Picking back up.

So 6 months have passed.  My year of change has slowed down somewhat, into a new routine of workdays and weekends.  Kitchenwise (and in general), I have changed in more ways than I can count - but in all this while and with all the changes, I have never given up on baking bread.

Going back even as far as 3 years, I can see how my personal bakery has changed too.  In regards to sweets, far less of them have come tumbling from the oven - in part because just about everyone I know is also cutting way back on them.  But bread bakery is different; while I have baked consistently since that first baby starter was birthed back in 2010, the past several years found me adding a pinch of commercial yeast to my wild breads.

commercial yeast.

When I started on my bread journey, I thought this was cheating and I never (ever) did it.  But commercial yeast is reliable, and when trying to juggle a new baby and homeschooling, I grasped that trick with both hands and held fast.  So much so that I have found that I was almost nervous to go back to full-wild bread.  What if I've changed so much the bread knew it too?  What if I went back to airless loaves that were no joy at all to eat?  I'm happy to say that since the dawn of the new year, I've gone back to full wild levain breads, and not only are they consistently good, the curve to get back to them wasn't as steep as I'd imagined it would be.

Another push that I needed for my bread change came recently when I was able to buy a grain mill from a friend who needed to downsize.  It's a Magic Mill: as old as I am and working fantastically.  I discovered Anarchy Acres' heirloom wheat, and before committing on a bulk sack of wheat berries, I've been using their Turkey Red which is sold in bulk at my co-op.  I haven't yet worked my way up to loves made fully of fresh milled flour, but I'll get there after I buy some sieves to more effectively achieve the extractions I need.

anarchy acres wild bread

The biggest hurdle of full wild yeast bread for me at this point in my life is time.  The years I was able to spend at home were truly a luxury in so many ways, especially for one who loves to make things from scratch.  I always had more time than money, and in retrospect especially, I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.  If I'd never had those years, I likely wouldn't have stumbled on real bread baking in the first place and that is too depressing to imagine. 

My first wild loaves had 3 day build times!  And while I might have to wait for vacation days to get that going again, at least I can have full wild bread on a working man schedule.  I will outline it for you.  Of course, you bake in your own way and this template might not be as useful to you as it is to me.  (I work from 8:00 AM- 5:00 PM with an hour off from noon to 1:00 that I'm fortunate to be able to go home for.)


Working Man Full Wild Sourdough

1 loaf of bread, easily doubled (based on ratios/methods from Ken Forkish)

STARTER NOTE: Forkish loaves are built on 80% hydration starters, and I keep a 100% one.  The morning of the day I want to start bread, or 7-10 hours ahead of time, I mix up enough 80% for use in the loaf.  In this case, I mix 25g. starter (my 100%, or "liquid levain"), 25g. whole wheat flour, 100g. white flour, and 100g. water and let it sit covered at room temp until I'm ready to continue - usually 5:30 PM.  This amount makes enough for 1 loaf of bread.  If making 2 loaves, double it.

  • 302 g. white flour
  • 138 g. wheat flour (this is the fresh milled Anarchy Acres stuff I'm using here)
  • 342 g. water
  • 2 t. kosher salt
  • 108-160 g. levain starter (from above, I use more when it's chilly in the house)

Around 5:30 PM, mix white and wheat flours with water and autolyse for 30 minutes.  Then, add salt and starter and mix well by hand until well incorporated.  Bulk rise for 12-15 hours give or take, until about triple in size, folding 3-4 times before bedtime.  I'm pretty loose on this timing, it can be every 30 minutes, or just as you remember as you are walking by.  The loaf I made today, I totally forgot about and did 3 folds about 20 minutes apart just before bed last night, a full 5 hours after mixing and it was absolutely fine.

After the bulk rise, you can bench rest for 15-30 minutes or not (also depending on time), shape the loaf and figure about 4 hours on the final rise.  If I do this on a work day, I set my oven to time bake an hour before my lunch break, and be sure to put a cast iron dutch oven in there.  Bake temp is 475, and I bake in a covered pot for 30 minutes and without the lid for 15.  My workplace is less than 5 minutes from home, so this works out fine if I don't worry about being able to hear the bread sing after it bakes. (This bread seems to be consistently "sticky", so I line a brotform with cloth and sprinkle well with 50-50 mixture of rice and ap flours.  I also put the bread into the brotform seam side down - so that after tipping it out into the pot, the seam side is up - and do not slash it.  I let it break in natural form the way Forkish recommends.)

