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Archive for July, 2010

sourdough bread, no-knead version

 I’ve always loved baking my own bread.  My journey into the art and science of breadbaking started many years ago as a teenager still living at home, experimenting with recipes and flours, amazed at the flavor and crunch and freshness of a hand-made, fresh-baked loaf. 

Through the years I have tried many methods, with as many failures as successes, but I’ve never stopped making bread.  Mostly I mixed and kneaded dough by hand, the long way, with long proofing and rising times, resulting in bread that took four or more hours from start to finish.  Delicious, but a lot of work.

When Bear and I married, we got a Chefmate bread machine as a wedding gift; one of the first bread machines on the market, I think.  I still use it today, mostly for kneading and rising my multi-grain hamburger bun dough, and for making specialty wheat-free breads when the occasion arises.  I’m not sure why, but the non-traditional doughs mix and knead really well in that little machine.

A few years later I bought my trusty Kitchenaid stand mixer, and I was convinced the dough hook was the easiest way to knead bread ever invented.  I still use the 60-Minute Roll recipe from the book that came with it (simply awesome!)  but I no longer make our daily bread “the long way” as I refer to it now.   Goodness, no.  I wouldn’t be baking all our own bread if I were.

Then one of my favorite magazines, Cooks Illustrated, featured the “almost no-knead” bread recipe in their January 2008 issue, taking the original New York Times’ version and adding a smidge of vinegar and lager beer to boost the flavor and mimic rustic sourdough bread.  I was a convert after the first loaf, and have never looked back.  Being a beer drinker back then, I always had some Sam Adams or wheaty micro-brew in the fridge, and already owned the necessary cast iron dutch oven to bake it in, covered, at 500 degrees, which gives the loaf a rustic crisp crust.

The “no-knead” part is no lie.  The no-secret of it is a process called autolysis, which is a period of rest that allows the dough to relax. After the initial mixing of flour and water, the dough is allowed to sit. This rest period allows for better absorption of water and allows the gluten and starches to align.  Essentially, most of the kneading is done for you by allowing the flour and moisture to work together over the long rest period. 

The original recipe calls for mixing ingredients into a “shaggy dough” which is covered tightly and given an 8 – 16 hour autolysis; I’ve found an overnight session, up to 24 hours, works very well and makes this method quite compatible with a working person’s daily routine.  In other words, I can mix up a batch of shaggy dough one evening, cover and let rest until the next day, and simply shape into loaves in a few minutes’ time and bake the next evening.  The baked loaves are cool enough to slice and bag for the freezer before going to bed.  All in a day’s (or two day’s) after-work routine.

The foray into developing my own sourdough starter eliminated the instant yeast and beer/vinegar additions and greatly simplified the mixing process.   My weekly two-day breadbaking process now typically goes like this:  I pull my starter out of the fridge on Friday morning, feed it with fresh flour and water and cover it with plastic wrap.  Friday evening I mix a shaggy bread dough using the proofed starter, flour, and additional ingredients;  cover, and leave overnight.  Saturday morning, afternoon or evening – the choice is mine – I shape the now-elastic dough into loaves with a few minutes of kneading and a scoop of flour, place on slings of parchment paper in skillets to rise for 2 hours, then bake in cast iron dutch ovens in a hot (500 reduced to 425) oven for 30 minutes covered, 15 uncovered.

A double batch yields two large round loaves that provide lots of breakfast toast, sandwich bread, and supper menu accompaniment for the week.  Perfect for two hard-working, hungry adults. (If I had kids, I would have to make more than two loaves.)  Is the bread perfect?  Well no – though it usually looks like the photo at the beginning of this post, sometimes the loaves are smallish, and a little more dense; sometimes they’re larger and rougher like the one I’ve got proofing right now.  It depends a lot on the moisture content of the shaggy dough, the environmental conditions, and such.  I’m happy when the bread is edible, which is always.

