Monday, April 5, 2010

Baking bread

Well, the bike-to-work season is progressing nicely, thank you very much! The DC weather has cooperated the last couple of weeks, and the cherry blossoms were beautiful! I rode past the White House this morning and saw throngs of people on the front lawn -- and then I remembered "Easter Egg Roll!" The kids must have had a great time -- the weather could not have been better!

On Friday, I baked a loaf of whole wheat bread, and it turned out particularly well. Probably the warmer weather. I've been baking bread regularly for the last year or so, using Peter Reinhart's whole wheat bread recipe from his "Whole Grain Breads" book. It involves using a "mother starter" to create a wild yeast starter, which is then combined with the "soaker" (flour soaked in milk) plus other basic ingredients (more flour, honey, oil, salt) to make the final dough. The final dough then rises once, is formed into a loaf, then rises again before it is baked.

I've always been a little frightened of yeast bread (I feel like the yeast can sense my fear...) so it's been a revelation to be able to make bread regularly, every week or so, and have it turn out. Some weeks are better than others, but I've so far not had a total failure. I did put some time into making the mother starter initially (Reinhart gives detailed instructions in his book), and you do have to remember to refresh it periodically. And the bread-making involves some planning since the wild yeast starter has to rise for at least 4 hours and the soaker has to sit for at least 12 hours. But I've come up with a system that seems to work.

The night before I want to bake, I prepare the wild yeast starter and the soaker. I leave them overnight, and by morning the starter has risen. I then mix the final dough and let it rise for a couple of hours, then prepare the loaf and let THAT rise for an hour, and then bake. You do have to be home for those 4-5 hours (although you can leave during the rising, of course), so planning to bake on a weekend or other day off is perfect. The satisfaction of eating home-made bread is really worth it -- amazing grilled cheese sandwiches!

Speaking of sandwiches, I just read a disturbing news item about KFC's imminent introduction of a new sandwich which involves cheese, bacon, and some sort of sauce pressed between two pieces of fried chicken. Can we even call this a sandwich, people?

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