I’m spent–from beer comes bread

Beer brewing and bread making are curiously similar. I like to think of brewers as extra patient bread makers who prefer to drink their loaves out of big cups. We both start with water, starch and yeast, and both have one primary flavor addition (hops and salt, respectively). We both extract sugars from our starches, apply heat, encourage fermentation, experiment with new ingredient additions and techniques, and practice a great deal of patience as our products mature. Brewers end up with liquid bread after waiting serenely for what feels like a terribly long time before being able to enjoy the fruits of their labor, and bakers end up with really thick beer after enduring mere days or even hours of patient waiting. Although I do enjoy a good brew, I much prefer my starch-water-and-yeast medley on a plate with a nice little pat of butter or cheese, and I’m happy to leave the careful calculating and weeks of patient waiting to those who really know what they’re doing. That being said, I’m also really curious about the ways in which the bread and beer making processes can inform and contribute to one another. Having already tried putting beer in bread, much to the delight of my taste buds, I figured that it couldn’t hurt to put some of the by-products of beer into my bread and hope for the same tasty results.

I called up my friendly family brewer extraordinaire and hinted that a bounty of spent grains would be much appreciated. Armed with a fragrant container full of spent malted barley and some helpful advice from a fellow blogger (beerevolution), I set to work drying and grinding (read: pulverizing) my grains to make them a bit less bulky and chewy.

My only method of grinding was via my coffee grinder, and, incorrectly assuming this piece of equipment to be cute and demure, pushed the grind button with great enthusiasm. Not only did I turn my grains into something closely resembling peat moss, but crunchy chunks of grain flew literally everywhere.

Not to be deterred by the crunch underneath my feet or the fluff in my bowl, I forged ahead and mixed some ingredients together that I thought would nicely complement the residual malted barley flavor and texture. First I combined 12 oz. lukewarm water with 2 TB molasses and 2 1/4 tsp. yeast. I tossed in all of my ground barley (which had reduced in weight and bulk quite significantly after the oven roasting and coffee grinding debacle, ending up at a whopping 4.25 oz.) I added 3 TB melted butter, 1 TB vital wheat gluten for extra kicks, 2 tsp. salt, and roughly 18 oz. white wheat flour. The dough turned a beautiful deep brown from the molasses and the grains, and was very dense even after a good long kneading session. Luckily some larger flecks of ground malted barley remained and speckled my dough quite prettily.

After about two hours, my dense little dough ball had doubled into a nice big blob.

This I shaped into a boule and let proof for about another hour. Because this dough was so dense due to the added grain, I should probably have shaped it into two smaller loaves–I later found that it took quite a while for this big guy to cook through. Not knowing that a terribly agonizing wait of nearly an hour of baking time awaited me (how do you have such patience, brewers?), I stuck my loaf into a 425 degree oven and waited impatiently to see how it would turn out. I pulled the lovely boule out of the oven a little prematurely in my impatient state, and ended up putting it back in to finish up once I realized my blunder, but not before I managed to slice off a steaming and deliciously moist piece upon which I happily munched while awaiting the final bake.

I loved the color of the loaf and the heartiness of the texture and flavor. I felt like I should have popped open a can of beans and sung some ol’ camp cookie songs.

The malted barley, although already having been processed for beer, still retained some body and a nice little hint of flavor–not only the classic malted taste, but I thought I also detected a very mild and pleasant bitterness. The texture of the grain was really quite satisfying, with crunchy moments puncturing the soft, chewy, moist crumb. The butter and molasses chimed in with a delicate harmony and the whole thing was very nice with a slather of additional butter. I think, considering the density of this loaf, that it was wise to avoid using the spent grains when they were still fully hydrated–I can only image how much more dense it would have been. This is definitely an eat-me-immediately bread that hardens up after a day or two, but fresh out of the oven I rather enjoyed it. I’m definitely intrigued enough to continue experimenting with spent grains, and perhaps one day I’ll throw some hops in there and really make a beer loaf.

