For Christmas, JS always knows that cookbooks are my favourite gift! This year he got me two that I had on my list. One of them is Rose Levy Berenbaum's The Bread Bible. I decided that as one of my New Year's resolutions, I would start baking bread. Not the same old bread that never has a great crust and is just kind of bland, but real, crusty, artisanal breads with a more complex sourdough taste and a chewy crumb.
Bread baking seems like such a basic and old fashioned skill that few people today really have. The process of creating something so wholesome and belly filling with 4 ingredients, flour, salt, yeast and water, is pure alchemy. People today are so worried about eating too many carbs, but I feel strongly that bread is the pillar of any meal. We should all be eating bread, not the horrible, white, spongy loaves that sit on the shelf for weeks, but real, homemade loaves that fill the house with an unbelievable smell. So onwards with my new years resolution, and my mission to fill my house with the aroma of yeast and flour baking in my oven.
I started with the recipe for Hearth Bread. I was a little sceptical because she always uses instant yeast (I buy my yeast in the bakery of my supermarket in a large brick. It's the moist, pressed kind of yeast and it's what they use in France so I assumed it was the good stuff). This bread started with making a sponge, which I had never made before. It's basically a dough made with flour, water and a tiny smidgen of yeast and left to sit for the day. Then you mix the sponge into the dough when you're making the bread. I followed her recipe step by step (a feat for me, who likes to improvise and adjust) and the bread came out beautifully! It had a crisp crust and a moist, chewy crumb. The only step I ignored was at the end when Rose advises to leave the bread to cool on the rack before eating. I think we ate about 3/4 of the loaf before it was even warm!
Next I made a ciabatta bread, which started with a biga, similar to the sponge I made for the hearth bread. It also turned out lovely. It had a nice crust and a chewy interior with lots of little air pockets.
Yesterday I made her Flax loaf, which is a straight dough bread, no starter, sponge or biga required. It may have been the biggest success yet! It had a nice, wholesome flax flavour and a soft and chewy crumb. Best of all it was the fastest bread I've made so far in terms of rising time, which means I can think about it at 3 pm and still have fresh bread for dinner! We enjoyed some last night with cultured butter sprinkled with Maldon salt alongside sweet potato and vegetable soup. Yum!
I also tried her pizza dough which was a success. It doesn't require much kneading, which produces a softer crust and was very much enjoyed by the crowd at JS's birthday dinner on Sunday night.
My other project is the sourdough starter that I started from scratch. It has taken longer then indicated and required a lot of love and persistence, but it looks almost ready to bake with. I can't wait to see how my first loaf turns out! I have been advised to name my starter, maybe because it is a living organism that requires daily care (it eats flour and bottled water for dinner every night), but I've had a hard time coming up with one seeing as it doesn't really look like your typical pet. It's a jar full of bubbling, acidic smelling goo. Gooey, Bloop, Yuki? Any suggestions? I'm kind of liking the sound of Yuki....
As you can see, so far so good on the bread baking front. I have been successful with each loaf, although there is always room for improvement. I would like to get a pizza stone to bake the bread directly on, as Rose recommends in many of her recipes. I also want to try my hand at baguettes, but maybe after I feel a bit more confident as I think they are one of the more difficult breads to master. In the meantime I will tend to Yuki, maybe try a loaf using some of her this weekend and enjoy the delicious smells wafting about my house during the cold, dark days of this new year.