A Bread Library book review: White Bread by Aaron Bobrow-Strain


In grad school, I took a course called something like “Global Commodity Chains” or something like that.  It explored the global political, cultural and economic shifts that took place to allow the rise and spread of commodities like coffee, chocolate, and bananas.  It was a fascinating class.

As I began to read this book, I realized it would’ve been right at home on the syllabus of that class.  I thought I might send an e-mail to the professor of that course recommending it to him, but alas I can’t remember his name and the internet thus far has not been helpful.

If I was expecting a breezy read, based on the jolly cover and a description that included “a social history,” that is not what I got.  This text is pure academia.  Readable academia, and entertaining, but in a fairly intellectual way.  Look no further than the table of contents:img_6161

The premise is that, since its very inception, white bread has always found itself caught in the crosshairs of our national obsession with food.  This national obsession is based on several general ideas about our national identity, our sense of security, desire for purity, and our feelings about health and wellbeing, which the author details in each chapter.  As a Latin-Americanist, my favorite section was about how Bimbo brand, a bread producer from Mexico, has managed to corner the North American market on white bread.img_6163

Another thing that stuck out for me is that the author quotes Crescent Dragonwagon extensively.  Having only been familiar with her Passionate Vegetarian cookbook and not her politics, I was surprised.  I’ll have to check out her The Commune Cookbook.  Based on Passionate Vegetarian, you would think she’s just a little plain-spoken, humble owner of a humble bed and breakfast. img_6164

Finally, and I wasn’t sure if Bobrow-Strain was going to touch on this, in the chapter on health and wellness he interweaves Grahamism (yes, from the crackers) from the 1900s and today’s gluten-free craze, and how our ideas of what is and isn’t healthy have changed over time.img_6162

I did feel like his chapter on how white bread became synonymous with white trash could’ve used a bit more fleshing out, since that seemed to be a large part of his premise.  Ultimately, he concludes that food in general, and bread in particular, is really a symbol for how we feel about ourselves, our health, and our national identity, and maybe we should focus less on how our differences divide us than on celebrating our heterogeneity.  img_6165My one disappointment with this conclusion is that he opens the chapter describing using a sourdough starter.  He never admits to eating wonder bread, and so he still seems to be coming from a privileged position of ranking homemade sourdough above lesser breads.

This book didn’t have any recipes, not that I was expecting it to!  It did give me a craving for super soft white bread, so I may make that soon.

A Bread Library book review: The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum


For the past few weeks, I’ve been reviewing books in my quest to find the best “true beginner breadbaking book.”  That is to say, one that would give the true beginner all the information they would need to know to get a good start, but would not be overwhelming or too technical.  It would explain the whys and hows of bread in a way that was easy to absorb.  I checked out all the books on breadbaking at the library, giving particular attention to ones I’d heard about on The Fresh Loaf.

I had heard Rose Levy Beranbaum’s name around, so I decided to check out her bread book.  I quickly realized this was quite a tome.  To start, it’s over 600 pages long.  This is not a beginner’s book; it’s one that you could spend a lifetime baking from.


It goes through each part of the baking process in great detail.dsc03752

I did like the illustrations; it reminded me of the pictures in the Joy of Cooking.dsc03753dsc03754

I thought these instructions for a single-strand braid were fascinating. I’ve never seen that before!dsc03755

She has a few sections of full-color pictures that are lovely.dsc03756dsc03757

We are drowning in sweet potatoes so I’ll definitely be using this recipe.dsc03758

One disappointment was that her potato bread uses potato flour instead of mashed potatoes or potato water.  Who does that? Where does one find potato flour???dsc03759

This page on baguettes made me laugh.  Apparently dough doesn’t rise for expert bakers either!dsc03760

Another aspect I really appreciated was each recipe included a ‘pointers for success’ and an ‘understanding’ section at the end, with tips and advice.  It allows you to do a deep dive into the science behind the recipe, if you want.dsc03761

Beranbaum also includes sections at the end for ingredients and equipment.dsc03763dsc03764dsc03765 I tagged several recipes to test, including her baguettes.  So look for those soon!

