Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Chocolate, Cherries & Charles Bukowski

I was watching my dog sniff around during her walk today. She peed on some already-soiled tree trunks, tested a morsel of something disgusting that she rooted from a tangle of weeds, wound herself up into a fully invested lather over a yellow cat crouching in a bush, and collected a stone that was too heavy and too hot from lounging around in the sun. We left it in the gutter and moved on to more prudent things, like a pine cone stuffed with bugs that shattered when we crushed it in our pit bull jaws, and a dead baby bird that had fallen from its nest before it had a chance to sprout proper plumage.

She took extensive notes, I noticed, dragging me around to all of her favorite haunts and patches, and it hit me: Her life is a fully unfurled panorama of joy. She can't be bothered with anything that doesn't interest her, and everything she manages is designed to add to her moment by moment goal of immersing herself in pure joy. She wakes up at noon, poops exactly three times a day, pees roughly fifty. She bites me softly when she becomes overwhelmed by how much she loves me, takes long walks along squirrel-crowded boulevards, and flops down in an exhausted heap when all of this good life gets the best of her around 2 p.m. She has the perfect life, even more perfect now that she gets to eat countless slices of stale sourdough slathered with organic peanut butter so that her human slave can feel at least a little frugal with this whole baking thing. It's one thing to scrape starter into the bin twice a day, but my dog will gain twenty-pounds before I toss out one sliver of bread.


I want my dog's life, but for some reason I've convinced myself that I can't have it. Listen, don't get me wrong, I am staunchly aware the perks of being part of this two-legged race. All I'm saying is that I think we can get a little sidetracked by the immense responsibility of being human and forget that it's also part of the job description to regularly indulge in hedonism. If that weren't so, Deepak Chopra books and yoga wouldn't be such desperate pursuits. Think about it. It's almost as though we feel so guilty about doing things for sheer pleasure, that we have to hide our pursuit of it behind swamis and good health. I just think unadulterated pleasure accepts no compromise. We don't always have to twist ourselves in knots in order to relax. We are allowed to lounge around once in a while in yoga pants without actually engaging in the sport.

Human beings, we parade our big old brains around like we are the cream of the animal kingdom, abandoning our joy in favor of practicality, when more primal creatures are the ones who really have it all. They don't have to go to work, oh what I would give... They have zero expectations, they let things slide with ease, and they are pre-absolved when they plant their noses in perfect strangers butts. Not that I want to shove my nose in any butts, but I would like to more fully invest myself in guiltless joy instead of laboring over the quality of my choices. The problem with our big brains is that there is more room for tedious functions like some of the pithier emotions whose job it is to veto the ones that lead us to unadulterated happiness. And someone/thing thought it beneficial to install the mental capacity to advance technologically (translation: work more, lounge less) in effort to elevate our race for some reason that has yet to become lucid for me. If it was up to me, I would go back to churning my own butter and burning people at the stake for not sharing my opinions.

Reflecting on my recent demand for hedonism, I recalled one of my favorite books, Charles Bukowski's Ham on Rye.


It's one of those really good reads in that by its end, you are compelled to thank your serendipitous stars that you're not living in a third-world country eating grubs out of a rotten stump. To say that Bukowski's life was crappy is being kind. I have yet to find a word that would aptly describe the magnitude of awfulness that marked his experience, and I certainly can't think of any redeeming thing about his life save for such an astonishing ability to queue together the most perfect and poignant prose that his work is almost holy. Even more astonishing is that he found the amusement in it all, and you, the reader, are not entirely sure whether to wince or laugh. But while his life was not enviable by any obvious stretch, it was in that he is the only person that I can think of who lived as hedonistically as humanly possible, though his hedonistic choices were marked by the most dire inebriation imaginable. Nevertheless, he was without question one of the most brilliant writers that ever lived. He answered to nothing but his writing, and did only and precisely as he pleased without any observable degree of apology. That is a skill that not many of us will ever master, and whenever I read his work, I am renewed my awe of his prowess in utter self-indulgence.

But enough musing. Today I made four torpedo-shaped Norwich Sourdough loaves.

