Released





I served my one day of jury duty yesterday.  I spent my morning on a panel for a criminal case.  After questioning, I was sent back downstairs, told to go to lunch for an hour and report back.  After my Chinese lunch, I took a seat in the main room, only to be handed my $9.00 check and released until the next time I am called, perhaps in a year.

As I made my way down the stairs of the train station to return home, I was overwhelmed by the need to bake something.  To work with my hands in a familiar environment.  Walk in my garden, pick flowers for my table with the dogs at my side.  To find color and warmth.


 The Criminal Justice Center environment disturbs me on so many levels.  There's the good, at least let's hope, and then there's the sordid, the ugly, the pathetic.  I sat in a small room with total strangers for two hours, while one by one we were taken into the courtroom for questioning.  Everyone is complaining.  No one wants to get picked.  I am fearful some may be untruthful in attempt to dodge the responsibility.  Two point out that at least we live in a country where it's possible to be given a trial.

In that little room there was a table top artificial Christmas tree, fully decorated. It's September 18th, at this point it may as well remain; a couple more months, and it will be the season.  That bit of decoration lent nothing but strangeness to the sterile, colorless place.

But you can tell, this environment makes people want to talk because there is nothing else encouraging you to feel human and alive.  We would have been a chatty bunch after four days together, the expected duration of this trial.  

Lucky me, I came home in time to pick Olivia up at school at the regular time.  I kicked off my flats, walked barefoot in the garden, picking flowers, cherry tomatoes, jalapenos, and eggplant.  I made cornbread to go with a vegetable soup for dinner.  This morning we toasted leftover cornbread for breakfast. 
 
Today I am home, sitting at my kitchen table writing, with sunshine pouring in, flowers on the table, one dog outside, the other one sleeping on the couch.  My sourdough starter is fed and is on it's way to becoming bread dough.

My good fortune at being released is ultimately about being spared stories of gun violence and kids, and the burden of deciding the fate of two young individuals.  Instead I sit in sunshine, in the company of snoozing dogs.


Buttermilk Cornbread


1 1/2 cups yellow or white cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk 
3 eggs
4 tablespoons melted butter

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  

Combine the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt  and sift well.  Beat the buttermilk and eggs together with 3 tablespoons of the melted butter.

Brush a 9-inch cake pan with the remaining melted butter and preheat in the oven for 5 minutes.  Combine the liquid and dry ingredients, and stir until just mixed.  Pour into the hot pan and bake 30 minutes in middle level of oven.  When done, it will be golden brown and the cake will have pulled away from the sides of the pan.

Serves 8 generously.

Waiting For Bread





Our annual two weeks in Cape May is not complete without several visits to Elizabeth's clay oven baked bread stand. I was happily surprised to find that last winter she built the structure you see above.





I wrote about my visits last summer in the post, Knowing The Baker.


checkerboard

I keep myself entertained while waiting in line by taking photos of the scene!







playing checkers

You will find Elizabeth selling her clay oven baked breads on Sunset Boulevard in Cape May on weekend mornings.  Her schedule changes at different points in the season.

The rosemary thyme bread remains my favorite, with the sage and polenta loaf coming in as a close second.





52 Loaves vs. Reinhart: A Baguette Challenge






This is the third and final round of baguette baking.  Until, I come across a new recipe that I think could truly be a challenge to our reigning champion, Baguette a l'Ancienne!

In this third round, the sourdough was up against Classic French Bread from Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day.  We didn't hem and haw this time, it was a quick, universal and almost weary choice of the sourdough.

It's good to know that it's worth the effort to maintain the starter.  An extra step in bread baking doesn't always guarantee better bread, in my experience.  I'm not sure what's next, but I'm ready for some more sourdough adventure.

52 Loaves vs. ABinFive: A Baguette Search





We had another baguette tasting Saturday evening and once again the 52 Loaves loaf won. 

This second round the sourdough baguette was challenged by a long-time favorite from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day.  This is a no-knead, refrigerated method using the Master Recipe.

Just like the first tasting, Olivia and I quickly voted in favor of Baguette a l'Ancienne.  Mr. Savory again said he liked them both equally.  Rolling our eyes, we said he had to choose.  He went for the sourdough.

Baguette a l'Ancienne will return for a final round. 

52 Loaves vs. Bittman: A Baguette Search





Friday evening we had an indoor picnic dinner and a baguette tasting.

Sometimes my bread baking feels too random.  I bake with one method for a while and growing bored, switch to another.  I keep track of my preferred recipes, but I have never compared them side by side.  

This tasting (Round One) was a contest between 52 Loaves, Baguettue a l'Ancienne, a sourdough baguette, and Mark Bittman's, Easiest and Best French Bread, which uses a food processor method. (I wrote about making my levain from 52 Loaves last summer).

Other than their shape, these two loaves have little in common and have no business being compared with each other.  But what I wanted was a scenario of going into your favorite bakery that sold both these breads and needing to choose one to serve with your dinner.