William Alexander’s Pain de Campagne

I made this bread twice, because the first time I under-proofed the dough before it went into the oven so it blew way out and had a weird shape and no big holes in the crumb, and cut into it after it had only cooled for about an hour so the flavor wasn’t great, and I made the mistake of explaining this to my dad so when we both tasted it and I wasn’t impressed, my frickin’ DAD accused me of not giving the recipe a fair shake.  dsc03745dsc03746dsc03748

So I was guilt-tripped into making it a second time instead of moving on to testing the recipes from my next two books up for review, Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible and Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.

Which was fine, since I did it on my telework day so I was able to follow the instructions exactly as written and give it the time it required while I did my work in the living room.


This recipe can be found in William Alexander’s excellent book, 52 Loaves.  My review of the book is here.dsc03729

The first time around, I knew I wouldn’t be able to stick to the 4-5 hour rise he calls for because I have to work.  So instead of waking up and bringing my starter up to room temperature the night before, I stirred cold starter into the dough and gave it a 10 hour rise.  dsc03730I think that part was actually ok.  It was what happened after that.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

For one round loaf, you will need:

260g 100% hydration sourdough starter

300g all-purpose flour

60g whole wheat flour

30g rye flour

13g salt

292g water

  1. Mix together your ingredients in a large bowl.  Let rest for 20 minutes, then mix again into a ball.  dsc03733dsc03734dsc03735
  2. Let rise 4-5 hours.  Gently punch down, re-shape into a ball and place into a floured banetton seam-side down.dsc03737dsc03738
  3. Let rise for 1.5-2 hours (this is where I messed up, since I only let it rise for one hour before baking the first time.  I think it really does need a lightly longer second proofing time).
  4. Preheat the oven to 550 degrees F with a pizza stone on a low rack and a cast iron skillet resting on the bottom of the oven.  Flip the dough onto the pizza stone and score with a sharp knife or razor blade.dsc03740dsc03741
  5. Ugh, that shirt does me and my butt no favors.  Yeesh.  Ok. At this point, wearing an oven mitt, pour a bowl of water into the skillet.  Quickly close the oven door to trap the steam.dsc03743
  6. Drop the temperature down to 480 degrees F and bake for 25 minutes.  Drop the temperature down to 375 degrees F and bake an additional 20 minutes.  Turn the oven off, prop the door slightly open, and keep the dough in the oven for a final 15 minutes.dsc03745dsc03747I was pretty disappointed when I looked in and saw that my dough looked like this.  But there was nothing I could do but let it finish baking and see what it looked like on the inside.dsc03748Not great, Bob.  As I mentioned before, I tasted some and wasn’t impressed.  But as the dough cooled a bit more, it did become more complex and tasty.  It wasn’t bad, all things considered.  Maybe it was true that I needed to give this recipe another shot.  So I did.dsc03749I started with an active sourdough starter this time, and let it rise 5 hours.  I placed the dough in a banetton, and let it rise 2 full hours.  I think that longer second rise really helped.img_6142This is the dough once I flipped it onto the pizza stone.img_6143After baking, I shut the oven off and propped it open with a wooden spoon.img_6144I was much happier the second time around.  The dough didn’t explode on contact with the hot pizza stone.  Also, this time I used a combination of water and ice and I think it worked well.  My one disappointment the second time around is that I didn’t score the dough deep enough.  I was worried that with the longer second rise, the dough would deflate upon scoring.img_6145img_6146The crumb was an improvement too.DSC03767.JPGNot great, considering the long second rise and wet dough.  I would’ve expected much bigger holes.  But I’m pretty satisfied. I went from this:dsc03748to this:dsc03767and this:dsc03746to this:img_6144I’ll take it!  And with that, I bid adieu to William Alexander.  Next stop: Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible.

A Bread Library book review: 52 Loaves by William Alexander

dsc03727As I mentioned in a previous review, I’m looking for a true beginner’s book of bread, one that introduces all the ingredients (flour, water, yeast and salt) as well as the hows and whys of bread-making and baking.  I want a book that is comprehensive yet not overwhelming.  It should include some basic recipes that are easy to follow.  So I checked out all the library books I could find on bread baking and am working my way through them.

