July 9, 2014

Another year, more bread (1 year anniversary)

foodtravelthought 1 year anniversary

I started writing entries on this site exactly 1 year ago today with the hope that my posts would serve two purposes: first I wanted to try to help others out there bake the best bread possible, all with simple & easy ingredients and all at home. Second, I wanted a visual and written record of my progress through the years towards my goal of baking the best bread possible a quest for the perfect loaf, if you will.

With time and practice, and a measure of patience, you will learn all you need to. And then your experience can speak to your imagination, and you will develop new breads that suite your personal tastes. – Hamelman

Through all the comments left on each post and the staggering number of emails I like to think that I’ve helped at least a few out there step up their bread baking game. I know when I first started baking things seemed almost mystical to me: rising dough, strengthening gluten, developing flavors, the precise timetable… All with a 100% natural living organism that quickly consumed as much of my time as a household pet (albeit there’s no night time bathroom interruptions, chewed up pillows, or mess around the house actually that last one might not be true, I’ve had my fair share of wake-to-find-starter-all-over-my-counter experiences). My interaction with so many of you out there has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of each entry. It’s safe to say I’ve learned at least as much from you, if not more, than I originally intended to share with the world.

When I look back on my posts, especially this one from early on, I can see just how far I’ve come in one year. My bread tastes better, has gone through a surprising number of variations, lasts longer, and also just flat out looks nicer than when I started. I feel like I’m well on my way towards honing my skill at this most challenging of crafts. I’m not sure I’ll ever be “done” in this pursuit, but that’s probably why it’s so appealing to me.

Well, here’s to another year of successful experiments, delightful interactions with you all, and of course the occasional baking mishap we’re all accustom to.

Buon appetito!

June 18, 2014

Oat Porridge Sourdough

Oat porridge sourdough crumb and crust

After the past few weeks I’m not sure I want to move ever again. Over the course of the last year as our new house has been under construction we’ve been steadily reducing anything superfluous around the house. My wife and I really don’t have much “fluff” to start with (we try to only buy what we absolutely need), and yet, this move (only across town mind you) has been a sprint from start to finish. We had only a few weeks to fix all the small issues found by the inspector, prepare all the paperwork required, pack up our belongings and finally do a last cleaning. Toss in a graduation trip one of the weekends plus visiting family and that leaves only a smidgen of time to get all this done.

The truck was finally packed to the brim; furniture on top of furniture, kitchen stuff on top of bedroom stuff, clothes on top of everything else, but one sure thing was my starter acted as a co-pilot up front in the moving truck where I could keep a close eye on it.

foodtravelthought_oat_porridge-2Somehow we pulled it off and are now in a temporary abode until our home is finished hopefully only a few more weeks. Baking for the rest of the month is going to be tough, but it’s going to make moving into a home with a double oven that much better. I cannot wait to be able to at least double my bread experiments.

Now that the moving gripes are out of the way, let’s get started with this entry. I’ve been working on it for quite a while now through several attempts, failures, and successes. Let’s talk about oats.

My wife typically gives me dirty looks when she catches me finishing off the household’s supply of rolled oats before she can even get a few days of breakfasts in (since writing this I’ve started to stock these oats bulk, 4 package containers so we always have supply). I eat them just about every morning for breakfast with cut fresh fruit, pecans/walnuts/almonds, honey and either currants or raisins. It’s one of the only things I can eat in the morning that keeps me completely full until lunch. Given my high activity level (running, gym, dog walking, hiking, etc.) I almost always wake up ravished and oats simply do the trick.

A while back when I was flipping through Tartine No. 3 I stumbled on their oat porridge recipe and immediately read it with unwavering attention. So let me get this straight, oat porridge, my favorite breakfast concoction, cooked into a loaf of my already favorite sourdough recipe? I tell you I was ready to grab the package of oats from the cabinet and get baking straight away.

Bob's Red Mill Regular Rolled Oats

Despite my fervor for cooking this loaf I’ve been hesitant to share my progress on until I finally tinkered and tested enough to discover some insight, with a bit of luck here and there, and a process that will deliver worthy results. Now that I’m happy with the outcome, and I’ve consistently made some really exceptional tasting loaves, it’s time for me to share my findings with you.

