It’s been a while since I baked any bread, but I definitely haven’t given up! I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned my health isn’t the best, but recently it’s been one thing after the other. First I started coughing blood from my lungs, which instantly means the Center for Disease Control automatically takes over your life. Even if you only cough blood for 6 hours, if you go to the hospital the CDC will force you to live in total isolation, complete with precautionary Hazmat Gear (even plastic, disposable stethoscopes!) until you can prove you aren’t contagious. It’s awfully hard to prove you don’t have a contagious disease. And, it turns out, insurance doesn’t cover most of it… Thanks to some help from my family we aren’t quite broke, but financially we’re stressed, which leaves me quite depressed.
When I came home from the hospital I was very weak from the testing, and all four of the major veins in my arms had “blown” (broken, popped, or had too many needles pushed through them.) Which left my hands hurting and numb from lack of blood flow. It’s happened before. I have very poor blood flow from a genetically based disease called “peripheral arterial disease.” Usually the problems caused by a blown vein goes away in just a few weeks after the last IV is removed (at least in my arms… My legs already have so little blood flow my legs and feet are always extremely painful.) This time it still hasn’t gone away and both hands are so full of pins and needles it makes typing a problem, still I was coping, more or less – until my Crohn’s disease started acting up, and I need a CAT scan with contrast … contrast that requires a very good vein that I don’t have, so it suddenly became necessary to at least discuss having a permanent shunt installed, but who’s going to install the shunt, how can they put me asleep to do it, and what specific type of shunt to install? And the problems go on and on… Various doctors have said they’ll get back to me – but no one has, and I’m in no mood to push anything that will cost us more money that we don’t have.
Which, when I think about it, means I’m the cause of my own misery. So it’s time to kick myself in the ass and get up and do something! It’s time to get back to baking, back to living. And it’s definitely time to quit feeling sorry for myself. Enough! Enough! I intend to live as fully as possible until I die – and I’m not dead yet!
Thank you for permitting me to whine on your shoulder. I’ll be back!
I recently spent several days in the hospital. I came home weak, exhausted, and very depressed only to discover my sourdough starter was mostly alcohol. Yet sourdough bread is one of the few things I can eat when I’m feeling really bad — as long as I keep it very simple.
Reactivating a colony of sourdough starter in extremely hot humid weather was my first challenge. The wild yeasts and bacteria that make real sourdough work best in weather that is normal wherever you live. Remember, wild yeast is very geo-specific, that’s why it is worth the time to attract and maintain your own colony of sourdough; it will always work better than sourdough made somewhere else, and is much easier to digest than any bread made with storebought yeasts. I like to keep no more than 1/4 to 1/2 inch of alcohol on top of my starter to protect it against mold, but when I came home I had at least 3 inches of dark brown alcohol on top of the colony. I poured off all but a sheen of alcohol, cleaned my crock, added some bread flour and water as usual. Fortunately a good colony of sourdough starter is very hard to kill! I had to repeat the cleaning three or four times before I had some very active sourdough starter to with which to work.
My mouth hurts so much I didn’t want a crusty bread, but I did want a moist good tasting bread that would be very, very easy to digest. So no oil (other than to oil the pans,) no egg, no milk, no herbs. To keep it moist it has to be a very soft dough. The flavor comes from a very, very long rising time — in the refrigerator since it’s so incredibly hot outside.
Simple Bread (makes 1 small sandwich loaf)
Combine in the bowl of your stand mixer or bread machine:
250 grams bread flour (“hard” flour in Europe) 150 grams water 2 teaspoons salt 1/4 cup sourdough starter
Mix by hand, or on the lowest setting until all of the flour is dampened. Then let the machine do the kneading for at least 10 minutes, until the dough is very soft, sticky, and smooth.
Meanwhile, lightly oil a medium sized bowl that will fit in your refrigerator. Using a scraper, or a lightly oiled hand, transfer the kneaded bread into the bowl, and tightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
Let it rise in the refrigerator for 24 to 36 hours. It will double in size (or even get a little higher than that!)
