Sunday, January 11, 2015

Bread Mission: The Next Step

Hello wonderful winter warriors.  This weekend was exciting on the bread mission front!  For this week I acquired the Wonder Mill Junior Deluxe hand mill.  This beast grinds pretty much anything you feed it, provided you want a full body work out.  It shakes the house, but is pretty efficient.  I ground enough whole wheat berries for two loaves, plus a couple feedings of my starter, and that took around 20 minutes.

I ordered a couple different brands of organic wheat berries, just to see how different they would be.  I read on the internet that hard red spring wheat berries are best for hearth loaves, so that's what I ordered, one small bag from Palouse, and one from Great River.  I tried the Palouse first.

My grind was a little courser than the flour I've been buying from the store, but my right bicep decided I had ground it enough.  The flour did behave a little differently - I'm not sure if it was because the grind was course, or because of the variety of wheat.  I'm guessing it's mainly the former.  The dough felt a little gritty, and it felt pretty stiff.  I was concerned that it might be too stiff to allow oven spring, but I kept reminding myself that this flour is going to be wet for a long time before it's baked - plenty of time for softening.  Plus it was rising during bulk fermentation, which was reassuring also.

Of course with my experience level, I'm never really sure what the heck is going to happen.  So I was basically doing backflips when I uncovered the bread half way through baking and it was probably the tallest loaf I'd baked so far, and it had the nicest ear - the ear is the part of the loaf that stands up where it is slashed.

I couldn't wait to see inside this puppy, but I was a good boy and waited a good 4 or 5 hours.  The crumb is just a little denser than previous loaves.  But it still exceeds my expectations.  I'm still surprised that I'm making 100% Whole Wheat Sourdough that is not a brick, and rising!  This loaf don't have as many large cavities as previous loaves, which I miss a bit.  Next time I will set the Wonder Mill to grind finer and see if that makes a difference.  But if it does not, I'm still happy with how it's turning out.  I'm making some pretty good bread here I think.  The flavor is great and it's still moist and soft.

So why go through the trouble of grinding my own flour you ask?  Well the short answer is freshness.  Whole wheat flour starts to oxidize as soon as it's ground.  So for optimal nutrition, we want the flour to be as fresh as possible.  A wheat berry, like other whole grains, are miraculous in that they are little complete packages that hold everything a plant needs to grow.  And they stay vital for a long long time.  I read somewhere that people have sprouted 1000 year old grains that were found buried within ancient tombs in Egypt (or somewhere over there - forgive me for not looking up the quote).  When you buy whole wheat flour from the store, especially from the bulk bin like I do, you can never be sure how old it is, and then you never know how long you've had it sitting on your shelf, oxidizing all along the way.  Well, now I know how freshly ground my flour is.

But I suppose there is another reason why I'm (literally) sweating over doing this grinding at home: connection.  I have a desire to connect to my food on as deep a level as I can.  Modern people have outsourced food production to such an extent that we have no clue what's really going on.  We eat processed "foods" that have lists of multisyllabic ingredients a mile long.  Processed food, even if organic, is made by machines, crops are grown with chemicals, I could go on and on.  Luckily change is happening.  Farmers markets, home gardening, and home cooking seem to be getting more popular.  When you consider the energetic qualities of food, everything from the quality of the ingredients, to the attitude of the cook, to the gratitude the eater expresses toward it, is important for building health.  Grinding flour at home, with human muscle power, allows me to control the energy of this part of the process, it deepens my connection to the bread I'm making, it's healthy activity provided my rotator cuff holds out, and it's pretty damn fun.

And there's one more reason why I'm grinding at home, which is the next step in my process:  Sprouted flour.  This is the final step in my initial bread mission.  When I'm sprouting the wheat berries, drying them, then grinding them, I'm doing what my inspiration, Richard Bourdon, does in his bakery.  But I am going to hold off on this last step for awhile.  First I'm going to experiment with some different grinds and some different wheat berries to see the effects.  If I start with the sprouting right away, there could be too many variables to know what's going on.  This is bread science!  

I'm pretty thrilled at how this mission has unfolded.  I keep exceeding my expectations, and it feels great.

I will not eat entire loaf today...
I will not eat entire loaf today...
I will not eat entire loaf today...

Pardon my blurry head.  You have to move when you crank this thing!

Freshly ground whole wheat flour!

Here are the beauties:  

The big wise ear:

A slightly denser crumb, but still very soft, moist and delicious!

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