With few exceptions, most of my baking in the past weeks has been, well, pedestrian. One of the exceptions would be Bernard Clayton's Pain Allemande Aux Fruits. There's no way a bread like that can be pedestrian, even if the baker's efforts aren't stellar. There was also the treat of introducing a young South African friend to the simple joys of a Southern-style breakfast featuring buttermilk biscuits, sausage gravy and fried apples. We initiated him into the Kansas City fellowship of barbecue with lunch at Jack's Stack on another day. He is also now a fan of key lime pie. But I digress.
A little more bluntly, I've been baking but haven't invested much of myself in the effort. And it has showed in some rather medocre, if still serviceable, breads. So I tried to do something about that this weekend and I'm pleased with the outcome.
Back in April 2009, I blogged about the Whole Wheat Genzano Country Loaf from Leader's Local Breads. I said that it was so good that I would make it again. Now, almost three years later, I have. Almost.
The almost refers to three departures from the formula and process presented in the book. The formula calls for 250g of whole wheat flour in the final dough. There were only 140g left in my whole wheat flour container. How did that happen?! Faced with a hurried trip to the store or improvising, I improvised by subbing in 60g of whole rye flour and another 50g of bread flour to make up the difference. So, technically, this is no longer Leader's Whole Wheat Country Loaf. Rather, it is Paul's Now What Do I Do? Loaf. The second variation is in the mixing regime. As with my previous bake, I just don't see the purpose or value of the extended high-speed mix that Leader recommends. After 10 minutes at speed 6 on my Kitchen Aide mixer (note that he recommends 8-10 minutes at "medium speed" which he defines as speed 8, followed by an additional 10 minutes at speed 10), the dough was already clearing the sides and bottom of the bowl and I was able to pull a windowpane. That, of course, was after switching off the machine which I had been forcibly holding down on the countertop so that it didn't launch itself. The third and final variation is that I preheated the oven at 500F and then turned it down to 450F after steaming and loading the bread.
In terms of being more purposeful with this bake, I made sure to pull my starter from the refrigerator and refresh it in ample time for it to be fully active. The biga naturale was prepared and allowed to fully ripen. I maintained the prescribed fermentation temperatures. With the exceptions noted previously, I hewed to the formula and process, only deviating where necessity dictated or experience suggested. Most importantly, I paid attention to what I was doing. When it came time to shape the loaves, which is an exercise in minimalism, I was very careful to be gentle. As a result, most of the gas in the dough was retained in spite of this being a sticky dough that wants to latch onto whatever it touches. I even did a mini-hearsal of what movements I would need to take to get the shaped loaves onto the stone in the oven, which led to my reorienting their position on the peel. Based on the loaves' development in the oven, I chose to pull the steam pan at about the 9-minute mark. That seems to have been a good call, based on their coloring.
Given all of that, was the outcome perfect? Of course not. But I'm pretty happy with the bread. Here's why:
The color on these loaves is much closer to what Leader describes in the book than what I achieved with my previous bake, so my decision to preheat to a higher temperature paid off. Although the loaves sang softly while cooling, the crust retained its integrity instead of crackling. Here's a closer look:
The higher preheat temperature had a couple of other effects. One was to boost the amount of oven spring. The loaves are probably almost twice as tall as they were when they first hit the baking stone. The second effect is that the crust is thicker and chewier this time around. I'll take that, given the richness of the flavor that comes with the bolder bake.
The crumb from one angle:
And face on:
One loaf exhibited slight tearing along the bottom, which suggests that I could have let the proofing run another 10-15 minutes. However, the dough was so gassy that I was concerned more about overproofing.
This is a good bread. The rye doesn't stand out distinctly but it definitely adds another layer to the flavors. The crumb, a day after baking, is moist, cool and firm. The crust requires a definite bite and some deliberate chewing. It went very well with today's dinner of brined pork loin. This week's sandwiches should be good.
My advice (mostly to myself) is to pay attention to the details because every detail matters and good bread is worth the extra effort.