Bread–upping the nutrition

IMG_1462Most of you who have checked out my bread recipes would notice one thing right away: they’re pretty heavy on the white flour. Most of my recipes are, in fact. And we eat a lot of bread, which means white flour constitutes a pretty large portion of our diets. Lately I’ve been thinking that’s not such a good thing.

The thing is, I really like simple bread recipes, ones that contain only 4 ingredients: flour, water, salt and yeast. Unfortunately this formula only really works with white flour (at least as far as I know).

Since my supreme enlightenment (discovering Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day), I’m completely sold on the no-knead method and the simple recipe, and don’t want to complicate it any more with shortening or sweeteners. I want my easy bread and the fibre/nutrient content too!

So I’ve begun another experiment: slowly increasing the amount of whole wheat flour I add to the mix. I’m trying to find how far I can go, what percentage whole wheat flour I can get to where the simple recipe and techniques still work.

Here is my progress, so far:

1 cup of whole wheat flour (5 1/2 oz) was barely noticeable. The crumb was glossy, and speckled with occasional flecks of bran, and the taste was fairly indistinguishable from the all-white version. A completely innocuous way to add a bit of fibre and nutrition to the recipe.

2 cups of whole wheat flour (11 oz, or around 30% of flour by weight) actually added to the flavour, I thought, making it slightly more complex. The texture was still great and the loaf was beautiful. 30% whole wheat is what you will see in most “light whole wheat” recipes.

3 cups of whole wheat flour (16 oz, or 50% of flour by weight) is just in the oven now . . .

Well, after baking and cooling and slicing and buttering and finally tasting, I have to say this is pretty darn good! Still a lovely lofty loaf, with a crackling crust and beautiful full flavour. I thought at 50% I would start to see some density happening, and start to taste some bitterness, but none of that has happened!

So I’ll keep pushing it–next time to 4 cups out of 6! If anyone out there has experience using whole wheat in the Artisan Bread in 5 recipes, please let me know!

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Sourdough Bread in Five Minutes a Day: an Experiment

I’ve been enjoying the bread recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day so much lately–it’s all we’ve been eating for the last few weeks.  I’ve been baking the full batch (two 2-pound loaves) each time and freezing one loaf, but there have been a couple of occasions when we got through both loaves in about 2 days. We eat a lot of bread!

But since this revolution (REVOLUTION, I say!) of the no-knead, high-hydration, easy-peasy bread, I have been missing two things: the first is my sourdough. While the Artisan Bread does have a complexity that quick-rise breads lack, it still isn’t quite sourdough calibre. Second is whole grains. We’ve been eating a LOT of white flour. Delicious, sure; but it’s definitely less nutrient-dense and fibre-rich than whole grains.

So, I decided to finally give my latest experiment a try: merging the Artisan-Bread-in-Five-Minutes-A-Day techniques with my sourdough knowledge, to try to come up with a slightly easier way to make sourdough. I’m also hoping for a lighter, more holey loaf.

I took a look on the interweeb, and found a lot of sourdough recipes using the no-knead techniques discussed in the Mark Bittman New York Times article that made the no-knead bread famous. I find the Artisan Bread in Five techniques even easier and lower fuss, but didn’t turn up any results on a sourdough version.

So I gave it a try.  And the results were . . . well, they were okay. Quite sour, which might be due to the long rising time, or possibly because of the state my starter is in (I keep leaving it for weeks, and then just refreshing it a few times before baking; it will probably change with more use).

It also burnt a bit at the temperature I baked it at, while the inside is a bit undercooked, so next time I’m going to try 400 for a short time–maybe 20 minutes–and then 325 for maybe 40 minutes.

Also, it is more holey than my previous sourdoughs have been, probably due to the higher hydration and longer rise, but it didn’t get much oven spring, which I attribute to the “germ-added-back-in” organic bread flour. I just don’t find it has much gluten structure, no matter what I do to it. Next time I’ll try an all-white sourdough to rule out the possibility that the structure is simply breaking down from the longer rise. After that I’ll maybe try an organic all-purpose whole wheat, just to see.

In any case, here’s my recipe, which I did by weight because that was the only way I could keep the hydration (percentage of water) consistent with the original recipe.  Basically I substituted 6 oz of my 100% hydrated starter (that means a 1:1 ratio by weight of flour to water) for 3 oz of water and 3 oz of flour in the recipe.

