A Baker’s Journey: Bread, Time, and Nuts

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There was a time when I thought I’d like to have a bread blog – that was about 5 years ago – at the time, I was enamored with anything bread, and of course, there was a ton to learn. And how did I go about the task of learning? Well, of course by baking a new kind of bread every time I baked – and what did I learn about baking? I learned that that’s not the way to learn how to bake bread.

You want to learn how to bake bread? Make the same kind of bread every time you bake! That makes sense, doesn’t it! But it’s not the kind of thing that makes for good blog reading – or writing either.

So, I’ve always been kinda glad I didn’t start a bread blog.

Last year, when I took a break from blogging, I found my baking shifted into a different gear – I can’t say the two had any connection, but maybe they did. In any case, I found that I was baking essentially the same kind of bread each time I baked – but each time, I’d make a tiny difference in either process or ingredients – and I’d make a note of it (I hate making notes, always have, always will – but sometimes, it really helps – like when you make tiny changes in your baking, and your brain can no longer remember anything anyway.). And you know what happened? My bread got better and better – and better!

I also learned that if you hit on a good basic formula –which I think I have– you can then learn how to make changes to that formula to make many, many different kinds of breads – so instead of using someone else’s recipe, you are using your own, which carries with it a full awareness of just how this new bread relates to other breads in the family of breads. And this knowledge makes you a better baker.

And so, my journey as a bread baker has moved along to the point where I think I’m ready to do another bread post, which will not only give readers some new knowledge from my own recent experience, but it will give me the pleasure, as a writer, of sharing some info I know is not simply a dup of something I’ve already blogged about – at least, that is my intent.

So, what’s new? I think my recent breads have more flavor than those I’ve previously baked – and I think I know why (this is always very helpful, don’t you think!). And I think this is due to two things: time and nuts.

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The time thing is nothing new to any of us, for as we all know, time is flavor in bread baking. But, sometimes we are rudely reminded just how true this can be. I am a firm believer in the magic of the preferment, which of course cannot happen without time. My last bake was of some club rolls, for which I used a newly discovered method of forming the rolls – I’ll get to that in a bit – but the reminder of just how magic is the preferment process came as I decided to use only a pinch of yeast, and a tiny pinch at that, to make my preferment. And I share the following in the belief that perhaps you too will find this as amazing as did I.

My basic preferment is a simple one – 14 oz of water, and 8 oz of flour, and in this case, a tiny pinch of yeast. That’s it. A very wet mixture, which I only minimally mix to a state of not being able to see any more dry flour. I made this one in the early morning, put it in a small bowl, and covered it with a towel – there it stayed on my kitchen counter all day. About 9 PM, I gave it a good look and a stir – there was not much evidence that the yeast had started to do much, except that the dough was starting to take on a gelatinous character. I thought about leaving it out on the counter all night, but finally decided to put it into the fridge for an overnight stay (this fridge stay, BTW, is the customary way I treat my usual preferments which generally have more yeast than this one).

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The next morning, I pulled the bowl out of the fridge and gave it a stir – much more structure, body and lightness – just what you want in a good preferment. I then proceeded to put together my final bread dough by adding 12 oz more of flour and 2 tsp of salt. If I have a handle on this baker’s percentage thing, that makes this dough a 70% hydration – this is a fairly wet dough then, a perfect candidate for my beloved proofing tub,
039.1which I’m sure I’ve told you about many times before – it makes working with all doughs, but especially the wet ones, so much easier! A simply amazing tool.

But what about the nuts? Is this a nut bread? OK, I’m getting to that – and No, this is not a nut bread, at least not in the classic sense. I’m really talking about all the nut milks that proliferate our groceries today. I have a bit of a lactose problem -as I think all human adults do- and so I’ve tried all the nut milks I can find. I suppose the soy and rice milks are very similar and belong in this grouping too.

These pseudo milks tend to clog the fridge and quickly lead to the question, What else can they be used for? And the answer, of course, is, Anything that real milk is used for. But I’ve discovered that they are especially good for breads – especially coconut and almond milk! And I don’t think its’ my imagination, but I’d swear that the use of the nut milks has increased my bread’s chewiness – a character I love in a roll or sandwich bread.

Finally, the club roll thing. I’ve always liked the looks of what’s known here in the US as a club roll – it has a rectangle shape with a characteristic ‘chopped’ end, evidence that it was cut from a tube of dough, which otherwise would have become a baguette if left whole. I’ve found these easy to do, even with a very wet dough since my current process does not use a final proofing, during which a wet dough would simply spread out and flatten. I try my best not to deflate the dough during the roll formation, and have found that it has a surprisingly good oven spring – perhaps another benefit of the minimal amount of yeast, and the extended proofing period.