I borrowed the formula from our friend Susan who owns Wild Yeast, a fabulous website devoted to carbs. I will entrust you to Susan's explanation so that you get the technique just right, but I have included notes about my experience with it, along with the hedonistic addition of chocolate, cherries, and toasted pecans.

Have a look-see.

I gathered together the usual suspects:

900g white flour, 600g h2o, 120g of rye flour, 23g of salt. For the rye I used Arrowhead mills. Which is incidentally what I also use to feed my beloved starter. If anyone has a cheaper resource, please let me know.

I used 360g of my ripe starter for this formula, which I wish I had read through more thoroughly the night before. I was literally scraping the corners of that jar to make the weight.

For the 900g white flour, Susan calls for all purpose, I called myself experimenting and reached for the bread flour.


I still don't know enough about flour, or about bread for that matter, or what it did to my bread vs. if I would have used the AP. But I am reading and learning slowly, and this weekend I plan to do a few more loaves of the Norwich without all the bells and whistles, just to see what it feels like to be on the straight and narrow with this bread baking thing, since I don't know anything at all, and I'm already experimenting as though I do.

Susan's instructions also called for use of a mixer. But I freaked out at the last minute and decided to go the route I'm more familiar with...

A hideous, commercial bucket and some elbow grease. 

I mixed everything up (minus the salt), and autolysed for 30 minutes. After that I added the grams of salt. I will admit that I added 38 more grams of water, because the dough was really dry. I think that flour was thirstier than Susan's, who probably has hers milled. Mine came from Target, so maybe it was elderly, but at least it was organic.

I flopped the autolysed and salted dough out on the counter, olive oiled instead of floured, just because I didn't want to add more flour in after I had just rehydrated the dough.

I kneaded and kneaded for 10 minutes, until it was stretchy and nice. Here is my first (ever) windowpane test.

I've got a ways to go.

So I went.

Until I got this. Hm. Maybe a little more.

And I kneaded, until I got to this.

Just a few more minutes.

And here is where I stopped. I think I timed my kneading at something like 22/24 minutes, maybe 26.

Into the bucket she goes.

For 2.5 hours with folds at 50 and 100 minutes, which I'm sure I have no idea how to do properly, but I was feeling good, and so was my dough.

Meanwhile I toasted pecans. Not nearly enough. I think it was something like 75g.

Rehydrated my cherries with boiling water (I saw someone do that with raisins on another blog, and thought it might be the thing to do with these bings) Could o' used more of these as well. I think I used 120g?

I was cheap on the chocolate too. But it had almonds in it, so that was a fun little perk. Maybe I used about 125g here too. I would double up on all of those numbers if I had to do it all over again. In fact, the next time I try to pull this off, I will do just that, and I'll be sure to record it so that you don't make the same skimpy mistake I did. Since I'm new to dough, I had no idea that it just sucked up nuts and chocolate like that.


Added it all at the second folding. Hindsight: next time add it all at the first fold. Better distribution with two folds. Or divide the 100 minute fold time into 3 instead of 2, and add it in the second fold so that by the third it's evenly scattered. Capisce?

Where did all the goodies go?

I halved then quartered the blob of dough to make...

Four balls. Two of them are shy. They were tired so I put them down for a 15 minute nap.

Then I roused them up, rustled them into these cute little pupa shapes and nestled them into their own little hammocks. Shhhhh... (I covered them with a damp towel and plastic instead of using only plastic, with fabulous results).

After 1.5 hours, I popped 3 of the pupas into the fridge to retard them, because I have a tiny cast iron griddle that I use as a stone, and will only house one dough at a time (I'm used to making boules in my cast iron dutch ovens. I really do need to invest in a larger griddle, which I'm liking, or jump the broom and marry the idea of a stone).

This little guy here proofed counter top for another hour while I entertained a friend and preheated the oven to 475 degrees. The cool thing about this dough is that you can pop it in the oven straight from the fridge, but I pulled the next one out when this first one was in the oven, and rotated the rest of the loaves in that pattern: pupas in the fridge came out to warm up on the counter for 30 while one was in the oven becoming a butterfly, then into the oven goes the room temp dough, and then all over again until they all completed their life cycles.

I baked them all in this pattern:

- Preheat the oven to 475.

Oh, don't forget to slash your loaves in some fashionable design.