Sourdough Bread in Five Minutes a Day

6 oz well-fed, fresh starter, 100% hydration

13 oz water, lukewarm

29.5 oz flour (for this I used about half white all-purpose and half of my “germ-added-back-in” bread flour)

1 1/2 tbsp salt

I dissolved the starter in the water, and mixed the salt with the two flours, then stirred the dry ingredients into the wet until combined. I let this sit out overnight for about 14 hours, after which I divided it, shaped it, and put the 2 loaves into their loaf pans. After a rising time of 4 hours, I baked the loaves in a preheated 450 degree oven for about 45 minutes, after which time they were almost burnt on the outside so I took them out.

See this recipe for more detailed instructions.

And if you have any other resources that might help me with this project, please recommend!!!

More bread

Aaah.  How good it feels to dump a bad mood.  I successfully got over my slump of yesterday.  My combination of techniques included:

– using my Dr. Burns triple-column technique,

– the luck of my daughter going to bed around 7:30 (she hadn’t napped in the day), giving me a whole evening of “me” time.  I think this had been lacking since I’ve been super tired and went to bed with her at 9:30 at least 3 nights this week.

– baking cookies and tidying the house (which I find very therapeutic), and

– rolling coins while watching the Futurama movie.  Yes, I find rolling coins soothing, which is incredibly geeky of me, I know, and almost *too much* in keeping with my frugal personality.  Anyway, 32 painless dollars for the college fund!

Okay, on to the bread.

I’ve now made 3 batches of the “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day”, and I’m totally into it!  My sourdough starter is languishing in the fridge meanwhile, and won’t get much play until I figure out a way to marry the two techniques.

My copy of the book also came in at the library, so I have a few more tips to share. Also, my colleague attempted the previous recipe and had her questions. It immediately became clear to me that I had written the recipe for people well-versed in artisan bread-making, and Peter Reinhart’s writings in particular.

So here is a revised version of the recipe, with notes for making it in loaf pans instead of as free-formed boules.  That’s how I’ve been making it for the last 2 batches, and I’ve been doing 2 big loaves at a time and freezing one, thereby cutting down on the oven time.  (Sure, it’s nice to have fresh artisan bread every day, but I don’t really like running my oven at 450 degrees for an hour every day. Seems like a big waste of energy unless that daily fresh bread is *really* important to you.)

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: Master Recipe (revised to be more reader-friendly)

6 1/2 cups (32.5 oz) white all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tbsp yeast

1 1/2 tbsp coarse salt

3 cups lukewarm water

In a large food-safe container, stir together the dry ingredients and then mix in the water.  Stir until everything is hydrated–no dry spots–and then let it sit out for 2-5 hours, covered but not air-tight.  If you put together a new batch right away after finishing your old batch, you can use the goopy bits from inside your bowl or tupperware, without washing, and this will add flavour to your next batch, essentially “aging” it.  Just add your water first, scrape down the bowl, dissolve the yeast and salt in the water, and then mix in the flour a small amount at a time to form a soft dough.

Stick in the fridge at least overnight.  2 hours before you want to bake, cut off a “grapefruit-sized ball” with a serrated knife.  Form into a boule with a nice rounded shape and a tight surface.  Here are some very helpful pictures that guide you through this process.  One teacher I had describes the boule as a balloon.  You have to create a “skin” on the loaf that will trap the CO2 so the loaf rises.  If the skin is not tight, it will not “inflate” the balloon.  Make sure you pinch the dough together really well at the bottom to keep it tight & sealed up.

Let your loaf sit either in a pan (lined with parchment or it will stick) or on a cutting board or cookie sheet sprinkled liberally with cornmeal or coarse-ground flour for 2 hours.  After an hour and a half, start pre-heating your oven to 450 degrees F with a baking stone inside (I use upside-down ceramic tiles that I found in my closet when I moved in to this apartment.  I just didn’t put anything directly on them for the first couple months I used them–just in case).  Also put in an oven-safe metal pan–cast iron works well–some place where it will not interfere with your loaves.

At the 2 hour mark, slash your loaf with either an X-Acto blade, or a sharp serrated bread knife.  This will allow your loaf to rise in the oven without getting any weird lumps or formations to it.  Then, quickly stick it in the oven, pour about a cup of boiling water into your steam pan, and close the oven door.  Let it bake for 20 minutes, then rotate the loaf so it gets even cooking.  Leave it for another 20 to 40 minutes, depending on how big your loaf is.  (If it’s one grapefruit-sized loaf, check it after 30 minutes; if you do the whole batch like I do, it can probably do more than an hour, with the temperature turned down to 350 after 4o minutes).

It is done when the crust is nicely browned and it gives a lovely hollow sound when you knock on the bottom of the loaf.

