How hard could it be?

swirly score

Before choosing bread as a career path, others warned me about how difficult the work was. I had made bread before, numerous times, and with breathtaking results. How hard could it really be?

Now that I call myself a baker, I am understanding what they meant.

Being a good baker isn’t just about the demanding physical work (lifting many pounds of water and flour and then dough each day, mixing, turning, portioning, and shaping each loaf by hand) or knowing the dough, being able to gauge its readiness, and follow a recipe. It’s about becoming a detective: probing vats of dough throughout its fermentation time for temperature readings, working with the dough and not forcing it along a specific schedule, and knowing how to correct for influencing factors (time, temperature, humidity, flour type).

I’m still learning. I don’t think I’ll ever stop.

HOUSE-DRIED FIG + TOASTED FENNEL SEED SOURDOUGH

BUILD THE LEAVEN

Making sourdough requires planning. Before we can make dough, we must first prepare our yeast for the great task of raising flour, water, and salt into a lofty loaf of bread. We do this by making a leaven 4-8 hours before starting the dough. Mix these together with your hands:

Hard red wheat flour, 25 g
Rye flour, 15 g
Water, 40 g
Ripe sourdough culture, 10 g

Cover with a secure lid until a tablespoon of the leaven floats in a bowl of room temperature water (4-8 hours).

PREMIX

Leaven (above), 75 g
Water, 400 g
Hard red wheat flour, 500 g

Mix together by hand until no floury bits remain. Cover with a secure lid and allow to rest for 1 hour. This is called the autolyse – it allows the flour to completely hydrate and soften before starting to make the dough.

DOUGH

Once the autolyse is complete, add:

Sea salt, 10 g
Water, 50 g

The addition of salt gives bread better flavor and also gives us bakers greater control over the development of the yeast. Once the salt is added, the premix becomes dough. Incorporate the salt and additional water into the dough by turning the edges in towards the center, until it comes together and is no longer a shaggy mess. Cover again with a secure lid.

BULK RISE

Let the dough rest for 30 minutes at room temperature. Remove the lid and give the dough 4-6 turns and stretches clockwise, pulling dough from the outside in towards the middle and letting the dough fall at the center each time. The dough should be in a fairly cohesive round. Cover again and repeat this process. Fold these into the dough, just as you would in another turn of the bulk rise:

Dried figs, halved, handful
Fennel seeds, toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant, and ground up a bit in a mortar + pestle, 1 TB

Cover and let rest again and continue to fold the dough every 30 minutes two more times (for a total of 5 times or 2.5 hours of bulk rise). The bulk of the dough should have risen about a third and be lofty, feeling full of air.

REST

Gently coax the dough from its bowl and onto a lightly floured countertop. Pull the dough into a nice round, being sure to keep all the seams on the underside. Leave here undisturbed for 10-20 minutes.

SHAPE

After the rest, flip the dough over (seam side-up) onto a part of the countertop that has been slicked with water. Like an envelope, gently pull the top of the dough up and then back down towards the bottom of the round, then the right side towards the left side, and the left side towards the right side, and finally the bottom side up towards the top. Each side of the dough should overlap in the center. Scoot the finished dough onto a part of the countertop again slicked with water, seam side-down, and let rest again for about 5 minutes.

Generously flour a proofing basket (or colander with a flour sack towel) with brown rice flour and plop the finished dough into the bowl so that it is now seam side-up. Dust the seams with brown rice flour and place into the fridge for about 16 hours. Refrigeration helps to keep the dough at a manageable consistency, allows for further expansion and rising, and gives the bread a more sour flavor and enhanced digestibility. I like to bake dough directly from the fridge.

BAKE

Preheat a cast iron dutch with lid at 500°F. Using a knife or lahm or razor blade, score the bread starting at the top, in a hypnotic type of swirl (or whatever way you fancy). Plop the dough into the hot cast iron, cover with the lid, and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and continue baking for 20-22 minutes more. Remove and cool on a wire rack.

(If this looks familiar, it is the Tartine Method – with a few changes. There are many ways to make and bake sourdough bread that change from person to person and season by season. Everyone has their own little spin.)

HOUSE-DRIED FIG + TOASTED FENNEL SEED SOURDOUGH.

Something majestic

There is something wonderfully lonely about being awake at 3:00 in the morning. Greeting the glum blackness at a time too early for regular humans to be spotted is a special ritual that not everyone can quite grasp.