I mean to experiment with proofing the shaped loaf under refrigeration and then baking in the evening, but I haven't tried it yet... mostly because I'm afraid I'll be getting up in the middle of the night with sluggish rising times.  In the past I have happily gotten up many times mid-sleep to check on kitchen projects, but working life - or working "outside the home" life - is different, and sitting behind a desk when tired is infinitely more trying than just being a bit sleepy and carrying on with working around the house and yard...

sourdough grilled cheese.

We have been sick a record number of days this winter, and I blame mild weather and having a boy in day care for the first time.  Last weekend I was down for the count, not baking or cooking or eating or caring about any of it.  This bread for the grilled cheese abovewas from the week before, and I couldn't help but be so thankful for it for lunches after I got my appetite back.  Well over a week old, and it was still stellar toast with a truly lovely, deep flavor. 

This is only part of why I can't give up on bread.  The real stuff has keeping power, and it makes a meal all by itself, or enhances a meal I get the time to make.  Working with dough somehow keeps me grounded, thinking that one tiny part of my old self is still in there and kept alive and thriving.  I try not to think about it too much, it becomes overwhelming - kind of like putting words back on a page after a half a year of silence.  You know the silence wasn't there without reason, but you can't figure on why the words are not just pouring out all over... instead it's like coaxing, pulling them out, unsure of a purpose.

I guess my purpose was more utilitarian in detailing my baking notes for my last four or so loaves of bread.  For those that might still keep an eye on what happens in my tiny corner of the Internet, I'm still here.  I'm getting stronger.  I'm getting more confident with wild yeast again.  I'm still baking.  I'm not giving up.

wild bread

Decades, Sprouted Wheat.

In two weeks, I'll have been married for a decade.  A decade.  That frame of time seems both long and short as I look back over it.  Time in general has started to feel completely relative in nature: in perpetual fast forward as I look at my boys growing bodies day by day, in slow motion as I watch things in the kitchen sprout and grow, in stubborn reverse as I look back over the things that might have been or could have been if events hadn't played out the way they did.  

A decade, almost all of it full of slow food and homemaking as a profession.  I don't know many who do their taxes and put "homemaker" down in the box - every year I think of that.  The term, also in print on my boys' birth certificates, seems antiquated and humbling and yet it is the thing I am most proud of.  I never dreamed I'd even have children let alone have the autonomy to watch them closely every day, hold onto the minutes, the hours, the years and try (at times) to remember to not wish them away.  I never knew how happy tending a home full time would make me, and I worry that if I ever had to be doing something else full time it would kill me.  I watch over my home, the center of which is (of course) this kitchen, and there is nothing else I'd rather be doing.

Another relationship began 5 years ago, the one involving wild yeast.  That relationship parallels the ones with my husband and children in perplexingly similar ways.  Living, breathing, growing, changing, I can't neglect it and I can't ever predict it.  Just when I think things are going horribly, out pops a tremendous and amazing reminder that slow and steady wins the race.  That glorious things can come from strange circumstance.

sprouted wheat, Ball jar.

In the new batch of cookbooks rented, I've been enjoying Peter Reinhart's Bread Revolution.  It focuses on sprouted wheat breads both with conventional yeast and wild yeast and also a host of quick bread and baked good recipes using sprouted grain flours.  When I had first sprouted my own wheat a few years back, I couldn't get over the flavor of it - but I did notice the difference in how it baked.  Reinhart of course is able to explain this better than I ever could, and leave it to him to come up with a whole book full of recipes highlighting how to use it in the very best way.

Sprouted sourdough almost seems redundant.  After all the process of culturing regular flour with the wild yeast innoculant renders the whole loaf already easier to digest, a true whole and fermented food.  Before reading about it, I never thought the result would be that much better but boy was I wrong!  The flavor is incredible; it's wheaty, earthy, and almost sweet.  It makes the best toast I've ever eaten.

sprouted wheat berries
sprouted wheat flour

The dough seems harder to work with, it's stickier (Reinhart advises oiling your hands, but I just used water and folded the dough in the bowl I mixed in rather than putting it on the counter each time) and more "relaxed" in feel than dough made with regular flour.  I didn't pay good attention to the time when I began and had to get up in the night to form my dough into a loaf - and then rather than set more nighttime alarms, I decided to cold proof it in the fridge until morning.  All of my variables and I was sure the bread wouldn't be anything to speak of, but like sourdough always does it surprised me with it's wonderfulness.

