26 February 2009
whole grain bread
since i can't garden much in the winter (though i DO try...) i've taken to exploring the art of bread baking. i've done some yeast bread baking in the past. a few years ago i discovered that i could make a decent, crusty, sour(ish)dough, baguette with very little effort. it's quite satisfying to pull one of those out of the oven, just in time for dinner. sadly, there's just not much nutritional value in white flour, and my experience with home baked whole grain breads left a lot to be desired. in particular, they seemed to always be too heavy, and too sweet.
some library patron was looking at this book while hanging out with a little one in the playroom at the downtown branch one day, last fall. they must have decided it wasn't for them, because they left it behind, and i picked it up. it was exactly what i was looking for (though i was not actively looking, just vaguely thinking about it now and then): a way to make yummy, crusty, artisan loaves of bread using only whole grain flours. i checked out the book, and started reading it. from the beginning. the famous baker, peter reinhart (well, famous in the artisan bread baking community...), tells the story of his journey to whole grain baking, and my, what a journey it has been.
getting ready to mix the soaker, getting ready to mix the pre-doughs into the final dough
fascinating, in ways i couldn't have imagined, he goes into the chemistry of bread baking, gluten development, enzymatic activity, delayed fermentation, the purpose of a making a soaker, the difference between a wild yeast starter, and a biga, making a sponge, how to mix your pre-doughs into your final dough, the autolyse method, and oh, so much more. to an experienced baker, it must be a completely different read than it was for me. he explains what happens in traditional methods, and then how his method differs, and why. he talks about all the test bakers that he sent recipe after recipe to, and how he incorporated their feedback, to finally come up with the wonderful recipes included in his book. it took me several renewals, returning, then checking out again before i even tried to make one of the breads. carl was starting to wonder if it was JUST a research project, or if he was ever going to get a chance to sink his teeth into some homemade bread.
before and after shots of the bread dough, proofing in the pan
one day in late november, a woman i barely know, showed up at my door with a healthy, whole wheat, wild yeast starter, that she had kept going for 2 years. i decided to work it into reinhart's master formula for whole wheat sandwich bread, treating it as the mother starter he describes. it worked fine, and the bread was delicious. i made two loves: one in a loaf pan, and one on a baking stone. the loaf pan one was higher, a bit lighter, and, i think, a bit better.
whole wheat sandwich loaf
then the book came due again, no renewals. then i went on a trip. then another trip. i neglected the starter, did not refresh it, or even check on it, for weeks and weeks. when i finally took a peek, it was moldy, and destroyed. but, i had received the book as a christmas present, so, i started again, making my own wild yeast starter, from scratch. in fact, i made two. using two different methods(pineapple-juice-based, and mash-based), to compare. i ended up with two separate mother starters in my fridge. since they need to be refreshed regularly, i have been making bread, often as i refresh a starter, and the results have been exciting. i made two more sandwich loaves, a rye metiel, and a straun, incorporating quinoa and cooked brown rice. the straun was a freestanding batard. it spread out considerably on the baking stone, but was fairly light in texture, and so moist and flavorful.
straun, and a close up shot of a free-standing whole wheat loaf
i couldn't distinguish a difference in the two starters i had going in the fridge. the author says they are interchangeable, and since they both seemed healthy, i let one of them go. next i made a straun using rolled oats and cornmeal. carl and i both agreed that this one wasn't as good as the others i'd made. it had a tangy bite to it that neither of us appreciated, and i found it to be too dry, and too heavy.
sandwich loaf, made into sandwiches, and grilled cheese, with yummy tomato soup (carl made the soup)
i had to admit to myself that all of the breads i'd made from this book, were too heavy for my taste, and i wasn't impressed with the quality of the crumb. i wanted to try a more rustic type of bread-- chewy, with big holes. and, i decided i wanted to try one of reinhart's transitional breads, which means they have some white flour mixed in with the whole grain. i figure this is really the only way i am going to get the kind of bread i'm looking for. so, i tried his transitional country hearth bread. the dough was lovely to work with, and satisfying to knead. one of the complaints i have had about the other breads in this book, is that the dough is very wet and sticky. he recommends wetting your hands as you knead the dough, to prevent sticking. i guess it works, but it is so unpleasant. this dough, by contrast, was soft and supple, and felt so good in my hands. this dough also did not require the wild yeast starter i have in my fridge. instead i made a biga, with comercial yeast, and left it in the fridge overnight, for a slow rise. the dough is more that 50% whole wheat, which is still a lot more hearty than most commercial breads that i like.
transitional country hearth bread
i made three mini baguettes, which puffed up in the oven, forming lovely rounded loaves, with crispy crusts and superb flavor. while this bread was not perfect, it is definitely the direction i want to head in with my future bread baking.
i skimmed through the book, picking out breads that i wanted to try, and found that all of them call for the biga instead of the wild yeast starter. i find that maintaining the starter is a pain in the ass, there is a lot of waste (i have to throw out 75% of it, each time i refresh it), and it takes up tons of room in our small fridge. since i do not really prefer the breads that are made with it, i think i am going to let it go.
my bread journal
i've been keeping a bread journal, to keep track of the various schedules for each bread, what kinds of grains i have tried, and my thoughts about each bread. it's a great winter hobby, warms up the house, and, let's face it, homemade bread, fresh, slightly warm, with butter on it...can't be beat.