Hey, … hey you, bread-maker – yeah, you! I want to talk about sourdough for a few minutes – and maybe get your input too. OK?
Currently, I’m on a sourdough hiatus – this happens to me frequently; I just get tired of the same tastes, and I’ve got to have something different. I don’t think I’m alone in that, but maybe I am – I don’t even like going down the same road twice – a personality quirk I think. Whatever – I’m currently baking my breads with instant yeast, and I’ll continue until I begin getting tired of that taste – and I’ll switch back to sourdough.
At the risk of offending a few of you -nothing new, huh?- let me discuss a few of sourdough’s negatives – first, there’s the maintenance issue. And I’ll argue this point til I die, the more frequently you feed, the more consistent, viable and reliable is your starter – I suspect that commercial sourdough bakers are feeding multiple times a day – and that gets old fast. OK, I’m done with that.
There’s a very obvious mystique with sourdough – and I suspect that sourdough’s mystique is what draws many new advocate bakers – the taste may also play into it, but for me, the taste part fades soon – I personally like sourdough’s ability to resist molding -especially nice in Oregon’s moist, warm climate- but I’ve always questioned the supposed benefit of sourdough as a fermented food, primarily because it is baked, thereby killing all the supposed beneficial bacteria – and I think I’m right on that.
There, that’s why I’ve put my sourdough in the fridge for awhile – and it makes me feel better to have a justification – humor me, please.
But of course my curiosity continues as always, and I’ve been experimenting with my instant yeast, to see if I might be able to improve on the known frailties of using instant yeast. Principle among those frailties of instant yeast is the lack of flavor, but it need not be a problem – only if we fall victim to speed -and I speak not of drugs- is this a problem – for with a little planning and scheduling, we can build great flavor into our bread – even with yeast. All you really need is to remember to put a preferment together the night before you plan to bake – voila, amazing flavor!
Now, preferment is a term that confuses a lot of bakers, but it simply means a mix of flour, water, and leavening -yeast or starter- that is allowed to sit and ferment, before you actually put the final dough together – if you put together the whole dough formula, and then let it rest for many hours, that’s technically not a preferment, but rather a fermentation.
OK, all that is simply to say that I’ve been playing around with my instant yeast to make some breads with preferments – and they’ve all had tons of flavor. BTW, have you ever smelled the bowl containing a preferment after it has rested all night and done its magic? It’s simply heavenly -quite different than a sourdough preferment- and immediately you know your final bread with be loaded with flavor.
So much for idle chatter – I want to share a new bread I’ve found that uses a yeast preferment, and has the added flavor components of rosemary, olives, and walnuts – and those components combine to make a simply wonderful bread. This bread has an interesting pedigree – it was born in Berkeley’s Acme Bread Company as something called Herb Slabs, and then adapted by Maggie Glezer in her book, Artisan Baking Across America - however, I came by it via a further adaptation by Winnie Abramson from her blog, Healthy Green Kitchen – it was Winnie who turned the slabs into loaves and added the olives and walnuts – nice job, Winnie. I of course could not resist making my own change or two, but I shall point those out below with [these brackets].
Rosemary Bread with Walnuts and Olives
(adapted from the recipe for Acme’s Herb Slabs in Artisan Baking Across America by Maggie Glezer, and by Winnie Abramson, http://www.healthygreenkitchen.com/) [and my notes or adaptations]
Makes 2 loaves
This bread starts with a “poolish” [same as a preferment]. A poolish is a type of starter that contains just a bit of yeast. In this case, it is a very tiny amount. Start your poolish in the evening so it can ferment while you are sleeping, then plan to make the bread the next day. Make sure to read the recipe through so you have an idea of when you’ll need to be available to work on the bread. It’s not a ton of hands on time that is needed, but it’s probably best make this day when you are generally home (weekend day, perhaps).
Make the Poolish [Preferment]:
1/16 tsp instant yeast [my adaptation - this is the equivalent of two healthy pinches – or check Winnie's recipe for her instruction]
1/4 cup warm water
2 cups unbleached organic all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups lukewarm water
Whisk the yeast and the 1/4 cup water together. Allow to stand for 5 minutes. Mix the yeast water with the remaining lukewarm water and the flour. You will end up with a “very gloppy batter”.
Cover with plastic wrap or a damp cloth and let it ferment at room temperature for 12 hours overnight, or until its bubbles are popping and the top is starting to foam.
Make the Bread:
3 cups organic unbleached all-purpose flour
1 Tb. salt
1 Tb. fresh rosemary leaves, chopped [with the added olives and walnuts, you may want more rosemary]
1/4 tsp. instant yeast
3/4 cup lukewarm water
2 Tb. olive oil
Fermented poolish [preferment]
1 cup mixed olives, pitted and chopped [I used a Galeta type black olive and tried to leave them in halves for effect – a salty olive will work best]
1 cup walnuts, toasted in a 325 degree oven for 10 minutes [or until you smell them], then cooled and chopped
Using a stand mixer, combine the flour, salt, rosemary and yeast in the mixing bowl. Add the water and oil to the poolish, stir to loosen it, and pour it into the flour mixture. Using the dough hook, mix on low speed until a rough dough forms. Cover and let it rest for 10 minutes.
After the dough has rested, add the olives and continue to mix until it is very smooth (about 5 minutes). If the dough seems too wet, add a few Tbs of white flour and continue mixing.
Take the dough out of the mixing bowl onto a floured surface, flatten it out with your hands, and sprinkle it with the walnuts [do this in increments, otherwise you risk the walnuts concentrating in one area]. Knead the bread by hand until all of the walnuts are incorporated.
Wash and dry your mixing bowl. Rub it with olive oil, place your bread dough in, and cover with plastic wrap or a damp cloth. Let it ferment until light and doubled in bulk, about 6 hours [seems too long to me – mine only took 2 hours].
After the dough has risen, punch it down and divide into two equal portions. Knead each ball a bit more, and then “round the loaves” (translation: cup your hands around the dough and rotate it in circles until a smooth ball forms”). Place your dough balls onto an oiled cookie sheet (or one that is lined with parchment paper and has been sprinkled with cornmeal) [I formed into batards, and that worked too].
Allow to rise for about 1 hour; [preheat the oven to 400° F at the same time].
Slash the loaves 3-4 times with a serrated knife before you put them in the oven, and allow to bake for 30-40 minutes [mine took 50 minutes to get there], or until well-browned and hollow sounding when you knock on the bottom. Allow to cool for 20-30 minutes on a wire rack before slicing.
Alternatively, if you have a baking stone and don’t mind baking your loaves separately, place the stone in the oven before you heat it and clear all racks above the one you are using. When the oven is hot, sprinkle the baking stone with cornmeal, slash the top of your loaf, and place on top of your baking stone. Bake for 30-40 [or more] minutes. Repeat with the other loaf.
[My Notes: This is a very wet dough – it never cleared the bowl during mixing – I freely used flour on the board during the kneading/forming stages. I also subbed 1 cup of whole wheat flour for 1 cup of white flour - bread was quite delicious, but had a tight texture – I could have let the final proof go longer, or Winnie's 6 hour first proofing may be more correct. I formed these into fat batards which worked nicely.]
Surprisingly, this one makes a great breakfast toast, but best when slathered with butter and honey – it’s the sweet/salt/nutty crunch with herbal overtones that sends your taste buds into ecstasy – but behind all that you’ll still sense the flavor boast the prefermentation brings to this bread. Even if you don’t decide to try this one, use a preferment in your next yeast loaf – you’ll love the difference.