Monday, December 26, 2011

After the Flour Dust Settled

I baked this particular loaf for Christmas dinner at my brother in law's house yesterday. It was a simple enough loaf that could be called either a rye bread or a bauernbrot depending on where you come from. I don't have any crumb shots but the interior was nicely open and the flavor was good enough that a 15 year old niece asked for a second sample as I was slicing the loaf for our meal. 

150g of rye starter at 100%.
I used a two stage build that took about 14 hours to hit its peak. This wasn't a 100% rye starter in that I built it from my ongoing starter or madre.

80g whole rye flour
20g white whole wheat flour
100g water.
Soak for at least 4 hours

Main Dough
All of starter
All of soaker
300g bread flour
166g water at 85F
9g kosher salt
1 Tbs sunflower oil
1 Tbs molasses

This formula is more than useable in its present development stage. The molasses definitely does leave a subtle addition to the flavor of the bread and to the color of the crumb. Whole wheat flour can be substituted for the white whole wheat for a darker crumb than I saw. Unsalted butter can replace the sunflower oil. After shaping the loaf, I sprayed the top of the loaf with water and rolled the loaf over some caraway seeds. About half of the caraway seeds fell off by the time I sliced the loaf. Mixing the seeds in the dough would be a better option for me to try in the future.
Before we left Omaha, I picked up 10# of bread flour, 5# of all purpose, and 5# of stone ground whole wheat, all milled by Dakota Maid. The prices had increased by 30% or so since last summer. In any case, I've got lots of flour to play with now.

Last summer, I posted about the extensive flooding in the Missouri River basin. During our trip to and back from Omaha I got a chance to observe some of the damage. We traveled on I-29 from just outside Kansas City up to Omaha. I-29 is situated to the east of the river, close to the bluffs that the glacial run off created at the end of the last Ice Age. The damage that I saw as we drove by was really impressive. A more thorough observation and analysis of losses will probably be depressing to the farmers who will have to remake their farms and lives.
Most of the route is at two or more miles away from the river yet it was easy to see how far in the river had spilled during the summer once we approached Hamburg, Iowa. The river had flowed over the highway and the waters had been there so long that even hedge trees, which are notoriously tough to cut down, had been killed. The railroad bed to the east of the highway was washed away and had to be replaced in many sections. Mile long railroad trains that carry coal for power plants are back on schedule on those tracks.
Lots of fields that normally grew bumper crops of corn or soybeans have been covered by silt up to four feet in some locations. It will take years before the farmers can restore the acreage to its former fertility. The F-5 tornado that hit Joplin, MO was certainly more dramatic in its destruction but the amount of destruction by the river flooding this year will exceed that tornado in dollars lost.

Comments, humor, and questions are welcome.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

My Christmas Baking

I got into a little bit of flinging the flour for the holiday. The first loaf up was a reprise batard of the Easton Hillside Sourdough loaf. The formula is easy enough to replicate but I can't help thinking that before I set the formula in stone that I should try it with a liquid levain. Hamelman's "Bread" uses a 125% hydration levain as a starter in almost all the loaves in the book. Most of my starters have been between 70-100% hydration until I baked the next loaf for Christmas dinner at my BIL's.
This picture is my initial effort at developing an oatmeal-cranberry sourdough. It's a blatant theft of the Hamelmans Golden Raisin Sourdough. I sat down with pen and calculator because I haven't learned how to work with spread sheets yet and scratched out the numbers based on a 400g flour loaf. My plan was to bake two smaller loaves, keep one for home consumption and take one for Christmas dinner.

During the course of the effort I ran into two obstructions that slowed me down. The first was the use of the oatmeal in the formula. The oatmeal just sucked up a lot of the water and consequently left the dough much stiffer than I expected. The whole wheat flour in the formula isn't soaked beforehand so that probably added to the difficulty. I added about 50g more water but couldn't get the feel of the dough right. Soaking the oatmeal first and then adding flour to correct a slack dough will be a lot easier than trying to add so much water.

Baking presented a new problem for me. My usual baking time didn't work well for two loaves.  It was probably caused by the oven being open longer to load the loaves onto the stone. One loaf, pictured here was done more than four minutes earlier than the other. The crumb on the loaf already cut is tight but light as in almost fluffy. There's work to be done on this loaf's formula.

This last loaf is a rye bread of no particular nationality's pedigree. I've been reading Leader's "Local Breads" but not in depth enough for a meaningful interpretation or slavish copy. I used a two stage starter build of mostly rye. The flour in the dough was 75% bread flour, 20% rye, and 5% white whole wheat. I enriched the loaf with some sunflower oil and molasses.

This loaf is going to Christmas dinner as well so there are no crumb shots yet but I'm confident that it will do well with the Polish sausage to be served with dinner. The formula is similar to a bauernbrot that I did a couple years ago.

Here's wishing any and every one that reads my posts a Merry Christmas and peaceful holiday season.

