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2018-07-08 A Tale of Two Loaves

You CAN go home again!  Take that Thomas Wolfe!

Before we get into today's tales of redemption and woe, a few quick tidbits.

If I've done nothing else well in my life, I have married well.  The support and love I receive from Beth is overwhelming and almost embarrassing.  Far from the least of Beth's strengths are her mad librarian skills which come from years as a resource librarian.  She finds an ongoing series of informative web pages, videos and articles about baking, food and bread - and then she shares them with all of us in the Bake With Mike Facebook page.  Every few days, there is a fresh post that makes you say, "WOW!"  If you haven't friended and followed Bake With Mike on Facebook, you should.  I can't thank Beth enough for this!

We have two whole grain classes coming up.  We'll be grinding the grains in class to add another dimension to the class.  Our Saturday July 14th class filled up, so we added another class on Sunday July 15th.  We hadn't been offering Sunday classes while we were working because we need time to recover before Monday.  Now that we're retired, we have a but more flexibility.

However, if you're interested in taking the July 15th class, I'll encourage you to sign up quickly - there are only two more spaces available this time.

And now to tales of glories past and present as well as defeat - at least for now.

Many people say you never forget your first time.  And that seems true no matter what you're talking about.  To be clear, what I've been talking about is the first loaf of bread I ever made back in 1974.  I used to make that bread again and again.  When I got a bread machine, I redid the recipe to work in my bread machine.  When I got into sourdough, I redid the recipe again to work with sourdough.  It's been a real workhorse and a great recipe in all its incarnations.

Last week Beth told a friend I'd bring a loaf of bread to a party.  So, I did what any normal guy would do, which is to say nothing.  I'd meant to revive my sourdough starter and didn't.  I'd meant to start a poolish to make a relatively quick bread for me the night before the party.  And I didn't do that either.

The day of the party rolled around and I had neither clue nor loaf.  What to bake?  Beth asked if we should just buy some bread.

BUY SOME BREAD?  I THINK NOT!

Then I remembered my old favorite recipe.  It was "Whole Grain Bread" from "The Joy of Cooking".  It was the first bread I baked (didn't I just say that? like 5 times?  Oh well....) and I remember kneading the dough and adding flour for 45 minutes before I gave up.  The recipe said the dough should be smooth and not sticky.  My arms hurt for several days, and the bread was a brick.  A tasty brick, but a brick.  I've since learned that while most dough shouldn't be sticky, it should be tacky.  (Do you hear Jerry Jeff Walker singing, "I like my dough a little on the tacky side" in the background?)  It took me years to understand that, and I STILL sometimes add too darned much flour.  To work around that, I try HARD to not add additional flour when I knead.  I correct a recipe in the next batch.  Still, it was my go-to recipe for quite some time.

And that brought me to revisit that recipe after many years.  Here it is:

Start by putting 1 packet (2 1/4 tsp) of active dry yeast in 1/4 cup of warm water (100 to 115F or 37 - 46C ) in a mixing bowl.  Let it start working - about 10 to 15 minutes and then add:

1 egg
2 1/2 cups lukewarm water
4 cups (480 grams) all-purpose flour
4 cups (480 grams) whole wheat flour (I used freshly ground flour from my MockMill 100, but you can use any whole wheat flour you like)
1/4 cup (1 stick or 114 grams) butter, cut into small pieces
1 1/2 tsp (8.5 gr) salt
1/4 cup (50 gr) sugar (the recipe called for 1/4 to 1/2 cup of sugar, honey or maple syrup - I use the least amount of white sugar, and it can be omitted of you prefer)

I add the salt on top of the flour to keep it from touching the yeast water.  Salt can inhibit the yeast.  I'm not sure if that is a practical consideration, but I'd rather be needlessly careful than have an unrisen loaf.  I also put the solid butter on top of the flour as solid butter helps crumb structure and rise, where liquid oils do not, so I knead in the butter.

As usual, I kneaded for 5 minutes, let the loaf rest for 5 minutes and then kneaded for five more.  Let the loaf rise covered until doubled - about an hour.  Knead the dough a bit, shape into two loaves, cover and allow to rise again, about 1/2 an hour.  As the dough rises, preheat the oven to 375F (190C).  Once the dough has risen, slash it and bake it for about 55 minutes.

It works nicely as a pan bread, or as a boule.  It'd probably be a nice batard or baguette as well.  A nice light crumb, a great taste, and not so healthy tasting as to put off children of all ages.  The people at the party devoured a loaf, dipping it in olive oil, while we waited for dinner.