009 :: 02.04.15
Click the photo to read the baking notes.

Isn't that always the way?  The bread always changes the rules just when you think you know it all.  And there is always, always something more to learn.  I made this loaf alongside a whiter one, plain sourdough as I'm used to making.  The boys all wanted this one before the other and it really was that unique.  When toasted, it became brittle and almost graham like.  There is just the heel left, and I'm saving it for breakfast tomorrow with more marmalade.  I will eat it slowly and plot my next sprouted baking experience.

sprouted toast.
I still can't decide if I should make another batch of the kumquat & blood orange marmalade...

I seem to save the heels of bread to toast and eat myself, like I save up all the small moments in my day to day family life that one day I'll likely use to comfort and warm myself.  In another decade, my oldest boy will likely be out of the house and the growing baby boy will be almost a teenager.  I will be greyer and telling more tales of bread, hopefully still learning more and more about it. 

Risen in Water.

Over breakfast this morning, I was paging through Maria Speck's Ancient Grains for Modern Meals.  Ordinarily I read cookbooks cover to cover, starting at the beginning and gradually making my way through each recipe, story, and picture in sequence as the author intended.  Maybe time is so short for me lately that I bucked my trend and just headed for the guts and the pictures, making a moment or two to think about my meals for the week between pureed mouthfuls fed to the baby bird.  How I happened to see the recipe for Floating Sesame Loaf is a mystery.  I wasn't perusing the book for bread to be sure, but the name alone conjured such an image that we endured the little baby bird squawking for a few minutes when I read the recipe twice through.

dough rising in water.

Could it be that this bread could work?  It seemed to be an impossibly wet loaf, spending some time rising in cold tap water before maneuvering into the oven.  Still shy of more sourdough since last weeks fail (I did start more loaves today however), we kind of needed some bread today, and I am not one to see a recipe like this without immediately stopping everything to give it a shot.

My first impressions were that this dough was beyond unruly; I tried hard not to add too much additional flour, using a bench scraper to work it into a rough round and transfer it quickly to a pot of cold water.  It stays there for 15-30 minutes, enough time for the dough to rise to the top of the water.  Maria Speck says the dough when plucked from the water and allowed to drain in your hands should feel like cold clay, and it did.  I fought my impulse to let it bench rest for a short time and followed the recipe to the letter: quickly and without much flour forming it into a round and plopping it down on some parchment to rise for another 20 minutes.  In retrospect, I could have easily added a little extra flour to make things easier on myself - but I can't complain with the lightness of the finished bread.

floating bread

I could tell that it wasn't going to be a tall loaf, but I wasn't sure what more I could expect.  I used Lonesome Stone Milling wheat bread flour (12% protein), I'd say it was kind of a "white whole wheat" if I were trying to explain the flour.  That flour has an excellent flavor, and a few tablespoons of toasted sesame, a teaspoon each of sugar and some commercial yeast were all the simple ingredients.  I baked it at 425 as directed, but I baked it in a cast iron pot since that is what I'm comfortable using.  I transferred the loaf parchment and all to the pot and baked it 20 minutes with the lid on and 10 without.

floating bread (2)

I was pretty good about letting it cool to room temperature.  It was soft, and smelled so sweet - despite the minuscule amount of sugar in it - and it was nearly impossible not to want to eat it warm with honey and butter.  The crumb was perfect sandwich style crumb, and really I couldn't believe a straight yeast bread could happen so quickly, without kneading, and with fairly little mess.  I think with a little practice, this technique could prove to be a good experiment with sourdough - but maybe I'll wait until I can carve out a little more devoted time to myself before embarking on that.

I won't forget about this bread, risen in water, relaxed (tricked?) into gluten formation by sheer science with no real help from me.  Tomorrow morning, we've already decided to turn it into french toast which I'm sure will be great with some extra sesame sprinkled on before griddling.

I've decided that I can't print the floating bread recipe here, I wasn't finding too much information about it on the Internet, and Maria's book is so lovely it's worth finding a copy and reading about it in her words.  If you have tried a similar type of bread that spends some time rising in water, please drop me a line and let me know!  I'm really curious why there isn't a whole lot of information online... I'm planning to scour the library for obscure German baking books and doing some more research 1980's style.

with radishes

Fall is for bread baking.

