Friday, November 28, 2008

Rye: Part Two

So, last time I tried to make rye bread, it was ok, but I still wanted something a little darker and more "old country".

I found a recipe online called "scandanavian rye" at, which looked like what I wanted.

I had refreshed my starter earlier in the day, so I used my 75% hydration starter in place of the commercial yeast the recipe calls for.

My modifications include adding coffee and cocoa powder, substituting the dark corn syrup with molasses, and using 6-grain mix instead of just oatmeal. I also left out the recipe's sunflower seeds and fennel, since I don't really like those very much.


makes 2 Loaves

First Day
1/4 cup sourdough starter
1 tbsp salt
¾ cup yogurt
2 cups water
¾ cups grain flakes
4 cups rye flour

Next day
1 tbsp whole cumin
2 cups flour (the recipe did not specify what type of flour so I used all-purpose)
1/3 cup molasses
100 g butter, melted & cooled
a few tablespoons coffee
a few tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

Stir yeast, salt, yogurt and water together. Add the oats and lastly the rye flour. Stir until everything is well combined. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to sit for 24 hours. The dough should be very watery.

Next day, grind up the cumin and mix the spices with the flour. Add molasses, cocoa, coffee, and melted butter into the bowl from yesterday.

Stir well, then lastly add the flour mixture. With a wooden spoon, work the dough together well and make sure there are no flour pockets. The dough will still be really watery.

Pour/scoup the sticky dough into two oiled loaf pans. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and allow to rise for 1.5 – 2 hours.

Bake the loaves in a 350 degree oven for about 45- 55 minutes. My loaves puffed up a little and then sank back down after I took them out. I had to wait until the loaves were completely cool before taking them out of the bread pans.

Preferably let the bread sit for a day or two (in a plastic bag) before cutting into. They need a chance to dry out a little.

The taste was... well it took me a little while to get used to it. It was very dense, just as I wanted it. Rye flour doesn't have the natural sweetness of wheat flour. The sourness was only enhanced by the yogurt, cumin and cocoa. I love the darkness of the loaf too!

Because it made two loaves, I used half of one to make into a bread pudding with mushrooms, and I'll probably freeze the second one. In all, I'd say it was pretty successful! Mr. Bread Maiden liked it (and the bread pudding).

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Making a Sourdough Starter

So on request, I decided to post about making and caring for a sourdough starter. I love having a starter because it makes bread flavor very complex. You can easily prove this by making two doughs using a simple bread recipe like NYT's no-knead bread. One dough is the "control" with commercial yeast, and in the other you use sourdough starter instead. Once you get used to the flavor of the sourdough, breads made with commercial yeast taste bland. Good, but bland.

How to start a starter

Here's the problem. I cheated when I started mine. After trying and failing using Peter Reinhart's method (flour, water, and pineapple juice), I took some of Mr. Bread Maiden's yeast after he made beer and have been feeding it flour and water ever since. If you really want to know how to make a starter really from scratch, this is a great tutorial: Make sure you follow the author's instructions about getting freshly-milled flour (or do it yourself from wheat berries) when you first start. You need the natural yeasties in the flour so you can't use plain store-bought bread or all-purpose flour with all the good stuff removed.

This is what Mr. Bread Maiden buys at the store when he wants to make beer.

He makes a mash using hops and then adds the liquid yeast to it and lets it eat away at the sugars for a few weeks.

Then he bottles it and throws away the yeast. One time I asked him for a few cups and he was happy to oblige. The reason you can do this is because beer yeast and bread yeast are the same strain: S. Cerevisiae. Here is what it looks like:

You want to use a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Open it to feed the starter but otherwise keep it closed. You can have a bigger jar but I wouldn't go any smaller than the one I have. The problem with a small jar of starter is that you have to build it back up each time you use it because your starter is only about two cups.

I started by feeding it equal weights of water and all-purpose flour. At first it is really bubbly but then activity dies down for a few days because you have to build up a culture and wait for non-yeast bacteria to die off. Just keep feeding it and it will either revive from the feedings or will take on some of the wild yeast floating around your kitchen and start a culture from that. This is why everyone's starter is unique- it develops from the natural yeast in its environment.

