Sunday, April 19, 2009

There's A Slow Bread Rising

I seldom get so stoked about something that I can't quit thinking about it and have to tell everyone I know about it...oh, no wait...I'm always getting fired up about one thing or another. So, here's one thing I'm really pumped about right now:

"Slow Bread"

You've heard this resurgence of late about slow food and how we've just got ourselves too far ahead of ourselves with our hurry-a-day world that we are paying a higher price than we could ever really imagine, right? In my tasty opinion, there's a lot to be said for slow food. I think it's easier than fast food, because I use a crock pot to slow my food for me. Dump in a frozen roast in the morning and by late afternoon, I come home to a kitchen smelling like Grandma's house in the 60s. Especially if I put sour cream and mayonnaise on top of the roast before I leave it to it's simmering juices.
Well, this beautiful, artisanal-quality bread is even easier than that frozen hank of beast in the pot! Listen carefully: Stir water, flour, salt and yeast, let it sit for 12-18 hours, give it a couple of folds and bake it. And you have yourself a fabulous (and I NEVER use that word, so it must be good) loaf of perfect bread.

There are scientific reasons, naturally, that it turns out so well. You use only a quarter teaspoon of yeast, so time is what really makes the dough rise and proof and taste so fantastic (another word I use so sparingly I don't think I've heard myself say it outloud.) There's something about the percentage of hydration, too--working on the gluten, maybe. It's a very wet and sticky dough from start to final dump in the pan.

The fermentation process eats sugar from the carbohydrate in the flour, I think, because there is no sweetener of any kind in the recipe.

At the end of this post, you will find links to an article explaining some of the whys and wherefores, the recipe and a video of a master baker using a similar process with a spelt flour.

This is what mine looked like when I tipped it out of the bowl.

It smells quite "yeasty" early on and a bit like beer. Or sort of like raw beer batter for fish and chips or something like that. Hearty and fermented in a fresh way. (But then again, I'm a real sucker for "going bad kimchi" when it starts to get sour and you fry it and eat it with tofu. I hope I don't regret divulging that because most people would shrink from some of the things I really like and maybe not trust my judgement on even this one, and I wouldn't want you to get the idea that there is one single person on the earth who would not like the whole process, smell and all, of this bread being created right in his or her very own home!)

It's "shaped" with a generously floured hand. The empty, covered casserole is heated in the oven for a half hour before the dough goes into it.

No oil in the recipe or on the dish.

Cook it covered for about a half hour, uncovered for another 15 minutes, take it out of the oven and the bread fairly jumps out on it's own, crisp, crackly crust and all.

It has a beautifully moist, almost-but-not-quite-chewy crumb and a very pleasing sound when you tap it. It made me feel like I had just created a holistic piece of art when I took it out of the dish.

I took it to share with some family members and now my niece wants me to make this for her birthday. She used to ask me for my ono-licious mango upside down cake.


We tried it with butter and private reserve high altitude wild mountain mohagony flower honey, and you may be saying to yourself, "Ah, now that is the life!" But you would be mistaken, because the butter and honey couldn't stand up to the flavor of the bread. I'm not kidding or lying or exaggerating. It was much better without a drop of anything on it.


I had bought some Blue Bird flour thinking that I would try the "real" recipe for Indian Fry Bread, (All the Navajo Fry Bread bakers I know say that you can't make it real without Blue Bird flour and the only place I know to get it is at the Native American Trading Post in Salt Lake City. I'll do an experiment with that recipe pretty soon and let you know what my taste testers and I think about it. Also, just so you know, there's a funky little Navajo Hogan in Salt Lake City where you can get pretty good fry bread and EXCELLENT mutton stew with real hominy in it!) and this is the flour I used for my first trial with slow bread.

The flour is not listed on the trading post website, but they do sell it. Sometimes they run out. It's about 9 dollars for 20 pounds.
I don't know if it made that much difference, because supposedly, you can use any flour and the results would still dazzle and amaze you.
I also have to confess that I am no novice to baking bread, so I sort of know what to look for and expect in the feel and look of ready dough, but I think if you closely follow the recipe, which is almost not like a recipe at all, it will turn out very well. In the article, the baker says he likes to take a sort of haphazard approach, himself. Or words to that effect.
I think pretty soon I will go to Good Earth Health Foods and buy some spelt flour for my next experiment with slow bread, and maybe later include some other ingredients like chocolate chips and dried cherries. Or maybe those are better in my Irish Soda Bread recipe that I have a secret step for that just makes the bread what it should be--I will share with you when the time comes. Because I just get so stoked about these things!


Penny said...

I can't figure out how to work this layout yet! But I'm giving up trying to make good, evenly spaced paragraphs under the photos. I'm just done with the corrections!!!!!

Trish said...

I'm here to attest to the goodness of this bread.....Yummo! Thanks for sharing it with us.
I'd like to compare it to the monastery bread you baked but for some unforseen reason I didn't get even a crumb.

jacob suggs said...

I'm sorry this blog is to much of rush for my high blood pressure, you people live on the edge and i cannot go along for the ride not without my Irish Soda bread helmet and my spelt kneepads.

Penny said...

Ah, Jake, you ain't seen nothin' yet! You're going to have to get whole-body gear for my post on cherry-lime mango pie!!