I'm only speaking from a amateur perspective, but it does seem that all the best breads are baked in the fall.  In the past few years that I've been mothering the sourdough culture, autumnal air seems to be my most trusted ally in getting the most impressive results.  I like to think it has to do with less ambient moisture, and maybe a more seasonal reason for firing the oven (even though the heat of summer does nothing to stop me), but it's quite possible it's just luck.  Just in case, I had to detail the loaves that came from my kitchen last week, the ones still under the glass dome on my counter aging gracefully, the ones that still surprise me and make me feel like a bona fide baker.

72% hydration sourdough (2)

I lowered the water content intentionally and increased the whole wheat content in the Ken Forkish method bread I've most favored for about the past 6 months.  I got out my calculator, and figured it at 72% hydration.  An approximate amount since my bread begins with 100% hydration starter that is well fed and converted some 6 hours before into a near 80% hydration starter.  I'm not math savvy enough to figure the degrees of difference.  72% is close enough for me, and dense enough to stand up to some artful slashing, which was my hope.  This bread was pure perfection; I have to say, I was so proud.

The baking notes:

6-8 hours before mixing the dough, build the 80% levain:
  • 25 g. (100% hydration) starter
  • 25 g. whole wheat flour
  • 100 g. ap flour
  • 100 g. water at 90 degrees.  
Mix well, cover and and let ferment.
Then to build bulk dough:
  • 100 g. whole wheat flour
  • 300 g. ap flour
  • 280 g. water (90-95 degrees)
Autolyse for 30 minutes.  Then add:
  • 2 t. kosher salt
  • 1/4 t. instant yeast
  • 210 g. of the levain (almost all of the levain from above)
Bulk ferment time is 5 hours - with folds every 30 minutes for the first 2 hours (4 folds total).  Form loaf, retard in the fridge overnight, 8-12 hours.  Bake at 475 in preheated, covered cast iron dutch oven for 30 minutes, remove the lid, and bake until deep brown, another 10-15 minutes.

72% hydration sourdough

This success was early on last week, before my Mom visited.  I like to plan on baking just before she leaves so she can take a fresh loaf home with her.  I was slightly frazzled when it came time to do my mixing, and I had a complete accident that worked out unbelievably to my advantage.  I had pre-measured my flours before she arrived, thinking I'd save myself a few minutes when it came time to build the bread.  But... when I went to add my carefully measured amount, I mistakenly grabbed the container of whole wheat flour next to the measured flours, and emptied the whole of it into my mixing bowl.  As I mixed in the water it felt stiff and different, and it took me a few minutes to realize what I did.  My Mom thought I should just go ahead and try building with it since I'd be wasting ingredients anyway if I didn't try... and it turned out to be one of the best mistakes ever.  Two loaves of nearly 100% whole wheat sourdough that didn't feel leaden or too dense, just wonderfully wheaty tasting.

close to 100% whole wheat sourdough

I had already mixed up the 80% levain I mentioned above, and I added it to the autolysed dough of a mystery amount of whole wheat flour and base water amount of 280g.  I knew it would need more water, and added it by feel after the autolyse, working it by hand perhaps a bit more than with properly ratio-ed doughs.  I let it bulk rise for about 5 1/2 hours, folding every 30 minutes for the first 2 hours like I do with regular breads. I could tell it was rising, and held hope the whole while that I would be as lucky when the dough met the heat.

Whole wheat breads never spring back and have the loft of their whiter counterparts, but these rose nicely.  Whole wheat breads age better too in my opinion - their flavors develop and take on more nuance as the days grow on them, and I wish all the more I would have some idea how much flour was actually in the bin I dumped into the bowl to begin with.

close to 100 % whole wheat sourdough

This unintentional success reminds me of my breadmaking goals in the first place: to be able to readily adapt myself to environmental factors, and to somehow cultivate the intuition needed to make consistently good bread.  While it could be a one-off, it certainly gives me bakery confidence, the self-assurance I sometimes need as a home baker.  And just maybe, I've got more intuition that I think I do - unless the fall has something to do with it.

Bread in Every Meal.

You would think I'm not eating much, what with the infrequency of my writing life lately.  I can assure you that is not the case.  In fact, I've come to blissful (re)discovery that indeed almost every meal can be improved with bread.  Relatedly, I'm increasingly grateful that my old bread appetites are fully back and ever since that brief, pregnancy induced repulsion, I have renewed appreciation for the staff of life.

(Little Goat Bread's apple and pistachio loaf on the left, my Forkish-style sourdough on the right.)