Besides allowing this overnight bread dough to almost knead itself, the autolysis period (moist dough resting long time) and the acidic fermentation of sourdough starter together provide the significant nutritional benefit of reducing the phytic acid content of the wheat flour, which leads to increased bioavailability of many nutrients, enhanced magnesium and phosphorus solubility, as well as boosting enzyme content.  In other words, this bread digests very well, is remarkably healthful, and it is possible that even gluten-intolerant types might be able to eat it safely.

I’m a bread-eater and always will be; this method of bread-making allows me to enjoy my own fresh-baked, healthful sourdough bread every single day with minimal fuss and effort.  It’s a small victory, a minor battle won in the war we’re all fighting to take back control of our daily food, despite the onslaught of convenience-driven choices in the supermarket and insane demands on our available time.

I’d be happy to share my experience with developing a sourdough starter and the recipe I’m currently using for my daily bread – just holler.  Got a loaf ready to put in the oven right now – enjoy your Sunday evening, all!

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…just barely.

I would have loved to have eaten or processed all the food in this photo the same day I picked it and hauled it up the hill stairs, but it will wait a couple of days in the fridge until I can.  Life and work is hard right now and I’m grateful for a small (but productive) garden that only requires a little daily attention.

Best garden I’ve ever had, my whole life.  Can’t ever remember hauling baskets and trugs of loot into the kitchen like this, have always been grateful for every tiny handful plucked from a few square inches.  This bounty makes my heart roar with hard-earned satisfaction.

This weekend’s haul:

Turnips:        3 lbs 11 oz

French zuchinni:      5 lbs 13 oz

Pole beans:      2 lbs 11 oz

Carrots:     2 lbs 6 oz

Beets:     2 lbs 3 oz

Beet greens, chard:    big bunch

Red Russian kale:     big bunch

Plums:     4 lbs 6 oz

A lot of food.  I’m swimming in fresh food.

Bear is on travel for a few weeks, halfway around the world on an aircraft carrier teaching young kids how to troubleshoot and fix electronics.  I am glad he’s not here this month, as work is crushing my head into a flat, stupid pancake, and I am spending way too much time at just trying to keep up.  This is a sign of the rightness of my choice to exit stage left in 16 short months.  My professional sharpness has faded, the farmer in me wants out, and my brain is tired of struggling to map out strategies for an enterprise I’m no longer committed to.

The young folks, I remain passionately committed to.  So much so, it brings me to tears sometimes in front of them when they “get it” and find their power to change their corner of the Navy.  The enterprise, the unit, I could give a shit less about.

But my garden elates me.

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It’s Monday evening, and the long, lovely three-day weekend has finally come to a close, as they always do. 

Bear and I celebrated our 15th anniversary yesterday, quietly, at home, over a delicious beef roast, garden vegetables, and a cold bottle of champagne.  Fresh-baked apple pie made from our own apples, and vanilla ice cream for desert; we couldn’t eat another bite. 

After the movie we stepped out back to listen to the distant rumbling of fireworks and catch a far-away glimpse of the grand finale bursts of light and color.  It was just enough to make it feel like it was the Fourth of July.  Then went back in and watched the Boston Pops fireworks on television afterward, amazed at the extravagance.

I didn’t work too hard this weekend.  Ran one of the piles of old ice plant through the shredder on Saturday, and built a new compost pile from the mulch.  Harvested vegetables, froze some zuchinni, hung laundry out in the sunshine.  Did a bit of online reading; farming is much on my mind these days.  Sent some e-cards for the holiday.  Finally finished filing taxes, yay (we had an extension, don’t worry).

Bear will be on the road this coming month, first a week in Connecticut then nearly four weeks in Japan.  July will fly by with him gone.  So much to do, though.  It’s time to make travel arrangements for our farm trip in September, and I need to get that second garden bed dug, for my tomato plantation.  All in good time, I hope.

My garden is growing like it’s on steroids.  I am not complaining.  A band of little lizards patrol the lush jungle, alternately soaking up the sun on the cement blocks and dashing through the beans, tomatos and squash for yummy bug treats.  I love my little blue-bellied reptile friends.

Long week ahead, it may be quiet here.  Hope the heat isn’t too bad where you are.

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