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Live to Eat Newsletter by The Healthy Butcher

Making Bread

Bread 201
In our previous live to eat newsletter, we invited you to join the no-work bread revolution to discover that it takes almost no time or specialized skills to make brilliantly crusty, flaky bread. Now, we take bread making a step further to explore the traditional lost art of slow-rise artisanal bread making.

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Bread 201 Baguette

 

Why should you spend time making slow-rise bread when you can buy fresh bread at a grocery store?

We can assure you that nothing is more visceral and communal than baking and breaking bread. It is a tradition that we have shared across cultures and continents for over 30,000 years – we are connected to the hearths of our ancestors through techniques that up until this century have been passed down almost entirely unchanged from generation to generation.

For most of history, it has taken hours or days to make a proper loaf of bread. In her memoir, My Life in France, Julia Child said that it took her two years and around 184 pounds of flour just to try out different styles of making French bread!

Here in North America, bread was traditionally baked slowly out of a variety of grains brought over from Europe until the 1960s. Then, in 1961 a global revolution in bread-making occurred- the British Baking Industries Research Association invented the Chorleywood Bread Process (CBP). This process allowed manufacturers to use lower-protein wheat, high-speed mixing and a bunch of chemical additives to make very soft, fluffy bread cheaply with almost no rising time. Pumped with fats, flour treatment agents, bleach, reducing agents, soya flour, emulsifiers, preservatives, and enzymes, this bread can last for weeks or even months without going stale or growing mold.

Most of our store-bought bread today is manufactured using a similar process. Ever since this rapid-rise bread revolution, rates of gluten intolerance, celiac disease and other digestive disorders have skyrocketed in North America- to the point that bread has been demonized as one of the most unhealthy foods on the market. The combination of short fermentation, antifungals, hydrogenated and fractionated fats, crossbreeding and the modification of wheat itself (which has made a gluten that is tougher and stronger) has lead to a bread that is less easily digested. Consumers in turn have developed medical intolerances to those products.

Traditional slow-rise bread made with grains, flour, salt, water, and possibly a pinch of yeast or (better!) a natural ferment is not unhealthy! In fact, there are many new studies that suggest that people with gluten sensitivities can often tolerate these breads as long as they are fermented very slowly. To understand the difference, you must first understand the key ingredients in bread, and what they do. Then we will teach you how to make your very own slow-rise artisanal bread – it is not difficult!

What you need:

Kitchen Scale A kitchen scale – especially at first, until you get used to the proper consistency of dough, you should measure everything. The ONLY way to consistently measure ingredients is with a scale; you would be surprised at how inaccurate measuring flour by volume can be (i.e. 1 cup, 2 cups, etc.).  You can find one probably for $10-20.  The “no-work” bread doesn’t require a scale which is one of the best parts of making bread that way; however every baker will tell you that baking is a science and calls for precise measuring of ingredients to ensure consistent results.
Scrapers A bowl scraper – plastic with rounded edges is helpful.  If you don't have a scraper though, don't worry- it just makes things a little easier.  Bakers also find a metal “Scotch” scraper useful to scrape up bits of flour that stick to the work surface.
Peel A peel (or even a piece of stiff cardboard or pizza peel for sliding the bread into the oven).  Not a necessity, it just makes baking a bit easier.

Ingredients and What They Do:


Flour:

There are a ton of different flours that you can successfully use in breadmaking, and we encourage you to experiment. Just make sure that you know your flours and their properties well before you substitute or you will end up with a rock instead of a fluffy loaf.

There are two types of flour: hard and soft. A flour is hard or soft based upon the amount of protein in the physical grain; this protein affects how well it will rise and how crumbly the final product will be. The most important parts of wheat protein for the baker are gliadin and glutenin, which form gluten – a grey-brown web of elastic material that captures carbon dioxide from the yeast fermentation and allows the bread to rise. So the higher the protein in the flour, the higher the bread has the potential to rise.

However, the rise isn't everything- depending on the grain, some glutens are capable of stretching longer distances before breaking (like a rubber band) than others, and some are more elastic (able to spring back) than others. Ideally, you want dough that stretches a long way without springing back, breaking or letting the fermentation gasses escape. This is what gives you those nice holes throughout your bread and a delicious, chewy, fluffy interior.

