Friday, June 28, 2013

Bread - Number 26: Getting Closer to Rye Perfection and a Book Already There

Bread #26: The rye journey takes off with the words of wisdom that caraway seeds and the pre-bake cross slash are critical to success.

Before getting to these two related breads, I have to express my daily praise for the book Six Thousand Years of Bread: Its Holy and Unholy History, a treasure of culture, religion and history. I wish that this book would go on forever; the writing, the research and scholarship are such a pleasure to read that I savor the book as my last reading each evening. I am grateful that the author spent 20 years on this masterpiece, a word I have used only once before to describe anything in my usual reading mix of history, bread, social affairs or fiction (that exception being A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth). If I were to begin writing a book today, it would be the story of the Six Thousand Years author, H.E. Jacob, who sent his notes for the book out of Nazi-era Germany, who saw his history of bread and culture forgotten, and whose book was resurrected at the start of the modern era of artisan bread making.

Six Thousand Years chronicles the history of bread from the Egyptians through the Greeks and Jews, to the Middle Ages and the Christians. From there I do not know exactly where the book will go as I am currently enjoying the explanation of the culture wars at the start of the protestant sects, with the question of whether they would accept the doctrine of transubstantiation - whether the communion ritual in church actually transforms the unleavened bread (that's an interesting discussion in itself) into the body of Christ. There are connections drawn between cultural currents and who is milling the grain, making the dough, selling the bread, and the masses purchasing and eating the final product.This is also a book that describes farming and types of grain and the beliefs of the people and their conquerors as history proceeds from one era to the next.

This is not a book of recipes, rather it is more in the spirit of Michael Pollan, yet with a rich tapestry of mythology, religion, government and culture. It is a book that makes me consider never writing anything again because I will never create such beautiful, informative and still poetic prose as H.E. Jacob. [Photo: Outside of a bakery in Roswell, N.M. Did not try the alien baked goods.]

Back to the bread
Breads #26 and 27 are both rye sourdough breads, about one-third rye, with caraway seeds. Number 26 was a straight dough with a first rise of over 10 hours; it was a repeat of bread #10, but with ingredients measured by weight (well, not entirely). Number 27 - coming soon in the next blog post - employed a sponge and was a do over of breads #20 and 21.

Bread #26 - dough mixed together at once

5.7 oz. bread flour
5.2 oz. whole wheat flour
5.9 oz. rye flour (next time make this 6.7 to 7.1 oz. rye flour)
2 uneven tablespoons starter 
1 tbsp caraway seeds - plus more to cover the dough before baking
1 tsp vital wheat gluten
1.5 tsp salt
16 oz. water

Mix separately the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients. Mix these together well and let rise. Cover the bowl loosely with plastic. My dough sat for 10.5 hours on the counter on a warm summer night. Placed in the fridge for 3.5 hours. 

Baking preparation: This was a very wet dough. Could have used more flour; I would suggest a little more rye, but this time I worked in all-purpose flour during a stretch and fold. Sprinkled flour onto the dough and under it in the bowl. Put a nice amount of flour on my hands. Poured some dough onto a board and made sure the board was well covered with flour. Stretched and folded the dough, well sprinkled with flour. Let the dough sit for 15 minutes, loosely covered with plastic.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees with baking stone and top of la cloche inside. Shape the dough and place it in a well-floured bowl for about an hour (I lost track of time). Cover with a well-floured kitchen towel. 

I placed parchment paper on a baker's peel because the dough was wet and because the parchment paper offers the security that the dough will not stick to the peel when transferring the dough to the oven. Right before placing the dough in the oven, brush a nice amount of water on the top of the dough and sprinkle - and very gingerly press - a generous covering of caraway seeds. Take a lame or a good bread knife, and slash the top. I slash a star. Upon placing the dough in the oven, immediately reduce the oven heat to 450 degrees, something I only remembered about 10 minutes later.

At 32 minutes, I removed the parchment paper and the top of the la cloche. The bread only took four more minutes - a total of 36. Thanking my internal thermometer, I took the temperature of the middle of the bread so that the bread did not become dry. However, it could have used two more minutes.

The bread was beautiful and crackling. On top it showed the cross slash, of course. The taste was very good - almost there. I am motivated to do another rye immediately.





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