Making Time for Toast

March 8, 2014 § 7 Comments

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When the bread was rising, that’s when our stomachs began to rumble. Even at such an early stage the scent of yeast fed on a mixture of honey, butter and water would come drifting through the house from the growing pillow of dough on kitchen counter, triggering that hunger particular to bread. Somehow we survived the wait, from the kneading through both risings, to the baking and final cooling (though in our hangry impatience we were secretly convinced the whole process could take half the time if our mother were less cruel).

I was raised on bread, always first enjoyed fresh from the oven, warm and soft on the inside and spread with a generous slathering of salted butter. My mother’s is one of the first recipes I ever copied into my Moleskine. I could stand in the little cupboard of a kitchen in my first apartment and eat a warm slice over the sink – you know, as crumbs and convenience were at stake- and feel safe in that taste of home, no matter how many term papers I was facing, how much reading was supposed to be done in the next 12 hours, how much I missed the smell of pine trees and the sound of mountain birds.

asparagus toast

Without a doubt I am still on team bread, but nowadays I gravitate towards a category I would term “interesting bread”, one that falls somewhere outside of the refined grain parameters. Mostly this means loaves chock-full of ancient grains with seeds or nuts or spices folded in. They are the refined cousin of the everything bagel, bread meant to be eaten in thin slices, slowly, attentively, and with relish. I first discovered this kind of bread at San Francisco’s Bar Tartine, where thin slices hid under toppings like roasted broccolini on a silky bed of smashed butter beans and smoked salmon on a spread of fromage blanc. Those beautifully prepared toppings were delightful, but it was the humble, hearty bread that took my breath away. It was simultaneously nutty and grassy, rustic and refined- and somehow ineffably tasted of the centuries.

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The complexity of that bread mocked every subsequent tartine, until one day I stumbled across a recipe in Maria Speck’s Ancient Grains for Modern Meals for something called “Aroma Bread”.  A no-knead bread relying on a period of 3 days of soaking, fermenting, baking and resting to give it all the more character, it is this bread that I have made the past year over and over again. Based on traditional German whole-grain breads, Aroma Bread is brimming with rye berries and whole seeds like sunflower, sesame, coriander and caraway. It is a project that deserves a weekend and the attention of all of your senses, because no matter how many times as you make it, it is incapable of being boring.

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Since I am only one person, I slice it as thinly as I can manage and slip the whole hasselbacked-loaf into a sealable bag before nestling it into whatever space is left in the freezer. It’s then all ready to satisfy the regular toast whims that arise throughout the day. Aroma Bread toast makes a crunchy, crackly bed as ideal for rubbing with a clove of garlic and topping with an egg (or the iconic smashed avocado) as it is for reawakening the classic combination of bananas on almond butter. In fact, it isn’t just suited to topping- it’s perfect for soaking up the dregs of your soup bowl, or my particular favorite- for dipping in olive oil and dukkah for a mid-morning snack.

dukkah

Aroma Bread with Coriander and Fennel
adapted from Maria Speck’s Ancient Grains for Modern Meals

  • 3 cups whole grain spelt flour (12 ounces)
  • 1 cup whole grain rye flour (3 3/4 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup stone-ground whole grain cornmeal (2 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup black sesame seeds
  • 2 tbsp aroma spice blend (see below)
  • 1 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp rapid-rise yeast
  • 1/2 cup rye berries, soaked overnight and drained
  • 2 cups cold water
  • Cornmeal, for sprinkling

Aroma Spice Blend (makes enough to keep in a sealed jar for subsequent batches!):

  • 6 tbsp whole coriander seeds
  • 3 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 3 tbsp caraway seeds

Whisk together all ingredients except whole grain berries (soaked) and water in a large bowl. Scatter the grain berries on top and add almost all the water. Stir with wooden spoon until flour is incorporated. The dough should be wet and sticky to the touch; otherwise, add a bit more water.  Cover loosely and let sit at room temperature to ferment for at least 12 hours and up to 18 hours.

The next day, finish the bread. Sprinkle a linen or cotton kitchen towel (not terry cloth) with cornmeal and generously flour a work surface. Scrape the dough onto the work surface. Using floured hands, fold it exactly 4 times, always toward the center — from the right and from the left, as well as from the top and the bottom. Turn the loaf upside down so the fold is at the bottom, and set it on the kitchen towel. Fold the towel over the loaf to cover, and let sit for about 1 hour.

After about 30 minutes, position a rack in the bottom third of the oven and preheat to 475°F. Place a 4 1/2- to 5 1/2-quart cast-iron pot or Dutch oven with its lid in the center of the rack. After about 1 hour, your loaf should have nicely risen.

Carefully remove the cast-iron pot from the oven and place on a couple of folded kitchen towels (to avoid cracking); uncover. Unwrap the dough, sprinkle with a bit more cornmeal, and invert directly from the kitchen towel into the pot, seam side up.

Cover with the lid and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake until the loaf is nicely browned and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers 200°F, 20 to 25 minutes. Using thick pot holders, remove the loaf from the cast-iron pot and transfer to a wire rack. If you can resist, allow to cool completely, about 3 hours, before cutting the loaf with a sharp serrated knife.

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