Friday, November 16, 2007

Slow Bread

I've written on this subject before and have made similar obeservations and comments. What makes this post different from earlier versions is the slideshow at the bottom -Bob dG

The bread I make for everyday use, the bread I like to eat everyday, is a crude style sour dough with stuff mixed into it. This is what I like to eat day in and out. I never get tired of it because it is extraordinarily complicated -like my wife, for example.

The bread takes a minimum of 3 days to make depending on how sour I want it to be and how much flavor I want it to have. More time means a low pH (more acidity) and a more complex flavor profile. Less time yields precisely the opposite (less acidity, simpler flavor). I not going to get into all the reasons why this is so here. But please let it suffice to say for now that it's all a function of how many and what type of microorganisms are allowed to grow and alter the chemistry of the bread. One could take all of the same ingredients I use here and produce a good loaf of bread in one day. Bu that bread will taste nothing like what I have grown to love so much that I get peeved if I have to buy bread.

No offense meant to any of you artisan bakeshop owners out there. I'm sure you love your bread as much as I love mine. This is not about me thinking that what I make is technically or artistically superior to what you make. This is about me being paternally attached to something that I think of as a reflection of my home, and myself.

I start Day 1 by mixing 6 ounces of coarse organic rye flour with 6 ounces of water. (I weigh everything. Nothing is measured by volume). Organic rye flour, like all organic flour is loaded with wild yeast and bacteria that will give the bread great flavor. But rye flour is kind of bitter and nasty so it needs to ferment for a long time to give the starches plenty of time to break down into sugars. Also add 6 ounces of softened wheat berries.

Sometimes I soften them by cooking them briefly in plain water, or soaking them overnight in cold water. Soaking them in water is kind of cool because the microflora that is on the berries does not get killed off but gets added into the the yeast and bacteria population thats in the rye flour and the air of my kitchen. (It's a "more the merrier" kind of thing if you catch my drift.)

This mixture sits covered my counter top for 24 hours. I stir it around to bring in oxygen when I think about it.

On the morning of Day 2 I add 6 ounces of hi-gluten bread flour and 6 more ounces of water. Then I let this mixture sit for another 24 hours, stirring it around to bring in air when I think of it.

On Day 3 I add about 20-21 ounces of hi-gluten flour, 20 grams of plain table salt, 3 grams of yeast to boost it a bit (one could omit this, but I'm not sure I see the point of taking the chance.)
and between 9-12 ounces of water. I'll not repeat all the steps here, you should be able to get them from the slide show, if not, then shoot me an email or comment. I should add that the oven set up is very crucial to the eventual success of any hearth bread, not just this one.

For the dough to jump up (spring) before the crust hardens, you must begin with a screaming hot oven (I set mine to 550 degrees F), there has to be a stone to store and exaggerate the heat from the bottom for maximum upward pressure, and there must be steam.

Everybody who rigs a bread oven set up at home has a different way of getting steam in. I've probably tried everything in print including spray bottles, wet towels on the stone, bricks soaked in water, and I can't remember what else. What I have found works best is a sheet pan on the top rack of the oven. I preheat this with the stone and dump about 10 ounces of hot water in immediately after I slide in the bread.

The reason this works is that top of the oven is almost always the hottest part of the oven (Don't believe it? Get an IR thermometer and check.). It's consistently hotter than the oven floor and an ideal place to generate steam that you want to circulate evenly through out the oven. This is because as the water heats in the pan, the steam rises and is deflected downward by the oven roof. Convection then assures that the steam will descend to the cooler parts of the oven which is, of course, around the bread. This gives me all the steam I need to delay hardening of the crust and robust and even oven spring. To say nothing about how well that water gelatinizes
the starch molecules which in turn give the crust a lovely sheen. (Poetic, non?)

The slide show below shows almost the entire job from the morning of Day 1 to the evening of Day 3 when I bake the bread. The photos of the cut bread were taken on the morning of Day 4.


Zach said...

Wonderful post!

I have been getting really interested in baking good bread at home, but I have not been very successful. I used to think of myself as a cook not a baker. Could you recommend any books to read that teach a good foundation?

Bob del Grosso said...

The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reihhardt at Johnson and Wales is excellent. It's heavy on technique and light on recipes, just what you need.

Here's link to it in Google Books

tyronebcookin said...

I'm gonna do it Bob (but I will probably wait till I get on the ship), but the exciting things is I will use a Lanoix Combi Oven that we have on the ship...bakes, steams, and both, but if you are baking there is a button to inject steam when you want it during the baking process!

Also we just approved a young baker from Canada that has signed on for the whole year (starting in March in West Africa on the ship where i am going)...he says he may try and bring his sour dough starter with him. Woo Hoo...

things are looking up...

(oh, just in case you are interested I have a 19minute video of the AFM kitchen on google video just use 'tyronebcookin' as the search key to find my videos)

Charlotte said...

