The bread journal – As you may have guessed, the beginning of the semester has been rather hectic. I have this week off for the Chuseok holiday, and although I will be spending most of the week trying to catch up on other work, I thought I’d break the silence here today and finally post something.
For the past two years or so, I’ve been keeping a “bread journal.” Every time I bake a loaf of bread or try something new, I write down the recipe along with comments on the process and outcome. Last week, though, I realized that I was at the end of my notebook and only had room for one more recipe. I decided to sit down and spend a few minutes flipping through the notebook.
The first page of the notebook is dated 2008.7.27 and contains a recipe for “wheat sandwich bread.” In the comments I refer to changes I made to a previous attempt at the same loaf, but I have no idea where the original recipe went. That’s probably the most obvious advantage to keeping a journal: I have a record of variations on themes and can gradually improve recipes no matter how much time has passed.
The first few pages contain recipes for breads that I had already perfected by the time I started keeping the journal, like cherry bread and a Sally Lunn braided loaf. Then I began experimenting with poolishes (a wet pre-ferment made with yeast and more or less equal parts of flour and water) and various types of rye bread. Depending on my mood, I would sometimes experiment with an entirely new loaf and sometimes try to improve on an existing recipe. Certain stretches of the journal show how I became obsessed with certain recipes—for example, I tried five different versions of pizza dough before settling on my sixth and final version early in 2009. There are two attempts at naan in the journal, but this short-lived experiment ended when I realized I would never get a proper naan out of our electric mini-oven.
Experimentation slowed down as time went on, partly because I managed to come up with some solid recipes that I could fall back on whenever we needed bread, and when faced with the choice of a tried-and-true loaf versus a possibly less-than-ideal loaf, well, it can be hard to choose the latter. But looking back through the journal reminded me that I used to come up with some pretty creative loafs: what I like to call my “health nut bread” (a multigrain bread with nuts and seeds), a Brie-and-herb loaf that I created after reading about an expensive loaf flavored with Roquefort cheese, and “Scarborough Fair bread” (if you’re familiar with the ballad, you already know which herbs go into this one) are some examples.
When I discovered that I only had one page left in the journal, I decided to experiment a little for the last entry. Marble rye had somehow entered a recent conversation with some friends, and I expressed my desire to make a loaf. What I ended up making was more of a braided loaf (marble rye is usually two doughs rolled and/or folded together), but it still combined rye with pumpernickel. Of course, I took photos throughout the process so I could share them with you here.
Here are the three balls of dough that will soon become the three strands of the braid. As you can see, the one on the left is the pumpernickel. It’s actually a light pumpernickel of my own design, flavored and colored with molasses and cocoa (real pumpernickel is made with a sourdough starter and baked at a very low temperature for a very long time—sometimes up to 24 hours). Other than that, it is identical to the regular rye loaf (which has honey rather than molasses, and no cocoa). The rye flour I used is a dark rye imported from the States. The brand is “Bob’s Red Mill,” which is the same brand I use for my whole wheat flour (Korean whole wheat flour is way too finely ground and refined for my taste).
And here are the balls rolled out into strands of more or less equal length.
I did take some photos of the braiding process, but decided that they weren’t too interesting. I’ve found that it’s easier to start braids in the middle, flip the loaf 180 degrees lengthwise, and then braid the other half. I flip it lengthwise—that is, end over end—because if you just turn the loaf around 180 degrees you have to braid backwards, and that always confuses me.
I let the loaf proof for a while, and here it is again, ready for the oven. Before I put it in I glazed it with an egg wash.
Here’s the loaf, fresh out of the oven and on the cooling rack. The browning on the rye might make it a little difficult to distinguish it from the pumpernickel, but you can tell the difference if you look closely.
The loaf close-up, with pumpernickel on the right and rye on the left (and what looks like a bulbous nose in the middle). It may be hard to distinguish the colors thanks to the lighting and flash, but if you look at where the strands meet at the bottom you can tell the difference.
This photo is from the next morning, when I sliced some of the loaf up for toast. Here the difference between the pumpernickel and rye is a lot clearer. Of course, as with all of my culinary adventures, I wish you could taste this one—it is very hearty and makes an excellent toast or sandwich bread (despite the odd shape).
So that’s the last entry in this current bread journal, two years and a week shy of two months since the first entry. I suppose the next step will be to go through the journal and extract both the successful recipes and the latest versions of ongoing experiments so I have someplace to start from when I begin my next bread journal.