52 Loaves by William Alexander is the second on my list.  As soon as I opened it, I groaned.  It had not one gimmick (2010 was the year of the “year of the…” craze) but two: it was structured based on the seven daily monastic prayers.  I’ve read at least four books where the author uses spiritual practice or daily prayers as the structure, and it’s getting tiresome.  dsc03725

However, I decided to keep reading for one reason, and one reason only: Peter Reinhart and Jacques Pepin left reviews on the back cover.dsc03726

It certainly wasn’t the first chapter that wowed me.  The writing felt gimmicky, like every other lazy 2010-era “The Year of fill-in-the-blank” bestsellers.  But I kept going, and was glad I did.  There was a reason he set up the book using the seven times of prayer, even if it was (a little) gimmicky.

So, as you could probably tell, the author commits to figuring out how to bake the perfect ‘peasant loaf’ as he calls it.  His investigation takes him to Maine, France, and Morocco; to state fair bake-offs, monasteries, and baking conferences.  Even though I feel like a pretty seasoned home baker, I learned a few things.  His discussion of the malnutrition epidemic of pellagra that resulted from industrial improvements in milling wheat and why flour in the US is enriched with niacin was fascinating.  dsc03723

More importantly for my purposes is that in the beginning, each chapter is a deep dive into the three main ingredients of bread – flour, water, and yeast.  I think that is so important in a beginner’s bread book, and most authors gloss over them, considering the topic fully covered in a page, if not a paragraph.  By devoting an entire chapter to each one, the reader really gets a familiarity with the ingredients.  dsc03724

The author visits a yeast production plant and a flour mill, grows, harvests, threshes and winnows his own wheat, and builds his own brick oven.dsc03728

He also gets a chance to pay it forward with his newfound baking knowledge – but I’ll let you discover that for yourself.

I am currently working on Alexander’s pain de campagne recipe, so that blog post will be forthcoming.  Even though I didn’t come away from the book having changed my techniques at all, I do appreciate knowing all the work involved in building a homemade brick oven and growing your own wheat flour in case the mood ever strikes 😉

I still have several books to go in my investigation into beginner baking books, but this one is a definite contender.


A Bread Library book review: Bread Alone by Dan Leader


A friend recently asked me for recommendations for bread books for beginners.  I wasn’t sure what to say, because I mostly learned to bake by trial and error (lots of errors).  I have had Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads book for a long time, and have different favorite bread recipes that come in standard cookbooks, like The Joy of Cooking and Ina Garten’s cookbook.  I’ve also read a lot of baking books along the way, but I didn’t start baking by picking up a book.  dsc03608

I decided to investigate.  Maybe there were books I could recommend participants read after my Bread Camp.  So I checked out all the books on bread I could find at our library.  The first one I read was Bread Alone by Dan Leader.dsc03609

The pictures are pretty amazing.dsc03610dsc03611

The book does touch on a lot of what the beginning baker would need to know, such as equipment and ingredients.dsc03612

I also like how he breaks down each recipe’s cook time by what you will be doing for each step and how long each one takes.  He also includes chapters about other bakers and their techniques.dsc03613dsc03614

I thought the recipes he includes were awesome and definitely the highlight of the book.  While he does include recipes for basic breads like sourdough, I thought his enriched doughs had fascinating combinations of ingredients that I couldn’t wait to try out.  I flagged so many recipes!dsc03615

Andre LeFort is a mason who primarily services the legendary ovens that made his family name famous in France.dsc03617dsc03632dsc03646dsc03649dsc03668

This paragraph called to me.  Bread isn’t as precise and unyielding as people think, but you do have to start out being precise until you become comfortable with the feel of dough and don’t have to be precise anymore.fullsizerender-2

I loved this.  He provides timetables for whether you want to bake a dough in 12 hours, 18 hours or 24 hours.img_5999-1

One small quibble I had was that he provides recipe measurements in volume and by weight in ounces but not in metric.  I love metric- the math is so much easier.  Also, he doesn’t provide baker’s percentages or dough hydrations.  Sometimes I needed way more or way less flour than he calls for, and it would’ve been nice to get a general idea of what the dough’s hydration should be so I know whether to keep adding or stop adding flour.

I also felt like this wasn’t a true beginner’s baking book.  He never says it is, so I’m not faulting Leader here, but I’m looking for something really, really elementary that I can recommend to true beginners.  So many bread books provide a cursory overview of the process and ingredients that I don’t think true beginners get a very good grasp of each ingredient’s importance or each technique’s significance.