OK then, for anyone wishing to give my current formula and process a try, here it is:

                                   Nut Milk Club Rolls (with a long preferment)

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Preferment:
*14 oz of nut milk (preferably coconut milk – not the kind in cans, use the kind meant for drinking)
*8 oz flour of choice
*a pinch of yeast
Mix preferment well in a small bowl, cover, and allow to sit at room temperature for at least 12 hours or more. Then stir well, recover, and place in the refrigerator for another 10-14 hours.

Final Dough:
*12 oz flour of choice
*2 tsp salt, or to taste
Remove preferment from refrigerator and add the flour and salt – mix well. Liberally oil a proofing tub with a few Tbs of oil, and add final dough to the tub. Cover and allow the dough to proof at room temp for at least 10 hours or more (the total amount of time here is up to you, and depends on how slow or fast your dough is proofing). Uncover the dough and stretch and fold it several times – recover and repeat every two hours during the proofing.

Roll Formation:
Since these rolls will not need a final proof, you’ll need to preheat your oven to 400F about an hour before this step.

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At the end of the dough’s last 2 hour proofing, it should very light and airy – gently remove the risen dough to a well floured board or counter. Gently form the dough into a rectangle shape about 12-15” long – using a board scrapper or a large sharp knife, cut the rectangle of dough into two equal long pieces and roll each into a baguette shape. Using the board scrapper or knife, cut each dough piece into as many rolls as you wish (I did 6 each piece) and move to a parchment covered, or greased, sheet pan (I have1/2 size commercial pans on which these 12 rolls fit nicely).

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the rolls are a dark shade of golden brown. Immediately upon removing from the oven, brush each roll with coconut oil or butter to add even more flavor and give the rolls a nice sheen.

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I’m usually a dissatisfied baker! There always seems to be something that I know didn’t turn out as well as I’d have liked – but I really can’t find much wrong with these. I think maybe they’re too good, ’cause I find myself eating more than I should. Are we really put on this earth to live a life of denial of those things which give us pleasure? I think not. As I’ve told you before, the true meaning of life is revealed through out taste buds.

Have another roll?

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About drfugawe

I'm a guy with enough time to do as I please, and that my resources allow. The problem(s) are: I have 100s of interests; I have a short attention span; I have instant expectations; I'm lazy; and I'm broke. But I'm OK with all that, 'cause otherwise I'd be so busy, I'd be dead in a year.
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23 Responses to A Baker’s Journey: Bread, Time, and Nuts

  1. Doc, look at all those holes! What an amazing bread roll you’ve baked! Nice to know those nut milks are good for something.. 🙂

  2. drfugawe says:

    Time is the magic ingredient, Celia – lots of wet time.

  3. Glenda says:

    Doc, those loaves look absolute magnificent. You are a star. Who would have thought to use the nut milks?

  4. nancy jones says:

    I loved reading this although I know I won’t try making it. The pictures added to the reading pleasure. My desire for bread like this that looks and sounds perfect, doesn’t match my patience. However, your writing makes the imagining almost as good as the real thing. Isn’t that as good as tips?

    • drfugawe says:

      Hi Nancy,
      Your words are most gracious and encouraging, but it always saddens me to know of another potential baker who isn’t likely to try – in case you don’t know (from some of my past posts), I’ve done my utmost over the past 15 years to make my own baking the easiest it can possibly be – when those ideas failed, as they often did, I kept them to myself – when they worked, I shared them. This particular process is the culmination of those efforts. This is not only an easy bread, effort wise, it is also one of the best tasting I’ve ever done. And one of its beauties is that it is very non-demanding on one’s patience, as it allows one the freedom to go do whatever they may wish while time does its magic.

      I’ll live in the hope that perhaps you might just give it a try. Thank you again for your kind words.

  5. Baking surely is a passion for you. What is in this vocation which fuels this emotion?

    Loved the post and its exploratory nuances.

    Shakti

    • drfugawe says:

      Thanks for stopping by, for commenting, and for your kind words – as to a vocation which may have been the motivator, I can think of none. My vocation for 40 years was nonprofit administration, a far cry from baking or food – perhaps it was an attempt to escape such responsibility which fostered a love of all things food – ?? Who knows these things?

      Thanks Shakti.

  6. Misky says:

    Looks delish! I’m tempted to fire up the oven and give this a go!

  7. tuppercooks says:

    My oh my Doc, you’ve done it again, once again making me salivate, especially the last pic. Great sandwich rolls! ANd nut milk? Who’d a thunk it, but it makes sense to me. ANd I beleive I’m ready to give these a go.