Comments, humor, and questions are welcome.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Easton Hillside Sourdough

This the most recent bake for me. I named it after the family business that I bought my baking honey from.

150g starter at 90% hydration, 80% AP/20% white whole wheat, two stage build

80g white whole wheat
20g whole rye flour
100g water

Main dough
300g bread flour
166g water
8g kosher salt
15g Hillside Honey
all of starter
all of soaker
Baked using Susan's Magic Bowl method.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Sunflower State Sourdough, First Attempt

Once I get past the obvious that the loaf leaves much to be desired in slashing and shaping, there is a lot of good here in my first attempt to make a new signature loaf. Whether it's childishness or hubris, I want to call it my "Sunflower State Sourdough".

The loaf is made from a variation of my starter and flours from Heartland Mills of Marienthal, KS. My problem with the rather flat oval probably originated from my shaping the dough like a batard and then fitting it into my oval banneton. The HM All Purpose flour isn't a high gluten AP so I think my best bet is to go with the batard shaping and proof the dough as a batard. That's a loaf style that I need much more practice in so Attempt #2 probably won't be very dramatic in appearance.

The starter turned out to a 2 1/2 stage build. My first step used a seed from my madre stock, HM AP, and a bit of HM Golden Buffalo. Just before the peak, I stirred the starter down- the half step, and let it rise again. At the second peak, I added more of the HM AP/GB combination and water, stirred down, and let the starter get back to work. I left the starter in the basement at 64F so I could sleep instead of starting my procedures at 430AM. Later on, I proofed the loaf, which was wrapped up, in our 54F garage to give myself a better chance to observe the proofing.

The goodness in the loaf is in how different and how much better this loaf is in flavor than some of my recent loaves. First of all, the crumb has a great deal more substance and texture to it. This isn't to say that it's really chewy or rubbery. It's just more bread in character. Don't be confused, I haven't quite got my finger on what it is yet. My first assumption is that it's due to the nature of the HM AP flour because I didn't use anything new in my procedures other than a couple extra minutes more in the bake to see if I could get more color in the outer crust. At $6.50/5 # of flour, the HM AP is twice as expensive as my usual Dakota Maid bread flour or all purpose flour. Plus, it's hard to find in the KC metropolitan area. Shipping costs from the mill are high and driving almost 400 miles to buy at the mill isn't a reasonable thing to do.

I guess my learning curve better be a steep and fast one if I'm going to develop a reliable formula before I have to declare bankruptcy.

Comments, humor, and questions are welcome.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Progress on three stage levain breads

I started my inquiry into the use of three stage levain or starter builds in my breads last week. The first bread wasn't bad but did have some unexpected results.

The first wrinkle in the progress was the slow growth of the starter. By the time I needed to have a strong starter for mixing, it was about three hours behind so I added 1/4 tsp of active dry yeast which helped bring about an adequate rise.

Another small problem was in the feel of the dough. I used molasses in this loaf and the dough lacked any elasticity. I made a loaf during the summer where I used molasses and didn't have such a problem.
As it stands right now, the fastest solution I can think of is to mix the molasses in with the water for the main dough, heat the water in the microwave oven, stir to mix the water, and let it cool down to less than 90F before mixing the dough. That's a lot of bother for one ingredient. Using honey the next time is a simple and faster alternative if I want to bake an enriched loaf.

The two loaves are a pair I baked for a pot luck Christmas party for the county Democratic Party organization. I had enough time and the experience from the first loaf to get the starter right. The left hand loaf was a French country loaf and the other was a sourdough white. I knew the crowd I was baking for and didn't want to get too far out with my breads. There are no crumb shots for these loaves.

Both loaves were satisfying efforts. The dough was easy to handle. Because I was planning on a retarded proofing, I used a three hour bulk fermentation with stretch and folds at 1 and 2 hours. Both loaves were steamed for the first fifteen minutes of the bake and had good oven spring. When I cut the loaves at the party, the crust was still crisp enough to leave lots of fragments on the cutting board. The interior crumb was nicely open and the flavor of the loaves was better than most of my efforts over the past couple of months. I have to say that there was complexity to the taste and that factor was very rewarding.

The three stage build is worthwhile IF you aren't constrained by a schedule to feed your family or for an event. My madre or seed stock starter sits in a refrigerator and may be part of my problem with the first loaf. I thought a three stage build would create a vigorous enough build that I could be baking in 24 hours or less. I've realized that if I kept my starter at room temperature and did daily replenishment I would have been just fine. That's not practical for me so I'm going back to two stage builds where I won't have to discard any of my starter.

This coming week I'll try building my starters with Heartland Mills AP and Golden Buffalo to see what happens. The GB has invigorated starters for me in the past and the AP is organic as well so I'll have to observe closely to see if there are any meaningful results. I've scaled down the Golden Raisin levain loaf formula from Hamelman's "Bread" with the goal of adapting the recipe for a cranberry bread. It could work.

