I have an admission to make. This won’t be news to anyone who really knows me well. But for those of you who don’t know me, I really dislike the holidays. I’m not a shopper and I am big on procrastination so I end up being so stressed out that a crumple into a tiny little stress ball that keeps imploding and imploding until I feel like a lump of coal. Early in the month of December, I saw a couple of blog events that dealt with holiday baking that I would have loved to participate in, I even bought the ingredients for some amazing looking but horribly complex cookies. I was so close to participating and as a new Blogger, I know I should have, but I didn’t. I normally try to do some baking but I couldn’t. After an office potluck (I brought salad in a vain attempt to eat something healthy), a department Christmas party, family staying with us for a week followed by all of us joining more family further south for another week, I was drained.
Before all of this mayhem started, I bought myself a present of a couple of cookbooks. I wasn’t able to think of touching them before the New Year, but now that things are calm, I was able to get a look. One of the books I got was the King Arthur Flour whole-grain baking book. This book has some really fantastic looking recipes and I can’t wait to delve into the recipes further. For now, I was after sourdough.
Poor Herbert has been languishing in the fridge for weeks and weeks. I did give Herbert a mercy feeding sometime before Christmas, but I really felt like I needed to use my sourdough starter for real. Using the starter usually entails a couple of days thawing from the cold and a couple of good feedings. The mercy feeding consisted of some food and a quick couple of hours to absorb it before going back into lockup.
I chose to make sourdough waffles from another book I got in the same shipment: Wild Fermentation by Sandor Elix Katz. I also chose to modify the Walnut-Currant Sourdough Bread recipe from the King Arthur Flour book. I fed Herbert the day before I wanted to start and then set up two preferments the night before I wanted to bake. Both of these sourdough goodies came out really well. Here is my take on the bread:
Raisin-Walnut Sourdough Bread:
Adapted from the King Arthur Flour whole grain baking book
½ cup stone ground whole-wheat flour
¼ cup room temperature water
1 tbsp, active well fed sourdough starter
The entire Levain from above
1 ½ cups stone ground whole-wheat flour
1 cup unbleached white flour
1 cup room temperature water
2 tbsp honey, use an assertive honey like an avocado or buckwheat honey
1 tsp salt
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup walnuts, broken up if in large pieces
The night before you want to bake, make the levain. You want to give the mixture at least a full twelve hours to ferment. The book said it would look bubbly and expanded when it was ready, mine just looked like mini bread dough but it definitely doubled: Mix whole-wheat flour, water and starter well. Cover the bowl with a layer of plastic wrap. Once again, leave to ferment overnight, at least twelve hours.
In the bowl of a standing mixer combine the levain, whole-wheat flour, white flour and water. Use your paddle attachment to mix the ingredients at the lowest speed until just mixed together. Let this mixture stand 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, add honey and salt. Mix on low speed until the new ingredients are mixed in thoroughly. Increase the speed to kneading speed and knead the dough for two more minutes. Cover the bowl and let the dough rest thirty minutes.
After thirty minutes, turn the dough out onto a floured board. Pat the dough into a 6”x9” rectangle. Sprinkle the raisins over the dough and then fold the edges horizontally in over the raisins. Pat the dough into the 6”x9” rectangle again. Sprinkle the walnuts over the dough and then fold the dough into thirds again. Move the dough to your bowl and let it rise for thirty minutes. You will now repeat the patting, folding, thirty-minute rest sequence three more times. After you have folded and rested the dough a total of four times for 2 – 2 ½ hours total, shape the bread into a round being careful not to let the raisins or nuts tear the surface of the bread. Turn the loaf into a floured banneton (I didn’t get one for Christmas, but this book taught me that you can line a colander with a floured linen dish towel to mimic a banneton, how cool and money saving is that?!). Cover the dough and let it rise 2 – 3 hours.
45 minutes before baking time, preheat the oven with a pizza stone and a metal pan in it to 450 degrees. When you are ready to bake, sprinkle a peel or a baking sheet with corn meal. Invert the dough out of the banneton and onto the peel. Use the peel to move the bread to your baking stone. Toss a cup of water into the metal pan for steam and close the oven door fast. Bake the loaf for 15 minutes and then lower the temperature to 400 degrees. Bake for 30- 35 minutes longer. Use the peel to remove the bread from the oven to a cooling rack. Cool the bread thoroughly before letting yourself get tempted to cut off a big slice. The bread will keep cooking until it cools.
This bread had a dense crumb and a shatteringly crisp crust the night I baked it. The next day after being stored in a plastic bag on the counter, the crust was chewy but the bread had a wonderful flavor. This loaf was incredible used as the bread for a fried egg sandwich in the morning.