Tag Archives: bread

Tension, flatness, and bricks.

Over the weekend I got another batch of sourdough going. This particular  make-it-up-as-you-go recipe included rye, whole wheat and unbleached flours, and potato flakes. I started what I call the sourdough sponge on Friday afternoon, and took the bread out of the oven Monday afternoon.

Most of the three days the sponge sat in a bowl on my kitchen table getting more and more sour. It was essentially a big batch of starter itself by Monday. After I added the last ingredients it took a few hours for the final proofing, shaping, and baking.

I watched a couple of videos of how to shape “high hydration dough.” Before its final rising you don’t want to add flour if you can help it, because that will spoil the lovely “custard” crumb you are aiming for. It’s a challenge to keep the fairly runny dough from just flattening out on the baking sheet. I have enjoyed watching a couple of the YouTube videos “Bake with Jack,” because Jack’s attitude and accent are entertaining; he does talk a little too much about the Why but eventually he gets to demonstrating the How, which is, after all, what I watch a video for. As in “How to stop your dough from spreading out flat!”

Another baker man on YouTube — they seem to be 80% men — poured his white and incredibly wet, stretchy dough out on a board and used a wide putty knife to cut it and and scoop it around, tucking the sides under in a series of rotating sweeps to get the lump shaped into a beautiful ball (boule) with a tight “skin.”

I went into the garage to dig around and found an almost identical putty knife, and it was even stainless steel, so I scrubbed it up and tried it out, but it seemed that the structure of my dough was heavy with ingredients low or lacking in gluten. It would not tighten up. I put the half I had tried to shape on a pizza stone anyway, and poured the rest into a large loaf pan. It was a total of about five pounds of dough.

How pleased I was to see that the free-form loaf got some height soon after it went into the oven at 450°. It must have held more tension than was obvious. My slashes in the top were so timid and shallow as to nearly disappear in baking, but that loaf has a nice shape and didn’t crack along the sides.

The pan loaf, on the other hand, had needed me to use the razor blade with a fearless will. Next time I will try to envision one of the Three Musketeers with his sword, and be brave. Swoosh! But right now, I have a loaf with a horizontal fault line along which the slices break, not quite halfway down. This makes the bread annoyingly inconvenient for toast or sandwiches. Enter the Brick Trick.

The section on “How to Slice a Brick” in Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book is written for those times when your loaf of bread for some reason does not get height, yet you want to get more useful and normal-looking slices out of it. I thought this technique would work for at least the bottom half of my loaf, so I wrapped it in foil overnight to allow the crust to soften a bit, and in the  morning I went at it.

I didn’t know what would happen when I got to the upper part of the loaf, but I was able to slice along the “fault line” so that I ended up with 10 large square slices with only two crusty edges each, and five “heel” slices, two of which started out as the bottom of the loaf, and two of which are from the top. (Plus the heel I ate fresh from the oven.) I can see eating all those crusty edges myself, as well, so it looks like there will not be more than a few crumbs wasted.  🙂

I ate one of the thick Super Heels this morning, and I’d say I’ve never tasted better toast. Yesterday I had been feeling silly for giving “so much” effort to my Sourdough Project, even though the time commitment is not that great; bread spends a lot of time on its own in and out of the oven, giving the baker plenty of freedom to work on other tasks.  This whole episode has only made me want to keep experimenting and having fun in the kitchen. Not to mention I need more opportunity to work on my sword skills!

Does the lady eat rye bread by the lake?

I was a gardener long before I had a blog — still, it’s surprising I didn’t tell my magic bean story here before. [Hmm… well, I did tell it, as the “related article” boxes below just revealed to me!] It started with friend Elsie… A Long Long Time Ago she and I used to share garden lore and harvest, and mysteries. The biggest mystery was how the special bean ever came to be growing in her vegetable plot.