I asked Olivia and Mr. Savory, overall, which one do you like best?  Mr. Savory said the test was oversimplified and he couldn't choose.  He's right, but I insisted he choose anyway.  First he said he liked the chewy texture and crust of 52 Loaves, but the taste of the Bittman baguette.  Pressed, he ultimately chose 52 Loaves.

Olivia and I chose far more quickly in favor of the sourdough.  It has a more complex flavor, and I, too, liked the chewy texture. 

Interestingly, as toast with butter the next morning, the sourdough had little flavor and "Bittman's baguette" was really tasty.  However, most people don't make baguettes for the toast...

The Baguette a l'Ancienne will return for Round Two.

January In The Kitchen: Bread, Cheese And Jam





I decided this year that I want to focus on a few food crafts that compliment each other, in hopes that when the need arises I am able to present a substantial gift. 

Sometimes the offering of a homemade loaf of bread is just odd and lacking, whereas a basket of bread, homemade goat cheese and a jam might sound the right note.  It depends on the occasion and the recipient. 

Bread baking is pretty routine for me by now.  Cheese making is a relative newcomer, and I think I've got the Chevre down. (This is toasted Finnish Rye bread with my Chevre and a dark honey).



Canning, however, is a craft I practiced years ago, and am now trying again.  This is a Honey Lemon Apple Jam from Food in Jars.  I appreciate the small batch production aspect to this book, especially as I am reacquainting myself with preserving. 




I thought I'd share my January efforts with you.  I'm thinking about a grapefruit jam for February and attempting mozzarella for the fourth time, determined as I am to figure out why it's not working for me.

Clearing Out





After my last post, I set to work on creating a writing studio smack dab in the heart of my kitchen.  It's certainly not the most likely place to set up, yet it's where I'm most comfortable for now.

I've cleared off some of the clutter on Olivia's ledge and the shelving underneath.  I spent two days tackling "my desk", which is really half "the family desk" underneath cabinetry housing glassware and ceramics.

I found a basket which can hold my camera and notebooks, and with its handles I can carry it back and forth from the desk to the kitchen table, which I told you before is my writing spot.


The allure of clearing out spaces is that in the end you're supposed to feel better--lighter, freer, able to think more clearly.  All of this feels true in my co-opted space, yet I forgot about the possibility of the process being painful, about the clearing out being a confrontation of loss.

I left much of what I found of Aaron's in it's place.  I'm just not ready to move it.  But it's that tug of the not being able to that feels uncomfortable.  That shutting of the closet door you really don't want to look into today.

Despite this, I did feel like I could appreciate the beauty of my kitchen/studio this morning, and could move more mindfully about, picking up my camera, writing thoughts down. The goal to simply take a solid step towards treating my creative self, my writing self with more respect, was indeed accomplished.


I thought I'd share what else is being crafted right now in addition to words in my studio!  We'll have this Norwich Sourdough, made with my starter, and homemade goat cheese, plain and garden herb (rosemary, lemon thyme and lavender) tonight with a lentil soup.

*Creating a pin board gave me some ideas for now and some to dream on.  Take a look, if you'd like a little inspiration.

Biscuits




Yesterday was a day of mother conflict and spinning wheels.  I become angry with my indecisive self and frantic at the prospect of having little to show for my day.  I wrestled with both sides of the equation and pushed harder to drum up results. 

There was a talk that evening at Olivia's school by an educator and author who I wanted to hear, but with Olivia returning home past 6:00p.m. from her first away soccer game, I felt disinclined to gobble down dinner and run out the door, only to return at bedtime to her bouncing around.  All day, I asked myself, do I want to go and potentially learn something valuable about issues such as "the curse of the good girl", or do I want to hear about her day over a leisurely dinner, and have chatting time while she puts on pajamas?

In short, do I want information that might shed light on a middle school girl's world, or do I want to spend time with my daughter?

By late-morning I was having computer problems to the point where I started imagining  myself living a life without them.  My laptop had some sort of temporary glitch that didn't seem so temporary in the moment, and our desktop screen went blank.

I had also spent an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out how to put social media buttons in my sidebar.  With no accessible computer that attempt was put on hold until Mr. Savory came home to save the day.


Instead, I gardened, exercised, walked the dogs, worked with Charlie on "heeling" and "down".  Hesitantly, I took my neglected starter out of the fridge and fed it, with an eye towards making biscuits for dinner.

I had lingering sadness from the previous evening when I had been standing in the kitchen in a lull before dinnertime, thinking about how it was about that hour when I might call Beatrice.  It is in moments like these that you really feel a loved one's passing.

The shadow of loss carried through to the morning when my computer frustrations led to feelings of simply going nowhere, making no progress, nothing happening.  I searched through boxes upstairs in our guestroom, hoping to locate the one that I thought might have a few of Beatrice's handwritten recipes.  I couldn't find it, just boxes of more odds and ends to go through, and reminders of Aaron that I knew held only the potential of making me feel worse.



I came back downstairs and knew I needed simply to find something comforting to make.  Biscuits for certain and my favorite sandwich loaf.  Olivia ate two and a half biscuits for dinner, super hungry after her soccer game.  They were warm and buttery and soothing.



