The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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PMcCool

It was a busy baking weekend here in Pretoria.  My lease for the house is up at the end of September, which means I'll be in temporary quarters for the last two weeks of my stay here.  Since I don't know what I might have for kitchen facilities during that time, I'm trying to fit in the baking that I need/want to do while I can.

On Friday evening, I mixed the liquid levain that the Vermont Sourdough formula calls for, plus enough extra for sourdough pancakes on Saturday morning.  Never one to leave well enough alone, I also set up a soaker consisting of cracked rye at 10% on flour, with an equal amount of water, to include in the bread.  I need to use up what I can, right?  And I haven't been wrong yet about choosing which breads to grace with some cracked rye.

On Saturday morning, I assembled the final dough for the Vermont Sourdough and put it through its stretch and fold regimen.  A formula for this bread, posted by zolablue can be found here, with corrected metric weights here.  The day was a bit cool, with temperatures only getting up into the mid-60s, so both the bulk and final ferments were leisurely affairs.  It's a lovely dough to work with.  Initially, it's a bit sticky (probably accentuated by my use of the cracked rye soaker), but it transforms with each S&F into a dough that that is elastic and self-supporting.  The final proof after shaping was done on parchment on a baking sheet.  Scoring was a bit ugly (I miss my knives!) but one loaf still developed a respectable ear during baking.  The other loaf exhibited a small blow-out along the bottom edge, which would probably have been prevented if the scores had opened properly.  No pictures, I'm afraid, as the bread is already in the freezer.

After getting the sourdough to the bulk proof stage, I started a batch of Sweet Vanilla Challah.  I've blogged about it previously, so won't repeat myself here except to say that I really like this bread.  Much of my baking involves lean whole grain breads, so working with an enriched white bread is like driving a luxury sedan after driving a pickup.  Everything is so much smoother.  Again, no pictures since both loaves are in the freezer.  One will be gifted later this week and the other will be consumed at a bread class I'm conducting at a friend's house next Saturday.

After getting home from church this morning, I started a batch of the honey whole wheat bread that the class will be making next Saturday.  I wanted to give the formula a shake-down to ensure that everything worked the way I expected.  Good thing, too.  The flour was much thirstier than I expected, so hydration needs to go up.  I also wanted to show the class the effects of a couple of techniques.  Because of time constraints, we'll only use a 15-minute autolyze in class.  For this batch, I extended the autolyze to 60 minutes.  I also extended the kneading time to about 25 minutes.  All things considered, this bread should be more tender and less apt to crumble than the batch that I made a couple of weeks ago.  As the picture below shows, matching pan size to dough quantities properly results in a prettier loaf.

In considering what to do with some apples that might not be used otherwise, it occurred to me that someone had posted an apple variation to the Blueberry Cream Cheese Braid that Floyd initially posted, so I went looking.  For once, my memory concided with reality.  The apple filling formula is about two pages down from the end of Floyd's post.  So, I set the sponge, peeled the apples and cooked the filling, made up the final dough and set it to proof, then went to the stoep to read the Sunday paper.  Well, part of it anyway.  When I came back in to check the dough, I found that the dough had doubled so I mixed both the egg glaze and the cream cheese filling, then rolled out and assembled the two braids.  I am not a natural-born braider but I'm really pleased with these two attempts in spite of the obvious flaws.  Dunno yet how they'll taste but they make the eye happy.  Here they are:

And a closer view:

Odd.  I'm not seeing the images that I've linked to.  Ordinarily they pop into view immediately.  Maybe it's just my slow connection here.  Hopefully they will show up once the post is submitted.

 All in all, a very satisfying baking weekend.

Paul

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PMcCool

Saturday, August 20, was a busy day in the kitchen.  And a bit more daunting than normal.  Friends had invited us to dinner that evening and asked if I would bring some bread.  When I asked what they would like, the answer was “something that would go well with snoek paté.”  Did I mention that Marthinius had previously been executive chef and partner in an up-scale restaurant?  And did I also mention that I’ve never had my baking critiqued by a chef whose training is in classic French cuisine?  Hence the daunting.

Well.  A challenge.  Bread to go with snoek paté.  Whatever that might turn out to be. 

I wound up choosing two breads: Reinhardt’s pain a l’ancienne and a pain de compagne.  Both French in origin or influence.  Neither one required complex techniques but each offered layers of flavour from levains or long ferments; one somewhat more ethereal and one more hearty.  (Hedging, don’t you know.)  And each being something that was started the previous evening with the final dough preparation (the pain de compagne) or shaping and baking (the pain a l’ancienne) on Saturday.  Because each was at different stages of readiness Saturday morning, it also gave me better opportunity to manage oven timing without a train wreck between two different breads that had to be baked at the exact same time.

