Saturday, November 29, 2008

Rye Must I Chase the Cat? There's no easy answer.

I'll assume you know the basics, where the basics—as always; as before our births, yours and mine—are defined in terms of your familiarity with this particular discourse, meaning: we will talk about the intentions of vaguely defined public figures from our bellies, deeply certain, deeply angry about what we've willed ourselves to know; we will scoop the bottom of the trough, sometimes, back to day one, where still mispellings sit untended; we will gather words tighly from just above our chests, letting the air out in a race, praying to look intelligent, or at least to survive wholly from one instant to the next in the body-shell:

That is,

60% hydration [100% flour (3/4 white-bread, 1/4 dark rye), 60% water, by weight]
more salt this time—a full 1/2 teaspoon for 2 cups of flour total. I realized my eyeballing was woefully conservative.

Squashed against the table.
Silk-ball treatment.
Turn a light switch on and off and consider the time it takes to be thoughtful.

2 pre-risings (one of which had to be retarded in the fridge, in the 80's "Let's get retarded!" kind of way, because I had to go to work, and the first rising took a full 12 hrs, because of the salt—please refer to blogue 1, in which the mythology of Sodium-Chloride and saccharomyces, the seeds of its own destruction within, was sown). The first rising was, again, 12 hrs; the second, 6hrs; the third, after shaping, 3 hrs, though I think I could have given it a little more, seeing as it kinda exploded in the oven. As a side note: not a sour loaf. I'm beginning to think that my starter is all yeast and no lactobacilli.

500º oven lowered to 450º Steam-inferno. Baking stone. And so on, and soon.

Use the honey-tarragon-orange butter on this one; it's the superior butter. Brings out the sweetness in earthy loaves, and blooms its own mild herbal warmth on more light blends.

I'm freeze-drying my loves to build a spacecraft. The hull was complete until Sun Ra mocked it and I felt so bad; his is made of spelt and kamut.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Goose Loaf

2c. bread flour
10 tbsp. water
3/4 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. starter (will get to that soon)

This loaf showcases my #1 stunna scoring technique, which yields the charming bushtit-like appearance of the loaf. I was trying to replicate the layer-cake look that some specialty loaves have, but I think part of my scores were at too much of an angle to really work. I made a kind of spiral over the top of the loaf, the idea being that each inner layer rises a little more than the one before it, because it has to support less weight (and may benefit a little from the layer around it). Next time I'm going to try concentric circles and see what happens, especially when I score directly perpendicular to the surface of the loaf, rather than at the usual bias.

So anyway, this loaf was baked from a roughly 60+% hydration white dough. You can knead it until it gets like a silk balloon (the trick to kneading is, as mentioned before, to remember that you're stretching and folding an ergodic mass into what should ultimately be an onion-like arrangement of many sheets of taut gluten—try not to tear your gluten sheets; this means letting the dough rest when it looks like you're bursting through them).

After that, I let this dough go through 2 preliminary rises, first to double its volume, then to triple, punching them down each time, before shaping it into a slightly oblong boule and making my clumsy little spiral score. I highly recommend playing with scoring techniques. Just remember that in general the loaf spits at the score, so it moves both up (as it rises) and perpendicular to the length of the score (as it splits). Maybe you want to double the recipe, then split the dough into two and practice two opposite scorings on identical loaves to see the difference. Maybe you want to drop everything, a metaphor, and live without lying forever.

My spread for this one (anticipating a sour loaf, after the 8hr 1st rise, 3hr 2nd rise, and 1.5hr final post-shaped rise), was cinnamon-ginger butter. For some reason I think cinnamon goes really well with sourdough. The loaf didn't turn out sour, but then, I'll die someday anyway, forgetting all I know about baking, and I made this spread a tad to sweet to compensate.

Cinnamon-Ginger Butter

1/2 c. butter
1 tbs. fresh ginger, minced
a few pinches of cinnamon—you should play this by ear; it's very easy to overdo.
a couple tsp. brown sugar—also easy to overdo; you don't want the sugar to overwhelm the saltiness of the butter, which will bring out the sourness (and different kind of sweetness) in the dough. Very delicate stuff.

Mix it all up! Since my loaf wasn't very sour, I'm considering adding a little lime or apple-cider vinegar (or just apple-cider) to the butter. Lime will tilt it to the tropics, apple-cider to Americana. Very delicate stuff.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Wheat Slipper

So, you try, roughly, the same recipe as the first, only lower the hydration (where the hydration is the total amount of liquids divided by the total amount of flour—all measured by weight—multiplied by 100; that is, 100g flour and 85g water is an 85% hydration mixture. This is standard baker's percentage, as far as I can tell, where flour is the yardstick by which we measure all things; it's like, you grew up in a house with flowers for wallpaper, and suddenly any place with paint is unfamiliar) to 85%—maybe, impossibly, without changing the amount of water or flour, somehow—and use whole-wheat flour in place of half of the regular bread flour. Also, slightly more impatience than last time.

Authentic Knead

This one you knead in the traditional fashion, as long as you keep a lightly floured surface, and try to brush off any excess flour as you fold the dough over the top, so you don't keep incorporating more and more.

But What Are We Looking For?

Also, having added more impatience from the beginning, you don't let the loaf proof for very long, and it doesn't really develop the flavor you're looking for. This is upsetting. You probably only give it about 8 hours total, the last 1.5 hrs after you shape it into a boule that quickly goos out on the floured linen and collapses when you try foolishly to move it with your hands to the baking pan.

Still, what an oven spring! It's about 1.5 inches tall when it goes in, and actually makes a reasonable loaf (minus the perrineal ridges on top, due to the stickiness issue).

