Monday, February 26, 2007

Back to Modernity

I was getting fed up with the sours and levains of my last few loaves, the constant feeding (which I would invariably forget and thereby kill off most of the culture), the smell, the mess, and I have to admit that the sourness was just too pungent on some of them. I wanted to make a lighter loaf (since I never waited long enough for my partially-killed culture to leaven the dough) that wouldn't assault my sense of taste. So, I used commercial yeast yesterday to make a whole wheat loaf and it is strikingly different.

First off, I used brown sugar to start the yeast in about two and a half or three cups of water, using less than a tablespoon of yeast. I added whole wheat flour to that after eight minutes and continued adding flour until a very wet dough had formed. I turned it out onto a very heavily floured counter (more than a cup) and then floured the top of the mass with another half a cup and (having forgotten to add it earlier) a very large pinch of salt (maybe a quarter teaspoon). I started needing, adding flour from time to time (I maybe used four cups total; it's a large loaf). Eventually, I had a nicely elastic dough, when I remembered that I hadn't added any oil. I had melted nearly three tablespoons of bacon grease, which was sitting on the stove, but I'd neglected to add it in, so I kneaded it into the dough at that point. It was quite messy, but the dough became somewhat stiffer and much more elastic. I guess oil does make a big difference in the characteristic of the dough itself. I let the dough rise in the oven with the light on for forty-five minutes. I then greased a cast iron skillet (about a foot in diameter) with bacon grease. I turned the risen dough out, turning it inside out (so the top, which had dried out somewhat, was pushed into the bottom and the uneven surface which had been in contact with the bottom of the bowl was stretched out to be the top), forming a round loaf which was quite tall. I scored the top with a cross about half an inch deep and placed it into a 380F oven without steam (I wanted to know what happened without trying to get a crust). I baked it until it sounded fairly hollow when tapped on the bottom and cooled it upside down.


More salt.


Without a crust, the thickness of this loaf was too much. The weight of the inverted loaf during cooling nearly crushed the flimsy Great Harvest style crust. It wouldn't be bad on a sandwich loaf or a smaller round loaf, but this is a very tall rustic country round and the bread just cries for a loaf. But now I know.

Bacon grease is good.

The crumb is superb, although bordering on blandness, the springiness and cohesivenss is ideal. I don't know what caused this, but it is quite nice. Possibilities include the yeast leavening, the improvement of my kneading technique, the late addition of the oil, or just luck. I like to think it's the second.

Next time, I'm going to take off the gloves and just add salt until I feel like I should stop. No more of this wishy-washy salting; I'd rather make an oversalted loaf next time than be left with a bland loaf which is otherwise perfect. I might also try an overnight or daylong poolish, in the boulangerie style.

I'm getting tempted to try a white loaf, but I must resist. Must resist, at least until my brown bread is world class.

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