Your first attempt at this bread might be more challenging than previous the recipes I’ve written in the past. I have never made a porridge bread prior to this and I wasn’t sure what to expect, but really, what could be so hard about folding in some cooked oats? I’ve added all kinds of ingredients (walnuts, olives, sesame seeds, stout beer, etc.) and had smashing results so this shouldn’t be any different… Well it turns out those cooked oats come with a lot of surprises. First and foremost, cooked oats really do hold on to a lot of water so you have to take that into account when hydrating your dough. Additionally, the simple act of cooking oats pushes them into releasing much of their starches which in turn makes them very, very sticky (ever noticed if you leave your morning oatmeal in the bowl the oats stick to the bowl like glue?). Not only these two things, but since they are sticky and hold together tightly after they are cooked, they can be quite difficult to properly mix through your fermenting dough without totally destroying the gluten network built up during bulk fermentation. Don’t worry though, we’ll work through each of these issues in turn.

Aside from all the doom and gloom, this is one incredibly moist, tender, light and tasty loaf. Once you get the hang of dealing with the porridge and the effect it has on your dough, you’ll be hooked on the results. This is one of those breads where people will line up outside your door in the rain waiting for a loaf it’s superb.

I’ve received a few comments and emails asking for me to show you a few of my “failed attempts” and the process from beginning to end, not just the final results. For this oat porridge bread I chronicled each attempt, the results, and any notes and lessons learned. The method and ingredients directly below represent my best attempt thus far and the entries afterward show those that didn’t quite hit the mark. If you’re interested, read on as they might provide some added insight for those struggling with this tricky recipe.

Let us begin.

Prepare the young levain – 6:30am

The levain used for this bread is the same young levain I described in my last post. Start this in the morning when you wake and it’ll be ready in around 5-6 hours.

Weight Ingredient
50g Starter
100g King Arthur whole wheat flour
100g Sangre De Cristo White Bread Flour
200g H2O @ 85ºF

I try to keep the levain somewhere warm in the kitchen, at around 78º F. One handy little trick rick I’ll use if my house is still a tad on the cool side, especially in the early morning, is to put the levain in the oven and turn the interior light on until it warms up slightly (not the actual oven!). This provides a fairly sealed environment where the levain can do its thing for about 5 hours.

When your levain build is ready for use after its ~5 hour rest, first cook your oat porridge.

Oat porridge – 11:30am:

I cooked the following in a covered saucepan over the lower end of medium-low heat for about 16 minutes. You want the porridge to be creamy and ever so slightly on the liquid side. Don’t cook for too long or at too high a high a heat or the porridge will dry out and become very stiff. I’ve found that cooking this porridge requires a bit of trial and error, each person has a different idea of what “porridge” means and typically for me it’s more on the dry side. When I made the porridge for this bread at a lower heat and only for 16 minutes, it was creamy with a whitish color that was easy to later fold and incorporate into the dough.

Cooked creamy oat porridge right out of pan

After this cook time I scooped out the porridge onto a baking sheet and covered with aluminum foil to cool but not dry out.

Weight Ingredient
500g H2O
250g Bob’s Red Mill Regular Rolled Oats
A Pinch Fine Sea Salt

You’ll want to cook this far enough in advance to ensure it cools sufficiently before mixing into your dough right before the first set of stretch and folds during bulk fermentation. You really don’t want to mix warm/hot oats into your dough, fermentation will pick up at a rapid pace I have nightmares about dough like this. I cook the porridge right before I start the 1 hour autolyse to give it much needed cooling time.

Now that the porridge is cooked and cooling, let’s start our 1 hour autolyse.

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April 24, 2014

My Sourdough Bread with a “Young” Levain

Young Levain

My wife keeps telling me: “every time you bake you keep saying ‘Wow this is the best bread I have ever made’ the saying is getting kind of old now… Hmmm, this is really good bread though, I think it is your best so far.”