In the end, I decided to stay home, and I spent the evening with her in our usual routine of practicing violin and reading.  The house smelled like homemade bread that we would use for toast and sandwiches.  Once she fell sleep with Harry on her bed, Mr. Savory and I worked through the process of installing a button.  We stopped at one and will do the rest later in the week.

The baking and hugging Olivia when she came home saved me. They nurtured and calmed and grounded me on a day that felt like I was chasing air. 

A Fourteen Hour Loaf




I needed all day to make this bread.  Fourteen hours to be exact, although much of that time my hands remained free to garden, eat lunch and dinner, walk the pups (twice), and putter Sunday-style.

I like this kind of bread baking experience.  Long but not too difficult, plenty of handling of the dough, with stretches of time to make it a project kind of day.

 Last week I told you about making my levain for the pain de campagne from 52 Loaves.  My starter worked beautifully, and last evening I baked my first loaf.



We ate it tonight with cheese and salad, doing cheers with our bread slices.  Next session I will try baking it less time, and testing it with a thermometer (I baked it for 60 minutes) since the interior seemed a little dry.  Otherwise, I have never baked a bread like this before.  The crumb boasted beautiful holes, the crust remained thick and crisp (maybe a little too dark from over-baking), and for a first loaf from a brand new starter, it had a complexity of flavor. 

However, one aspect of this process I knew would send sparks flying from Mr. Savory, and sure enough, it did: running the oven at 500 degrees for 1 1/2 to 2 hours prior to baking.  He actually asked me to show him where in the recipe it calls to do this.  I imagine the baking stone heats thoroughly and benefits fully from this energy expenditure.  Now I know why a wood-fired clay or brick oven might be desirable! 

When I try this bread again, I may delay turning on the oven by a half-hour and see if it makes a difference in the loaf.  Crust perfection may not be worth whatever it costs to run an electric oven at 500 degrees for two hours...

William Alexander spent a whole year working on this recipe, and I carried his efforts with me for all fourteen hours.  I can't wait for the next loaf.

To Have A Method To Call My Own


White Haze On My Local Fruit Means Local Yeast For The Levain



I love to read about other people's quests, particularly if they happen in the kitchen.  William Alexander's 52 Loaves chronicles a search to bake his perfect loaf.

I started reading this book on vacation, and I couldn't wait to bake again when we returned.  Last evening when I began my preparations for the levain, Mr. Savory asked me if I planned on a 52 loaf pursuit of my ideal bread.

While I do have a perfect loaf in my mind (Elizabeth's rosemary thyme), the lack of a clay oven will make it unlikely for me to ever come close to replicating her bread.  What I would like to find nags at the back of my mind:  a method to fully embrace and make my own.

I have tended to flit and fly in the past year or two between individual recipes from here and there, wanting to eat more whole grains, and longing to settle with a method. So, I don't plan on baking a loaf a week for a year in search of "my loaf", but I would love to say after a time that a particular method suits my taste and temperment. 

My Apple Water Just Made (Local Apple and Local Peach Skin)


I have not done well with starters in the past, not so much because they haven't worked, but more so because I tire of caring for them.  They have a way of annoying me to a point where I can't wait to throw them out!

Alexander's passion for using a levain has inspired me to try his bread and to set out on my own journey. The photo above shows the "apple water" on the first day.  This will be strained after three days and used to make the levain.

Knowing The Baker





I feel with every bite of bread I take that I know the baker.  The experience becomes so personal when I have stood in line, anxiously hoping there will be a loaf left for me, for us, and then finally my turn comes.  I chat briefly with the baker, while making my selections, not wanting to take too long for the sake of the others behind me in line.

She hands me my loaves slipped into paper bags, and as I walk away I smile at the other customers with satisfaction, knowing that we all will have the best bread in Cape May on our dinner table that evening.  Only then do I realize that the loaves I am cradling are still warm.



Meet clay oven bread baker Elizabeth, a Cape May local, who has been selling her loaves along Sunset Boulevard for three Summers. We found her two Summers ago, and last year never made it out on the days she had her bread for sale.

Now, we discovered, she has a following. The line begins forming under the trees by her stand outside her family farm before she sets up at ten. Vegetables and flowers are also for sale, and she told me she planted raspberry bushes since we were there two years ago.



Most of what I know of her is from snippets of conversation and an article in the July 2012 Exit Zero (color) magazine featuring Elizabeth and two other local bread bakers. She learned to bake bread in Germany and has spent time in India. She had someone build her clay oven for her, and she begins baking on sale days at 4:00am.

There are questions I hope to ask her someday about her dough and combination of flours, but would not want to keep those behind me waiting longer than the 30 to 40 minutes they have already been there.