Very lightly oil a small sandwich size bread pan. Flour your counter (or wherever you’ll shape the dough) and your hands. Use as much flour as necessary to handle the dough.
Do not “punch down” the dough! Instead use a scraper, or your lightly floured hand to gently move the dough to the counter. Keeping as much of the air in the dough as you can, shape the dough to into an oblong that will easily fit in the bread pan. It will look far too small for the pan.
Since there’s another long rise, put the entire bread pan in a plastic grocery store bag, and seal the bag with a twist tie. Alternatively, you could cover the whole pan with a huge bowl — anything you can think of that will keep all the moisture inside, yet still fit in your refrigerator. Let it rise until it has a “dome” on the top — 6 to 8 hours. (This is where I made my big mistake — I went to bed rather than keeping an eye on the bread. Yeast will only rise until it’s exhausted, and then it falls flat, leaving the spent yeast and unused flour on top of the bread, turning it pure white.)
Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 35-40 minutes. Bread is done when a probe thermometer registers 190-200° F.
I know I read about it somewhere else — adding pickle juice to rye bread, but I didn’t save it because I couldn’t imagine it’s taste. Then, several weeks ago, my husband brought home the “wrong” Reuben Sandwich. On Pumpernickel, served with a huge dill pickle that wasn’t properly wrapped. Pickle juice saturated the bottom piece of bread. It turned out to be one of the best Reuben Sandwiches I’ve ever had, even though it was too soggy… So, here is Sourdough Pumpernickel with Pickle Juice and Black Pepper.
Makes 1 loaf
Combine in a large bowl:
1/2 Cup mixed rolled grains (If you don’t have mixed grains available, just use old fashioned, slow cooking oatmeal.)
2 Cups boiling water 2 Tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon gluten (if you don’t have gluten available, use only 1 Cup of dark rye AKA Pumpernickel and 2 cups of whole wheat) 1/4 cup powdered milk (optional) 1/2 cup sourdough starter 2 tablespoons dill pickle brine (liquid leftover from a jar of dill pickles)
I cup whole wheat flour (unless you did not add gluten, in which case, add 2 cups of whole wheat.)
2 cups (approximately) dark rye flour AKA pumpernickel (unless you didnot add gluten, in which case, add only 1 cup dark rye flour.)
Stir very well, until a soft, smooth dough forms. “Knead” it a few times using the stretch and turn method. Cover tightly and let it sit for at least 2 hours. It will rise, but probably won’t double in size.
Knead in up to another 1 cup of dark rye flour and 1 teaspoon ground black pepper. (It may take a little more or a little less flour, depending on the humidity and the water content of your flour.) You want it to just kiss your hand. (In a stand mixer or bread machine, knead it for no more than 10 minutes total.)
Shape it into a ball and let it rise and spread until double in size. (about 2 hours)
Preheat your oven to 400° F. Slash , and bake for 20 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 350° F and bake until done — about another 30 minutes.
Or, if one isn’t as polite, “Anna, Damn ya!” bread. It’s an early American bread, supposedly created by an irate husband who came home very late on a cold winter night and found there was only some cold, leftover “Injun mush” (AKA “cornmeal mush” AKA “hasty pudding”) for his dinner. Worse yet, he hadn’t had any luck with his hunting, fishing, or trapping, there wasn’t any bread rising, and his wife was sound asleep…
In pioneer days, one wasted nothing that’s edible. It wasn’t uncommon for the women and children to eat mush with some kind of sweetener or, cornbread and milk for every meal in late winter, but a hard working man expected something more. A bit of squirrel stew, or perhaps half a rabbit. And, of course, bread. With no bread rising near the woodstove, the man knew there would only be pan fried cornbread tomorrow. So, after filling his belly with cold injun mush, the man decided to make bread from the remaining leftover mush. (Personally, I think he must have been a very nice man, in love with his wife, but that’s never included in the traditional story…)
As I think I’ve mentioned before, in those days, everyone, male and female, learned to make bread almost from infancy. Still, it was “women’s work” and this man probably hadn’t made bread for the past several years. Cold mush is rather firm, so he probably added some water from a hand pump in the kitchen, added a good dollop of sourdough starter, and handfuls of flour until he could knead dough, and left the whole mess to rise so his wife could bake bread in the morning….