It must have been in 2006 at her house that she led me to a bed of earth next to a fence, to show me runner beans with big pods and pretty flowers. “Maybe you can tell me what this bean is,” she hoped. She always thought I might have the answers to any garden question. She hadn’t planted it, and her neighbors had no garden. I was clueless, but I went home and tried to find its picture online. It didn’t take long, even though at the time you could not easily find the seeds to buy. I read that only one runner bean has a bicolor flower, and this definitely matched the pictures of that variety called “Painted Lady.” Baker Creek Seeds in 2018 has this to say about it:

Traditional English bi-color grown since 1596! The name had mention to Queen Elizabeth I, ‘who was heavily made up with rouge and white chalk.’ The gorgeous flowers of red and white are among the most beautiful of flowering beans. The large beans are also good as snaps, freshly shelled or as dry beans, which are chocolate and tan mottled in color.

Just today I read on Wikipedia that this is a cultivar of the plain old Scarlet Runner Bean. They are all perennial, which is a great boon for someone like me who takes forever to get around to planting in the spring. The beans are pretty large, not the sort of seed you would imagine a bird dropping into the soil… Its appearance in our neighborhood and these other special features of the plant made it seem magic indeed, admittedly in a different way from those in the story “Jack and the Beanstalk;” but  Elsie gave me seeds that fall, I planted them the following spring, and in a few months I had lots to give to friends in these packets I made, with an error in the name of the associated queen. Oops.

2007
butternut,basil, and pole beans right now
2018

It’s been many years since these beans have been given a spot in my garden, but I found a handful of seeds of uncertain age to try training along with the butternut squash on my sturdy trellis — and they sprouted!

Nearby, the green beans named Blue Lake and Spanish Musica are reaching for the sky. I was lying in bed last night letting the poetry of bean names evoke images of Spanish ladies swimming in blue lakes, and composing a blog post about my wealth of beans. I had already made three pickings of the Spanish Musica, and Soldier came by to eat them with me — after I’d taken a picture of the last bunch, one of which was 11 inches long! They were very good eating, and their being stringless made them quick to prepare for the pot.

This morning at church the Gospel was the story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Father James’s homily ranged over the whole Bible and the goodness of God to feed us: The manna in the wilderness was a type of Christ, as He explained to His disciples at the Last Supper when they said,

Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.

Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which comes down from heaven, and gives life unto the world.

Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread.

And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that comes to me shall never hunger; and he that believes on me shall never thirst….Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believes on me has everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

Now we have the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist week by week, imparting Christ the Bread of Life to us. Our homilist reminded us of the prayers that many people pray at meals, including those going back many millennia such as Jewish prayers like “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who bringest forth bread from the earth,” and “Blessed art Thou, O Lord, who feeds the world.”

When the theme of bread was added to the swirl in my head, a song popped up (naturally, because of Musica!) and joined in, one that our family used to sing as a grace before meals, part of Johnny Appleseed’s song adapted to the theme of dinner:

The Lord is good to me
and so I thank the Lord
for giving me the things I need:
the bread and the milk
and the bowl of beans;
the Lord is good to me!

It just so happens that I made bread last week, too, part of my ongoing project of combining “artisan no-knead” technique with my sourdough starter and experience. This latest effort was very satisfying, and makes me want to get another batch going tomorrow.

 

I assembled the ingredients for the Swedish Sourdough Rye on Tuesday…

…and put two lumps of wet dough in the fridge in plastic bags.

On Friday I baked one as a boule in the Dutch oven, and Saturday I baked the other in a bread pan, resulting in this 2-pound loaf:

It is incredibly moist, what they call a custardy crumb, and nice and sour, with the anise and caraway and orange peel I got the idea for from Mabel last fall in Tucson. I sort of forgot to put any white flour in this batch, though it has whole wheat flour with the rye, and it is therefore dense, but it’s not doughy or heavy.

I bought the book at right but have read only a couple of pages. Before it arrived I had perused many recipes online but was too intimidated by all the details to follow any of them. After you’ve baked bread in a rather relaxed (a.k.a. sloppy) fashion for 40+ years the idea of completely starting over step-by-step was paralyzing. So I picked up some general principles and hoped that I might learn by experimentation; I’ve been keeping notes on my own trials and results. But I don’t know if I will ever have a real recipe to share with you all. I do know what is working for me currently:

1) Keep the dough wet and loose, more runny than biscuit dough.
2) Let it spend a good amount of time in the refrigerator.
3) When you take a lump out to bake it, handle it gently and don’t knead.
4) Bake it hot, at 450° or 500°F, and for longer than seems reasonable.