Zymurgy–get some in your life (or your bread)

I never thought about the possibility of this occurring, but today, I looked up a specific word in my trusty Oxford American Dictionary and it just happened to be the very last word in the dictionary. I felt like I’d won a prize and that bells would start clanging and confetti would rain down on me as my finger rested triumphantly on this famous last word. No such thing happened, but it was somehow a very satisfying experience to have sought out the last alphabetically-ordered word in the English language. I thought it would be an obscure and scientific-sounding consonant cluster like Zzyxglene XZ-2 or something. Instead, it is a pleasant little word that is just as fun to look at as it is to say: zymurgy. And this whole story would be completely irrelevant if not for the fact that zymurgy is the study or practice of fermentation. Which is to say, in a roundabout way, that today’s bread made really excellent use of the fermentation process. So much so that I was inclined to poke around and read more about fermentation, naturally leading me to this excellent word, which is one that I will now almost certainly try to use in conversation at least once in life.

What made today’s bread so delicious was that two fermentation approaches were utilized in one dough. Not only was the signature Reinhart move employed (overnight refrigeration) but so too was a starter used. In this case, the starter was a pâte fermentée, which, unlike a biga or a poolish, is a legitimate and complete bread dough in itself. Since I didn’t have any old leftover dough to pop in my new dough, I made a small fresh batch and let it ferment at room temperature for a good long while (although an overnight in the fridge couldn’t have hurt the flavor). Armed with this bubbling beauty and a plethora of ingredients, I was ready to tackle Reinhart’s Pane Siciliano, which I consider to be the most beautiful loaf in all of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.

I took my 16 oz. of pâte fermentée, and mixed it up with 12 oz. lukewarm water, 1 1/4 tsp. yeast, 1 TB honey, 2 TB olive oil, 1 1/4 tsp. salt, 8 oz. semolina flour, and 8 oz. bread flour (I ended up kneading in quite a lot more bread flour before the dough felt just right.)

At this point I could already tell that the bread was going to be scrumptious just because it felt so heavenly underneath my palms. I could have carried on kneading all night, but stopped myself after the usual 10 minutes, and left the dough to ferment at room temperature until it doubled.

I took my doubled dough and chopped it into three pieces (with ease, might I add, thanks to the generously gifted dough scraper). I then began the process that attracted me to this particular loaf in the first place: rolling and spiraling!

I think I am going to shape every subsequent loaf into a spiral for the rest of my bread making days. It is very satisfying and I suggest you give it a go. I stuck my three scrolls into the fridge after covering them with a bag to retain the moisture, and let the second part of the zymurgy magic take place overnight. When I pulled the dough out of the fridge the next day I found that my bread had somehow over-proofed a bit in my fridge. Instead of nice svelt periwinkles, I had a tray full of chubby rogue snails living life on the edge after having busted through their shells. Apparently, my fridge likes to freeze the mesclun mix on the top shelf, but is happy to provide my bottom-shelf dough with enough balmy weather to induce rapid overnight inflation. Luckily, the over-proofing wasn’t drastic enough to cause deflation, so I quickly sprinkled some sesame seeds on top and popped those snaily monsters into the 450 degree oven.

Before long, the fruits of the fermentation labor paid off, and a beautiful golden crust formed from all of the freed sugars within the dough. The scroll shape got lost in the baking, as I assumed it would after the over-proofing blow-out, but the bread still had a nice oven rise and looked quite lovely.

The crust was thick and crackly and caramel colored and it warmed the cockles of my heart, whatever those are.

If you’ll excuse another etymological tangent, I just happened to glance at the dictionary again to see what it had to say about the cockles of my heart. Instead of finding my answer,  I found that cockle (the verb) means to “bulge out in certain places so as to present a wrinkled or creased surface; pucker.” And wouldn’t you know it, this derives from the French coquiller, which is to “blister [as] bread in cooking.” Well, well, dictionary, you certainly have been most enlightening today. I still don’t know why we refer to the cockles of our hearts (perhaps because cockles are bivalves, and our hearts have valves…?) but I like to think that cockled bread warms my heart anyway.

