Monday, September 6, 2010

Abbey bread

This is another recipe from the Belgian cookbook. You may think I'm a little obsessed with this, and, well, I kind of am, so let's leave it at that.

I can't imagine how anyone came up with the idea of bread. I mean, imagine this conversation:

Pre-bread person 1: "I just had an idea."

Pre-bread person 2: "Oh, yeah?"

Pre-bread person 1: "Yeah. I was thinking we could grind up a bunch of wheat seeds, then mix them with water and let them sit around a while until they get all frothy. Then we can add some more ground-up wheat seeds and mush it around until we have these nice elastic balls of, oh, I don't know, let's call it dough. Then we could let these dough balls sit around for a while, and while they're doing that we could build a big fire in the oven and get it really hot. Then we could put the dough balls in the hot oven and cook them for a while, and once they're cooked we could take them out, slice them, and make sandwiches."

Pre-bread person 2: "Screw-off."

Pre-bread person 1: "What-EVER!"

See? How did it happen?!

ANYWAY, the first part of this recipe is the poolish we made the other day. Poolish is a pre-ferment, which means you make a sort of starter dough before you do the real one that will become your bread. If you're making sourdough, poolish is the name of the game since this is how you collect wild yeast from the air to make your sourdough starter (what pre-bread person 1 was up to by letting the water and flour sit around for a while until it got a bubbly). This recipe shortcuts the yeast harvesting and uses commercial yeast -- it's still a worthwhile step though, since your bread will have more character than if you make the whole loaf from start to finish in one go.

So, the day BEFORE you want to make the bread (remember Henry Blake and the bomb? "But first...") make your poolish with 75 g of rye flour and 75 g of bread flour mixed with 1/2 teaspoon of yeast and 2/3 cups of water. Stir this around until it's mixed and let it sit, covered on the counter for a day or so. (You need a scale for this recipe, by the way! From what I understand, weighing is the only way to ensure a bread recipe works properly. Personally, I think this is a bit misleading, since bread making is a pretty organic process, and you can vary things and use your judgement until your dough feels right. However, I have a scale, and a recipe with weights, so here we are weighing stuff.)

Check your poolish the next day. It should be all bubbly. If you left it for a couple of days, it should still be ok too (put it in the fridge if you're planning on totally ignoring your bread project for a while). Give it a sniff, though -- if it smells weird, start over, if is smells yeasty and bready, carry on!

About an hour before you want to make your bread, put 1/2 cup of flaxseeds and 1/2 cup of warm water into a bowl. The flax seeds need to soak for a while, otherwise they are not so digestible, and I presume they'll sail straight through you (I dunno for sure, but I'm not about to second guess my cookbook).

Next is the dough. Measure out 250g each of whole wheat, bread, and rye flour. I like to measure it straight into the mixing bowl. Then add 1 tablespoon of salt.

It's also time to proof your yeast. I've heard that this isn't necessary, but I do it anyway. You don't want to discover that your yeast is no good AFTER you've made the dough and waited an hour for it to rise, only it didn't. So, put 1 tablespoon of yeast in 1 1/4 cups of warm water. Add a pinch of sugar, and a few minutes later you should have...

...little yeast volcanoes, telling you all is well in microbe-land.

The recipe says to mix the flours, water, flaxseeds, and poolish in stages, but I'm a dump it all in there kind of guy, so I did (except for the poolish, which I noticed I'd forgotten somewhere near the end ... so I got it in there eventually and soldiered on!). I used the bad-boy Kitchenaid for the mixing. You could do this by hand, but it is a really heavy dough, so unless you have Dwayne Johnson pipes (or are working on building them), go for the mixer.

After 5 minutes or so, your dough should form a ball (this takes a bunch of scraping down the sides to ensure it happens -- please turn the mixer off first!) Note that you should keep the mixer on speed 2 for dough -- I've heard of a bunch of people wrecking these things by cranking them up to max to work bread.

Once you have a dough ball, flour a work surface and start kneading! The recipe says to knead for 10 minutes. Good luck. I lasted maybe 5. The key is to gradually work flour in as the dough becomes sticky, but not to work so much in that you end up kneading (and baking) a rock. So, as I mentioned above, use your judgement. I find that the kneading is usually done at about exactly the time that I am fed-up with kneading.

Oil the dough, and put it back in the mixing bowl. Cover it with a plate and put it somewhere warm to rise for an hour. Naturally, it got cold the day I decided to make bread, so nowhere is warm ... except! ... the oven with the lightbulb on! This is a prefect spot for dough on cool days.

An hour later it should look like this (i.e. bigger than it was an hour ago).

Get two loaf pans ready (you could use rectangles if you like). Spread some oil around the surface, and then add a dusting of flour -- tilt the pans around for even coverage.

Cut your dough in two, ...

...and make two nice loaves from it.

Then get another plate, cover both loaf pans, and put them in the light-bulb-on-oven for another half hour.

Take the loaves out, and start heating your oven to 450. Let them rise on the counter while you're waiting, and then make three slices in the top just before putting them in the oven. This keeps them from blowing up just anywhere when they bake, and ensures they expand along these fault lines.

Bake for 40 minutes -- you know they're done if they sound hollow when you tap them (SEE, another judgement thing.)

Once your babies are done, pop them out of the oven and out of the pans (they SHOULD "pop out" if you were diligent with the oil and flour) and let them cool on wire racks. (Look at that cheeky one in the front: it blew up anyway! Looking back at the photos, I see it wasn't totally smooth to start with. Ah well, it'll still be dee-lish!)

Now get ready for some GREAT sandwiches!!

Bon App├ętit! Eet Smakelijk!

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