Once I had my 100% hydration starter going, I divided it into two glass jars. One I continued feeding equal weights of flour and water, and the other I fed at 75% hydration. The only reason is that Peter Reinhart likes to use bigas, which are firm pre-ferments, and French breads tend to call for poolishes, which are more watery. I probably use the 75% hydration starter more often.

The more I refresh my starter, the lighter in color it gets. Remember at first it was brown?

Managing Your Starter
Once you get your starter going and it gets bubbly, you can start using it right away. I usually keep my starters in the fridge and then take them out and feed them the night before or in the morning if I want to bake in the afternoon so they can get up to room temperature and the yeast can start working. I feed mine every time I bake so it's usually once a week. If you go longer than that without baking, sometimes your starter will develop a dark, alcoholic-smelling liquid on top. Don't worry about it; when you want to use it just pour the liquid off. The starter should be just fine underneath.

Using your starter

In a given bread, you will want to add more starter than commercial yeast. Don't worry about adding a cup or more into a dough: the amount of starter does not make the bread taste more sour. The way to get a more sour taste is to let it sit and ferment for a long time.

My favorite bread in the whole world calls for weights equivalent to 1 part starter, 2 parts water, and 3 parts flour (also some salt, which I always forget until the last minute). I can choose how sour I want it by letting it ferment for longer or shorter.

Hope this helps! The easiest way though is probably to make friends with someone who uses a starter and ask them for a little bit. You only need about a tablespoon to build up a good starter.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

More on yeast

I know I've been promising volkornbrot but I keep getting sidetracked by other projects. I have been giving out pieces of my starter to friends who have learned about my baking hobby and are interested in trying it out. I am more than happy to oblige! I feel like bread is one of those hobbies where you can always learn more about the processes and ingredients that go into it. The simplest breads of flour, water, salt, and yeast display feats of chemistry in the way the ingredients interact with each other and to heat.

A few posts ago I learned the differences between rye flour and wheat flour. It makes sense that flours milled from two different plants exhibit different behaviors. But I've been amazed at the differences between bread flour, all-purpose flour, and whole wheat flour.

Yesterday I started Reinhart's Transitional Sandwich bread, found on page 99 of Reinhart's Whole Grain Bread. I started out not really liking his style and technique all that much; I didn't understand the point of the soaker and biga process he uses. But as I've come to understand the needs of my ingredients, I see the role they play in the overall taste of the bread.

The Biga

The biga is yeast, salt, flour, and water mixed together and set to rise overnight. It only has a little bit of yeast and its main purpose is to develop flavor for the final dough, and wake up the yeast a little bit so it starts working. The transitional bread uses bread flour in the biga.

The Soaker

The soaker is used to soften the whole wheat and things like oats or wheat berries you might want to add. This is something I never knew before: flour does not like water! Especially whole wheat. So in order to make bread, you have to force it to absorb the water over time, and that is the purpose of the soaker. There is no yeast in the soaker because we are just focusing on water absorption. The soaker is whole wheat flour, salt, and in this case, milk. Flour likes milk even less than it likes water, because of all the milk solids in it. So you need to add more milk than you would water.

The Final Dough

The next morning, combine the soaker and biga with a little more flour, yeast, honey, and oil.

Let rise for an hour, then bake for 30 minutes with the dutch oven lid on, then 20 with it off.

Hmm. I seem to have not done a very good job at mixing the two doughs together.

Oh well. It's still really good. Not much honey flavor though. Next time I might forgo most of the oil and increase the honey instead. Or instead of honey, use brown sugar.

Yeast and Soda

My baking days are usually on the weekends because I have class Monday through Wednesday. I get kind of antsy on Wednesdays because I haven't baked in a while and sometimes I catch myself daydreaming about kneading bread or thinking about what bread I will be making the next day. So last night when I was cleaning the kitchen I realized there was a bottle of Budweiser that we hadn't touched in over a year, just taking up space. I had been organizing my recipes and found Slow Learner's beer bread recipe, so I decided to try it.

