The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

PMcCool's blog

  • Pin It
PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

My wife and I took a few days this past week to visit an area of South Africa that we had not seen before: the Drakensberg (Dragon Mountains) in the KwaZulu Natal province.  While there, we arranged for a trip over the Sani Pass into Lesotho, a small, mountainous kingdom entirely surrounded by South Africa.  And why would I be mentioning this in a bread-dedicated site, you might ask?  Well, because of something that we did not realize was part of the tour: a visit to a small village just a few miles past the border.


Getting up Sani Pass is a challenge, whether for bikers, hikers, or vehicular traffic.  The pass itself tops out at 9,470 feet.  The route there is an unpaved road that twists and turns as it snakes its way up the mountainside.  4x4 is the order of the day for vehicles.  The following picture was taken about half-way in and about a quarter of the way up:



As you get closer to the top, the going becomes even more challenging:



After reaching the crest, there's the obligatory stop at Immigration:


After leaving Immigration, we drove across a plain whose tallest features were the shepherds and their flocks.  Vegetation seemed to consist primarily of knee-high tussocks of grass and heather.  We eventually arrived at a village consisting of perhaps a dozen stone huts:



Notice the white flag flying at this hut.  No, the occupants haven't given up.  The white flag indicates that bread and beer (a sorghum-based brew) are available for purchase.  A green flag would indicate vegetables and a red flag would indicate meat for sale.  


You might think from looking at the hut that the kitchen facilities are far too limited to support a bakery/brewery operation.  Limited, yes, but not too limited.  The "kitchen" is a battered wooden table against the wall opposite the door.  It holds a few bowls, some enameled metal drinking cups, and not much else.  There are a couple of larger plastic containers to the right of the table; that's the brewery.  The oven is a Dutch oven that rests on the hearthstone in the center of the hut.  The bedroom is a single bed against the wall to the right of the door; the living room is a stone bench built against the wall to the left of the door.  There are no interior walls.  Nor are there windows.  The local thinking is that windows make the hut harder to heat.  Smoke from the fire escapes through the doorway, if the door is open, or through the thatched roof.


The available fuel for fires:



The pile of "bricks" on the left is dried cow manure.  It is the primary fuel, supplemented with brush from the bundles on the right.


Despite what many of us would view as absolutely impossible conditions for turning out anything other than a flatbread, or maybe a bannock, Miriam (the hut's owner) makes some beautiful bread that she sells to flatland tourists like ourselves and to her neighbors.  And I'm not being patronizing in the slightest when I use the word beautiful.  See for yourselves:



Miriam's bread is both elemental and artisanal, in the best sense of that overworked word.  The ingredient list is limited to flour, water, salt and yeast.  She has no scale, yet each segment is wonderfully uniform in shape and size.  I'd guesstimate that each section weighs around 400g, perhaps a little less.  She regulates the heat by the quantity of coals beneath the DO and on its lid.  As you can see, the crust is a lovely brown; neither underbaked or scorched.  The crumb was moist and soft straight out of the DO.  I think that the flour used was mostly white, although some flecks of bran were visible.  The flavor was exactly what you want from bread: wheaty, yeasty goodness.


After a brief tutorial on Lesotho, in general, and life in the village, more specifially, we bought some bread and some handcrafts and then bid Miriam goodbye.


Before heading back down the pass, we stopped at the border for lunch at the highest pub in Africa:



Somehow, the pass looked even scarier as we started down than it did on the way up:



However, our driver got us back safe and sound.  And with a much greater appreciation for the so-called necessities that I think are required for making bread.  Knowing the difference between essentials and conveniences may be Miriam's biggest gift to me.


Paul


 

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

This is the second bread from this weekend's bake that is from the late Bernard Clayton Jr.'s New Complete Book of Breads, as both an expression of gratitude and a memorial of sorts.


Mr. Clayton's Pain Seigle is one that I have not previously made.  It is an interesting bread, from the standpoint that approximately 50% of the flour is in two preferments: a "starter" made with commercial yeast and a sponge.  It also has a high rye content, with 2 cups bread flour to approximately 5 cups of rye flour.  


Starter


1 cup rye flour [I used the only rye flour available to me, a finely milled whole rye]


1 teaspoon dry yeast


1 cup warm water (105º-115º)


Mr. Clayton recommends a fermentation period in a covered bowl running from a minimum of 6 hours up to 36 hours.  I let mine ferment from Friday evening to Saturday evening, about 26 hours.


Sponge


All of the starter


1-1/4 cups warm water (105º-115º)


1 cup bread or all purpose flour


1-1/2 cups rye flour


Blend the water with the starter, then blend in the flours.  Cover and allow to ferment 8 hours or more.  I let this ferment overnight, then mixed the final dough around 11:30 Sunday morning, a total of 14 hours.  The sponge ballooned, at least quadrupling its original volume.  Plan accordingly.


