2011-04-21

Angel Bread

AKA, bread I improvisationally slapped together. I named it angel bread because of its light, moist, open, springy crumb, and because it came out of the oven looking like a pillow soft enough to fall asleep on. This was my first time relying solely on my senses to create bread. Without a formula upon which to rely, I combined ingredients based on look, feel, and prior experience.


The inspiration for this bread was a bowl of discarded sourdough starter. For the past week (and inspired by the sourdough discussions at the April Homemade Bread "Taste-and-Tell"), husband has been developing a liquid levain culture (following the formula on p.358 of Jeffrey Hamelman's Bread). This process involves throwing away around 250 grams of discarded flour-water mixture, twice a day. Before the mixture went down the drain, I thought, that looks tasty, maybe I can make some bread out of it.

As I tossed ingredients into a bowl, I wrote down what I did (just in case it turned out well):

               100   %        bread flour
                 80   %        discarded liquid levain culture
                 62.5%        water
                 12.5%        milk
                   2.5%        salt
      pinch + 2.5%        sugar
                   2   %        fresh yeast

This formula contains both discarded liquid levain culture and some fresh yeast. I wasn't sure how much leavening either of these would provide, as the culture is young (8 days old)--and therefore relatively weak, and the fresh yeast is old (and perhaps barely alive)--having been in our fridge for almost a month.

To be on the safe side, I figured I should test the potency of the fresh yeast before attempting to bake with it. I placed the fresh yeast in a small steel bowl and attempted to activate it by adding the milk and a pinch of sugar. I placed the steel bowl in a lukewarm water bath until bubbles appeared on the surface of the milk, letting me know that the yeast was alive and still capable of fermentation.

Then I combined all ingredients, mixed thoroughly, and fermented the dough outside for 8 hours. I was going for a cold, slow fermentation. Here in Chicago, the weather was in the 40's F (single digits C), so putting the dough outdoors was perfect. Otherwise, refrigerating the dough would also work. Every few hours (when I remembered), I punched the dough down. 

After 8 hours of slow, cold fermentation, I brought the dough to room temperature, punched it down, and let it sit for 1 hour. Then I shaped it into a boule and proofed it for 1 hour. 

I gently scored the loaf and baked it in a Dutch oven. At 460°F (238°C) for the first 20 minutes, with the lid of the Dutch oven on; then at 430°F (221°C) for another 20 minutes, with the lid off.

The resulting bread is flavorful, slightly chewy, and reminds me of crumpet or English muffin. Angel bread will be the perfect complement to sausage frittata, our traditional Easter breakfast.

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