White, gluten-rich (hard) flours tend to have a better ability to stretch and expand, but bran and germ give you much more nutrition. Since these other parts of the grain tend to create much more dense breads when added, its really important to know how to mix them into flour to achieve breads that are healthy, but do not have the consistency and weight of a bowling ball.

When possible, also aim to make your bread with stone-milled flours- they are much more nutritious and flavourful. Regular flours are made with high speed grooved steel rollers, centrifuges and sieves to remove all the good stuff. That speed generates tons of heat which then strips the flour of its natural oils and enzymes. By comparison stone-ground flours which are coarser in appearance but higher in nutrients are processed at a much lower speed. Ideally try to obtain organic flours whenever possible so you don’t have any unwanted additives, pesticides or herbicides, just the ground flour itself.

Here are descriptions of a few of the most common flours:

Bread Making Flour (a.k.a. Hard White Flour)

This is white flour that is higher in protein content (12-14%) than normal unrefined white flour. Hard flour comes from Winter wheat. The grain thrives with a cold winter and a hot summer. North America grows some of the best winter wheat because of our climate. It is highly recommended -- especially in your first few tries making bread because it is very easy to work with. It is also a great option to mix with other flours and grains for a more nutritious bread. This is also available “unbleached.” Bleaching is only employed for aesthetic reasons, not for any other preservative purpose.

Unbleached All-Purpose White Flour

Unbleached all-purpose flour will work perfectly well if you do not have bread-making flour. The protein content of all-purpose is usually 8-11%, so it is lower than bread flour. Try to find the best flour possible- local and organic is ideal because it will have more flavour. Do not buy bleached flour, and definitely do not use self-rising flour- it is loaded with baking soda and other additives and has no place in bread-making whatsoever.

Red Fife

Red Fife is the genetic parent of almost all North American wheat. Grown locally in Ontario, it gives an excellent honey/nutty flavour to bread. You can bake a loaf with 100% red fife flour and it will be delicious, but for a less dense loaf try adding 50% red fife flour and 50% bread flour. This is a great grain with which to experiment.

Rye

Rye is delicious, but very dense and the grain absorbs a lot of water. Most rye bread recipes require plenty of water added to your mix to avoid ending up with hardened cement. Like most grains aside from white bread flour, a sourdough starter is the best way to make rye bread because otherwise it will end up bland and hard as a rock.

Spelt

Spelt is a fantastic option for those who do not digest standard wheat well; it is much easier to digest (but still not gluten-free). It is also healthier and higher in protein. Spelt is one of the few flours that you can use almost like white bread flour. You can make it less dense by adding slightly more yeast or allowing for more sourdough starter and rising time. Make sure to use fresh spelt flour as it can get a bitter aftertaste if stored too long. It is better than regular bread flour for creating a thriving sourdough culture because it contains lots of natural yeasts and bacteria.

Yeast
Yeast is a living organism that works through feeding upon the sugars and starches naturally present in flour, and transforming them into carbon dioxide and alcohol which make bread rise and give it a richer flavor. This process is called fermentation. Exactly when in history yeast was discovered remains a mystery, although ancient hieroglyphs lead one to believe that credit is due to the Egyptians. The likely scenario was that someone forgot about a mixture of flour and water they had mixed; perhaps, even, a worker building a pyramid that was too tired by the end of the day to make the flat, hard bread that was the norm. The next day that worker discovered bubbles in the mixtures (i.e. naturally occurring yeast had started to ferment), and after making the bread with the mixture discovered the resulting bread to be lighter and tastier. Gradually it became the norm to produce leavened breads by keeping a bit of one day's fermented dough, called a “sourdough starter,” to add to the next baking session's fresh batch to speed up fermentation.

