Tuesday, February 21, 2012

making bread

I’ve been making bread on and off for many years. I think the very first loaf I made was inspired by the bread we ate aboard the Schooner Lewis R French. I thought if they could make bread from scratch aboard a sailing ship and cook it in a wood stove, I should be able to manage it in my own kitchen. And I did. I made dill and cottage cheese bread and kneaded by hand. I alternated with a cheddar cheese loaf and a hearty white and the bread and kneading got me through a tough winter. Kneading bread is very therapeutic and it’s a wonderful outlet for worry and anger and sorrow. That was many years ago and I’ve moved on and for the most part, thankfully, am not so needful of the therapeutic aspects of kneading bread dough. For a few years, I faithfully made bread in a bread machine. Sometimes I would set it to start in the middle of the night and would wake to the smell of fresh baked bread but truthfully, the bread wasn’t amazing and I always found it weird to pull the paddle out of the loaf. And then the machine started baking the loaves so they were too dark and I put the machine away in a cupboard.

I started baking bread again with the advent of my kitchen aid mixer. And I’ve been very happy with the very much tweaked recipe from America’s Test Kitchen that I make week in and week out for our toast and sandwiches.

I love the artisanal loaves I sometimes pick up at bakeries and markets around town and periodically aspire to more adventurous baking. Last summer I picked up a copy of this book from the library and over the course of several weeks baked several loaves with various variations.

black olive version
My husband always thought it tasted like sourdough. For some reason, I haven’t baked those loaves in a while. I keep thinking I need to try the no-bake bread in a dutch oven but feel like a) my oven doesn’t get hot enough (and we are having issues with the heating element in the oven right now) and b) I don’t really have a dutch oven type dish that I feel is up to the task. Maybe I’m just a chicken but that was one of the reasons I liked this book – that wasn’t a requirement. I had the peel and the baking stone so I was good to go.

At the beginning of January, Tea came up with the idea of cooking challenges over at Tea and Cookies. And the first challenge was sourdough bread, made from homemade sourdough starter. So I started a batch of starter. It went all weird on me around the 7th day which was around the instructions 5th day (I did learn that you have to follow what the starter is doing and not just the instructions). I think at some point I had read the instructions incorrectly and got the flour/water additions mixed up and I think the temperature variations in the house proved too much for my baby starter. So I started again. I coddled the second batch and made sure it stayed warm – wrapping it up and having it near a heating pad. I told myself that if pioneer women could manage making starter and sourdough while farmsteading and on the Oregon trail, surely I could manage this in my kitchen. (Although in my darker moments, I thought they all must have used starter handed down from generations of women who had created the starter in warm summer months!) A week later I had starter and I was getting ready to bake my first sourdough loaf. I used the recipe that Tea posted on her site (the first one) and mixed away. And I got 2 funny looking loaves as a result.

They are delicious although not very tangy. But I assume the tanginess will develop as the starter ages. The dough smelt tangier than any of my previous bread recipes which was exciting. So if you are up for a challenge, try making your own starter and then your own sourdough. Or, get someone you know to make their own starter and then get some from them. I’m passing some of my starter to my sister-in-law and we’ll compare bread.
two jars of starter

No comments: