Saturday, November 3, 2012

Post-Sandy comfort loaf

We're one of the lucky ones -- power restored after three days -- and pretty much the first thing I did (after a hot shower) was make a multigrain loaf of peasant-y, yeasty, crusty bread, with my 16-year-old levain (aka "starter"), stone-ground cornmeal, flaxseed meal, pecans, and whatever else I could dig up that said "comfort" and "health."

Concerned about getting good gluten formation and a decent rise, given all the non-glutenous stuff I was adding, I made this loaf very wet, as you can see from the photograph.

It's a little sticky to work with, but I was rewarded with a wonderful, airy crumb. This is a truly good bread. If you've never worked with a levain, here's a perfect excuse. The recipe to build your own is here or can buy a premade starter from King Arthur flour.

Best wishes to everyone who was in the path of the storm. Here's some comfort food:

Post-Sandy Multigrain Comfort Bread
300 grams unbleached all-purpose or bread flour
260 grams levain (see Building a Levain

25 grams stone-ground whole-grain corn meal
20 grams corn flour
50 grams rye flour
80 grams whole wheat flour
10 grams flaxseed meal
35 grams walnuts or pecans, broken in half
13 grams salt
3/8 teaspoon instant yeast 
310 grams water (room temp)

    Prepare the dough

  1. At least 2 hours before beginning (you can do this the night before), feed levain as follows: Remove levain from refrigerator and add equal parts flour and room-temperature water (I use about 130 g each, which replenishes what I'll be using in the bread). Stir/whip well, incorporating oxygen, and leave on the countertop, with the cover slightly ajar. Starter should be bubbling and lively when you begin your bread.
  2. Place a large bowl on your scale and zero out the scale. Now add the flours, one at a time, zeroing out the scale after each addition. Separately weigh and add the salt. Add the levain, a dash of instant yeast, the nuts, and the water.
  3. Mix thoroughly with a wet hand until the dough is homogeneous. Mist a piece of plastic wrap with vegetable oil spray, press it directly onto the dough, and leave the dough to autolyse (rest) for 20-25 minutes.

    Kneading and fermentation

  4. Knead by hand 7-9 minutes (see my kneading video if you've never kneaded before). If you insist, you can use a stand mixer with a dough hook for 2-3 minutes. Knead until dough is elastic and smooth.
  5. Clean out and dry the mixing bowl (no soap), mist with vegetable oil spray, and replace the dough. Place the oiled plastic wrap back onto the dough. Ferment at room temperature (68 -72 degrees is ideal) for 4 to 5 hours.

    Forming the loaf and proofing

  6. Place baking stone and old cast-iron pan or rimmed baking sheet in oven and preheat for at least an hour at oven's highest setting (I use 550).
  7. Place dough on well-floured countertop and divide in half. Form into batards, a sort of stubby, torpedo-shaped baguette. (There are numerous YouTube videos and books that illustrate how to do this). Place the loaves between the folds of a couche or parchment paper, cover and allow to proof for about 45 minutes.
  8. Turn loaves onto a peel, sprinkle tops with rice flour if you want a decorative dusting. Score loaves deeply lengthwise, at an angle, with a razor blade and slide loaves onto stone. Pour a cup of water (wear an oven mitt) into the pan.
  9. Lower oven temperature to 475 and bake for 20 minutes. Lower temperature to 450 and continue baking till loaves are a golden-to-dark brown (about another 15-20 minutes), and center of loaf is 210 degrees.
  10. Cool on racks. 



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