I do think this is a very good book in general though. It’s worth a look if you can find it!

Chocolate apricot babka

After six recipes, I’m saying goodbye to Dan Leader’s Bread Alone (review of the book here).  This was one of the recipes that intrigued me most, since you don’t often see chocolate and dried fruit mixed together.  Since I don’t have a fluted kugelhopf pan, I shaped the dough into a krantz cake (babka) shape.  I don’t really know if there’s a discernible difference between a kugelhopf and a babka besides the shape, so I’ll be calling this a babka from now on.

For one loaf, you will need:dsc03683

For the poolish:

1 cup milk at room temperature

1 teaspoon instant or active dry yeast

1 cup AP flour

For the final dough:

1/2 cup sugar

2 large eggs at room temperature

3-4 cups AP flour

4 oz butter, softened

2 teaspoons salt

For the filling:

1 cup chopped dried apricots

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 cup bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (I had chocolate chips so I used those)

2 teaspoons instant coffee powder or ground coffee

2 tablespoons butter, melted


I was happy to see the recipe only takes five hours total to make from start to finish, which is uncommon in artisan breads.dsc03685

Mix all the poolish ingredients together, cover and let sit for an hour.  I would also set out the butter and eggs now.dsc03686dsc03687

You can also take this time to make the filling.  Mix the coffee, chocolate, apricots and brown sugar together in a medium-sized bowl.  Set aside.dsc03689dsc03690

After an hour, the poolish is ready.  Transfer it to the bowl of a stand mixer and add the egg, milk and flour.  You are supposed to add the softened butter later but I forgot.  Instead, I added the milk, eggs and butter first, then added the flour 1/3 cup at a time until it came together in a ball.dsc03691dsc03692

I let the dough rise 2 hours in an oiled bowl. It didn’t rise very much.dsc03693

Roll out your dough to about 1/2 inch in a floured counter. Flip the disk a few times so both sides are coated with flour since you don’t want it to stick.dsc03694dsc03695

Now rub 2 tablespoons of melted (but cooled – not hot!) butter onto your dough.dsc03696

Spread your filling on top of the butter.dsc03698

Now carefully and tightly roll up your dough.dsc03699dsc03700dsc03701dsc03702dsc03703

Using a bench scraper or butter knife, cut your dough roll in half.dsc03704dsc03705dsc03706dsc03707dsc03708

Pinch one of the ends together like you would a challah braid.dsc03709

Then carefully bring one of the sides up and over the other one.dsc03710dsc03711

Do the same with the other side so you make a twisty pattern.dsc03712

Prepare a buttered bread pan.  In tretrospect this could’ve gone in two bread pans since it’s so big.dsc03713dsc03714

Smoosh it into the bread pan as best you can.  Don’t worry if it doesn’t look perfect.dsc03715dsc03716

Let the dough rise for 1.5-2 hours.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Before you put your dough in the oven, brush the top with an egg wash so it’s nice and shiny.  Put your dough in the oven then bump the temperature down to 350 degrees F.  Bake for 25-35 minutes or until the top is golden brown and solid when tapped.  Remove from the oven and let cool until you are able to handle it.  You can eat it warm or wait until it’s room temperature to eat, if you can!dsc03718

The first thing I noticed when removing the babka from the pan is that tons of sticky, thick syrup was oozing out of the sides.  This was the butter and melted brown sugar.  It smelled heavenly but got everywhere.dsc03720dsc03721

Here’s what I found when I sliced into it:dsc03722

If you’ve ever been disappointed by the paltry amount of cinnamon swirl in a coffee cake or cinnamon roll, you will be pleasantly surprised here.  The filling and gooey syrup were out of this world.  However, it’s definitely rich.  I was only able to eat a few bites before I was done.  I took it to my parents’ house to share the wealth.  The coffee, brown sugar and chocolate went very well together.  The apricot was a little odd though.  Dates or prunes might work better next time.  I was expecting some almost citrusy flavor, but it was just a hint of fruity sweetness which, while not unwelcome, was a little jarring.  I look forward to making this recipe again, and it was a fitting end to my time with Dan Leader’s Bread Alone.