In the late 18th century, bakers figured out how to isolate the best types of yeast for bread-making. Now the most common baker's yeast is saccharomyces cerevisiae. Although we mostly use commercial yeasts today, bread from a sourdough starter is not uncommon - and is more or less what the ancient Egyptians would have been baking. One of the most awesome facts about sourdough is that it will taste different from one region to another, even if using the exact same flour, because of the variances in wild yeast. San Francisco claims to have one of the best sourdoughs in the world -- the region's naturally occurring fog and airborne yeast create distinctive flavours when combined with water and flour (see: http://www.boudinbakery.com/meetboudin/). Learn how to create a sourdough starter here: http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/howtocook/primers/breadsourdough

Here are the three types of yeast that are most commonly used in bread-making:

Fresh Yeast: Available in liquid or cakes, this yeast is 100% living. It is the fastest and strongest yeast available and the one most used by professional bakers, but it has a short shelf life so always check the expiry date and store in the refrigerator.

Active Dry Yeast: Dehydrated yeast that is heated to a high temperature to kill off its outer layers and put it in a state of hibernation. It should be dissolved in very warm liquid (proofed) in order to revive it before baking, but is otherwise interchangeable (if not as fast) as instant yeast.

Instant Yeast (or “Rapid Rise”): more gently dried so that the yeast are still active and can be mixed directly with recipe ingredients without first being proofed in warm water (although it is helpful to proof it anyway in a bit of tepid water). This is what we recommend and use in our recipe below because it is the easiest yeast with which to work.

Recipe Conversion: 10g fresh yeast = 5g traditional active dry yeast = 3g instant yeast

A note on yeast- when in doubt, use less yeast and lean toward a slower, cooler fermentation time. Letting a dough ferment in a cool place for six hours rather than adding a ton of yeast and putting in a warm place has been shown to remove 80% of a possibly cancer-causing substance called acrylamide in bread crusts, and it conserves 48% more vitamin B than a quick-rise method. Bread also stays fresher the longer you let it ferment.

Salt

Salt adds flavour to bread, makes the gluten stronger, acts as a preservative, inhibits mold, and helps give the bread a darker, more reddish crust colour. Avoid adding salt too early in a recipe because it can kill off your yeast. Bread can be made with reduced or no salt, but the flavour takes some getting used to.

Sea salt is the best salt to use for bread-making, especially the coarse flaked sea salts from Anglesey or France. These salts are high in minerals and more flavourful. More minerals contribute to a better fermentation. The yeast thrives when it has a good diet. Avoid standard table salts that contain anti-caking agents.

Water

Tap water is fine unless it is heavily chlorinated as this can also kill off your yeast. You can test your water by proofing a bit of the yeast in some warm water to make sure it bubbles. If your water is too heavily chlorinated, leave some in an open container overnight and all the chlorine will evaporate. Hard water is rife with minerals and can speed up the fermentation process (more so with sourdough than commercial yeast).

Bread Basics

Time to Make Your Bread!

The following recipe was sent to us from Susan McKenna Grant, author of Piano, Piano, Piano: Authentic Food From a Tuscan Farm. Susan has studied artisan bread making in France, Italy and the United States. With her husband, Susan owns and operates La Petraia – a luxury agroturismo, restaurant and cooking school in the Chianti region of Tuscany. The following recipe is based on an excerpt from a collection of La Petraia recipes Susan is currently working on:

An Honest Loaf, by Susan McKenna Grant

Making the Pre-ferment

A pre-ferment is a dough or batter that you make as a starter for your final dough with a smaller portion of yeast, flour and water. By making a bit of the dough ahead of time and letting it rise over a very slow period of time (in this case overnight), you can use much less yeast and will end up with a far more flavourful bread with a longer shelf life.

BREAD made by Susan McKenna Grant - photo by Michael Grant.jpg
Photo by Michael Grant

Professionals use various types of preferments – sourdough starters or levain, sponge starters (like this one below), or small pieces of dough from the current day's bread that are held aside for the next day's bread (Pate Fermente).

200 grams (7 oz) all purpose flour (bread flour is best)
200 grams (7 oz) tepid water (49° C–55° C)
a pinch of instant yeast

Make this preferment the night before you are planning to bake the bread. Use a kitchen scale to weigh all of the ingredients (the digital ones are the most accurate). Put the ingredients in a bowl and mix all of the ingredients with a spatula for a few seconds until everything is combined. Cover the bowl with a plate and place it in a cool place to very slowly rise. If you are not going to bake the bread first thing in the morning, you can also place this pre-ferment in the refrigerator for 24 hours to further slow down the process.

