So of course when her first grade teacher put Flat Sophia, her avatar, in a big yellow envelope and sent her via first-class mail to stay with us for a week, I knew bread-baking would be on the agenda. But as (bad) luck would have it, I am levain-less right now. Between a quick trip back to the Northeast a couple of weeks ago to see the grand-children and the upcoming trip to Paris for Europain (followed by visits to family and friends), there is no way I can take care of my levains and since I don't much like the aroma of the acids created when they spend a long time in the fridge, I have dehydrated them and stored them in ziploc bags for later use. Not that I look forward to the rehydrating process which I find tiresome and which requires a healthy amount of faith in the zest for life of these tiny organisms but it sure beats the alternative (which would be to bake a levain-fermented bread I don't enjoy eating).
So no levain in sight and Flat Sophia chomping at the bit to get her hands on some dough. What to do? For those of you who are not familiar with flat kids, please take a look at the Flat Stanley books: I had never heard of Flat Stanley before getting Flat Sophia from the teacher but after a week of taking her everywhere we went, I can tell you that many many people know of his adventures and, as a result, have shared their lives with a flat kid at some point. A fishmonger at Seattle's Pike Place Market told us he once was sent a 5-foot tall flat boy and schlepped him around for a week. An elementary school teacher we met at the register at Costco offered to adopt Flat Sophia and take her back with her to Alaska. She promised to send her back with pictures of her classroom. She was very kind and cheerful and a trip to Alaska sounded like fun but would you entrust your grandkid (however flat she might be) to a complete stranger? I didn't think so. So we kept her with us and she had innumerable adventures (she jumped from a hot air balloon and narrowly avoided landing in a pond and once was rescued by a super watchdog from the open jaws of a giant fish) and we put together a picture book which will be sent back to Connecticut tomorrow. On the final day of her visit, the weather outside was bleak (it snowed huge flakes in the early morning and the one thing paper kids don't handle too well is wetness), so we stayed home and we baked.It was a lot of fun. Ok, I admit, not as much fun as baking with the real Sophia, but still! I for one will be sorry to see Flat Sophia go. I found that doing things with her and taking her sightseeing was a great way of staying connected to her namesake, dreaming up adventures that she would enjoy reading about and sharing with her teacher and her classmates. Still tomorrow she must be slipped into the big yellow envelope and mailed back...
- 420 g freshly milled emmer flour
- 165 g unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1.3 g instant yeast
- 11 g fine sea salt
- 360 g water
For the method, please refer to the Bluebird Grain Farms website as I mostly followed it except that:
- I milled their emmer grain instead of using their flour
- I didn't sprinkle the dough with coarse sea salt before baking
- I used rather more water than they do
- I fermented the dough for 22 hours (first 8 hours at 74°F, overnight at 70°F and the last 4 hours at 74° F again)
- I proofed it in a Dutch oven and when ready, put the Dutch oven in the cold oven with the lid on. I baked the bread for 45 minutes at 470°F, took it out of the Dutch oven and placed it directly on the hot baking stone. It baked for another 15-20 minutes at 450°F. It made a nice hollow sound when thumped. That's how I knew it was done...
Taste-wise, I find it hard to describe this bread. I don't want to use words like "nutty" or "delicious" because they have been used so often (including by me) that they are no longer very meaningful. I can only say that there is something deeply satisfying about the taste of emmer: it is certainly wholesome (you can almost taste the sunshine ripening the fields and the wind softly rippling the rows of spiky stalks). Unlike spelt (to which it is genetically related), it doesn't taste of honey and like kamut, another ancient wheat cereal, it bakes into a mellow crumb which almost melts in the mouth. I also find that this bread tastes better the day after it's baked: yesterday, the flavor of the yeast (never truly my favorite) overpowered that of the grain. Today the taste of yeast has all but vanished and all is left is the grain. Definitely a good and easy bread to have in one's repertoire. It also slices very nicely, which will come in handy for the honey sandwich I plan to send home with Flat Sophia for sustenance en route...
Bluebird Grain Farms' No-Knead Emmer Bread is going to Susan for this week's issue of Yeastspotting.