for almost any ingredient and life in general.)

69g arrowroot flour
80g bread flour (Added 40g initially, and 20g each at points thereafter in an effort to reduce stickiness - or, for those accustomed to more technical terms, hydration.) 
5g salt 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Bread Number 63: Cornmeal /White Bread Good for Sandwiches

This cornmeal/white bread came out fine and if you are looking for something a little better than a homemade pure white bread for sandwiches, this is a good option. The bread is 26 percent cornmeal and 70 percent hydration (76 percent if you count the water plus the oil in the recipe).

This bread is essentially a redo of the cornmeal bread by Hamelman in Bread that I made in bread #59, which were blue cornmeal rolls. Lovely as the blue was, somehow I wanted to experience the bread with non-primary-colored cornmeal and I bought a whole grain white cornmeal this time.

A bread for picky eaters, perhaps
I have to say I was not wowed by this one, but it might be a good fit for families with picky eaters who need school lunch sandwiches. I actually started making sandwich bread in my bread machine days to replace the supermarket, disgusting, potato sandwich bread that my children liked. Turned out they liked homemade bread more. Check one for parental success.


50g starter (at 60 to 70 percent hydration)
114g water
114g bread flour
Cover and leave out. Good for an all-day or overnight rest period.

114g cornmeal
174g water
Mix and leave for 15 minutes.

176g bread flour
23g oil
8g salt

Sponge likes a warm kitchen
Mix, cover, and let rest for 12 to 16 hours, except for unusually warm kitchens. I was prepared for a 16-hour rest for the sponge due to a cold, winter kitchen that would essentially be almost like a fridge overnight, but this was yet another night when one of us (we are all bad on this) forgot to turn down the heat in the kitchen. The sponge did not mind and was discovered in a bubbly, exuberant state after nine hours. Smiling and ready, it demanded immediate progress toward full dough development.

One minute to mix the soaker and 15 minutes to rest in the bowl. The dough took a good bit of mixing. I added a little less flour than in the Hamelman recipe because of the low hydration percentage of my starter. Translation: My starter is on the thick side and not viscous at all.

Just two stretch and folds
I did just one stretch and fold at 45 minutes for a 90-minute rise. Then one more at the end of the rise.

Let rest and cover for 15 minutes. I shaped the dough and put it into a loaf pan. Then cover. Why a loaf pan? The dough did not seem to be holding its own, structure-wise, so the support of a loaf pan was in order to save this one.

Preheat and don't do the dent test
Preheat the oven for one hour to 500 degrees. I also preheat the top of the oblong la cloche, which will fit - though not well - over the loaf pan, and allow for a nice oven spring.

There is no dent test, though I tried. The dough was simply too sticky. No matter; this has happened before and a respectable bread resulted.

Upon putting the dough into the oven, reduce the temperature immediately to 460 degrees. The bread took 36 minutes with the loaf pan.

Nice, nice oven spring. A good taste if you like white bread. Not overly impressed, but a decent bread.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Bread #65: Arrowroot, Cornmeal and Barley Combine for Delicious White Bread

This bread is made mostly with white bread flour, but one quarter of the flour has a surprisingly tasty variety of flavors. Arrowroot flour, barley flour and cornmeal contribute to a not-at-all boring white bread that is topped with oats and caraway seeds

Lovely crumb and delicious.


95g water
62g starter
52g arrowroot flour
47g bread flour
20g barley flour 
Mix and leave out covered all day or overnight. 

18g cornmeal
200g water
Mix and let rest for 15 minutes.

10g cornmeal
277g bread flour
Either split the water between the soaker and the autolyse, to do both phases at the same time. Or do the soaker first and add it to the autolyse mixture.
Mix, cover and let rest for 20 minutes to a half hour.

10g salt 
Add everything, plus the bit of salt called for, and mix thoroughly.

Sponge overnight - but check the heat in the kitchen
Combine the sponge ingredients and leave covered on the kitchen counter either all day or overnight. Good thing I woke up before dawn while on a winter-break from work because someone inadvertently left on the heat all night (no accusations or crying over spilled milk as the kitchen was deliciously warm). In the warm kitchen, the sponge took 10.3 hours to get to a nice bubbly ripe state. I had expected the sponge to be ready somewhere in the vicinity of 9 to 11 a.m., but a peek before 7 a.m. revealed a weirdly warm kitchen for a winter morning and a sponge that was practically shouting I am ready to become part of a wonderful dough. Hurry up already!