All of the above is, of course, fiction, but traditionally some version of the story always accompanies the recipe for Anadamya bread. Unfortunately, with a broken (but healing) arm, I had to break with tradition to actually make the bread. Someday I’ll follow the brief instructions in the story, but this time I adapted the recipe from The King Arthur 200th Anniversary Cookbook.
Anadamya Bread — makes 2 loaves
2 Cups water with 1/2 Cup blackstrap molasses (or honey,or maple syrup) and bring to a rolling boil.
Stirring constantly to avoid lumps, slowly add 1/2 cup finely cracked corn (or regular cornmeal, if you can’t find cracked corn; I prefer cracked corn, since it adds both sweetness and texture.) and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, and let it cool completely, stirring occasionally to avoid clumping.
While the (very liquid) mush is cooling, in a different bowl, (I used the bowl of my stand mixer) use a whisk to mix together:
5 cups whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1/2 cup powdered milk (optional – but the bread will rise a bit better if you add it.)
1 Tablespoon (or one packet) store bought yeast.
When the liquid is completely cool, make a well in the center of your flour mixture, and add all of the liquid “mush” to the bowl of flour. Using a bread hook, turn the mixer on low, scrapping the sides of the bowl as often as necessary to incorporate all of the flour. If the mixture is too moist, add more flour, 1/4 cup at a time. If the mixture is too dry add a tablespoon of water at a time.
When the dough is pulling away from the sides of the bowl, turn the mixer up to “knead” and let it run for 5 minutes. Then add 1/4 cup of vegetable oil. Let the mixer knead the dough another 5 minutes, and turn it off. The dough will feel gritty, but elastic. If you firmly press a finger into it, the dough will resist you, but not have the usual “bounce back.”
Oil a large bowl in which the bread will rise, and, with your hands still lightly covered in oil, remove the dough from the mixing bowl, form it into a rough ball, and put it in the oiled bowl. The dough should not stick to your hands, nor should it feel oily. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise in a cool, shaded location until doubled in size. (This takes longer than usual, even using our modern yeast — about 2 hours.)
When the dough has doubled in size, gently press it down, and divide it in half. Still using your fingers, on a well floured counter or breadboard, press each half of the dough into a rectangle, such that the long side will fit in your bread pan, and fold it in thirds, making sure to press firmly enough to avoid trapping any air while sealing the seams. If necessary, fold the ends towards the center so the loaf will fit in your bread pan, again avoiding trapping any air.
Only press it down enough to be able to divide it and shape it. Treat this dough roughly and you end up with a rock. It’s still in the bowl here, ready to be divided in half. Just press, fold, and pinch edges — don’t knead it again.
Put each loaf, seam side down in lightly oiled bread pans, cover with plastic wrap, and let it rise again for about 45 minutes or until the dough has risen slightly above the top of the bread pan. Slash the top of the bread, and place in a cold oven. Turn the oven to 400°F and bake for 15 minutes. Then turn the oven down to 350°F and bake until the bread tests done (about another 35 -40 minutes.)
Made in a stand mixer with a dough hook, or in a bread machine, it’s crusty on the outside, moist on the inside. Just do everything wrong, and it still comes out bread.
I’m still struggling with a broken arm and an almost unusable hand, but I’ve gotten a bit bored with the endless potato or herbed bread, plus it’s spring (almost summer-like) so my husband isn’t in the mood to do anything inside… With spaghetti for dinner, and dinner 2 hours away, I wanted bread, and didn’t have any. So how to make bread rise faster? Add too much sugar and too much yeast, and let the mixer do it’s thing…
2 Hour Bread – makes 2 loaves
1 1/4 cups very hot water 2 teaspoons salt 1 tablespoon white cane sugar
Stir well, to completely dissolve the sugar and salt.