Final Dough


All of the sponge


1/2 cup hot water (120º-130º)


1 tablespoon salt


2-1/2 cups rye flour, approximately


1 cup bread or all purpose flour


Stir the hot water and salt into the sponge, then add 1 cup of each flour.  Mr. Clayton's instructions say to mix by hand or machine for 15 minutes, adding the remaining rye flour until the dough is a shaggy mass that can be kneaded.  Here's where I took a slightly different path.  Mr. Clayton's descriptions and directions, while acknowledging that the dough will be sticky enough to warrant kneading with a bench knife or bowl scraper, still reflect a wheat-flour-based mindset.  Kneading, if by hand, should be done on a floured surface; "it will gradually lose its stickiness and become soft and elastic."  With all due respect, no.  I found that the white flour in the sponge had developed a very strong gluten network from its overnight hydration.  Adding the last cup of bread flour increased that.  However, the more rye flour that was added, the more this became a rye dough insofar as its handling characteristics went.  Being mindful of rye's fragility, I did about 3 minutes of stretch and folds in the bowl (as opposed to 5 minutes of kneading), then turned the dough out onto a wet countertop so that I could shape it into a rough ball.  That also let me clean and oil the bowl for the next fermentation which, per instructions, was timed at 40 minutes.  No indications were given for the dough's expansion or appearance at the end of this bulk fermentation, so I watched the clock.


Mr. Clayton instructs to "punch down the dough" and "knead for a minute or two to press out the bubbles."  I didn't see a significant change in the dough at the end of 40 minutes, certainly nothing to warrant punching down or kneading.  Clayton recommends forming into 3 boules of about 1 pound each.  I elected to form 2 boules.  This was followed, per instructions, by a 30-minute final ferment on the baking sheet. 


Glaze


1 egg yolk


1 tablespoon milk


The egg yolk and milk are blended together and brushed on the loaves.  Mr. Clayton recommends glazing before slashing.


The bread is baked in a 400º dry oven for about 45 minutes, until a finger thump on the bottom crust produces a hollow sound.


Here's how it looked:


Clayton's Pain Seigle


And a somewhat closer view:


Clayton's Pain Seigle


It is a handsome bread.  The glaze imparts a lovely sheen.  It is also obviously underproofed.  My kitchen temperature today was in the low 70's, perhaps not as warm as Mr. Clayton's "room temperature."


As noted in a previous post, my cup of flour probably weighs less than Mr. Clayton's cup of flour.  Therefore, it is likely that these are somewhat higher than his in hydration.  Now that I have this bake as a baseline, I would probably extend the bulk ferment and the final ferment to a point that I could see more obvious indications of inflation in the dough.  These may be somewhat dense and tight-grained when I get around to cutting into them.  That won't be until later this week, since they will go into the freezer once they have cooled thoroughly.  They don't feel like bricks, so I will keep my fingers crossed.  I can't remember whether I've made an unseeded rye before, so I'm looking forward to seeing how the rye tastes all on its own.


Paul

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Given Bernard Clayton Jr.'s influence on home bakers in the United States, it seemed fitting for me to bake some breads from his New Complete Book of Breads in observance of his recent death.


This post will be about his Italian Bread.  I needed a fairly simple bread that could fit into a compact time so that it would be available to give to acquaintances who have a surgery scheduled for this Tuesday.  Not knowing whether their children would be agreeable to a whole-grain bread, much less a sourdough, I opted for a crusty white bread that would go well with the soup that my wife was preparing for them.  


The formula, all in volume measurements, is fairly simple:


1 tablespoon salt


1 tablespoon malt syrup [having none on hand, I substituted agave nectar]


1/2 cup nonfat dry milk


2 packages dry yeast


3 cups warm water (105º-115º)


6 cups bread or unbleached flour, approximately


1 tablespoon vegetable oil [I used olive oil]


The process is nearly as simple.  Mix together the salt, water, malt syrup, and yeast.  Place 4 cups of flour in a mixing bowl, form a well in the flour, and pour in the liquid mixture.  If using a mixer, mix 10 minutes at medium speed (2 on a KitchenAide?).  If mixing by hand, mix for a similar time.  Then add remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time until a firm dough forms.  Knead for 10 minutes.  Place in a large, oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and allow to ferment until tripled in volume.  Deflate the dough and allow to rise an additional 30 minutes.  [I opted for a shorter hand mix and a shorter kneading time, performing one stretch and fold when the dough had nearly doubled, then allowing to triple the original volume.]  Clayton recommends preshaping the dough, about 4 pounds, into boules, batards, or baguettes, then allowing a 20 minute rest.  He also recommends brushing the loaves with water immediately before placing them in the oven.  I elected to form 4 batards in the final shaping and rolled them in sesame seeds before placing them on the baking sheets, skipping the water brushing step.  Allow to nearly double in volume again before baking (Mr. Clayton says "about 1 hour").  Bake in a 425º dry oven for 40-50 minutes until golden brown and the loaves sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.  Rotate the baking sheets about halfway through the bake to ensure even baking and coloring.


