Since February I've been Head Baker at Farmers & Fishers and Founding Farmers restaurants in Washington, DC. A great job, a daily challenge for someone with so little experience (I'm blessed with bakers who know a lot more than me!), and a fabulous opportunity to learn more about bread.
But it's left me with little time for posting on my learnings...and my bakings. But this weekend I took a deep breath, baked at home as I love to do, and decided to share the results on this blog.
The first bread I baked was a favorite rye of mine: A 72% rye - making it what I call a cocktail rye - that includes both a rye soaker and a flax seed soaker. The latter makes the seeds more digestable; the former simulates a 'mash' and yields a sweetness that you otherwise can't get.
As you can see, this is a very wet rye that resembles mud more than dough. Indeed, high percentage, high hydrated ryes more resemble puddings than bread dough. And they are baked and subsequently treated similarly.
No commercial yeast was incorporated in this: I used my rye levain and because of necessities actually retarded the shaped dough during its final proof - something that isn't normally done with high-rye percentage rye doughs.
But I'm quite happy with the results. The loaf is amazingly moist (I keep it wrapped in aluminum foil instead of plastic wrap, so to retard molding) and amazingly sweet. With a good goat cheese or aged Emmentaler it's heaven!
The large bubbles at the upper left hand of the loaf indicate that I'd pushed its final proof about as far as I could without overproofing it.
The second bake was a traditional pain au levain (sourdough) taken from Jeffrey Hamelman. It uses mixed levains - both a wheat-based sourdough and a rye-based one - and incorporates a little whole wheat flour to give it a wonderful character in terms of flavor.
In this instance, I was forced to retard the shaped loaves for 23 hours. This is something Hamelman counsels against because of the effect of retarding on flavor - yielding a more noticeably sour tang with the long retardation. But I had no choice and so decided to do what I had to do.
Although the loaves had a mild tang from the long retardation, it was in no way the sharp sourness that many associate with (and either love or hate about) San Francisco style sourdough).
I'm especially pleased with the honeycomb structure of the crumb - a good sign of a loaf that is well-risen when it's baked.
This is a wonderful everyday sandwich bread. And a reminder that commercially produced bread will never achieve what a home baker can, with a little patience and care.