Sometimes I feel like the only person alive.

Especially while shattering the encapsulating silence with a windy sip of hot thyme tea, an angry red nose screaming its disapproval of a damp hanky, and a scratchy throat seeking relief in pitiful coughs.

It’s time to slap together a billowing mass of flour, water, salt, and yeast into something majestic.

IMG_5120

SESAME SOURDOUGH
adapted from Tartine Book No.3 by Chad Robertson

FRESH-MILLED WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR | 100% | 1000 g
WATER | 85% | 850 g
LEAVEN | 15% | 150 g
REDMOND REAL SALT | 2.5% | 25 g
UNHULLED SESAME SEEDS, toasted | 14% | 250 g
+ RAW SESAME SEEDS for coating

Leaven
Active rye sourdough starter | 25 g
Fresh-milled whole wheat flour – 200 g
Water – 200 g

Mix, cover, and let rest 4-8 hours depending on ambient temperature (more time during colder months). The leaven is ready when a dollop floats in a bowl of water.

Dough
Leaven (above) – 150 g
Fresh-milled whole wheat flour – 1000 g
Water – 800 g

Mix with one hand until no dry bits remain. Cover and allow to hydrate for 60 minutes.

Redmond Real salt – 25 g
Water – 50 g

Add these and squish with hands until fully agglomerated. Let rest 30 minutes.

Bulk rise
Sesame seeds – 250 g

Fold & turn (1) the dough by wetting one hand, grabbing the underside, stretching and folding the dough back onto itself. Rotate the bowl and do this 2-3 times more. Rest 30 minutes.

Fold & turn (2) the dough again. Rest 30 minutes.

Gently incorporate the sesame seeds into the dough (3). Rest 30 minutes more.

Fold & turn (4) the dough again. Rest 30 minutes.

Fold & turn (5) the dough again. Rest 30 minutes.

Fold & turn (6) the dough again. Rest 30 minutes.

Gently coax the dough onto a lightly floured counter-top. The dough has been working hard until now – allow it to rest for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, line 2 medium-sized bowls with clean tea towels and generously dust with a 50/50 mixture of brown rice & whole wheat flour.

After the rest, divide the dough in two and use a dough spatula to purposefully flip the dough over so that the smooth side is down. It should be fairly round. Pull each side slightly and fold towards the center like a package, working first with the bottom, then sides, & finally top. Working as if the dough spatula were replacing one hand, pull and roll the dough until the bottom seam is sealed and you have a nice round shape.

Raw sesame seeds

Slap some water over the surface of the round and roll in raw sesame seeds. Plop seed-side down into the floured, towel-lined bowls. Cover with the long flap of the towel and place into the refrigerator for 24 hours.

Bake

Preheat a cast iron dutch oven (with lid on) @ 500 degrees in the bottom third of the oven. Delicately, dip the bowl of one dough round into the piping hot dutch oven. It should fall in almost like you meant for it to. Score in any fashion you’d like, cover, and place into the oven. Cook 20 minutes. When the timer beeps, reduce the oven temperature to 450 degrees, and set the timer again for 10 minutes. Now, brave the scorching oven and remove the lid. Bake again 20-25 minutes until deeply brown.

Here is a nice cheat sheet for the bake:

     Lid ON – 500 degrees, 20 minutes
                     450 degrees, 10 minutes
Lid OFF – 450 degrees, 20 minutes

Lastly, let cool on a wire rack before slicing into. Heat the oven back to 500 degrees and bake the second loaf just as the first.

Yield 2 loaves.

SESAME SOURDOUGH.

 

Full of beauty

Life has felt like a load of laundry whipping around in the dryer. When I list out all the things consuming me during sunny July, I am amazed that I can handle so many things at once.

Through the chaos, I breathe it all out in an exhale that reaches my toe nails. I like to imagine that this profound exhale expels all worry, grief, stress, and anxiety into a limitless red balloon that can then be gently cast away to float in the sea of blue atmosphere. Other people might see it and smile.

I have begun a morning meditation practice, mostly of pranayama, making time to take these breaths and think about myself, my day, and my impact on these next 24 hours. My thoughts root deep and I always ask myself this question: how do I give the world value?

Although I am currently in the process of making a much larger stamp on my community in terms of educating and offering real food to those who seek it, I often find my value in the smallest of things: purposefully sitting on the floor to show my dog how much I love her, seeing a stranger on the street and offering her a smile, cruising through the park and giving the trees full attention and wonder, watching wild yeast dough gently puff with air bubbles of varying shapes and sizes.