Since I used two baking sheets and had to position one fairly low in the oven and the other fairly high (it's a relatively small oven compared to U.S. ovens), I chose to use convection baking and lowered the temperature 40º, as suggested by Mr. Clayton.  At the 20 minute mark, I rotated the baking sheets and swapped their positions.


Other than some clumsy slashing, which is in no way attributable to Mr. Clayton, the loaves expanded very nicely in the oven, more than one might expect given the lack of steam.  Here is how they look:


Clayton's Pain Italien


And a slightly closer look:


Clayton's Pain Italien


We did keep a loaf for ourselves, so I will post the crumb shot once we cut into it.


When I next bake this bread (I have before and it is too good not to continue to use it), I will try steaming the oven.  I expect that it would enhance the blooming of the slashes as the ovenspring occurs.  It is possible that my decision to use the convection setting also had an effect on how much the slashes opened.  Given the oven capacity, the convection setting was the better choice in terms of promoting an even bake.  I will also probably skip the sesame seeds in future bakes, even though they seemed like a good idea at the time.  From Mr. Clayton's description of the dough, I suspect that I had a higher hydration than he would have used.  My impression is that he may have packed more flour into a cup than I do.  


Given that this formula came from a bakery in Monaco, one can argue about how "Italian" it really is.  Regardless of its pedigree, it is good bread.  Thank you, Mr. Clayton.


Paul

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

We were invited to a Cajun-themed dinner party last evening at a friend's house here in Pretoria.  Not the easiest thing to pull off in South Africa but it turned out pretty well, considering the limitations.


Knowing that there would be gumbo and jambalaya and etouffe, I wanted to take some bread that would be good all by itself and as a sop for all those wonderful broths and gravies.  Preferably, it would resemble something one might find in Louisiana; maybe in a poboy sandwich.  I came across Eric's (ehanner) post about utilizing Bernard Clayton's Blue Ribbon French Bread and figured that might be a good starting point.  Since I have the book (The Complete Book of Breads), it was easy to reference the recipe.


Clayton's approach is a fairly quick, straight dough method.  Wanting to build more flavor, I chose to build a sponge from 4 cups of water, 6 cups of flour and about a tablespoon of my approximately 50% hydration starter that would have been discarded as part of a refresh.  (Note that I doubled the recipe.)  That was assembled around 11:00 p.m.  This is what it looked like around 10:00 a.m. the following day:


Sponge for Blue Ribbon French Bread


Overnight temperature in the house was around 72ºF.  I'd estimate that the sponge had expanded by at least 25%.  The butter, by the way, has absolutely nothing to do with the sponge.  It was just convenient to leave it in the same bowl while it came to room temperature.  (No, this is not a classic French bread; more of an Indiana interpretation of a French bread.)


The only other alterations that I made were to omit the powdered milk, simply because I didn't have any on hand, and to reduce the yeast to 1 teaspoon.  I elected to use some yeast just to ensure that the rest of the fermentation went at a steady pace even though the sponge was more aerated than I had anticipated, given the small inoculation.  The rest of the ingredients and process were by the book.


Even though I used AP flour, the gluten in the sponge was well-developed after nearly 12 hours of hydrating.  Because of the high percentage of pre-fermented flour (approximately 60%), the dough was quite extensible.  Having made a lot of whole-grain breads in recent months, including quite a few ryes, this white-flour dough was a big change.  It was much smoother, less sticky, and felt more "pillowy" while it was being kneaded.


I steamed the oven as much as I could, hoping for a thin, crisp crust.  The loaves expanded beautifully, producing big ears and grignes on  the loaves, as below:


Blue Ribbon French Bread 


The crust turned out to be thicker and harder than I had hoped, more crunchy than crisp, so I didn't quite hit my target for this bake.  The crumb, which won't be pictured since none came home with us, was much less open than a classic baguette but more open than one would expect for a dough that had been kneaded 10 minutes.  The flavor was rich and only mildly sour.  Our resident Cajun was overjoyed with it and wanted to know how I was able to produce this kind of bread with a home oven.  He loaded up most of what hadn't been eaten and went home with visions of pain perdu in his head.  We'll be scheduling a play date in the kitchen one of these weekends.


And for my Northern Hemisphere friends, one last picture as a reminder that winter isn't forever:


Blue Ribbon French Bread


Warm regards,


Paul

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Saturday's game plan was to do a turkey dinner with all the trimmings for some of our South African friends.  The aim was partly to broaden their cultural sensibilities (not to mention waistlines) but more importantly to thank them for how pleasant they have made this past year for a couple of Americans who are a long way from home.  Alas, it was not to be.  My wife came down with some sort of abdominal unpleasantness that had her down for the count on Friday and left her feeling very weak on Saturday and Sunday.  Fortunately, she's back to her usual self but the planned activities for the day were pretty much shot to tatters.


With only a few errands to run and not wanting to leave her home by herself, I made up a Plan B which, wait for it, also involved food!  It started small enough and then morphed into something bigger.  It wasn't too long after starting that I thought "I have the whole day.  I could make some bread to give away as well as some for ourselves."


I started with Leader's Polish Cottage Rye, since that is naturally leavened and would therefore take the longest to go from ingredients to finished bread.  I've not made this before but I will be making it again.  It contains just over 25% rye flour (I used whole rye instead of the recommended white rye), all of which is in the rye sour.  It makes a beautiful big miche-sized loaf, just over 1200g in weight.  I missed that note.  I had the oven all set up to bake on the stone, with steam.  When I looked at how the dough was doming over the top of the bannetons, I realized that wasn't going to work.  Then I pulled the stone and steam pan out of the oven and put each loaf on parchment in its own half-sheet pan.  The oven in this house has only two shelves and the coil is exposed in the bottom of the oven, so that left no room for the steam pan.  Consequently, I baked them with convection.  When first transferred from banneton to pan, each loaf spread quite a bit.  Each one had good oven-spring but I wonder whether they might have been even higher if there had been a way to get steam in the oven at the same time.  Note that I'm not complaining about result.  The crumb is smooth, moist, cool and creamy; sorry, no pics of that.  The outside looks like this:


Leader's Polish Cottage Rye


It's the time of year that I usually make Bernard Clayton's Pain Allemande aux Fruits.  I've blogged about this previously, so won't repeat myself here except to say this is a wonderful bread!  It is rather messy and tedious, which is why I usually only make it once a year. Shaping is always a challenge with that much fruit and nuts in the dough.  The fragrance and the flavors are so exquisite, though, that I can't just not make it.  Here it is, all baked, bagged, and ready to go:


Clayton's Pain Allemande aux Fruits


And, just because I knew some friends wouldn't be all that jazzed by rye bread or fruity bread, I decided to make Sweet Vanilla Challah from Beth Hensperger's The Bread Bible.  This has been blogged about, too.  The shaping is extremely simple, especially compared to a braid, but the result is stunningly elegant:


Hensperger's Sweet Vanilla Challah


So, instead of saying thank you to a few friends, we were able to thank several more.  While my wife would have preferred to skip the whole sickness thing, the end result was much appreciated by others.


Paul

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

I've taken a bit of a break from ryes in the past couple of weeks, baking Honey Lemon Whole Wheat from Clayton's Complete Book of Breads and the Pain au Levain with Whole Wheat from the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking book.  This weekend, though, I went back to rye again, baking the Soulful German Farmhouse Rye from Daniel Leader's Local Breads.


Leader's Soulful German Farmhouse Rye


I've blogged about this bread previously, so I won't repeat what I've said previously.  


The most obvious difference this time is that I proofed the boules smooth side up and then baked them with the seam side up, allowing the natural weaknesses in the dough to be the expansion points.  I like the effect, particularly since the darkness of the crumb contrasts with the lighter-color flour on the crust.  Not so evident, but still different this time is that I did not add any of the instant yeast called for in the formula (I had all day at the house anyway), nor did I "dust" the banneton with rye flakes.  That did nothing for my enjoyment or for the bread, so I just used a light dusting of rye flour on top of the rice flour already embedded in the fabric.


If I remember the next time that I make this bread, I'll double the quantities but still shape it into just two boules.  That might give a bit more height to the loaves, which would make them more serviceable for sandwiches.  Despite the diminutive size of the loaves, this is a delicious bread and well worth the making.


Paul 

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

On Friday morning, I did a rather large refresh of my starter, thinking that it would be the makings of a levain for something to bake this weekend.  There was no specific plan, mind you, just the notion that I needed to bake something and that sourdough would be preferred.  In taking stock of my pantry after a late dinner Friday evening, it became evident that whatever I made wouldn't contain rye--I needed to restock.  That may be good news to Nico and the rest of the crew at Eureka Mills but it did steer my considerations out of one path and down another.


What to bake, then?  After riffling through some books, the bread that looked most appealing to me was the Pain de Campagne from Leader's Local Breads.  Yes, it wants 30g of rye flour, too, but I substituted WW and was happily on my way.  My starter was at, or just passing, its zenith.  Since I keep a firm starter, I needed to add water to achieve the hydration of Leader's liquid levain.  Before doing that, I made sure to set some starter aside to refeed and put back into storage.  It's no fun to find out you've baked up all of your starter and need to start anew.  Even worse, there are no T-shirts after you've been there and done that.


In reading the formula, I found that I had just about the same quantity of levain (after adding the requisite water) that would be required for a double batch.  Good!  One mess and four loaves instead of one mess and two loaves.  That would yield two for us and a couple of loaves to give to friends.  Leader recommends mixing the water and flour for a 20-minute autolyze, then add in the levain and salt.  I varied by mixing the flour, water and levain for the autolyse and left it for 25 minutes, on the presumption that the coarser bran particles of the WW flour would benefit from additional time soaking.


Upon returning to the now-autolyzed dough, I found it to be wonderfully elastic even before adding the salt.  I worked in about half of the salt using a stretch and fold in the bowl process, then patted the dough out on the countertop and worked in the rest of the salt.  Leader directs the baker to knead the dough for 10-12 minutes.  For once, I followed directions.  The dough was a joy to handle.  It verged on being sticky at the beginning of the knead.  Per Leader's directions, I did not add any bench flour.  Instead, I would dust my hands with flour occasionally.  As the kneading progressed, the stickiness reduced to a light tackiness (and I mean that in a good way).  The dough left very little of itself on the countertop even though it was quite capable of latching on if left to sit for more than a few seconds.  It was able to produce a window pane at the end of the kneading, something that I don't usually check for, especially in a dough freckled with flakes of bran.  In spite of the addition of some WW flour (and rye, if you have it), this is essentially a white bread.  And I suspect that the dough felt so responsive to me because my previous bake was a 100% rye.  Two different worlds!


By this time, it was already close to 9:00 in the evening, so I had to consider my next step.  Should I stay up late through two fermentation cycles and baking, or should I retard it in the refrigerator?  Since I was dealing with a sourdough, I opted to leave it on the counter for about an hour more before placing it in the refrigerator.  My experience with sourdoughs is that they are rather slow to develop and I did not want to sacrifice that much sleep.  Imagine my surprise at about 7:00 this morning when I opened the refrigerator door to find the dough well above the rim of the bowl, straining against the plastic wrap!  It had at least tripled, perhaps quadrupled, in roughly 9 hours in the refrigerator.  I've never seen a sourdough bread do that before.  It must be that this starter, even though only a couple of months old, has a potent strain of yeast!


So, I divided the dough into four pieces and shaped each piece into a boule.  I only have two bannetons that size, and only two loaves would fit on my stone at one time, so I opted for using two half-sheet pans with two loaves on parchment on each.  While I can fit those into my oven, it does not leave any room for a steam pan.  When the loaves had doubled (visually) and the poke test indicated that they were fully risen, I scored them and brushed their surfaces with water before putting them in the preheated oven.  Leader recommends baking at 450ºF for 15 minutes, then dropping the temperature to 400ºF for an additional 20-25 minutes.  I opted to use the convection setting, with temperatures that were 40º-50º lower, supposing that I would get a more even bake.  I also planned to rotate and switch the pans at the 15-minute mark.  When I opened the oven, I found that the lower loaves were pressing against the rack above them.  Instead of the planned switch-and-rotate maneuver, I took all four loaves off the pans and placed them on the top rack, with the paler pair at the rear, to finish the lower-temperature last segment of the bake.


Here's how they look:


pain de campagne


As you can see from the crackling in the crust of the left-hand loaf, they sang as they cooled.  Two of the loaves suffered small blow-outs along their bases, indicating that they weren't as fully proofed as they seemed to be (or that I really did need more steam in the oven).  I'm very happy with how they expanded upward more than they did outward, since I was careful to get a tight gluten cloak while shaping.  I'm less happy with the scoring; it's a skill I need to develop further.  I anticipate some good eating from these.  We'll see how the crumb looks when I've cut into one.  That much kneading could lead to a fairly even and close crumb, even though this is a moist dough.


Stay tuned!


Paul

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

 


Or to Eureka Mills, if you are more fluent in English than in Afrikaans.


We spent the past week on vacation in the Western Cape Province of South Africa.  Along with spectacular vistas, fynbos, animals we’ve never seen before (who knew that bontebok and blesbok would be so difficult to differentiate?), rolling farmlands, orchards, vineyards, calving whales and two different oceans, we managed to fit in a visit with Nico Steyn, miller and manager of Eureka Mills. 


It was really a happy accident rather than the result of any forethought.  We had stopped at a farm stand, noticed several bags of Eureka Mills flour, and read the address: Heidelberg.   And then it hit us—we were standing in a shop on the outskirts of Heidelberg!   After locating a telephone number, we called and made arrangements to visit that afternoon and see, as Nico put it, “how we make what we think is the best flour in South Africa.”


For those who might be in the vicinity someday, Eureka Mills is located just south of the N2 highway at the Karringmelkrivier (Buttermilk River) exit, west of Heidleberg.  And it is easy to spot: there is an enormous grain elevator visible from the highway which, so far as I know now, has nothing to do with Eureka Mills.  Since it was the biggest and most obvious grain-related structure, I aimed for that and drove right past the mill, only noticing the sign at the last second.  Eureka Mills is a much smaller and bare-bones outfit; as Nico said, a “one-man band operation” that looks like it is one of the buildings of the farm from which it sprang.  All of the buildings were erected by mill staff (including the new expansion that is in progress) and all equipment was installed by mill staff.


Eureka Mills was born in 1998 because two farmers were frustrated by the low prices they were being quoted for their wheat.  They recognized that they could get a much better price for their product if they converted it from raw grain to flour.  As the mill’s output has grown over the years (it currently produces about 100 tonnes/month), additional wheat is now purchased from other growers in the area to supplement the original farms’ production.  Nico joined the mill in 1999.  He had been interested in a career as a chef but, when that didn’t develop, started working at the mill to generate some income.  He has since worked his way up to the miller/manager position.


The wheat used by Eureka Mills is a hard red variety.  Since the area is short of the 35th parallel in latitude and has more of a Mediterranean-style climate, the winter and spring designations used by European and North American growers don’t quite apply.  Nico describes it as a “pre-winter” wheat.  The resulting flour is approximately 11% protein and contains nothing but wheat.  No malt.  No added vitamins.  No bleaches.  Just wheat.  Visitors to the mill (“All foreigners” a bemused Nico remarks) include James McGuire and Jeff Hamelman and they have been astonished to find a flour of this purity.


The milling process has just a few steps.  The incoming wheat is first screened to remove any stray pebbles that might have gotten in.  It is then screened again to remove any other non-wheat materials.  From the screens, it is mixed with water (tempered) and stored for 18 hours to achieve a 15% moisture content.  After tempering is completed, the wheat is sent through a series of 3 roller mills that separate the outer layer of bran from the inner endosperm and germ.  The endosperm and germ are then ground between two granite burrs in a stone mill.  The resulting (unbleached) white flour is packaged as either white bread flour or as cake flour (roughly equivalent to All Purpose flour in the U.S.).   As I’m writing this, I realize I didn’t ask what differentiates the two white flours.  If it all comes from the same wheat, there can’t be much difference except, perhaps, in the fineness of the grind.  Brown bread flour is made by reintroducing a portion of the bran and wholemeal flour is made by recombining all of the bran.  Nico explained that they had learned that running the whole grain through the stone mills resulted in the bran clogging the stones, which costs them about a day of lost production by the time everything is taken apart, cleaned, and reassembled.  Hence, the initial passes through the roller mills to separate the bran before the grain reaches the stone mills.  Lest I leave you with the impression that the milling is easy, here's Nico's take on the process: "The flour is like a woman; what worked with it yesterday may not work today."


Although none of the grains used by the mill are certified as organic, Nico explained that the growers exercise careful soil conservation practices.  Typically, a field will be planted to wheat for two consecutive years.  It will then be planted with canola (seeing hundreds of hectares of the yellow blossoms is dazzling) for a year.  Following that, it will be left fallow for 2 years.  All of the plant material that remains after harvest is worked back into the soil with toothed implements, rather than with plows or discs, to minimize disruption of the soil structure.  As a result, such fields host plentiful earthworms and other beneficial organisms that are not present in a heavy cultivation/heavy chemical use regime.  Soils in this region tend to be very thin and lacking in organic matter, so such practices are essential to long-term productivity.  I remember driving by one field in which the farmer had gathered rocks into large piles and the soil still appeared to have more stones than dirt.


Eureka Mills also produces rye flour, rye meal and crushed rye because of customer demand.  That rye is imported, since the local climate is not conducive to rye cultivation.  If it hadn’t been for my whining in one post about not finding rye flour locally, I might not have known about Eureka Mills.  MiniOven did some research on the Web, found out about Eureka Mills, and got me pointed in the right direction.


Nico works closely with a number of artisanal bakers (mostly from France or Italy, he notes) and with distributors to extend the use of Eureka Mills products.  He is frequently on the telephone with bakers, responding to their questions or requests; something that he values as much as they do.  South Africa is going through a dietary shift that, in many ways, is both parallel and linked to its social shifts.  Brown bread flour was not previously taxed, therefore it was cheaper for institutions (schools, prisons, etc.) and low income persons to use for their baking needs.  It now has a stigma as “poor peoples’ food” and the growing demand is for baked goods made with white flour.  At the same time, as more people have increasing affluence, there is also a nascent willingness to spend more for artisanal breads.  Most of the master bakers producing those artisanal breads are either Europeans or have European training, hence Nico’s comment that visitors to the mill tend to be foreigners.  Those bakers want to have a product they can trust and a person on whom they can rely to address their needs.


If you would like to visit the Eureka Mills website, the address is www.eurekamills.co.za. And, if you are in South Africa and would like to buy some of their flours or goods made with their flours, you can find a list of distributors and bakers on their website.


