Saturday, February 7, 2009
You know how I'm always saying that all you have to do to cook is know how to read? Well, maybe I'm not always saying it, but I sometimes say it, and baking this bread taught me again that all you have to do to screw something up is not read the directions. Aside from baking scones, sticky rolls, chocolate babka, and sour cream coffee cake, I've been on a healthy-eating quest this year, which meant that I had to up the whole grain quotient in the breads I've made. This one is from one of my Christmas books, Bread, by Jeffrey Hamelman.
This book is unusual because it's really directed at least as much to the professional baker as the home baker, and each recipe tells you how to make, say, 25 loaves as well as 2 or 3. No, that's not the mistake I made--even in a caffeine-deprived state, I would think something was amiss if tried to mix up 20 pounds of flour.
But the book's ingredient sections for individual recipes are divided into three sections: Overall Formula, Pate Fermentee (or Levain), and Final Dough. This is too much information for me. What do I care about the overall formula? I just want to know how to mix things together.
I made the Pate Fermentee Friday night--no problem.
And by Saturday morning, it was nicely bubbling and ready to mix in the rest of the dough.
That's where I was done in by the Overall Formula section. So instead of mixing in 1 lb., .6 ounces of water, I poured in 1 lb., 5.8 ounces. As I kept pouring, and pouring, and pouring, I finally said doubtfully to myself, this seems like an awful lot of water. So I looked at the recipe again and saw my mistake. So there I was with a pound of whole wheat flour, a pound a bread flour, and a ton of water. I thought of possible ways to rescue the situation, but they were all too messy and complicated, so I just dumped the whole mess out.
And it was a mess. Have you ever tried to put a couple of pounds of gluey glop in the garbage disposal?
I was so disheartened that I almost gave up on the idea of baking bread this weekend, but there was my pate fermentee, cheerfully bubbling away, so I decided to give it another go. This time I used a blank piece of paper to cover up the "overall formula" section so I couldn't even see it, but I was feeling quite put out with Mr. Jeffrey Hamelman.
By the time I'd put the two loaves in bannetons and they'd risen nicely, I was feeling more kindly toward Hamelman and decided he probably didn't pull the wings off flies after all, and might be a perfectly lovely man.
I slashed one banneton and put the other in the oven without any cutting, hoping that it would stay in one piece, and it did. I liked the looks of both of them; really, I'm not sure which is more attractive.
When we ate our slices of still-warm bread, though, I was a bit disappointed--very nice and all, but still, it was just a piece of whole wheat bread.
As I was leafing through the book, I came across a section where Hamelman was rhapsodizing about bread: he said that bad bread tasted good when it was warm, but good bread didn't really come into its own until the second day. Oh, please, I thought. It's not like it's fine wine. But when I had another piece of bread on the second day, I thought he might be on to something: I could taste the slight tang from the pate fermentee and detect the sweetness from the honey. But maybe I just didn't want to claim a loaf of bad bread.
Jeffrey Hamelman's Whole-Wheat Bread
For Pate Fermentee:
8 oz. bread flour
5.2 ounces water
.2 oz. salt (1 tsp.)
1/8 tsp. instant dry yeast
For Final Dough:
1 lb. whole-wheat flour
8 oz. bread flour
1 lb., .6 oz. water
.4 oz. salt (2 tsp.)
.13 oz. instant dry yeast (1 1/4 tsp.)
1 oz. honey
1. The night before baking, mix the pate fermentee. Mix yeast, water, flour, and salt until smooth. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand for 12 to 16 hours.
2. When ready to make the bread, place all ingredients for final dough in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook. Mix on low speed about three minutes. As dough starts to come together, add the pate fermentee in chunks. Mix for another three minutes on medium speed.
3. Put in bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for a total of about two hours. After one hour, remove bread from bowl and fold it over. Put back in bowl and cover with wrap.
4. Divide into two pieces and shape into rounds. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes. Shape into round or oval loaves, or place into floured bannetons. Cover with plastic and let rise another 1 1/2 hours. (The dough can also be put in a loaf pan or shaped into rolls).
5. Transfer the risen loaves onto a baking sheet lined with parchment, or place directly on baking stone. You can add steam either by pouring a cup of boiling water or about 1/2 cup of ice cubes into a pan on a lower shelf of the oven. Bake in a preheated 450-degree oven for 30-40 minutes. Turn heat down by 25 degrees if bread starts to get too brown.