- Pop a loaf, or loaves, into the oven, then turn down immediately to 450 degrees.

- Bake 12 minutes with steam. For the steam, I just threw some ice cubes into the bottom of the oven, where waited a red hot cast iron pan.

- Then bake another 18 minutes without steam. So, about 30 minutes total bake time, depending on your oven.

- Susan leaves her loaves in the oven with the door ajar for another 5 after the 30 minute bake time. I didn't do this. I'm not sure why. I think it's because I was gabbing too much and not paying enough attention to my baking loaves. Damn.

But they came out really well for a first round.


I must say, I prefer the look of the loaf that was not retarded in the fridge. It got much more golden brown and blistery than the rest. I will remember that for next time. See it just below?

 Leaning tower of pupas.

Remember, double up on the goods. This showoff here is revealing its best side. They were actually more sparsely dappled than I would have liked them to be. Alas, it's an excuse to make chocolate-cherry-toasted pecan Norwich loaves all over again.


Verdict:

Flavor: Mmmmmm. Crust: tender. not as shattery as i like, but good. Aroma: my house smelled like a chocolate factory. Dough temperament: Fairly easy. Worry factor when fermenting: Almost nil - it expanded visibly and steadily, thanks Susan!
 
To the staff of life.

This post has been submitted to Wild Yeast's Yeast Spotting.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Fundamental Seeds

I've been thinking about my path in life more than usual these past odd days. I blame it on the fact that my hands have been plunged into buckets of dough. There is something about its coolness, perhaps the alchemical quality of flour meets water, that urges one into meditative efforts to excavate the crags of the spirit and somehow shed light over the lesser traversed areas. It's almost like descending into a root cellar armed with a nothing more than a flickering candle and an objective curiosity. There are cobwebs, to be sure, but mostly there is a wholly open space, dark, with a perfume that suggests that it has been overlooked, or simply not yet discovered. Regardless the murky quality, it is peopled with small creatures that have kept it energized, spiders and such, benign spirits whose soft footfall remind that though bleak, it is a space that can indeed foster life. More than that, it is a place where life flourishes, even if quietly and most primally. This undercurrent of subterraneous activity constantly in flux, awaiting an ignition so that its powerful essence can be pulled to the forefront instead of remaining shadow to more familiar constructs. Perhaps the descent into this place will augment  one's self-understanding and lead to a more informed brand of life. For, when our personal landscape broadens, a certain fear diminishes. We become more competently ourselves and increase the capacity to live a life that is most intrinsically our own.

I do not profess to be meditatively advanced. Au contraire, I have struggled with meditation over the years because I do not have a confident relationship with subtlety. I confess that my character is largely boorish and unrefined, and so the more ethereal aspects of my own life escape me. My basement life. I do recognize the value of being attuned to the more finespun levels of being, but I have all but tiptoed around them because I am afraid that my crude habits and tendency to ham-handle will bring them crashing down around me, and then no amount of time or spiritual glue will be able to put it all back together again. My root cellar littered with shards of the unfamiliar. What's more, I have convinced myself that an alignment with subtlety will somehow cause me to vanish, or worse, lose my grip. This variety of spirit I've become, you know, if it is replaced with something more delicate, more abstract, my essence may somehow dissolve into this universal salinity that I imagine, my definition bleeding out into the endless black. A darkness that I have yet to hold my candle to. I have so much invested in being a primal beast with obvious and unmistakable forms of energy. I box things. I grab things. I need things clearly defined. If I agree to investigate nuances and ways of being that lack the concreteness that I am accustom to, can I trust that I will continue to recognize myself or remain characteristically substantive? There is a reason, then, that I have been drawn here by these few elements: wheat, my crude self, water the illuminative conduit that sets to path a fundamental growth, the candle if you will; this procured yeast a burgeoning subtlety that when trusted in steadfast patience can transmute these familiar elements into fathomless sustenance for the soul.

Bread.

Today I've made four boules...

These four cleaved from two carefully manipulated slabs of energized flour and water. The first duo arrives as whole wheat sourdough with sunflower and pumpkin seeds, a fairly generous addition.

The second, a lovely rye with black, oil cured olives.

I wish I'd had more on hand, it would have made for more of an olive bomb.