And, since we were also invited to a braai (barbecue) on Sunday afternoon, I followed those with Portugese Sweet Bread using Mark Sinclair’s formula.

The breads, happily, proceeded without a hitch.  Just as happily, temperatures were starting to moderate; enough that the house temperature was in the low to mid-60s instead of the 50s.  I still spiked the final pain de compagne dough with about a half-teaspoon of yeast as insurance and used a make-shift proofer for the bulk ferment.

Handling the pain a l’ancienne dough is, except for temperature, not unlike handling taffy or melted mozzarella cheese.  It is so wet that it has very little internal support and wants to stick to everything.  Nevertheless, I was able to get it divided and “shaped” as per instructions.  One or two were rather raggedy in appearance, so they didn’t make the trip to dinner that evening.  Which is not to say that they weren’t eaten.  In spite of knowing how difficult it is to slash such wet dough, I made the attempt.  The slashes were not a thing of beauty but they did serve a purpose.  You can see in the photo that the greatest expansion occurred at the slash locations.  Rather than repeatedly opening the oven for steaming by spritzing, I relied on pouring boiling water into a preheated pan in the oven to generate steam.  The oven in this house only heats up to 230C, which is a bit less than I needed, so I relied on the convection setting to boost the, um, “effective” temperature.  While I would have liked to have a prettier bread, this gave me a baguette-like bread with great flavour but without the technical demands of producing a classic baguette.  I’ve tried but my present setup just doesn’t permit me to hit that target even if my technique is bang on, which it frequently is not.

The pain de compagne is more familiar to me and went very smoothly.  The only glitch was my being a bit impatient about getting it into the oven.  I could have waited another 20-30 minutes at those temperatures and avoided a couple of small blowouts.  Other than that, some very tasty bread.

The Portugese Sweet Bread is lovely stuff.  The dough is easy to handle and absolutely silky compared to the whole-grain lean breads that I usually make.  I have no complaints with the process or the finished bread.

Eventually it was time for dinner, the moment of truth.  Marthinius made the snoek paté with snoek that he had smoked at home.  I don’t know entirely what was in it (mayonnaise? minced celery? other?) but my wife, who is ordinarily not a lover of things involving fish, thought it was absolutely wonderful.  I concurred.  After asking me to describe each of the breads and then sampling each, Marthinius decided that he liked both (whew!) but preferred the pain a l’ancienne with the paté.  I think the complex play of flavours appealed to him.

There were two main courses.  One was a deboned haunch of springbok, larded with garlic cloves, lightly smoked, then wrapped with bacon and finished in a slow oven.  The other was chicken breasts stuffed with feta cheese and spinach.  Both were excellent.  They were accompanied by baby corn, roasted sweet potatoes, and a pilaf.  Dessert was a vinegar pudding, as it is called by the Afrikaners.  Those from a British background would probably call it a nutmeg pudding.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable meal and evening.

The weather on Sunday was absolutely gorgeous.  There was plenty of warm sun and a cool breeze.  With chicken, steak and boerwors on the braai, delicious side dishes, and lots of conversation, it made for a marvellous afternoon. 

We are definitely happy about moving back to the States soon but we will miss times like these with friends like these. 

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PMcCool

Although there would be no way for you to know it, I have been baking.  It’s the blogging bit that has suffered in recent weeks.  This will be the first step in addressing the shortfall.

We are on the downhill run toward moving from South Africa back to the United States.  My wife will return in mid-September and I will follow in mid-October.  Two years looked like a long time when we first arrived.  In retrospect, it seems to have passed by very quickly.  We have seen and sampled much of South Africa, with a few forays into neighbouring countries, but there is much that remains on our list of things to see or do. 

Coincidentally, getting ready to leave means saying goodbye—quite often, as it turns out.  We have received a number of invitations to dinner with friends recently, with more to come.  Those often include a request: “Could Paul bring some bread?”  (Lest this seem one-sided, let the record show that my wife is frequently asked to bring a dessert, or “pudding” in the local idiom.)

On the weekend of August 13-14, baking had two objectives.  The first was a vollkornbrot for local friends, one originally from the Netherlands.  The second was a sandwich loaf and honey whole wheat bread, an old favourite, was selected. 

While it is possible to locate rye breads in the local markets, they tend to be more in the light-to-medium rye vein.  Good sandwich breads, yes, but not the hearty, earthy base that works so well for pickles, cheeses or cured meats. 