I stayed awake to make the dough - promising myself a nice nap as reward. Vacation time at home is a precious and enjoyable treat. So nice to sneak a nap into the middle of a winter day, especially a nap with the dog.

Soaker and autolyse at the same time
Tell the sponge to hold its horses and prepare the soaker and the autolyse, preferably so that they are resting at the same time. I did not do that.

The soaker will need to rest for 15 minutes and only takes a minute to prepare. No cover is necessary. The autolyse should sit for 20 to 30 minutes and will require a few minutes of mixing to fully blend the flour and water. I did the soaker first and added it to the autolyse mixture. My autolyse did not incorporate all of the flour; it was very dry, but it still had some nice gluten development. I resisted the urge to add more water because the eventual mixing into the sponge possibly would supply all needed moisture. Cover and let autolyse rest for 20 minutes. 

Dough gathers everything 
To make the dough, put together the sponge, autolyse and the soaker. Sprinkle the salt on top and then mix thoroughly. This will take some effort; get those hands - wet first - in the dough. Do three stretch and folds over the course of 60 to 90 minutes. I did mine at 30-minute intervals. The dough developed nice strength. I covered it and let rise on the counter for two and a half hours. 

Went to the farmers market, ate breakfast, read, and needed to cash in on that nap. I looked at the dough and it looked at me. It had risen well. We decided it needed to be shaped and take a hiatus in the fridge. This would take all anxiety out of the nap. I floured a cutting board, gathered the corners of the dough, and shaped it into a boule. I took out my handy round small wicker basket and lined it with a well-floured kitchen towel. On the flour, I dumped a nice sprinkling (no measure taken) of caraway seeds and oats. I put the top of the dough onto the lined bottom of the basket, covered, and placed the dough basket in the fridge for an uncertain period.

I left the dough basket in the fridge for several hours later - 6.7 to be exact.

Oven and dough preparation
Preheat oven and top of la cloche for one hour at 470 degrees. After the hour preheat, I took the dough almost straight from the fridge to the oven. Just a set of slashes on top and putting the dough on some parchment paper that was waiting on a baking peel

I removed the parchment paper after 30 minutes, but kept the bread covered with the top of the la cloche for the whole time. The bread only took 39 minutes, not much for a boule at 470 degrees.

Beautiful, loud crinkly sounds emanated from the freshly baked bread. It was gorgeous as well with respectable oven spring. The bread made a delicious breakfast the next morning. Great, great taste. And though the bread looked all white, it had some decent whole grain participation.

It was so good that I did not take the time to shoot some photos of its lovely, truly impressive, crumb. I just wanted to keep eating.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Bread #64: Barley & Cornmeal Twist on a Whole Wheat Bread

A nice bread, a good bread, but not a wowsa experience. Still, a good bread for a breakfast with butter or jam and some tea or coffee. In my opinion, the barley flour perhaps muted the taste of the whole wheat. I'd be interested in any opinions about the addition of unusual flours and whole grain ingredients.

This bread was fashioned on Reinhart's multigrain hearth bread from his book Whole Grain Breads. I say fashioned because I got discombobulated (the Yiddish word fottottled is really more accurate) with all of his do-this-wait-five-minutes- and-do-that instructions. I literally took this dough into my own hands, and a nice bread resulted.


57g whole wheat flour
100g barley flour
70g cornmeal
171g water
5g salt

50g starter
197g whole wheat flour
150g water

In separate bowls, of course, mix up the soaker and the biga. Cover each and let each sit out on the kitchen counter all day or overnight. I let these sit for 14 hours as I am off from work all week - woo hoo! The biga had very little rise due to the cold kitchen, which is why I let it sit for extra hours after I turned on the heat in the morning.

16g whole wheat flour (because I ran out)
41g bread flour
5g salt
Add soaker and biga

Mix well. There was optional sugar - in the form of agave or honey - and fat - in the form of butter or oil - in the recipe, but I went plain. Truth be told, I think this bread would have been tastier with a wee bit of sugar substance. Another caution, if you will, is that the 86 percent of whole grains did not allow for the satisfying use of the windowpane test, which is a much better experience with a 70 percent-and-higher white flour dough.