It’s not easy to see, but in the center of the photo below the Spanish Musicas are reaching across the space to hold hands with the trellis climbers. The poem that is being played out in my garden is too elaborate a ballad for me to follow easily (though Albert will likely jump at the chance to translate it), but tomorrow I’ll go out in the garden and try to soak up a few more lines.

 

Caleb’s my man.

I came to the last page of Middlemarch, and it’s not even the last day of June! Ah, but now begins the work that is harder than the reading: sifting and organizing my thoughts about the story and stories of that novel so as to write some of them here in a way that might edify.

In the meantime, I have to say that I love the character of Caleb Garth more than anyone. His kind of “business” is not at all what people think of these days who are majoring in Business in college. They often think mostly of making a living somehow, but Caleb is intent on improving the land and doing good by people, the livestock and the earth. He often forgets to make provision for his own financial needs, and loves nothing better, as he says to his wife, than:

“…to have a chance of getting a bit of the country into good fettle, as they say, and putting men into the right way with their farming, and getting a bit of good contriving and solid building done — that those who are living and those who come after will be the better for. I’d sooner have it than a fortune. I hold it the most honourable work that is.” … “It’s a great gift of God, Susan.”

“That it is, Caleb,” said his wife, with answering fervor. “And it will be a blessing to your children to have had a father who did such work: a father whose good work remains though his name may be forgotten.”

A good man or woman adorns the earth by his presence alone, but if in addition he is able to oversee the wise management of farms and estates, with honesty and without greed, it is satisfying and holy work.

The last two weeks I’ve been working at less enduring tasks, but I’m still pleased with the results. Of course, there is always my garden which I tend. In the third year of being on my own I became acutely aware of the importance to my heart and psyche of my house as well, of the whole property that is mine alone now, and which I manage and am responsible for. The changes in my feelings are complicated and subtle; I see how God and His angels carried me through the time when I seemed to have little strength of will to apply. Now we will see how He guides me in this new phase when I am ready to participate more fully in my own affairs!

I’m working on the sourdough bread experiments again — yes, and they result in very short-lived products of my efforts, being highly desirable consumables. Today a Swedish seeded sourdough rye boule that is still rising will be cooked in the Dutch oven. Last week, these loaves:

But no time yet, to dwell on details of dough and ovens, or on great themes of Middlemarch, because Pippin (who took the photo in England above, by the way) is arriving with two grandchildren for a few days. I’ll be taking care of Ivy (almost 6) and Jamie (3) while she attends a conference for work nearby. Scout won’t be in the group because he is backpacking with his father.

I’ve joined a book group of women in my parish. I didn’t finish the recent read, but I’m confident that I’ll have time to read Fidelity by Wendell Berry before our next discussion this summer.

My computer is giving me fits as usual, and the Computer Guy is on his way, so I will get back to my real, tangible work now, and give him this space, and see you next week! May your summer reading and work be satisfying.

Book Bits of India

A couple of friends asked me last fall if I were reading about India in preparation for traveling here, and I had to admit that I wasn’t. I’ve always been like this, before school field trips or grownup camping trips, unable to focus in an academic way on a future and therefore theoretical event with its vast possibilities. It seems to me to be putting the answers ahead of the questions that I haven’t yet been stimulated to ask; the likelihood that I would have wasted my time reading material that would turn out to be irrelevant to my personal experience is high.

I did try a little. First I started in on Midnight’s Children by Salmon Rushdie, but I couldn’t get interested. And through Great Courses I listened to a professor of Indian history lecture tediously for some hours, until I couldn’t bear him any longer. Just before my trip, I began to listen to Michael Wood’s The Story of India, and he was very engaging and promising.

