Sunday, May 10, 2015

Bread Number 76: Proof of a Bread Divinity

There are at least two gods, or one with two priorities: bread and parallel parking. If the mishap of getting my dough into the dutch oven this time could result in anything other than disaster, then there are surely mysterious forces at play in the universe. The same for the occasional miracle of successful parallel parking at times when there is no avoiding it. (By the way, when we get driverless vehicles and human parallel parking becomes an event in the Olympics, my husband will be the first U.S. gold medal winner. New York's Upper West Side's challenging parking situation was not only made for him, he relishes it. I think that is why he actually likes to take the car when we visit the city, because DC and its environs provides little in the way of parking challenges at his high level.)

I know, there is starvation, war, sexual assault, child abuse, poverty, and all manner of horrors in the world, so why should divine forces care about bread and parking? We are made in G-d's image, or we made gods in our own image, so our own superficialities and cares are reflected right back. Seriously, I often wonder, and I did yesterday with the disastrous transfer of dough to dutch oven (disastrous until I saw the miraculous result), why I care so much how each bread comes out. But I do care in the same way as when I paint or draw or do a collage. There's something about babying, if you will, a creation. Just like with children or sourdough starter, though, one is never actually in control, but really a part of helping another being (or, with starter, many one-celled beings) realize its own potential.

And with bread, you get to eat the realized potential. That photograph of bread #76 is worth some number of words and shows a bite-worthy bread as well.

Speaking of gods
I was reading about the mentor of a few famous bakers, the one Dave Miller of Chico, California, and for this bread I followed a recipe of his 100 percent whole wheat bread at 104 percent hydration. I followed the recipe and it went okay, with a small loaf of dough that was so un-shapeable that I made it in a loaf pan. See photo below.

More information about Dave Miller's baking and his website.

Could be that I misinterpreted the recipe, hence the mediocre results. The second time, however, I doubled the recipe and I got great results by heeding the hydration percentage, following some parts of the recipe, and wholly adhering to the spirit of how those 100 percent whole wheat breads are achieved.


520g water
500g whole wheat flour
20g starter (details below on the small amount)
10g salt

The recipe called for an autolyse of 30 minutes with just the flour and water. Mix thoroughly and cover. This produced a nice, strong pre-dough. I then incorporated the starter and the salt. Despite instructions to add almost five times as much starter, I wanted the dough to rise overnight and the very warm evening could mean too rapid a rise with the suggested amount. The much-reduced starter amount worked well.

After mixing the dough, I let the dough rest, covered, for 20 minutes and did three stretch and folds, each 20 minutes apart. The dough was strong, and very elastic, no doubt due to the high hydration percentage. It was not, however, especially sticky, though I did wet my hands before doing each stretch and fold.

How did the dough wake up in the morning?
The kitchen cooled off by about 12 degrees overnight, from the low 80s Fahrenheit to approximately 70 degrees. The nice thing about warm spring evenings is that the heat does not last all night. I woke up at the perfect time, the dough having sat out for nine hours and allowing me to sleep past 6:30 and to heed the not-before-5-a.m. rule. Sometimes it is impossible to sleep when I am so tempted to peek at a dough. Again, the reason for only 20 grams of starter, low enough, given the temperature, that I would not be anxious to check that the dough was ready in the middle of the night.

The dough was perfectly puffy, but not out of control.

I wet my hands and sprinkled plenty of flour on a cutting board for a stretch and fold. Left the dough covered for 15 minutes and then tried to shape it. Shaping is not the word for manipulating 104 percent hydration dough. It does not keep any form without some structure holding it up, such as a bowl or a loaf pan.

Heavy bowl mistake
I admit I was afraid to put this dough, wet as it was, on a well-floured towel in a basket. I thought the dough would get stuck even with tons of flour. So, I used non-stick spray and flour in a heavy bowl. Lots of flour.  Covered the bowl with a shower cap, which works perfectly, a genius idea that I did not come up with on my own.

I preheated the oven for one hour to 475 degrees with the dutch oven inside. With such a high hydration percentage, a good 25 percent over what I usually work with, I figured the super-hot dutch oven would be the best vessel for baking. I let the dough rest for that same hour. Perfect.

Messy transfer
So, there I am with the oven door open, 475 degrees of heat blasting in my face, the wire rack holding the now open dutch oven pulled out to the maximum extent feasible, and I'm holding the heavy bowl with the dough. I even have the lame out to score the dough once it goes into the dutch oven. Then I have to position the bowl so that the dough is aimed correctly to fall right into the dutch oven.

That part did not go well. I'm not proud of my use of profanity in this situation. I screamed SHIT! about 10 times, which would be during the misfire of the dough onto the top and side of the open dutch oven - and a few shout outs directly thereafter. Despite this clear sign of disaster, I put the lid on and said shit a couple more times. 

It's only bread; it's only bread
After shouting, then mumbling, that same expletive several times, the thought floated across my mind that my mantra is it's only bread, which means failure is no big deal. Some deep breaths and some it's-only-bread repetitions later, I was not exactly in my happy place, but I had some perspective.

And here's the part that proves there is either a bread god or that the one divine being cares about bread. Checking on the bread 43 minutes after the awkward transfer of the dough, I saw an almost-done gorgeous bread. Six minutes later, absolutely beautiful, I removed the bread from the oven. It slid right out of the dutch oven; it crackled; it practically had movie music playing right out of the crust. Total baking time at 475 degrees was 49 minutes. Only 49 minutes for the deity to transform disaster into a perfect bread.

Amazing and ...
Amazed. A very good taste. Oh there is a but. This bread screams out to be made with better whole wheat flour. Someone in the household purchased a rather generic brand of whole wheat (maybe me) and this 100 percent whole wheat needs a better flour.

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