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Crust and Crumb – Oh the stuff you’ll bake

Our fridge and freezer look like a mad scientist’s laboratory — or perhaps just a mad baker. I’ve got poolish, one type of starter, in the freezer in little tupperware containers in the freezer, and biga, a thicker starter in a plastic bag. There are two jars with what looks like white and grey slime in the fridge both spewing a little carbon dioxide every now and then. Meet barm and rye barm. And there’s frozen pizza dough somewhere stashed in our freezer.

Yes, I am in full baking mode. I’ve got two multi-grain, whole-wheat loaves in the oven right now after nearly a day of making bread. I’m working through Peter Reinhart’s Crust and Crumb — a wonderful book, although not one for those afraid of detailed recipes. Each recipe typically calls for a starter, which must be made hours, days or even weeks ahead. Patience is rewarded, however, in the wonderful, rich flavors in the bread. The lesson here is that life — and bread — is worth slowing down for. Or at least plan things very well.

I love baking because unlike making cakes, where everything must be very precise (my mother always fears when I enter her kitchen and proclaim that I’m going to bake a cake — I’m well-known for my experimentation), baking bread is a flexible art. Once you know how to acheive a certain texture when kneading the dough and you learn when to proof and how much time the bread needs to bake (use a handy-dandy thermometer to guage the temperature inside the dough), you can experiment to your heart’s delight.

Le pain du jour was, as I mentioned before, a multi-grain, whole-wheat loaf. The recipe called for buttermilk; I didn’t have any, so I used yogurt. It also called for a multi-grain mix consisting of oats, polenta/cornmeal and wheat bran. I looked in the pantry: no cornmeal, no wheat bran. Into the bread went cooked wheat berries, cooked oatmeal leftover from breakfast, and cracked, cooked bulgur I had prepared for another recipe. Because these grains are cooked and they’ve already incorporated some water, the percentage of water must be adjusted in the bread in order to get the proper dough.

The breads are gorgeous and the apartment smells divine. If you’re an intrepid baker, Crust and Crumb is definitely for you. Other essential tools I recommend are a good thermometer, a pastry cutter, very good flour (King Arthur is my favorite) and a KitchenAid Stand Mixer. The last ingredient is pricey, but it makes bread making soo much easier.

Happy baking!

Yeasted Multigrain Bread

from Crust and Crumb by Peter Reinhart

1. A day before, prepare the biga by combining 3 1/2 cups (16 oz) unbleached bread flour, 1 teaspoon instant yeast and 1 1/2 cups of cool water in a large bowl. Transfer to a work surface and knead for five minutes or until dough is smooth and tacky. Place dough in a bowl sprayed with cooking spray, cover with plastic wrap and allow the biga to rise at least 1.5 times. Refrigerate overnight.

2. On the bread-baking day, take the biga out of the fridge for at least an hour to take the chill off. Measure 2 cups of the biga and add 1 3/4 cups (8 oz) whole wheat flour, 3/4 cups unbleached bread flour, 1/3 cup cornmeal, 1/3 cup oats, 1/3 cup wheat bran, 2 Tbsp cooked brown rice, 2 Tbsp brown sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 1/2 tsp instant yeast, 1/2 buttermilk, 2 Tbsp honey, 10 Tbsp cool water. You can freeze the leftover biga to use in another recipe.

3. Combine all of the ingredients and knead on a floured counter (or in your KitchenAid!) for about 10-12 minutes or until the dough becomes smooth and tacky. You can tell when the bread is ready by stretching out the dough until a small hole appears in the middle of the stretched portion; if the dough snaps before this windowpane of dough forms, you must continue kneading.

4. Put the dough in a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow it to rise 90 minutes at room temperature.

5. Grease a loaf pan. Shape the dough into a ball by pulling on the ends and putting them together at the bottom until the dough is rounded.

6. Mist the loaf with cooking spray, cover with plastic wrap and let it rise 60-90 minutes.

7. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

8. Place the loaf in the center rack and bake for 20 minutes. Turn the loaf from front to back to ensure even browning and bake for another 20 minutes or so. Use your thermometer to check the temperature in the middle, it should read 185 when done.

9. Remove the bread from the oven and let it cool.

Enjoy! You’ve worked hard for this bread!!

 
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Posted by on December 8, 2008 in Breads

 

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Baking Tales: Meet “Barm,” The Sourdough Starter

I spent the weekend making bread, bread and more bread! I’m working from the cookbook “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice,” which is by far the best book I’ve ever used for making bread. The instructions are crystal clear and all of my breads thus far have turned out beautifully. Plus, Peter Reinhart, the author, includes a variety of techniques for shaping beautiful loaves.

But before I get ahead of myself, I’d like you to meet “barm,” the newest member of my pet family (in addition to barm, we have two cats and a dog). Barm is a culture of wild yeast and bacteria used for making sourdough breads. Every fourth day or so, barm gets a feeding of fresh flour and water and goes crazy, bubbling away in its container. (Check out barm at right!).

Many people assume that what makes sourdough sour is the wild yeast. The sourness actually comes from the lactic acid bacteria that feed on the byproducts of the yeast fermentation. Commercial yeast usually cannot survive in this sour medium, but the wild yeast can, which is why this is such a symbiotic relationship. The yeast fermentation is usually faster than the bacterial one, so it takes time to develop the unique sour flavor we associate with sourdough; I’ve been nurturing barm (others call this the “starter” or “mother sponge”) for weeks now and it has developed a really nice complex taste.

Why does sourdough taste different from place to place? Wild yeast — present in the air and naturally in flour — varies quite a bit from location to location, which is why my sourdough will always taste different than San Francisco sourdough or New York sourdough.

Baking bread, by the way, is much, much easier than most people envision. Although many recipes call for an exact fermentation time, I’ve found that I can create the dough, leave it in a warm place and go work out or read for a few hours before coming back to a beautifully risen dough.

If you want to start your own barm or “mother sponge,” beware that it takes days before you can use it for your sourdough. The recipe is in “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.” It’s pretty low-maintenance, but takes its time to develop the flavors you are looking for. You can also get free starter from a group called “Friends of Carl,” which has saved starter from 1847! Check it out at http://www.carlsfriends.org

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2008 in Breads, Food Reads

 

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