Monday, June 27, 2011

bread - it ain't brain surgery or is it?

so finally finally finally i feel that i have grasped the art of a good loaf of homemade bread.  nope, correction correction, a most excellent loaf of homemade bread.

i have been struggling for years to find the perfect balance of flour; which flour, rye, white, wheat, whole wheat, spelt, etc. to water; filtered or straight from the tap to yeast; pad or dried or starter which is a whole other art unto itself to sugar; to use sugar or not to use sugar that is the question and salt; some folk believe salt an absolute yes and others claim it may deactivate the yeast process.  add oil? add butter?  there are so many variations of bread doughs out there it can prove a bit overwhelming.

and then there is the art of learning your own oven so that one can begin to understand the proper baking temperature and baking time.

on top of that there is the option of the old stand by metal baking pan, the cast iron pot or the artisan clay cooking molds.   and the final question, should one add a small bowl of water in the oven to create proper humidity leading to that classic artisan wood fired crusty crust. 

 all this i have considered and experimented with and fudged with in search of beautiful rising dough with good crumb, fine flavor and a lovely crusty crust.  and many, many, many times i have failed.  you would think baking a good loaf (not even an excellent loaf) would be a simple process and for some i am sure it is.

for me, crafting a good loaf has been an ongoing challenge littered with failures.  granted i eat the failures and they are not terrible but they are not great either.  they might be too doughy inside or too dense or even brick like.  they might be blessed with good flavor and bad texture.  the misfit combinations are many.

well, fingers crossed, i have made a breakthrough and it all started with the purchase of a proper sourdough starter.  i have in the past attempted to make my own sourdough starter, some would do well for a while and then suddenly go nutty while some would never really pick up at all.  others would look good in the jar but not prove strong enough to give rise to a mound of dough.  so i figured i would  give the real stuff a try, follow the directions to a 'T' (ahem, not really but 90% mostly) and hope for better bread.

i bought my starter from cultures for health, a very informative and well stocked collection of culture and ferment goods.  i went with the basic san francisco sourdough starter.  i have followed the directions mostly.

when i say mostly - i mean that i used rye flour as a replacement feeder rather than white flour when i had exhausted my white flour stores.  i had the rye on hand and enjoy the sour-ish flavor it gives to bread so i figured it could fill the feeding bill until i could go out and pick up more white flour to continue the early growth process.

i am using bob's red mill bread flour with fantastic results.

i fed my starter as prescribed in the directions thinking i would not see big bubbles for a few days but no, no, no, i saw bubbles on day two.  i would imagine this is due to our hot summer temperatures creating an ideal incubation environment for the starter.  even with the a.c. on this house hovers in the low 80˚F range.  i set the a.c. for 82˚F which is comfortable enough for our living.  regardless of the quick growth, i fed the starter as instructed again with superb results.

then when the starter was ready for splitting and the first loaf was in the waiting for making, i went back to the cultures for health side to view several of their many super helpful instructional videos relative to making sourdough bread.  after watching i went for it and walla! fantastic bread.

i have now made three very successful loaves with the fourth in the rise stage as i type.  i have even swapped them up a bit adding herbs and spices, playing with a rye flour bread vs. white flour bread and cooking loaves in the old stand by metal pans and in my cast iron pot.

i make my best effort to stick to the ratios of flour to water to starter to salt and find the closer i am to their suggested ratios, the better the loaf is.  so for now, i am sticking with this process and i am happy for it.

i find it thrilling to finally finally finally have the where with all to craft my own mighty fine loaf of bread in the comfort of my own home sweet home.

oh and here's the next dream - my own wood fired out of doors stove.

the folks over at fast grow the weeds made their own wood fired stove and she is a real beauty.  i am inspired!

she has even shared the process for building the masonry oven - most excellent.


The SassyChiken said...

Ugh. Bread and I have a love/hate relationship, so I can sympathize. It either is beautiful (purely by accident I'm sure) or a catastrophe. I actually had to THROW OUT one loaf, it wasn't even edible (ok, the chickens loved it). Once I'm done with my job -- 3 more days, yay! -- I'm determined to CONQUER THE BREAD!!! It is my current Kitchen Holy Grail Quest.

I would love to have an outdoor oven but I think all my spare space will be needed to grow things. But one never knows... ;-)

shellywoman said...


you will conquer. i find it incredibly difficult to follow recipes to a t. i prefer to be inspired by recipes rather than follow them rote.

this particular journey with bread is the exception to my norm and it's working. i may even begin weighing the ingredients as suggested in many bread resources i have come upon. weighing keeps ratios clean. some flours are more dense than others. measuring cups do not account for density and too much flour leads to a heavy and possibly dry loaf.

i could go on...

i am now splitting my sourdough culture so that i might raise half on the organic white bread and the other half on rye bread. i really enjoy the tartness of a good rye bread. we'll see how it goes.