Archive for April, 2011

posted by Amy on Apr 13

I have a new favorite sandwich bread. The path led through The Tassajara Bread Book by way of a friend who told me that adding rye flour increases complexity. He also bought me a copy of The Breadmaker’s Apprentice, which is stunningly beautiful and gives very thorough explanations of the science behind breadmaking. Finally, he told me it’s not necessary to knead breads that have a long, slow fermentation.

Ed Brown, the genius behind The Tassajara Bread Book, says he has come to prefer very simple, elemental whole wheat bread–just flour, water, yeast and salt. So one day when I was making sourdough bread I decided to skip the added milk, shortening and sweetener, but to add rye flour. This is now my staple bread. I think it’s a perfect everyday bread.

Here’s how I do it: I make a “sponge” of 4 c. warm water, a little over a cup of rye flour, and about 3 cups of whole wheat flour,  plus the starter that I keep in my fridge. (I only save about a half cup of starter (also known as “barm” or “madre”) each time. I keep it in a glass jar with a plastic lid. If it separates as it sits I pour off the liquid on top.) I beat that up pretty well in a big crock, and leave it out at room temperature with a damp tea towel on top until it starts to “work,” meaning it gets light and bubbly. It takes about four hours. You can leave it out longer, but it will get more sour. I don’t like a lot of sourness.

As Ed Brown says, at this point “it’s all starter.” Take out a half cup and put it back in the fridge, add about 2 tsp. of sea salt to what’s left in the crock, and add rye flour and whole wheat flour in approximately the same proportions as before until there’s a stiff dough that leaves the sides of the bowl and is hard to stir. Then take it out of the bowl and knead it a little, just so all the flour is incorporated. It’s still fairly moist and a bit sticky. I dust the surface, the dough and my hands with a little more flour, but it’s never going to become “smooth and elastic” like white bread dough, and it doesn’t need to.

Next I clean the crock, grease it, and put the dough back in to rise. When it has more or less doubled (and it’s really hard to tell when that blessed event has occurred, but it takes time–about 3 or 4 hours) I very carefully divide it in half and shape it into loaves by pulling, stretching, and rocking it into shape. The idea is to have surface tension on the top part, but not flatten the dough or disturb the gas too much. I learned from The Breadmaker’s Apprentice that the ends of the dough should touch the ends of the pans. Grease the pans. Use the smaller size (8 inch, I think).

Next I spray a little oil on the tops, cover loosely with plastic wrap and then a towel, and put the pans in the refrigerator overnight. The next day I take them out and let them sit until they start to rise again. (They rise a bit in the fridge too.) Then I bake in a preheated oven at 450 for about 10 minutes, than lower the heat to 350 and bake until done. If there’s time to let the loaves rise at room temperature and then bake, that’s even better. If there isn’t time for the first rising, that works out OK too. Right after kneading, shape two loaves and put them into greased loaf pans, cover them and put them in the refrigerator.

The result is wonderful. It has a bit of chewiness, but it isn’t dense or sticky like 100% rye bread can be. It rises just fine–it’s not poofy like French bread, but it’s not heavy. The rye flour adds a subtle sweetness that wheat flour doesn’t have. I love this bread.

Although the directions might seem a little daunting, they are really quite simple. It’s flour, water, sourdough culture, and salt. It takes only a few minutes to mix the sponge, and only a few minutes to form the dough. Forming the loaves is also very simple and quick. The sourdough starter does most of the work.

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