The Fresh Loaf

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Matt H's blog

Matt H's picture
Matt H

Hey Fresh Loafers! Apparently this is my first blog post in 10 years! Wow, there have been lots of changes in the amateur artisan bread world. I haven't gone anywhere. I've been baking on and off, in the midst of a busy career and family life, but nothing I felt compelled to post apparently.

Like lots of other folks, I've been spending more time at home during the coronavirus epidemic. I'm so grateful to have a job that lets me work from home and a supportive family.

Being at home all day is just perfect for baking lots of bread. Much of America agrees, if you believe the news. I think it's a wonderful trend, and hope it's here to stay. I don't even mind the empty supermarket shelves with no flour or yeast, if it means that a neighbor has picked up a rewarding and nourishing new hobby. 

Trying to schedule bread baking around busy schedule, especially during the work week, was always a complex puzzle. These days it's easy to take a five minute break for that occasional "stretch and fold," to shape a boule, or to preheat the oven.

We all know how rewarding it is to have the fruits of our labor emerge from the oven golden brown, smelling heavenly, and ready to share with family and friends.There is something so comforting and reassuring about making something with your hands that can nourish your body and satisfy your soul.

For today's loaf, I had a couple of pounds of pre-pandemic rye flour left, so decided to make an old favorite, marble rye. For me, a loaf of deli rye flecked with caraway is also nostalgic flavor.

My father's family is German-American, but they were so thoroughly assimilated into Anglo-American culture, that I don't remember anyone ever talking about "the old country" or its ways. No one spoke a word of German nor own a pair of lederhosen. The only vestige of German-ness I recall is that my grandparents would drive from the suburbs into the city to visit a bakery to purchase pumpernickel and rye bread, This was soft deli rye, made with mostly wheat flour I'm sure. It would end up as ham sandwiches for lunch or slathered with peanut butter and jelly at breakfast time.

This time I chose to use my sourdough starter as leavening. Usually, I associated sourdough with crusty, hearth-style loaves, and use commercial yeast to make loaves of soft sandwich bread. But I've found that natural leavening really brings out the best in a rye loaf. I know there's a lot of cool chemistry going on here involving acid, enzymes, and starch. But for me, the take home is acid + rye = good bread.

For my marble rye, I start with the same basic dough, made with 2 parts white flour, 1 part whole wheat, and 1 part rye. After initial mixing, I split the dough in half, with the dark side getting an addition of dark malt syrup, cocoa, and a shot of espresso. The light-colored dough gets a bit of honey and a few spoonfuls of caraway seeds. Both get rolled out into a big rectangle, stacked on top of one another, then rolled up and popped in a greased loaf tin for the final proof.

This was far and away the prettiest spiral I've ever achieved. Sandwich bread like this is so versatile and useful. It makes great sandwiches, and is a great accompaniment to soup. I think there may be veggie reubens or tuna melts on the menu this week. And even my six-year old son loves it for breakfast slathered with peanut butter and jelly.

Anyhow, it's nice to be back. I've been a lurker for a long time, enjoying reading everyone's posts and progress and experiments and encouragement. This is a wonderful and quirky online community and I love all of you!

Matt H's picture
Matt H

I used to love buying the delicious multi-grain breads that were so popular at New England bakeries. At my new home in Northern California, good multi-grain loaves are surprisingly hard to find.

So I set out to make my own multi-grain bread, and thought it would be fun to see how many I could pack into one loaf. Depending on how you do the math, this is about a 17-grain loaf. I don't think you get credit for both white and black sesame seeds, or for brown rice and pearl rice. This was mostly just for fun; I won't pretend that adding 2 tbsp of amaranth does much to change the flavor or texture of the loaf.

17-grain crust

17-grain crumb

A key ingredient is a product I found at a nearby Asian supermarket, the superlative 99 Ranch, a California chain. It's a product imported from Taiwan called Greenmax Fine Multi Grain, a blend of 8 whole grains (the berries, not ground into flour). It's mostly rice and barley seeds and wheat berries, but there are a few obscure grains in there. Job's tears or Gorgon Euryale seeds anyone? I cooked it like rice, and used it just like in Brother Junipers Struan.

