Olive Oil Challah With Prefermented Dough

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Allow me to reintroduce my old and faithful — but neglected-of-late — friend, prefermented dough.

Prefermented dough (or “pâte fermentée” if you’re a Francophile, or “old dough” if  you like short words) is the decorous workhorse of the preferment family. Sourdough starter and poolish and most other preferments dawdle along at room temperature until they’re about to lose it and then childishly demand, “Use me! Right now! Or I’m going to get sloshed and start killing off the yeast! I mean it!” Prefermented dough, on the other hand, after a reasonably short heyday on the counter, retires quietly to the refrigerator and stands patiently by until called upon to do its job, which is to add strength to your dough and flavor to your bread.

Prefermented dough contains the four essential ingredients — flour, water, yeast, salt — in the proportions typical of a basic French bread dough. If you’re baking such a bread, you can save a piece of the dough and use it as the preferment in another bread. Or, as I’ve done for this challah, you can make up the prefermented dough just for that purpose. Simply mix the ingredients (no gluten development required), let the dough ferment at room temperature for one to two hours, and throw it in the refrigerator, where it will keep for up to two days. You can let it warm up for an hour or so before using it, or you can use it straight out of the fridge. In the latter case, make sure your final dough water is warmer.

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Golden Corn Rolls

Corn has a bad reputation lately. As a major component of America’s industrial food system, corn represents cropland abuse, genetic modification, cattle sickened on a grain diet, children sickened on a corn-fed-beef-burger and high-fructose-corn-syrup diet, a wacky government subsidy system. All too true.

But of course the blame for these ills lies with the humans that produce and consume big-business corn (and that would be most of us, by the way; if you ever eat prepared food, chances are there’s corn in there somewhere). Blaming corn is like blaming water for acid rain.

As a grain and a vegetable in and of itself, unrefined, unengineered, and responsibly grown, corn is pretty upstanding. Sure, you’d be in trouble if it were all you ate. But it’s a decent source of fiber, B vitamins, and vitamin C. Native American cultures were and are sustained by it. My childhood summers would not have been the same without it. Neither would chili and guacamole.

So, in defense and celebration of this innocent, nutritious, and tasty food that is the theme of this month’s BreadBakingDay (hosted by Heather and Zorra), I wanted to bake something that not only comprised corn but announced loudly, I’m corn. You got a problem with that? Bite me!

Would you put a basket of golden corn ears on your breakfast table, warm and ready for a drizzle of honey? (Many thanks to my friend Elra for this jar of wonderful local wildflower honey.)

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Multigrain Nigella Seed Sourdough

After taking an inventory of my pantry, refrigerator, and freezer and finding no fewer than 19 flours, 13 other grain products, 8 seeds, and 7 nuts, I decided I had better start using some of this stuff up.

I made a variation on my seeded multigrain sourdough, using up my remaining pumpkin seeds, some of my flax seeds and rolled rye flakes,  and what I thought was just a few of a little black seed called nigella. The package was opened, so I must have used them before, but I’ll be damned if I know what for. I certainly didn’t remember what a punch they packed. Although these tiny black seeds are in the minority weight-wise (and although the other ingredients do add flavor complexity), their peppery taste is front and center in this bread.

Despite their assertiveness, if I weren’t so prone to shooting first and asking questions later, I might have used even more of these seeds in my bread, because they have been reported to heal every disease except death. That’s a confident statement if I ever heard one. But now that I think about it, I’m feeling pretty chipper right about now.

Serving suggestion: Roast beef sandwich; skip the horseradish.

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Spiced Rye Sourdough

I love the sweet and spicy bouquet of holiday baking, but after a while, all the butter and sugar that typically go along with it can be hard to take. I made this spiced rye sourdough bread hoping to perfume my kitchen with those heady and nostalgic aromas while producing a gift-worthy bread that is also easy on the calorie count. I think it worked.

It’s sour, yes, but the spiciness of the rye itself compliments the other spices nicely. It could go with either a sweet accompaniment like lingonberry jam (now I don’t know why I thought of that; I haven’t had lingonberry jam in years, but it just seems like it would go well), as well as with meat or cheese. And although, like most ryes, it keeps very well, its life can be extended even further by making some of it into crostini.

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Bread Crumb Sourdough

Using old bread to make new bread is certainly nothing new. The practice of adding an “old bread soaker” to dough has been used in Europe, especially Germany, for hundreds of years. In Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes, Jeffrey Hamelman writes, “The practice of soaking old bread and then adding it into a new batch not only makes economic sense, it also gives a rich depth of flavor to the new breads. Far from being expended, the old bread contains much that is still fermentable…”

This sourdough bread uses old bread in a slightly different way. Instead of soaking it, I wanted to find out what would happen if I turned some week-old Norwich Sourdough (crust and all) into fine bread crumbs and simply let the crumbs stand in for a portion of the flour in a new batch of dough.

I have to say I’m pretty pleased with the result. Not only is the flavor rich and toasty, and the crumb pleasantly speckled with brown flecks, but this must be one of the longest shelf-lives I’ve ever seen with any of my loaves. I’ve gone through about 2/3 of a one-kilogram loaf in a week, and I am still able to cut, chew, and enjoy it.

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Soft Semolina Sourdough

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When my daughter and I visited son/brother in Oregon this summer, we had lunch in a cafe whose salads were accompanied by a soft, moist, seed-encrusted bread that inspired M to ask “Why can’t you make bread like this?”

“I can.”

“Well, make some, then. Your bread is always too crusty.”

When I offered this to M yesterday, I imagined she might throw her arms around me and pronounce me the best baker-mom a girl could hope for.

Not even close. She gave the crumb an offhand squeeze and pronounced brightly, without taking a bite, “Yeah, that’s it. I’m not hungry. Good job, though!” I’m not entirely sure, but I think she might have given me a little pat on the head at this point.

M, you are so lucky that I love you unconditionally.

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