Sunday, March 16, 2014

More Bread: Poolish Makes Perfect

Continuing with the Forkish book, I tried another bread, on a day with no expectation of power outage at baking time. This one was what he calls his "Harvest Bread with Poolish." The recipe calls for 10% whole wheat, for which I substituted organic pumpernickel, and 5% wheat germ and 2% wheat bran; I used all wheat germ, or 7%. I seem to like more hydration, or maybe I was a little sloppy when adding water, so increased that too—probably to 80%. This dough is about 50% poolish. Interesting.

Poolish after 13 hrs
The bread is just as Forkish describes: buttery and aromatic. It is soft, flavorful, with a moist open crumb and a nice crisp crust. In addition to being very good, this bread suits my lifestyle, at least on weekends. You mix the poolish at 6:00 pm, leave it on the counter overnight, mix the dough at 7:00 a.m. next morning, and bake around 10 a.m. A couple of folds early in bulk fermentation.  A total breeze. Much more convenient, and better taste and texture, than the Saturday Bread.

In fact, I am a little worried about just how easy and convenient. Bread like this is just about the best thing to have for breakfast, toasted or not, with butter, and jam or not. And just about the best thing to have for lunch, with a good cheddar or gruyere.  And just about the best thing to have for dinner, with a salad or some sautéed mushrooms and wine. Or both. Pretty soon you’ve eaten half a loaf in a day. Half of a two-pound loaf, that is. Yikes!

Thank goodness I have friends who like bread. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Can’t Buy Me Bread

Last Fall the local French bakery, run by a young French couple, closed shop and, with it, their stand at the farmer’s market where I bought my bread, and moved onto the more appreciative climes of LA. That left what I consider to be the only worthy bread baker, but his business model doesn’t suit me: you have to remember, on Friday morning, to go online by 7:00 and wait for him to post the bread offerings for ordering and then pick-up the next day—at another prescribed time, 11:00 a.m.—at a different, less convenient local farmer’s market. If you are a little late, what you want may be sold out. Then of course you might forget to pick it up, if you, like me, get up early and are already well into your day by 11. Pity those who like to sleep late, too! They would have to set their alarm to order bread.

So while I have done this a few times, and it may all seem so quaint and local at first blush, I quickly tired of it. There was a tendency to feel like you had to order bread while you could, resulting in your buying too much—or settling for a bread you don’t really want if others were already taken. And of course, even when you set your phone alarm, missing either the ordering or the pickup for one reason or another. To say nothing of the somewhat soup-Nazi quality of the baker, complete with long—yup—bread lines for pickup. Not for me.

I absolutely adore bread, carbohydrates be damned, and from time to time over the course of the last 40 years or so, have made my own bread on a regular or semi-regular basis. Bread books take up a full shelf in my very large cookbook collection, and I can’t resist a new one (or a new old one if I come across something forgotten but interesting), and recently added the Forkish book after reading a lot of praise. I have several artisan books, so there’s not a lot new here, more of a synthesis, and I don’t know if it will become a favorite—won’t know ‘til I try the levains. But trying the first simple bread gave me a story to tell, so here it is.

Finding myself with a free day—amazingly, having finished project grading early—I thought, why not stay
home and bake bread? The whole thing is so simple that I had a lovely, relaxing day, reading and puttering between stages. I used a local Arizona heritage grain flour from Hayden Mills, mixed with a little first clear flour and dark rye, and adjusted the hydration to 80%. This was going to be good!

When the dough was perfectly proofed, I was just about to put it in the oven when: the electricity went out. Which means, of course, my oven did too.

I waited a few minutes—maybe this was just a blip?—but no. I looked out—everything, the entire city, was in the dark; we had been having a wild storm all day, the first rain in months. I put the proofed dough in the refrigerator. The oven went cold. Forty-five minutes later, the electricity came on, and I pre-heated the oven again.  By the time it was ready, my dough had spent about over an hour in the fridge, and it had suffered by becoming a little overproofed despite the cold. I knew what that meant.


They say every cloud has a sliver lining. Here is a golden one, complete with rainbow, snapped from my patio while waiting for the lights to come back on. And here is the bread. Worth another try.