The beer bread relies on baking powder to cause it to spring up in the oven. I've made soda breads before, and it's the same concept with the baking powder in this recipe. So I threw the flour, salt, baking powder, and beer together in a bowl and mixed it together, then put it in a bread pan to go in the oven.

What came out was not what I had expected!

The loaf was super-soft and flaky, like cornbread. The flavor initially was nothing like beer, but had a very creamy taste. Today I had another piece and you could taste a VERY subtle beer taste. If you didn't know it had beer in it, I'm not sure you would guess it was in there. After other mishaps trying to use beer and beermaking byproducts in bread, I was expecting something much stronger.

So that was fun. I do like how quick and versatile soda breads are. While I don't think there should be a difference between cooking wine and drinking wine, maybe there can be a distinction with beer? Will have to think some more on that.

Anyway, so the recipe:

Slow Learner's Beer Bread
3 cups bread or all-purpose flour
12oz beer
3 tbl sugar
1 tbl baking powder
1.5 tsp salt

Bake in greased bread pan at 375 for one hour.

It's a great recipe to throw together because it's mostly staples. You don't even need yeast! Go try it! Now!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Experimenting with Flours

I've decided I do not like making rye bread. It's just too emotionally-fraught for me. I can't deal with this drama. I like my bread to tell me what it's feeling. Rye bottles it all up inside until it explodes in one last burst of emotion. Sorry, I just had to get that off my chest. Shall we continue?

Here's the back story: last night "significant other" (we are trying to think up a good name for Mr. Bread Maiden) suggested pumpernickel bread as something to try. I learned that there is no way to get that great, super-dark coloring without artificial colors. boo. How is that authentic? Yet, I decided to continue the quest.

I couldn't find a good rye/pumpernickel recipe online, so I gathered that it used about a 60% hydration. I had heard that making 100% rye bread was difficult, so I did 50% rye flour and 50% bread flour. Instead of finding "caramel color," we brewed some strong coffee and I replaced some of the water with that.

For those of you who have never tried to make a mostly rye loaf, here is what you can expect:

That's what the dough looks like. Even when I added a bunch of my bubbly starter. Even with all the high-protein bread flour. It just sat like that. All night long.

I wasn't sure about the baking temperature, or why it wasn't rising, or if it would be able to stand up in the oven, so I put it in a bread pan.

Here is what came out:

It was about the size and shape of a brick, although I was pleasantly surprised that it did spring up in the oven. Not that much, though, which is why you can still see the indentations of my fingers in the top of the loaf:

I was ready to throw it out and start over, but I cut into it so I could see the crumb.

Actually, that doesn't look that bad. These breads are not supposed to be light and airy, they are supposed to be dense.

I took a bite. It was pretty good! Mr. Bread Maiden liked it too, and less hesitantly than me. He ate two pieces with the soup we made.

So it all worked out, I guess. I still would rather work with my trusty wheat flours, who tell me everything is going ok by rising and springing. They help me get through the long hours of waiting that try my patience in breadmaking.

Here is my recipe:
375g flour (divided into 187g rye and 189g bread flour)
225g water and coffee (60% of the flour weight)
100g starter
6g salt

1. Combine ingredients but do NOT knead. Cover with plastic wrap and a towel and let sit overnight.
2. Gently shape into a roll and place in a buttered bread pan.
3. Preheat oven to 470 degrees F.
4. Let bake 40 or so minutes.

Oh, and because the rye bread was driving me nuts, I went and made two other loaves to reassure myself that I actually do know how to make bread, it's just this passive-aggressive rye that has me tearing my hair out.

1-2-3 Sourdough

Reinhart's Many-Seed Bread (although Mr. Bread Maiden likes it with more grains than seeds, so this is a variation)

Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Where to go from here

While not documented on this blog, last year was a quest not only to learn how to bake, but to find a decent recipe for a loaf we liked enough to eat (almost) every day. It had to be easy enough to whip up, but not taste like supermarket sandwich bread. With the sourdough 1-2-3 I wrote about in the last post, I knew we had reached our goal.

