Friday, April 29, 2011

mad about bread and a giveaway

i've been pouring over these these two bread books for the past few weeks. one is danish chef claus meyer's baking book. claus meyer is a passionate advocate of nordic cooking, using locally-sourced ingredients and there has recently been a 6-part series of his nordic cooking programs on television. i am utterly smitten by his passion and enthusiasm as well as his knowledge of the traditions and ingredients  in our part of the world. the other is one of the wonderful river cottage handbooks. i've got this one on bread, the one on mushrooms and the one on preserves. i can highly recommend the books as very useful, accessible, well-written and inspiring (and no, i have no vested interest in saying that).

both books cover the ins and outs of everything from all of the baking accessories you need (i've got to get my hands on some of those proving baskets like the one pictured above) to the different aspects of the grains and how they behave in their various ways of being ground. i found myself hanging on every word and generally being fascinated by the whole chemistry of baking. wishing now that i'd paid a bit more attention instead of reading dostoevsky during science class in high school. and both books sold me on the notion of making my own sourdough starter.

so, about two weeks ago, i did exactly that. for the first stage, you take 150g of good strong wholemeal flour (rye, spelt, wheat are all fine) and 250ml of water and beat them up well with a whisk in a container with a lid. i used a large tupperware container. it would be ideal and a bit more aesthetically-pleasing to have a crock of some sort, but i felt all of the ones i have were a bit large for the task, so tupperware it was. then you leave it sit on the counter somewhere out of the way and you begin to check on it. the natural yeast that's all around us will begin to work its magic (perhaps within a few hours, but for sure within a couple of days) and you'll start to see bubbles coming up in the mixture. once you see those little bubbles, it's time to feed the starter, which you do by adding 150g of flour and 250ml of water (that's approximately a cup of each for those using american measurements). you don't have to be exact about this, just use roughly equal portions of flour and water. 

you continue this feeding for a good ten days. after the first two rounds, you should discard half of your dough when you do the feeding (or it will become a VERY large batch rather quickly), which is again 150g flour/250ml water, well whisked in, because you want to get as much air (and thus bacteria) into the mix as possible. the whole process is quite fascinating and daniel stevens (who wrote the river cottage book) is not wrong when he says that the starter will become almost like a friend - which indeed it will become if you keep it going endlessly like many bakers do (daniel knew bakers who had had their starter for 30 years!). you'll constantly be checking on it to see how the fermentation is coming along. it will develop different smells along way. mine currently smells like apples. but it could smell vinegary or malty or even like sour milk. get to know yours.

after about ten days, it's ready to use. both books have a variety of sourdough bread recipes and claus meyer's book actually advocates using the sourdough starter together with a pinch of regular yeast in any bread you make. i have yet to try that.

it requires a bit more planning ahead to make sourdough, as it requires more proving time, but it's totally worth it. i used the river cottage sourdough recipe, which is as follows:

before going to bed, mix (using the dough hook of your mixer) well:
650 ml warm water
500 grams strong white bread flour
and a good ladleful of sourdough starter

remember to feed your starter after you take some, otherwise you'll deplete your supply.

the next morning, pour the bubbly, rather soupy mixture back into the mixer and add:
600 grams strong flour
25 grams of salt

that may sound like a lot of salt, but bread needs the salt (tho' it does interfere a bit with the rising) to get the right crispy crust. claus meyer is a big advocate of plenty of salt in the bread.  mix this in your mixer with the dough hook - once it's combined, turn it up on high and let the mixer knead it for 10-12 minutes. or knead it by hand if that's what you like (i'm lazy, so i let the mixer do it). plus, this dough is rather soft and sticky, so it's difficult to knead by hand.

for mine, i used a mixture of a couple of flours, but you can use a regular high quality wheat flour, or mix in a bit of spelt or whatever you'd like. my starter itself has been subject to my flour whims in its feedings, so it has had snacks of good wholewheat flour, some of the nordic grain sorts - emmer, Ăžlandshvede and svejderug along the way, so it is very wholegrain. but you can be as purist as you like, or use what's available in your area. whatever you choose, the starter will have the personality you give it.

next, the bread requires four provings (according to the book). i actually only gave mine two, because i had to go away during the day. and let's face it, four is rather intimidating.

the bread is baked at a very high temperature - 250°C/480°F when you first put it in the oven. there are a lot of instructions about spraying it with water and about putting a pan of water in the oven, but i'll admit i didn't do that (it was too overwhelming, but i will try it another time, especially after i sat down and read how that makes a good crusty crust). you turn down to 200°C/390°F once it puffs up (which it will do rather alarmingly) and the crust starts to brown. the recipe actually should make 2-3 loaves, but i made one giant loaf. mine baked for about 40-45 minutes, but it may take longer (i always think my oven is fast). you will know it's done by knocking on it. it just sounds done (vague of me, i realize, but try it, you'll see what i mean).  we ate it, fresh from the oven, with a fresh batch of hummus and i utterly neglected to photograph it.

