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.