Monday, January 10, 2011

Rustic Country Loaf

“Making bread strikes a mysteriously prehistoric chord somewhere inside us… alongside the mental satisfaction, you discover new and different gastronomic pleasures that enrich you and those around you.”

Lionel Poilane
Guide de l’amateur de pain

Continuing on my recent exploration in the world of baking bread…

Previously, I baked a rustic Italian bread, and it was just about as rustic as bread gets if you use the number of ingredients as a measure of simplicity. The results were delicious and satisfying, and it got me wondering about processed bread in the grocery store.

When people visit their local bakery and buy a loaf of bread, it was undoubtedly baked that morning. They don’t buy bread baked the previous morning, and they certainly don’t buy bread from last week. Everyone knows fresh bread goes stale quickly. The next day you make croutons, french toast, breadcrumbs or bread pudding with the leftovers, and they’re all delicious.

So what’s in grocery store bread that keeps it soft and supple for weeks?

Highly processed bread in the grocery stores utilizes a process called Activated Dough Development (ADD) or Chorleywood Bread Process (CBP). Both these processes produce a light, voluminous loaf quickly and cheaply. It’s achieved with extra ingredients and intense energy.

So what exactly is in that processed bread you bought last week? Let’s take a closer look at the ingredients in processed bread.

Flour- Flour is present in bread as the source of carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals. Different varieties include all-purpose flour, bread flour, whole-wheat flour, rye flour, potato flour, etc.

Water- Water is the glue in bread, binding the flour into dough.

Salt- Salt adds flavor to bread as well as aids in attracting water, which enhances bread texture and inhibits mold.

Yeast- Yeast aerates the dough and adds flavor.

Now for the unexpected ingredients.

Bleach- Some flours are bleached using chlorine dioxide gas to whiten the flour. Bleach adds no flavor, texture or nutrition to bread, and it’s banned in some countries. Most flour companies sell all-purpose un-bleached flour.

Reducing Agents – Reducing agents (commonly cysteine) are added to some breads to create a stretchier dough and improve bread texture. They have no nutritional benefit.

Emulsifiers- A wide range of emulsifiers are added to bread to increase the amount the dough rises and thus create a larger, airier loaf. They also have no nutritional benefit.

Preservatives – Preservatives such as calcium propionate are added to dough to increase shelf life. They’re also suspected carcinogens.

Enzymes – Enzymes are the most interesting and widespread additive in processed bread. They have a wide range of functions from improving flavors and colors to increasing bread tolerance during packaging. Enzymes are protein catalysts that speed up chemical reactions. They are used up in each reaction they aid, so they technically don't exist in the end product. Bread producers aren't required to list enzymes with ingredients. Sneaky. Most of them are genetically altered, and they have no nutritional value.

Yuck! I’m sticking with my own bread!

This loaf contains two types of flour instead of one, bringing the ingredient count up from four to five. The recipe is adapted from Flour by Joanne Chang, one of the many cookbooks I received for Christmas (thanks, Mom!). It yields two medium-sized loaves of bread.

Starter Ingredients:
¾ cup water, room temp
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon active dry yeast

Dough Ingredients:
1 ½ cups water, room temp
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus 2 tablespoons
2 cups bread flour
¼ teaspoon active dry yeast
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons yellow cornmeal

To make the starter:
1. Mix the water, yeast and 1 cup of the all-purpose flour together in a medium bowl. Cover and leave to rest in a warm place for 5-8 hours.

2. Add the remaining ¼ cup of all-purpose flour and stir until incorporated. Cover and place in the refrigerator overnight.

To make the bread:
1. Remove the starter from the fridge and allow to come to room temp while you prepare the bread.

2. Combine the water, all-purpose flour (just the two cups) and bread flour in the bowl of an electric mixer. With the dough hook, run the mixer at low speed for 1 minute until the flours have combined and soaked up the water. Cover the bowl and let sit 10 minutes.

3. Uncover the bowl and add the starter, yeast, sugar and salt, and mix on medium-low speed for 4 minutes until everything is combined evenly.

4. Grease a large bowl and place the dough in the bowl. Cover with a damp tea towel and let sit in a warm place for 2-3 hours. The dough will not rise significantly, but rather will feel more relaxed.

5. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle with the cornmeal.

6. Divide the dough into two, using a food scale if you have one for an exact division. Shape each ball of dough into a round loaf and place on the prepared baking sheet. Cover the sheet with plastic wrap and allow to rest for 2-3 hours, until the dough is yet again more relaxed.

7. Preheat the oven to 500 F. Sprinkle each loaf with 1 tablespoon of all-purpose flour. Using a razor blade or knife, slash the loaves, about ½ inch deep.

8. Bake the loaves for approximately 35 minutes. Watch closely as the tops may begin to brown and may need to be covered with foil around 20-25 minutes into baking.

9. Remove the loaves from the oven and set on a cooling rack until room temperature. Although, if you’re anything like me, you’ll immediately grab a serrated knife and butter!

Enjoy the bread within 2-3 days of baking. Store in a paper bag to keep the crust nice and crisp.

Up next: a country loaf with three types of flour and honey in additional to the basics.

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