Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Artisan Baking

What I've attempted today is by no means artsy. However, I did learn a couple things, and I'd like to make a note of them before I forget! 1) I now know what yeast is really supposed to smell like. It smells like my natural starter! Mine is slightly more sour, but other then that, it's pretty damn close! 2) when making bread by hand, from scratch, leave one hand clean. I use this clean hand to hold a paring knife, which I use to scrape the clingy dough from my kneading hand. Sounds silly until you try any other way. 3) My favorite way to rise the bread is to slightly heat my oven, then turn it off and pop the dough in. Warm, draft free environment to the rescue! --- Now then, the bread. My basic set up was really, really easy. I've used about 1 kg of whole wheat flour, poured it onto my table and made a well in the center. Into this well, I added: 24g Active dry yeast 30g sugar 20g sea salt 1 pint tepid (blood temperature) water I used a fork to mix all the ingredients in the center, and to gradually, carefully start using the flour from the side of the wells. Be careful at this step! It's way too easy to accidentally use too much flour from one side, and then your well will collapse! I've heard a couple horror stories about yeasty water pouring all over the place, so please be careful. It's really easy once you get into a rhythm. I used my fork to keep stirring and incorporating until the mixture started to get slightly thicker, and then I switched to using one hand to stir. Remember, one hand! If you use both, both your hands get all sticky and goopy, and it's really hard to clean. Try turning on your kitchen taps with two sticky hands, and see how far that gets you! I kept a paring knife in my clean hand, and used it to shave off the dough whenever my hand got too big. Much easier! Once the dough is looking like a recognizable bread dough, you can dig in with both hands and just really go at it. Beat that dough like it's your ex, your lame boss, hell, even your boyfriend if he's refusing to help with chores! This is an amazing stress reliever. Doing this really gets the gluten forming, and makes for a really nice bread when you're done! Once you've got all your flour incorporated, go switch on your oven at 200 F. Shape your dough into a circular shape on the baking try and score it deeply with a paring knife. This really helps your dough rise much better. With that done, go switch off your oven and leave the door open for a sec. Grab your baking tray, and pop it in the slightly warmed oven until it doubles in size. I spend this time cleaning off my table, my utensils, basically anything that got dough on it. I find my table cleans best by soaking the area with some cold water, and using a wooden spatula to scrape off the wet dough. Cleans up pretty fast! Anything else you can soak in the sink, wet dough is much easier for me to clean then when it's dried and caked on. This picture here is the dough before the rising. Basically your loaf should just GROW. This should take roughly 40 min, although I usually give mine about 45. I've never really had an issue with bread rising, but if you're having a problem, you should probably make sure to proof your yeast to see if it's still alive. It's easy to do, just mix some sugar and yeast in some warm water, and see if it starts to get all bubbly in about 10 min. Also, I can't stress enough that you need to use tepid water to make your dough, cold water from your tap just doesn't encourage the yeast to grow how it should. Watch your temperature! Now, when your dough has doubled in size, take it out of your oven, and switch the oven to 425 F. Basically what you want to do is take that risen bread dough, beat it around for about 5 min, and shape it into whichever type of bread you'd like. Buns, loaves, maybe even one big round loaf! I usually shape mine into two, long, identical loaves. Drape a clean tea towel over these and put them in a warm, draft free environment to rise until they've once again doubled in size. I usually put mine on top of the warming oven. Unfortunately, I forgot to get a picture of my loaves before their second rising. Rest assured though, that whichever form you chose will look roughly like the dough before its first rising. Once the dough is doubled, you need to treat it like a newborn. Don't knock the tray around, and when you're putting it in your preheated oven don't slam the door shut! You want to keep all those lovely air bubbles in your bread, and you don't want them collapsing. Leave your dough in the oven for about 20 minutes for a medium dark loaf with a crispy bottom. I prefer about 15 minutes, but judge for yourself how you'd like your bread. Resist the urge to pop open the oven door every couple of seconds, you'll let all the heat out and that'll affect how nicely your bread is baking. You'll know it's baked all the way through when you knock on the bottom of your loaf and you hear a hollow sound. Put it on a wire rack to let it cool down before digging in, this allows all the beautiful flavors to develop in the bread. If you like your bread hot, heat it up again before slicing. This fresh bread stores beautifully, uncut, at room temperature. The crust acts as a sort of shell, that helps keep the insides nice and moist. The next day, I usually wrap mine up in paper bags, if there's any left at all!

