Rye Bread Day 1

January 31, 2011 § 3 Comments

Beatrice doesn’t ask much from me. So, when she asks a favor or makes a request, I’m on it.

“Can you make some rye bread?” she texted to me last Wednesday. I was at the airport, headed out of town until Saturday night. I didn’t have my cookbooks nearby to reference. Rye bread? There’s nothing like a good Jewish rye from New York. Thin toasted slices with butter – nothing beats it. You want rye bread, Beatrice? Rye bread is what you’ll get.

First thing Sunday morning I turn to my go-to bread-baking book, Amy’s Bread (2nd edition) and look up rye. Now, keep in mind that in this cookbook, all but, I don’t know, maybe four or five recipes DO NOT call for some sort of starter. And bread starters take at least 24 hours to develop. At least. So, I’m not surprised when I see this Amy’s Rye with Caraway and Mustard Seeds recipe call for a “firm levain.”

I’m new at this starter thing. I’ve made one once before – the one Joanne Chang has in her cookbook – and kept it going for a couple of months. It was super easy. And reading through Amy’s Bread several months earlier, I knew there were several different types of starters. This levain thing was one of them.

Okay, I’m on my way.

Amy’s Bread – that’s a real bread-baker’s cookbook. I should have known there’d be something more to making this “levain” than  … than whatever I had imagined.

So, I turn to the recipe for firm levain. And the recipe for firm levain itself calls for Active White or Rye Sourdough Starter. Hmm…. okay.

So, again, I turn the pages and find Active White Sourdough Starter. I read over the recipe: organic grapes, cool water, organic unbleached all-purpose flour. At least four 24-hour interval steps. And I say to Jennifer, “Text Bea – tell her the bread’ll be done on Saturday. Maybe.”

A levain is a sourdough starter made without yeast. That’s why the recipe calls for grapes. I’m assuming, correct me if I’m wrong, the grapes’ naturally musty-ness – the yeasty beasts that hang out on fruit – will provide the umpf needed to begin the fermentation process. If you add a pinch of yeast to a starter, that will kick your starter off right. And get it going quickly. With grapes, apparently you need to give it more time. Like, three days more.

So, yesterday at 4pm I mixed the grapes, the water and the unbleached flour. “Let it sit at room temperature (75F to 78F) until it starts to bubble. This will take 12 to 24 hours, longer is your room is cool.”

Levain at 4 hours

Okaaay … raise your hand if your room temperature in January is 75-78F?? Anyone? No, didn’t think so. 68F, yes. Not 78F. So, right there I know this levain will take some steady watching; I can’t rely on just watching the clock. This photo shows the levain at 8pm – four hours into the process. The mark on the blue tape records the levain’s original level. You’ll see it’s risen maybe one or two microns …

Oh, you’ll also see that it’s in my microwave. It’s a bit warmer in there. And, as soon as I’m done posting this, I’m going to heat a cup of water to boiling and keep that in there with the levain. The dissipating heat will warm the microwave hopefully 1o degrees or so and keep the levain warmer for a few hours.

If all goes as planned, we’ll have rye bread just in time for the Super Bowl. And a levain to nurture for years to come.

 

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