Whole Wheat Integrale with Carmelized Onion
I work as a nurse on the palliative care unit of a nearby tertiary care hospital. At the end of shift a short while ago a patient asked me what I would be doing on my day off.
I told her that I was going home to bake some bread. "I've been baking my own sourdough bread for some time now," I told her with a shrug.
She smiled and nodded gravely, as if it all made perfect sense now.
"Ah," she said. "the staff of life."
This woman is no longer with us. But I remain haunted by what she said.
Perhaps it really is this simple: why I am so obsessed with baking bread. All day long I work with death, I hold the hands of the dying, my arms are around those who are grieving. When I come home, I breathe deeply, and let it all slip away: thoughts of mortality, fleeting time, the empty question-mark of death, and the endless chasm of loneliness left in the wake of love forever more unrequited -- I surrender it all.
I plunge my hands into the mystery of basic ingredients: grains, water, salt: the lower number elements of the periodic table. Something here is alive, something here is transformed anew, something here is resurrected. I awaken again to the mystery of life.
One of my coworkers made some wraps with caramelized onions for a Thanksgiving potluck the other day, and it gave me the idea to try them in a bread. The Tartine Bread book talks a little bit about caramelizing onions for a brioche hamburger bun dough. I just wanted to add them to my everyday Tartine Integrale bread. I had a couple of medium-large onions, but one of them had a significant bad spot, so I ended up with a mere 1 1/2 onions, diced.
They were caramelized over med-low heat in olive oil for about an hour or more, and then I cooled them between some paper-towels for 30 minutes before adding them to the 80% hdrated Tartine 100% whole wheat integrale dough. I also added a quarter cup each of pumpkin and sunflower seeds. It was turned q30min for 4 hours, then I plunked it in a basket to proof for a couple of hours.
This was the first time I've used my new Baking stone. It's been a long time since I used a stone, and I had the oven too hot. I had preheated to 500 degrees F and forgot to turn it down for the actual baking. And the one loaf that I did remember to turn it to 450 degrees F, was still a bit overdone at 40 minutes.
So my crust is a little burnt. And the loaves are a bit misshapen.
C'est le vie.
Actually, even the darkest bread tastes quite all right. Maybe it is the onions, or the oil they were caramelized in, combining with the dough: perhaps thereby the Maillard reaction is intensified. The roasted nature of the onions and grains imparts more flavour and scent. Not a bad bread, for all that. I will eat the darker loaf, and give the other one to my friends.
Take it and eat: the staff of life.
Notes to Myself
- Try a temperature of 425 degrees F for the same amount of time and see if the loaf improves. Alternatively, you could pull the bread out of the oven after 35 minutes.
- More steam might be required. I have been using a hot pan with a glass full of water at the moment the bread is introduced to the oven, but perhaps spritzing water would be a good idea for the first 10-12 minutes too, to keep things very moist. Others use water-soaked towels in the pan, and I might try that once too (if my wife doesn't mind me destroying yet another towel)
- Longer proofing for more airy crust. This is quite all right the way it is, though.