All grains contain peptides that mimic morphine or endogenous opioid substances. This is where I deal with my latest loaf craving. Get your bread-based exorphin fix here.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Herbs de Provence Bread

Herbs de Provence Bread

The Big Bread Experiment

Recently I discovered BBC2 had aired a program called "The Big Bread Experiment" in 3 parts in late 2011.  I found the program here in Canada via YouTube, and watched it.  I quite enjoyed it.

Here are the current links to the various pieces of the show, in case anyone else is interested.  One never knows how long these links will work, but here goes.  It takes about 3 hours to see all the episodes, in these 15 minute increments:

The Big Bread Experiment on YouTube
Episode 1 -- Starting from Scratch 
Episode 2 -- Rescue Remedy
Episode.3 -- Baked to Perfection

The story involves (at first) a group of Bedale, Yorkshire church ladies, all novice bakers, who get together to bake bread in the hopes that they can build a community around the loaves that they make.  There is also in nearby Crakehall a very old corn mill that is privately owned, but that the community wants to restore to working order.  The bread group takes an active interest, so that they can use the stoneground flour that the Crakehall mill produces.  And finally, there are a couple of renowned artisan bakers (Patrick Ryan and Duncan Glendinning, authors of "Bread Revolution: Rise Up and Bake", and owners of the bakery "the thoughtful bread co.") from distant Bath who are tutoring the bread group, and trying to get them to improve their loaves.  The story begins with wine and giggles as the ladies first try their hands at ordinary dough.  As the project expands, the dynamics of the group change drastically, and we begin to see what a community really is.  Some members take the changes in stride, and some fall away as the project enlarges.

I loved the spirit of the show, and while it is true that the first episode sort of grates on one as the ladies get tipsy and obviously haven't a clue where this will all lead, nevertheless it was marvelous to monitor the growth of certain individuals as they got down to the business at hand.  From initial vision to the fulfillment of a dream despite opposition and timidity, this is a fascinating documentary for breadophiles like me.  And Bedale's Community Bakery, "Bread Actually" still exists and serves its community in many different ways, as this article attests.  Follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

While watching the first episode, I began to remember the simple joy of when you first try a couple of breads, and buoyed by some limited success, you want to branch out, and just add more ingredients to try something new and different, to see what will happen.  That simplest of experimentation, trial and error, is something I personally love.  You aren't risking everything when you bake bread, you are just risking a failed loaf.  There is something exhilarating about laughing at your disasters and not taking your triumphs too seriously.  The bread group went on to risk more, of course.  But it was the first simple joy of unlimited possibility that I wanted to recreate and find again in myself with today's loaf.

Today's "Risky" Loaf
With that in mind, I made a bread with 884g whole wheat, and 116g rye flour.  And for giggles, I added 2 Tbsp (5g) of Herbs de Provence and 2 Tbsp (20g) of Golden Flax Seeds to my dough, with the salt, and enough water to bring it to 76%  hydration.  I just wanted to see what would happen.  I had no idea whether the combination of herbs and flax seed would be appropriate for a slightly rye sourdough, but I was willing to find out.  Herbs de Provence is usually used to accompany meat dishes.  Would it work in bread too?

The sourdough was turned as usual in the Tartine style.  I thought that there was an actual recipe for an Herb de Provence Bread in the Tartine book, but I couldn't find it in the index.  I checked some other books I had, and none seemed to mention it (well, the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day mentioned a bread using that herb mixture, but that only gave me a ballpark of how much herb to put in the dough, this is not their recipe).

The dough was proofed for 2 hours at room temperature, and then I set it in the fridge overnight.  In the morning I baked it on a hot pizza stone with steam.  In the latter minutes of the baking, I turned the loaf in the oven, and the smell of the herb was interesting.  I think the sage predominates in the scent while it bakes.

As scents will do, eating this loaf will bring back memories of eating sage-stuffed Thanksgiving turkeys (even to those of us who no longer eat animals, but who once did).

Rainy Day in March: stay inside and bake bread!
("So much depends" on that wheelbarrow...)

The scent of the herbs is still in the bread when you eat it, but it imparts very little actual flavour.  I would describe the scent as complementary and mild.  It allows the mild rye flavour to come through, and allows the loaf to remain good for cheese as well as nut butters.  The many holes in the crumb attest to its sourdough origins and long fermentation.  The taste is fine.  The flax seeds seem to have imparted little to the structure or the crumb or the taste.

This was a fairly good loaf in terms of taste.

Notes to Myself
  • This mixture of herbs de provence was made up of 
    • Rosemary 
    • Marjoram 
    • Thyme 
    • Savory 
    • Basil 
    • Lavender 
    • Sage
  • Perhaps the loaves didn't rise as much as usual because they were still cool when baked.
  • My loaves were rotated midway through the baking, but they still blew out in one direction, despite the deep scoring. I suspect that this is due to the way the pan of water and the stone right above it combined in my oven to produce a convection current (even though my oven is not a convection oven). One side of the loaf was a good bit hotter than the other side.
  • Progress on my own backyard bread oven: I've barely started, it is still in the dreaming stage. I've been to the town hall to see if there are any bylaws regarding backyard wood-fire bread ovens. For our town, it apparently falls under backyard barbecues. And if I keep any structure around the oven under 100 square feet, I don't require a building permit. They did not think I had to talk with the fire chief, but I might just pay him a quick visit anyway. Next, I have to talk with our insurance agent.
  • There is an existing bakery in downtown Bedale, which the fledgling community bread group commandeered for one day in one episode, to try to drum up interest for their own group.  The baker of that shop was placed in a rather strange position, I think: he was willing to allow the group the use of the front of his shop to sell their own bread for a day, but he was less than encouraging about the kinds of breads they were going to offer for sale.  Was he short-sighted in his bakery vision?  Did the group arise in the first place because he wasn't supplying a need in his community?  How will the sales of the artisan breads affect his own livelihood now?  How can bakers everywhere learn from what can only be described as his mistake?  Why wasn't he involved in building his own community?

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