I began to make bread seriously around the same time I met John. I was living in a basement apartment on Connecticut Avenue near Nebraska Avenue. The apartment had no windows and John had given me herbs to grow that I kept alive with grow lights. Doing with–with what I had as there was no room OR space OR light for a garden. Making bread in that apartment was a challenge as well, however at that time I was working as a lawyer and producing a documentary and to work live material with my hands was exhilarating. To make bread is to interact with a live culture and from this perspective I continue to understand the connection between Gardening and Breading.
Making bread I experimented with cultivating a live wild starter from just flour and water and letting this ferment into yeast. This is the process of making a sour dough. I also experimented with using fresh compressed yeast. Ultimately I found the fermenting starter too sour and the compressed yeast starter not rich enough. After months of experimenting and bringing John tastes to the catering company we both worked for at the time, I came up with a process of “AND”– I would make both a starter using fresh compressed yeast AND allow it to sit over night as one would do in the making of a wild starter.
I have made bread almost every day of my life since those early trys and I tell anyone who wants to learn how to make bread that it is a process that is informed by experience– the who, where, why and when. Of course there were experimentations with flours and grains and seeds in those early attempts… However the method of leavening was my most important discovery and this process has stuck with me and grown and changed in its many iterations from Connecticut Ave all the way through Rupperts… I consider my process a method of variation and echoing–Variation in the understanding that each time I make bread I know it will be different and Echoing in that there is an attempt to repeat what is desirable but ultimately this repetition will always be different even if in the slightest variation. I don’t consider an echo any less authentic or desirable than my first attempts but all connected and original.
A few structural tid-bits on live yeast cultures whether you are making one from scratch by cultivating flour and water or you are using fresh compressed yeast.
1. Sugar activates yeast or feeds yeast
2. Salt inhibits yeast or kills yeast
3. Cold temperatures put yeast to sleep or encourages a dormancy
4. Hot temperatures will Kill yeast but WARM temperatures make yeast lively
So here again we see the process of “AND”–for you want to feed your yeast AND you want to curtail its growth at the same time… Like most encounters, we desire a lively robust experience and at the same time just enough control in that the potential is not squashed or squelched, while at the same time not being over run (I think of the ‘I Love Lucy’ episode in which she is literally forced out of her kitchen by a loaf of bread she was baking)…In bread making the “AND” entails being guided by taste. How the saltiness and the sweetness informs your process is usually where you will find your good mixtures in the counter actualizations of seemingly opposing forces that should instead be seen as acting in concert… The same goes for temperature–experiment with letting rise in warm areas or in the fridge depending on what sort of time constraints you may have and what sort of working strategies feel good to you…For if you like to work fast and are a adrenalin junkie you may want to work with higher temperatures or if for example you prefer cross country skiing to downhill skiing you may want to work in cooler temperatures… Temperatures in terms of liquids added and even the temperature of the room…
One final note this post is about the Making of Bread not the Baking of Bread–I will post about that later and here are my loose guidlines to making bread:
Fill a large bowl with about 3 cups of warm water. Add 2 tablespoons of fresh compressed yeast, 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons of salt and a cup of flour. Stir mixture and leave at room temperature for 6-12 hours. Slowly add flour while kneading. The flour can be all-purpose unbleached but even tastier and healthier if you use other flours in addition to all purpose flour. Generally I use about 1/2 all purpose unbleached flour with the balance being one or a mixture of the following flours- spelt, whole wheat or buckwheat. Knead dough adding more flour until the dough forms a ball and stope sticking really badly to your hands- this will take at least 8 cups of flour. Set bread aside until it doubles in volume. Then form the dough into your desired shape loaf and let it sit at room temperature for an additional 30 minutes to an hour before baking.