We may be getting a brief break in temperatures this week which could give me enough time to work outside. Rather than raking the leaves in the yard, I'd prefer to just mulch them with the mower. I think it's too late for any more winterizing fertilizer for the grass but the chopped leaves won't hurt a thing. The shorter daylight hours have put the birds into different rhythms so I don't know if there are any new varieties out there. Almost all the migratory flocks have passed through. The rosemary plant that I brought in to winter over appears to be the victim of too much attention from us. The leaves are pale and droopy which I take to be signs that we over watered the plant.

Comments, humor, and questions are welcome.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

A Low Visibility Kitchen and One Loaf Got Away

I started my baking preparations on Friday morning before I finished my first cup of coffee or reading the morning paper. There was work to be done so I hauled the mixer, the active dry yeast, starters(yes, plural), bread flour, white whole wheat flour, and rye flour from the storage shelves and refrigerator downstairs. I had a scratch pizza crust and two sourdough loaves to do. One loaf was for a church bake sale and the other was for our personal enjoyment. Flour and yeast were in the air.

My pizza crust is still relatively simple, low effort, and more than serviceable.

250g all purpose flour
25g white whole wheat flour
25g sourdough starter (optional, for folks who have a little too much in their fridge)
170g water at 85F
1/2 tsp yeast (ADY or IDY)
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 Tbs olive oil

I just mix the first five ingredients in a bowl until there's no dry flour on the bottom of the bow. If you use ADY, be sure to hydrate in the water for 10 minutes before mixing. Cover the bowl and let it rest for about 20-30 minutes. Don't fret about the yeast. Sprinkle the salt across the top of the dough and add the oil to the bowl. Mix well with your hands or a dough whisk. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead for about two minutes. Shape the dough into a ball and place the dough in an oiled bowl. Turn the dough around to coat the surface of the dough and cover with plastic wrap or the bowl's lid. Let the dough rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes and then place in your refrigerator. About 4-6 hours later, take the dough out to warm up for at least an hour before shaping. I wait 1 1/2 hours at a 70F room temperature, less when warmer. This dough should result in a 12-14" (300-350 mm) diameter crust of medium thickness.

I dock the crust interior with a fork to minimize bubbles. I also brush the edges with some olive oil and sprinkle the crust interior with grated Parmesan or Romano cheese. The cheese helps minimize slippage of ingredients later on. The crust is par baked for 8 minutes in a 450F oven. The crust is then "decorated" and loaded back into the oven. Sometimes I use a perforated pizza pan and other times I put the crust on parchment paper to bake on a stone. When using a baking stone, I use a sheet pan as a platform for the par baking and then slip the pizza off onto the baking stone. Bake at 450-475F for 10 minutes, turn the crust or pan around. Pull the parchment paper if using a stone. Bake for 6 minutes and check for doneness. When the edge, know as the cornicione, is a dark golden brown you can pull your pizza or leave it in for another two minutes if you like a really crispy crust.

The two loaves were very similar, varying only 5g in the amount of rye flour in the dough ingredients. The starters turned out to be a 100% hydration level this time around and were built in two stages with my usual 85% AP/ 15% rye flour mixture. The bulk fermentation was stretched out to three hours on Friday with stretch and folds at 1 and 2 hours. Both loaves got a 14 hour retarded fermentation in the fridge and needed to be warmed up before baking. Because my oven can't do two loaves at once, I left one loaf in the downstairs basement to wait at 65F for the second bake.  That didn't hurt a thing. The loaf that got away is the one that went to the bake sale and it was proofed in my oval banneton. No pictures of that one.

150g at 100% hydration

75g white whole wheat flour
25g rye flour
100g water at room temperature
Soak for at least two hours.

300g bread flour
166g water at 85F
9g kosher salt
1 Tbs honey
all of soaker
all of starter

Working on these two loaves has motivated me to adjust my procedures. The two step starter build worked well for me in this bake but after reading an interview with the Burlington, VT area baker Gerard Rubaux in the excellent blog Farine,
I'm ready to move to a three step build starter to get an even more active starter. The extended bulk fermentation also impressed me because the dough turned out to be easier to handle during the shaping. I can't explain the why but I can't argue with the results. I hope to find an explanation for that by the time April rolls around.

Comments, humor, and questions are welcome.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Return of the House Loaf

Just about everybody has a house loaf that they've made so many times that they are comfortable baking it for family and friends and I'm no exception. My house loaf is some sort of an enriched French Country Loaf. As winter settles in here on the edge of the Kansas plains, the air is drying up so I add a little bit of sunflower oil and honey to help maintain some moisture. The baker's percentages are as follows: 67% bread flour, 25% white whole wheat or or whole wheat, 8% rye, 38% starter, 66% water, 2% kosher salt, 3%honey or maple syrup, and 3% sunflower oil in a loaf with 400g of flour. There may be some occasional changes but that's a good formula for a satisfying loaf of bread.

