just to get a little personal here for a moment – my first child’s due to be born today. this’ll come as a surprise to some of you, as i tend to keep this kind of personal stuff outta here, but as you can imagine, this is one of those things that will impact every other facet of my life, and so what the heck, i decided to share the news with you all. thanks for sharing in the joy, next time you hear from me i should be a papa.
but enough about me, let’s get back to the bread… i’ve been thinking a lot lately about what our guiding principles are. what are the characteristics that define good bread, both in terms of the process and the ingredients? these rules aren’t hard and fast (and i’ll be the first one to support a deviation in the quest of deliciousness), but i do think they’re principles by which most good bread is made.
whole: whole grain
i’m definitely not tied to all breads being all whole grain (there’s a different bread for every occasion, and many of our breads are 50% whole grain), but the more bread i make, the more bread that i eat, the more i am drawn to breads that are mostly whole grain. i find these breads both more interesting to make, and more interesting to eat. we’ve been working with a bunch of different grains lately (einkorn, rye, spelt, khorasan, corn, oats, buckwheat, a bunch of different wheats such as Sonora, Cabernet, Cristalo, Bolero, Merica, etc) and i’ve been elated by how much i’ve grown as a baker, and all of the flavors, textures and aromas we’re getting. and we’re just scratching the surface. we’ve got a stone mill in the bakery so that we can control the granulation and then use the flour immediately in whatever fashion we dream up – mixing it directly into dough, or soaking it overnight, or toasting it and mixing with boiling water, or cooking it into a porridge… new possibilities present themselves everyday.
wild: wild yeast
a sourdough starter is a magical little beast. it’s a combination of flour and water, along with wild yeast and bacteria that are naturally found on flour and in the environment. starters can be tricky to work with, as you need to constantly monitor their development and characteristics in order to make the bread you’re after. in order to keep your sourdough starter alive, you have to “feed” it regularly with flour and water, and by doing this you can coax the wild yeast and bacteria into the proportions that are good for bread baking. most bread is made with yeast that’s made in a factory, and this yeast is created in order to make bread rise quickly and dependably. but it wasn’t always this way – the first breads ever were most definitely “sourdough” – made with a mixture of flour and water that was allowed to ferment by the power of the wild yeast that was lucky enough to find its way into the mixture. the best breads that i’ve ever had have been made using a sourdough culture. if used properly, a sourdough culture yields bread that tastes better, lasts longer, and is healthier for you.
wet: fully hydrated
it’s a lot easier to end up with moist bread if you start out with moist dough. why don’t more people put more water in their bread doughs? because it makes for a dough that is very sticky and tricky to handle, and well, that’s a pain in the ass now isn’t it? this is especially true if machines are dividing the dough, or shaping it into loaves. only the sensitive human hand can handle dough like this, and even then, it takes hundreds, thousands of loaves to get the hang of shaping “high hydration” dough consistently. most breads out there have 60-70g of water for every 100g of flour. our breads have between 75-125g of water for every 100g of flour, and this totally depends on the particular flour of a given bread. we aim for a dough that is fully hydrated and yields a bread that has a moist and supple crumb.
slow: long fermented
good things take time, didn’t your gramma teach you that? the flavors and textures of a long-fermented loaf are just flat out better than those of a short-fermented one. the life cycle for most of our breads goes something like this: our sourdough culture hangs out for 20-24 hours before being mixed into dough, our dough relaxes for 3-4 hours before being shaped into loaves, our loaves chill out for 14-18 hours before being baked into bread. so our bread dough has matured over a couple of days before it’s baked into bread, which gives the yeast and bacteria of our sourdough culture time to perform their magic: producing the perfect mix of acid, alcohol and gas to make good bread.
bold: boldly baked
when a loaf goes into the oven it is the moment of truth – did we make the right decisions over the last 48 hours? and so begins the waiting game for that loaf to complete its transformation. you can’t rush this phase of the process, just like every other one. we bake our breads anywhere from 30-120 minutes, depending on the size and type. regardless, we bake each loaf till it’s crust is dark and substantial and its insides are fully cooked. folks occasionally point out that we burnt our bread. while i admit that our loaves are significantly darker than those from most bakeries, i also stand by the flavors and textures created by the bold bake, and encourage critics to employ their taste buds.
and that, my friends, is that. holler if ya got any thoughts on the matter.