A strange think..

I wonder.. Is a sourdough starter supposed to smell.. well.. sour? I was waiting for a yeasty, beery smell but honestly, it's just sour. Originally it smelled like wet flour, then yeasty.. Now sour. But it does continue to grow. In crazy amounts. Every day. Maybe I should stick it in the fridge already.. Give it one more day.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Violent life hides within flour and water...

Day two in the life of my sourdough starter.. Is supposed to be relatively uneventful. Life isn't supposed to take form for another 2 days at least. However.. I woke up this morning to find my little jar of starter had somehow TRIPLED in volume. My apartment is either clogged with microbes or my No Name flour was loaded full of wild yeasts. I'm slightly scared of the violent life hiding within a peanut butter jar on my counter. Well.. one more day just to be safe. Dumped out half the starter, fed it another half cup of flour and a half cup of water.. And it's time to wait to see what will happen..

Monday, July 27, 2009

Bread: The bastard love child of yeast, flour and water

Homemade bread has always been a constant factor in my life. My earliest memories of homemade bread stem from when I was first trusted with the keys to my family home. My mother would prep the dough in the morning, set a timer on her bread machine, and all us kids would stampede through the door after school for the honor of the bread heel. There's nothing quite as amazing as a fresh slice of bread, smothered in butter that melts on contact. I remember cutting slices as thick as I could manage, and how my two siblings and I would eat the entire 2 lb loaf before my parents got home for dinner. Bread never quite survived in our house. Since then, my mother has retired and now bakes her breads by hand. She still uses the bread machine for all her mixing, but she has spread out into a variety of artisan breads, and often needs to make two or three loaves a day! I don't manage nearly as well as she does. I simply don't have the time, with work and school to worry about. I do however, manage to bake bread for every special meal, and whenever I feel I really need a taste of home. Seeing as my mother is an expensive phone call away, I've had to rely on the internet to teach me the ways of the bread artisan. I've never been a fan of breads that contain shortening, I always hated the stuff when I was baking as a child. I also use whole wheat flour, where my mother uses all purpose. These factors led me to two experiments for the day: sourdough bread basic white bread The sourdough bread will certainly not be made today, as it requires you to create a starter, a living 'pet' of sorts that you need to feed every week to keep alive. Basic accounts tell you to combine one cup of flour with a cup of warm water in a jar, its 'home'. That's it! Mine is setting up house in an old peanut butter jar on the kitchen counter. Apparently, within the next couple of days, I'll start to notice bubbles and a 'beery' smell. Then I'll be able to cook with it. The basic white bread is my standard starting point. I've made quite a few loaves of crusty Italian, but these recipes always seem to contain shortening, something I'd rather do without. I'm using a pretty standard recipe: 1 cup warm water 3 tbsp white sugar 1 1/2 tsp salt 3 tbsp olive oil 3 cups whole wheat flour 2 1/4 tsp bread machine yeast I just chucked everything in order into my bread machine, set it to the dough cycle, and let it run for an hour and a half. When it was done, I pulled it out and beat it around for a little bit, flattened it into a circle and let it rise in a warm place. I usually do this by setting it on top of a pre-heated oven for 45 min, or until it doubles in size. Chuck it in the oven for 20 min at 425 F, and it's all set to eat. The bread pictured above has been rising for about.. 15 min, so it has grown visibly but still needs some time. Next post has finished pictures!


There isn't much to tell for an introductory post really. I've spent the last year trying to reclaim myself from a pretty bad relationship, one that lasted far longer then it really should have. During that relationship I gave up doing almost everything I loved; my knitting, my jewelry, cooking, reading, even playing my violin. About a year ago that relationship ended, and I've spent the time since then throwing myself headfirst into all the things I really love to do. The first three months of that was spent in perpetual hangover, after-movie daze, and daily chores like work and school. Around October/November I discovered a new community in Toronto, and also started a new relationship with a man who'd encouraged my hangovers and debauchery of the past three months. With this new relationship, I also rediscovered my love of cooking and knitting, which I've been indulging in ever since. The past month has really launched me back into my knitting, as well as playing my violin. I'm trying to rediscover everything I'd lost during a bad relationship, and to help my talents grow. Hopefully this blog is going to be an outpouring of that rediscovery. So.. here's to learning something new every opportunity I can!