Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Whole Wheat Tuesday

Well the biga did what bigas (hopefully) do...it grew, slowly but surely. The dogs and I got up around 1:30 last night, so I took the opportunity to snap a quick picture of the adolescent biga. It was getting puffy and fragrant and was nearly at full size. But it still needed a bit more time to ferment (even if it hadn't, I don't think I would've stayed up to make dough at that hour)...so back to bed we all went.

This morning I threw the rest of the ingredients in the mixer bowl, along with the now mature biga, and gave it a thorough mixing (slow at first, followed by medium speed), adjusting the amount of water quite a bit - I think I added about 1 1/2 cups more, accidentally spilling about 1/3 of a cup of water on Mercedes (chihuahua #2) in the process.

It looked pretty sloppy after the added water (the dough that is, not the dog - she was just as crabby as usual) but it came together nicely by the end of the mix. I let it ferment for an hour, gave it a 4-way fold - which tightened it up even more - and let it rise for another 45 minutes. The extra yeast in the final dough really gave it a boost. I think I probably could have omitted it and just let the dough ferment for a longer period and it would've been fine. (In the end, it didn't taste at all "yeasty") Shaped it into long loaves and let it rise in the baskets for about an hour.
I kinda oopsed when I put it in the oven. I slid them onto the baking stone, shot some steam into the oven, but I had forgotten to score them...an omission that most people, I realize, may not care about but I, of course, expereinced a brief moment of verbal self-flogging (stupid, stupid, stupid)...but recovered quickly and thought, "no, this will be a lovely opportunity for a little culinary experiment." So I pushed a nosey little chihuahua (Mercedes, again) out of the way, opened the oven door, quickly scored the loaf closest to the front, and slammed the door shut again. Yes, apparently today we will be manipulating the variable "scoring" in this experiment...of course, who doesn't know the result already, but what the hell. (Oh, forgive the lousy pictures of the dough - Nik had to take the camera to work and I had to use my cell phone cam)

So here they are...not too bad for a quickie. Obviously, the unscored loaf is smaller/tighter than the scored one, neither is beautiful, but both are edible. I wouldn't say the wheat flavor was strong (it was only 50% whole wheat after all), but it was detectable. I'd make it again...but for the time and effort (which really was minimal), I'd say that a levain-based whole wheat is still better than the biga-based whole wheat (ok - half-wheat).

I'll post the actual recipe that I ended up with tomorrow, but we are a day behind on Dancing With The Stars and I've gotta see Gilles do the Argentine Tango -- grrrrr.

Monday, March 30, 2009

In the beginning...

Having toyed with the idea of a blog for several months/years now, the time has come to step forward and begin. I can't say it is solely because I recently finished Julie Powell's book (better late than never), though I did enjoy it very much...talk about a quick read. I felt like I was reading the food blog primer, or something like that. Nor is it just the fact that I read the food blogs regularly and get that funny, anxious feeling each time, like when summer was winding down and you knew school was going to start soon and that was a good thing as well as a source of unknown anxieties and traumas. Nor is it just a way to motivate and document my continued love of baking and baked goods, though that certainly is a component of the decision to go for it.

Regardless of the purpose/motivation/need/desire, it's time to start. I have tomorrow off from work, and haven't any real plans, so the kids and I will begin. I'm a yeast guy at heart, so yeast it will be. I have not gotten my starter, forever and henceforth known as The Mother, out of the 'fridge to feed her, in preparation for tomorrow's plunge (which really sounds so much more dramatic than it will likely be) so we'll start with a basic preferment.

We've been eating a fantastic whole wheat bread that I made a month or so ago and put in the freezer. I used Jeff Hamelman's recipe from his wonderful book (BREAD A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes), but it requires a well-fed and mature levain, and seeing as how The Mother is not well-fed today, I'm going to substitute a stiff biga. Sure, not really a wild-hair-kind-of-a-thing to do, but the original is so good, that I will be curious to see how the biga version bakes up.

So here's the biga -- big deal..bread flour and wheat flour in equal quantities, a bit more than half that total weight in water, and a pinch or so of yeast. Just a firm dough really, soft but too dry to simply stir with a spatula, so you gotta get in there with your hands and knead it a bit. And yes, there's Mr. Mayor in the background -- he's one of the baking boys -- always there to catch whatever drops to the floor.
So now it sits on top of the refrigerator, to think, humidify, ferment, reproduce, and get wonderfully tangy-ripe overnight.