By Larry Kilbourne
This past weekend I decided to continue my experimentation with ryes and hot soakers. After my experience spending 7 hours making a mash for my last rye, I took Hamelman's comment on my attempt to heart: "it's always seemed to me that historically people would have been grateful to be able to make a simple manipulation of ingredients and wind up with a little sweetness in their bread."
So I decided to trade-in further chemistry experiments in favor of seeing if greater simplicity could still yield greater flavor. I selected Hamelman's 66% rye in Bread because I wanted a sandwich loaf and this seemed like it would fit the bill - sufficient rye content to provide a flavorful loaf, yet not so much as to yield a dense crumb.
The variation on his recipe was to add a hot soaker as well as toasted sunflower seeds. To create the soaker I took his rye levain, which accounts for a little over 40% of total dough weight, and halved it, creating a soaker with equal portions of flour and water that would have gone into the levain. This also raised total hydration from 75% to 80%. I then upped the percentage of yeast slightly to account for the smaller amount of levain used.
The night before my bake on Sunday I mixed my levain, and then poured boiling water over the rye. According to Hamelman this is called brühstück (a scalded soaking) in Germany. Using equal parts water and flour you end up with a very dense mixture. Both levain and soaker were covered and left overnight.
The next morning I mixed levain, brühstück and water, and then added the remaining ingredients. My toasted sunflower seeds were salted, so I gave them a quick rinse in a sieve.
Because I wanted sandwich bread - and because the hydration was so high - I air shaped the loaf and placed it in a somewhat smaller than standard bread tin. After 55 minutes proofing it was baked at 460 F initially, after which the temperature was decreased to 400 for the remainder of the bake. I wrapped the loaf in a tea towel after it cooled, and allowed it to rest 24 hours before cutting.
This, it turns out, was a good move, because it was quite moist, and over the past few days while it has dried somewhat, it remains moist. The soaker did in fact impart a noticeable sweetness that balanced nicely with the nuttiness of the sunflower seeds. Not as sweet as a mash soaker, but much simpler. This is bread I'll bake again.
While waiting for the rye to finish baking I was reading through old articles I've accumulated related to bread, and stumbled upon James MacGuire's wonderful The Baguette, printed in The Art of Eating in 2006 (Number 73 + 74).
I've read a number of times his wonderful accounting of the history of the baguette, how French baking underwent near ruination after World War II with mechanization, and of the pivotal role played by MacGuire's friend and sometime collaborator Raymond Calvel in resuscitating the art of baking through the introduction of autolyse. James MacGuire is a master baker, but he is as well a masterful narrator and commentator on the history of bread - particularly in France. I cannot too highly recommend this article to anyone unfamiliar with it. (Reprints may be obtained from The Art of Eating.)
The surprise for me, however, was that I had neglected to ever look at his recipe for a pain tradition at the article's end. And I delighted in what I found there. MacGuire is keenly aware of the challenges baguettes present to the home baker, starting with the fact that most home ovens will not accommodate a true baguette's length, and including the travails one confronts with steaming, especially in gas ovens.
And then there too is the fact that his pain tradition is a super-hydrated dough at 80%, meaning that for the vast majority of bakers it would present formidable obstacles in shaping and slashing.
MacGuire says, in effect, Ok, you want a baguette but it is very hard to do. Here instead is a baguette dough which we'll shape to an easier profile (more like a miche), and through this achieve basically the same crumb to crust ratio a baguette has.
Again, simplicity is chosen over complicated schemes. (A theme is emerging I think).
His recipe calls for hand mixing and hand folding over many hours. Because I machine mix dough at work I'm inclined to do so at home - it just seems easier. But as I followed his process I was struck by how much more in touch you become with the gluten development of the dough. It is truly fascinating to experience over many hours what transpires in mere minutes in a mixer.
My one variation on his recipe was to give it a bulk retarding overnight in my refrigerator to develop more flavor since it is a straight dough.
Next day, after 16 hours in the fridge, I preheated my oven, and turned the dough out on a floured counter. Shaping, such as it is, is equally simple: MacGuire advises patting it out to a diameter approximating that of the bottom of your floured banneton or mold, and then plopping it in for final proof. That's easy.
Final proofing was about 75 minutes. The secret to this bread is a long bake which dries out the loaf so that its crust does not go soft after coming out of the oven. And to accomplish this means an initial bake at a fairly high temperature, followed by a long bake at a much lower temperature.
The loaf, just under 1 lb., was in the oven for 70 minutes. The trick is to achieve bread that has dried sufficiently, but not in the process developed a dark crust which overwhelms the delicate flavor of the crumb. The profile in terms of height is comparable to that of a baguette and it has a crisp crust and an amazingly light, airy crumb.
I love baguettes, but I tend to avoid baking them at home because the results are never as good as what I get in a commercial steam oven. And that is frustrating. But here, in this marvelous little recipe that MacGuire tucked at the end of his article, is a simple and enjoyable method of enjoying everything good in a baguette with the exception of its form.
Not a bad compromise!