Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving bread

Happy Thanksgiving!  And look at that!  It's almost one month after my last post!  How time does fly...

Really, it's been crazy, crazy busy.  This past weekend Ryan and I performed in the school's fall opera production, which means the previous week was filled with daily rehearsals.  We had one day "off" on Sunday to recover and prepare for coming week.  Monday was a busy day of classes (and a happy meeting with a friend from college, in town to look at schools).  Tuesday was class and the New Music Ensemble concert at the Canadian Opera Company, also filmed for a TV broadcast, which thankfully went very well!  Yesterday was a meeting with the man coming in to asses the school for the Canadian Heritage Fund, who then also observed my lesson.  And then finally I had the afternoon off!  Holy mackerel!  It feels like it has been ages since that happened (and let's not even think about the rest of the week...).  So Ryan and I made vegetarian stuffing for dinner (homemade sourdough with mushrooms, celery, leeks, chestnuts, and apples--recipe below) along with a salad with pomegranate seeds (the pomegranate was given to me by Rubana at Economy Fruit).  I also put together another batch of bread to retard in the fridge overnight and to bake today.  Per the request of one of my classmates, I measured the ingredients in volume in addition to weight so that I could make a version of the recipe for people who don't have a scale (though investing in a kitchen scale is probably a good idea if you're going to be doing a lot of bread baking because it makes measuring really easy and largely reduces the large margin of error found in volume measurements).

One loaf made last week.
So here is Susan's recipe for Norwich Sourdough from her blog Wild Yeast, adapted for volume measurements and with my little addenda.

Two big loaves, or 10 mini loaves (which is what I made today), or one loaf plus a pizza, or... you get the picture.  It's a lot.

Mixing -- 5 minutes
Autolyse -- 30 minutes
First fermentation -- 2.5 hours

If you're baking that day, then you divide/rest/shape
And then you proof -- 2.5 hours
And then you bake -- 30 minutes max

If you're not baking that day, I've been (in a probably incredibly unorthodox move) just transferring the dough directly to a container, usually a big tupperware, to retard for up to two days.  Then I form the loaves as quickly as possible before throwing them in the oven.  I've found that the sour flavor really improves after the two days in the fridge.

900 g white flour  -- or 6 cups
120 g whole wheat flour -- or 1 cup
600 g water at about 74F -- or 3 cups
360 g mature starter -- or 1 3/4 cups (which in my case is about half white and half wheat)
23 g salt -- or 2 tbsp
cornmeal for dusting

Method (for a completely handmade, no mixer 'cause I don't have one, bread):
Mix the flours, water, and starter until just combined, which usually I'm not quite strong enough to do with a big wooden spoon, so usually I just use my hands.
Let the dough rest (autolyse) for 30 minutes.
Add the salt and mix until the dough reaches a medium level of gluten development.  (Her pictures are really nice, so check them out.)  I usually wind up sort of pulling the dough between my hands until it actually stretches.  In the beginning it sort of breaks and won't stretch very well, but then as the gluten develops you can stretch it farther apart.
Transfer the dough to an oiled container (I usually just oil the bowl I mixed it in).
Ferment at room temperature (72F – 76F) for 2.5 hours, with folds (again nice instructions here, but basically you just stretch and then fold up) at approximately 50 and 100 minutes.
At this point I sort of deviate from Susan's instructions.  If I'm baking that day, I might shape one half of the bread into a ball, which I'll place on a piece of parchment paper dusted with cornmeal.  Otherwise I'll take my nicely oiled ball, find a big tupperware container, and dump the whole thing inside.  Make sure there's some room for it to expand because it will keep growing.  And then I put it in the fridge and wait a day or two.  I've found that 48 hours in the fridge results in a really nice and sour bread.

When I'm about ready to bake, I preheat the oven to 475 and put in the vessel I'm using for a cloche along with a baking tray (I don't own a bread stone, but I hear those are great).  Thanks to Susan's website, I recently started using this technique instead of trying to make steam in the whole oven.  First of all it's a lot safer.  Second of all it basically doesn't require any equipment (except the cloche).  Third of all it actually works. 

So what is this cloche thing?  Basically it's a heat-proof vessel like a big ceramic casserole or something that you can turn upside down and create a seal with a baking sheet.  You can also purchase a real one, or apparently make one out of a flower pot (instructions on her website), but really a deep ceramic baking dish seems to work perfectly.  The cloche traps the moisture that's already inside of the bread, allowing the dough to rise much more and ultimately creating a better crust.  You bake for 12 minutes or so with the cloche over the bread and then remove it for the last part of the baking.  Easy peasy.  No trays of boiling hot water or squirt guns or whatever.  No giant steam cloud threatening to cook you to death like a squishy lobster.  

So, you set the oven to 475, put in your big ceramic pot and your tray for baking the bread.  When the oven reaches the proper temperature, take a piece of parchment paper and dust it with your cornmeal.  Take your dough out of the fridge and quickly and gently shape (pat, coax) it into a size that will fit underneath your cloche.  Using a sharp knife, cut two long slashes into the dough.  It sometimes helps me to oil the knife blade a little first.  Then, I usually take the baking tray out of the oven and put it on the stove; transfer my dough to the baking tray using the parchment paper; and then take the cloche out of the oven and invert it over my piece of dough.  Then the whole thing goes back in the oven and you set the timer for 12 minutes and turn down the oven to 450.  After 12 minutes, carefully remove the cloche.  Mine's a little hard to grip, so yours might be too.  Just don't burn yourself.  And then keep baking until the bread is brown and done looking.  Depending on the size of the loaf and the temperature of the oven, this might be another 10-20 minutes.  And it's as easy as that!

And what will I be doing with my 10 mini loaves of bread?  I'm bringing them to a few of the people I'm really thankful for here in Toronto, including Rubana at Economy Fruit and my teachers and administrators at school.  It is sad not to be able to take the day to celebrate with my friends and family the way I have growing up, and I would especially like to be able to personally contribute to the storm clean up effort in New York, but I figure that I can at least do this small thing to give thanks for my innumerable blessings and the bounty that is in my life.

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