So as mentioned recently, I have been inspired by Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson. His book on bread is incredible. I’ve kept sourdough starters and made wild yeast rye starter before so this book sparked my interest at first skim. His concept of creating wild starters was not new to me but his method of home baking was a new approach for me. What I like about his book is the pictures and detailed coverage of each step and some reasoning behind each step. Additionally, his recipes and techniques are tried and they work, they had a testing panel of home cooks follow his instructions and they had instant* great success. (instant is not a great use of the work, this technique takes a lot of time and patience….this ain’t no Artisanal Breads in Five Minutes a Day!)
So I made his basic loaf and it turned out great. (I have to admit though, I didn’t follow the recipe exactly, my bread was about 70% freshly milled whole wheat). The next time I took some more liberties with the recipe and tried a different way to bake (less successful, but still tasty).
I also tried his method for english muffins….and it rocked my english muffin eating world! Other methods I’ve used before created a very runny batter/dough that had to be poured into moulds on the griddle to ensure a round shape and used chemical leaveners. This recipe is an actual dough that you let refrigerate overnight so that you can cook the muffins fresh in the morning. I’m making more english muffins today, for tomorrow, and I plan on freezing on bunch to have on hand throughout the week. (If you don’t store them properly, you’ll want to eat them by the 3rd morning, otherwise I found they turned into hockey puks, but all breads do at some point)
So here’s the whole wheat recipe I’ve adapted from this fantastic cookbook. (I apologize to for the long rambling style of this recipe, but if you read through it, you should be able to replicate it)
You’ll need a poolish and a leaven.
The leaven is your starter. To start the starter you mix equal parts of flour and water in a small bowl with your hand, cover with a towel and let sit on the counter. (I use spring water and a mostly whole wheat blend of flour) This mixture sits on your counter until you start to see bubbles and it will start to smell a little sour or like ripe cheese. After it has started to ferment, you’ll feed it every morning to build your culture. To feed it, you discard the top layer and some of the bulk and then add equal parts flour and water again. Essentially you’ll only be keeping a few tablespoons of the culture every time you feed it. You’ll notice that the sour smell is greatly reduced and can even smell sweet after you feed your starter. Once you have a strong starter going you can start making bread.
The night before you want to back you’ll make a leaven. You do this be discard all but a tablespoon or two of your starter and adding 200 grams of flour and 200 grams of water. Cover and let stand overnight. You’ll know it is ready in the morning when it is full, puffy and filled with bubbles.
To make bread you would simple combine 200 grams of leaven (the rest you keep as starter) with 1000 g flour, 750 g water, 20 g salt and begin the long process of fermentations, rests, turns and shaping…..before you even get to the baking part. (by the way, when I bake at 500F my oven puts off all kinds burnt smells and my dogs do not like it! Here’s what Teddy does:
While Teddy tries to stay as close to me as possible, Remy runs and hides as far away as he can get from the smell, right now it’s the bathroom…he’s just sitting in there with his tail between his legs, waiting for the baking to be over. – it’s very funny.)
But for english muffins in addition to a leaven you also need a poolish:
To make the poolish you use 200 g water, 200 g flour and 4 g active dry yeast and let it sit at room temp for 3 hours or put it in the fridge overnight (which works well when you have to leave the leaven out overnight).
To make the dough combine 400 g each of the leaven and poolish with 500 g of water (here I use spring water), 1000 g of flour (my mix has mostly freshly milled whole wheat flour) and 25 g of salt.
Once everything is mixed together you’ll want it to rest for 20 minutes so that all of the flour can hydrate and absorb the moisture. After that you’ll have to turn it a few times during the next 3 hours while it ferments and grows. To turn the dough you use a gentle up-and-over motion to lift the edges of the dough over and across itself. A wrapping of the dough that builds structure into the dough without having to actively knead it. After the dough has had several hours and several turns it is turned out on to a tea-towel lined pan that has been dusted in a mixture of flour and rice flour to keep it from sticking. The dough is pressed out into the pan so that it is about 1/4 inch thick. Cover it completely with a tea towel and refrigerate until morning. Pull the dough out about 3o minutes before you cook it so that it can come to room temp. Use a circle cutter to cut the muffins and then cook in a skillet for 2 minutes on each side. I used coconut oil in the skillet instead of the recommended clarified butter. These are amazing eaten fresh out of the skillet or toasted the next day. Overall, if you already have the starter and you can plan ahead by one evening than this recipe and technique isn’t hard and it’s not time consuming. You just have to give it your attention throughout the evening or afternoon for the dough turns.