Cutting into this loaf was quite lovely, as a symphony of crackles was unleashed against the edge of my bread knife. The crumb was light and tender (although a little less lofty than it should have been, again due to the over-proofing) and just begged to be spread with a pat of butter. This I did in short order, and was soon munching on a really, really tasty piece of bread.

I have to say that this is probably my absolute favorite bread so far. I love the flavor of the semolina flour, the gentle contribution of the olive oil, and the delicate sweetness of the double fermentation. The texture was both chewy and soft and the crumb was so moist. The sesame seeds were an excellent added crunch, but the real star of this loaf was the flour itself. If I ever doubted before, I certainly won’t again–time is the most important element in creating a delicious loaf of bread. When in doubt, ferment! (Or zymurgize?)

A corny journey–from quick bread to yeasted bread

I don’t know about you, but I don’t fancy the idea of cutting into a nice thick slice of yeasted chocolate cake, or dipping yeasted muffin bits in my coffee in the morning. I much prefer to get my leavening kicks from baking powder in these particular instances. Its distinct lack of flavor is a definite selling point. Despite the fact that yeast and baking powder perform the same primary function, many recipes have rather exclusive guest lists, and these two ingredients are almost never invited to the same party. These exclusions aren’t necessarily drawn along categorical lines–for example, we welcome yeast in our breakfast repertoire when it is puffing up a cinnamon roll dough, whereas we prefer our scones to be leavened with baking powder. Furthermore, we’re happy to sprinkle some yeast in a king’s cake, but wouldn’t dream of using yeast to leaven a carrot cake. Somewhere along the line it seems to have been collectively determined where and when these two rival ingredients might appear–a decision driven, no doubt, by both expediency and flavor.

There comes a rare time when the same group of ingredients may be joined by either party and a good time is still had by all. Today I happened upon such an anomaly, and decided to invite Mr. Yeast along for the ride, leaving Mr. Baking Powder at home in the cupboard. I speak, of course, about corn bread. When corn is in our bread, it is most often joined by baking powder and eaten with profuse amounts of butter and chili, but yeasted corn bread sounded just as delicious to me, if not a bit more time consuming. Yeast is certainly the slow-poke of the leavening family. James Beard had a lovely looking cornmeal bread recipe in Beard on Bread in which yeast was used, and I thought I would give it a whirl. Besides, I am still trying to use up my ambitious Bob’s Red Mill purchases, among which medium-grind cornmeal featured prominently.

I got some water boiling and began making my dough: (I cut the recipe in half and measured by weight rather than by cup, but this is still Mr. Beard’s recipe.)

I first combined 4 oz. boiling water, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1.5 oz. cornmeal and mixed until the cornmeal was mostly hydrated and thick (my particular cornmeal had a slightly different hydration ratio than that used in the original recipe, but I just ended up pouring off the extra liquid).

I then mixed together 2 oz. warm water, 2 1/4 tsp. yeast, 1 1/2 tsp. granulated sugar, and added this to the corn mix.

This was joined by 4 oz. milk, 1 tsp. additional salt, 2 TB brown sugar, and about 14 oz. white wheat flour. (In reality, I had no milk, but upon discovering some 1/2 & 1/2 in my fridge, I diluted it with a bit of water to make some 1/3 & 1/3 & 1/3 and figured that it would resemble milk closely enough.)

I kneaded everything together for a good long while–probably 10 or more minutes–and then left it to rest.

After almost 2 hours, my dough’s girth had doubled and it was ready to be deflated and shaped.