Rye with dill havarti cheese


I’m kinda sad this is my penultimate loaf from Dan Leader’s Bread Alone.  I’ve been particularly impressed with his flavor combinations, and this rye with havarti is no exception.  I would never have thought to put cheese IN a rye bread, but it really works.


For two loaves, you will need:dsc03671

2 cups active rye sourdough starter

3 cups water

1 1/2 cups rye flour

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1 tablespoon salt

4-5 1/2 cups 60/40 AP/WW mix (I alternate cups of each)

2 1/4 shredded Havarti cheese (he suggests dill havarti which is what I used)

The night before you want to bake, feed your starter.  I fed it with rye flour because the recipe calls for rye sourdough starter.


this is what it looked like that night


and here it is the next morning.


In a large bowl, mix together the water and the starter and break it up with a wooden spoon.  Add the rye and whole wheat flours, then the salt.  Add enough of your 60/40 flour mix until it is difficult to stir. Let your dough rest for about ten minutes, then knead your dough on a lightly floured surface until it is a pliable ball.   dsc03673

Meanwhile, grate your cheese.dsc03674

Flatten your dough, then add 1/4 of the cheese, pressing it into the dough with your hands.  Fold the sides on top to cover the cheese, then add another 1/4 cup.  Continue adding and folding until you have incorporated all the cheese.  dsc03675

Knead another five minutes, then return it to the bowl and let rise 2-3 hours.dsc03676dsc03677

Divide your dough and shape it into two balls.  Place them smooth side down in prepared banettons and let rise an additional 1 1/2 – 2 hours.dsc03678

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F with a cast iron dutch oven inside.  When the dough is ready, flip it from the banetton into the dutch oven so the smooth side is now on top.  Score it with a razor blade or sharp knife.  Cover with the lid of the dutch oven and bake for 15 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 375 for the second 15 minutes, then remove the lid and cook an additional 15 minutes.  Remove the bread from the oven and let cool completely before slicing into them, preferably several hours or overnight.  Ryes always benefit from an additional day of rest before eating.dsc03680dsc03681

This bread smelled heavenly, but I was a little disappointed that the dill and havarti were not immediately apparent.  When I sliced into the loaf, it was like the cheese had vanished.  If I hadn’t known it was a cheese bread, I never would’ve guessed.dsc03682

It was definitely tasty, and we toasted it for pastrami and havarti sandwiches which were delicious.15966237_1836759849935471_1860488599630724064_n.jpg

Dan Leader’s wheat and wheat berry bread

dsc03667This is recipe #4 that I’ve made from Dan Leader’s Bread Alone.  For the previous recipes, check out here and here and here. I still have (I think) six recipes I’ve flagged, but I’m probably only going to make three more since I need to move on and we’re swimming in bread these days.  But I just have to try the havarti rye, the apricot chocolate bread, and the raisin sesame seed breakfast loaf.  The rest are variations of sourdough and I think after four recipes I have a general idea about Dan Leader’s methods. dsc03649

So anyway, this is the one basic loaf I’ll probably be making.   And unfortunately it didn’t turn out at well as I would’ve hoped.  Maybe my wheat berries are just harder than usual, but I left them out all night covered with hot water and they did not soften.  So now I have two loaves of bread with crunchy bits in them, and I’m not sure what I’m going to do with them.  I’m going to make an assumption that the Bread Maiden family is not going to be interested in these loaves with crunchy bits.

If you do decide to make this recipe, either use my pressure cooker wheat berry recipe here, or cook them until they are actually soft, rather than soaking them overnight and throwing them into your loaf hoping they’ll soften during baking.

Ok, so with that introduction, here is Dan Leader’s wheat and wheat berry bread recipe.

For two loaves, you will need:dsc03650


3/4 cup water

1/2 teaspoon instant or active dry yeast

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Final dough:

2 1/4 cups water

1/2 teaspoon yeast

2 3/4 cups whole wheat flour

1 tablespoon salt

3-4 cups 60/40 mix of AP flour and WW flour (I just alternate cups of each)

1 cup COOKED wheat berries, cooled

  1. mix together your poolish ingredients in a medium bowl the night before you plan to bake.  Cover and let rise overnight.

    the night I mixed it up


    the next morning

    2. In a large bowl, combine the yeast and the water.  Then add the poolish and break it up using a wooden spoon.  dsc036553. Add the whole wheat flour, wheat berries and salt.  Then add the 60/40 flour mix, one cup at a time, until your dough comes together to form a ball.


