Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Lovely Loaf of Bread...Finally

Bread was fast becoming the bane of my baking existence…you’d think something that humans have been making for oh say 30,000 years or so would be no big deal. Now it’s not like I can’t bake things in general. I get it about measuring carefully and having fresh ingredients, I can bake a great cake, pie or even yeast rolls and pizza dough, but a nice loaf of bread…
It all started when I decided I wanted to make whole wheat sour dough bread. Just a plain old loaf, you know, for sandwiches and toast…I ordered starter, fed it as directed and it happily bubbled away like it had good sense. Then to the recipe, the first one I tried was from Nancy Silverton's Breads from the La Brea Bakery. Okay, a little lofty I admit, going for the totally artisanal loaf right out of the gates, but like I said, I can bake, how hard can it be?
So, after an ENTIRE Saturday working on this loaf (I’m not exaggerating, I have witnesses) I produced something that at best would be described as ‘edible’.The next recipe I selected was considerably less labor intensive but produced bread so dry that one bite sucked all the saliva out of your mouth and made it just this side of impossible to swallow…that one went right into the trash. The third attempt as least produced something of use…a door stop, a loaf so heavy and hard that my husband actually used it as a door stop until it started to mold. Then followed half a dozen more loaves of less than savory character. Now this is where most reasonable people just say, okay maybe bread baking’s not for me, Ms. Silverton makes a nice loaf, why not go down to the corner store and pick one up? Unfortunately, this is also where I dig in my heels, and proclaim that a bunch of stupid flour and starter are not going to get the best of me!

 I did (again - this is starting to look like a pattern) ridiculous amounts of research via the internet, gleaned all manner of tip and procedure and then went to a place where I knew they would know what to do…’The Joy of Cooking’ I have a very old copy that was my mother’s, back from when they baked bread because, well, everybody baked bread. I knew Mrs. Rombauer would know what to do. Hers was for white bread so I had to make adjustments, but I had also learned that wheat flour sucks up a lot of moisture so I decided to blend the flours. Also, lower gluten content could have affected it’s ability to rise. So I tweaked the recipe based on my new found knowledge, added some sunflower seeds and millet - to give it an artisanal bent, made sure it was kneaded long enough for the gluten to get sticky and voila, a lovely loaf of moist, tasty bread fit for a sandwich!

So here is my recipe, that even the bread baking impaired can make with confidence!
You will need to procure some sourdough starter, whether online or from a friend before you can take on this recipe…
Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread
This is a two day process, although there is very little hands on time, it is not something to be made in the morning and served for dinner…just so you know…

1 ½ C lukewarm water
1 C sourdough starter
3 C whole wheat flour
1 C all purpose flour
2 tsp honey
2 tsp salt
Mix together, making sure all ingredients are well combined. Let stand uncovered, in a warm place, to ferment overnight.

Next morning, stir dough to mix in any ‘crust’ that has formed, then add
1 C high gluten flour
2 TBS softened butter
2 eggs
1C all purpose flour
In your standing mixer, with dough hook, mix at fairly low speed for 15 minutes. At 15 minutes do the ‘gluten test’ on your dough… take a small piece of the dough, flatten it out , hold it with both hands between your thumb and forefinger and gently pull it apart, if the dough can get almost transparent before it breaks apart it is ready, if not mix for an additional 5 minutes and test again. Make sure the dough has reached this point before you proceed.
At this point add ½ C millet and ½ C raw sunflower seeds if desired and mix well.
Split the dough into two pieces and shape into loaves. Put into 8 ½” loaf pans, brush lightly with melted butter and let rise, covered until almost doubled in size. Bake in a preheated 400D oven for 45 minutes.
Your house will smell heavenly…now it’s time to enjoy!