Thursday, January 2, 2014

Breads - Numbers 40 to 42: So nice to have an "it always works" recipe

Breads - Numbers 40 to 42: I am infatuated with this recipe and its variations

I had not yet made bread #39 a second time (as I did not write down the recipe the first time) and I was on to the next bread. Bread #38 was so perfect, so easy, so seductively ready for variations that I immediately started. Forget that it was Thanksgiving week, Chanukah about to begin, travels to prepare for, and a time to take a breath, a pause before starting, with a month of non-stop activity about to begin. I barely promise myself not to make the next bread in the series, to make an old one again, when I break the promise.

This bread - bread #38 - and its three variations in breads #40 to 42, is easy and flexible, and quite adjustable from all white to at least 40 percent whole grain. The recipe is also adjustable in terms of timing and the amount of starter. I have been baking with adjustments to the master recipe all December and during my week off. [Note: The photos show a bread #38 repeat.]

Should I really continue the bread project?
Though I sometimes think there are not enough breads to make it to 108, variations pop up almost immediately. I wonder why I am spending time making new breads and writing down the recipes, the challenges, the triumphs and the thoughts along the way. Why could this possibly be important in a world where there are injustices, poverty, pollution and an endless to-do list for humankind? Why, when I have an old novel I would like to take up again am I spending my time on bread, something for only a few people to eat?

I only know that I made myself a promise, a promise to make 108 breads and to write about the experience - an extended writer's block exercise. I write about almost nothing else. Bread gets most of my attention. Bread and fantasies of latkes and waffles and muffins to fill a small, convivial bakery. Bread and practicing for my bat mitzvah in a few months (fear of public humiliation is a great motivator.)

The bakery fantasy is an odd recurrent thought for someone who has always done public interest work. I know nothing about making a profit.

I also do not like to wake up early or be chained to a location or not to be able to take vacations. Clearly, the fantasy does not comport with the reality. Oh, and the fantasy involves revolving art and music and chatting. I don't actually fantasize about being busy baking all day. 

The conceit of the original bread recipe is ease for those with a conventional work schedule. For bread #40, this dough will be 40 percent spelt. It is 63 percent hydration. For bread #41, I mixed whole wheat and oat flours in with wheat bran, and in bread #42, I made a 40 percent whole wheat bread. Each time the oven spring was lovely and the taste wonderful.


100g starter
200g water
200g bread flour

(Okay, for bread #41 and 42, I used about 50g of starter because I use up most of my starter at 100g and I did not have time to build it back up again.)

Mix all of the sponge ingredients in the evening. Cover and put in the fridge. Leave the sponge in the refrigerator until morning. Leave out all day on the counter. 

Timing and starter adjustments
As it was cold outside and cool in the house during the day, I put in the recommended 100g of starter. However, already at bread #41 and 42, with little starter and more flexibility on timing due to vacation, I put in about half as much starter and let it rise just as long in a warm (we're all home over winter break) kitchen. I have even made the sponge in the morning and skipped the convenient-for-work refrigeration phase. Be sure to add to the dough the flour and water you are not adding when you use less starter.

If this were the summer, with 90-degree temperatures, I would use much less (perhaps even 10 grams) starter so that the timing could remain the same. If you play with the starter amount, assuming a 100 percent hydration starter (I assume it because I make mine by feel and appearance rather than by weight), substitute into the sponge or the dough the amount of flour and water that is being taken out of the 100 gram starter amount recommended. (For example, for 10 grams of starter, assume 90 grams that needs to be replaced in the recipe, which works out to 45 grams of flour and 45 grams of water. These can be added either at the sponge or the dough stage.) Having done this now a couple of times due to weird timing demands, I can say with confidence that this works.

Bread #40 Dough
100g water
200g spelt flour
100g bread flour
10g wheat bran
10g salt

Bread #41 Dough
125g water
180g whole wheat flour
40g oat flour
80g bread flour
10g whear bran
10g salt

Bread #42 Dough
130g water
200g whole wheat flour
100g bread flour
10g salt

Before making the dough, look at the sponge. It should be exuberantly bubbly. Admire it; feel the accomplishment. Now, on the evening of the second day, mix the dough ingredients into the sponge. Even with the Danish whisk this will become difficult. Wash your hands, keep them a little wet, and use them to form the dough into a cohesive mass. 

Note that bread #41 has a little extra water. I added extra because whole wheat tends to need more moisture. I did the same with bread #42.

Stretch and folds before bed
Do four stretch and folds, each 15 minutes to an hour apart. I went with 15 because I had to rush off to class for bread #40. I made a simple dinner and ate it during the 15-minute intervals. I shaped the dough, covered it, and put it in the refrigerator for approximately 24 hours. I have also used intervals of one half hour to an hour. This is truly the golden recipe of flexible and easy breadmaking. If you like, nothing is required of this bread during the day. It is for vampire breadmakers.

Note to self: On the morning of the third day, put the top of the la cloche into the oven on top of the baking stone. That way, if in an absentminded rush, I will not forget to preheat the la cloche.

On the next evening, ...
On the evening of the third day, come home from work and preheat the oven to 445 degrees. Or, like me, text the teenage boy who watches the dog every afternoon (the dog was too old to learn to be alone all day when his sisters went off to college) and ask him to put on the oven so that it is ready for baking when I get home. Let the oven preheat for an hour.

I have also preheated to 500 degrees and reduced to 450 degrees. The bread still came out great. It is an invincible recipe even when juggled. Makes me happy.

Leave the covered dough in the fridge. Right before baking, take the dough out of the refrigerator. The dough will need minimal shaping. If you are superstitious like me, do a lucky slashing of the top of the dough. I make a cross. (This is not religious; it just happens to give my breads good luck.) [Note that the photo shows a bit rushed remake. I should have allowed that dough to rise longer. However, the taste was still fantastic.]

Open the oven, remove the top of the la cloche with an oven mitt (without and the bread will not be baked because you will run screaming to the nearest emergency room), and gently plop the dough onto the baking stone. Cover with the top of the la cloche or otherwise provide for a steamy oven (ice in a casserole dish - not made of glass- works nicely).

Remove the top of the la cloche at 20 minutes. Total baking time is about 42 to 45 minutes minutes. The bread will look done way before it is. I recommend use of a thermometer or a cake tester. I have also kept the top of the la cloche on until the last 10 minutes with good results.

Bread #40 - A fine bread
A beautiful and fine tasting bread. Maybe I just prefer a 100 percent spelt bread when I use spelt. The milder spelt taste was fine, very good, a respectable bread, but I will try this recipe with other flours and I might not return to this one. Perhaps we are just getting spoiled with such fantastic breads, that a really good bread does not make the cut anymore. Already a bread snob.

[Note: Uh oh. Add that to pizza snob and lox snob and gefilte fish snob. A New York indigenous food snob. I don't care if my ethnic or fancy meals are one way or another, but New York food - Brooklyn, circa 1975 - must always remain the same.]

Bread #41 - This is it, whole wheat bread
I should have taken a picture. This was a beautiful, bakery-perfect artisnal bread. If I had put it in a bakery window, the shop would have been crowded all day. And it tasted so good. Maybe the best whole wheat boule I've made. I ate it for a few days for breakfast, savoring every bite.

Bread #42 - 
Is this a gorgeous bread or what? I am helped along by a gift from a friend. He bought for me a little green-handled lame with which I am now making sleek slits on top of the dough before it goes into the oven. As for taste, this bread is being frozen and then sent back to college with my daughter. I will put in an endnote when she gives me the word on the taste.

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