But what to do now? I had learned a great deal about different techniques and ingredients and was stuck on how to proceed. So I decided to do something completely crazy- find a bread type I knew nothing about, and was so completely different from the breads I had been making before. I would make a bread that was dense, not airy; mostly wheat not white; and full of delicious seeds and nuts. In a word, a brot.

What is a brot? Specifically, it's the German word for bread, but for me it also means the dense, hearty breads from Germany like volkornbrot, dreikornbrot, schwarzbrot. I found a few recipes from Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Bread, so last night I brought out the ingredients and put together the pre-ferments. This recipe is for Reinhart's "German Many-Seeded Bread," found on page 210. Let's get started!

This bread is a transitional whole wheat, which means it's not 100% whole wheat. My starter breads currently will never be 100% whole wheat just because my starter is refreshed with all-purpose flour, but maybe I will make a whole wheat starter one of these days. Anyway, this is what Reinhart calls our "biga," a yeasted preferment with flour, water, starter and some salt. It rises overnight.

This is what Reinhart calls the "soaker." It has no yeast in it, but basically any seeds and grains that need to be softened overnight go in here. It is 100% whole wheat. I added wheat berries and flax seeds. More seeds will go in later.

My bag of wheat berries I got at the Farmer's Market! They aren't so good milled and used as flour but maybe they will be tasty used whole.

So I let both of these sit overnight covered in plastic wrap and a towel, and then combined them with honey, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, a little extra flour, and some commercial yeast. This was tough work as the high-gluten bread flour dough did not want to mix with the wheat dough. I can understand why Reinhart suggests you cut each pre-ferment into small pieces and then mix together. But I am too lazy for that.

Then I let it sit for an hour and rise a little bit. I preheated the oven to 425 and slid my dutch oven in to warm up. Then I moved the dough onto a piece of parchment paper and covered it with plastic wrap and a towel for its final rise.

When the oven is ready, remove the towel and plastic wrap from the dough and score with a sharp knife or razor blade. Using the parchment paper as a sling, carefully open the dutch oven and place the bread into it, replacing the lid after. When the bread has baked for thirty minutes, take the lid off and bake for another twenty minutes. When the bread sounds hollow, remove it to a cooling rack. The parchment paper will come right off when the bread is cool.

Why I like making bread from Peter Reinhart's book: sometimes mine looks better than his. Take a look.



A note to cookbook writers: it can give a new baker enormous confidence when your book is not full of impossible-to-obtain bread glamour shots.

But how does it taste? Hearty, nutty, crunchy in parts, but overall incredibly soft and delicious.

So, success! Next time, we take on Reinhart's volkornbrot!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

my absolute favorite bread

My favorite bread in the whole world is a very simple sourdough white/wheat mix. It's just starter, flour, water, and salt. It's based on Sullivan St.'s no-knead bread recipe, made famous by Mark Bittman of the New York Times. After making it a few times, I've tweaked the recipe to use less water. I also added starter instead of commercial instant yeast. The resulting loaf has a very complex, tangy flavor that makes things interesting.

I added some flax seeds in it this time. What's nice about the recipe is that it is so simple you can really throw in anything you want. Oatmeal, honey, beer, sunflower seeds, you name it.

The bread:
125g starter
250g water
375g flour (any combination, although I would probably use no more than 25% wheat.)
6-7g salt

mix together, then cover with plastic wrap and a dish towel. Let rise overnight. After rising, punch down and shape. Put your dutch oven or pizza stone or ceramic tiles into the oven and preheat oven to 500 degrees. Put bread in the oven and turn the heat down to 470. Bake for thirty minutes, then take the dutch oven lid off. Bake 15-20 minutes more until golden brown and crusty looking. Let cool completely before slicing.

Welcome to my new blog, Bread Maiden. I will be moving my ramblings about bread and breadmaking here. I have spent the last year and a half teaching myself how to make bread, with the help of the people on The Fresh Loaf and Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Bread book. I have been using a sourdough starter for the past few months and been really pleased with the results. As I am also a full-time grad student I don't know how often I'll be updating. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the site!