    I stopped adding flour at this point and let the dough rest for 15 minutes before continuing kneading.  The dough absorbed the flour more easily that way.

    4. Cover the dough and let rise 2-3 hours.  I forgot my dough while running errands and came home to this:dsc036575. Divide your dough in two, roll each into balls and place them seam side up in two bannetons.  Cover the bannetons with a dish or tea towel.  Let rise an additional 1.5-2 hours.  dsc036586. 45 minutes before you plan to bake, preheat the oven to 500 degrees F with a dutch oven inside.  dsc036597. Bake for 15 minutes covered at 500 degrees, then bump the temperature down to 375 for 15 minutes, then remove the lid for the final 15 minutes.  I forgot my bread was in the oven even though I set a timer, but thankfully it turned out ok.dsc03660

    Sadly, as I said before, the wheat berries weren’t cooked after using Dan Leader’s method of soaking the berries overnight after adding hot water.  The bread is quite tasty otherwise.dsc03664dsc03667

    If I make this again, I’ll make sure the berries or whatever other grains I use are fully cooked!

Dan Leader’s dark pumpernickel with raisins

IMG_6047.JPGThis was the third recipe I made from Dan Leader’s book Bread Alone.  The other two were his cider apple bread and fig and cognac bread.  I’ve remarked before that I’m sensing a fruity pattern with the recipes I tagged!  I decided to let Mr. Bread Maiden pick which one he wanted me to make next and he picked this one, so maybe it’s something in the air.dsc03646

I’ve gained a lot of confidence this year in my rye breads, mostly because I learned the secret of great textured ryes this year: using sourdough starter.  I have Peter Reinhart to thank for this epiphany, because it seems so counter-intuitive I never would’ve figured it out on my own.  I’ll save the explanation for another day, but yeah.  I’ll never make rye bread without a sourdough starter again.  It transforms mushy, soggy rye bread into dense, creamy rye bread.


This is my starter which I usually feed with AP flour.  I had to transform it into a rye starter the night before I wanted to bake.


For this recipe (which makes two loaves) you will need:

2 cups raisins

enough hot water to cover the raisins

2 cups active rye sourdough starter

2 cup lukewarm espresso or strong coffee

1/2 cup rye flour

3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 cup molasses

1 tablespoon salt

3-4 cups 60/40 mix of AP flour and whole wheat flour, possibly more

  1. Measure out the raisins in a small bowl, then cover them by one inch with water that has been heated to boiling.  Let stand eight hours or overnight. The next morning, drain the raisins but keep the raisin-soaking water.dsc03648
  2. Make sure you have enough starter the night before.  Feed and let ferment overnight.
  3. The next day, mix together the starter, the raisin-soaking water, and the coffee i a large bowl.  Break up the starter so everything is mixed up and looks frothy.  Then add the rye and whole wheat flours, the cocoa, the molasses, the raisins and the salt until well combined.  Keep adding the 60/40 AP flour and whole wheat flour mix until the dough is very stiff.  IMG_6025.JPGMy dough was nowhere near stiff, so I had to add another cup or so of flour before it came together in a workable ball.  IMG_6026.JPG
  4. Transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead 10 minutes.  Don’t worry if the dough is still sticky; ryes are like that.  Put the dough back into the bowl and let rise 3-4 hours.  Punch it down and let it rise a second time for about two hours.  Divide the dough and shape into loaves then place into floured couches, bannetons, willow baskets, or napkins in small bowls (which is what I did because I was baking at my parents’ house). Let rise 1.5 to 2 hours more.  45 minutes before you plan to bake, preheat the oven to 500 degrees F with a dutch oven inside.IMG_6028.JPG
  5. One nice thing about baking at my parents’ house is that my dad willingly took pictures so for once you can see my face and me scoring the dough!

    stripy socks



    not sure where my sister’s razor blade went but I used dad’s box cutter from his tool box (after washing it of course!).

