Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Baking Artisan Bread

Lately, I've been making a valiant effort to bake all of our bread.  I feel like I've somewhat conquered the sandwich loaf (as much as I care to, anyway).  However, I really like crusty, artisan bread.  I have discovered that artisan bread is even easier to make than the sandwich loaf, and you can also refrigerate the dough to use at your convenience!  This means about five minutes of mixing (no kneading! extra bonus points) and wa-la--bread for a week.  Ok, it's trickier than that, but that's the basic idea.

There's a great book that I just checked out at the library on the subject: Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.  I found the "master recipe" from their book posted on Food.com, as well, though I highly recommend getting the book.  There is a wealth of information in it, as well as yummy variations on this recipe.

Master Recipe for Basic Boule Bread

3 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast (2 packets)
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt or 1 1/2 tablespoons other coarse salt
6 1/2 cups flour, unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose (not strong)
            (I usually use all sprouted grain or rye flour, which yields a much heavier loaf and is not particularly recommended unless you have a strong affinity for that type of thing--like I do.)

An abbreviated version of the directions:

1. Mix yeast and water.  Add remaining ingredients. Dough will be wet.

2.  Rest 2-5 hrs.

3.  Put in fridge with a loose cover on top.  Store up to 10 days. Flavor will improve over time, but longer than that will produce a flatter loaf.

4.  When ready to bake, pull off a grapefruit sized chunk and dust with flour.  Stretch the dough around the top of the ball to the bottom, making quarter turns as you go.  You will end up with a smooth, uniform top and four bunched ends on the bottom.  Rest for 40 minutes.

5.  After 20 minutes, preheat oven to 450 degrees and place an empty broiler tray on bottom rack.

6.  When dough is done resting, dust the top of the loaf with flour and slash with serrated knife.  Place in oven on stone dusted with cornmeal, and pour one cup of water in the broiler tray.  Quickly close door.

7.  Bake 30 minutes.  Cool on wire rack.

Kefir Bread

With my ample supply of goats milk, I have been regularly making homemade kefir--one quart every other day. Since Sage and I are the only ones who drink it (it is very tart, and I only add a little juice for sweetening), I usually have plenty left over for baking.  I did a little research online and discovered that the yeast in kefir is the same as that in a sourdough starter.  Using kefir as the liquid in your bread recipe not only replaces the need to add yeast, but also gives it the time-ripened, delicious sourdough flavor without the hassle of needing a starter!  I based my kefir bread recipe on the one explained above, with a slight variation on ingredients.

3 cups kefir
3/4 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons honey
6 cups flour

All the directions are the same.  I add the honey to somewhat counteract the strong flavor of my kefir.

My bread baking is a huge work in progress, and I've yet to tackle any specialty/sweet breads.  Baking with sprouted grain flour has been somewhat of a challenge, but each successive loaf seems to be a small step in the right direction.  Anyone have favorite bread recipes they use or general bread baking tips?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Mornings on the Farm

Mornings begin early.  The husband is usually up somewhere during the five o'clock hour, off to our garage gym.  I can usually hear the olympic weights slamming into the ground at a steady pace about the time my alarm goes off.  Many times we'll meet at the door just as I'm stumbling downstairs--he's drenched in sweat from the already brutally humid summer morning, and I've yet to succeed in fully opening my eyes after another long night up with our youngest.  The sun pierces through the tree line outside the kitchen window.  I grab my first cup of coffee.

I can't handle stress before drinking my coffee.  I must be surrounded by peace and serenity-the kind that is catered to you in a downtown coffee shop.  Norah Jones or Ray LaMontagne plays softly in the background and everyone speaks in low voices, though most are buried in some obscure and highly intellectual read or listening to podcasts of This American Life.  I want my coffee poured for me and handed to me with a smile and a "have a great day."

My coffee is usually gulped in between chaotic moments.  The dog dashes to the door, knocking over a kitten and bumping into me (and my full cup of coffee) on the way. Sage wakes up two hours too soon, while I race to console her before it becomes permanent.  Matt rushes through the kitchen looking for the lunch that I (yet again) didn't have time to pack.  

However, there are many moments of peace found in between the chaos.  The birds' morning songs linger in the still, heavy air.  A Blue Heron flies over our pond, croaking for its mate.  The roosters crow in the coop, already jostling into position for their race to the feed tray.  The goats are patiently waiting for their hay and oats.  There's a rhythm out here, and one that I feel innately a part of.  These real moments are far better than the conjured tranquility that coffee shops attempt to produce.  This is living and breathing life--a life I'm ever thankful for. 

Even though the dog is now eating garbage in the driveway.

Update: I caught the chipmunk.  And the mole that the cat dragged in after that.  And now said cat is in heat.  Lovely.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Baby Chicks

Our broody hens managed to hatch six little chicks this last week!  The hens have been hiding under the coop with their nests for months now.  I gave up on them hatching any after throwing out two batches of rotten eggs, but they were so adamant that I had a hard time preventing them from trying once more. The other morning I walked out to do chores and was shocked to see little puff balls running out to greet me! As I've always raised baby chicks separated from the other chickens, it's so much fun to watch the hens mother them.  At the first sense of danger, the mother hen clucks and all of the chicks run under her wings.

Update on the chipmunk situation:  still no sign.  However, the cat did manage to drag in a live mouse last night, which we caught after some difficulty.  I think it's time to replace that screen.