Friday, February 27, 2009

Airy and even-flavoured 100% whole wheat bread in the Zojirushi BB-HAC10 bread machine

I've finally perfected and repeated this recipe enough times to know that it's a solid recipe now, so I'll post it here. Bear in mind that the BB-HAC10 machine is a 1 lb. machine, so makes a small loaf. Most machines are 1.5 lb. or larger. It's also a very good machine, and some aren't :)

First of all, whole wheat bread recipes seem to be somewhat dependent on the type and grind of flour used -- way more so than white bread recipes. I have had complete success with President's Choice Organics 100% whole wheat flour. I have had no success with Milanaise Organic Stone Ground Whole Wheat Bread Flour. Making an educated guess, I'd say that non-organic regular whole wheat flour would work fine because the grind and consistency looks similar. I haven't had success with the Milanaise flour in any recipe at all!

Normally, I see bread machine recipes as a compromise -- speed and cleanliness in exchange for a lower-quality loaf. This recipe is the exception to that experience. I would be as happy with this loaf if it came from the oven as if it came from a bread machine. It does require a bit more work than a regular bread machine recipe, but nowhere near as much as without the machine.

The 100% whole wheat recipe in the machine's manual is not very good, in my opinion. The loaf is dense, and the flavour isn't cohesive. It's a flat taste with these uncoordinated accents that fire off all over the place and aren't that nice, to be honest.

This is based on the whole wheat technique in Peter Reinhart's "Whole Grain Breads", which really does make one of the best-tasting whole wheat loaves. It's probably better than any straight-wheat bread I've got from the bakery before, too.

You need to prepare this about 24 hours in advance. The basic technique is to prepare the "soaker" and "biga" 24 hours in advance, let them rest for 24 hours, and then combine them with a few more ingredients and start the machine.

Day before: Soaker
  • 113g whole wheat flour: as above, I used PC Organics 100% WW
  • 1/4 tsp. salt: I used unrefined grey sea salt
  • 89g milk: I used whole milk
Mix together just so that there's no loose flour in the bowl, cover with plastic, and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours. That's all.

Day before: Biga

  • 120g flour
  • 1/8 tsp instant yeast (aka bread machine yeast)
  • 85g tepid water (room temperature)

Mix together in a bowl until roughly combined, then wet your hands and knead the dough for a couple of minutes. Re-wet your hands if the dough starts to stick (it probably will). Then, let it rest in the bowl for 5 minutes, re-wet your hands, and knead again for another minute or so. Cover the bowl with plastic and put in the fridge for 24 hours.

Baking day

  • 35g whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. active dry yeast (I haven't tried instant.. if you are going to try, use a bit less than 1 tsp.)
  • 21g honey: I used blueberry honey, unpasteurized
  • 9g butter
A couple of hours before baking, turn the oven up to maximum heat for about 30 seconds and then turn it off. Remove the plastic from the bowls and put them in the briefly-warmed oven for 1-2 hours. If you don't have an oven, just let them sit at room temperature for about 2 hours. The idea is to take the chill off the biga, since it had been in the fridge.

Flour the counter and pull the contents of the bowls out of the bowls and lay them down. Dust with flour and use a dough scraper to divide each piece into 6 pieces. Put them into the bread machine pan.

Add the honey near the edge of the baking pan. Cut the butter into paper-thin slices and scatter it around the edges of the dough pieces. Add the salt near the edge. Add the flour to the centre of the baking pan. Make a little well in the flour just big enough to contain the yeast, and put the yeast into the well.

Now, all you should have to do is start the regular cycle and leave it. It's not a bad idea to check it once it's kneading to make sure that none of the ingredients have stuck to the sides of the bowl. Sometimes a few little pieces of butter won't incorporate and I just wipe them onto my finger and stick them onto the dough ball while it's kneading.

That's about all. The loaf should be relatively airy (for whole wheat bread) and have a delicate crust that tastes like a good cracker. The flavours will be well-integrated, unlike with whole wheat recipes that don't have the soaker and biga.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Georgetown Bach Chorale : A Winter's Evening : February 21, 2009 : Norval Presbyterian Church : brief review

Last night, I attended this concert at the Norval Presbyterian Church in Norval, Ontario. It was a nice collection of baroque music, variously performed by a small string section (2 violins, 1 viola, 1 cello), a 24-member choir, harpsichord, and recorder (voice flute?) in a small church with excellent acoustics.

