I've been making bread and reporting on it here in this blog now for about three years, give or take. Let's put that into perspective: in three years, one can go to school and earn a bachelor's degree. I suspect that there is a similar amount of info one could learn from baking bread in that time as one would get in a university getting a BA -- if one truly applied oneself and went at it full time, and built on the info learned, and didn't repeat lessons and if one wasn't forced to eat their entire way through each and every class.
But if you were to set out to teach yourself all that could be found in any university course, you'd likely be floundering around a lot, and end up learning a whole lot of relatively useless info that is not on any curriculum -- and you might miss certain things that are considered by 'The Credentialed' to be 'necessary for well-rounded learning'. Your education would be unique, and important for you, but would be unrecognized beyond your own specialized interest. You would not be credentialed.
And that is where I find myself today. After 3 years, I know a certain amount of stuff about bread. But I'm self-taught, mostly. I have gleaned different recipes and techniques from various books, I have gained a bit of facility, and yet here I sit with no real expertise. I suppose it will always remain thus. I shall always remain a jack, as it were.
And for me: that's okay. I have no interest in learning how to bake every kind of bread, as a real baker must. I simply set out to, still want to make bread that I want to eat. I have never seen anything like my everyday bread for sale, anywhere. I have to make it.
My everyday bread lately is a 70% whole wheat bread with 30% dark whole rye flour added. It is made with wild yeast in the Tartine style: 20% starter made with whole wheat at 100% hydration, 1.8-2% coarse salt, added with water after a short autolyse, to bring the whole dough to 75% hydration. It is formed not by kneading but by gentle stretching and folding over its long bulk fermentation. Then it is formed and sits another length of time before baking in a dutch oven.
I still experiment with other grains, but this recipe is my old standby, and it serves me well. I like the taste. I think it is the healthiest bread I can make and eat in a timely manner. It is whole grain. The sourdough weaves its spell. The fibre moves me.
But there is very little to blog about when you are not learning anything new. This is no university, but I also hunger to learn new things about bread and about the grain that goes into making it.
Such is my hopeless obsession.
Just for completeness, here are a few of the latest loaves I've made, using this everyday whole-wheat and rye flour recipe.
1. This one was made with a bran crust. I have been experimenting a lot with crust lately (perhaps soon I will post a blog about some of those experiments, most of them failures), and while making an everyday bread recently, I remembered Jim Lahey's book, and how he would place his dough in a basket lined with bran before placing it in a Dutch Oven to bake. I have made those breads, but it was long ago now, and I wondered again how that bran might protect the crust from getting too thick on a Tartine-style loaf. That is what I tried here.
2. Same recipe, different baskets. This time it is rice flour that lines the bannetons and gives the loaf its design. This time the yeast was at its prime, and the stretching and folding was done completely, and the proofing was not too long.
These loaves were pretty good. We ate both of them, but by the time the second was down to its heel, it was getting a bit stale. You need a sharp knife to get through the crust of these loaves when they are a week old. Toasting them and buttering them will restore the crumb to a tasty finish, but the crust likely will have to be nibbled around, unless you like a challenge. Here's the thing: I've never had one of these breads grow mouldy.
3. Same recipe, different shape. These boules sagged a bit too, but here the fault was that they didn't get the complete stretching and folding that were required. I goofed off in the middle of that method, and skipped town for a couple of hours. It shows in my bread.
The method is forgiving. This was still a good, edible loaf. I kept one, and gave one away.
Notes to Myself
- You're not as smart as you think you are. You'll always be a rank beginner. Bread will always be smarter.
- Credentials? We don't need no stinkin' credentials. Who credentialed the first human to ferment bread? Who will credential the last?
- If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
-The baker isn't doing it.
If I am only for myself, what am I?
-This is the latest challenge, opening myself to fulfill other people's needs, without abandoning my own needs.
If not now, when?
-Now is good: but the danger, Hillel, is in acting before one is truly ready. Look what happened to all those who styled themselves messiah. The answer must be 'when G-d wills it' -- of course, we won't know that until we step forward and try.
(apologies to Hillel, this is not an accurate quotation of his, merely the way I always remember it)
- Sure, a BA is often 4 yrs, but you get the summers off. I ate bread all summer too.