I used a rye levain for the rye loaves. My starter is a 100% hydration starter. I am less embarrassed about the number of starters that I have, and more appreciative that I can pull the most appropriate starter for the bread that it suits best.

And Tartine's 50/50 whole wheat/all purpose flour levain for the whole wheat. The starter for this levain is at 100% hydration.

Both breads are made using Tartine's formulae but with my adaptations: For the whole wheat, I added the toasted seeds,

I also used 225g of levain instead of 200g (for both loaves) as the formula directs just to see what would happen. I don't regret it. For the whole wheat, instead of the additional 50g of water that is added to facilitate salt distribution after autolyse, I used Eden's organic barley malt syrup, this worked out quite well.

For the rye, I found the dough unpleasantly sticky, to the point where it was almost like a batter.

I had this same issue with the last rye that I made using Tartine's formula. I know that rye is notoriously tricky to work with, but this was unbearable. Even I, the most novice of them all (these four make a mere 15 sourdough loaves in my bread career), knew that there was no way that that pancake batter was going to form any kind of boule, so I added 35g more white flour to the formula, not early on, but toward the end of a sequence of turns when it was evident that the ooziness of it all was not going to develop appropriate gluten structure. This definitely shaped things up a bit, and it was still a very wet, very unruly piece of dough. As well, the olives, though they have low moisture content, probably added to the hydration percentage a bit. Even with the addition of extra flour I had to get the boules into the combo cooker at lightening speed or the dough would have bled out into that universal abyss that I was blathering on about somewhere in the earlier part of this post.

I am really interested in working more with rye, just for sheer desire to conquer the beast. If anyone has any pointers, please feel free to lend me your words of wisdom.

Here are the formulae for the two loaves which include my timing and alterations to the originals. They both make two loaves:

TARTINE WHOLE WHEAT SOURDOUGH
with toasted sunflower and pumpkin seeds

For the levain:
200g h2o
200g of 50/50 whole wheat all purpose flours mixed
1 TB of a 100% hydration starter. I used the Tartine starter which is a 50/50 whole wheat/all purpose starter.

Mix the components and let ferment overnight.

For the dough:
225g levain. (The original formula calls for 200g)
800g h2o
700g whole wheat flour
300g all purpose flour
20g salt
50g barley malt syrup
Toasted sunflower and pumkin seeds, about 2 cups

Mix the levain, the 800g water and the flours. Autolyse for 40 minutes. Add the salt and 50g additional water. NOTE: I used barley malt syrup in place of the water with excellent results.

For the bulk fermentation:
The bulk fermentation will take about 3 or 4 hours. I ran the full 4. During the first 2 hours is a series of turns in the container, one turn per half hour. I usually turn the dough about 4x in the container which equals one turn. By the third turn, I am more delicate with the dough, so I don't knock out the gas. I added the seeds during the second turn so they would be fully incorporated by the last. Let the dough rest for the remaining time, and I suggest allowing it do rest in a warm place. I turn on the oven to warm the room, and place the container in a cabinet near the oven, up high, so that when the heat rises it turns it into the perfect proofing box. This is incidentally where I store my starters. The temperature is perfect for them, and for proofing/fermenting.

For the bench rest and proof:
Pour the dough onto a lightly floured container. Divide. Shape into tight balls, carefully. Bench rest 30 minutes. Reshape into les boules. Place into your banneton, or whatever vessel you're using, one that has been lined with flour dusted linen, seam side UP. Here's a tip: remember that dented old flour shaker your mom used that you never seem to find a use for?

It lightly and evenly distributes the dusting flour over linen. Yeah.

Proof your dough for 2-4 hours room temp, or retard the rest for up to 12 in the fridge. My kitchen was toasty, so the dough proofed quickly and nicely at 2 hours. I'm not sure if the tighter crumb is due to the abundance of nuts or the fact that it could have proofed a little longer. My last whole wheat loaves came out with very nice open crumb, and I let it proof for 4 hours.

A half hour before you are set to bake, preheat your oven to 500 degrees with the combo cooker (lid and bottom) and your stone in the oven.

