Some bakers delight in churning out dozens of different kinds of bread from multiple cookbooks, ranging far and wide in their study and pursuit of great bread. I am not one of those bakers. I began with the recipe and wild starter that Andrew gave me, and have slowly been changing it and making it my own based on lots and lots of attempts and modifications (and accidents, the importance of which to any creative process can not be overstated). And I’m now at the point where I’ve got my master recipe, which I can adapt into many different shapes and flavors without altering the basics much at all.
As I get more and more fluent with tweaking my bread recipe on the fly depending on what types of flour I have and/or what I want to use the bread for, I’ve started to branch out into more ornate variations. This is pretty typical of the way I work in the studio; even though I can often see several pieces ahead, I have to make the intermediate works so that my hands and my eyes understand exactly how the one evolved into the other. Along the way, partially finished things and mistakes can open my eyes to possibilities that I never could have envisioned had I skipped ahead, and I fully understand the details and subtle structures of each step before moving on. As I venture into a new method for making my work, it’s gratifying to see that this incremental progress based on thorough understanding is just how I operate, whether the medium is art or bread.
This week I tried two variations, both favorites, without any recipes. In both cases, they were just short of the ideal, but fixing them will be a snap. I have loved olive bread since I first lived in Rome, where I used to get it regularly at the forno in Campo dei Fiori where I bought my breakfast pizza. To make my version of it, I made dough using 100% of the local 00 flour (leaving out the rye this time) and used olive brine in place of some of the water. Because the brine is salty, I used a little less salt than normal. After the autolyse (gluten-building 20-minute rest) I kneaded in a big handful of pitted Kalamata olives so that they got broken up a little and spread pieces throughout the dough, and then rose, shaped, proofed, and baked it per normal. It looked and smelled beautiful. Next time I need to add a bit more salt (or increase the proportion of brine) and I think a glug of olive oil might help as well. But for an unassisted first try I was pleased; a toasted slice with goat cheese and a big bowl of mesclun made a pretty skippy lunch.
A few days later, I made raisin bread according to the exact same principle. Instead of olive brine, I used maple syrup, and I added a big shake of cinnamon to the flour before combining. And raisins obviously replaced the olives. Again, very tasty: Milo said “it tastes just like a restaurant’s bread.” Next time I’ll again add a bit more syrup and another shake of cinnamon and I think I’ll have a keeper. Toasted raisin bread with good butter has always been a weakness, and the three of us share it. Thanks to the sourdough and superlative germ-intact flour, this version hits all those childhood comfort buttons while also having an appealingly adult sophistication.
Once I get the exact details worked out, I’ll write them down and put up a more useful and complete page about bread; keep an eye on those tabs up top for some impending additions.