Sunday, August 12, 2012
To store the starter, I stay with the quarter cup (two ounce) size, because it doesnít take up a lot of room in the refrigerator. If you freeze the starter it kills the yeast, so it shouldnít be frozen, but keeping it in the refrigerator slows down the growth a lot , which means you can store it for about a month and still bring it back to life by going through at least three generations again. The idea is to always feed the starter with at least as much flour and water as you have to start. You can store the starter a week, and it will still be alive and the yeast will be ahead of the lactobacillus
After the week is up, if Iím not going to make bread I take it out at night and let it rise for at least 10 hours. Then, when I stir it down it gets nicely fluid and sticky. Then I keep a quarter cup and throw the rest away. I add four level tablespoons of white flour to the starter I kept and two tablespoons of drinking water. Use bottled drinking water if the tap water kills it Ė or anything different from what made it go funny last time, but not distilled water.
If Iím going to make a loaf of bread, I do the same thing, but the next morning I split the starter into two containers and feed both of them. After a few hours, I split one of the containers and put half in the other container (Number 2). I feed number one and keep number two stirred down so the starter doesnít stick to the lid. After a few more hours, I split number one again, putting the extra half in the water for the bread, along with the entire starter from number two, which makes one full cup of starter in the water Ė which is four ounces of flour and four ounces of water.
I feed the other half of the starter in Number 1 container and store it in the refrigerator.
To make one large loaf of bread, I use 20 ounces of flour (about five cups), 14 ounces of water (tap water), 1 ĺ cups, eight ounces of starter (one cup stirred down) and Ĺ teaspoon of salt. I put the flour in a container, the water in another, stir in the salt, and then add the starter to the water. I stir the starter and water until all the starter is dissolved, and the pour the water/salt/starter into the flour, and mix it with a wooden spoon until I manage to get all the flour into the dough. Itís important to turn the dough over to make sure there isnít any flour on the bottom or sides of the container.
Then I let it rise for the first time, until itís about doubled in size. When it is, I try to nock it down by banging the container on the counter, and even if it doesnít collapse, I sprinkle flour on the top, and use a silicon knife to pare it away from the walls, one quarter at a time. I flour the side thatís away from the wall, the turn it 90 degrees and do it again. After all four sides are free, I dump it out and, with a little luck, it all comes out in one piece.
I used to use a pastry cloth (an old pillowcase with lots of flour on it) to spread the dough and split it, and I used to let the dough sit in the refrigerator overnight before getting it out so it would be a lot stiffer and easier to handle. I never managed to split the dough evenly, so I started just working on getting a consistent way to make one loaf of bread. The last two times I managed to pour the dough into the bread pan directly from the container.
Once itís in the bread pan, I let it rise until itís doubled again. If it goes too far it will be bulging out of the pan, and then, when I bake it' it falls down some. If itís not too high it has some ďspringĒ during the first 5 or 10 minutes that itís in the oven, so getting it exactly right is a matter of luck and experience. You get bread no matter what you do.
I bake it at 450 degrees for 35 minutes, and pour a cup of hot water in the broiler pan when I put the bread in to bake. That makes the crust harder, so it sounds like wood when you first pull it out of the oven, and makes the crust darker, which Adrienne likes. The steam is supposed to keep the crust soft during the initial baking, so it rises more, but I canít tell much difference with and without the water, and I donít like a rock hard crust.
By storing it in a bread bag, the water in the crumb softens the crust up enough so that I can cut the stuff.
Once you get the familiar with this approach, there are all kinds of variants you can make if the mood strikes you. I just make a loaf of rye bread with caraway seeds. Adrienne says it smells great, but whole wheat and rye flour donít rise as well as white flour. And bleached flour has less gluten too, so you donít get as big a loaf, which is why you want unbleached flour.
To keep it from getting stale, I keep it in the refrigerator, but you can also add just a tablespoon of potato flour to keep it fresh. The potato sucks water out of the air to keep it wet.
To make it rise more you can add gluten or and egg to the dough. Alternatively, you can just focus on getting the hang of straightforward bread for now.
PS Ė When I first started, I just made boles Ė a grapefruit size piece of dough formed into a ball, and left to rise on a cookie sheet. I actually bought a stone and pizza peal, but couldnít manage to reliable throw the dough onto the stone. It turns out you really donít need the stone, and a cookie sheet with a piece of parchment paper on it works just fine. The same thing applies for rolls, which Annie and Jerzy likes last year while they were here for three weeks. I like the bread loves because I want to make sandwiches, and Adrienne likes to make toast.
I finally made a jig that fits the narrow loves from the IKEA pans so she can cut perfectly straight slices, and the ones I cut are all the same thickness all around.