I am by no means bread deprived. Between years of baking my own, and the occasional purchased loaves from Metropolitan Bakery, Le Bus, Baker Street, and Rolings, I eat great bread. None of these artisan breads, however, have the flavor of Elizabeth's bread. The slight charring on the underside and tops of the loaves enhance the herbs and spices she uses with fairly heavy hand, and reciprocally, those strong flavors stand up to the bitterness from the baking method. This bread commands your meal be planned around it. It will not merely serve as support to your sliced tomatoes, cheeses or sandwich fixings. When we have a fresh loaf of Elizabeth's bread, I make dinner according to the flavoring of that bread. The meal's direction eminates from that center.

On this trip, we sampled four loaves (there is a fifth in the freezer). I claim the rosemary thyme and olive oil black pepper as my favorites, Mr. Savory chooses oatmeal molasses, and Olivia can't stop asking for more slices of the rosemary thyme when we have it.

Elizabeth's bread, even if sold at a bakery with employees selling on her behalf, would still be amazing, but the experience of acquiring it (anticipation, commraderie among your line-mates, the eye-popping shades of her farm flowers standing in pails of water, and waiting under the shade of trees) adds a dimension to the bread. On July 4th, (the line longer I than I have ever seen it), a man ahead of me began counting the number of people waiting, and figured that if everyone present bought a loaf, there wouldn't be enough for everyone.  I told the group behind me that if there remained only two loaves when I reached the stand, I would only buy one, so they could try a loaf for the first time. According to the Exit Zero article, customers often will buy the last favorite loaf for another customer way back in line who would never have a chance otherwise.

The first day this season as I waited, I watched a young girl holding two loaves walk away with her mother and dog. They were stopped by a couple asking about the dog, and while her mother talked, the girl sniffed from loaf to loaf and back again, ignoring the discussion about English and American Labradors.

It made me smile observing how Elizabeth's bread reaches both children and adults alike, and I think that sweet scene may exemplify the highest praise.

You will find Elizabeth's stand at 609 Sunset Boulevard, on the right as you head towards Sunset Beach.  Currently, she is there Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 10:00am.  She is usually sold out by 11:00am.

Bogs, Windiness and That Anna








I've become a bit obsessed with historical baking, November's theme for our bread group. What interests me most is the availability of ingredients in colonial Philadelphia, the subject I focused on. It never occurred to me before baking with the City Tavern Cookbook that our port city in the late 18th century would have had it's own fusion culinary trend.

Clearly, what you ate depended on your wealth. Oranges were a status symbol, displayed abundantly in homes of the wealthy, while the average family would have barely even known about them.

Ships arrived three times a week from the West Indies bringing spices and fruits. Bread-wise, the British brought scones and breads, the Germans all manner of baked goods, African and West Indian slaves brought spices, and the French brought their pastry chefs and confectioners.

All of these cultures mingled with our native food stuffs. Substitutions were made and use of New World foods so abundant was encouraged by Benjamin Franklin.

Cranberry Bread
When the pilgrims came to the New World, they found cranberry bogs extending from New England down to the shores of New Jersey. These seasonal berries were harvested for use in juice and relishes as well as to flavor breads such as this one.

What struck me most was how similar the quick breads of the late 18th century are to what seem so common to us today. Cranberry, pumpkin, apple breads among biscuits, scones and muffins. They are, however, upon study of the recipes from the City Tavern, richer and less sweet.

This Cranberry bread recipe making one 8-inch loaf calls for four eggs, 4 1/2 ounces (1 stick plus 1 tablespoon) butter, 2 cups cranberries, yet only 3/4 cup of sugar. This is really more like a slightly sweet pound cake.

Rye and Caraway Seed Bread
Rye and caraway seeds were believed by the English to promote digestion and "dissolve all windiness," according to John Gerrard's, The Herball, circa 1597. These flavorful ingredients also were favored by German and Eastern European cooks who would have brought them to the New World.

The sampling of yeast breads is a little more unique--richer and more heavily flavored than the lighter hearth breads we have become accustomed to. For example, this rye and caraway seed bread calls for 1/4 pound (1 stick) butter, yet only 1 teaspoon salt. I couldn't resist slashing my loaves--I'm just so used to doing it, however, the recipe did not say to do so.

Anadama Bread
This bread's name comes from a hand-me-down colonial story about a fisherman whose wife would send him off every morning with a breakfast of cold cornmeal-molasses porridge. One bitterly cold day when his wife wasn't there to serve him his breakfast, he mixed some yeast and flour into his porridge and put it into a warm oven, creating a slightly sweet, deliciously filling bread. He exclaimed, "Damn you Anna!"--as in, "I could have been eating this all along." The name of this popular eighteenth-century bread has evolved into "Anadama."


While this is by no means bread of the elite, this recipe contains six tablespoons butter, delicious, but still pretty rich, especially when toasted and buttered like I had this morning!

Of all the recipes in the bread chapter, this one interested me the least, something about the cornmeal and molasses in a yeast bread didn't call out to me. I gave it a try because it appears in so many American cookbooks as such a popular bread of it's time. I'm glad I made it after all--I found the combination of sweet, heavy molasses and just a little cornmeal really worked. Somewhere between gingerbread and pumpernickel with a slight crunch. This bread uses a lot of yeast (2 packages--1/2 ounce).

