posts tagged with 'bread'

failure mode

Last week we picked lots of crab apples. Then on Monday Harvey and picked them over to get rid of the yucky ones, and then I washed them and pulled the stems out, and after the boys were in bed I put them in a big pot with some water to start cooking them into crab apple jelly. It was exciting, since we didn't have any crab apples last year, and the boys really like the jelly. But I shouldn't have started the cooking late at night, because I didn't give the pot my full attention, the water boiled away, and the apples burned. All ruined. I've had plenty of thoughts about why it happened—things I did wrong, and unexpected characteristics of the apples—but that's not important. What's important was how much it felt like a crushing failure. As tired as I was—if I hadn't been tired I would have done a better job!—I couldn't go to sleep: my mind kept running over this failure, other failures... the notion that everything I ever try and do is a failure. You know, things like that.

But then not all failures are as crushing. My Monday morning baking of sourdough was much too slack to rise properly—instead it just spread out all over the sheet pan. Since I wasn't baking for any particular purpose I just glanced at it from time to time and passively wondered what I'd do with the disaster. Throw it away? Try and reshape the dough into a couple of pizzas? Just bake it anyway? Then the correct answer occurred to me: focaccia. All it took was a little oil and some rosemary, red onion, parmesan, and salt, and I turned a failure into a gourmet treat!

some bread with stuff on it

it looks fancy too

Sadly, the crab apples—the second failure of the evening—weren't so easily twisted into something positive. The best I could do with them was the compost bin. It's not nothing, but it's pretty far from a year of delicious jelly, and enough to give away too. It was seriously a blow, one that I'm still feeling pretty down about. I think I need more sleep.

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adequate bread

I'm maybe starting to figure out this sourdough bread business. At least, I've settled on a process that accomplishes three key goals: it keeps the starter alive, doesn't take too much time or effort, and turns out acceptable bread.

a round loaf of sourdough bread

something like that

For me, one key is not keeping the starter in the refrigerator. When I did that I could never manage the long-term scheduling required to get it out, let it warm up, feed it, and then make the bread—with all the steps that requires. It's a two-day process, minimum, and at my current stage in life that is very much beyond me. So my starter lives on the counter, where I feed it every morning with a quarter cup of water and half a cup of all purpose flour (which we buy in bulk).

When I want to make bread, I start the night before by scooping a cup of starter into a separate container and feeding it (as above) before I go to bed. Then in the morning I put all that starter into the stand mixer bowl together with 3/4 cup of water, a half tablespoon of kosher salt, and about two-and-a-half cups of bread flour. I let it mix all up with the dough hook for 20 minutes or so while I do other things (trying to remember to check to make sure it's not too wet, in which case I want to add more flour). If it's dry I knead the dough for a couple minutes by hand—if it's wet enough the machine does fine—and then I form it into a ball and leave it in a glass bowl, covered with a wet cloth.

There it stays until it's doubled in size or I get back from the day's outing or I get bored of looking at the bowl. I "punch it down" and let it rest for ten minutes, then I shape it amateurishly into a ball or, less frequently, a baguette, and leave it to proof on a heavy aluminum baking sheet greased with butter. Usually it can proof uncovered, in this summer weather at least—but if the day seems particularly dry I'll cover it with a wet cloth for at least the beginning of the proofing.

When it seems to be pretty well risen I preheat the over to 500 degrees, with a beat-up old metal 9x13 pan on the bottom rack. After 15 or 20 minutes of preheating I slash the loaf (as seen above), pour a couple cups of boiling water into the hot pan for steam, and bake for 25 minutes to half an hour. When the bread smells like bread and sounds hollow when I tap on the bottom, it's done.

Clearly, this is not the most precise of methods, and I have no doubt it's far from making the perfect loaf. But I don't care about perfect—when I worry about perfect I get paralyzed and don't make anything. Acceptable is better than nothing! There are two more pertinent problems. First, having the over on for close to an hour isn't really ideal in the summer. At least it tends to be in the evening, when it's cooler outside than in the house anyways—with windows open and fans on we don't notice the oven's heat so much.

Second, not refrigerating the starter means I have to make bread an awful lot; sometimes more often than we can manage to eat it. So I'm trying to give it away. Let me know if you'd like to try a loaf, or take some starter so you can try your hand at it yourself! If I can figure out how to make adequate bread in my spare time, I'm sure you can do even better.

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busy with bread

I'd love to be writing more here lately, but I've been so busy with bread! See, I've got this sourdough starter, and I'm trying to figure out how to make fantastic bread with it; so far I've figured out that in order to preserve the possibility of fantastic bread you have to make more and more starter, all the time. Which means making a lot of bread. I suppose the side effect is to give me lots of practice, not to mention opportunities to play around with various variables—but it all takes time. Today I even brought some dough in to work and baked a loaf in the oven there to share for lunch.

Right now there are four containers taking up space in the kitchen: the regular sourdough starter, a whole wheat offspring, a whole wheat bread on its first rise, and some experimental sourdough pizza dough (though really it's all experimental). Results so far have been pretty good—better than last time (though that's a pretty bread)—but not yet entirely up to specifications. So I keep trying!

Incidentally, feel free to stop by to try some bread.

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we make bread too

Our friend Angel recently sent us a link to a "Waldorf-inspired family resource center" a few towns away. Basically, it's a home-school group just like ours, but these folks are clever enough to ask for money. There's so much I want to know about the enterprise, but the website is not particularly forthcoming with details; the one thing that's totally clear is that they make bread.

Well so do we!

Harvey and Zion shaping their loaves at the kitchen table

intent bakers

Our friends were sick so our weekly farm-school co-op date was just us, but we didn't let that stop us from getting our hands into some dough. I was recently gifted a sourdough started (perfectly timed: I was ready to try again after some years off) and I'm working on figuring out how to make good bread with it. This particular batch was perfect for the boys: sticky enough to be interesting, but still easy to squish and shape. They both chose to make baguettes—or "long bread", as they're known in our household.

As nice as it was, the dough was still too sticky for Lijah, and he stuck to manipulating the raw ingredients.

Lijah in the high chair making a mess with flour

looking pleased with himself

The loaves came out good (though Zion doesn't really like the crustiness of a sourdough bread), but somehow I failed to take a picture of the finished product. We'll just have to do it again next week!

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