Mixing and Kneading

the Pre-ferment
500 grams (17.5 oz) all purpose flour (ideally bread flour)
300 grams (10.5 oz) water
10 grams (2 tsp) salt (ideally grey sea salt)
2 grams (1/2 teaspoon) instant yeast

Use a bowl scraper to combine the preferment with the other ingredients in the work bowl of a stand mixer and mix on low speed using the dough hook for 2-3 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl and making sure all flour is thoroughly mixed in to the dough.

If you do not have a stand mixer, you can hand knead the bread. To do this, hold out 1/8 of the flour from the recipe, and sprinkle some of it onto your work surface. Then mix the ingredients together with a wooden spoon and dump them on the work surface. Use the heel of your hands to bring the upper part of the dough toward you, then push it against the work surface and away from you. Do this for about 10 minutes until the dough becomes more smooth and elastic, adding flour as needed to keep it from sticking (but do not add extra flour beyond the 1/8 cup - the dough should continue to be as wet as possible). Use your scraper to scrap any sticky dough back into the main ball.

Proofing – The First Rise

Cover the bowl of dough with a plate and leave in a cool corner of your kitchen until the dough doubles in bulk, about 1.5 to 2 hours. Do not put in a warm place to rise more quickly- this will lead to less flavourful bread.

Punching Down and Turning the Dough

Once the dough has doubled in size, it must be pressed down or turned to prevent it from over-proofing. If it is allowed to rise too long, the gluten will stretch until it collapses and will not be able to hold all the air bubbles that make the bread fluffy.

No one really “punches down” bread anymore; artisan bread makers handle the dough more delicately and prefer gently deflating it instead. To do this, use your bowl scraper or wet hands to move the dough to a lightly floured surface (don't overdo the flour- it will make your bread hard). Use your fingers to gently press and stretch it into a rectangle.

Because you are going to do a second proofing for this recipe, you need to make a package fold in the bread before you put it back in the bowl. To do this, stretch and fold the bottom of the dough up into the centre, then the right side, left side, and top. Then, put it back into the bowl (your bench scraper is also great for this) and cover. Here is a simple video demonstrating this technique: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9oyg8K6J8QM

After this first turn, you should notice the bread is no longer as wet and is stronger.

The Second Proofing

After your dough has doubled in size for the second time (about 1-1.5 hrs), take it out of the bowl with a scraper and give it another gentle turn by folding it into a package fold again. This will make the dough even stronger. Use your scraper to put it back in the bowl to double. For the third rise, let it rest in the bowl for another 1-1.5 hours or until it has once again doubled in size.

Shaping

Once your dough has doubled in volume for the third time, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and use wet hands to shape it into a round. Transfer the round to a pizza peel sprinkled with cornmeal or corn starch (or a stiff piece of cardboard). Let it rise one last time for about 30 minutes, but do not let it rise completely this last time because it will continue to rise in the oven.

Baking

Put a pizza stone in your oven and preheat it to 500F or 250C. Very carefully slide the shaped dough directly off of the peel onto the pizza stone.

**If you do not have a peel or pizza stone, you can let the bread rise once more after the third turn in a heavily floured kitchen towel, then turn it on to a parchment-lined cookie sheet which you can put directly in the oven.

Bake for about 50 minutes to 1 hour. If you have an instant read thermometer, the bread is done when it reaches an internal temperature of between 205°F and 211°F (138°F is the “thermal death point” when the dough ceases to ferment and rise). Do not be afraid when your crust turns dark brown; its not burning. Your crust should be caramelized to a dark brown and should not soften as it cools. It should retain a firm texture, sounding hollow when you knock on the bottom.

Remove your loaf from the oven and place on a cooling rack. If your crust starts to get soft in the first 10 minutes out of the oven, put the bread back in for another 10 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack before slicing.

There you have it!

Learn More

 

For more information and recipes on artisanal bread making, check out

  • Andrew Whitley's Bread Matters: Why and How to Make your Own;

  • The Bread Bible: 300 Favorite Recipes by Beth Hensperger; or

  • Daniel Stevens’ River Cottage Handbook No.3 – Bread.

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