Friday, December 11, 2009

Bread Update – Goodbye to Martha's rich and decadent white creations, hello to hearty, local loaves

It's been a long time since my last bread update. But I've still been making bread, and there have been many surprises, discoveries, and can't-stop-eating-this -it's-so-delicious bread moments that I've been dying to share with you all. So it's time.

Important events in my journey to bread master,
April–November 09
First, I ate obscene amounts of foccacia studded with whole cloves of roasted garlic, on several occasions. Tessa and I spent most of our overnight stay at the Warden's cabin at Lake O'Hara making and consuming it. I made it for Mom and I in our perfect little cabin on Galiano Island. We ate it for breakfast with leftover mussels and bratwurst – my god. Martha Stewart's foccacia is to die for. It rivals the legendary bread at both Pagliaccis and Rebar in Victoria, both of which have been a focal point for my homesickness over the years. The first time I made it, I was shocked, amazed, and bragged profusely (to myself and the kitchen). It's the month's supply of olive oil that goes into it, but I can pretend it's me.

However, after months of Martha's fantastic white breads – not only the foccacia, but also baguettes, fougasse, and the olive oil bread – I figured I should maybe learn how to make something healthy. Luckily, this thought came at roughly the same time that...

My CSA flour from Urban Grains arrived. I was out of town both weekends that it was available for pick-up (I so wish I could have been there – check out these pics of members meeting their grain, and each other), but Urban Grains did a great job of organizing carpooling and Karen Hamilton of Tiny Bites generously picked up my grain and babysat it for me for a week. When it arrived in my kitchen I was super excited, and also totally clueless about how to store it. I've since packaged up many mason jars full of flour for friends, frozen as much as I could fit in our tiny freezer, and stashed the rest in our slightly cool downstairs storage locker. I'm hoping for the best. And baking whole wheat everything as fast as I can.

In the early days of my whole-wheat baking frenzy, I found what has now become my most-baked bread: Multigrain Bread from London Foodie in New York. This is the ultimate healthy and delicious weekday bread. It can be made in two hours, including baking. I just took a loaf out of the oven a few minutes ago, on a Monday night, after running errands after work, making cheese and jalepeno biscuits for dinner, and it's still early enough for me to go to bed at a decent time. That's awesome, right? Not only that, but it's delicious. I actually crave this bread. I eat it all week and still want to make it again the next week. It's heavenly toasted, with jam, almond butter, or my favourite – pink grapefruit marmalade – for breakfast. It's hearty but moist, with great texture and a crunchy crust.

I tried making two different fancyish breads with fruit and nuts – Martha's cranberry-pecan rye bread, and this fig and fennel bread from the Fresh Loaf. The later, pictured below and at the top of the post, represents the height of my achievement so far. The sweetness of the figs, so soft, the crunch of the occasional walnut, the complex taste of the flours, cornmeal to add texture to the crust. The whole thing light, but moist, chewy, and so flavourful. I want to eat this every day.

Next I learned what happens when you leave dough in the fridge for a week before shaping and baking it – very good things. This recipe for Sweet Provecal Flatbread with Anise Seeds from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day was my introduction to this technique, and I've since been experimenting with it some more, and talking up its amazingness to anyone who will listen. You stir together a basic no knead bread dough, throw it in the fridge and then take out a little to bake each night. With hardly any effort each day you can have fresh bread with dinner. And, having tried the anise flatbreads on day 1, day 3, and day 7, I can tell you that letting the dough sit for a week makes a huge difference. It's kind of like that 72 hour chocolate chip cookie dough – the flavours are unbelievably more complex after you put the time in.

So, what now? I've designated sourdough starter as my last bread mission of the year. Does anyone know a good technique/recipe? I've found billions out here on the internet, all different, and I'm not sure what works best. I did hastily try one last month, but I didn't look after it very well (abandoned it to go to Whistler when it was only one day old, oops) and it started to do strange things (like turn yellow, hmmm). But, I saved the jar with holes poked in the lid, and I'm ready to start again. Anyone interested in being my sourdough mentor?

I'm also thinking about what I should set as my cooking resolution for 2010 – maybe mastering sauces or salad dressings? I rarely put much time or care into learning proper techniques for anything, preferring just to go at it in the kitchen and have fun. But I've been so happy with the success that has come from starting at the beginning with bread and really applying myself to it – and making it part of my routine – that I'm looking forward to trying this again. If you have any ideas about what I should tackle, let me know!


Leeeeesha said...

Meg, you've so inspired me with this post! Look how far you've come with your bread-making skills in such a short time! Pretty amazing.

For your new cooking resolution, here are some random ideas: mastering pastry or pasta, working on your knife skills, or perhaps focusing on a specific technique like braising or poaching. If you put your mind to it, you could poach or braise a gazillion things in 2010!

Meg Whetung said...

Alisha – thanks for the encouragement :) I'm amazed too!

I love the idea of a pasta-making resolution. My pasta maker needs to get out of the cupboard more often, and there are a billion kinds I haven't tried to make yet. Plus, I'm always craving pasta. That's it!

Braising is tempting too though – maybe that'll be the one for 2011...

Anonymous said...

I am now craving your breads!!! They sound so very very good. I am wondering if Tessa will ever see her Martha Stewart book again???
Flour keeps fine in the fridge itself, does not have to be frozen. Tupperware containers are great for storage. You have a lot I gave you unless your dad didn't get them to you.

Leeeeesha said...

Hey Meg, I just made the no knead multigrain bread and it's awesome! My favourite kind of bread - dense, grainy, and filled with flavour. I used a combination of your CSA flour, mixed with some barley flour, oat flour, and spelt flour. Yum!

Unfortunately, I could only wait about 10 minutes before cutting into the loaf, so it was still piping hot. Hope that doesn't ruin the texture.

It was super easy too! I could totally get used to making this bread on weekends, to have for the week's lunches. Thanks for the inspiration!

Meg Whetung said...

Alisha – I'm so happy you made it. Your version with the other flours sounds great! I'll have to get some barley flour and spelt flour so I can try it. Yeah, it's a great bread to have on hand all week for toast and sandwiches. I never get tired of it, yum.

Anonymous said...

Meg, I laughed out loud to read of your foccacia indulgences. I dare anyone to eat your foccacia and not consume way too much! I'd like to try your fig bread. I was just reading an article in the new year's issue of EAT magazine all about grains and CSA's with lots of info on Urban Grains. The flour you shared with me was so tasty. Cathie