I’ve had a number of recent bakes that have just been a step or two above my usual and I just can’t stop eating slice after slice with anything I can even moderately justify placing on top (I even scraped up some onions & currants from a recent meal we had and used it in a sandwich oh. my. God. was that good… See the end of this post.). It’s dangerous when your bread just comes out right; you become a somewhat selfish person and hoard all the loaves for yourself. At this point, however, my freezer is literally full of bread and I’ll have to start giving them away to friends and family again. I know they won’t be complaining.

Continuing my streak of experiments with high hydration bread, this entry has me taking another stab at my sourdough bread using a “young” levain (as I mentioned in the last entry). Chad, in Tartine Bread, makes it a point to mention he always uses a young levain and prefers this to a more ripe one. Using a younger levain lowers the sourness found in your final bread as your starter has not totally consumed the flour you’ve fed it, producing lots and lots of sour byproducts that get mixed in later.

As an aside, I keep the acid load in my starter to a minimum by either feeding it once a day with a hefty amount of flour (~100g) or multiple feedings per day. Doing either of these will discard most of the acidity produced by your starter, which in the end will push the resulting loaf away from a sour one. This more subtle sour flavor is my preference. So, how can you tell if your starter is fermenting too fast by the time you feed it again? Just give it a smell right before you do your normal feeding. Does it smell sourish and vinegary? Is it very soupy and runny? It probably needs to be fed with more flour or more feedings per day. See my previous post on starter management for more information on these topics.

How young can this young levain be and still rise your bread properly? This entry has me using my levain at the earliest ever, just 3 hours after mixing in the early morning. I was very, very skeptical it was going to have enough strength to leaven my dough, but I did a quick float test (that which I hardly perform these days) and sure enough it was floating happily at the top of my glass. I decided to go ahead and proceed knowing if it didn’t work out at least I’d have a good story to writeup here.

The float test

As you well know I’ve been making only whole wheat bread for a little while now and have become accustom to wrangling that dough into a loaf that has some loft to it. Well, the bulk step on this dough sure was a breeze. As it was progressing I could see the strength develop quite quickly, but in the beginning the dough was very slack, I think the hydration was being pushed too far. Next attempt with this flour will be done with slightly lower hydration, say 3-5%.

Prepare the young levain – 6:45am

The following levain build was kept at around 77ºF ambient temperature and started in the morning on the day I mixed the dough, rather than the night before.

  1. 50g ripe starter
  2. 100g Bob’s Red Mill whole wheat flour
  3. 100g Sangre de Cristo white flour (King Arthur bread flour would work well here)
  4. 200g H2O @ 85ºF

After mixing the above in a thick-walled glass container, cover and set in a slightly warm area, around 77ºF, for about 3 hours. The warm water helped move the fermentation along to get this levain ready in short order. Normally I do a build that lasts around 10-12 hours overnight starting with room temperature water. As I mentioned above, it readily passed the float test and so I proceeded.


I should also mention here that at this point my starter is a rather vigorous animal. I started it using my own instructions a while ago, keep it fed twice per day, and it has gone without refrigeration for some time. When your starter is fed this often it becomes a savage and hungry thing, ready to consume your flour and water to produce ample gasses useful for leavening. Keep an eye on your own levain and employ the float test from time to time if you are unsure, each starter is different and thus you must adjust your timetable to suit!

Let’s start the autolyse.

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April 12, 2014

Ninety-Five Percent Whole Grain Sourdough

Ninety-five percent whole grain crumb shot

When attempting a new recipe I will usually keep working at it many times over until things are to my liking. I will go through pages and pages of notes with various tweaks to temperatures, folding intensities, flour combinations, and numerous other things. When I finally make a breakthrough I refer to my notes and pictures and will writeup a new post in the hopes my discoveries will help any readers out there looking to bake these loaves in their own kitchens.

This entry is no different. I believe I’ve finally found a really great combination of inputs to produce a superb close-to-one-hundred-percent whole grain loaf. In my last whole wheat entry the result was around 75% whole wheat. This entry describes how to get a nice and light, moist crumb with a much higher percentage, a ninety-five percent whole grain sourdough.