The Tavern would have served, as the book has made clear, the finest foods available in the New World. All the flavorings throughout the bread chapter seemed to be used prominently, even more so than our recipes call for today.

In my recipe sampling, my observations lead me to think that breads were in general richer with eggs and fat, more fully flavored with herbs, spices and fruits, yet less salty and far less sweet.

I've just discovered that the City Tavern has several other books of interest, including one devoted to breads and desserts. When I've worked my way through this chapter, I may have to learn a little more.

I wish I could have baked my way through history classes in school. I think I might have actually learned more about our history this way than by memorizing dates and battles! Maybe I'll go have a pint at the Tavern and take in a few more facts.

For Your Love and Digestion


My bread baking group (formerly HBinFive) is starting a monthly theme-based challenge, now that we have completed Healthy Breads in Five Minutes a Day. Our theme for November is "historical".

Taking advantage of living in a very historic city, I decided to focus on colonial Philadelphia. My decision was made easily having the City Tavern Cookbook in my collection.

While I have dined at the City Tavern several times years ago, including for our own rehearsal dinner the night before our wedding, I have never made anything from the cookbook. This book and its bread recipes have surprised me in several good ways.

For those of you not familiar with the City Tavern, it was one of the finest restaurants in the New World. "Opened in 1773 by fifty-three prominent Philadelphia businessmen and investors, including several signers of the Declaration of Independence, City Tavern was the setting for suppers 'as elegant as was ever laid on a table,' according to John Adams."

Philadelphia being one of the largest ports at the time was importing spices, citrus fruits, chocolate, madeira, even bananas.

All of these exotics were used along side foods native to the region, such as seafood, turkey, cranberries, squash, corn and pumpkins.

By the early 1800's the tavern had fallen out of favor with the elite and burned in 1834, no longer as respected an establishment. In 1854 it was demolished.

In 1948 when Independence National Park was created, City Tavern was noted as one of the historical sites. It took 25 years to faithfully recreate it. It reopened in 1976, and in 1994 the Tavern was taken over by Walter Staib, the author of this cookbook.

If you lived in colonial Philadelphia, your rosemary bread would have been in a big loaf, not shaped like a baguette. I took a little creative license, as I tell you in the recipe, out of trepidation of baking a 3-pound loaf of bread. These are (or were prior to dinner) two 1 1/2 pound loaves.

I know these loaves probably look like ordinary baguettes. Tasty ones, I hope, flavored with rosemary. Trust me, though, this bread tastes more like focaccia, and it may be one of the best breads I have ever eaten.

The bread recipes are updated (thank goodness) for the 21st century home cook! While they seem surprisingly to be just like what we eat today, careful examination reveals differences, particularly in richness, sweetness and flavoring.

This rosemary bread, for example, calls for 1/4 cup of vegetable oil. Had this been a focaccia recipe, calling for olive oil, I would have thought nothing of it. Instead it is 3 pounds of dough called for shaping jelly roll style into a 12 inch long loaf.

Rosemary Bread
adapted from City Tavern Cookbook

Rosemary was most likely brought to the New World by the French, who prized it for its therapeutic value--it was believed to relieve digestive ills--as well as for its symbolism--it was often used to represent a declaration of love. Rosemary bushes also were used in hedges to ward off garden pests.


2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 cups warm water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon salt
5 cups bread flour

1. In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Let stand about 10 minutes, until foamy.
2. Stir in the oil, rosemary, and salt. Mix in the bread flour, 1 cup at a time, to make a soft dough (I was able to mix in 4 1/2 cups in the bowl).
3. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for 8 to 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic and adding only enough flour to prevent sticking.
4. Transfer the dough to a large greased bowl and turn dough to coat all surfaces.
5. Cover with a slightly damp towel. Let rise in a warm place, free from drafts for 2 hours, or until doubled in size (the recipe calls for a 45 minutes to 1 hour rising time. This was not long enough for my dough despite having a warm kitchen).
6. Punch down the dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface.
7. Knead for 3 more minutes, until smooth, then cover and let rest for 10 minutes.
8. Lightly oil a 15 x 10 x 1 inch baking sheet or baguette pan.
9. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
10. Divide dough in half. Shape each piece into a 12 inch long loaf by folding the top and bottom halves to the center, pinching closed, and folding top over to the bottom and pinching seam closed and roll the seam to smooth it out. Taper the ends. Place on baking sheet.
11. Cover and let rise for 45 minute to 1 hour, until almost doubled in size.
12. Sprinkle the loaves with flour and make 3 diagonal slashes evenly across loaves.
13. Fill a baking tray with 1 cup of water below rack where bread will bake to give a crisp crust.
14. Bake loaves for 45 minutes, until golden and bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.
15. Remove from baking sheet and cool on wire rack for 1 hour before serving.
Note: The recipe called to bake this bread as one 12 inch loaf--considered a small loaf for the time, and an adaption for this cookbook. I was hesitant to bake 3 pounds of dough as one loaf, fearing it wouldn't bake through, not to mention how we would use a loaf of that size. However, if you wish, roll up your dough jelly roll style, pinching seam closed and tapering the ends and bake it on the prepared baking sheet. The instructions also indicated to bake this loaf for 20 to 25 minutes. My 2 smaller loaves needed 45 minutes. Slashing the loaves and creating a steamier baking environment was my choice given a more baguette-like shape.