There wasn’t quite enough dough to warrant the use of this lovely ceramic loaf pan, but I used it anyway because its ability to bake things evenly is irresistible. I let the dough proof for another hour, at which point it was trying in earnest to scale the pan’s walls, and then I popped it in my 425 degree oven. After 10 minutes at the higher temperature, I reduced the heat to 350 and let the loaf continue its transformation for another 20 or 30 minutes. Although there was no way that my tiny amount of dough was going to rise over the top of the pan and create that pleasant muffin-top-spill-over look, I got a good rise out of the little fellah, and it came out looking golden and soft and delicious.

Having just feasted on Newman-O’s, I didn’t have too much of a problem being patient and waiting for the bread to cool before sampling a slice. After digesting my cookie entree for a while, I was ready to weigh in on the “yeasted” versus “baking powdered” corn bread issue, and I sliced into the lovely soft loaf. It had a very smooth and even crumb, typical of a milk bread, and a nice mildly thick crust providing a little contrast.

Despite the visual similarities to milk bread, my first bite revealed a very different and pleasant texture, which was, of course, no surprise as I had added cornmeal to the dough. There was something really satisfying about the way the yeast flavor and the corn flavor interacted, and the rich sweetness of the brown sugar chimed in for a nice three-part harmony. The milk and salt and flour had their own supporting trio going on in the background and it was just a lovely little flavor performance all around. Since I had used a medium grind cornmeal, there were a few coarser bits of corn that accented each bite with a toothsome crunch while the smaller grounds were absorbed into the supporting body of the bread–a very enjoyable chewing experience.

Since the character of this yeasted corn bread is very different from a traditional quick corn bread, the two aren’t really vying for the same gold medal and the leavening rivalry can be forgotten–each corn bread has merits of its own. This particular loaf I would like to use for sandwich bread, or as a vessel for toad-in-a-hole, or even as a cinnamon-sugar toast candidate, whereas traditional corn bread begs to be eaten with a hearty dinner dish, or simply on its own with butter. Depending on your time allowances and your flavor preferences, you now have two delicious choices when faced with a corny hankering.

“I brought you flours”–an experimental semolina soy bread

After last week’s buttery indulgence, the Lady Justice of all things culinary was standing sternly before me balancing her scales, one side weighed down heavily with a plethora of croissants, the other side floating aimlessly above. I felt compelled to bring balance to my kitchen, and set to work creating a very ordinary and healthful loaf in which not a single pat of butter appeared. Still having vast stores of random flours from my latest Reny’s binge, I selected soy flour and semolina flour as my subjects for experimentation, encouraged by their nutritious benefits. Soy flour in particular packs a punch with protein, fiber, iron, and even some vitamin C. Lady Justice smiled upon me. Since soy flour lacks gluten, I thought semolina flour would be an appropriate addition, being rich in gluten itself, and hoped that their flavors would combine well. My only slight indulgence was a minuscule dollop of molasses, a flavorful sweetener that I thought might positively complement the nuttiness of the flours.

I ended up with the following amounts of hodgepodge ingredients:

8 oz. lukewarm water

1 tsp. yeast (I would use just a touch more next time)

1 TB molasses (also could use just a bit more)

3 oz. semolina flour

2 oz. soy flour

9 oz. white wheat flour

1 1/2 tsp. salt (next time just a dash more)

I mixed and kneaded, and applied my Reinhartian principles (by which I mean I stuck it in the fridge for an overnight delayed fermentation).

In the morning, I took the dough out of the fridge, went back to bed, and when I next arose after a leisurely morning snooze, the dough had magically finished doubling in size. I then decided to play a little trick on Lady Justice, and set to work making my loaf look decadent, even though it wasn’t going to taste decadent. Really, it was just an excuse to try out my braiding technique.

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the chance to make a braided loaf for ages, but haven’t yet had an appropriate opportunity. I should have waited until I tried making challah, but I couldn’t resist the urge, and started braiding my very plain dough.