After my production run of lean sourdough loaves and the sponge bread experiments, I couldn't stop myself from adding a wrinkle or two in what I had planned to be a return to the comfortable safety of my house loaf. I started with the starter. Usually, I maintain the starter with a 85% AP/ 15% rye flour blend and get consistently good results. This time I used all rye flour in the second stage of the elaboration to see what would happen. I also substituted molasses in the main dough for the honey. Molasses and rye flour seem to make a nice blend of flavor.

The resultant loaf turned out particularly well; excellent flavor, a moist,tender crumb, and a good, chewy crust. I think the starter was a step in the right direction but a dedicated rye starter for the loaf may be an even better choice.

The temperatures outside are falling into the typical range of early December in Kansas. Fortunately, the doctor has said I can walk without the post-operative boot as long as I'm not foolish in what I do so I may get some yard work in before the bottom drops out of the thermometer. There are more birds at the feeders now. They don't seem to object to the new brand of food in the least. I've seen three different varieties of native woodpeckers in the past few days, an increase in the number of cardinals, and some starlings occasionally show up to feed on the berries on the pear tree. There aren't any eagles overhead lately but they're expected to be in numbers at Smithville Lake and along the Kaw River in Lawrence by early January. The lawn is still being targeted by moles and other burrowing nuisances. Obviously, the moles aren't smart enough to go into hibernation or to Texas for the winter.

Comments, humor, and questions are welcomed.
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Friday, November 25, 2011

White Whole Wheat Sourdough

This large loaf, about 800g in weight before baking, came out of the oven on Thanksgiving. It's a lean loaf, no sweeteners or fats added, at about 69% hydration. The slashing was troublesome despite have a sharpened paring knife for the job. I know it wasn't the fault of the knife because I can attest personally to its ability to slice open a misplaced thumb. I haven't found the knack for making that swift, decisive slash that's called for. I have knife sharpeners, serrated knives, fine edge knives, single edge razor blades, a lame, and even a double edge blade on a coffee stirring stick. Someone suggested I find a scalpel to add to my arsenal of potentially life threatening tools. There's nothing like the possibility of a trip to the emergency room because of poor attention to focus my mind on the task at hand.

If the cliche about 10,000 hours of practice is needed before I gain proficiency, then I've only 9,500 more loaves to go.

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Motivation and Rationalizations

Two books that I've borrowed from the library, started me thinking about making a small, Italian style loaf of bread to go with some pasta for supper. The formulas in Daniel Leader's "Local Breads" looked particularly good with their simple ingredients but somewhat daunting with their higher hydration rates in the mid 70 percent range. I also wanted to use up some of my seed starter since I got involved with my sponge bread foray last week.

This time around I used just 250g of flour, 50g of which was some Wheat Montana Prairie Gold that I found at the local WalMart. I didn't need the flour, I just bought it because I thought it was reasonably priced at $3.76/5#. No telling when I'll finish off the bag but I've got it whenever the whim to use it strikes me. Some folks spend their money on lottery tickets.

I used an over sized amount of starter for this loaf at 100g. Then I also added about a Tbs or 15g of olive oil. The proofing was cut short at about 90 minutes in order to make sure the loaf was done in time for supper. The loaf only got an hour of cooling before I sliced. The crumb was still warm and very moist, the reasons all the books tell us to cool our bread for three hours.

Despite the shortcuts, it didn't turn out bad. I got some real life education in what not to do this time.

I hobbled out to my garden this afternoon, wearing my postoperative boot, in order to take advantage of the good weather and finally plant my garlic. Fortunately, I managed to keep my balance despite the obvious loss of dignity as I clumsily meandered to get the job done. A grand total of 66 cloves were planted this afternoon; 18 soft neck- probably California White or Gilroy, and the rest were hard neck, probably from Georgia, Uzbekistan, or Kazakhistan. The hard neck varieties were chosen for their strong flavors and so far, those characteristics have been retained. The coloring has changed on the cloves which can be attributed to different climate and soil conditions. That's not a big deal since this stuff is for my use and to give away to family and friends. The soil was prepared well, I planted at the correct depth, added some appropriate fertilizer, and rain is forecast for tomorrow night. All I have to do now is to buy some wheat straw to mulch the bed for the winter weather.

Comments, humor, and questions are welcome.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Sponge Bread Project Cont'd

Every so often I get the urge to use my active dry yeast hoard for a loaf of bread. My sourdough is perfectly healthy, I just want to do more with my ADY than pizza crusts. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I thought my recent sponge leavened loaf could be improved on so I just figured out an easy formula and started my mise en plas.

280 g water at 95F
30g whole rye flour
60g white whole wheat
100g AP flour
3/4 tsp active dry yeast

Using a mixing bowl to set the sponge, hydrate the ADY in the water for about 10 minutes. Add the flours to the water and mix thoroughly, leaving no dry flour in the bottom of the bowl. Cover and rest for 3-4 hours at 70F .
210g AP flour
8g kosher salt

At this point, I added the AP flour to sponge, mixed briefly, and added the salt. Using the dough hook, I mixed at first speed for 3 minutes and then at second speed for 6 minutes. There was no autolyse. I turned the dough out onto a floured surface, kneaded by hand for about 30 seconds and formed a ball. I then placed the dough into an oiled bowl for approximately 90 minutes for bulk fermentation.
After turning out the dough, I preshaped it into a round and covered with my large bowl that I had used for bulk fermentation for 10 minutes. I then shaped the dough and placed it in my well floured banneton for a 2 hour proof. This loaf was lighter by about 133g than usual for this banneton which partially explains the finished loaf's profile.