Future flour (the green fields in the middle distance, not the grasses in the foreground:


Wheat fields


 


The primary (stones) screen:



 


Secondary (trash) screens:


Secondary (trash) screens


 


Roller mills:


Roller mills


 


Stone mill (foreground) and sifter (background, right):


Stone mill and sifter


 


Cleaning up at the end of the shift.  Anything that lands on the floor is sold to a local farmer as cattle feed.:


Cleanup at end of shift


 


Mill expansion in progress:


Mill expansion


 


Nico Steyn, miller:


Nico Steyn

 

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Although blogging has taken a back seat to other activities, I have been baking in the background.  It's just that none of those have made the leap from the kitchen to the Web.  And, frankly, most of them were old favorites and I really didn't have anything new to say about them, except for yum!


This weekend, though, was different.  My wife has decided to make some dietary changes, with the objective of greatly reducing the GI loads of the things she eats.  On the one hand, that means eliminating a lot of foods that are either sugary or constituted primarily of simple carbohydrates and replacing them with foods that contribute either higher protein content or complex carbohydrates.  So, when she had a package of 100% rye bread in her hand while shopping this weekend, I said "I can make that at home.  And I can use sourdough, which will make it even better for you."  All true but highly optimistic, considering some of my recent sorties into high-rye land.


Back at the house, groceries unloaded and put away, I made a bee-line for TFL and started looking at the accumulated wisdom and experience regarding 100% rye breads.  Of the various possibilities, Mini's Favorite 100% Rye was most appealing to me so I started the mise en place Friday evening.  First up was to prepare the rye sour.  Keep in mind that I pitched my old starter some weeks back and began another.  So, while potent with yeast, the new starter is still fairly mild in flavor.  It would have to do.  Next up (although not in Mini's original formula) was a soaker consisting of 100g each of cracked rye and boiling water.  Still another addition, a sunflower seed soaker consisting of "some" (about a handful) sunflower seeds and enough cool water to cover.  Yeah, yeah, I know, always measure for repeatability.  I was off the page at that point, anyway, so measurements didn't seem too important.  After that, off to bed.


The next morning, I toasted the bread spices in a skillet on the stove top and ground them.  Not knowing the exact formulation, I guesstimated that 2 tablespoons of coriander seed and 1 tablespoon each of caraway and fennel seeds should do.  Oh, my, the house smelled wonderful!  From previous experience, I knew to keep an eye on the fennel seeds; they start out with a greenish cast and turn a golden brown when ready.  The caraway and coriander start out a tan/brown color, so they aren't as helpful in indicating when they are done.  It is important to give the seeds a shake every minute or so to prevent scorching.


From there, it was a matter of combining the starter, the water, the spices, the cracked rye soaker, the (drained) sunflower seed soaker, and rye flour.  It's a bit of a stretch to refer to a 100% rye dough as "dough".  Wet mortar seems to have a closer similarity to this stuff than any dough based on wheat flour.  Anyway, the ingredients were thoroughly mixed, covered with plastic wrap, and left in the sunshine on our stoep.  We're seeing the first signs of Spring here in Pretoria and the sunny stoep was warmer than my kitchen.


An hour later, I brought the bowl back in, troweled the dough onto a wet countertop and worked in the salt, per Mini's recommendation.  The dough was put back in the bowl, covered, and set back out in the warmth of the sunshine.  At the 3-hour mark, the mortar/dough was showing some aeration, which indicated that the starter was at work. 


Since the cooking gear available to me is a bit different than Mini's, I elected to split the dough into two loaves and bake each in a 4x8 (inches) loaf pan.  Those fit neatly into a covered roasting pan, giving me the steam chamber that Mini devised by flipping one pot upside down on top of the other.  Having oiled the pans and dusted them with rye flour, I brought the dough in, divided it into two pieces, shaped each, and gently tamped them into the waiting loaf pans.  Each pan was approximately half full, giving me a reference point for gauging their eventual expansion.  Just to be sure that I didn't miss anything, I also lightly sprinkled the loaves' surface with rye flour, knowing that the resulting cracks in the flour would be another indicator that the dough was rising.  After that, I covered each loaf pan with plastic, put them in the roasting pan, covered it, and set the whole shebang back out in the sunshine. 


Two and a half hours later, or five and a half hours into the process, the loaves had filled the pans about 3/4 full, which was about a 50% expansion.  The top was a network of dark fissures in the lighter rye flour.  After debating the merits of allowing further fermentation/expansion versus the possibility of over-proofing, I decided to err on the side of caution and bake the bread.  I did remember to remove the plastic wrap (whew!) from the loaf pans before sliding the roaster into the oven.  I also chose to sprinkle a tablespoon or so of water in the floor of the roasting pan, just to add some more steam.  Maybe that helped, maybe not.


Per Mini's instructions, the bread went into a cold oven, then spent the first 25 minutes at 200C in convection mode.  After that, I took the roaster out of the oven, pulled the loaf pans from the roaster and put them back in the oven, then switched the oven from convection mode to a top and bottom heat mode, still at 200C.  Not knowing exactly how long they would take to reach the recommended internal temperature of 93C, I checked back in 20 minutes.  The internal temperature was barely 91C, so I gave them an additional 5 minutes.  At that point, the thermometer showed 94C, so I removed the bread from the oven and depanned the loaves onto a cooling rack, covering them with a cotton towel.  A few hours later, after they were thoroughly cooled, I put each in a plastic bag.