Sometimes, you CAN go home again, and sometimes it's pretty sweet!

And that brings us to our tale of woe.  Again and again I see books that have "THE ANSWER" to all man's health problems.  Just pay attention to what they say and you'll lose (or gain) weight, recover your lost vitality, you'll never be sick again, you'll be able to outrun a speeding locomotive and leap tall buildings with a single bound.  And when they offer bread recipes, they are inevitably disasters, written by someone who understands less of bread than a cow knows of calculus.  So, really, I should have known better.  Yet, I know I'll probably go down that sort of rabbit hole again.  So, here's a tale of woe, complete with some descriptions of where I went wrong.

The book in question had a cookbook with it, and the cookbook had a section on grains and cereals, and one of the breads was "Phi Bread" or "Fibonacci Bread."  The Fibonacci series  is probably one of those areas where mathematics and mysticism intersect.  The Fibonacci series is a set of numbers where each number is the sum of the two numbers preceding it.  Or, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144 and so on.

The numbers are very close to what the ancient Greeks and Romans called the Golden Ratio and it seems many plants and animals have dimensions that fall into the Fibonacci series, and microorganisms seem to grow in ratios that correspond to the series.

So, for Phi bread (the golden ratio) all the measurements are in the Fibonacci series, even the salt and the times for the dough to rise.

Which left me wondering if they knew what they were doing or if it was hokum.

The bread is a sourdough bread, but it is made without a separately maintained starter, it just starts and reaches maturity with the bread, and on day 6 you bake it.  The whole thing seemed to violate SO many things I knew about sourdough that I just had to try it.

Every 24 hours, you feed the bread.

Day    water     flour    weight of additions
1        1 oz      1 oz      2 oz
2        1           2           3
3        2           3           5
4        3           5           8
5        5           8         13
6        8         13         21

After the last flour addition, add 2 1/2 tsp sea salt.

  • Knead for 1 minute, let the dough rest, covered, for 21 minutes.
  • Knead for another minute, cover and let rest for 34 minutes.
  • Scrape out of the bowl, form into a ball and cover and let it rest 55 minutes.
  • Gather up the dough, form into a new ball, cover and let proof 89 minutes.
  • As the dough proofs, preheat the oven to 400F(205C) degrees with a pizza stone in the oven.
  • Cut a cross into the top of the loaf, dust with cornmeal or bran, and bake on the pizza stone for 55 minutes to a dark caramel color.

There are some oddities in this recipe, they said that an ounce of water was a tablespoon.  That is incorrect.  An ounce is two tablespoons.  And if I'd used a tablespoon, the dough would have been even drier than it was.

Even drier?  Yeah.  They asked that the flour be whole wheat and sifted.  Which should have given me a hint.  I weighed the flour.  And used too much flour.  Really, there is no reason to sift flour you are going to weigh.  When one talks about ounces a good question is, are you talking about weight or volume?  This is why I use grams.  No cups, no ounces thanks.  I should have used ounces of volume, not weight.  I plan on trying again.  The dough wound up with about 62% hydration, which is very, very dry for a whole wheat bread.

With everything being in the Fiboancci series, you'd think it would bake for 144 minutes since that is the next number after 89.

It wasn't their fault, but the freshly milled flour I was using seems to have had some clostridium bacteria on it, so the starter picked up that off taste.  If I had been making a regular starter, the normal lactobacillus bacteria would have killed the clostridium bacteria.  But with this approach, it didn't have time.  Clostridum bacteria are interesting.  You don't want to have them as an infection and hospitals spend a lot of time and money keeping them at bay, but they are what powers salt rising bread.  They have a ... ahhh.. pungent smell which did subside considerably by day 6 and it also added a flavor reminiscent of Parmesan cheese.

Bottom line, I had a brick of a loaf - it was SO dense it didn't rise even though I let it rise well past the appointed Fibonacci series times.  It smelled funny and tasted kinda like Parmesan cheese.  It was not a favorite here.  Next time, I'll use store bought flour and will sift and measure in volumetric ounces.  I'm still curious if this will work.  I'll let you know.  Still, on the "did they know what they were doing or was this hokum" front, I'm still open to persuasion, but I'm leaning towards hokum.  We'll see.

Until next time, may your bread always rise, no matter what pyramid power loving cookbook you got the recipe from.
-Mike

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