Cromarty Cob from Andrew Whitley's Bread Matters
While perusing the cookbook section in a local second-hand bookstore, I came across several copies of Andrew Whitley's Bread Matters in like-new condition. Despite having a number of bread books already, this one somehow followed me home. Mr. Whitley's writing style is engaging. Although he is appalled by the state of British factory breads, he doesn't come across as shrill or vindictive or holier-than-thou. Rather, he takes a more measured approach in describing what he sees as the problem, how it came to be, the consequences, and some solid recommendations for improving the situation. (None of which require dough improvers.) That is not to say that he doesn't employ some well-turned phrases which made me laugh outright in a few instances.
Having dealt with the deplorable state of the baking industry (emphasis on industry), he turns his attention to providing a tutorial for the home baker who wants to produce healthy and tasty breads. While I wouldn't necessarily recommend this as a first book for a new baker, Mr. Whitley does take some pains to describe not just what to do but how it works, as well. He includes a number of bread formulae, including some for gluten-free breads.
One that looked attractive to me was his Cromarty Cob. It is a lean hearth bread made with a 50/50 blend of white and whole wheat flours, with a rye sour providing the leavening.
I used a bit of my wheat-based starter to inoculate the rye sour on Friday morning. On Friday night, I built the production leaven from the rye sour, white flour, whole wheat flour and water, per instructions. (Note that Whitley's directions assume warm temperatures, since he mentions an approximate time of 4 hours for the leaven to double. With kitchen temperatures in the 65-67F range, my leaven took about 12 hours to double.)
On Saturday morning, I mixed and kneaded the wheat flours, water and salt to develop a sticky dough, as directed. Then I worked in the production leaven. Whitley only calls for part of the leaven, with no mention of what to do with the excess. Since I had gone to the effort of making it, I put the entire leaven into the dough. The weight differential isn't significant, so I wasn't concerned with upsetting hydration levels or dough characteristics. I then fermented the dough in my proofer at 85F, with one stretch and fold at the 1-hour mark, per instructions.
This formula is sized to produce one loaf weighing approximately 1kg. When the dough was ready for shaping, I elected to form two smaller boules, since that better fit my needs. The bannetons went back into the proofer, although only just barely, for the final ferment. Following Whitley's instructions, the breads were baked with steam at 425F for 10 minutes, then at 400F for the remainder. And this is what I got:
And the crumb:
Whenever I get around to baking this bread again, I think I will experiment with bumping the temperatures up by 25F or so. Even with the smaller loaves, I went nearly the entire recommended bake time before the interior temperature was north of 200F and you can see that the color is not particularly dark.
To my chagrin, the bread wasn't entirely cooled when I cut it in preparation for taking to the Kansas City TFL meetup. Nevertheless, off it went. In spite of the indignities it suffered, it arrived in fairly good condition. The crust was still crisp and the crumb still moist. I especially like the flavor. While not sour, it is definitely more layered and more complex than a commercially yeasted loaf would have been even with the same fermentation schedule.
A good book and a good bread. Both speak well of Mr. Whitley's capabilities.