A Book and Some Bread


In Late Winter We Ate Pears is more story than recipes about Italy, Vermont, bread, and the seasons. I happily read this book on the beach a couple of Summers ago. It has so much of what I love.

This Italian home-style bread recipe I tried uses a Biga, an old Tuscan dialect word for "mother" or starter. This was a new technique for me, and I have enjoyed the experience so far.

I am now on my fifth batch of Pane Casareccio, and each one gets better in texture and flavor. I have added a few suggestions to flesh out the recipe in places where I was a little uncertain at first.

When I researched Biga on a couple of bread forums, it seemed to be a method that drew some criticism. A Biga will eventually weaken or will in time turn into a sourdough starter, so what really is the point? Well, so far so good, and I'm really OK with either of those outcomes.

If my Biga soon becomes unusable I won't be upset. I'll be ready to bake different bread. If it slowly turns into a sourdough, then, in my opinion, it's a really interesting, unfussy way of getting there.

The other aspect to this method that I find so great is that the overnight sitting of the Biga is the bread's first rise. The next day your loaves need minimal rising.


Pane Casareccio
(Home
-Style Bread)
adapted from In Late Winter We Ate Pears: A Year of Hunger and Love

This is the basic country bread found throughout much of Italy. The bread should have a thick crust and a slightly chewy interior with some irregularly sized holes...Makes 4 pounds of bread.

Make the Biga the evening before the day you make the dough:

3 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon yeast
2-3 cups water at room temperature

In a medium sized bowl, place flour and yeast. Add enough water to make a slightly thick, soupy mixture. (What helped me here is to think thick soup, not oatmeal). It must not be loose and splashy. Beat it well to incorporate some air into it, cover with a towel or plastic wrap, and leave overnight on a counter or other out-of-the way place.

In the morning the Biga should be frothy with lively yeast activity. If it is flat and looks like the water and flour have separated, you will have to try again. (The freshness of your yeast might be the culprit.)

If your Biga looks lively pour three-fourths of it into a large mixing bowl, and store the rest in the refrigerator until the night before your next batch, when it can serve to add more developed flavor to the bread. (What has worked for me is to measure out 7-8 ounces of the Biga to store and the remainder should be about the three-fourths you will need for your bread).


Add to the Biga:

1 tablespoon yeast
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
5 cups flour
1/4 cup wheat germ
2 to 3 cups water at room temperature

To mix by hand:
Using a heavy wooden spoon, mix together the Biga, yeast, salt, flour and wheat germ and 1 cup of the water. As the ingredients combine into a single mass, continue to add water a little at a time, until the mixture in no longer lumpy and tough, but becomes a very soft, pliant, and resilient dough.
To use a mixer: Use the dough hook at the slowest speed until dough comes together.

If you are kneading by hand:
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 15 minutes. Put the dough into a clean, large mixing bowl (I oil the bowl although the recipe doesn't call for it) and cover with a towel or plastic wrap. Let the dough rest for 30 minutes.

If you are using a mixer to knead:
As the dough travels around the bowl it should do so quietly and smoothly, without any bumps or clanking. If not, slowly add water in 1/4 cup increments, allowing 1 minute to assess the effect of each addition. If the dough sticks to the bowl at all, it should do so only at the very bottom of the dough, and only a little bit. If it is not moving around as a ball, then add flour in 1/4 cup increments. Let the mixer knead the dough for a total of 8 to 10 minutes, until it is silky smooth, yet elastic. Follow the directions above for resting.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces.

Shape the loaves:
Flour your work surface and turn a piece of dough in the flour to coat it lightly. Shape it into an oval. Repeat with the other pieces. Let the loaves rest on a floured baking peel covered with a towel or plastic wrap for approximately 30-45 minutes (until a finger pressed into a loaf about 1/2 inch leaves an impression when removed.)
I have had trouble fitting 4 loaves onto my baking stone without misshaping them in the process, so I have shaped and baked 2 loaves at a time, prepared the other 2 and baked them when the first loaves are out of the oven.

Place a baking tray with 1 cup of water on a rack below the rack where you will place your bread to help your loaves develop a nice crisp crust.

Sprinkle the loaves with flour, and slash down the middle with a sharp serrated knife to depth of about 3/4 inch, starting about 1 inch from top to about 1 inch from bottom. Slide loaves onto baking stone. Bake for 25 minutes, then reduce heat to 425 degrees and bake until crust is well browned all over, perhaps as long as another 20 to 25 minutes. Loaves should sound hollow when tapped underneath.

Remove from oven and cool on a rack for at least an hour before slicing.

I bake all 4 loaves in one day, keeping at least one out and freezing the others.





