Babcia’s Bread Experiment, part 9: a few changes

Yesterday, I made another batch of bread using the old dough stored in flour as a starter. I did change things up a little bit, though.

One of the things about trying to recreate how my grandmother did this is, I’m relying on my mother’s childhood memories. There would definitely be things my mother never noticed, never saw, or simply doesn’t remember. In reality, my grandmother would have made do with what she had, so while their bread would certainly have been as basic as flour, salt and water, if she had had other ingredients, she would have used them. I know they would have made their own butter and rendered their own lard. They may even have pressed their own seed oil (my mother does remember processing hemp, so they likely had hemp oil, too). They likely had honey or some type of sugar, if only rarely. It’s hard to say, though, since my mother doesn’t remember very much of that, and none of my research so far has turned up more historical detail. There just isn’t a lot out there to describe how people in poor, backwater villages ate because, frankly, most of the people recording such things either didn’t know about them, or were indifferent to how ordinary people lived.

I do think that there is room to experiment a bit and still be pretty true to how Babcia would have done things, even if they were only on special occasions or when she happened to have access to ingredients.

With yesterday’s baking, one of the things I changed up was how long the old dough was left to soak in warm water. My mother says it was left overnight. My grandmother had a large lump of old dough, for her weekly baking of a dozen or so loaves, but I’m not working with such quantities. The amount I’d set aside from the last batch was the largest I’d done yet, and it was getting too big for my canister of flour. In fact, I didn’t get any pictures of it when I took it out, because there was just too much flour all over, it was bigger than the plate I’d brought to hold it, and I just broke it up into my crock right away.

When the old dough was left to sit in a warm oven overnight, it seemed to me that this was too long. It was no longer actively bubbling by morning. So this time, I decided to just let it sit for a few hours. I also added a small amount of sugar (about a tablespoon to 2 cups of water that had been boiled, then allowed to cool down to the right temperature) to feed the yeast. Last time, I supplemented with a bit of commercial yeast, but not this time.

This is how it looked, after about three hours sitting in a warm oven.

Just look at how bubbly that is!

I did add a bit more sugar (another tablespoon or so) to the dough as I mixed it, too. No added yeast. This was a slightly larger batch than before, too. Previous batches used about 3 cups of water in total, to 4 or 5 cups of flour, but this time I used about 7 cups of flour to 4 cups of water. Then, after cutting away a piece of dough for next time, I tried something else.

I kneaded in a cup of thick cut rolled oats. This is something my grandmother would have had, at least sometimes, so I have little doubt that she would have included it, when it was available.

Normally, I would have added the oats at the very beginning, leaving it to soak in boiling water until it was cool enough that the yeast or sourdough started could be added. I wasn’t sure how that would affect the dough set aside for next time, though, so I left it until later.

I knew the flakes would still soften while the dough was rising, and it would add some texture, too. Kneading it in was a challenge, though! I deliberately left the dough stickier than I usually would have, just to make working in the rolled oats easier, and it was still trying to fly all over the place! LOL

Unfortunately, I completely forgot to take pictures after this!

The dough itself just did not want to rise! Yes, it was in a warm oven, but I’m using a plastic bowl (metal can react with sourdough, affecting the flavour, and this is pretty much a kind of sourdough), so I didn’t want to make the oven much warmer. It did rise some, and again as I formed the loaves, but even the smaller loaves didn’t rise as well. I really should be leaving it to rise for far longer, but it’s just to dang cold.

It does rise more while baking, of course, so that helps. The bread was still dense, but it did still have plenty of air bubbles in it. The rolled oats did soften up, as expected, while still adding a bit of nice texture and a subtle flavour.

Speaking of subtle flavours, there is most definitely a light sourdough taste developing.

I made a total of 8 small loaves out of this batch; 4 round loaves (basically just big buns!) baked in a cast iron pan, and 4 long loaves baked on a pizza stone. At 400F, the round loaves needed about 40-45 minutes to bake, while the long ones needed about 30-35 minutes. I have no idea how long my grandmother would have baked hers, since she had a masonry stove, and I don’t know what method she used to determine when the temperature was right.

As for the bread it self, it was quite tasty. I like the addition of the rolled oats. This morning, I cut one of the little long loaves into slices, pan toasted one side in butter, then topped each with a slice of mozzarella, for breakfast. It was very nice! It probably would have been nicer to broil the cheese, but I didn’t feel like fussing with the oven. 😀

Next time, I’ll have to remember to take pictures through the whole process. 😀

The Re-Farmer

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