Friday, March 26, 2010

In search of the perfect loaf

A fairly odd programme on BBC4 last night purported to be the quest of Tom Herbert, an organic baker, to find the perfect (or at least prizewinning) loaf of bread. It wasn't that at all, but it fitted in a history of bread, which advanced the intriguing suggestion that industry wanted people to eat white bread because it mildly constipated them, so that they would spend less time away from their workpost. That sounds like utter nonsense to me.

Herbert's first attempt was to use 100% wholemeal bread, leavened with his own sourdough, which has been in the family for 40 years. His son commented that the end product would make a good frisbee. So he looked for more suitable ingredients, and ended up using spelt flour, spring water from a source in the Cotswolds, and Cornish seasalt. The result was apparently very tasty, but only got second prize in some vague unnamed competition in Islington.

It's more nonsense of course. How could he not have come across spelt before? Where was the experimentation to determine if the ingredients really did make a difference? All a bit of a pity, but it has encouraged me to try spelt flour sometime. It also encouraged me to start a sourdough, but it seems like a lot of trouble. He said he feeds it with flour and water every day, like some kind of tamagotchi.

And today I'm ignoring all his lessons, and having another go at French bread. I've decided to weaken the flour further, by using a bit of rice flour. So ingredients are:

250g apf
50g rice flour
200g liquid (inc half a tsp caster sugar, 1 level tsp dried yeast)
pinch of salt

I've mixed it in the processor, and it's stayed wetter than the previous dough, because of the rice flour, I suppose. So I'm now (1200) letting it rise in a kitchen that's probably around 14c.


Key point is that rice flour was a bad idea. It gives the bread a slightly dish-clothy odour - a variant of the smell that puts some people off basmatti rice. And also, it seems to have prevented or delayed browning of the bread.

Again, there's a huge improvement in leaving the dough in the fridge overnight, so in the next french bread attempt that's what I'll do.

But the next experiment will be with Kamut flour. No, me neither, but - maybe because of the tv programme - the shelves were bare of spelt flour today, so I bought a kilo of kamut. Sad excitement once again.

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