After slashing, I loaded the dough onto a baking stone in my oven which had been preheated to 450F. After 10 minutes at 450F, I lowered the oven to 425F for 5 minutes. Then I pulled my parchment paper and turned the loaf around. 5 more minutes at 425F and then down to 400F for 18 minutes. The loaf was done at 205F internal temperature.

Using a combination of AP or bread flour, rye, and white whole wheat always results in a tasty loaf out of my oven. Using my current supply of Heartland Mills rye and WWW flours just about guaranteed it all. The crumb isn't as open as I'd like but it isn't tough and hard to chew.

I didn't follow a few of my usual procedures on this loaf. I've already mentioned there was no autolyse and the dough weight as deviations. I also failed to steam the oven but still got what I thought was a nice crust.
Next time around, I'll use bread flour when mixing in as much WWW or WW and rye. I admit to considering an attempt at the minimalist hand kneading technique that also requires an overnight proofing in the refrigerator. Using some steam wouldn't hurt either.

My experiences using a sponge as a preferment have been worthwhile. So far, the flavor has been better than using a poolish but without a methodical comparison of many loaves, that should just be taken as anecdotal rather than scientific evidence.

More types of birds have returned to our feeders. Goldfinches are now regulars and titmice are frequent. I've seen a male downy woodpecker but no sign of a mate or any of the two other varieties of woodpeckers that I've observed before. The number of birds visiting is up as well as the frequency of filling the feeders. there are still some snapdragons blooming as well as some Betty Pryor roses. But it is definitely getting colder because most of the zoysia grass that has infiltrated the yard is fading out into its usual brown. The injury that I thought was "turf toe" turned out to be a fractured big toe. My doctor ordered me to wear an over sized postoperative boot in lieu of a walking cast so going outside is infrequent and sorely missed, even in this less than spectacular season of the year.

Comments, humor, and questions are welcome.
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Thursday, November 17, 2011

It's a Sponge Bread

The loaf in question in today's post is my modification of a recipe from the King Arthur Flour website titled "A Simple, Rustic Loaf". The formula calls for a sponge preferment, something I haven't used in a long time. In this formula, the sponge can be used after 3-4 hours or when desired, as many as 24 hours. The 3-4 hour instruction proved to be the better choice for me since the bowl I used wasn't big enough after only 3 hours when the room temperature was around 68-70F.
Sponges are usually used after a brief fermentation because of their higher than 100% hydration levels. The higher water content of the sponge enables the yeast spores to multiply or replicate much faster, utilizing the available food faster. The convenience of the faster preferment availability is somewhat tempered by the creation of fewer acids and other flavor compounds. Using the bowl that you plan to mix the dough in as your bowl for the sponge is something that I considered after doing otherwise yesterday. I would've let the sponge ferment a little longer with the larger bowl and there would've been one less bowl to wash.

This was about 67% hydration and not a slack dough at all to work with, probably due to my own deviations from the formula. Instead of using AP flour, I substituted bread flour and some white whole wheat. The WWW wasn't presoaked as I usually do. Whole rye flour was substituted for the pumpernickel called for. Finally, the formula instructed 8-10 minutes of kneading by hand whereas I used my mixer.

I hand kneaded the seeds into the dough before bulk ferment as directed. There are no stretch and folds called for during the bulk ferment and I don't think that adding the seeds during a stretch and fold would adequately distribute the seeds. There are quite a few sunflower seeds in 2 ounces and then there are the sesame seeds and poppy seeds to mix in as well.

Here's what I did differently for this loaf:

12 oz. water at 90F
1 tsp active dry yeast
6.25 oz. bread flour
2 oz. whole rye flour

2 tsp kosher salt
8 oz. bread flour
1.5 oz white whole wheat flour
2 oz sunflower seeds
1Tbs poppy seeds
0.2 oz sesame seeds

Flavor wise, this loaf is worth baking again. The purchase of pumpernickel flour as called for in the KAF formula should make a difference worth exploring as long as I find other formulas that call for the flour. A higher hydration level should help open up the crumb. I added a Tbs of water and feel that the predicted hydration of about 67% is low. I apologize for not converting the weights to grams. The KAF website used ounces and I was too casual about notes to do the conversions and percentages yesterday.

If you have a scale that measures in both grams and ounces, do take the time to write down your notes. I find most commercial yeast breads to be somewhat light in the taste department but this formula is worth a re-do. Please email me or add a comment about your results.

