Soft Whole-Grain Bread ala Michael Pollan

I’m on the last chapter of Michael Pollan’s new book, Cooked. In the previous section, he writes about bread baking. How sourdough ferments break down whole wheat to make something so much more nutritious than store bought white bread could ever be. He also writes about his experience learning to try to bake whole grain bread from professional artisan bakers. Most importantly, he provides a recipe that he uses, based on those lessons, to make a light, soft whole-wheat bread. I gave it a try today with a few of my own adjustments.

Night before, make a leaven with:

  • 50g whole wheat flour
  • 50g warm water
  • about a TBSP of existing sourdough starter

mix together and leave loosely covered overnight to wake up the sourdough culture. In another bowl, combine:

  • 400g whole wheat flour
  • 100g whole rye flour
  • 425g warm water

mix by hand or with a spatula until all the flour is moistened and there are no lumps. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature overnight as well.

The next morning, combine 1/4 tsp or so of dry yeast with 2 TBSP of warm water to dissolve the yeast. Mix that into the leaven. Then mix the leaven into the flour/water dough and let rest for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, dissolve:

  • 12g salt
  • in 2 TBSP water

Once the dough has rested, add the salt water and mix thoroughly to combine. Bulk ferment the dough by leaving it in the bowl on the counter, loosely covered by a towel. Every 45 minutes or so, turn the dough by reaching a wet hand under it, pull it up and folder it over. Do this four times, turning the bowl a quarter turn each time. Then return to rest. After 4-5 turn and rest sets, the dough should be very elastic and bubbly.

Pour the dough out on a floured board and using a lot more flour shape it into a round. (This recipe makes a very wet dough, so this is a trick.) Cover with a towel and rest another 20 minutes.

Fold and shape the dough by grabbing each of four sides and fold them to the middle. Then do the same with the four corners. Basically, make a taut surface on one side of the round as best you can. Place the dough, taut side down, in a bowl for a final proof, making sure it won’t stick to the bowl with extra flour. (My basket failed at this point, badly. I ended up with parts stuck to the bowl and other parts covered is excess flour. Bleah! Next time I’m using my glass bowl, probably lightly oiled.)

Proof for another 1.5-2 hours. Place a cast iron dutch oven, with lid, in the oven and preheat them to 500F. Should take another 30 minutes or so, let the dough continue to proof. When hot, take the dutch oven out, invert the dough into it (carefully!) and score the top with a razor. Put the lid on the dutch oven, place back in the oven, lower the heat to 450F, and bake for 20 minutes. Then remove the lid and finish baking uncovered for another 25 minutes. The top should be nice and dark, and the bottom should sound hollow when thumped. Remove from the pan and cool on a rack at least an hour before slicing.

Results? It’s the lightest whole grain bread I’ve yet made. The crust looks lousy because of my problems with the proofing basket and rice flour. The crumb is very moist, soft, and has lots of air pockets. The taste is very good. Well worth trying again so I can figure out how to proof it correctly and still get it into the hot dutch oven intact.

Cherry-Orange Ginger Beer

Last weekend, I also bought some fresh ginger. I started a ginger bug: grated ginger, sugar, and water left lightly covered until the yeasts in the ginger and the air start to ferment. It takes about a week to get started, and I added fresh ginger and sugar every day or so until I was sure it was active and bubbly this morning. To make my soft drink, I used:

  • 3 quarts water
  • the remaining 3 inch piece of ginger, grated
  • 2 cups unrefined cane sugar
  • 1 cup sour cherry juice/pulp (from Mom’s tree last summer)
  • 1 orange, peeled and roughly chopped.

Combine all of those, bring to a boil, and boil for 15 minutes. Let cool and strain out the solids, making sure to squeeze out any juice left in the orange pulp. Add most of the strained liquid from the ginger bug (making sure to leave some to feed and restart the culture.) Stir and add cool water to bring the total volume up to 6 quarts. Funnel into six 1-liter flip-top glass bottles. Set the tops, place the bottles in a cool dark place, and let ferment for 2 weeks.

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