Thursday, October 18, 2007

A loaf of bread, a glass of wine…combined

Yesterday I made my very first loaf of bread from fermented grapes. The tradition of leavening bread with fermented fruits and grains dates back over five thousand years to ancient Egypt, where bread, wine and beer were prepared under the same roof. Bread and alcohol have been the closest companions ever since.
Unlike my early attempts at grain-based sourdough, this one was surprisingly foolproof. I can’t count how many bricks I’ve turned out in the past. This loaf didn’t rise above the lip of the bread pan, but I’ve never achieved that with whole grain. And what’s life without something more to work towards?
For the starter:
2 cups unwashed organic seedless grapes
3 cups rye flour
3 cups filtered water
4 days
For the loaf:
17 oz. starter
12 oz. freshly ground whole wheat flour
6 oz. filtered water
1 T Celtic sea salt
12 hours
Day 1 (Friday): I pureed two cups of unwashed organic Concord grapes in the food processor, then spent the rest of the afternoon picking out the seeds. I don’t know what I was thinking; use seedless grapes. Be sure they’re organic, since the yeasts live on the skins of the grapes, and you don’t want them bringing any pesticides with them!
To the grape pulp, I mixed in a cup each of rye flour and water and left it alone. Each of the next two days, I added another cup each of rye flour and water and moved the starter to a clean bowl – always at room temperature. By Day 4 (Monday) it was very frothy and smelled a bit like wine, only more astringent and grapey.
Tuesday morning at 6 AM, I mixed 17 oz. starter with 12 oz. freshly ground whole wheat, a tablespoon of sea salt and 7 oz. water. I should have used 6 oz. water, but I’d forgotten I halved the recipe when I measured it, and didn’t realize my mistake until mid-pour when the dough was looking awfully wet. I mashed it with my hands for a minute or two until I felt a little stiffness from the gluten, then balled it up and flopped it in a greased loaf pan. Arrived fifteen minutes late for work.
Tuesday evening, the loaf had at least doubled in size and went in the 300-degree oven at 5:53 PM. After 40 minutes, the edges had pulled away from the pan and it sounded hollow when thumped, and that was ready enough for me. I will have to check my real oven temperature because this hotel oven seems to cook things in half the listed time.
I waited about an hour to slice it. Surprisingly, it did not taste like grapes. I brought it in to work today, and my officemates actually liked it. They said it wasn’t grainy and heavy like most whole grain breads, but soft like white French bread! I was floored.
This is my new favorite bread recipe because I can make it on a work day. It is so low-maintenance, it’s better than my crock pot.
I have many alterations in mind for this supernaturally cooperative recipe. I would like to see how it deals with multiple rises, different liquids, other grains, fats, eggs, and crust variations.
I’m also curious about how it will change as the grape content in the starter gets replaced by flour. Theoretically, the yeasts have already come off the grape skins and multiplied to their hearts’ content in the flour, so there should be no difference in activity. I wonder how the flavor will change with age. For a five-thousand-year-old tradition, there’s plenty more for me to learn about sourdough.

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