But once I arrived and had several days’ worth of experiences under my belt, I started reading lots of articles online, and delving into the many books on the subject of India that are in this house. I’m sure I won’t finish reading any of them, but they have all contributed to my understanding and made my stay here richer. I’ll share somewhat random quotes from a few of them in my list below.

Reimagining India: Unlocking the Potential of Asia’s Next Superpower edited by McKinsey & Company     This collection of essays by dozens of writers, mostly Indian, ranges from hard-core economic and trade issues to a discussion of how India became the world leader in the game of cricket. I will probably refer to some of the articles in future posts.

Eyewitness Travel: India     “Consisting of seven swampy islands when the Portuguese acquired it in 1534, Bombay (from the Portuguese Bom Bahia or ‘Good Bay’) came to the British Crown in 1661 as part of the dowry of Catherine of Braganza when she married Charles II. Finding little use for the islands, the British leased them to the East India Company, which quickly realized their potential as an excellent natural harbour in the Arabian Sea. The rise of Bombay began in the late 1600’s, when the company relocated its headquarters here. By the 18th century, Bombay had become the major city and shipbuilding yard on the western coast, and by the 19th century, land reclamations had joined the islands into the narrow promontory that it is today.”

Culture Shock! India by Gitanjali Kolanad c. 1994    “You may meet with the invitation to ‘drop by anytime.’ In E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India, Mrs. Moore meets with a situation where she tries to pin down a specific time with a Mrs. Bhattacharya, who is gracious but vague. In the end Mrs. Moore settles with her on the coming Thursday, only to find that the Bhattacharyas are leaving for Calcutta the following morning.

“Mrs. Moore is bewildered by the exchange, but one Indian friend to whom I told the story understood the situation perfectly. She said, ‘The guest is blessing you, doing you a great honor by visiting you. How can you be so rude as to try to restrict them to a certain time?'”

The Story of India by Michael Wood (frontispiece above)     Quoting Sir William Jones: “‘The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing on both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs, and in the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong indeed, that no philosopher could examine them all three without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists.'”

“The question is very complex, but there is one thing on which all competent linguists agree: Jones was right — the languages are connected; and the time depth of the ‘family tree’ of the Indo-European languages precludes the idea of India as the place of origin. The Sanskrit language must have originated outside India. But how far back? And from where? Was it brought by invaders or travelers, by elites or mass migration?

“This is now one of the hottest arguments in modern India, where the battle over history that began under the British in the nineteenth century is now at the heart of politics and education because it bears on central questions of identity.”

India: The Cultural Companion by Richard Waterston     This book focuses on the history and tradition of India’s many indigenous religions.

“[It is] common to read in Hindu texts of attempts to ‘cheat’ or ‘vanquish’ time. A verse from the Mahabharata advises that ‘time “cooks” all beings’ and ‘destroys all creatures;’ when everything else sleeps ‘time is awake, time is hard to overcome.'”…. “The present age (Kali Yuga) is the last in the cycle and marks the point at which spiritual intelligence and morality have reached their lowest ebb.”

“The most striking aspect of Jain karma is that it is perceived as a material entity, like a subtle dust that clogs the soul, binding it to the body. Many lifetimes are required to rid the soul of karmic dust and so liberate it.”

Indian Nationalism: A History by Jim Masselos     I enjoyed this book for its thorough overview of the people and events by which the first stirrings of the will to independence multiplied in various places around the subcontinent and overcame the many differences of culture and religion to become a unified force strong enough to oust the British.

Indian Breads by G. Padma Vijay     This was a Christmas present from Kate and Tom. How did they know I would love the Indian flatbreads of which there are enough varieties to fill a book? Just last night we ate garlic or lassoon paratha, one of many paratha recipes that are joined by instructions for naan, chapattis, rotis and many breads you’ve probably never heard of even if you love to eat Indian food. The smoke alarm always goes off here when Kareena makes her wonderful chapattis, so when I go home I may have to limit my experiments to days of open windows.

Flowers of India by Helmut Wolf      A board book on this subject is just about my speed. I found it in a fancy shop that sells children’s clothes, and I will put it in my suitcase as one concrete item among all the intangible smidgens of knowledge I have collected from books.