I tend to notice beauty mostly in the living. Sourdough bread is serendipitous and has different personalities with each loaf, each type of fresh-ground flour it is fed, the temperature it basks in, and the hands that soothe it. This is my ultimate meditation, as I nurture another life, which will then nurture me, and think about all those crumbs and air pockets made from an invisible life that I helped sustain.

Days are always full of beauty. All we have to do is notice.

oat porridge yes (1)

OAT PORRIDGE W/ TOASTED ALMONDS
adapted from Tartine Book No.3

Note: this bread was made during the summer, so the water temperature I used was cold, to compensate for the ultra-warm ambient environment. I recommend using 85 degree water in the winter when ambient temperatures are low.

FRESH-MILLED WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR | 107% | 1070 g
WATER | 75% | 750 g
LEAVEN | 15% | 150 g
REDMOND REAL SALT | 2.5% | 25 g
(cooked, room temp.) OAT PORRIDGE | 50% | 500 g
SOAKED, DRIED, & TOASTED ALMONDS | 20% | 200 g
+ROLLED OATS for coating

Leaven
Active whole wheat sourdough starter | 25 g
Fresh-milled whole wheat flour – 200 g
Water – 200 g

Mix, cover, and let rest 4-8 hours depending on ambient temperature (less time during warmer months). The leaven is ready when a dollop floats in a bowl of water.

Dough
Leaven (above) – 150 g
Fresh-milled whole wheat flour – 1070 g
Water – 700 g

Mix with one hand until no dry bits remain. Cover and allow to hydrate (or autolyse) 30 minutes.

Redmond Real salt – 25 g
Water – 50 g

Add these and squish with hands until fully agglomerated. Let rest 30 minutes.

Fold & turn (1) the dough by wetting one hand, grabbing the underside, stretching and folding the dough back onto itself. Rotate the bowl and do this 2-3 times more. Rest 30 minutes.

Bulk rise
Oat porridge (cooked, room temp.) – 500 g

Mix into the dough by using your hands to lovingly fold and turn the dough over itself from the bottom (2). Rest 30 minutes. Fold & turn (3). Rest 30 minutes. Fold & turn (4). Rest 30 minutes. Fold & turn (5). Rest 30 minutes. Fold & turn (6). Rest 30 minutes. Fold & turn (7). Rest 30 minutes. (This should take approximately 3.5 hours and includes the time involved with mixing in the porridge.)

Gently coax the wet dough onto a heavily floured counter-top. Dust the top with flour and divide in half. Using a dough spatula, work some flour into each round until it holds its shape a little better. Dust the tops again with flour, cover with a tea towel, and rest 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, line 2 medium-sized bowls with clean tea towels and generously dust with brown rice flour. Take the dough spatula and use it to purposefully flip the dough over so that the smooth side is down. It should be round but fairly rectangular. Pull each side slightly and fold towards the center like a package, working first with the bottom, then sides, & finally top. Working as if the dough spatula were replacing one hand, pull and roll the dough until the bottom seam is sealed.

Rolled oats

Roll in rolled oats by first rolling the dough on a wet dishcloth. Plop smooth-side down into the floured, towel-lined bowls. Dust with flour, cover with the long flap of the towel, and place into the refrigerator for 24 hours.

Bake

Preheat a cast iron dutch oven (with lid on) @ 500 degrees in the bottom third of the oven. Delicately, dip the bowl of one dough round into the piping hot dutch oven. It should fall in almost like you meant for it to. Score in any fashion you’d like, cover, and place into the oven. Cook 20 minutes. When the timer beeps, reduce the oven temperature to 450 degrees, and set the timer again for 10 minutes. Now, brave the scorching oven and remove the lid. Bake again 20-25 minutes until deeply brown.

Here is a nice cheat sheet for the bake:

     Lid ON – 500 degrees, 20 minutes
                     450 degrees, 10 minutes
Lid OFF – 450 degrees, 20 minutes

Lastly, let cool on a wire rack before slicing into. You will be graced with a bread with the texture of tender cake. Heat the oven back to 500 degrees and bake the second loaf just as the first.

Yield 2 loaves.

OAT PORRIDGE SOURDOUGH W/ TOASTED ALMONDS.

(k)