Steve was starting to think he was so big. He started to think he was a better baker than most. It may have begun with his pâte brisée, or perhaps his pizza dough. Maybe it was when he made that batch of bialys or his “perfect” Parker House Rolls. Perhaps it was time he was taken down a peg. Perhaps it was time for Bernard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads.
Actually, Steve’s comedown didn’t start with Bernard Clayton—it started with starter. Steve had decided he should move on from instant dry yeast and begin his own “mother” made from yeast found floating naturally in Gourmandistan’s environment. Using a technique adapted from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, he began fermenting organic rye flour and spring water. After a few days, he’d produced something that definitely seemed alive, and quite possibly stemmed from Gourmandistani yeast strains. Unfortunately, our native strains seem to tend towards laziness.
Steve first tried the starter in a sourdough rye from Clayton’s The Breads of France and How to Bake Them in Your Own Kitchen, producing a flat, funny-tasting loaf that quickly went to the chickens. Seeing as how his starter was still bubbling away, Steve decided it might be Clayton’s fault, but decided to give the man another chance by combining starter with instant yeast in “Turnipseed Sisters’ White Loaf.” Again, things did not go well. A promising first rise became a slow second, and the chickens ate well once more.
Steve was about to give up on Mr. Clayton and declare him a fool, a fraud and certainly no friend of Gourmandistan. Michelle, remembering past successful recipes, suggested instead it was perhaps time for Steve to give up his starter and try something different. With the bitter taste of defeat (and the odd tang of starter) in his mouth, Steve agreed.
He went all the way back to the beginning of Clayton’s book, seeking a simple white loaf that would wipe away the taste of sourdough. Clayton’s “Rich White Bread” recipe certainly did the trick. Both lard and butter have turned out loaves of sturdy, tasty stuff we’ve enjoyed with egg salad and as toast. (Steve likes to call this bread “Mitt Romney.” Steve really needs to let that stuff go.)
As our weather is warming Steve is once more thinking about sourdough starter, and may give one of Clayton’s a try in short order. (He’s particularly interested in one made from grape must, but will wait until local grapes are found at our market.) While we wait for our new eukaryote friends to arrive, we will most likely try more instant yeast recipes from Mr. Clayton—and we possibly won’t feel quite so big about ourselves.
RICH WHITE BREAD (a/k/a “Mitt Romney”)
(adapted from Bernard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads) (makes 2 loaves)
1-1/2 c. hot water (120°-130° F)
1/2 c. nonfat dry milk
2 TB sugar
2 t. salt
2 packages dry yeast
4-1/2 to 5-1/2 cups bread or all-purpose flour
2 TB lard or butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature
Pour hot water into mixing bowl. Stir in dry milk, sugar, salt, yeast and 3 cups flour. Blend. Add the lard or butter and eggs. Beat until batter is smooth—if using a stand mixer the batter may require scraping. Stir in the balance of the flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough becomes rough and shaggy and begins to clean the sides of the bowl.
Knead until the dough becomes smooth and elastic, sprinkling on more flour if it remains sticky. Place the smooth, elastic dough ball in a greased bowl, cover in plastic wrap and leave in a warm place until at least doubled in bulk, about 1-1/2 hours.
Turn back the wrap and punch down the dough with your fingers, reshaping into a ball. Cover again and let rise for another 30 minutes or so, until just about doubled in bulk.
Grease 2 large (9″ x 5″) loaf pans.
Knead the dough for a few moments, pressing out the bubbles. Divide the dough into two pieces, shape into balls, cover and let rest for about 5 minutes. Form a loaf by pressing a ball into a flat oval just about the length of the pan, then fold it in half and pinch the seam tightly. Tuck the ends under and place the dough, seam side down, into the greased pan.
Preheat your oven to 400°.
Cover the loaves with waxed paper and leave in a warm place to rise until the dough puffs about 1″ above the pan’s edge, about 45 minutes.
Uncover and bake the loaves for about 25-30 minutes, shifting the pans about halfway through baking, until they are golden brown and pull away from the loaf pans.
Remove the loaves from the oven, turn them from the pans and thump their bottoms with a finger. A hard hollow sound means the bread is baked. Cool before slicing.