The performance's title was "A Winter's Evening". It was very appropriately-named as the winter weather outside was terrible, as were the roads. But what a nice contrast between the harsh outdoor weather and the comfortable and warm indoors of the church.

I enjoyed this presentation and particularly the live sound of the harpsichord and a quality recorder (as opposed to those plastic ones I remember having to play when I was in elementary school!). The choir sounded full and very smooth and well-rounded. The acoustics and warmth of the church were also very nice.

But, I think I may have been spoiled by the wonderful violin performance of Conrad Chow in their first performance as the ones here were not as good, although obviously far better than many people could do and impressive when considered on their own and in context. At least one of the violins did consistently sound a bit out of tune, though.

Overall, though, it was very enjoyable and another great opportunity to see this type of music performed locally.

Hopefully not breaking any copyrights, I have made a copy of the programme available as a PDF.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Georgetown Sourdough: fin

Yesterday, I finished the first sourdough loaves from the sourdough palaver I started last week.

First, here's how they look:

Not bad! The loaves look large in the picture, but they are actually not much longer than my fully outstretched hand, which is about 8 inches from the base of my palm to the tip of my middle finger. They are batards.

You can tell by the air bubbles in the cut surface that the wild yeast were quite active. I already knew they were, though, because the dough had formed some large surface bubbles during the final rise, indicating that the dough was not only properly kneaded (since it could hold air to the extent that a translucent bubble was able to form within the dough -- the dough is loose enough to allow a bubble to form and strong enough that the bubble holds) but also that the yeast were active and alive.

The doubt about whether the wild yeast were sufficient had always been in the back of my mind, even though the scent of the dough clearly said that there was some activity going on. If it had failed on account of the yeast, a week's worth of work building the culture. would have been wasted.

Anyway, this was an unbelievably drawn-out process. I started in the morning and didn't actually bake the loaves until after 9pm at night! It might have taken a bit less time if I kept my house a bit warmer than I do, but I keep it at under 20C in the winter. Here's what was involved:
  • reactivate the starter (12 hours): since the stiff dough levain had been in the fridge, I took it out the night before and prepared the recipe starter, leaving it out overnight to become active
  • mix and hydrate the initial dough (30 minutes): white, rye, and whole wheat flours were combined with water and left to stand to hydrate
  • add the starter, knead the dough (20 vigourous minutes): the starter was added to the hydrated dough and kneaded for 15-20 minutes until the windowpane test was passed (the test is to stretch the dough until you can form a thin translucent window without tearing it)
  • fermentation (2 hours): let the dough ferment in a covered bowl
  • folding and rising (5 hours): flatten and fold the dough, and then let it rise until the volume increases by 25-50%
  • dividing and shaping (10 minutes): divide the dough, flatten and fold, and roll into batards
  • couche and proofing (2 hours): the couche to support the rising loaves is formed and the formed loaves are left covered to rise until volume increases by about 50%
  • scoring, baking prep, and baking (1 hour): the oven is prepared with a baking stone and empty broiler tray; the oven is preheated to 450F about 30 minutes before baking; the loaves are scored; water is boiled; just before putting the loaves into the oven, the boiling water is poured into the broiler tray to create steam; the loaves are baked for 15 minutes at 450F and a further 20 minutes at 400F.

The loaf tastes very nice, and it has a definite sourdough flavour but it's a complex one. It is dense, as sourdoughs tend to be. It is very good toasted. It's good untoasted if warmed first.

Was it worth it? It's hard to be honest with myself with these things because of the amount of time and effort I put into it. But, really: no... it wasn't worth it. The main product is that I know I can do it. But when you consider that you can get an equally-good loaf from the local bakery for $3, unless you really enjoy it then it's very hard to justify. The amount of resources consumed for a single pair of small loaves, too, is painful to try and justify -- all of the cleanup, oven preheating, plastic wrap, etc... these things are much more efficient when done in the context of mass production.

On the other hand, if you can get your bread machine to turn out a good loaf -- which requires advance planning, too, and a biga and soaker -- then it's justifiable. The cleanup is minimal and the prep time is insignificant relative to the quality of the end product. I've come up with a good bread machine recipe/technique of my own for a 100% whole wheat loaf that I can do in my Zojirushi BB-HAC10 bread machine. It is (heavily) based on one of the methods in Peter Reinhart's "Whole Grain Breads" book, adapted for the fixed behaviour and size of my machine, and it tastes really good.