Combine in the mixer’s bowl and attach the dough hook: 1 packet of yeast 3 1/2 cups whole wheat bread flour
As soon as the water is lukewarm, turn the stand mixer on low, and add the water mixture to the flour mixture. Let the machine run for 10 minutes, scraping the sides down at least once to be sure all the flour is incorporated.
With the mixer still running on low, add: 1 tablespoon olive oil
Let the mixer work on low for another 5 minutes
Turn the mixer off, remove the dough hook, Divide the dough in half and put on a a well floured cookie sheet, shaping the dough using your fingers only — remember it’s going to spread out rather than rise, so keep it in two rather narrow stripes. Stipple the top of the stripes with your fingertips and spritz the dough with enough water to almost fill the indentations.
Cover it loosely with plastic wrap and let it rise for 45 minutes. Lightly spritz the dough with water every 15 minutes, and cover it back up.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425°F.
When the 45 minutes are up, spritz the dough and the cookie sheet with water, and put it into your very hot oven for 30 minutes.
Michigan has been experiencing what is politely called a “wintery mix” instead of Spring. On most days there is precipitation in the form of rain, snow, hail, and sleet – separately or together. There may be a half day of cold sunshine, or even an hour or two of warm sunshine. But by nightfall we’re back to our “wintery mix.” This type of weather is very hard on me. One of the effects of my stroke is the inability to maintain a constant body temperature. One of the effects of my age is arthritis. When temperatures change too abruptly I’m physically miserable. Just picture a very grumpy bear, who knows it’s time to break free of hibernation, but the weather… Anyhow, I was trying to ask my friends to excuse my grumpy behavior for a while and received several messages saying, “But what about the bread???”
Avoiding the poisons in store bought bread means I’m baking 3 loaves of bread every week — but it’s all potato bread or herbed bread because those are our household favorites. This does not mean I’m giving up on this blog! I’m currently experimenting with some “patterned” tomato bread that I know very little about. And, as I think some of you know, the history of bread is what fascinates me the most.
By 1550 some of the Spanish and Portuguese Conquistadors had returned to Europe, bringing with them the Inca and Aztec treasures of silver and gold, but, of much more importance, they also brought back 3 things that eventually changed the foods of Europe: tomatoes and maize (corn) originated in what is now Mexico; potatoes are indigenous to Peru.
Corn didn’t cause much excitement. The grains already available were, in some ways, superior, but corn did produce more and larger kernels of grain. Potatoes and tomatoes were another story! Both plants are part of the nightshade family. While the sailors and soldiers that had been to the Americas ate them regularly, and obviously didn’t die, at first these two plants were grown primarily as unique flowers in the flower gardens. Everyone, from peasant to king, knew how to recognize the deadly nightshade family! (And, to be fair, the leaves of a potato plant will make you sick, and there are some very old fashioned tomatoes that have spikes on their stems and under their leaves that leave a rash similar to poison ivy if you touch them.)
I can easily picture the frustration of the returning soldiers trying to convince their often starving families to try eating a baked or mashed potato! Or to eat a sun warm tomato when they were thirsty and the well water was fouled. Many of the European nobles were involved in small skirmishes at the time, the Holy Roman Empire was beginning to fall apart, and no one really had time to care about the peasants, yet a peasant’s small field could easily be destroyed by two or three horses galloping through their patches of grain. But potatoes grow underground. Even the big war horses don’t destroy the entire potato crop! On top of that, potatoes produce more than grains. One can, quite literally, trace the progress of potatoes throughout Europe by tracing the population explosion. In the same amount of acreage that once fed 3 people, adding potatoes could feed 10 people! Plus, if some gallant knight on his mighty steed happened to trample your grain, you still had potatoes! So it’s pretty easy to see why potatoes spread throughout Europe, even though it took a couple of hundred years — but tomatoes?
