I visited family in the Portland area the week following Christmas but was unable to get this blog posted before losing my computer access for a week. Tuesday's highlights included a trip with Rachel and family to Powell's bookstore in downtown Portland and 45 minutes waiting in line at Voodoo Doughnuts. The wait at Voodoo was well worth it as I got to experience true doughnut nirvana. The particular item of doughnut perfection was a maple bar with several strips of bacon on top. While I admit that it sounds a bit strange, when you take a bite it becomes instantly obvious that these flavors belong together and you ask yourself "Why didn't someone think of this sooner?"
My big find at Powell's was a used book on raising ducks and geese with detailed instructions on incubation to include plans to build your own incubator. I was seriously tempted by a number of their bread books and other cookbooks but decided to read a few more from the library before I make a commitment to a particular author. Speaking about bread, Rachel and I used my wild yeast to make a pretty decent loaf of 50% whole wheat bread. We had it for dinner along with a yummy homemade Turkey and noodle soup. It really hit the spot.
The particular bread I've been making is a variation on Cibatta bread. I use a wet dough and no kneading. I begin with 400 g of my sourdough starter. The starter is a 50/50 combination of whole wheat and white flour and half the weight of the starter comes from flour and half comes from water. That means I am starting with 200 g of water, 100g of whole wheat flour, and 100 g of white flour. When you make bread by weight every ingredient is measured as a percentage of the weight of the flour. My starter is 100% as the weight of the water is the same as the weight of the flour. I want to end up with a ratio of 80% with the amount of water in the dough being 80% compared to the weight of the flour. This sounds complex but it is really pretty easy to do with a simple kitchen scale. In order to get my 80% ratio I simply add 100 g of whole wheat flour, 100g of white flour, 120 g of water, and 4 g of salt. I mix the dough together, cover the bowl with a dish towel and let it sit out on the counter for a few hours.
After the dough has started to rise, I put it in the fridge until a few hours prior to the time I want to bake it. I can do this the evening before if I want to make bread the next morning or I can do it in the morning if I want to make bread that evening. This time in the fridge is important as it stops the yeast growth while the gluten continues to develop. When I take it out of the fridge, I transfer the dough to a greased bread pan. Since the dough is pretty sticky I simply use a fork to pull it away from the sides of the bowl and let it drop into the bread pan and even it out a bit. When the dough has risen sufficiently to fill the bread pan I heat the oven to 450 degrees and bake it for about 25 minutes.
A few important notes:
1. It is a virtual impossibility to measure a sourdough starter accurately by volume as there is a lot of variation in the amount of air in the starter. The only way I can know exactly how much of the starter I've used is to weigh it. Flour is also difficult to measure accurately by volume as there is a varying amount of air in the flour depending how it has been handled.
2. It is much easier to make good bread with actual bread flour rather than all purpose flour. "All purpose" actually means all purposes except making bread. Bread flour is made from higher protein wheat and has more of the gluten necessary for the structure in bread.
3. This may seem complicated, but it really isn't. This whole process only takes about 15 minutes of my time and who wouldn't give a mere 15 minutes for yummy homemade bread. It does require a minimum of planning ahead as in "I want to have bread for dinner tomorrow night so I had better mix it up tonight or tomorrow morning. Since I'm currently using my bee store scale I also have to remember to bring the scale home from work.