The rest of the grains came from raiding the bulk bins at Berkeley Bowl (perhaps the world's best grocery store, if you can out-elbow the aggressive locals). Here are the 17 grains:

1. Wheat (white flour, whole wheat flour, and wheat berries)
2. Rye flour
3. Rice (brown and pearl)
4. Buckwheat
5. Barley flour
6. Sorghum
7. Pearl rice
8. Oats
9. Job's tears
10. Gorgon Euryale Seeds
11. Millet
12. Kamut
13. Cornmeal
14. Sesame seeds (black and white)
15. Suflower seeds
16. Qinoa
17. Amaranth

Anyone out there who can top this by making an 18-grain loaf? :)

Matt H's picture
Matt H

I wanted to make a lean yeast bread with some of the wonderful stoneground cornmeal from Ridgecut Gristmills that I posted about here. I decided on baguettes, since I hadn't used the fancy perforated pan that I bought from the King Arthur store in a while.

I loosely followed Reinhart's recipe for Pane Sicialiano, which he says takes 3 days, but I was able to compress it into 2. You start with a pâte fermentée, which is really just a lump of French bread dough. I used 1 1/2 cups of stoneground cornmeal and poured boiling water over it and let it sit overnight. (I don't really know if this did anything. I didn't introduce any yeast or malt for enzymes. Thoughts?)

Added about 1.5 c of bread flour, 1.5 c. semolina, 1 T. olive oil, 1 t. honey, and 1/2 t. instant yeast, and enough water to make a fairly slack dough. Kneaded a bit, let it rise a couple times, shaped, put it in the fridge for about 6 hours, took it out, let it warm and proof about 2.5 hours, then baked at 450 in a steamy oven. I rolled one of the loaves in cornmeal after shaping, to see if I'd like the crunch on the outside (yup, it's nice).

These were a bit of a departure for me, as I rarely bake with so much white flour, but I wanted the corn flavor to really shine through. And did it! Wow, a lot of corniness going on here. I think the long, slow fermentation also gives these extra flavor. Slightly sweet, a bit nutty even, with a creamy mouthfeel punctuated by firm nubbins of corn. At first bite, it reminds of a normal pan cornbread, but with a more satisfying chewiness.

I'd mark it as a successful experiment. Highly recommended if you like corn flavor. (The rest of the dough will be pizza tonight!)

Corn Semolina Baguette

Corn Semolina Baguette crumb

Matt H's picture
Matt H

I'm a longtime bread-lover and baker, and have been checking out the site for about a year now. What to post for a first entry on the amazing Fresh Loaf Bakers Blogs?

Whenever I'm invited to a potluck, I generally volunteer to bring the bread. This time, it was a friend's birthday. I asked my fiancé, "What kind of bread should I make?" while flipping through "The World Encyclopedia of Bread".

"How about this one?", I asked jokingly, pointing to a picture of the most complicated, ornate loaf I've ever seen. Needless to say, she thought it was a great idea, and couldn't be dissuaded. (She is also the type who will spend an entire Sunday afternoon trying to make perfect homemade "xiao long bao" or Shanghai soup dumplings, probably the hardest dish to get right in all of gastronomy.)

The result was our first Harvest Sheaf Loaf. The recipe called for 100% white flour, but I used about 1/2 whole wheat, and included some pre-fermented French-bread style dough. I love how self-referential this bread is: a wheat loaf made to look like a bundle of wheat. As you might expect, the shaping and sculpting is time-consuming. Best not to attempt solo!

Not knowing much about this bread, I did a bit of research on the web. It turns out that in England, they bake these for the harvest festival, and they often end up on a church altar. I also learned that they're popular with Wiccans. That's right, the old-time, mother earth, fertility goddess, witchcraft folks. There must be quite a few of them in the San Francisco area, so we're thinking of selling these on craigslist for next year's solstice! :)

We were so excited to eat it, that we never got a great photo after taking it out of the oven. And the mouse, poor fellow, got a bit deformed by oven spring! :(

I'd be curious if anyone else has tried one of these. It was fun to make, but once a year would certainly be enough for me.

Happy baking!


Snipping a sheaf

Harvest Festival Sheaf under construction


Harvest Festival Sheaf before baking


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