In looking through various formulae, I was at first drawn to Leader’s version in his Local Breads book.  Upon closer perusal, I realized that the formula had discrepancies in the quantities that I did not want to have to sort out.  Still, the extended bake at lower temperatures was attractive.  Further looking led me to a formula in another book.  I believe it was in the KAF 200th Anniversary cook book but cannot verify that because our household effects, including cook books, are somewhere between Pretoria and Kansas City.  In the baking equivalent of a shotgun wedding, I used the formula from one source with the baking instructions from another, after first ascertaining that the finished dough quantities and characteristics were (probably) close enough that disaster wasn’t lurking.  And the results were good, if I do say so myself, which I do.  More to the point, so did the recipients, which is the important thing.

In the accompanying photos, you can see that the bread achieved the brick-like profile that is de rigeur for vollkornbrot.  And that the crumb is suitably dense without being completely solid.  The flavour was entirely rye: earthy with a light tang from the sour.  The one thing that I had hoped for was a deeper coloration of both crust and crumb from the low and slow baking profile.  Apparently it has to go lower and slower to allow the Maillard reactions to produce a truly dark bread.

 

The honey whole wheat is one that I have made for years.  My primary purpose for mentioning it here is because of the finished bread’s size and shape.  Although it is written as a straight dough, I used a 30-minute autolyse to help soften the bran in the coarsely-ground whole wheat flour that I had on hand.  This was baked, as suggested and as I have done previously, in a 9x5 loaf pan.  The bread barely rose to the rim of the pan.  I think that there are a couple of contributing factors.  One, as noted, this particular flour has a rather coarse grind.  Two, despite information from the recent interesting discussion about pan capacities, my experience with this and other formulae suggests that 3 cups of flour won’t produce a loaf that adequately fills a 9x5 pan.  There will be some variation in the final size of the finished breads, but very few can expand adequately to fill the pan without overproofing. 

Pretty or not, it makes a tasty sandwich and toast.

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Two weeks ago, we were nearing the end of a week's vacation along South Africa's southern coast.  We had stayed in Kenton on Sea, Port Elizabeth and Plettenberg Bay.  On our way back to Plett from a day trip to Knysna (who knew it would be in the middle of their Oyster Festival?!), we passed a clearing beside the road with a large banner proclaiming "Saturday Market".  Not knowing quite what to expect, we made plans to return the next morning to see what might be available.  As it happened, we arrived at the market slightly ahead of opening time, so we wandered around the various stalls to see what there was to see as the artisans finished setting up.  There were paintings, beaded work, wire crafts, wood work, clothing and lots of other items to drool over.

Let us not forget the food!  We bought a big chunk of some absolutely wonderful cheese; something in the Emmenthaler / Swiss vein.  There was a place that had the most wonderful apple strudel, studded with raisins, bits of green fig preserves, nuts, and I'm not sure what else.  And they piped whipped cream over it at no additional cost, if you please.  I was pleased.  There were purveyors of olive, avocado and grapeseed oils.  Fresh herbs. Preserves.  Confits.  Pates.  And breads!

Le Fournil, a bakery from Plettenberg Bay, was represented that day.  Their focus was more on pastries, although they had lovely breads, too.  We purchased pain au chocolat from them.  The lady behind the counter spoke more French than I and I spoke more English, American style at that, than she so our conversation was limited.  Still, we got along.  Here are some pictures of the Le Fournil stand:

Ile de Pain, a bakery located in Knysna, was just a few booths to the right.  They featured a broad range of breads, all levain-based.  That was impressive, especially since the brioche I purchased was not just buttery but somewhat sweet, as well.  The brioche also contained nuggets of orange peel and golden raisins, with a sprinkling of coarse sugar on the top crust.  Oh. My. Goodness.  It was delightful with a smear of butter but absolutely intoxicating when toasted.  Here is how their booth looked:

And a closer look at the breads:

Baguettes are on the left and ciabatta front-center.

From the left: Vollkornbrot, 100% rye, brioche and (I think) a pain de compagne.

If you wanted, you could also buy your breakfast by the slice:

I will definitely miss these small weekend markets that are so common in so many places in South Africa.  There really hasn't been anything quite like them in the various places I've lived in back in the U.S.  Maybe it's just as well.  My waistline couldn't take too many shopping expeditions like this!

Paul

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There was a bit of frost on the grass here in Pretoria overnight and the temperature inside the house at 6:30 this morning was a bracing 55ºF.  By 3:30 this afternoon, the indoor temperature had rocketed all the way up to 57ºF!  Another day or two of this and the granite counter tops in the kitchen should be chilled enough to handle laminated doughs with no risk of butter breakouts.  That, of course, assumes that the butter block is soft enough to be malleable.  I may have to set it out in the sun for a few minutes...

Paul

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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


 

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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

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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

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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

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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

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