Monday, February 18, 2013

bread when it's convenient

I used to watch Martha Stewart's tv show in the beginning, many years ago when it was just a weekly.  And there is one episode which sticks in my mind more than any other.

She'd gone to a bakery in New York run by an Eastern European couple; Czech, I think. They were talking about how bread rises. This is where I learned that yeast is a mold. They used to scrape the walls in the kitchen to get the wherewithal to make their breads rise. Ignoring the immediate idea of how this can possibly be sanitary (?), I think this was when the seeds were planted which have grown into a fascination with how yeast works and how breads rise. Aside from just following recipes though, I've never felt like I was really learning how the whole process works.

Recently I ran into a youtube video of Claus Meyer speechifying about bread. He insists that you should
  1. use less yeast
  2. use more water
  3. knead a lot more
  4. let it rise at least eight hours
  5. use more salt
Then, I saw another youtube video where he introduced Chad Robertson of Tartine bakery in San Francisco, and I noticed that instead of throwing more flour on the surface to prevent sticking, he just wet his hands and wet the dough scraper for easier handling.

I had tried the Five Minute Artisan method last year and concluded it wasn't for us - it was more bread than the two of us can eat, and it was salty - we're not salt-lovers here. But I liked the idea that you don't have to spend the whole day at it - that you can do it in stages.

Since I'm not baking much during Lent, but will need something around to snack on if I start wilting, I decided to focus on bread-making and last Thursday I thought I'd make the Swedish Limpa Rye recipe from my trusty old Betty Crocker cookbook. But the day wore on and  I wasn't getting to it. Still, in late afternoon I was determined, and on a sudden whim, I mixed up the recipe using half the amount of yeast and cool water instead of warm. I kneaded it and put it in the fridge. It was too late to deal with it and I was going to be out the entire next day -  I wanted to slow down the process until I could get back to it.

Saturday morning I took it out of the fridge and of course it was very cold. I heated the oven slightly for a place to warm it up. It was a very slow process and all the while the voice inside my head was asking me if maybe I'd made a mistake, maybe it wouldn't rise at all, etc., etc. But what I knew was that it must rise eventually, even if it took a week! And I was willing to wait. And see.

After the first rise was done, I kneaded it some more even though it wasn't called for, but I felt I should.  I let it rise again. (there are three rises for this bread).  It was finally ready at bedtime for the shaping and the third rise and I was going to put it back in the refrigerator when I decided why not leave it out all night? I shaped it into two loaves and left it on the draining board with a loose bit of plastic and two towels. It was near a window and the night was cold and windy - I almost moved it away, but my inner feeling was that if it could rise a little in the cold fridge, it would come to no harm near a window. Anyway, I was curious! I left it until we came home from Mass. It looked ready to bake.

It worked!  Instead of having to arrange my day around the bread risings, I arranged the risings around my schedule, and that's kind of where I want to go with this. Of course, if we were depending on homemade bread every day, I'd have to do things differently, but I have a bread machine, and we buy rye at the supermarket. This is going to be a slow learning process and eventually it may turn into something we depend on in place of store-bought bread, but I don't want to put that burden on myself at the beginning.

Meanwhile, I had a slice

with the butter mixture I make and a bit of honey.  Oh, boy!

"It's really a question of arranging matters so that the dough suits your time table rather than the other way around."
                                     - Elizabeth David


  1. Yeast is not a mould! Can't be!
    OK, so Wikipedia says it's classified as Fungi, but I don't think that necessarily means it's a mould. Mushrooms are not mould either. They "behave" differently.

    I'm still struggling with my bread making, but the "use less yeast, use more water and wet your hands" (and knead more, but I'm lazy for that) is something I've gone through already. And yes, it works, though I have not managed to make a good loaf yet. I stick to buns so far.

  2. Hana,I guess I was speaking loosely, but what I meant was that there is a creepy relation between the two! :D
    As for kneading more, I also have found it something I would rather avoid, but seeing Chad Robertson just press into it and then fold and turn made me think I was being too vigorous.

  3. This is very interesting to me, Lisa. I have baked bread for many years, and it is always such a labor-intensive undertaking. It has been awhile since I have done some baking, and I am on the verge of diving into it again. This post is very timely for me. I watched Martha several years ago, and now am missing a TV slot for her.

    1. Nellie, I think you should try less yeast and a longer rise! Good luck. :)

  4. It's mostly a family influence of my father's fascination with yeasts (and my love of the baking kind) speaking on my side. :D I made him a plush "yeast" for Christmas once...

    1. A PLUSH YEAST!! I want to see that! Show and tell! :D

  5. Bread baking is such fun. Really simple enough for a child to do. (Mine do and can). The trick is making lots of you build up a yeast enviironment in your kitchen (wild yeast!) , which then allows you to use less yeast in your recipe.
    My children knead with love, saying... 'push, pull, (turn),come to. Mama (or Papa for the boys.)! Oh my poor kitchen...but they love it. :-)

    Put on some worship music, get out your yeast and flour....and enjoy. I have to be honest...most of my bread making thrives on neglect!

    Your looks great!
    mama to 8
    One homemade and 7 adopted

    1. That's one thing which is holding me back from the sourdough thing, which I really want to try; but there are two of us here, and I don't know how I would manage that. I'm guessing that at some later date I'll see a way to do it.

      I'll definitely remember you if I run into trouble, Kimmie! ;)