Comments, humor, and questions are welcome.
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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Bloomer Mishap

I was going for a slashing pattern on this loaf that had similarities to English Bloomer loaves. Those loaves are larger than mine and are supposed to have length enough for thirteen slashes across the top. I managed seven.

The dough was the same as the pain de campagne I last blogged on with an addition of 15g of honey. I don't think the honey is the explanation for the blowout on the side of the loaf. The most logical explanation I have is that the slashes on top weren't deep and wide enough to allow for upward expansion. As a result the expansion found the weakest point in the seam and pushed out, rolling the loaf to one side. While the flavor of the crumb is still good, the crumb is tight and has very few holes.

My gardening and yard work is on a brief hiatus after I sprained the big toe on my right foot. The condition is referred to as "turf toe" by American football players. There's little to be desired in the condition and I'd much rather be pulling weeds than regularly soaking my foot in ice water.

The up side to this is that I now have the time and no excuses to avoid planning for a burst of flinging flour at the end of the month. Thanksgiving will be spent with Mrs PGs family and require two loaves. That will be followed by donating two loaves two days later for a parish bake sale. Two weeks after that I've committed to two more loaves for Christmas Party for the Leavenworth County Democratic Party organization. The obvious cliche for this situation must have some relevance to "Good things come in pairs".

Comments, humor, and questions are welcome.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

This weekend's pain de campagne

I might be wrong but from what little I've read about the breads of France, pain de campagne can be found all over the country and in many different forms. Perhaps the name  has become one of those generic titles but I wouldn't be surprised if every province and arondissemont was fiercely loyal to the local boule or batard.

A local baker of note, Thom Leonard, has had version of this "French Country Loaf" written up in Maggie Glezer's "Artisan Baking". Mr Leonard has also had a good relationship with Heartland Mills, the flour suppliers that are responsible for some of the flour I used in this loaf. I can truthfully say that I didn't slavishly imitate his formula but I did take a fair share of "inspiration" from his work. If you're going to borrow, borrow from the best. This is a good loaf.

I used a 66% bread flour, 25% HM White Whole Wheat, 8% HM Whole Rye combination of flours. It's a lean loaf but still sweet, moist, and has just a little bit of that rye tang. With the winter holidays approaching, I think the trick with this loaf would be to use a rye sourdough as a starter. All those sandwiches with beef, pork, and smoked sausages need a hearty bread rather than the tasteless grocery store white breads.

Sparrows and finches are showing up the feeders in greater numbers now. Juncos are regular in attendance and goldfinches may be back in the neighborhood. Sadly, there are no woodpeckers to amuse me right now but that may just be a seasonal thing since they're year round residents in NE Kansas. Bald eagles aren't overhead lately and the hawks are few in number. We do live under the great North American migratory flyway so if I pay more attention I may get to see some new species in the yard. The wildlife sanctuary at Squaw Creek is already reporting incoming birds but the largest numbers are yet to arrive. Much of the wetland acreage along the Missouri River was flooded this past summer so it will be worth while to follow the reports of the migratory birds. The Marais De Cygne refuge is south of here but I've not followed any reports from there before. There are several Federal impoundment reservoirs, built to control flooding along rivers here in Kansas, that are also coming into play for migration patterns.

I finished Nick Hornby's "High Fidelity" yesterday. It's the basis for the John Cusack movie of the same name but immensely more entertaining. There's an air of unease that runs through the book that will prevent most men from overly identifying with the main character. It was either that or I was in denial that I had exhibited some of the same behavior as I plodded into adulthood.

The rosemary plant seems to have survived the trauma of being dug up out of the garden and is now providing a teaspoon here and tablespoon there of fresh rosemary for the kitchen. As I look at it, I must say that it looks more like an anorexic bonsai rosemary plant than a bristling and rude shrub about to take over the table top. It's an experimental work in progress, as am I some days, but I'll report on the plant's survival or demise as the case may prove to be.

Comments, humor, and questions are welcome.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Another Tip of the Hat to Heartland Mill

Way, way back in Spring of this year, Mrs PG and I stopped in Marienthal, KS to pick up an order of flour at Heartland Mill. While I'm a impulsive buyer of flour most of the time, I ordered five different types knowing that I had room in a freezer for storage until I decided to open up the packages. The flour is packaged in an old fashioned cloth flour sack with a cellophane type liner for the flour. I like how they do that.

The loaf in my first picture today is a lean sourdough loaf made with 33% white whole wheat flour from Heartland Mill. The flour combined well with my stock Dakota Maid bread flour and proved to be easy to handle.

Lately, I've been trying out different hydration starters between 70-85% hydration levels out of curiosity because I can. The starter in this loaf was somewhere in the lower 70s, maybe 75% so I wasn't surprised that I had to add 15g of water during the mixing stage.