Instinct

I am an intuitive breadbaker. I know there's the science of it all, and I'm interested in it. I'm trying to learn it, even though sometimes it feels like it goes in one ear and out the other. Deep down, though, I go by the feel and the look of the dough.

When I doubt my instinct and try to play by the "rules", things go wrong for me. Then I get mad at myself and lose confidence in my ability to trust those instincts.

Today I got back on the horse, or more aptly, put my hands back in the flour and began again, chagrined, knowing my instinct had been right.

A few days ago, I began Tartine. Beginning in this context, means making a culture.

...Fill a small, clear bowl halfway with lukewarm water. Add a handful of the 50/50 flour blend to the water and mix with your hands to achieve the consistency of a thick batter with no lumps. ...Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and place in a cool, shaded spot for 2 to 3 days.
After 2 to 3 days, check the culture to see if any bubbles have formed around the sides and on the surface. If the culture seems inactive, let it sit for another day or two. By this time, a dark crust may have formed over the top of the mixture, which is typical. Pull the crust back and note the aroma and bubbles caused by fermentation. In this initial stage, when the culture smells strong like stinky cheese and tastes sharply acidic, it is very ripe. Now it is time to do the first feeding.

Well, all was going smoothly. On the morning of day 2, the culture was practically bubbling over the bowl and there was a brown crust. I peeled the crust back and the aroma was sweet and pleasant, like a lovely, young swiss cheese.

I had a very active culture that was not stinky. What did my instincts tell me about the readiness of the situation?

My gut told me it was time! And what did my little brain say to that? It said, but it's not stinky, it's supposed to be stinky!

My gut instinct wavered. It took a little walk around the kitchen, came back and sniffed. Not any stinkier than before. It quivered and gave in.

It said, what could be the harm in waiting another day? It tossed around the possibility that missed opportunity could mean spoilage.

Today is day 3. The culture did not smell right. The sweetness was gone. The activity was gone. Underneath the crust it was watery.

Instinct hung it's head in shame and had a long journal writing about the episode. Afterwards, it raised it's head in hope and said, let's clean out the bowl and try again. Listen to yourself this time.

I am thinking back to the Fall when I tried sourdough. I had a similar experience with my culture. It was active and sweet smelling. I thought it was the pineapple juice I used masking the acidic smell. With that culture, too, I went through several attempts because I was trying to go by the book.

I am feeling now, like the situations are too coincidental. I think it may have something to do with the environment of our kitchen. It's sunny and warm. Both attempts were also at changeable times of the year. The day I made my Tartine culture it was 68 degrees. Day 2 it was 85 degrees.

If breadbaking was all science and rules, I'd never be drawn to it. If it was all intuition, I'd be nervous. But you've got alchemy; the science to base the process on and then you pull way deep into yourself and ask, "how does it feel?"

Your answer is what you go with, what should guide you. Always.


What Kind of Kneader Are You?



I have a question for you bread bakers out there. If you use a technique that involves kneading, what sort of atmosphere do you like to create for yourself ?

Do you like quiet and solitude, or do you prefer a livelier vibe?

Last Summer I was re-reading Brother Juniper's Bread Book, and I paused at his chapter, "Buy the Bread, We knead the Dough". I left a separate bookmark at this chapter, and Peter Reinhart's discussion has made me a more mindful bread baker ever since.

This chapter is about kneading as meditation, and the therapeutic benefits of the kneading process.

One of the most satisfying aspects of breadmaking is kneading dough. Much has been said and written about the therapeutic benefits of kneading, which range from the physical exercise to the emotional release, the psychological workout, and the personal satisfaction.

...my interest in breadmaking was sparked because of kneading, which was, from the start, the most enjoyable part of the entire process... The act of kneading dough can become a meditation if you perform it without distractions...

...Try to schedule your dough making when there are not too many distractions so that you can knead in peace. Once the dough is formed and rising, you can resume your other activities but, if you establish kneading time as sacred time, you will enjoy the synergistic opportunity. Let the process of handling the raw dough ground you, connect you, and center you...

I found myself for a while changing my dough-making habits. I made an effort to begin my morning, after A. and O. were at school, by coming home and making my dough. I liked the idea of organizing my day around the dough, and I enjoyed being able to give it my full attention. It felt calming, ordered and productive.

Sometime after trying this routine, I began baking with a book I found years ago, but had never used, Country Baking by Ken Haedrich. I had to laugh when I came across a passage in a section called Kneading 101.

A good way to find your kneading rhythm is to play music while you knead. I used to think that kneading had to be some sort of meditative exercise, done in absolute silence in a contemplative state of mind; heaven knows where I got that idea. Anyway, that never worked for me; 10 minutes of contemplative kneading can seem like an eternity. Eventually I discovered I was a rock-and-roll kneader....

As for me, I've never tried kneading to music. I'm not sure it's a good fit. I lean more toward liking the quiet. Solitude is optional.

What I definitely don't like in my breadmaking is feeling chaotic and rushed. Then the baking is just about producing a loaf of bread to eat. The benefits of the process are lost completely.

