The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

BanetheChirpractor's blog

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BanetheChirpractor

Most fathers recant their fantastical endeavors to their children, often subjecting them to recollections of transient glimpses of glory, be it "that one time when..." or the figurative - or sometimes literal - "Big Fish".

My father instead opted to describe his affection for croissants.

My early childhood was dotted with early-bird endeavors to donut shops both dingy and dainty to find my father's favorite breakfast food: the infamous ham and cheese croissant, a savory symphony of swine and swiss, surreptitiously surrounded by a sterling shell that shone with such brilliance that naught but the finest of flavors could possibly be hidden within.

Being a Taiwanese man whose diet consisted of the constant companionship of rice, the presence of croissants in my father's dietary staples bewildered me. It was a stark deviation from his general principle of pairing any and all foods with Asia's staple starches. Only later in life did I realize that a croissant, in all its guilt-inducing, buttery glory, bore more mystic power than any love potion. If such a pastry could bewitch a man so, truly a frightening beast it be.

And now it was time to tame it.

My first attempt at making croissants produced woefully undersized pastries, a product of my own unfamiliarity with the general properties of proofing the croissants. I was satisfied with the layering, however, and strove to recreate them in a larger size.

As Fate, the fickle mistress she may be, would have it, my second attempt at croissants were wildly large - almost to a degree where I, in a panicked state, was frightened that they may overwhelm my oven.

As Luck, Fate's amiable assistant, would have it, they were released from their convection confinement unscathed, and they were indeed a sight to behold.

With a crispy crust and an open crumb, my father was ecstatic, to say the least.

In lieu of both ham and cheese, the only suitable sandwich condiment I had was egg salad, and though the pairing sounds mighty peculiar, a mighty fine pairing it was indeed.

Though not as aesthetically pleasing, the second set of croissants - a laminated brioche instead of a typical dough - were ultimately my father's favorite.

Note: With the dead dough from the croissant rolling process, I also received a round brioche as a byproduct of this endeavor: a buttery surprise, to say the least.

Buttery.

Beastly.

And oh-so brief in its time in the bread basket.

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BanetheChirpractor

To err in light of bread is not too err at all...

A terse, yet alarmingly pedantic, narrative:

After a brief to a local Le Pain Quotidien, my mother -the conductor of this crazy carbohydrate train- produced and prompted me to taste what I could only describe as the instigator of a newfound obsession: the walnut-raisin sourdough loaf.

For an uninitiated individual, the rapid descent into a vast spectrum of flavors unbeknownst to me was little less than a momentary venture into culinary euphoria; to suddenly be cast into an infinite expanse of gastronomic territories uncharted by my naivety almost too much to handle, too great a burden to bear. The crisp shatter of what I could only presume to be a perfect crust, immediately trailed by a chewy interior marred not by the repugnant sensation I associated with the (not-so-wonderful) Wonder Bread; a symphony of sensations that caused me to ponder my purpose for my 19 years on this planet.

I had developed a shallow interest in baking during my first year in college, but only then did I realize that the use of an oven reached far beyond simple scones or common cookies. What I sought - and currently seek - is a mastery of undertones and overtones, a blend of subtle undertones that enunciate the intricacies of flavor with uncharacteristic brash avowal.

Approximately one year has passed since that introduction to naturally-leavened breads. My fascination with sourdough has surpassed even that of my mother, who, in all her being, never could have foreseen that her culinary comrade would develop such a vested interest in a foodstuff that our household was initially void of. My ventures shifted from mindlessly meandering about to studying baking techniques and venturing to every bakery I could to garner inspiration from every facet imaginable. A short journey to Seattle devolved from seeing the Space Needle to waking up at 5:00 am to walk four and a half miles to reach the opening doors of Columbia City Bakery... two days in a row. A similar story occurred in San Diego, involving a 6-mile morning round trip at 6:30 am to purchase walnut scallion loaves, still warm from the oven, from Bread and Cie on University Avenue. I myself am, at times, intimidated by this ravenous desire to sample scrumptious breads wherever I go, and now, with a functioning whole wheat starter at 100% hydration and an insatiable appetite for a malformed, bronzed-to-burnt, perfect loaf, I present my Frankenstein's monster: A Blueberry Blackberry Sourdough Boule.

My fourth attempt at sourdough, the first being an unpalatable whole-wheat slab made with what I now realize was a sorely underfed starter, the second a most peculiarly moist apricot walnut loaf that resembled a damp sponge in both appearance and aromatic allure, and the third being a flawed reproduction of Robertson's classic Tartine loaf, this loaf is the first that I feel truly resembles the first loaf I tried in the gastronomic sense: a fine, crispy crust with a lightly chewy crumb, and an earthy aroma derivative from a blend of whole wheat, semolina, spelt, and bread flour. The smattering of fresh berries, which I find are quite an infrequent addition to sourdough breads, hearkens back to the blueberry muffins I used to eat at during family outings to a local Souplantation, though their intense sweetness no longer suit my tamer tongue. It was this memory, and memories of my mother raving over these muffins so many years ago, that make it feel suiting that my first successful loaf would be  some distant offspring of a treat the one who introduced me to sourdough once loved so dearly.

Apologies for the extensive tangent. Perhaps my excitement over my first acceptable sourdough is radiating a tad too strongly and irradiating my writing habits.

The crumb on this bread is fairly underwhelming; as my first loaf with actual rise, however, I am excited to see where I can proceed from here with further experimentation with long autolyzes and gluten development.

One note I should make, however, is that the heat radiating from the dutch oven I used was only paralleled by what I can assume to be its burning hatred for my unprofessional practices. The reason I have no full-loaf photos is because the entirety of the bottom of one of the loaves adhered to the dutch oven, and it took a fair bit of coaxing (tough love from a now deceased and dearly missed wooden spoon) to remove. I can only assume it was the fruit juices that burnt into the oven as it was baking that cause this to occur. This, however, did not hinder me from scraping out the bottom half of the loaf and consuming the crispiest crust I have ever encountered.

Another note: The bitter tones of burnt bread compliment blueberries surprisingly well.

Though I wrote down my process, I can't say with certainty that it was recorded with the greatest integrity.

My measurements, however, are as follows:

150g 100% Hydration Whole Wheat Leaven

630g Water, warm

600g Whole Wheat Flour (King Arthur)

35g Semolina (Bob's Red Mill)

35g Spelt Flour (Bob's Red Mill)

80g Bread Flour (Lehi's)

15g Salt

50g Blackberries

75g Blueberries

Thank you all for the wonderful information frequently shared amongst the annals of the forums. As a long time lurker and a first time poster, I can say with certainty that the advice proved invaluable in this endeavor.

Best regards,

-Mark

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