Friday, July 2, 2010

Making a wild yeast levain and a Book Review of 52 Loaves (the author's blog - includes recipes)

I heard about this book on another blog and thought it sounded worth reading. It is! The book is a non-fiction story about the author's attempt to re-create the "perfect" loaf of bread that he ate ~10 years before our story starts. He decides to make at least one loaf of bread a week for a year to try to do this. He bakes bread in various places around the world and learns from bakers... and also grows his own wheat and makes his own clay oven.

Alexander is an entertaining writer, including lots of interesting facts and details about bread, many of which I didn't know even though I've been baking homemade bread for probably almost 20 years. But he never loses sight of the story part of it (part memior) and it is funny at times and generally hooks you into the story!

He convinced me that I needed to bake more with a sourdough starter (a levain). As he says on his website: "Levain, sourdough, it want you want — it is the secret to authentic, yeasty, artisan bread. San Francisco sourdough has, in a sense, given all sourdoughs a bad name, but most wild yeast starters are far milder and (to my palate) more pleasant as well."

This convinced me to try to make a levain with wild yeast. I also think San Francisco sourdough bread is a little too strong for my taste, and when I've made starter before I've always used purchased, commercial yeast, so I'm anxious to see what the wild yeast starter is like.

I've started mine! Alexander recommends using orchard apples (the 'haze' on them is the yeast) so I thought I'd have to wait until fall for apples to be ready. But when we were at the farm last weekend Grandpa asked if we wanted apples! His neighbor or friend had a tree with "sauce apples" that he was trying to get rid of. Mom and Grandpa went and picked some.

I used a lot for making applesauce, but I saved one whole apple cut up into 1" chunks and the peel of a second to put in 1 c. de-chlorinated water. It has been sitting, covered, on my counter for almost the full three days (I've been stirring it at least twice a day) and already it is bubbly and smells like apple cider (and a little like vinegar... hopefully that's okay). I start "feeding" it with flour tomororw, so I'll keep you posted on how that goes and how it is to bake with! If it works and makes tasty bread, I'd be happy to share some starter with you if you want some Brown County wild yeast levain. Or, you can make your own, so far it seems pretty easy!

Alexander really recommends you use a scale when you bake. While, as a scientist, I understand that sentiment, I'm not sure if we'll get one or not. It seems like it's just one more item that may not get used enough to justify taking up precious real estate in my kitchen. If we want to follow any of his recipes though, a scale might be needed. He only posts them in metric weights. (This includes his levain recipe...) A few tips about bread making from the book would likely make any bread recipe better, however. (Soon I will post a recipe for "One Hour Bread" - a non-levain using bread that is great for instant gratification. It's even faster than a bread machine!!)

If you're looking for a good summer reading book, find a copy of 52 Loaves soon! Read while eating homemade bread, for the best experience.

(Legal note: A library copy of this book was read. This is not a popular enough blog that authors and companies send free stuff to so that it will be written about and our vast audiences will rush out and buy book or item. The author of this blog post wishes to state that she has no conflicting interests, and will have no material gain from the sale of this book, the making of levains, or the purchase and use (or not) of a kitchen scale.)


weareNOTamused said...

Hey Kate! I actually saw this same book on The Kitchn the other day!

It's another big one, so you've probably heard of it, but if not definitely start reading Smitten Kitchen. I have yet to follow a recipe there that hasn't become an instant fave. Double bonus points for the ginger friend rice, and good photography.

On yet another sidebar, I have a pretty cheap kitchen scale for baking, and it's definitely handy to have around, esp for someone who haaaaaates measuring flour. I keep mine in the space above the microwave, which has become my "tools that I like but don't use too often" cabinet (related: creme brulee torch). I think it's like you say, though - not really a necessary buy.

In case it helps your weight-only recipes, I think a cup of all-purpose flour should weigh 5oz unsifted and 4.5 sifted. That's generally what I follow, and it seems to work. Happy Cooking!

Kate said...

I love Smitten Kitchen too!! Haven't tried the ginger rice recipe of hers, but have made the breakfast pizza a lot lately and LOVE it!

Maybe we should each write a quick post on what food blogs we follow! You first!!

I actually really do want a scale, but I'm a little worried to let the "scientist" meticulous side of me into the kitchen! We'll see! (What brand/type do you have? Do you like it?)

And thanks for the flour conversion - now I just need to convert the oz to grams! (yep, he uses metric all the time, too. As a scientist, I definitely approve of that!)