- Naturally Fermented Hearth Bread
- Bread Grains and Flours
- Leavens and Doughs
- Dough Development
- Baking Ovens and Bread
- Masonry Ovens of Europe and America
- Preparing to Build a Masonry Oven
- Masonry Materials Tools and Methods
- Oven Construction
- Oven Management
- A Day in the Life at the Village Bakery
Excerpt from the Introduction
I have baked bread for thirty years. Not professionally but regularly: I made a lot of bread in all those years. Most of the bread I baked was not as good as the best bread I have ever eaten though. It was better than any bread I could buy but only because few bakeries in this country were making bread that was better none of them were nearby and bread is perishable.
Don't get me wrong: I had fun baking and everyone liked my bread. But when my bread was only okay I could still see and taste in my mind the bread I wanted to bake-a hearth loaf with an open crumb and a resilient crust full of flavor. Bread that would stay fresh for days without added sugar milk or fat. For years I just couldn't seem to make bread like this. Now I do almost every time I bake. My success surprises me a little even though I know it is my own bread coming out of my own oven and of course I know exactly what I did to make it. Each time I open the oven door and I see and smell the loaves my heart jumps and swells a little.
Learning to bake that way didn't come without a lot of flailing around because I was walking in the dark at first. The steps I eventually took to learn to make the kind of bread I like are the ones that you can take more easily with the help of this book. Although a first time baker will get plenty from this book he or she may not realize the value of the information I have collected. People who have baked before-but never really understood what they were doing-are going to get the most out of it. That is especially true for people who want to make wonderful rustic loaves and haven't been able to.
To do that you must first learn to ferment your dough naturally (using what most Americans call a sourdough starter) and you have to understand fermentation well enough so you control it not the other way around. That is how you make a full-flavored loaf that honors the remarkable grain it's made from that delights the eye and holds whatever degree of sourness you seek-a little or a lot. In this book you will learn how and why rye flour or whole-wheat flour or machine kneading or a hot day or many other factors will change the dough you make and the bread you bake. Controlling natural fermentation is the first big step on the path to creating great bread.
The second big step is to bake your bread in hot masonry. The reason for this will become clear as you read the book but take it as a given for now. "Hot masonry" means you can bake many loaves at a time in a masonry oven or you can bake one loaf at a time in a ceramic cloche in a conventional oven. (Bread from a cloche is not actually the same as bread from masonry oven but is so close that you almost need the two loaves in front of you to tell the difference.) Only by baking in masonry can the home or small commercial baker get a loaf that looks chews and tastes right. That is true even if the dough is perfectly made before it is baked.
If the secrets of good bread baking are so simple (fermentation hearth baking) why do so many people have trouble making good bread? There are four reasons for our failures: The first is that most of us have tried to learn the process from books and there haven't been enough books in English that adequately explained fermentation or discussed masonry ovens. The second reason is simple confusion-the best described sourdough baking technique in this country (using a sour starter to react with baking soda to raise flapjacks and quick breads) is not similar to the process for making good "European" naturally leavened bread. Americans tend to maintain sourdough starters in a way that does not produce consistent results when baking bread but would be fine for pancakes. The third reason is that for more than seventy-five years bakers have been taught to equate successful baking with fast baking witness the profusion of instant yeast companies directed to commercial bakeries (the familiar "time equals money" equation). Faster baking was then presented as a lifestyle improvement to home bakers who did not realize what speeding up baking would do to their bread. Although the amount of time spent mixing kneading slashing and baking is only marginally longer for good bread than poor bread the number of hours over which the steps occur is much longer for good bread regardless of whether the dough is raised with small doses of commercial yeast or from a natural leaven. The fourth reason? The ovens-most people are trying to bake hearth breads in kitchen ovens.
You can gauge the extent of the confusion about natural fermentation by reading the questions posted to Internet Usenet newsgroups such as rec.food.sourdough and red.food.baking. Many of the people who post questions to these groups are experienced (often-professional) bakers who encounter difficulty changing from speed baking with store-bought yeast to baking with a natural leaven. These otherwise able people don't understand the principles of natural fermentation because those principles have not been laid out-the lessons of research in cereal chemistry dough microbiology and so forth have not been explored to any extent in popular books on baking which specialized seminars and videos about sourdough are expensive costing hundreds of dollars. Baking books give elaborate and intimidating descriptions of how to start and maintain a leaven when it would be more enlightening to describe in detail what is happening in the sourdough process and to consider the properties of sourdough ingredients-water flour salt wild yeast and bacteria. Methods and rules are not as useful as understanding. A baker who understands the process is liberated-free to create new recipes and to manipulate the determinants of bread quality in pursuit of his or her prefect loaf. This book is short on recipes (on purpose as there are many excellent sources of recipes) but long on the background information you need to make the kind of bread you want either by adapting an existing recipe you like or making up a new one.
Copyright by Chelsea Green Publishing