If you read Mini's account and compare it to this one, you'll notice that the added soakers and the division into two loaves are not my only departures from her formula.  She is working with a finely ground rye flour (Type 950, I think) that, back in the States, I might call a medium rye.  What I have available is a stone ground whole rye with noticeable flecks of bran.  I think that my dough was a bit stiffer than she describes hers, probably because of the additional absorption of the bran.  Consequently, I wasn't bashful about working additional water in from either the countertop or my hands.


Having given the bread 25 hours to for moisture distribution and stabilization, I cut into one of the loaves this afternoon.  Several things became evident.  First, I could have allowed the ferment to continue longer.  These are not bricks but neither did they achieve the airiness of crumb that Mini's bread shows.  My concern about over-proofing made me a little too twitchy.  I think that is going to be one of those experience things (with probably at least one flop) to know how much is enough and how much is too much.  Second, the bread spices that were so evident during the baking have taken a backseat to the rye itself in the finished bread.  They are still in there, but they are the background singers to the rye's lead (if we were talking music).  The sunflower seeds add a bit of nutty crunch and flavor to the blend.  The crumb is very moist and cool but not gluey.  Were it not for the textures of the the cracked rye and sunflower seed soakers, it would be almost cakelike; albeit a very dense and chewy cake.  There's a lot going on in this bread and it's only Day 1.  I'm curious to see how the flavors evolve as the bread ages.  Most importantly, my wife likes it!  Since it was intended for her benefit, that's a good thing.


The first picture, below, shows the loaf profile and crumb.  Like I said, not a brick but more proofing would have been allowable.



The second picture, below, shows the "crackle" texture in the flour sprinkled on top that was caused by the loaf's expansion during proofing.



There are things that I might do differently next time.  I'd probably skip the rye flour dusting in the loaf pans and use a solid fat instead of oil.  The oil/flour residue on the sides of the loaves isn't visually appealing to me.  I might also skip the dusting of flour on top of the loaves.  It was my choice rather than anything Mini recommended and I don't know that it helped me to ascertain readiness as much as I had hoped.  Oh, and I would try to remember to dock the loaves prior to baking.  That step got left out entirely and it was probably only because the loaves were somewhat underproofed that I don't see any problems as a result.


Thank you, Mini, for sharing your formula with us.  Once I feel like I have a handle on this bread, I'd like to try some that have a very long, low-temperature bake to see if I can approximate a pumpernickel that is baked in a WFO overnight.


Paul

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

What with having dinner guests on Saturday and more coming on Monday, it was a wonderful excuse for puttering around in the kitchen this weekend.  I started with Pain au Levain from Leader's Local Breads Saturday morning and followed with Rich and Tender Dinner Rolls from The King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cook Book and finished up with a Chocolate / Chocolate Chip cake, source unknown.  


Having posted about the Pain au Levain previously, I won't go into detail about the process here.  This bread is consistenly good, in both outcome and flavor.  This bake resulted in lovely oven spring and big ears, in spite of some rather deficient scoring.  It hasn't been cut yet, so I don't know about the crumb but the exterior suggests that the interior ought to be good.


The dinner rolls were a typical enriched roll, with butter, eggs, sugar and milk.  The two differences that set it apart from most such rolls was the addition of some whole wheat, maybe 20%, and no refrigeration.  The former was a pleasant addition in flavor and the latter was a real convenience since I was a bit pressed for time.  I just shaped them as simple pan rolls.  As the name suggested, they were rich and tender and a good accompaniment with dinner.


The cake was a bit over the top (which won't stop us from making it again!), what with a cup of butter, 4 ounces of melted chocolate, 5 eggs and buttermilk in the batter.  Oh, and chocolate chips, too.  My wife halved the frosting recipe (it called for 5-1/2 cups of confectioners/icing sugar), since we baked it in a 9x13 pan instead of in 3, 9-inch round cake pans.  This is not a light and airy cake.  It is moist, it is heavy, and it is sweet!  Good stuff, in other words.  Best of all, with others to help eat it, the danger of too much snacking on the leftovers is reduced.


Before going to bed Saturday night, I mixed a biga for Portugese Sweet Bread.  Today I finished the bread, shaped it as hamburger buns and baked it.  Now we have the base for some barbecue sandwiches for our guests Monday evening.  I've learned that the store-bought buns just don't stand up well to the sauce that comes along with the barbecue, so something like PSB is less likely to go all floppy in mid-bite while still being tender.


No pics of anything described here.  Just lots of enjoyment in both the baking and the eating.


Paul

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - PMcCool's blog