I've always liked to bake bread, but it used to be that I didn't do all that much of it. A few years ago, my husband Jamie got me Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Bread Bible (don't remember the exact occasion). I tried a few things, but they didn't always work out that well. After starting my blog a couple years ago, I did start baking more bread, as recipes came up with Tuesdays with Dorie and Daring Bakers. I made a whole lot of bagels. The real breakthrough came last year, though. First, my husband got me a copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day for Christmas. I was fascinated--it gave me a way to make homemade bread more often without investing a lot of time. It also gave me the idea that I might be able to BYOB, yes, bake all my own bread. I was a bit nervous about the idea, but figured that the worst that would happen is that I'd quit if I couldn't do it.
Then in May, Nicole of Pinch My Salt came up with the great idea to bake all the way through Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice. I already had the book--I bought myself a copy about a year before that--and had made several of the recipes either for Daring Bakers challenges or on my own. Again, I was nervous about the idea, but a whole bunch of my blogging friends were doing it--many of them at a slower pace, and I figured I could keep up with that.
At this point, it's probably safe to say that I've baked more bread in the past year than in the previous 10 years or so combined. =) And I'm still going. We just started a second year of BYOB. Last year I made lots of things for the first time--croissants, anadama bread, casatiello, raisin swirl bread, English muffins and ciabatta. I've gotten really good at making my own hot dog and hamburger buns, from a variety of recipes. I've made all sorts of rolls and sandwich breads for Brianna's lunch. This year is off to a good start--I made real French bread. And my collection of bread books keeps growing. My most recent acquisition is Peter Reinhart's newest book, Artisan Breads Every Day. I even got to go see him in person, for a class where he demonstrated recipes from the new book. (More on that coming soon!) With this latest book, I've embarked on a new challenge for the new year--sourdough!
What really got me doing was a recipe in the new PR book for Crusty Cheese Bread. The pictures looked fabulous, and I just had to make it. But first I needed sourdough starter. I admit, I've been rather scared at the prospect of getting my own starter going. Many of the recipes I've read seem to require a lot of attention. But the one in Artisan Breads sounded pretty easy. I also liked the fact that it started off with a small quantity of ingredients--I hate the idea of throwing away lots of flour and water. There's still some of that, but as I get going, I figure I'll bake with it more often and reduce the waste a bit. I'm not going to go into all the details here (especially since I didn't take pictures of the process). If you're interested, I highly recommend getting your own copy of the book. But a few things to note...
The one unusual ingredient I needed at the beginning was pineapple juice. It's in there to create a more acidic environment to keep unwanted bacteria from thriving. We don't drink much pineapple juice, so I just bought a can of concentrate, reconstituted just enough for phase 1 of the starter process (first you make a "seed culture"), and stuck the rest in my freezer to use at some point. I started off making two different seed cultures, one with regular white bread flour and one with white whole wheat flour (I used King Arthur flour for both). By the third day, I was seeing some activity. I had a setback on day 4, though, when I came home from work to find that my bread flour one had turned an interesting shade of orange. Colors like that aren't a good thing, so down the drain it went. I was kind of upset about it, but kept on with feeding the www one. When I hit the 4th phase and was supposed to discard half of the seed culture, I had a great idea. I kept the extra and fed it with bread flour, while I kept using www flour for the first half. By the time I built each into a "mother starter" the second one was mostly white bread flour. So meet my two starters:
Bert and Ernie. =) Bert is the white whole wheat one. They look a little different in part because of the different colors of the flours, but also because Bert was fed right before the photo, while Ernie was fed yesterday. One of the things I really like about PR's mother starter is that you can stick it in the fridge for up to 5 days and take some out as needed. Longer than that and you'll need to feed it again before using it. Both versions are firm starters, though the www one is a bit higher in hydration because you use a bit more water with the whole grain (about 75% versus about 66% for the bread flour one). After feeding, I leave the starter out on the counter overnight or while I'm at work (depending on whether I end up feeding at night or in the morning) and pop it in the fridge when I get up or get home. So far it's worked nicely.
Okay, at long last, we get to the first recipe I made with the starter. The Crusty Cheese Bread looked too good to pass up. First you use some of the mother starter to make a larger quantity of sourdough starter. I used the bread flour one for this recipe. I mixed up the ingredients (mother starter, bread flour, water) in the early afternoon and left it to ferment at room temp for about 5 hours (things rise quickly in my kitchen). I decided to mix the final dough right away, but you can also store the starter in the fridge for several days.
The dough was made up of all the sourdough starter, water, milk, agave nectar, bread flour, salt and some added instant yeast. You could probably do it with just the wild yeast, but using some instant yeast allows you to things done in a shorter amount of time while still having lots of flavor from the sourdough starter. The dough also has chives or onion added for flavor; I went with the chives. I used half the dough right away, letting it rise for a couple hours before shaping and baking. The other half went into the fridge. For the first loaf, I kneaded in cheddar cheese cubes before shaping the dough into an oval boule. Then I let it rise for about an hour, scored the top, let it sit for about 15 minutes, then baked it. I baked the loaf on my baking stone and poured hot water into a steam pan in the bottom of my oven when I put the dough on the stone. I baked the loaf for 30 minutes, rotating it halfway through for even baking.
I baked the second loaf three days later. For that one, I patted the dough into a rectangle, spread shredded fontina over it, and rolled the dough up like I would for cinnamon rolls. I pinched the ends closed and ended up with a baguette sort of shape. That loaf only took about 25 minutes to bake. I don't have pictures of that one, but it was rather ugly--I ended up with big cheesy bubbles where the dough pushed through the slashes in the top of the dough.
The verdict? Aesthetics aside, both versions of the bread were fantastic. When I baked the first loaf, about 5 minutes in, I stood in my kitchen trying to figure out what I was smelling. It was the chives, which had started cooking where the dough hit the hot baking stone. The whole house smelled amazing by the time the bread was done. =) The sourdough definitely added to the flavor of the bread as well. Brianna preferred the first loaf, which isn't surprising considering her love of yellow cheddar (I used Tillamook sharp). Gillian prefers "white cheese" (of any variety, sharp or mild), so that's why I made the second loaf with fontina (Boar's Head; I couldn't get the Italian one I prefer). I took some of the second loaf to work, where it was a big hit as well. I'll definitely be making this bread again in many variations.
If you'd like the recipe, I highly recommend getting a copy of the book. If you don't want to buy it, maybe you'll be lucky like my friend Tracey and your local library will have it. I've been baking away, and will have more sourdough results to share soon! =) I'm also submitting this bread to Yeastspotting--head over there every Friday for more amazing yeasted treats!