The flavor of this particular loaf was decidedly sweet despite the lack of any sweetener in the dough. I attribute that character to the flour since I didn't do anything extreme or unusual in making the loaf. The crumb isn't at all dense and the loaf makes a really nice sandwich better. I think I'll try this flour out in building up a starter for a while to see if it works as well as the HM Golden Buffalo for feeding a sourdough. When I run through this 5 # bag of flour, I'll look for more at the Bad Seed Farmers Market in KC, MO.

140 g 75% starter
133 g Heartland Mills White Whole Wheat Flour
100 g water

Main Dough
all of starter
all of soaker
267 g Bread Flour
166 g water at 92F
9 g kosher salt

The starter took about 10 hours to hit its stride due to the warm, not hot, weather conditions. The room temperature was about 73F. The soaker sat at room temperature for about  4 hours while I waited on the starter. Autolyse stage lasted 30 minutes and the shaped loaf spent an overnight retarded proof in the refrigerator for about 12 hours. It took 1.5 hours to warm up at room temp and be fully proofed. I threw ice cubes on an airbake sheet pan for steam for 15 minutes at the beginning of the bake which began at 450F.

We had some very welcome rain pass through yesterday but it was no where near enough to relieve the drought conditions. If any of the predicted snow fell overnight, I didn't see any on the ground this morning. When I dug up a 2 meter x 2 meter patch of my garden for planting garlic, it was quite evident that the rain didn't penetrate very far. I'll be mixing in my mushroom compost and composted cow manure to amend the soil by Saturday with the goal of starting the planting next week. Time isn't of the essence in the planting since the ground usually doesn't freeze around here until the second or third week of December. I've planted garlic as late as the last week of November some years back with no problem at harvest time. Most of the garlic of planting size is hardneck with one softneck type. I've long since forgotten the names of the varieties but since they taste good, have adapted to the local climate, and thrive despite my less than professional care, they're all good.

Comments, humor, and questions are welcome.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Weekend Blather

Just outside the window is our Chanticleer pear tree. This particular variety of pear tree was chosen for it's practicality rather than productivity. Most pear trees in this area are Bradford Pear, a fruit bearing tree.  That quality is negated by the tree's susceptibility to splitting at inopportune moments such as during high wind conditions or ice storms. Both conditions are known to happen in this corner of Kansas. The Chanticleer Pear is a taller specimen and much hardier in severe weather conditions.
While the tree isn't fruit bearing, inedible- at least inedible to humans, berries or seed pods grow after the tree blossoms in the spring. These berries or pods are becoming more visible now that the tree is shedding its leafs. By the time the branches are bare of leafs, birds will descend upon the tree to feed on the berries. Last year, robins were the prevalent gastronomes and they were here in numbers. Robins aren't known for gathering in large flocks but they did gather here, up to forty at a time on or on the ground below our pear tree. They aggressively chased other types of birds away. Their behavior made us wonder if the robins were drunk. This year's show should start in about ten days or so.

Book Review! "The Big Burn" by Timothy Egan turned out to be an excellent read. The book details one of the largest forest fires in the US in 1910 in the Bitterroot Mountain chain located along the western Montana-Idaho border line, stretching from as far south as Yellowstone National Park and north through Glacier National Park into Canada. The area that burned covered more square miles than the entire state of Connecticut in the eastern US. Even though I've visited both parks by car, I have a hard time grasping how enormous the burn area was. Mr Egan has provided his footnotes and resources from his research for the book. One of Mr Egan's earlier books was "The Worst Hard Time" about the Dust Bowl Era in the Great Plains area of the US during the 1920s and 1930s. That's a book worth reading as well.

"Here's to Life" is an excellent CD by the late Shirley Horn. Besides being a "desert island" worthy disc, the recording provides a thorough test for the quality of your stereo equipment's reproduction ability. Ms Horn is an artist worth listening to.

"Live at Monterey" by the Jimi Hendrix Experience brings a smile to my face each time I hear it. While Jimi Hendrix was known for his spacey guitar playing, the band in this recording had elements of speed metal, thrash guitar, and perhaps even a precursor to the punk music scene. All that happened way back in 1967, just before I graduated from high school. It's hard to find a category that could contain or describe all the artistic creativity of Hendrix. Compare that to the compartmentalized, molded for appearance, and scripted for money groups that currently occupy popular radio. The only guitarist playing these days that I've heard that can play at a similar level is Bill Frisell.

Enough is enough for today. Add your recommendations for books and music whenever the notion strikes you in comments.

Comments, humor, and questions are welcome.

It's a Cupboard Bread

Sooner or later, if you bake bread, you'll come up with a cupboard bread. Others might call it a pantry loaf, or a dump truck loaf but they're always a combination of odds and ends of flours or whatever is handy because you don't want to go down to the supermarket for more flour. This is my second loaf of odds and ends this year, IIRC, and probably won't be the last.

This one turned out to be a halfaway point between Pioneer Bread and Anadama Bread. I used honey as in the Pioneer and used butter as the Anadama calls for. Both call for using corn meal but this time around I had white corn meal instead of yellow. There are other differences, enough to justify a new name but I'll wait on that until I bake this a couple more times. The corn meal lends a pleasant sweetness to the bread, something akin to what corn grits do in the grain bill for a batch of American lager beer. Because the corn meal is coarse in comparison to flour and has no gluten, the oven spring was only fair. I think this formula would be better suited to a pan loaf.