My elementary school french braiding technique came flying back to my fingers, and a doughy plait emerged. I let it sit and proof for about an hour before making another deceptively decadent-looking addition by slathering the top with an egg wash. I popped the whole thing into my 400 degree oven–using a slightly lower temperature than usual because soy flour is said to brown rather easily. After about 20 or 30 minutes, I pulled the braid out of the oven, and my eyes were duly deceived by the beautiful finish that disguised my ordinary loaf.

At this point, I wished that I’d been as honest as Sarah, Plain and Tall, and made this bread look like Semolina Soy Loaf, Plain and Lumpy. Instead it looked like Challah, Sweet and Eggy. Before I took my first bite I had to barrage my brain and taste buds with little reminders as to what to expect. Once I was able to shut out the visual, I was relatively pleased with the simple and light flavor that met my palate, although as I mentioned previously, it could have used just a touch more molasses and perhaps another little dash of salt. It was very pleasantly moist and ever-so-slightly chewy, with a denser crumb and nice crunchy crust. The flavors of the soy and semolina flours had a nice subtle presence, adding a nutty and rich depth of flavor without putting down a flag and claiming my palate for its own. A little extra yeast in the dough would have more fully expanded all of the glutenous strands made by my high gluten flour additions, but as it was, the denser crumb was actually quite pleasant.

All in all, a very ordinary and simple, yet tasty and nutritious bread to level the balances. If only I hadn’t confused my hungry eyes–it’s no wonder that Lady Justice is blindfolded.

Semolina loaf

Well, Reny’s has me figured out. A giant wall of Bob’s Red Mill products nearly hit me in the face when I walked in, each sporting a very friendly little price tag. Who could resist in the face of such bounty?

I left with a big bag full of whole wheat flour, cornmeal, white rice flour, oat flour, soy flour and semolina flour. Semolina flour interested me in particular because of its high gluten content, a quality widely cherished by pasta-makers. I wanted to cherish this quality too, but with a little yeast thrown in the mix to expand the glorious network of glutenous strands into a loaf of bread, not a strip of linguini. I turned to Bob’s semolina bread recipe to get the basic gist of the proportions one uses when baking with semolina flour, and played around with the recipe to my liking. So, the recipe that follows is part Bob, part Nina.

To begin with, I made a small starter:

7 oz. water

3 oz. milk

2 tsp. yeast

7 oz. semolina flour

4 oz. white wheat flour

(I really wanted to throw a little dairy in this loaf to repeat the soft crumb of the ciabatta, plus I thought it would go nicely with the honey and butter that would soon be added to this rich dough.)

I let the starter do it’s thing for about 1.5 hours, although it could only have benefited from a longer fermentation.

Instead of using olive oil and granulated sugar, I melted together about 1.5 TB butter with 1.5 TB honey, let the mixture cool off a bit so as not to kill the little yeasties, and added it to my starter, along with 2 tsp. salt and about 5.5 oz. white wheat flour.

Kneading this dough was a treat. The fine texture of the semolina flour lent the dough a soft pliability that was most satisfying, and which yielded a little round ball that looked freakishly uniform.

I left my little dough ball to rise in a covered bowl. I was gone a little longer than I had anticipated, so the little guy was not so little by the time I returned home, and I quickly patted him down and stuck him in a loaf pan for a very brief proofing. After a 20-30 minute party in a 425 degree oven, things were shaping up nicely and a fragrant golden loaf emerged.

The first cut was ever-so satisfying–I could tell by the way the knife sliced through the loaf that both crust and crumb were tender and moist and light.

It’s hard to describe exactly what signals my taste buds sent to my brain when I nibbled at the first slice, but they were numerous and delightful. The milk, honey, butter and salt were in perfect balance in a toned-down-kettle-corn kind of way, while the yeastiness and the slightly nutty semolina provided a lovely flavor framework, not to mention a very pleasing texture. It was rich without being overwhelming, and moist without being dense. If I cut out the majority of the sweetener, this dough would make a very good base for an herbed bread, or perhaps dinner rolls. This bread is definitely one that I will be making again.

Thank you, Bob’s Red Mill! More flour experiments to come…