It’s wanderlust, that’s what it is. It’s a feeling of intrepidness and excitement that I don’t feel any other time. It’s an invitation to anywhere in the world, to learn about the traditions, cultures, and desires of the people. It’s a feeling of empowerment and trust in myself. It’s not a cookbook addiction, it’s wanderlust, dammit.
On my recent trip to Portland, Oregon, I found myself in Powell’s Books on a day when Francis was working. Powell’s is tremendous. It’s easy to lose days in amongst the stacks and stacks of books. I wandered through fiction, then non-fiction. I gazed at self-help and home improvement. I pretended that I didn’t have a favorite section, la di da, but all I really wanted to do was look at the cookbooks.
My problem is I want them all. On this particular day, I must have opened a hundred books. I actually took a time-out and walked into another section to clear my head for a while. Maybe I didn’t need another cookbook. I have so many and it’s not like they’re cheap.
But that’s not really how addictions work in the end.
I decided on two. “Eat”, by Nigel Slater, which pays tribute to a lot of simple, easy-to-make food and the expansion of tastes on those simple themes into more elaborate dishes. I also bought the new cookbook by famed San Francisco bakery, Tartine: “Tartine Book No. 3”. This promised to be book that would change my whole life. These recipes were not simple baking techniques, but a study on different wheats and grains and much more natural methods of production, paying homage to older, traditional practices. I was going to master these approaches and grow with them. I would be a better person, my clients would be healthier, and I would truly change the world.
What can I say, I’m an addict.
When I returned to Ice Planet Hoth, oh pardon me, I mean, New York City, the first thing I did was crack open the second cookbook. Winter is a perfect time to bake.
The breads are baked with a different kind of starter in Tartine, Book No. 3; one that is yeast-free. This is a technique I have been fascinated with for years. If you put warm water and high quality flour into a bowl, it gathers wild yeasts and bacteria and begins to ferment on its own. I measured out the whole wheat flour and water into a bowl and placed it on a high shelf in my kitchen. It would take a few days to ferment properly, but I knew that. I was ready to wait. Time is inspirational in baking. Time metamorphosizes simple ingredients into extraordinary new compounds. Two days later, when I returned to the bubbly mixture, I felt the doorway to my new baking world swing wide. I opened the cookbook to start the actual bread-making.
Oh, wait. The cookbook said the starter wasn’t ready yet. First, I needed to feed it. I put some of the starter into a new bowl and then trashed the rest. I added more flour and water to this small amount and then rewrapped it. It would need to be fed again the next day and the next day, dumping and adding until it smelled like pungent cheese or yesterday’s wet socks. I was now 4 days into this life-changing process and I was starting to get really hungry.
A few days short of the recommended 7 day fermentation process, I said, “Screw it, I’m baking.” My friend Jerry was coming over for dinner and I wanted to impress him with my new baking techniques. I should say here that Jerry and I went to college together and were roommates for a couple years. He was the recipient of the very first loaf of challah bread that I ever baked. I hadn’t realized that recipe was for two loaves and accidentally baked a loaf of bread the size of a toddler. We still joke about the challah pushing the oven door open as it baked. It was huge—but delicious. It was also full of butter and white flour, so now it was on me to impress him with something healthier.
I turned the page in the book to the first bread recipe. It would be a simple bread: simple and fabulous.
I mixed the whole-grain wheat flour with the wheat germ and white-wheat flour. I added the starter and the water and the salt. Hmmm. Then it said I was supposed to let it rise for 4 hours, folding the dough into itself every 30 minutes.
Come on now. One of the things that’s amazing about baking a loaf of bread is the non-active time. You knead the dough together and then let it do its thing. Time does the work for you, but I was on day 5 with this fucking bread. Can I get a loaf in the oven, for crying out loud? Nope, not yet. First, I need to wait another 3 hours.
Finally, I had a achieved bread that was actually baking. The result? The bread was flat. It tasted healthy but not necessarily in a good way. Jerry said it reminded him of the unleavened breads that are used in communion. That wasn’t exactly what I was going for. Is it possible that I had rushed the process too much? Do I think another 4 days of the recommended fermentation process would have changed it into the perfect loaf? I just don’t have that kind of devotion.
The next day, I returned to what I knew. A loaf with a yeast-full starter (also called a poolish or a biga). Now, a good starter does need a day to properly ferment, but look at the difference between the two starters.
I decided to dress a simple loaf up with a little rosemary and white raisins. Once my starter was fermented, it took only 4 low-active hours and it was so good.
I’m definitely interested in expanding my repertoire to include new, vibrant food. But sometimes the reinvention of the wheel becomes a bit tedious.
In other news, I have decided to expand into sales. I have one cookbook for sale currently. It’s a baking cookbook, only used once. Make me an offer…
Rosemary Raisin Boules
Makes just over 2 cups
Make this the day before you bake bread, but it can live covered in your fridge for a couple of weeks.
- ¼ cup warm water, not over 110 degrees
- ½ teaspoon yeast
- 2 cups unbleached flour
- Stir the yeast into the water and let stand for 15 minutes. The mixture will get bubbly.
- Put the flour into a large bowl and stir the yeast mixture in until it’s combined thoroughly. It will be sticky. Cover it and leave out for 24 hours.
Raisin Rosemary Boules
Makes 2 small loaves
- 1 cup white raisins
- Warm water to cover raisins
- ½ cup warm (not warmer than 110 degrees) water
- 1 tablespoon yeast
- 4 cups white whole wheat flour
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 cup cool water
- 2 tablespoons starter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoons freshly chopped rosemary
- Plump the raisins in enough warm water to cover the raisins for about 30 minutes
- Meanwhile, stir the yeast into the ½ cup warm water and let sit for about 15 minutes for it to proof. It will become bubbly and active.
- Place the white whole wheat flour into a large bowl or the bowl of a mixer. Stir in the salt, the yeast mixture, the cool water, the starter, and the olive oil and knead in the bowl or with the dough hook in the mixer for about 5 minutes.
- Continue to knead on a floured board or in the mixer with the dough hook for another 15 minutes.
- Drain the raisins and add them with the rosemary into the dough. Knead for about 5-10 minutes more. The dough will be hard to manage at first due to the moisture from the raisins, but it will come together. Don’t add too much extra flour, just trust that the stickiness will regulate as you continue to knead.
- Place the dough into a lightly oiled bowl and cover. Let rise at room temperature for about an hour. The dough should double.
- Punch the dough down and then recover it to rise for another hour.
- Shape the dough into two round portions on a lightly floured board and then place them onto a baking sheet lined with parchment or a baking mat.
- After 15 minutes, turn your oven on to 425 degrees.
- 20 minutes later, using a serrated knife, slash the top of the loaves for steam to escape.
Mist the loaves and the oven with some water and bake for 50 minutes, turning halfway through.