After mixing, I kneaded for two minutes, rested for 10 (covered), and briefly kneaded again for one or two minutes.

Let rest covered for 30 minutes and did a stretch and fold, with three stretch and folds each 30 minutes apart. I then covered the dough and put it in the fridge. My daughter, home from school, wanted to shop and have lunch - with me. Ah.

Resting and dough preparation
Five hours in the fridge and I took out the dough and placed the cold bowl in a large bowl with very warm water. That heated up the cold bowl. I only left the bowls this way for 10 minutes or so, but I left the dough untouched for an hour.

I then did another stretch and fold, left the dough covered on a board for 15 minutes. I shaped the dough, put it on a well-floured kitchen towel, in a small wicker basket, and covered. I let the dough rest for an hour while the oven heated up for an hour.

A crack - oh no
At this point, I preheated the oven to 500 degrees for one hour with the top of the la cloche on the baking stone. I noticed a small crack in the top of the la cloche. More on that below. Reinhart advises a lower temperature, but I had already departed significantly from his process.

Just prior to placing in oven, I turned the dough onto an oven peel and did a cross slash on the top with a lame. A sharp knife will do. The lame is fancier, and not expensive, but I admit it was a gift from a dear friend; I did not run out to buy it.

At 30 minutes, I reduced the temperature to 460 degrees and removed the top of the la cloche. I let the bread bake for another 10 minutes. Total baking time of 40 minutes.

Nice oven spring. Small loaf. Great crust. Good taste.

Post script
With my next bread, essentially a repeat of bread #35, but with cornmeal and whole wheat, the crack in the top of the la cloche went from hairline and about two inches long to about six inches long and a bit more than hairline at the bottom, where it started. I don't know what happened. I always preheat this clay object with the oven. I do remove it and I have never just let it cool down inside the oven. I'm a bit anxious to use it again, but also sad, honestly, because it is such a divine tool for making wonderful breads. I will have to seek out advice about whether it can be repaired.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

On the cusp of 2015

A moment in time to appreciate 2014 and refrain from the urge to look critically - and criticize - my bread efforts in the last year. Good to appreciate rather than always examining everything for the doughnut holes.

Successes in 2014
  • I mostly resisted the urge to get up before or at 5 a.m. to tend to any preferments or doughs.
  • I started experimenting with challahs and new grains. Okay, not much, but started.
  • I made a bunch of breads again and again, developing a repertoire of breads I feel comfortable making.
  • I broke down and purchased a dutch oven, which is already proving a nice addition.
  • My jar collection continues to grow. These are used for sourdough starters, the permanently maintained mother culture and the ones I grow for particular breads. I like to change jars even for the mother every few weeks.  
And for 2015?
Really, who knows? There are hopes for more grains, for buying more of that farmers market freshly-milled flour, and definitely for the elusive sourdough challah - as wonderful and reliable as the one I make in the bread machine. No nuts, fruits, or cake-like breads. If I want something sweet, I make a mean cookie and a crazy cake to blow anything out of the water. Now there's some confidence. Seriously, my chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin cookies are not fancy, but mighty fine. My sour cream coffee cake (especially if made with blueberries or raspberries) is as fine as any taste in this world. My sweets repertoire is not broad.

Back to bread
At somewhere between halfway to two-thirds to 108 breads, I want to make a lot of breads in 2015. I want to learn the bread lessons I sought to learn in making 108 breads. That's the bread resolution.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Bread Number 62: Amazingly Delicious 80% Whole Wheat

Tried not to buy more stuff
I don't want more kitchen stuff, whether appliances or cookware. I don't even have anything larger than a tiny hand mixer I received as a holiday gift about 15 years ago. No bannetons, no proofing boxes. Not a saint, though. I cannot exist in the kitchen without my pretty dough bowl and Danish whisk. Yes, and two la cloches, round and oblong. And a baking stone. Those are necessities.

I finally broke down and purchased a dutch oven. I kept hearing about how wonderful dutch oven breads are and I had to find out for myself. Plus, I rationalized, a dutch oven is a versatile tool and useful beyond baking. I bought the Emile Henry from breadtopia because it is lighter than cast iron and it was on sale, with a bonus of a cyber Monday deal.

