Thursday, August 31, 2006

Breaking bread - A Poolish Recipe

When I applied to UC Berkeley (the second time as a transfer student because well, you know) my personal paper related the cycle of life to that of a really great bread recipe. I can't do it justice here nor can I find the disk it is saved on but believe you me, it was a beautiful metaphor for life.

I was working as a baker's apprentice at the time and had fallen madly in love with bread. Rustic country bread, whole grain bread, pastries, all of it. It struck me as something so simple and yet so yet complex. Sure it's hard manual labor to actually make bread, especially as a commercial baker, but the result, OMG the result. Such simplicity never tasted so orgasmically.

I have been baking almost daily in my new foray into housewifedom but I haven't really tried baking bread. My oven is kinda, well, clunky and there is no worse feeling than fucking up a loaf of bread. Yesterday, however, after 3 days of intense lower back pain, the sort that requires muscle relaxers and no movement, I thought to myself, "self, you feel like shit, if you mess it up, take another muscle relaxer and let it go." And so, I decided to brave the consequences and make my second loaf of bread in a year.

Country white bread with a poolish for those of you who would like to try it. Spoiler Alert: This particular loaf takes an entire day to accomplish. Do not start it if you have places to be.

Step 1 - The Poolish
1 cup (250g) Flour (Whole wheat or white, your call. W.W. will take longer but is better.)
1 tsp. yeast
1 T honey
2 cups warm water

Dissolve the yeast in 1 cup of the warm water until creamy. ~7 minutes. Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix well. It should be soupy. Cover with a dry, clean dishtowel and leave to rise 2.5 to 3.5 hours. It should triple in volume and then begin to fall; when it starts to fall it is ready for step 2.

Step 2 -The Dough
2-3 C Flour (I use whole wheat in the first step and unbleached white in the second. But only because 100% WW takes a loooong time to finally bake off. Again, your call.)
1 T Salt

Mix handful by handful with a wooden spoon until dough can be worked by hand. Unless of course you have a kitchenaid or other such innovation of the 20th century in which case you can let the mixer do the work. It is still advisable to mix handful by handful. When it is stiff enough to work by hand, turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead in flour. Be careful how much flour goes in as you want it to be a sticky dough. Add the salt while kneading it; kneading should proceed until dough is silky yet a little sticky. Return to bowl, cover and let stand another 1.5 - 2 hours or until it has doubled in volume.

Step 3 - Shaping
When dough has at least doubled in volume, turn back out onto a lightly floured surface; flatten and roll into desired shape. I usually do a football shape as it is almost a full kilo (2 lb.) loaf and becomes quite large. Place on floured baking sheet, cover and allow to rise another 1.5 - 2.5 hours, depending on how humid/warm your kitchen is. This is when I turn my oven on (500 degrees) and I generally place a mixing bowl with water on top of the stove and rest the baking sheet on top of that in order to create humidity.

Step 4 - Baking Off
When loaf has again doubled in volume, it is reasy to be baked. I generally score the bread with 3 or 4 slashes when oblong or a tic-tac-toe grid when circular. Place into preheated oven for 45-60 minutes, until tapping it on the bottom (ouch it's hot! where're the mits?) produces a hollow knocking sound. It should be golden brown and slightly burnt looking. I should have allowed more time for my little guy to rise but hell, we wanted bread with dinner not as a midnight snack!

Be sure to allow your loaf ample time to cool before cutting into it as the middle needs to set while cooling. Otherwise, enjoy!

Hey Kit! feel free (assuming you want to try the recipe) to use a mixture of rye, whole wheat and whole grains... I would but, well, you know where I live!


Food Mum said...

This sounds great, though adding another several hours to the process, is a little daunting! Can you taste the difference? and I hate to admit I usually use instant yeast, does it work here or do I have to get the real thing? I'd like to try this one day, maybe on a weekend.

Lisa said...

Mmmm bread. This sounds very interesting.

Anonymous said...

When is the honey added? With the poolish? In the dough phase? Doesn't say.

Anonymous said...

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