The tomatoes Cortez brought back from Mexico generally had white flowers and small yellow fruits, but somehow, somewhere in Spain around 1580 someone (or some village…) prefered the yellow flowers and brilliant red fruits in their tomato flower garden. By 1590 someone who sold olive oil discovered he could preserve the partially dried brilliant red tomatoes in his olive oil (adding a bit of salt and pepper) in glass jars. The flavor was intensified, the jars looked quite beautiful, but how does anyone sell great taste that most people considered quite deadly?
One of my favorite books (it’s only a partial book) called The Lore and Folklore of Bread, tells the story. The merchant (or merchants) from the village created a game, probably played in a tavern. Two large loaves of bread were made, one containing a lot of the preserved tomatoes, the other containing mashed potatoes. Both loaves of bread was rolled into bite sized balls, and arranged into fancy round patterns, alternating the red balls containing tomatoes and the white balls containing potatoes, and a rather drunken game began called “Pick your poison.” Under the false bravado and peer pressure of drunkenness, everyone was willing to play, even the nobles. One of these nobles had the authority to create official labels that allowed the tomatoes preserved in olive oil to be sold as food, as well as dried mashed potatoes.
I doubt very much if the story is true. But it is true that by 1625 sun dried tomatoes, preserved in olive oil were on most export lists, and taxed as a luxury. So I was very, very surprised to find in a “normal” cookbook (circa 1890) to find a “recipe” for tomato bread that was made into bite sized balls, which were combined with balls of white bread in a circular pattern. The problem with early “cookbooks” is they don’t actually give measured amounts and often skip some ingredients completely. (After all, even in 1890 everyone knew how to make basic bread!) So I guessed, and guessed wrong. I’m still working on getting it right.
Depending on the amount of whole wheat bread flour you add on the second day, this makes anything from a no knead light airy bread, to a soft chewy kneaded bread, to a kneaded, softly crusted, freeform bread. This recipe doesn’t work well if you started your “sourdough starter” with any type of store bought yeast. It relies on the beneficial bacilli (the “probiotics”) that is part of a wild yeast colony.
Before I get to the recipe, let me explain what I’ve been doing since I last posted. I have a friend who’s really into science. She’s worked both as theoretical physicist and an experimental physicist and knows more about molecular chemistry than I will ever know. When she finally got married, as a joke (knowing she really didn’t know how to cook,) her colleagues gave her a “cookbook” that doesn’t have a single recipe in it. What it does have is 818 pages on the molecular chemistry of the foods we eat, with an emphasis on the way the USA “processes” it’s basic foods, such as meats, grains, fats and vegetables. If it’s part of the “normal” process, it doesn’t appear on the label; and “organic” certainly doesn’t mean what I thought it meant!
When it comes to food, I thought “organic” meant, of or relating to foodstuff grown or raised without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides or hormones. But, chemically, “organic” means: relating or belonging to the class of chemical compounds having a carbon basis — or, basically, every living thing (or once living thing) you can find in or on the earth. Unfortunately “synthetic” also has several meanings, including: involving or of the nature of synthesis (combining separate elements to form a coherent whole) as opposed to analysis. Please notice that it’s combining separate elements, notseparating previously combined elements. I think everyone knows that one can separate water into pure hydrogen and pure oxygen using an electrical current, but how many people realize that the “Clean Air Act Amendments” have resulted in removing so much naturally occurring sulfur from the air that farmers (including organic farmers) now have to add sulfur to their soil? And what is the cheapest way to obtain calcium and sulfur? Through what is called “beneficial reuse programs.” Without using euphemisms, the “pollutants” captured by coal powered plants are separated out to sulfur, calcium, and a very high quality “synthetic gypsum.” The sulfur and calcium go on farmers fields, while the “synthetic gypsum” is used to make wall board for your house. Instead of pesticides, “organic” farmers use oils. What we currently call “organic farming” is not “sustainable farming” (I suspect you’ll hear more and more about “sustainable farming” in the next few years.) What does all this mean in terms of bread? Buying “organic” store bought flour can (in the USA), may contain several chemicals that are banned in almost every other country in the world. Once I knew what to look for, it wasn’t hard to find lots of confirmation on the internet. Here’s one site that is very easy to understand, and explains the problems very well.