    Flip the loaves from the napkin/couche/banneton into the dutch oven so the seam side is on the bottom and the smooth side is on the top.  Bake at 500 degrees for 15 minutes with the lid on, then 375 degrees with the lid on for 15 minutes, the 375 degrees with the lid OFF for 15 minutes.  That is usually enough time for the dough to cook fully but I added an additional five minutes because they just didn’t seem done to me when I felt the surface of the loaf.img_6039img_6046img_6047As you can see, the loaves were dense but not soggy.  When I say soggy, I mean the way my rye breads used to look:


    Nobody wants to eat this.

    This is all because of sourdough starter!  This pumpernickel is nice and dark.  It is very molasses-y in flavor, probably because the recipe called for an entire cup of molasses!  I’m not sure I would use that much in the future.  Anyway, I liked the sweetness of the raisins and I think it might even be good breakfast bread too.

Dan Leader’s Fig and Cognac Bread


As I continue baking my way through Dan Leader’s Bread Alone, I’ve noticed a pattern in the breads I’ve flagged to try out.  For the most part, they’re all very dense and have either fruit, cheese or other mix-ins.  In my defense, most of Leader’s breads are like that.  But I also think the middle of winter calls for homey, rich and luxurious breads to match.  I flagged nine recipes and this is number eight.  The first was Pain Normand made with apples and cider, and you can check it out here.img_5996

My reading comprehension is always fairly low the first time I try a recipe from a different author.  The Pain Normand was no exception.  This time I tried to stick to the original instructions as much as possible.dsc03632

There was one important change I made to this recipe: I excluded the hazelnuts because 1) I didn’t have any on hand, and 2) little bread dude is allergic to tree nuts.  Now, sometimes I’ll just tell him not to eat any of whatever it is that has nuts in it.  But because, again, I didn’t have any, I just decided to omit them.  I do love hazelnuts though and I bet they’d be really good here.

For this recipe (makes two loaves) you will need:dsc03638

for the poolish:

1/2 cup water

1/2 teaspoon yeast

1/2 cup AP flour

1/4 cup whole wheat flour

to reconstitute the dried fruit:

1 cup chopped dried figs (I included a mix of figs, dates and prunes)

2 tablespoons cognac or armagnac

for the final dough:

1/2 teaspoon yeast for the final dough

1 tablespoon salt

1 cup cracked wheat (or ground wheat berries, bran or germ, or other coarse grain)

5-6 cups 60/40 mix of AP flour and whole wheat flour.  I alternated cups of each type of flour

  1. mix together the chopped dried figs and cognac in a small bowl.  Let sit for eight hours or overnight.dsc03634
  2. mix together the ingredients for the poolish and let sit until risen and bubbly, between 2 and 10 hours (in our fairly cool kitchen in wintertime it took five hours)

    how the poolish looked in the morning


    How the poolish looked in the afternoon

  3. mix together the poolish, 2 1/2 cups of water, and 1/2 teaspoon yeast.  Stir to break up the poolish.  Now add the salt, 1 cup cracked wheat and 1 cup of your 60/40 mix and stir to combine.
  4. Continue adding flour, one cup at a time, until the dough is very stiff.dsc03638
  5. Transfer your dough to a lightly floured counter and knead for 10 minutes, adding just a little flour if the dough starts sticking to the counter.dsc03639
  6. Cut up the dough into chunks and knead in the dried fruit.  The reason I say cut up the dough first is that it breaks up the gluten strands so the fruit is easier to mix in.dsc03640dsc03641
  7. Transfer to a large bowl and let rise 2-3 hours.  dsc03642
  8. deflate the dough and let rise 30 minutes, then divide and shape the dough into two boules. Transfer each boule so it is smooth side down into a floured banneton, willow basken, or napkin in a small bowl.  Let rise an additional 1.5 to 2 hours.img_6013
  9. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F with a cast iron dutch oven inside.  Transfer your dough to the dutch oven so the smooth side is now facing up and the seam is on the bottom.  Score the top of your dough and cover the dutch oven and bake 15 minutes.  Then bump the temperature down to 375 for 15 minutes with the lid on, then remove the lid and bake for fifteen minutes more.  Remove the bread from the oven and let cool completely, several hours or overnight.img_6014IMG_6016.JPGThis bread was the perfect sweetness, and great for toast spread with peanut butter or regular butter.  I’ll definitely make it again.  My family was really impressed with this one.  Next up… dark pumpernickel with raisins!