Old-world methods provides a lesson in taste and nutrition
It all started about a month or so ago on a Saturday morning in February. We were relaxing; I was scanning the channels after watching the local weather and found a segment of New Scan Cook on the local PBS station WUNC, this was a refreshing change from all the food competition shows that pummel the airwaves these days! The segment happened to be on the topic of apples, making apple desserts, apple drinks, apple cider, and sourdough bread from apple peels. I found this method of making bread to be quite interesting, so I searched for the New Scan Cook website and after some more digging I found the recipe for making the apple peel sourdough starter, and then the sourdough bread recipe.
It is fascinating to me that prior to the advent of standardized yeast production the only way to obtain yeast and bacteria for rising your dough was through those naturally occurring in the out-of-doors. Apples in the orchard provided a unique and special vessel in which to harness latent yeast and other beneficial bacteria for fermenting your bread. And this method is not always the perfect way to bake bread, it goes against all the bread baking and pastry lessons I’ve learned over the years, all the while using perfectly weighted and measured ingredients. Bread as a science can be quite an exacting undertaking, and getting your yeast from the peelings of two organic apples is not the most exacting measure of an ingredient.
One note about the old-world ovens: Originally these types of breads were baked in wood-fired ovens at very high temperatures, so the only way to approximate this in the typical home kitchen is to put in a pizza stone to the rack in your oven as you are pre-heating it to a high temperature of 520° F. Once the dough pans are on the stone you turn the heat down to 320° F.
I was ready to take the challenge, and what a better way to get back to the roots of old-world baking than starting with these Scandinavian recipes and doing a bit of trial and error.
So at the grocery we picked up several organic Granny Smith Apples and I peeled two of them down and in the glass measuring container I added 1½ cups cool filtered water, 1 tablespoon sugar, and then stirred that around until the sugar dissolved. Then I added in 1¾ cups of whole wheat flour and stirred well. Then I covered it with a loose fitting lid and let this sit on the kitchen prep table for four days. I took a peek at the starter every day, hoping to see some activity. After one day it has a slight sour aroma, but not much activity. Into the second day I could see a little activity, but the aroma was building up more than the previous day. By the third day I could more activity as the volume of the starter was growing somewhat but not too much. On the fourth day it was showing signs of bubbling and taking on a frothy appearance, the aroma was enough to get the ball rolling.
Making up the dough
At this point I cook 1 cup of the starter from the container and add it to another glass measure. Then I added in 1 ½ cups of water, 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil (recipe calls for rapeseed oil) and stirred this around until the starter mixture just about dissolved into the liquid.
Then in a large bowl I added 4 cups of whole wheat flour and 1 teaspoon sea salt, and stirred this well. I then added the wet ingredients to the dry and kneaded by hand and then added about another ¼ cup of water, and kneaded until the dough ball was well rounded and took on a nice smooth texture.
Next I covered the bowl with plastic wrap and let it stand in a draft free location in the kitchen overnight.
The next morning the dough had more than doubled in size!
I cut the dough into two pieces and punched it down again and then into two greased bread pans.
I allowed the dough to rise again, but this time in a dough proof box I made using our new Excalibur Dehydrator set to 110° F and let them rise for about 2 ½ hours.
This is where I made a mistake. I should have just kept the dough in one piece and put it into one dough pan, or let the two pans rise over a longer period of time. I will test both in my next batch. Always looking for perfection!
So, I preheated the oven to 520° F along with a cooking stone, then put the two bread pans on the stone and turned the heat to 320° F. The original recipes calls for 45 minutes, but I found these two smaller loaves were done in about 25 minutes.
Once out of the oven, I allowed them to cool in the bread pans for about 10 minutes, then I removed them and kept them on the wire cooking rack until cooled to room temperature.
I cut the first piece while still piping hot, the flavor profile is quite a joy, not like any other sourdough I have tasted, rich in subtle flavors, a tiny hint of apple, and a unique sourness that harkens to the days of yore!
Aside from the unique flavor and taste this bread gets from the naturally occurring yeasts and beneficial bacteria, I would imagine that it also has nutritional qualities that go beyond the typical yeast raised breads that most of us are familiar with today.
Next time I may try using locally sourced honey in place of the granulated sugar to add in another element of local, localvore, and fresh that harkens to a simpler time.
Remember, the only ingredients in this bread recipe are apple peel, water, whole wheat flour, rapeseed oil, sugar, and salt. Michael Pollan in his book ‘In Defense of Food’ said that as a rule, “avoid products that have five or more ingredients, especially if you’ve never heard of or can’t pronounce them”. I’m thinking that the six main ingredients in this bread recipe would make the Pollan cut!
A few images of the starter and bread!