Sometimes when I'm mixing dough while cooking dinner, I've run out of time and brought a bowl of dough over to the dinner table and kneaded or turned every few minutes in the middle of our dinner.

The last time I did this O. thought it was really "cool". She had a ringside seat and was captivated, watching me make the shaggy dough come together into a smooth ball. Maybe it's a little like the experience of going to Benihana with my mother when I was a kid.

Recently O. told me she wants to be an artist and a baker when she grows up. Maybe I've found my niche in tableside kneading. It could be a way to encourage a whole new generation of bakers!

Struan


In Brother Juniper's Bread Book, Peter Reinhart devotes a chapter to Struan, a Scottish harvest bread. I can't imagine words any more beautifully written that would entice you to make this bread. So, I would like to share his celebration of Struan with you, and to encourage you to have a little faith and make this bread.

On the eve of the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel,
a wonderful custom used to take place in western Scotland. Each family member bakes breads called Struan Micheil, which were made of all the various grains harvested during the year...In remembrance of absent friends or those who had died, special Struans blessed at an early morning Mass were given to the poor in their names. Everyone then chanted an invocation to Saint Michael, the guardian of the harvest, and in praise of God for His ever-present blessing.

I've been reading about Peter Reinhart's Struan for a long time. First from Brother Juniper's Bread Book and then from Artisan Breads Every Day. I never had much interest in giving it a try. I wasn't sure I found the idea of cooked grains in a loaf of bread very appealing.

His Struan recipe calls for bread flour, rolled oats, uncooked polenta, wheat bran and cooked brown rice. (I had to use stone-ground cornmeal, which worked just fine, although this didn't result in the 'gold nuggets' described below, and I substituted cooked barley for the brown rice).

Before forming and baking a loaf of Struan, take a close look at the dough. Notice the different ingredients held in suspension by the soft glutenous dough. Most especially, notice the little pieces of polenta floating in the dough, like little gold nuggets. Stretch the dough in your hands, hold it up to the light, smell it, and experience it tactilely. Enjoy Struan before it is baked for its many-layered beauty.

The two Struan recipes differ in their technique, but not ingredients. The Artisan Breads Every Day method uses the slow, overnight refrigerated rise. Any variety of cooked grains, other than white rice, may be used, and the polenta and oats may be replaced by a multi-grain flour or cereal. The loaves may be shaped as boules, baguettes, rolls, or in loaf pans, as I have done.

While it is baking, pay attention to the aroma in your kitchen. Inhale deeply. Think about the fields where these scents originated and enjoy Struan for its "nose and bouquet."

Struan could become one of my favorite breads. It has a satisfying chewiness, yet the cooked barley became specks in the baked loaf. This solved my wariness. It is slightly sweet from the brown sugar and honey, and as other have noted, it makes fabulous toast.

Finally, toast a thick piece and lightly butter it. This is the ultimate experience of Struan. All of the flavors are released, pushed to their extreme. The outside is crunchy, nutty, and deeply golden. The inside is soft and moist, soaking up the butter.

Are you convinced yet? I hope so. If you don't have the books, I found another recipe at The Fresh Loaf. You may also like this one, which is slightly adapted.







My Farmer's Flour


I have been wanting to tell you all Fall how excited I am that one of the farmers at the market I frequent is selling whole wheat flour from his first crop of Dark Northern Red Wheat.

While we are accustomed in this area to local meats, poultry, produce, cheeses, and honey, flour I have never seen. This brought our mostly local eating to another level.

I thought I might start a local-finds column here, maybe once a month or so. Since then, I have been experimenting with the flour, and my intention was to share a bread recipe with you.

The flour looked coarsely ground to me, so I began using it tentatively at first, using just a little when whole wheat flour was called for. I have come to realize that it's probably not a coarse grind, but the fact that it is hand-sifted, creating a slightly irregular consistency.

I finally grew bolder as my desire to write a post increased, and I began using entirely his flour in some whole wheat recipes. What I noticed is that not as much water was being absorbed, and I needed to add more flour, sometimes as much as a cup to a cup and a half. The end result, however, was really good bread.

It turns out that my farmer is not the only one locally with his own wheat and mill. This article features another farmer. The loaf pictured above is Michael Dolich's Whole Wheat Levain Bread. I used a levain starter I made from Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day. It was a hearty 100% whole wheat bread with wonderful flavor. You will need to scroll down a bit through the article to get to the recipe.

While I've enjoyed making all manner of breads with this flour, I realized that bringing you a particular recipe was really not what I was after. It’s about the meaning of that flour to me. When I bake with it, I think of my farmer, and his concern one day, asking me if the flour was alright. Sometimes I’ve gotten bits of something straw-like. I smile because it brings me closer to the source.

I wonder if this is how it used to be for bakers before commercial brands of flour. We've come to expect every package to be just the same. I've noticed with the more recent containers of Rineer's flour that is seems a little finer, fewer bits. Either way, I'm grateful and inspired. The best part is that Rineer Family Farms is on land that is certified to always remain farmland.