The Staff of Life

Loaves made with pâte fermentée from the Craftsy course Artisan Bread Making (Peter Reinhart)

I tried to find the origin of that expression, but I couldn't find it. To me, it just means that it's something so basic that some of us can't live without it.

I am one of those people.

If you're one of us, and if you happen to live in a place with one or several good artisan bakeries, and can afford to pay the price, good for you.

I'm not that lucky. And considering how little bread I eat (an average of two slices a day), I could afford to pay for someone else's labour, but then I would feel terribly frustrated and deprived because I LOVE MAKING BREAD!

And I love discovering new ones. A few months back, I signed up for Peter Reinhart's Artisan Bread Making course on Craftsy.

I was looking for a replacement for the very excellent sourdough loaf that I had been making. Why would you want to replace an excellent bread, you ask? This: at the rate of two slices a day, the probabilities are that only one of those is going to be on the "white" side because I also always keep some multigrain bread around, and I love dark multigrain bread even more than light sourdough bread.

In other words, I only make bread once or twice a month, white this time, brown next time.

After month after month of making that sourdough bread, I got upset at having to keep the sourdough starter fresh by adding some flour to it, then throwing away most of it and adding more flour, etc.  I had to do this every week. All that for a mere loaf or two.

Half of that flour was rye (all-white starters don't work for me), and though I can buy good unbleached flour at the ridiculous price of $9 for 25 lbs, rye flour is way more expensive than that.

I had already heard of bread made with pâte fermentée (the technique--invented by Professeur Calvel, who taught Julia Child how to make French bread--consists of using some "scrap dough", basically some dough leftover from a previous batch) and when I discovered that Reinhart had a recipe for it in the course, I decided to try it.

The loaves above are the result of my second trial with that recipe. I have altered the "country variation" recipe by replacing the small addition of whole wheat flour and rye flour with all rye, and by allowing the first rise to take place in the fridge, overnight. This is known to develop a better flavour, and I must say the combination of pâte fermentée and overnight cold rise is the closest thing I've ever attained to a mild sourdough flavour without having to go through the feeding rituals and wasted flour.

In order to get that shape, I used the linen couche for the second rise.

This is the kind of crumb that I hoped to get.

Oh and here's something that's hardely ever mentioned about bread: it's something I call "toastability"! This bread makes fantastic toast. And terrific grilled cheese sandwiches.

The Craftsy platform has a lot of interesting features, one of which is the possibility of uploading photos of one's projects, and the other to ask questions and get answered by the instructor.  Many beginners have trouble getting their slashing technique right. It took me a long time to find the right combination of tool and wrist action, but I have finally found a satisfactory solution. These are my tools:

This cheap knife that I found at Target has a blade almost as thin as a razor.

In addition, the rounded shape is perfect for the job.

Just before slashing, I give it several passes with my trusty old steel.

I have them here side by side so you can have an idea of the size of the knife. Actually, the blade is only a little over four inches long.

I'm also working on a new multigrain bread recipe, and that will be the subject of my next post.

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