It’s been a while since I’ve baked bread. I did a lot of it a few years ago (Can it be that long??) when my friend, Barbara, introduced me to no-knead bread. I liked the results but I found that the process wasn’t something I enjoyed. I didn’t really want to keep a big wet plop of dough in my fridge for days. And then there were the unfortunate side effects of putting a big pail of dough on the counter to rise in hot weather.
Recently I bought a dough hook for my Kitchen Aid mixer, and for Xmas, Meester Jim gave me a pair of cookbooks. “Ruhlman’s Twenty” has a chapter on dough, and there was a bread recipe which was the simplest I’d ever seen. So I hauled out my ingredients (Flour, water, salt, yeast.) the kitchen scale ( I am determined to learn to weigh ingredients when baking at the very least.) and the dough hook. My scale technique left a lot to be desired, and the European artisan flour smelled a bit strong (not bad, just strong) but I put that down to it being a different sort of flour. I kneaded the dough for about ten minutes then left it to rise. At the two hour mark, there was no change. It’s cool in the house so I figured it was going to take longer. At the four hour mark, there was a minor change. At the six hour mark, I said “Screw it!’ punched it down and left it to a second rise. In the end it had increased by about half, so I shoved it into the oven.
I made my next mistake when I took the lid off the French oven and didn’t lower the temperature. It got very dark very fast. The net result of all my mistakes was a rather tasty, very dense loaf with a killer crust, proving that bread is fairly forgiving. However, as the flavor developed over the course of the night, I discovered that the flour was probably just on the verge of going bad, and I began to taste it more and more strongly. It’s not bad, it just isn’t as good as it ought to be. I’ve retired the rest of the loaf and will probably use it in bread pudding where any shortcomings will be pretty well hidden. I have since learned that stale flour can hinder the rise of bread.
Nothing daunted — isn’t that a fine phrase? Nothing daunted I began again this morning because it is such an easy recipe and I actually have a tiny bit of energy this week. This time I got the hang of weighing the ingredients, I used fresh flour (a 50-50 mix of unbleached all purpose and a high fiber flour, both from King Arthur Flour. I proofed the yeast yesterday and it was fine, and I was sure to get enough of it into the dough this time. (Bad scale technique yesterday.) The dough actually mixed up more smoothly than it had yesterday, which was gratifying, and I kneaded it for a bit longer just to ensure that it was well developed.
Now before I tell you what it was I did today, let me explain that I have the attention span of a gnat. I know I should have kept at the basic recipe until I got it right, but I decided to change it up. I know what you’re going to say; don’t bother.
Back in 1974 I visited Scandinavia with my best budgie, Pam. We spent a month traveling around Denmark, Norway and Sweden, staying with her family where we could. In Norway we stayed with her great aunt and uncle, Gunvor and Ernst. Gunvor was an excellent cook and several times during our stay she made something called “helkornbrød” or whole grain bread. Kids, they aren’t kidding when they say it’s whole grain. It’s essentially white bread with whole wheatberries floating in it. I didn’t manage to get the recipe but I figured I have a pint jar of wheatberries, and I know they were just soaked overnight before being added to the dough, so that’s what I did today.
I have no idea what’s going to happen.
- My Breakfast Cookies (tracyrowan.org)