whole wheat

Whole Wheat Banana Bread.

As much as I love long and slow bread, there is ample room in my heart for quick breads.  Nailing down a favorite would prove difficult: I have spent sleepless nights envisioning almond poppy seed bread or lemon poppy seed bread, I've picked up my walking pace to get home and make Dorie's Oatmeal Breakfast Bread.  A few weeks back I caught a nasty flu bug and lost my appetite for the better part of two weeks.  The experience left me completely over sugar.  It's weird; I still have absolutely no taste for anything sweet (though this berry trifle I made for Easter dinner did hit the spot I admit...).  Five pounds lighter as I head into spring is a good thing I suppose, and with that new-found lightness I went back to my baking schedule slashing sugars even more than before.  I'm wondering if it will stick and I'll turn into one of those people who don't look so forward to dessert...

B.S. (before sickness), I had devoured two baking books: Ovenly by Erin Patinkin and Agatha Kulaga and Huckelberry by Zoe Nathan.  I baked quite a bit from each, admiring both equally for their creative flavors and make ahead ease.  I can't quite get over the Ovenly adaptation of Mollie Katzen's whole wheat banana bread, which I in turn adapted further and have been making weekly.  My boys like it so well I haven't been able to branch out from banana, but I would really like to try it with pineapple puree that's been well drained.  The fruit and maple syrup make it plenty sweet, so I cut out the sugar all together and no one's the wiser.  And of course, extra virgin olive oil is standing in nicely for the recommended flavorless oil.

whole wheat banana bread

Whole Wheat Banana Bread (adapted from Ovenly)
1 loaf
  • 2 bananas, mashed to equal 1 cup
  • 3/4 c. whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 c. ap flour
  • 1/4 c. flaxseed meal
  • 1 T. baking powder
  • 1 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. kosher salt
  • 1/2 c. maple syrup, preferably dark
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 1/3 c. Greek yogurt (regular yogurt or buttermilk also works, sour cream was suggested)
Preheat oven to 350 with rack in the center.  Grease a 10x4 (or 9x5) loaf pan with butter and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flours, flaxseed meal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together and set aside.  In a large bowl, whisk the maple syrup with the eggs, olive oil, and vanilla until well blended. Add the yogurt and mashed banana and whisk until nearly smooth.

Fold the dry ingredients into the wet, taking care not to over mix.  Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 50-55 minutes until a tester comes out clean.  Cool in the pan for 5 minutes before removing the loaf to a wire rack to cool completely.  Try to resist slicing it until it has cooled at least 1 hour.

whole wheat banana bread

I'm pretty sure the best way to eat this is with a good amount of butter, and it's your call if you would like to toast it first.  If you forgot to buy salted butter like I did last time I was shopping, just sprinkle the top with a little flaky salt.  This bread ages very well, the wheat flavor deepening and the flax becoming more nutty tasting the next day.  Stored at room temperature, you can easily keep it for 4 days or so - it would likely fare longer if stored in the refrigerator.  You could easily add nuts, but I like the soft texture without them for a change of pace.
We had one warm week last month, enough of a breath to carry us through the early part of spring that seems perpetually cool and damp.  It's good quick bread weather for a while yet and I don't mind. Once the world heats up, I don't have the craving for fast bakery like I do just now.  Then I like to let the warmer weather work its magic on the wild yeast and daydream of baking outdoors in an earth oven.  Meanwhile we're keeping an eye on the daffodils and magnolia trees, eagerly anticipating the first of the chives which miraculously seem to have grown overnight due to the rain.  Sometimes it's easy to wish away this type of weather, but all too soon summer will arrive and I'll wish for these cool, dreary days!  Better make some more coffee, slice some bread, and enjoy it while I can.

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

Sourdough Surprises May 2014: Sandwich "Buns".

So it's been a few months since I made time for the Sourdough Surprises baking group but it's not because I didn't want to do it.  Time seems to be going even faster now that the weather has turned for the warmer, and just yesterday I realized that it was close to the 20th and that I had just happened to bake my rolls in the morning.  Technically the challenge was for a sandwich bun, and these are bun-shaped so I'm going with it. 

sourdough rolls

I don't usually mess with rolls.  I don't know why, maybe because bread lasts longer and stales slower?  Because it's less monkeying around?  I've been following a few bread boards on Pinterest, and when I saw these, I knew I had to make them.  Made of heftier grains and plenty of water, I suspected they would be a good sandwich roll, and I was right.  I made just a dozen and only one remains 24 hours later.

After baking, with just enough time for them to come to room temperature, they were actually nice and soft - despite me misting them with water to try and encourage a crustier crust.  I used Kosher salt instead of fine salt, and when eaten plain, I would have preferred them a touch saltier.  However, made into a sandwich with some type of salty cheese, they were perfect.

sourdough rolls
Not so creative, but delicious asiago cheese and cucumber sandwich.

They are heartier than most soft buns, but I think when using deeper tasting grains that is acceptable.  I'm still using the local Lonesome Stone Milling flours (except for the spelt, which I ground myself from co-op spelt berries), and the taste is so so good.  By today, they really had developed some great flavors.  In fact, I'm thinking of making them again for tomorrow.

The recipe is incredibly simple:  just mix up the dough and autolyse without the salt for 45-60 minutes, then add the salt and give it a few folds at 30 and 60 minutes.  Just wait until the next day, let it laze about on the counter for awhile and bake them.  I used a baking stone, and shoveled them in using a pizza peel dusted with cornmeal.  They are pretty sticky; use a bench scraper to help you cut them and gently form them into rough pieces.  The dough was so sticky I had trouble using a lame to slash - resulting in domed tops.  By the last pieces, I figured out to use a serrated knife - those rolls baked into a more appropriate shape.  Here is the recipe I used, I didn't alter it at all except to make a half batch.

sourdough rolls

I would like to experiment more with soft buns - and I'm sure the baking group will have lots of inspiration, have a look below!  I hope to be more on track for the summer months with Sourdough Surprises participation!



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.