A Burst of Activity

For the last five months I’ve been suffering with a severely ulcerated leg. I’ve been in compression dressings since June and, to tell you the truth, it has not been funny. Finally it has started to show signs of healing, I’ve been able to ditch the pain killers and the brain is showing mild signs of reengaging.

But I’ve had to give up baking for customers for the time being and, after a brilliant run of ten courses in the first part of the year, to stop teaching.

Susi & Nellie my last students way back in May

What do bakers do when they get on the slippery slope? That’s a question I’ve started to ask myself. I’d already decided to give up using the mixer; it’s got a fixed bowl and dragging large lumps of dough up from floor level is no longer a joke (anyone want to buy a spiral mixer?) Hand mixing in multiples of five kilos has more appeal.

So here are two new equipment acquisitions for an aging baker:

A sturdy high bar stool upon which to rest my arse and, behind it a mill.

The mill is a wondrous thing – genuine little mill-stones that can be calibrated as fine as you like and grinds at about a kilo in five minutes. My 25K of grain will keep me in gainful employment for quite some time.

Bakers, as you know, never have bread for themselves. Instead of dipping into my large repertoire of breads when the supply is getting desperate I usually do the unimaginative and run up a white campagne or a classic. But I’ve got that rye starter sitting there looking at me and the last rye I made was months ago. So on Friday I went to two extremes and ran up a Cider & Apple Rye (100% rye) and a Torth Santes Dwynwen (it’s not Dwynwen’s saint day for months but I also had a heap of apricots looking at me).

Torth Santes Dwynwen done as a couronne
Cider & Apple Rye. Nothing beats 100% rye

Rye formula here.

The grumpy, neglected starter took six and a half hours to lift the dough but behold, after a little feed, it’s now looking seriously cheerful.

I know it’s bollocks but I sometimes think starters respond to a bit of attention (over and above being refreshed). I also know this will feed into the mind-set of those who think of their starters as pets and give them names, but that’s not my problem.

This particular starter I obtained from Andrew Whitley when I did a course with him in November 2000. He said he brought it back from Russia (he used to work for the Beeb there) and that it came from an old bakery that had been using it for over 100 years. I don’t think that’s significant but it’s a story.

After such a burst of activity you’d have thought a quiet weekend would be in order. But no … Step forward the mill. I got a very good deal for it but I’ve still got to justify the expense and I really would like to explore its possibilities. Right now we’re just using the finest grind and trying to perfect the wholemeal loaf.

To my mind this is pretty good. It’s hard to improve on the simple beauty of an unadorned loaf.

This is the wholemeal Pain a l’ancienne but I’m playing around with fermentation times and temperatures. The original has a evening mix; the dough goes straight into the fridge overnight. In the morning you give it a fold and return it to the fridge. In the afternoon it comes out to prove for 4-5 hours with folds every hour, is shaped, put in a banneton, and back in the fridge for a morning bake.

I mean – life’s too short anyway – but for the aging baker the reality of this grows in importance day by day.

I don’t deny that long cold fermentation develops flavour (or at least acidity) but I’m sure it’s also used because wet doughs are easier to handle when they’re cold (this is 87.2% hydration). The starter, the flour and the fermentation all contribute to flavour but which is the most important and what is the best balance of these elements? I tend to regard the starter as being just the engine to lift the dough, and, so long as fermentation is adequate, I lean towards the flour.

Can’t say that I started off with a specific plan but in the morning I mixed the dough just stretching it with a spatula as shown here. Did three stretches and rests, stuffed it in the fridge. Did hourly stretches for three hours, wondered what to do next (after returning the dough to the fridge). Couple of hours on, decided to proceed to the bake. Shaped the dough, put in banneton, proved for three and a half maybe four hours, baked.

Am I going to do better than this? Certainly going for the next one without any refridgeration.

But there’s more! Last week the quarterly edition of BreadLines, the Bread Bakers Guild of America magazine flapped over the Atlantic and flopped onto the mat where the cat was not sat at that particular time.

Inside is an article by Peter Reinhart about his new book “Perfect Pan Pizza” which is about pizzas which are not like the predominant thin Neapolitan model, i.e. pizzas which are baked in pans because of the depth of the dough (and the toppings) – in particular the Detroit style pizza. Of course first I bought the Kindle edition and now, watch out cat, am awaiting arrival the hard-back version.

His sourdough version is virtually the same as my high hydration dough (same link as above). His main innovation is that the cheese is cubed and half of the cubes are embedded in the dough as it proves.

Now on Saturday Sue cooked this wonderful Dianna Henry braised chicken. Not only was it truly divine, it left me with half the chicken to play with.

Should have been smoked chicken but this is a dry run: the man’s pizza based on Smoked Chicken, Lettuce and Tomatoes. Not right but pretty impressive.

And at the same time, which probably was not a good idea, his basic Focaccia Bianco with Herb Oil.

Too small, over-baked (I was concentrating on the pizza) but full of promise.

Have you made a contribution to the upkeep of this site yet? paypal.me/partisanbaker

Categories: Uncategorized

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