My Advice, My Advice

My advice is to make the following immediately, while the loaf is in the oven, just after you've done your watering thing:

1/2 stick butter
1 tablespoon finely chopped tarragon
1-1/2 teaspoon honey
1 or 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice (acidic is nice).

You fluff the butter with a mixer, and whip in honey and juice, then add tarragon and mix more gingerly. I mean, you don't have to be too careful but you don't want to bruise the tarragon.

This loaf would be nothing without this butter. You put it in the mold of your choice when mixed, and refrigerate (you can cover it with some of the paper that was wrapping your butter initially). By the time the loaf is cool, you're in butter town, child.

Scoring isn't everything.

But it's something (isn't everything? No.). The thing is, you want to score the loaf quickly, with a watered or oiled or lightly floured very sharp blade, without fussing over it too much. At an angle, like you're separating meat from the bread-bone, so it can truly unfurl.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Sourdough Ciabatta

~1-7/8c. bread flour and ~1c. water (100% hydration)

~2 tbsp. (about 8% of flour weight) very-wet rye/white starter (maybe 150% hydration)

~1 tsp. (about 1.5% of flour weight) salt


Very messy to handle. This will take about 10-12 hours.

You mix the flour, water and starter in a bowl until it's incorporated,

then turn out on a table and smear it bit by bit firmly between your hands and the surface. You do this. You do this until the dough seems of reasonably consistent makeup.

Then you autolyse (i.e. rest) the dough for 20 minutes, for the chains of gluten to grab one another and prepare to be manipulated into layers of sheets of chains of delicious.

It's time for the yeast and lacto-bacteria to begin to think of their place in the world.


This is a strange thing in front of you. It doesn't hold quite together. It's not napalm, though it clings to your body and the wooden table in the house you pay to live in.

Wet your hands. It makes a layer between you, so you don't get so close that the fibers wrap around the trough of your fingerprints. Stretch it to one side and fold it over from the bottom, 2/3 of the way across. Stretch it from the other side and wrap it like a package. You'll find that it clings to itself. Now rotate 90º and do it again. And again. And again. Don't tear the dough too much. If you just feel abusive and tear-happy, you should put the dough down and come back to it when you've had time to think about what you're doing. Add the salt during the folding, bit by bit. Yeast and salt are mortal enemies, and salt always wins, so you want to make sure the yeast can hide in gluten caves before you introduce the salty dogs of war.

You're not going to get to a point where the dough is that same silky baloon you're used to. It's always going to be a wad of wet flour. But it should cohere at least enough to fold. If it doesn't, add more flour and let tha
t rest a spell with your already dough, so it too can deeply bond with it's brothers.

If you have a dough scraper, you will be happy.

Let it all rest for a couple hours.


See, what I did was go to sleep, and wake up every couple of hours to do a bit more folding while the being proofed. It's okay if you fall asleep for three or four hours. Just get back to folding it again.

You can do this folding thing as long as you want, as long as you kick the air out of the dough-mass a couple times, and it still keeps rising—I mean, it's so wet that it's more just that bubbles are getting trapped in the dough than a straightforward rise, but you get the point. The volume will at least double later in the process, when your folding has made enough semi-sheets of the glute.

The longer you do this, the more flavor the bread will get. I did it about 10 hours.


Don't punch the air out of the dough the last time. Preheat your oven towith both the baking surface (I use a baking pan, because that's the only baking surface we have right now, but a baking stone would be ideal. If you have a linen and peel, all the better—you'll probably get a better texture than I did, but you can make do with whatever you have) and a recepticle to create steam. I've heard that a pan full of rocks in the bottom of the oven is the best, because the rocks retain a lot of heat, and boil whatever water you put in there. I just put a metal pot in, which does the trick well enough for now.
Take out the preheated pan (30 min is a good amount of time to preheat the oven to 550º with this stuff. I've heard of people doing it much longer, but is good bread worth our country's natural gasses? Yes and no.) and put some cornmeal or your favorite floury non-sticking substance (oil, I'm guessing, would oxidize and stick, so don't use that—I think some people use non-glutenous rice flour.) on the pan. Turn your dough onto the pan (or use your peel to get it there), trying to flip the dough upside down from it's proofing side, so the bubbles from proofing don't carry your crust to other lands. Dust the top with flour, throw the whole shebang in the oven, and toss 1/4c. of water into the pot that's been pre- heating in the bottom, to create the "steam inferno." Turn the oven down to about 450º. Add more water every 2 or 3 minutes, into the pot, or directly onto the floor of the oven, or sprayed onto the sides of the oven, to maintain a consistent steamy atmosphere.

Don't spray your lights in there. You will have bread in shattered-glass sauce.

After the first 10 minutes, stop adding water, and take your pan of water out. The dough should have had a nice oven spring by now, so admire it and fantasize about its flavor.

Bake until the crust is as dark as you like it. You can use an instant read thermometer to get the right temperature (btw. 200 and 210ºF). Usually I like to take the bread out of the pan after there's a little bit of color on the loaf, just to get an evenly done crust.

When it's a nice rich-but-not-burnt brown, pull it out of the oven and set it on a wire rack. Let it cool so it's just a little warm to the touch, so you don't release all the moisture when you cut into it. Also, you'll get to listen to the c(r)ackle of the bread while you wait.

Serve with honey-cornmeal butter. Or olive oil and balsamic. Or yogurt cheese and strawberry jam with cracked pepper and mint. Or tahini, agave nectar and fennel-seeds.

It's not a very sour bread.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

It's complicated.

I'm starting out slow, counting strands of gluten, not loaves.
Sheets of gluten; tomorrow.

I made a little world of lactobaccilia and saccharidaes,
beside myself, here, occasional swaths to devour.