Hi Bob -- so if a person wanted to add some sourdough starter to this process, when would one do that? Early? Late?
I know what you mean about getting attached to one's own bread -- I make a loaf or so a week and I too now hate to buy bread. Well, except in the summer -- I don't have air conditioning and when it's 100 in my kitchen the whole process gets wonky and I just can't bear to turn on my oven.

Zach said...

Thanks Bob! From the google books preview it looks fantastic. Ordering a copy now. I am also going to try out your recipe here.

Bob del Grosso said...


Interesting question. See, the first two days of fermentation is designed to do two things: break down that rye flour and make it sour. Over two days it does not get very sour, but sour enough to know that the bread is not "business as usual."

Sometimes when I pine for something more sour, I run it 3 or 4 days, feeding it bread flour then on day 4 or 5 building into "dough" to bake. Typically, fter 3 days, it's pretty darn sour.

Now to your question. I suppose if you added a lump of starter at the beginning you could hasten the shift towards a more complected sour. I don't see that act as conferring an absolute advantage though. HOWEVER, if you are in love with the flavor of your starter you should put it in then.

I'm sure I don't need to tell you that your starter has a microflora that is unique to your home and personal history. That's more than enough reason to use it, but on Day 1 I think.

Good luck friend!

I'm there.

Tags said...

Three days!

When poor Sandra Lee read that, she curled up in the fetal position and stroked her cheek with a slice of Wonder Bread, a la Gene Wilder in "The Producers."

Tags said...

Did I mention she was sucking her thumb?

Anonymous said...

Looks fantastic, thanks for the share! Any recommendations on a scale?

Bob del Grosso said...


Sorry, I don't have any specific (brand) recommendations for scales. The one I use is 10 years old and really pretty junky. I'm not even sure who makes it bec. the label is worn off.

My gut tells me that you can get something decent for around 60 dollars. Make sure that it has both metric and English units and, if you are using it at home, can accommodate at least 10 pounds.

Hope that helps. Bob dG

redman said...

f-ing amazing bread. Very beautiful loaf. Two questions:

what speed for kneading, 1 or 2?
is SAF yeast instant?

Sean said...

Thanks for the awesome information. I've been looking to baking my own bread from starter instead of ADY for a while now and this looks like a great place to start. How sour does the bread get by day3? Also have you tried using whole wheat flours (I have some organic white whole wheat on hand that I'm thinking of using)?

Bob del Grosso said...

I've used white whole wheat flour (King Arthur brand). It's got a pretty strong taste so I only used 6 ounces of it in the starter in place of the bread flour.

If you like the flavor of it, there's no reason why you could not exchange it for the hi-gluten bread flour although you should add some vital gluten to make up for the lower protein content of the white whole wheat.
Hearth bread (freeform bread) is best made with flour that has a lot of protein so it "stands up" well in the oven and does not spread all over the place.

Oh, the bread is mildly sour. I've checked the pH but have forgotten the reading. No matter though, it's not very sour.

CarolinaGirl said...

Hi Bob!
Great post even for me the anti-baker! Quick recommendation for the weight issue. How 'bout the book of yields? There is a section that converts weight into cups for those who may not have a scale. BTW how do you feel about this literary gem and how would you most effectively dive into it for practical use? Just curious...Not trying to change the topic.

Kanani said...

I've always had utmost respect for people who can bake bread. My mother baked bread twice a week while I was growing up. It holds very strong memories for me still. In fact, when she died, the only thing I asked for were the bowls she used to mix with. Odd, but that's all I wanted.

Your bread sounds nothing short of a masterpiece, made with knowledge and love. A gift, or as Robinson Jeffers wrote: "…the greatest beauty is organic wholeness
the wholeness of life and things."

You remind me of a very good friend of mine who grows garlic --Chester Aaron.

Bob del Grosso said...

Long time, no? BOYields is handy, I don't own one but I've used such things from time to time. I think they are good to use as guides but when you are developing recipes and "costing them out" (sic) you really need to do the yield tests yourself with the same tools and in the same environment in which you will be cooking.


Chester looks like an interesting cat. I loved that flash video about him on your blog. You are a great friend to him, know it.

Don Luis said...

I like my Escali scale. It will handle up to 11 pounds, and is very easy to use.

In America, you can get it from Amazon for $25.

I will certainly try your method of bread baking. Your advice in the past has made
me a better baker.

By the way, I just watched Ratatouille (which my people refer to by the
more appropriate name jambot).

Quite a letdown after all the hype (the movie, not the stew).

Paul Schatz said...

Quick question on the recipe:
In the post you said to add the wheat berries on the second day and in the slide show it says to add the wheat beries on the first day-- which is it or does it matter?

Bob del Grosso said...

Hey Paul Schatz

Sorry, I made a typo in the post. Add the wheat berries on day one. They will provide extra food for the yeast in the rye flour.

If you or anyone has a question and want an emailed answer. Please send your question to me at Bob del Grosso
at Gmail dot com. I'm fine with answering them here too, but I'd rest easier if I could respond directly.

Paul Schatz said...

The bread is out of the oven and wow-- it's really good.