150 g 80% hydration starter

Soaker #1
65 g bolted Turkey Red whole wheat flour
65 g water

Soaker #2
65 g white corn meal
65 g water

Start soakers about 4 hours after the starter is built. Cover with plastic wrap and keep around 70-72F.

Main Dough
270 g Bread flour
136 g water at 85F
30 g unsalted butter, about 2 Tablespoons
8 g kosher salt
15 g honey, 1 tablespoon

I didn't feel the need to use more honey in the loaf even though the Pioneer Bread recipe calls for 2 TBS because of my previous bakes where I thought the corn meal was adequate sweetening. Had I used a hard red winter whole wheat flour, I might have followed the suggestion to use 2 TBS. Susan's Magic Bowl technique was used in the first 15 minutes of baking.

My suspicions are that a bread like this would be too much work to be profitable for a bakery and has too many steps for a classroom bread. It definitely produces a lot of bowls and dishes to be washed. The flavor is definitely good and with more practice on shaping, I might get that better oven spring.

The area has experienced more frosts this week so our flowers are few and fading fast. There is still no relief from the drought we've been experiencing so any transplanting of day lilies and daffodils that I do this weekend will have to be followed up with watering in. So far, I've restrained myself from planting garlic but Halloween is on Monday and that has worked as a date previously. It must be working, there are no vampires near here that I know of.

Comments, humor, and questions are welcome.
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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Killer B's Musically

This afternoon's Beer o'clock tunes were Bach, Buffalo Springfield, and Browne, Jackson. That's enough of the cheap devices for opening today's post.

Today, I noticed that the Rose of Sharon bushes had leafs of gold, indicative of another approaching cleaning chore around the yard. However, during the season that the bush is bare, birds will perch among the branches and swoop over to the feeders on the north side of the house. I've seen a junco in the neighbors' yard recently but it seems a little early for them to arrive. When they do arrive, they'll arrive in numbers since their habit is to be in a flock.

I have a new, unidentified burrowing pest in the backyard. Lately, I've been finding what a golfer would describe as divots of grass around the garden. There are no runs so it's not a mole. I guess I should check with the County Extension agent's office for more information.

My attempt to juice up or strengthen my starter hit a snag yesterday. Usually it thrives on a diet of AP flour and rye at an 85/15% ratio but that didn't do it. Aficionados may disapprove but I switched the rye component to Heartland Mills Golden Buffalo, something that worked before. It appears to be correcting the weakness but now I've got to figure out how to use up the extra starter that will build up in a couple loaves. Whatever I chose, they'll have to be enriched for some shelf life or freezer time. The three likely recipes or formulae are my house loaf which is essentially the same as my psomi formula, Pioneer bread, or Anadama bread. If anyone in the audience has tried these loaves and has an opinion, the phone lines will be open until 7PM CDT, 26 Sept or 0200 GMT, 27 Sept (I think), cast your vote by commenting. All decisions will likely be undemocratic and poorly reasoned but fire away by all means.

Comments, humor, and questions are welcome.
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Monday, October 24, 2011

Turkey Red on Rye

The top two pictures were taken on Mt Desert Island, ME, home of Acadia National Park. Cadillac Mountain, which is located inside the park, is the first spot in the US to greet each new dawn's light. Mrs PG and I have been there twice and both visits have been fun. During our stay, we were dining dockside in Bar Harbor and listening to the conversations going on around us. First, one, then two, and finally three tables all announced that they were visiting from Ohio and then started talking about where they lived in the Buckeye State.

The loaf didn't start out as a miche or a variation on my psomi recipe. I shaped the loaf as a boule and proofed it with the seam side down. I thought I was doing well because I had gotten such good surface tension during the shaping. The purpose behind proofing seam side down is that when the dough is loadied onto your peel, the seam will be on top. Usually, a boule is slashed to allow for expansion. In this case, the expansion is expected to force out the dough and burst along the seam lines on the top of the boule leaving an irregular and hopefully artistic appearance

My expectations for the appearance weren't met. I can think of two possible reasons; the first being that I had too much surface tension and the second was that the yeast wasn't active enough for the job. The first explanation is more likely. Rather than being disappointed, I'm going to repeat the surface tension method on my next boule and slash accordingly. To eliminate my starter from being suspect in Tuesday's loaf, I'm doing a two stage build to renew the madre. If time permits or I get that wild hair, I could even go to a three stage build if I'm willing to store some of the second stage as a pate fermentee, old dough, in the freezer. I've been guilty of sillier behavior than that before.

The bread itself is just fine. I used just flour, water, salt, and my starter for the loaf so it's not an enriched loaf. It's keeping well enough that I'll run out before the bread dries out.

Comments, humor, and questions are welcome.
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