I just discovered that Peter Reinhart’s bread books are available almost in their entirety, on Google Books.  God, I love Google Books.  These books are amazing references for bread baking techniques.

You can find my favourite here:

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice (you can also search the text of the book so if there is any technique you are curious about, just enter the search term in the sidebar search.  Amazing!!).

Please let me know if you try this bread, or if you have any other questions about the technique.

Also, please share your method if you have figured out how to do “Artisan Sourdough in Five Minutes a Day”!

Miracle Bread!

Okay, I’ll admit I’m a gal who gets pretty excited about bread.  Maybe even more so than most people.  But I really think this is a bread to rouse the masses!  I mean, I feel religion calling, this is so revolutionary.

What’s the big deal?  It’s called “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day” and it will rock your world.  I’ll admit I haven’t actually read the book yet, since I’m on the waiting list at the library for it (though I’m sincerely tempted to go buy it), but the “master recipe” is available online (and below), and the website I linked to above has many variations to try as well.

The concept?  Basic mixing, no kneading, large batches which you refrigerate until needed for up to 2 weeks apparently, and the big one: totally amazing flavour and texture.

After doing sourdough for years, this is a big about-face for me, and one that I’m ready for given that I will soon be tandem nursing and crying over un-co-ordinated nap schedules (Tiny Baby is due late September).  It really did take about 5 minutes last night to mix up the dough, and maybe another 5 minutes today to tear off a chunk, form it into a ball, let it rest for a couple of hours and then bake it.

I should also mention that my 2-year-old daughter and I almost polished off half the little loaf in one sitting, it was that good.

So, without further ado, here’s the recipe that could very well change your life.

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: Master Recipe

6 1/2 cups (32.5 oz) white all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tbsp yeast

1 1/2 tbsp coarse salt

3 cups lukewarm water

Stir together the dry ingredients and then mix in the water.  Stir until everything is hydrated–no dry spots–and then let it sit out for 2-5 hours, covered but not necessarily air-tight.

Stick in the fridge at least overnight.  2 hours before you want to bake, cut off a “grapefruit-sized ball” with a serrated knife.  Form into a boule with a nice rounded shape and a tight surface and let that sit either in a pan or on a cornmeal dusted board for 2 hours.  After an hour and a half, start pre-heating your oven to 450 degrees F with a baking stone inside, and below that, an oven-safe metal pan to be used as a steam pan.

At the 2 hour mark, slash your loaf, stick it in the oven, and pour about a cup of boiling water into your steam pan.  Let it bake for around 20 to 30 minutes.  It is done when the crust is nicely browned and it gives a lovely hollow sound when you knock on the bottom of the loaf.

To be good and frugal, consider roasting some veggies or apples alongside your loaf, or bung up a cake for after dinner.  Though no one will want cake at a meal where you serve this bread.  They’ll just want more bread.

Then smile knowing you still have enough dough waiting in the fridge to make at least 3 more loaves!

The “other” kind of tortillas

I didn’t mention yesterday but on Tuesday I actually went crazy and at the same time as making flour tortillas, I also made corn tortillas!  Bloggers, especially those living in New York City, really love their tortillas!  Here is a post about making corn tortillas on 30 Bucks a Week (thanks Tina!) and another on Homesick Texan.

I checked out Grace Ottawa after seeing it recommended on Ottawa Foodies as a place to buy Masa Harina–a specific type of corn flour that is recommended for making tortillas.  Sure enough, they had it (and many other wonders and goodies, which I will report on tomorrow) so I grabbed a bag of “Masa Mix by Mr. Goudas (2 kilos for $4) and made my way home.

Now these tortillas are also very delicious, and totally easy!  Even easier than the flour variety.  And the taste?  Well, I imagine the Mr. Goudas brand is probably not the height of flavour, but even so, they were completely delicious.  They smelled amazing and the texture was lovely and soft.  I can’t wait to try frying these babies to make hard tacos and home-made corn chips.

So, is it worth it to make your own tortillas?  Absolutely!  The flavour is incomparable, the ingredients are pronouncable and safe, they are fast and easy, and so CHEAP!  While I don’t see the corn tortillas replacing bread for me for summer wrap sandwiches (not like flour tortillas), I also don’t see myself spending another penny on Old El Paso any time in the near future.

I should add that I made them without the aid of a tortilla press, which Grace Ottawa also sells for $20.  I’m guessing a tortilla press would make them even thinner, and thus do even more for the texture and flavour.  I’m putting this gadget on my list of things to look out for at garage sales this summer.