  8. Pingback: The Doc is in…… « TupperCooks2

  9. Lara Klein says:

    Wonderful pictures, and wonderful memories. Thank you for giving us a look into something so beautiful and personal!

  10. Joanna says:

    I was just thinking of you today and this post and all the breads I tried my hand at in the last few years. I tend now to make maybe two or three of them, and my heart sinks slightly each time I see a recipe for a ‘new’ bread, usually stuffed full of things like apple and veg and things and, like you, I just want to get my bread how I like it. I have also bought some of those nut milks to try on Brian who is allergic to something in milk, but not lactose, one of the proteins we think. I thought they were a bit of a swizz, but maybe it was the brand. One had 2% nut, loads of sugar and water and that was it. I must try the coconut one but I suspect he won’t like it and as it would basically be for him there is little point. I am therefore going to experiment and make your bread and just not tell him what is in it.. and we’ll see if he picks it up. Those rolls look gorgeous and the meat sounds perfect 🙂 Joanna

  11. drfugawe says:

    If I were choosing one to imitate milk, I think rice milk does well – but you have to be careful about the sugar – yes. Over here, most come with or without sugar, but I’ve noticed, they have to have some sugar to taste like milk. Hope you try the bread – if you do, give me a followup report.

    • Joanna says:

      just one question? what is your room temp? i have just made a half batch of preferment and I have a feeling I keep my house quite warm …

      • drfugawe says:

        My kitchen averages about 63F during winter (higher with oven going), but can go down to about 60F during night. I’ve always heard that the British keep their homes in the low 60s during winter (stiff upper lip and all that). My own sensitivities to the cold -in my old age- cause me to first put on an extra layer (between 60-65F), but if it’s under 60, I tend to light a fire (we have a fireplace insert). So our house during winter is usually between 63 and 68F – and probably 1/3rd of our winter days are moderate enough that no extra heat is necessary to hold that level.

        How warm do you keep your house?

  12. Joanna says:

    In my superheated home, I reckon I am a bit reptilian as I become very sluggish if the temperature drops below 65 F or so, (( am not very good at F as I think in C) but I turned my kitchen room thermometer to F for you today. So when the heating is on it is a cosy 68/69.8 and at night it drops to maybe 62F and then I feel really cold indoors. At the moment it is about 35F outdoors. I wear layers from fairly early on in the autumn and I really feel the cold. It must be my Scandinavian side, my mother arrived in England in the mid 50s and brought her own eiderdown and insisted that every house we lived in had double glazing and central heating, quite uncommon at the time.
    I made your nut bread with some Kara brand coconut milk I found in the store in a tetrapak which apparently is nicer than the canned one. As I don’t know either very well I took a chance. It doesn’t taste very strongly of coconuts and Brian said it was OK. Apparently it is dessicated ‘sweet’ coconut that he hates (see how little I know about my husband).

    I made the preferment with a pinch of fresh yeast as I had some hanging around in the fridge.

    I left the preferment in the fridge overnight at 39 F and made a little dough with it at around 8 am and it got very bubbly very quickly so I baked it at 1.30 this afternoon, I didn’t think it would get to your ten hours without collapsing. I just used my regular white stonemilled English flour from the little mill that I have been using since last autumn, as I got two sacks of it and have still got one left It made a nice soft springy crumb, maybe not as airy as yours, but I think that is down to flour and handling by me, plus I didn’t leave it for as long before baking. It’s a good idea to use that coconut milk, a lot nicer than the cardboardy almond or hazel milk that the soya company has brought out. We tried that and it was horrible.

    I have emailed you pics of an english cheddar (ours is yellow not orange) and a little cold bacon and Branston Pickle. Brian lunch choice.


    Hey that was fun and I will definitely use that coconut milk again. I might try it one of my regular milk loaf recipes and see how it goes too. Thanks for the inspiration 🙂 Joanna

  13. drfugawe says:

    Hey, we both know there are so many variables in bread making that it’s impossible to get an exact replica – my goal is just to make the same loaf twice! I thank you for trying it – that’s the ultimate complement.

  14. Jay says:

    Ah, so it’s coconut milk, not coconut water. Drat. I was just out shopping and remembered your post about using nut milks in bread, so picked up plain unsweeted coconut water to use in my next batch, only to see from re-reading your post, that I picked up the wrong product! Note to self, next time, write it down!
    Cheers
    Jay

    • drfugawe says:

      Jay, I’d love to see you use the coconut water and see what you get! I’ve got some too, and I may just try it too. After all, the nut milks were an experiment too. Yeah, use it.

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