Just in case you don’t want to read the whole article, here’s the basic list:
Azodicarbonamide (banned in Singapore, the EU and Australia)
Potassium bromate (banned in the EU, Canada, China, Nigeria, Brazil, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Peru and more)
Calcium bromate (banned in the EU and Canada)
Nitrogen dioxide (banned in the EU and Australia)
(And yet people think it’s the gluten in flour that’s making them sick… Since these are all part of the processing of flours, they don’t have to appear on the list of ingredients.) So how does one avoid these nasty chemicals? By knowing why such chemicals are used — to make flour white in color, to preserve the flour, to enrich the flour, and to “fluff” the flour so it’s easier to use. So… Never buy store-bought bread. Never buy anything other than “whole wheat” (or “whole grain”) flour. And never buy “enriched” flours. I don’t think I’ll ever buy flour in our local grocery store again. (Our local health food store is another story – as long as I read the labels very carefully.)
Beware of flour that is simply marked “Whole Grain.” “Whole Grain” doesn’t necessarily mean it is free of the deadly additives listed above.
If I need to buy flours via mail, I go to Bob’s Red Mill – which is also available in many of the larger grocery stores. Bob’s Red Mill has a blog and recipes that I’ve found to be very precise and (as far as I can tell) accurate.
What does all this have to do with the following recipe? This started not so much as a recipe as an experiment. If I was reading the “cookbook” full of molecular chemistry correctly, the bacilli that lives in a symbiotic relationship with wet flour are largely killed off if the flour has any of the 8 bad ingredients listed above. If all the bacilli are there, in enough quantity, the actual molecules found in whole grains and fats are changed slightly. making the bread much easier to digest. (Both the bacilli and the yeast are killed off when the bread bakes, so the changes have to occur before baking.) Rolled (or pressed) grains are as close to whole grains as one can obtain easily at this time of year, and once re-hydrated, they are pretty easy to see, and everyone knows melted sweet cream butter rises to the top of most liquids… So….
This recipe makes 3 to 8 loaves depending on the amount of flour added later.
Stir constantly until the water is no longer too warm to touch, being certain all of the rolled grains are well moistened and starting to swell. You don’t want any of the grains to clump together if you can help it. (BTW, following the instructions on the label, this makes an utterly fantastic hot breakfast cereal!)
While the mixture is still warm, add:
1 cup whole wheat bread flour
1 cup very active, well stirred (so the bubbles disappear) starter
Front of the jar
See the ingredients?
1 tablespoon Barley Malt Syrup
Continue stirring until the mixture looks like this:
Then cover tightly with plastic wrap and let it sit, undisturbed, for 24 hours. At first the butter or oil will rise to the top, but those beneficial bacilli will take care of that. There will be a few slight color changes as other beneficial bacilli get to work on the various grains and the yeasts start to take over.
24 hours later the mixture looks like this:
But does it still make good bread? YES!
Stir in (or use an electric mixer):
2 cups of the 7-grain mix
2 cups of the whole wheat bread flour
The dough will still be much to wet to use, but it’s obviously dough and not a liquid.
Let it rest for 20 minutes. This gives the rolled grains a chance to expand a bit, adding much more flavor to the finished product.
Stir in, using a wooden spoon, 1 cup of bread flour at a time. When no more flour can be stirred in without kneading the dough, you can divide the dough into 2 or 3 parts, and put it in well oiled bread pans to rise before baking. It will only rise to the top of the pan, and the finished bread will be very airy and light.
I prefer a good firm bread, that’s a bit chewy, so I kept kneading in bread flour, using as much flour as necessary to prevent the dough from sticking. 8 Cups of bread flour later, I was exhausted and was running out of room to knead. I shaped one normal size loaf, put it in a well oiled bread pan to rise, and divided the rest of the dough into two pound packets that I put in the freezer to finish some other day.