Corn Tortillas

2 cups Masa Harina

1 tsp salt

1 1/4 cups warm water

Mix the masa harina with salt, then add water and stir until it comes together as a soft dough. Knead for a few minutes until smooth. Let it sit, covered, for 15 minutes. Divide into 12 round balls and then cover so they don’t dry out as you press and cook.

Next, flatten them into thin rounds using either a tortilla press with two circles cut from thick plastic wrap (like a freezer bag), or cover two heavy cutting boards with plastic wrap and use those to press the rounds.  Heat a heavy bottomed cast iron skillet on medium.  Cook tortillas 30 to 40 seconds on each side, or long enough to produce some browned spots on the surface.

Enjoy with your favourite tex-mex or Mexican food, or fresh from the pan with some butter and salsa.  Let me know if you try it!

My new summer bread?

We had tacos on Sunday night.  Fresh local pastured ground beef, local organic lettuce, scallions and cilantro . . . and an Old El Paso soft taco kit.  Sure, it was tasty, and pretty cheap, but last night I was distinctly uninspired by the leftover flour tortillas that came in the kit.

So I decided I could make my own.

Tortillas, from Mexico, are traditionally simple inexpensive fare made in a hot place with scant fuel.  Just what summer ordered!

Finding nothing in my cookbooks I turned to the internet.  My go-to site for recipes is the Food Network, since I obviously trust celebrity chefs over simple folk like myself.  Sure enough, there was a flour tortilla recipe that had received four stars from reviewers (and on reading, readers had penalized the recipe for saying “divide into 3 balls” and not explaining that each of those must be divided again into 3, making 9 tortillas in total.)

This makes a very sticky dough at first, but after mixing and developing the gluten, it turns silky and not sticky.  I mixed in the Kitchenaid which seemed to make it go easier.  I had a very hard time getting the tortillas into the pan, erm . . . elegantly. Mine were too big, they wrinkled or folded over.  A bit messy.  Next time I will reduce the fat, make 9 as “called for” instead of the 8 I did for strange mathematical reasons, and chill longer before cooking.

Though slightly ugly, these tortillas were truly delicious!  They devloped little charred places where the dough bubbled up, and they completely lacked that slightly gummy, slightly chemical taste that store-bought tortillas have.  They were easy, didn’t heat up the house too much, and got full marks from the family for taste.  And even better, they were totally cheap to make.

Flour tortillas

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

3 1/2 ounces lard (or shortening)

1 cup warm water

Whisk together flour and salt.  Cut in lard until mixture resembled coarse cornmeal.  Place into mixer.  Slowly add water and continue mixing until dough is smooth, about 3 minutes.

Divide into 3 balls and let sit under plastic wrap or damp tea towel for 15 minutes to 1 hour.  Then divide each ball into 3 more pieces and roll out into 10-inch circles.  Pile these circles onto a plate, with a piece of parchment paper or wax paper between them.  Wrap well and chill up to 2 days before making.

Heat a dry thick bottomed skillet, or a griddle if you have one, on medium. Remove the tortillas one at a time from the fridge (leave the rest to chill while you cook, especially if it is a hot day) and cook  until browned and puffy on one side, and then flip over, about 30-40 seconds each side.  Place in a warm oven until ready to eat.

Makes 9.

not so sourdough

Last night I made what might just be the last home-baked of the season.  I’m thrilled that summer is here but I will miss my weekly-or-so ritual of baking bread.  Maybe I’ll stay on the lookout for cool nights, but with sourdough you can’t just throw a loaf together when the wind is right.  You have to be organized.

Which I wasn’t yesterday, not really.  For some reason I just didn’t get it totally together yesterday to make proper sourdough.  I started it too late in the day after some good park time in the morning, so I didn’t have enough time for all the long rises.

However, I had a good batch of starter I’d refreshed just a couple of days beforehand, so I took the plunge and did what any honest sourdough cheater would do: I added commercial yeast (gasp!).

First I mixed my firm starter (without yeast) and let it rise for the indicated 4 hours.  Then I took a look at my recipe and decided to add 1 1/2 tsp of instant yeast to the final dough.  I let that bulk ferment for 2 hours, and then divided and let the loaves sit for about 90 minutes before baking as per my usual recipe for 40-60 minutes (40 for the tin loaf pan and 60 for the pyrex loaf pan) at 350 degrees.

It turned out well–nice crust, and decent flavour, though it’s missing that real sourdough punch.  But if you’re pressed for time, it certainly makes a passable loaf.