Bake:
Cut out a round of parchment. Place over the dough. Place your peel on top of this and carefully invert the dough. Sprinkle the top of the dough with rice flour and score in some nifty pattern. Now you can safely and gently slide the dough into the hot combo cooker. Turn the oven down to 450 degrees. Bake in your combo cooker, covered, 20 minutes. Remove the lid. Leave the parchment. It's fine and will not affect the color of your bottom crust. Bake for 20-25 minutes more, or until your dough is baked out 'strong', meaning, fairly dark. The bottom crust should be good and dark as well. The internal temperature of my loaves was at least 200 degrees, and I would say more. But it must be at least that.

Cool on wire racks, and resist eating till several hours later, better yet, the next day toasted and slathered with olive oil and honey.


TARTINE SOURDOUGH RYE
with black oil-cured olives


For the levain:
200g h2o
200g of 50/50 whole wheat all purpose flours mixed
1 TB of a 100% hydration starter.
(I used my rye starter, which is one that I got from wildyeastblog.com. Susan, the author, calls to transform the formula into a white starter after it becomes reliable, I have kept mine as a rye starter with great results).

Mix the components and let ferment overnight.

For the dough:
225g levain (The original formula calls for 200g)
800g h2o
170g medium-fine rye flour
865g white bread flour (The original formula calls for 830g)
20g salt
50g additional water
Black oil cured olives I only had about 1 cup, I would aim for 3 next time

Mix the levain, the 800g water and the flours. Autolyse for 40 - 60 minutes. I autolysed for 45 minutes. The next time I will try 60 to see if that helps tighten up the consistency.

Add the salt and 50g additional water.

For the bulk fermentation:
The bulk fermentation will take about 3 or 4 hours. I ran the full 4. During the first 2 hours is a series of turns in the container, one turn per half hour. I usually turn the dough about 4x in the container which equals one turn. By the third turn, I am more delicate with the dough, so I don't knock out the gas. I added the olives during the second turn so they would be fully incorporated by the last. Let the dough rest for the remaining time, and I suggest allowing it do rest in a warm place. I turn on the oven to warm the room, and place the container in a cabinet near the oven, up high, so that when the heat rises it turns it into the perfect proofing box. This is incidentally where I store my starters. The temperature is perfect for them, and for proofing/fermenting.

For the bench rest and proof:
Pour the dough onto a lightly floured container. Divide. Shape into taut rounds, carefully. Bench rest 30 minutes. Reshape into les boules. Place into your banneton, or whatever vessel you're using, one that has been lined with flour dusted linen, seam side UP.

Proof your dough for 2-4 hours room temp, or retard the rest for up to 12 in the fridge. My kitchen was toasty, so the dough proofed quickly and nicely at 2 hours.

A half hour before you are set to bake, preheat your oven to 500 degrees with the combo cooker (lid and bottom) and your stone in the oven.

Bake:
Cut out a round of parchment. Place over the dough. Place your peel on top of this and carefully invert the dough. Sprinkle the top of the dough with rice flour and score in some nifty pattern. Now you can safely and gently slide the dough into the hot combo cooker. Be warned, this is a very loose dough, and it will spread like nobodies business, so make sure your combo cooker is ready to receive it.

Turn the oven down to 450 degrees. Bake in your combo cooker, covered, 20 minutes. Remove the lid. Leave the parchment. It's fine and will not affect the color of your bottom crust. Bake for 20-25 minutes more, or until your dough is baked out 'strong', meaning, fairly dark. The bottom crust should be good and dark as well. The internal temperature of my loaves was at least 200 degrees, and I would say more. But it must be at least that.

Cool on wire racks, and resist eating till several hours later, better yet, the next day toasted and drizzled with olive oil.


As I write this, my bread is crackling on the counter. As Chad Robertson says, 'the song of bread', they are indeed singing, and so am I.


Verdict:

Flavor: amazing. Crust: brittle. Aroma: outstanding. Dough temperament: The whole wheat was easy, the rye was a little more challenging, but nothing unmanageable. Worry factor when fermenting: Almost nil - it expanded visibly and steadily. But my Tartine levain is always a little slow at coming to fruition given the float factor. The rye floats readily.



To the staff of life.


I happily submit this post to wildyeastblog.com's 
YeastSpotting.


All formulas and techniques are adapted from Tartine Bread. I urge you to buy the book.

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