Thursday, May 29, 2014

Breads - Numbers 47-52: Finding My Way Okay Without a Digital Scale

I have so lost my mojo that these breads were made when snow was on the ground and not a blossom had poked through the soil. Now we're on the cusp of summer. I have still been making breads, just old recipes. In fact , this week I just made a 100 percent spelt with a 24-hour first rise and a tiny bit of sourdough culture. Nice.

By the last month or so before my bat mitzvah, which was a couple of weekends ago, I totally devoted myself to that effort and left the bread aside. Except for a Jennifer Lawrence moment on the steps, everything went well. I took a week off before starting to study again. Now I have to get back to bread and other projects. Finally, way beyond age 13, I am ready for eighth grade, which, as those from New York City will shake their heads in agreement, I skipped along with many others. I therefore have no knowledge of earth science. 

Bereft temporarily of a digital scale
After weeks of my mouth open and my eyes like a deer's facing a car's headlights, not knowing how to move, I figured that I had made breads before the digital scale entered my home and I could make breads until a fixed or a new scale crossed my threshold again. I used cups and teaspoons instead of grams, sometimes roughly calibrating weights to volume measurements, more educated guessing than anything else. 

Sometimes, getting lost is the best way to find one's way. We get so dependent on numbers and formulas that we fail - or I fail at least - to pay attention to the real details, in this case, the texture of the dough and how it acts. We think that if we use exact amounts given in recipes that no more mental energy need be expended. Sometimes poor results do not mean that a recipe is bad, but rather the baker or the cook should have focused on the dough or the dish as it emerges, rather than on precise numbers.

Maybe that's why I have become over time a cook who throws things in rather than measuring. By the time I get to bread #108, will I be using handfuls and pinches - perhaps weighing them for others - and feeling my way to good breads? I don't know, but I realize that setting aside the exact measurements that the digital scale provides, at least every once in a while, is a fruitful exercise for concentrating on moisture, texture and appearance.
One more confession: As these breads were made closer and closer to Passover, mid-super spring cleaning with the distraction of preparing for the holiday and travels, and a laundry dryer that broke in the midst of all that. (From an environmental standpoint, after weeks of air drying the laundry and it not being so bad, I should actually purchase an outdoor drying rack and use it during the summer.) I was so busy that the few seconds to take a photograph of dough or bread seemed too time consuming.

Spelt always good
You have to love spelt. It works at 100 percent of the flour or in a hodgepodge of flours one is using to rid one's household of opened flour bags. Breads # 51 and 52 included spelt flour, with the latter mostly spelt. Both came out great. 

Bread #51

1 cup starter (an unusually large amount for me)
1 1/4 cup white whole wheat flour (KAF)
1/4 cup spelt flour 
1/2 cup bread flour
1 1/2 tsp salt

Mixed and let rest for 25 minutes. Kneaded and did a stretch and fold; all together that amounted to three minutes. Very sticky, so I added the 1/4 cup bread flour listed in the ingredients.

I let the dough rest for another 25 minutes. Since it remained quite sticky, I added approximately two tablespoons of bread flour (not listed in ingredients). I kneaded in the extra flour and did one more stretch and fold.

I did two more stretch and folds of intervals of 25 minutes. I then shaped the dough into a somewhat baguette form so that I could later bake in the oblong la cloche. I let the dough rise in a couche-like, baguette-forming contraption for four hours. Much anxiety that this was too long to have waited. 

Oven time
Preheated oven to 455 degrees for one hour. Heated the oven with the la cloche inside to make sure it was super hot, thus ready for the dough. At one hour, fearing maiming from placing the dough inside the ungodly hot la cloche, I opted instead to put the dough on parchment paper and place the parchment paper into the bottom of the oblong la cloche. Much easier and the bottom of the bread turned out just fine.

At 13 minutes, I reduced the temperature to 420 degrees and baked for another half hour, for a total of 43 minutes baking time. Beautiful! Way better than expected, lovely rustic-looking baguette. Solidly good taste. Husband happy that this shaped bread is much easier to cut than the boules.

Bread #52

1 3/4 cups water
1/4 cup starter
3 cups spelt flour
1 3/4 cups bread flour
2 tbsp. wheat bran
1 1/2 tsp salt

Mixed all ingredients and did three stretch and folds, two at 30-minute intervals and the last at 15 minutes. Let the dough sit, covered in plastic, overnight for approximately 11 hours. I put the dough in the refrigerator for a few hours until ready to bake. (Seems that when the exactitude of the digital scale is gone, everything else goes somewhat approximate as well.)

I love being able to take the dough from the fridge, shape it (unless already pre-shaped) and plop it in the oven.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees about an hour before baking. Preheated the oblong la cloche - both top and bottom - in the oven so it would be hot when dough placed inside.

I split the dough in half for two baguettes, rather squat ones that did not resemble the long thin professional ones sold at the local Whole Foods supermarket. I shaped each loaf and placed on parchment paper. Then I used a spousal gift that had been sitting in the pantry since way before the 108 breads project - a baguette shaper made of thin metal and full of tiny, presumably aerating, holes. Being of little faith, I used parchment paper over the metal.

One dough went immediately into the oven-heated oblong la cloche, while the other dough stayed in the shaper, but placed in the fridge until its turn with the oven.

Baked each baguette for 30 minutes, a good 12 to 15 minutes less than a boule would have needed. The taste was wonderful, a great and easy bread.

Breads #47 to #50
Forgettable is the operative word. I write down a couple of details just so I remember not to repeat these breads. I used vital wheat gluten in all of these recipes, so perhaps there is a lesson to be learned. Every other ingredient was pretty standard, which makes me think it was either that ingredient or the distractions of Passover cleanup and the upcoming bat mitzvah that led to edible, fine breads, though way short of spectacular.

These breads were #47, whole wheat; #48, combination of rye, whole wheat, and bread flour; and #49, white whole wheat and bread flour, the latter two with 1/4 cup each of flaxseeds as well. 

Nothing more need be said. Why give instructions for mediocrity? Almost at the halfway mark to 108, I prefer to spend the time proceeding to new breads and techniques.

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