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.


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.


  1. very good blog go ahead, great recipes, whether you plan to pretend baguette tartine.
    sory for my english

  2. yes. i do plan to work my way into baguettes. i get a little sidetracked, as you can see. there are many more loaves than just tartine loaves on the blog. i should have thought of that when i named the blog! lol. thanks for making me realize that i might want to get back on track ; )

  3. your blog is great, you're on the right track, and I love sourdough Norwich. Waiting for bague recipe.
    Thanks for posting

  4. From personal experience at Quartier last PM - your bread is beyond fantastic, Frankie. And we appreciated your thoughts on sourdough vs. commercial yeast. Karen and I loved the "City Loaf." I've never read Bukowski, but I enjoyed your observations on hedonism, and in fact I could use a generous shot of it about now. I pulled out Tropic of Capricorn, because I remembered Miller being as hedonistic at Bukowski, but as I read it now he seems more negative than joyful, and condescending; the world disgusts him rather than seeing it as an object of pleasure. But there is a section that would interest you pp128 and following in my edition about an experience he had with rye bread...

  5. Thank you Richard for the recommendation. I would love to look up what sort of wry thing Miller has to say about rye. How funny, that night when I was slicing bread, a Johnny Cash some came on about breaking bread with friends. Who says that this is all a coincidence anyway?

  6. Anonymous said...
    Dear Frankie
    No email for you! I am intimidated in terms of making bread. We have an outdoor pizza oven and have been itching to make bread, I would be happy to have some people over, or whatever to make it worth your while. Love your bread




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