I haven’t made a “white” sourdough loaf in a few weeks (the last one was my Walnut Cranberry Sourdough loaf) and I’ve really become accustom to the deep & rich taste these whole grains present when baked. They hold up to just about any food, and only sometimes overpower other ingredients.

One thing I’ve been experimenting with is a younger levain per Chad’s description in his Tartine Bread books. In his latest book, Tartine Nº 3, he describes a levain prepared in about 4 to 6 hours at a warmer temperature between 80ºF and 85ºF. My levain, however, is typically created overnight (about 12 hours) at a relatively low temperature between 66ºF and 70ºF, depending on how brutal the winter days have been. I wanted to try to reduce my levain build time to match Chad’s more closely and see if using it at a younger stage would help with fermentation activity during my bulk fermentation stage. I’ve only baked a few loaves this way, and all have been whole grain, but I’m eager to try this younger levain method in future bakes with my typical country loaf.

Here you can see the progression over a 6 hour levain build. Earliest is top left, oldest and ready for mix is lower right (read like a book).

Young levain progression

If you’ve only ever used an older levain for your bread you might get a little uneasy watching your young levain develop, never quite sure if it’s ready. Remember you can always do a quick “float test” before using the levain to ensure it’s ready.

Prepare the levain – 10:00am

The following levain build was kept at around 77ºF ambient temperature and started in the morning on the day I mixed the dough, rather than the night before.

  1. 50g ripe starter
  2. 100g Bob’s Red Mill whole wheat flour
  3. 100g Sangre de Cristo white flour (King Arthur Bread Flour would work here)
  4. 200g H2O @ 85ºF

Ninety-five percent whole grain starting levain

After mixing the above in a thick-walled glass container, cover and set in a slightly warm area, around 77ºF, for about 6 hours.

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March 17, 2014

Walnut Cranberry Sourdough

Walnut cranberry sourdough

Last week I finally found a bottle of walnut oil at a local market (I later found this oil can even be purchased online) and I wanted to use it as soon as I could. When I brought it home I just had to open the bottle and take a smell — divine. Walnuts and walnut oil are so decadent to me, they just add such a deep flavor to any food it’s no wonder I eat them almost every morning with my oat porridge, pancakes, or even waffles.

I didn’t want to do just walnuts this time even though last time it was absurdly good on its own. I had some dried fruit leftover from a recent granola batch (for which a recipe entry is sorely overdue) and I decided to match the walnuts with dried cranberries. I’m sure I’ve seen this done somewhere else but intuitively the two just mesh well together so I decided to give it a go.

Walnut cranberry sourdough

This weekend was relatively light with work around the house as the last was the heavy yard work push. Outside has all the indications of a rapidly approaching Spring: blooming trees, New Mexico winds, green grass pushing up through the dirt and even dreaded pollen on the air. Despite the beckon of warm weather outside, an indoor Sunday carved out for baking bread is such a relaxing and wonderful complement to the weekend. I just can’t resist the call to work with my hands and get a couple loaves into the fridge for a long, cold proof.

A german shepherd

While the dog was resting in our comfy leather chair, I was preparing the ingredients. Toasted & shelled walnuts, dried cranberries, walnut oil… But before we get there, let’s go back to Saturday night just before bed to get started.

Prepare the levain – 11:00pm

  1. 50g ripe starter
  2. 100g Bob’s Red Mill whole wheat flour
  3. 100g Sangre de Cristo white flour 
  4. 200g H2O @ 73ºF

After mixing the above in a glass container, cover and set in a slightly warm area in your kitchen overnight. The night time here in New Mexico isn’t quite as cold now as it has been in the past weeks. Pay attention to your conditions and adjust your levain to suit! This might mean starting the levain later at night (11:00pm is an hour later for me), or plan to use it earlier the next morning. Alternatively, you could cool the added water a few degrees to slow down the fermentation process.

Mix the flour & water, autolyse – 9:00am

The walnuts, dried cranberries, and walnut oil will be added after the second set of turns during the bulk phase. You want to develop and strengthen the dough a little before adding in these extra ingredients.

Morning espresso

After your morning espresso or cappuccino, gather the following:

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