Tuesday, November 5, 2013

TWD -- A great chance to experiment

Nine cups of flour for two loaves of bread? That was the first thing that struck me when I read through this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe: Pumpernickel Bread. I found the list of ingredients (chocolate, espresso, molasses, yogurt) intriguing, but the amount of flour indicated that if this recipe was made into two loaves they would be HUGE!! With only two people in my household, I decided that loaves that big would get stale long before they were eaten. Thus, I decided to make three loaves, not two, and give one to friends and freeze one for later.

That decided, I then realized this was a chance to experiment with three different baking techniques and see which one proved to be the best. I would shape all three as described in the recipe (I also watched the video which helped in the shaping) but would bake one in a stone covered baking pan (similar to a La Cloche, but long and narrow), bake one in a traditional 9 by 5 bread pan (I chose stone for this as well) and bake the third in the manner described in the recipe, directly on baking tiles using ice water to create steam. I was dying to try the kitchen towel sling for rising, so the third loaf would be treated exactly like the recipe specified.

I also decided to experiment with the rising instructions. Recipes of old called for three rises, but most modern ones require only two. Was the third rise really necessary? I decided to find out. Thus, the first two loaves were allowed to rise twice, and the third would rise three times, just as the recipe prescribed.

Unable to find prune lekvar in my area, I substituted seedless blackberry jam for the prune butter. I was fortunate to have stone-ground rye flour, purchased on a recent trip to Bear's Mill (bearsmill.com) in western Ohio. It's one of the few mills left in the state still grinding flour.  Aside from the lekvar substitution, I followed the recipe to a T. I soon learned that my Kitchen Aid mixer could not handle dough with nine cups of flour. The dough began crawling up the dough hook and beyond! This resulted in a major cleaning effort to coax the dough out of the mixing mechanism. Lesson learned: never try to mix three loaves of bread at once. I ended up taking the dough out of the mixer and finishing it by hand -- not the Herculean task as described in the recipe, but rather soul-satisfying after 10 minutes cleaning my Kitchen Aid of mud-colored globules of dough.

Loaves No. 1 and 2 in the oven
But once past that snag, I was off and running. Loaves one and two were shaped with one placed in the stone covered baker, the other positioned in the 9 by 5 loaf pan. I topped one with sesame seeds, the other with caraway seeds.

The towel technique
I then started work on loaf No. 3 -- the one by which I followed the recipe exactly (except of course for the blackberry jam). I let the loaf rise twice, then shaped it according to instructions.  I floured a kitchen dish towel and placed the loaf seam side up on the towel. I disliked the idea of poking a hole in the towel, as suggested, but discovered that the towel I chose had a piece of binding tape sewn diagonally across one of the top corners -- a device intended for hanging. Perfect. I shoved one end of the towel through the binding tape, then used the tape to hang the loaf from the knob on a kitchen cupboard.

After the requisite 40 minutes of rising, I turned the loaf onto a paddle sprinkled with cornmeal. I egg-washed the top, sprinkled on some seeds, slashed it and positioned it onto preheated baking tiles. I then threw in the ice water for steam and set the timer.

It turned out that I loved the kitchen towel-rising technique. It allowed me to achieve a fat boule without having the sides sag. I will definitely use this technique in the future. It was easy, foolproof and resulted in just the size loaf I wanted.

From left, stone covered baker, 9 by 5 bread pan, towel-rising loaf

So, which loaf tasted the best? I can honestly say I couldn't tell a difference. The mixture of ingredients was wonderful. The crispiest crust, however, was accomplished with the 9 by 5 pan, something I never would have predicted. The shape I liked the best was the one created by the kitchen towel. The least successful was the loaf made in the (expensive) covered stone baker. So, if anyone out there is contemplating purchasing such an item, I would advise against it. I have not found that it's worth the money. A kitchen towel is much, much cheaper.


  1. All the loaves look great! It's great to learn that the cheapest technique produced the best looking bread :) There is a recipe for prune lekvar in TWJ - super easy and fast to make.

  2. All the loaves do look great! I'm so pleased that you tried different versions. It is nice to see and hear about the results.(thanks!)

  3. Wow, thanks for telling us about your experiments! Such a useful post, and some great looking loaves, very impressive!

  4. I like the three-way experiment - it was pretty interesting how well the sling worked in keeping the loaves intact during that last rise.

  5. Great work! I too like the towel-rising technique. This is the second time I have used it. I could not find prune lekvar/butter either, and ended up substituting plum preserves, for laziness won out, and I did not feel like making it. Though it is quite simple I hear.

  6. Three different versions of pumpernicklel: you are soooo good!
    They turned out beautifully.