Baking Bread

When someone asked Nick, my son, what his father did, he said, “Well, he bakes bread.”

At least I’m good for something.

Except lately, I’ve been so busy; working weekends, coming home late and exhausted – I haven’t been able to keep my dough going. We’ve been eating bread from the store. What’s left of my fifty pound bag of Costco flour is now buried deep in the chest freezer under tubs of ice cream and boxes of Healthy Choice frozen dinners. The plastic shoe containers that I use to make dough in are washed and stacked in the garage. My copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day lies dusty and unread on a counter somewhere.

My margarine tub of sourdough starter has been fermenting away in the fridge for so long I’m afraid to look at it.

I miss it.

Maybe a life is constant struggle between loss and renewal. There are so many poles with spinning plates on them, important things get away from you. Unimportant too. You have to pick up the pieces and dab a little super glue. You have to get back up on the horse.

So tonight I dragged my exhausted ass up off of the couch and measured out some water, flour, and yeast into my plastic container and set it aside to rise. Candy said, “I was going to ask you to make a pizza this weekend.” I can use the dough for that, for sure, and get a couple loaves out of it too

Pizza Crust

When the weather is so awful hot, I like to cook pizza on a stone on our grill outside. Here's the crust on a pizza peel and the stone, warming up.

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The stuff ready to go - sauce, sundried tomatoes, herbs, cheese.

The pizza and stone, grilling away.

Yeah, I think I'll have to make one of these bad boys this weeked.

Maybe I can gin up enough courage to look in on that sourdough starter.


An interesting TED lecture on bread. Actually, I found it browsing lectures with the subject tag of “Chemistry.” It’s a more sophisticated approach than my “throw a bunch of flour, water, and yeast into the oven and see what comes out,” – but maybe I can learn something.

Chipotle Sourdough Bread

I’ve been experimenting with the recipes and, more importantly, the techniques from the books/web site Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. The basic idea is to make up a week-long supply of dough, let it rise, and keep the pre-risen dough in the refrigerator. When you want some bread you break off a chunk of dough and bake it. I bought a big, heavy, baking stone for the oven (or the grill outside in the Texas Summer Heat) and can use the same dough for artisan loaves, pan loaves, pizza, pitas, shaped loaves… whatever.

I have been straying from this technique in making sourdough bread.

It started back in January or so. I filled a little crock with a mixture of whole wheat flour, water, a little yeast, a little sugar, and let it sit until it foamed up… and about four days later it was nice and ripe. That was my sourdough starter. Now that same starter has been through maybe twenty cycles or so, every batch I make I save about a quarter of the dough and reuse it in the next, not adding any fresh prepared yeast.

What makes sourdough so… sourdoughy is a symbiotic culture of yeast and bacteria that forms over time. After six months my starter is getting to be good. There are a few little difficulties that I’m starting to learn to deal with.

First of all, the acid produced by the bacteria (what makes it taste sour) tends to break down the protein in the flour and makes the dough runny and keeps it from rising as much as it should. So instead of pre-rising it and then throwing a pile onto the stone (where it usually runs out and makes a pancake) I put the fresh dough into a loaf pan and let it rise there. It rises slowly, much slower than a batch of dough with commercial super-dooper (and pretty much flavorless) yeast, so I let it rise while I’m at work.

Ingredients

The ingredients for the Chiplotle Sourdough Bread set out. Flour, water, sourdogh starter (in plastic margarine container) and chopped chipotle peppers in adobo.

This is the routine: put the ingredients together before I go to bed at night – mix it up in the morning, setting aside one quarter of the dough to act as starter for the next batch – let it rise all day – bake it in the evening.

Ingredients:

Four cups of flour (all-purpose, bread flour, whole wheat – whatever, in whatever mixture I feel like)  with a pinch of salt and a tiny bit of sugar (I find this helps make the rising process more reliable).

A little less than two cups water

—-Sourdough Starter – dough left over from the previous batch. Let it sit for at least a day or so, any longer than two days, put it in the fridge.

Extras – in this case, about half a can of Chipotles in Adobo Sauce, chopped (be careful with these beasties, they are hot)

Mix the dough, don’t worry about kneading it or anything like that. Don’t forget to save some starter for next time, then stir in the extras if you want. Dump that in a loaf pan, cover it with something if you think about it, and let it sit out on the counter.

Dough

The dough mixed up and in the loaf pan. The adobo gives it a yellow color. A quarter of the dough goes into the margarine container as starter for the next batch.

Now, off to work. The little yeasties will multiply and the dough will rise while I’m there.

If you get bored waiting, here’s a video to watch:

Back home again. These twelve hour days are killer. Too tired to do much. Luckily, the stuff has risen like I wanted it to. Pop it in the oven, 450 or so, about forty minutes. I put a pan of water in the oven to help make a nice crust.

Risen Dough

The dough rises while I'm at work.

Fresh sourdoughy goodness.

Meanwhile the starter is getting nice and ripe, ready for the next batch. I wonder how long I can keep this going. I’ve heard of sourdough starters that keep making over and over for decades.

Chipotle Sourdough

Finished loaf of Chipotle Sourdough Bread. A little too much Chipotle, it made the dough a bit wet and it came out very spicy. Still Delicious. There are kids over and it was gone in five minutes.