It's World Bread Day today and this is reason enough for me to publish a post that is long overdue. "The original World Bread Day - an event created by UIB International Union of Bakers and Bakers-Confectioners - wants to provide an opportunity to talk about bread and bakers, to find out about their history, their importance as well as their future", says Zorra of 1x umrühren bitte who is inviting food bloggers to get their aprons on and experiment with yeast, sourdough or any other bread creations that take their fancy.
Now, I have never been much of a bread baker - until recently, that is. In an incredible stroke of luck, I was sent two sourdough cultures from a kind blogger in Germany just before the summer holidays. They had got stuck in the postal system for quite a while and needed all my resuscitation skills, but I finally managed to bring them back to life. In the process I learnt that rye sourdoughs are much sturdier than wheat, the latter took weeks of (almost) daily feeding in any kind of way... It is only thanks to Ulrike's patience that I am where I am today: she lovingly nurtured me through the process, responding to frantic emails in the middle of the night when I thought things were going pear-shaped or didn't understand a recipe. Not only that, she responded sending pictures of what a live culture should look like and how it should react and when I told her I had fallen in love with a bread at Moro's that I wanted to make, she made me understand that this was still way out of my league, but battled with the recipe herself over the following days to gain experiences that one day will prove indispensable to me.
I still consider myself as a bread-baking novice, even though I have been making various loaves regularly for a few months now and tried many a recipe. I have developed a keen sense for when a sourdough is ripened enough to produce a good loaf of bread, I have learnt how to expertly fold a dough to develop gluten strength and learnt much of the all-important jargon that surrounds the mysteries of making good bread. I have also noticed that despite the wonderful recipes in the book I have been using most so far, Hamelman cannot serve as my ultimate bread baking bible - while a fantastic resource to understand the intricate details of bread baking techniques, I am fighting three giant dragons in it: the imperial measures, the fact that my oven seems to be much more powerful than a typical US oven, but lacks steam injection, and the differences in flour that you can buy over there and here... if you know of a book better suited for the European/UK market (and please bear in mind that I want to bake mainly sourdough, not yeast breads), please let me know - otherwise I will have to soldier on, converting imperial into metric and finding the right balance of flours where US equivalents are not available.
Although people who know me can vouch for the fact that patience is not my greatest virtue and that I tend to avoid labour that isn't absolutely necessary or brings a considerable advantage (I wouldn't churn my own butter as I am perfectly happy with what I can buy in good shops around me, won't spend a night slow-cooking plum jam if my Mum can bring Powidl from Austria and I like certain shortcuts in the kitchen, like using stock granules to minimise reduction time or thickening granules instead of mounting a sauce with butter), but I have found that baking my own bread DOES make me much happier than eating store-bought even from Paul's or De Gustibus and the like, despite the fact that I have to think days in advance to build enough sourdough for the bread I want to bake and am then stuck in organisational hell trying to fit the various stages of proving and folding and what have you around the busy life that our family leads.
As my contribution to World Bread Day, I would like to present you with my version of Hamelman's walnut bread... as I said, I am adapting his recipes quite a bit where it is necessary to fit the current content of my pantry as well as the equipment I have at hand and choose to use: I don't have a kitchen aid or similar food processor, but a Thermomix which not only functions in a very different way, but is also much more powerful. Should you be tempted to try this recipe using a conventional mixer or your hands and/or experimenting with different flours, be sure to adapt the kneading and proving times as well as quantities of ingredients accordingly.
This bread has become a firm favourite with the family - for me, because it requires relatively little effort, for the rest of the family because it just tastes absolutely amazing AND is a healthy option using wholemeal flour... try this to accompany a cheese platter or a rich autumnal soup, but don't miss out on enjoying it with some butter and your favourite jam - I promise you will love it!
Hazelnut sourdough bread
(makes 1 loaf with ca. 20cm diameter)
250 g rye sourdough starter (100% hydration)
225 wholewheat flour
100 g rye flour*
200 g water (I weight straight into the mixing bowl)
5 g salt
1 tsp dried yeast
1 big handful hazelnuts (whole)
Prepare the sourdough starter to yield the required amount and leave to ripen overnight (14 - 16 hours).
Combine all ingredients, except the hazelnuts) in the Thermomix, knead 2 minutes on the dough setting. (Hand-mixing would probably take about 15 minutes).
Add the nuts, mix in for 30 seconds, speed 6, reverse blade function.
Bulk ferment in the (cold) oven for one hour. Shape a round or oblong loaf and place on a baking sheet (I do not yet possess a baking stone, which I am sure would further improve the quality of my bread - but for now I am stuck with a baking tray lined with baking parchment).
Ferment for another hour, again in the oven. (I find that you can extend the fermentation periods a bit without problem).
Remove loaf from the oven to pre-heat. Place an oven-proof metal pot on the bottom of the oven, preheat to 240 C (no fan!).
Bring 500 ml water to the boil.
As soon as the oven has reached the required temperature, spray or brush the bread with water, place in the oven and immediately pour the boiling water in the pan at the bottom. Close the oven door quickly and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 225 C, bake for another 20 minutes, loosely covering the loaf with parchment paper should it be browning to quickly.
* I buy the flour I use at the German Baker's here in Richmond and have noted that it is what (I think) in Germany could be called a "light" rye bread (sifted). I have since bought something labelled simply "rye bread" here (the brand is Infinity Foods Organics), which strikes me as a wholemeal rye. It is when I explain these things that I realise that I am still very much at the beginning of this jouney, not having gained enough experience as I wouldn't know what to compare it to in another (or even my own) country.