this book can be yours!
and my adventures in sourdough will continue as i intend to keep my starter going for a long time to come. the best part about an established starter is that you can give a bit of it as a gift. plus, as it matures, it just gets better and better.

and to encourage you in your own baking adventures, we're going to give away a copy of the river cottage bread book right here (i somehow ended up with two - undoubtedly in a confluence of bad memory and amazon order button madness).  just leave a comment about your most memorable bread experience and we'll draw a lucky winner on friday, may 6.


Tracy Golightly-Garcia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tracy Golightly-Garcia said...

I love bread but I have never made sourdough bread. Seems to me it takes to long with the starter.

Tracy :)

Elizabeth said...

It is good to hear that the keeper gets a very nice breakfast.

(the rest of the family also ofcourse)

The Queens Table said...

I was doing a high school project and wanted to serve hot home baked bread to the class. It was a big round loaf of mixed grains. I had to get up before dawn to start my bread dough. I then made my parents drive me to school so I could arrive for my class with hot bread in hand. I don't remember the subject of my talk, but everyone loved the bread!

Would love to create new bread memories. You can leave a comment on my blog if I win the extra book! Thank you.

eclairre said...

Me and my mom found a bread maker at a thrift store. We did it 3 times and loved it, then it broke... Aww lol

Lisa-Marie said...

I once made a no-knead bread dough recipe where you essentaill mix it, leave itovernight and then knock it back. except that I forgot the knock it back bit,went out all day and came home to find the bowl I'd mixed it in completely enveloped by a mountain of dough. it was 6month old baby sized. and it stuck to the counter like no-one's business!

As you can tell from this story, I need help in the bread making area!

Island Soul said...

The only bread I've ever baked was cornbread. (and the only thing memorable about it was that I actually baked it, lol). Bread is something I've always been interested in cooking but never really done.....maybe this would get me going!

Delena said...

I used to bake in my bread machine. I made bread three times one day and each and every time the bread did not turn out. It was so small and heavy. After the third time (duh) I checked the flour and found out I had used cake flour. No wonder it didn't work. Now I have retired the bread maker and make a wonderful 2 hour bun recipe that is an old recipe tried and true!

rayfamily said...

I love the simple boule bread recipe from Mother Earth News, it has served us well....but the loaves are so small. I need a good recipe and oh how I long for a good sourdough starter!!

Heather said...

I've always wanted to try making sourdough! I recently started making my own bread, and every time it tastes different! It's probably because I don't really know what I'm doing yet. The most memorable, and tastiest, was when I left it to rise on the oven while something else was baking. It rose like crazy!

Michelle said...

How lovely of you to offer the second book - you are a star.

The bread-baking experience I thought I could share is more of a phase than a single event. A couple of years ago, I moved to a small college town and decided to try to be the back-to-nature, local-food loving, composting natural momma, who baked beautiful, but uniquely shaped loaves of hand-loved bread. Well, I tried on that identify but it was ill-fitting. I now use my bread machine to mix and bake whole grain loaves and other favourites like walnut and cherry bread - but only 2-3 times per month. I also do the no-knead bread in the dutch oven.. love that - but I'm not defining myself as a "BREAD BAKER' anymore. It was too daunting to take it on as a LABEL and I felt that if I didn't bake bread every week, I wasn't part of the club, and therefore not deserving of the BREAD BAKER title.

I do continue to bake bread and experiement, but I do it under the "COOK" definition, and it reduces the anxiety.

While I would love to win the book - I might need a session with a therapist even more, don't you think??

hugs - michelle in madison

Magpie said...

Most memorable? Probably the first time I made the no-knead bread in the dutch oven. Man, that was good, and inspirational.

We've made our share of duds, too, including a batch of a pumpkin/nut/cranberry yeast breast with failed to rise well in the oven, resulting in okay edges and an uncooked center. I eventually cut off the good parts, and diced them, and they remain in the freezer - for someday I will make bread pudding with those ends...

Bee said...

I'm a sucker for stories of people who have kept their sourdough starters going for years. It sounds like you have inspired a few people!

(I don't suppose I get to qualify for the drawing?)

Nimble said...

It must be spring -- I'm mixing up a wild sourdough starter this weekend too. I am confident with the no-knead, bake it in the dutch oven style. I am curious to see how challenging actual kneading is. But first I will get to know my starter!


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