It may have actually started a few weeks back when Deena and I were chatting online and she mentioned that her Basque country friends revere bread so much that they incorporate it into nearly every eating experience.  Intrigued, for days I imagined my stale bread crumbled into some strong coffee laced with milk as she described...  I didn't go so far (yet) as to actually drinking my bread, but increasingly I have been using every last crumb of my loaves.

Not that I ever wasted old bread.  I usually dried the last several slices and ground them up into breadcrumbs, which somehow always seem to come in handy.  But more recently, I make my eating schedule up around these gorgeous loaves that seem to have graced me with their abundant presence.  Like I am not any sort of real baker, like they arrive mysteriously overnight and fill my little kitchen with shear wealth of kitchen alchemy, they are too good to have come from my hands:  reminders that good bread is as much a product of the elements as intuitive know-how.

sourdoughs, cubed.

I'm also reminded of the electronic age in which I live.  I hate it.  But then, with so much food inspiration running into me on a daily basis, it's hard to deny myself the pleasures of the Internet.  This morning, Autumn Makes and Does posted about a Kale Panzanella she made, and just after clearing the breakfast dishes, I was toasting up the last of the old bread in really (really) good olive oil to start my lunch.  Cooking lunch for myself is such a pleasure, I need almost to be coaxed not to eat at home.  Of course, when lunchtime came around, I was more than pleased with my altered version of her recipe:  garlicky, massaged raw kale, tossed with those Outpost chile olives that I am obsessed with for years, a handful of raisins, more olive oil, lemon juice, and some of the chile olive brine for good measure.  It was so good, I'm looking forward to having the same thing for lunch tomorrow.

kale sourdough panzanella

Since I'm a pregnant lady, I added a poached egg and some avocado.  I need the protein, and I wanted to try out the Serious Eats method of egg poaching that David Leibovitz posted on Facebook last week...  I learned that the strainer method does make for a pretty perfect looking poached egg, but also that my superfresh farm eggs have virtually no runny white to fall through the strainer - so if I'm not too picky about the pursuit of perfection, I can skip that part.

kale sourdough panzanella
"Autumn" inspired lunch

As for the Ken Forkish bread that I am still thrilled with:  click on the photo below for my baker notes.  I love that this bread proofs entirely in the fridge with hardly a second thought from me.  I'm patiently rereading the formulas, and am convinced that I have to try some of his other loaves - if only this first one I tried wasn't already so perfect.  4 weeks in now, and I've yet to produce a faulty loaf.


So other inspirational lunches from breads lately?  A savory feta and spinach bread "pudding" that was based on Heidi Swanson's Food and Wine post.

savory bread pudding

A stellar homemade hummus (courtesy of Alton Brown) that employed effortlessly creamy garbanzos cooked in a slow cooker (with more of those Outpost chile olives).

"Forkish" tartine

There were probably more instances, definitely there were.  But saving you from a post of 30 photos taken on an iPhone and the manic ravings of a bread obsessed supergeek shows my genuine concern for keeping up my small readership.  Today anyway, I am the Queen of Restraint.

Perhaps I'll close with a thought from Ken Forkish (in his book, Flour Water Salt Yeast) that I can't seem to get out of my mind.  Giant loaves of bread were baked in Europe years ago because families didn't have access to home ovens.  The community oven was fired once or twice a week and bakers would bring their risen loaves to bake.  The bread had to last until the next time an oven was fired - rationed appropriately and the weekly meal planning surrounded it.  Of the 3-kilo (6+ pounds) loaves his bakery produces, he feels those giants taste best around the 3-day mark, having a sufficient time to age and accustom to their environment.

He also goes on to say that his patrons don't eat that much bread, so they need to sell those monster breads in half or quarter loaves.  How sad, I've been thinking for the past week, that we have become so afraid of the carbohydrate (even though properly prepared sourdough breads pose none of the threats of common supermarket loaves, "wholegrain" or not) that this old-country tradition of bread with every meal is all but erased from our collective knowledge.

My bread isn't 6 pounds, but it is around 2 pounds, and I can get by baking just one a week being creative to use every morsel of it to the best of my ability.  This translates to strings of beautiful lunches, sometimes baking day breakfasts of week old French toast which we devour with true appreciation.  Never yet have I had a loaf of my bread mold.  This is the stuff that sustains, the realness of life and the centerpiece of my kitchen.  This is the staff that I can make into every meal.