Dutch oven delivers on first try with farmers market whole wheat
The dutch oven was magical right out of the box. I am sure it helped to use good, freshly milled flour that I froze recently right after purchase at a farmers market. I'm sure I benefited from tweaking an already good recipe. I am sure the decision to leave the bread baking uncovered for the last 11 minutes - which produced a divine crust that would tempt any immortal to come to earth just for a bite - made a big contribution to the overall taste. 

Still, this 80 percent whole wheat bread is so good I am actually daydreaming about returning home right now to eat more. How good? OMG amazing. 

This is my best bread in a while. I suspected that I had become so accustomed to good breads that nothing could taste exciting anymore. A nice byproduct of the 108 quest is that I am forcing myself to try new methods, flours, equipment and ingredients. I am thankful for making the choice to bake so many new breads and for the mouth-watering surprises along the way. Even thankful for the mistakes. (The blue cornbread rolls come immediately to mind.)

Total Ingredients
84g starter at 65 percent hydration
334g water
440g whole wheat flour freshly milled, bought the next day at the farmers market and frozen for the past two weeks
68g bread flour
10g salt
Day 1

84g starter
200g water
200g whole wheat flour described above

Mixed the sponge ingredients well and covered. Put in fridge overnight.

Odd amount of starter was due to the fact that I was getting so low that I was starting to scrape the bottom of the starter jar. I made due with less starter and added a bit more flour and water to the final dough. I did not really have to add more time to the sponge stage - on day 2 - because the kitchen warmth made up for the slightly less than 100 grams of starter I would normally have put in.

Day 2

134g water
240g whole wheat flour described above
68g bread flour
10g salt

Day 2 morning - Go to the refrigerator. Take out the sponge and leave out all day on the kitchen counter. I have done this in all seasons. Just make sure the kitchen is not cold all day. In the summer, I put the sponge in the basement so it will not be in a hot, humid kitchen for hours.

Day 2 evening - Mix the sponge and the final dough ingredients. Cover and let rest on the kitchen counter. Do four stretch and folds over the next hour to hour and a half. I usually do one about every 15 minutes. Afterward, shape the dough, cover, and put in the fridge for the next 18 to 30 hours. Generally, I am in the 22 to 24 hour range.

I did end up adding some extra water right after mixing the dough, which is reflected in the amounts listed above, but nowhere near where I thought this dough would need considering that it was 80 percent whole wheat. Not sure if this was a weird batch of whole wheat flour or particular to the local wheat that was grown.

This time around I was very happy with the dough strength. Much better than bread #61.

Day 3
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees because the dutch oven instructions said it was good up to 480 degrees. Let the dutch oven and the oven itself heat up for an hour prior to baking.

Open hot oven. Use oven mitts and pot holders to remove amazingly hot dutch oven cover. Dump dough into the hot dutch oven and quickly do a nice slash (or design) on the lid of the dough. Remember to put back on the mitts and use those pot holders to replace the still burning hot lid. Close the oven and pray. I prayed hard because my aim was not perfect and the dough was plopped against one side of the dutch oven.

I put the timer on for a half hour. 

Tick tock, tick tock.

Remove the lid of the dutch oven. Be careful; it's very hot. Leave in for 10 to 15 minutes more. Mine took 11 minutes and I used my thermometer to get the internal temperature to make sure the bread was ready. It fell right out of the dutch oven when I turned it over. As I let the bread cool, I could hear those little crinkly sounds coming from it.

Total baking time: 41 minutes. What a beautiful bread. 

Day 4
Ate slices of the bread the next morning for breakfast. OMG amazing! Possibly the best - or near to it - bread I have ever made. What a great decision to remove the lid. I have not done this enough lately. The crust developed so nicely. Incredible taste. Really magnificent, especially considering how this is an 80 percent whole wheat bread.

Later in the week
I have eaten the bread for breakfast ever since baking it. 
This bread is the reason for homemade anything: to make something wonderful from scratch, to watch the raw ingredients transform and to taste the incredible results. To think that my starter, some local grain, water, and a bit of salt came together for this luscious treat. I feel proud that I had a hand in it and that I get to be one of the lucky few to eat it.