Storm Status, and Easter baking

Well, it’s certainly snowing and blowing enthusiastically, out there!

That hasn’t stopped the birds from enjoying the suet feeder.

The driveway is so white right now, it’s messing with the camera’s ability to “see” it, making for some interesting rings of colours on there.

I took this screencap of the weather app on my desktop, just minutes ago. According to this, the worst is still yet to come. It is still conflicting with what’s showing on the weather radar.

Well, it will be what it will be. My main concern is with the high winds, of course. When this is over, we’ll have to do a walk-about to see if any more dead trees have come down, or what branches have fallen.

From the looks of the weather radar, the most severe conditions are hitting the US, as the system sweeps across the Eastern states. I hope those of you living in those states are keeping safe!

While it’s snowing and blowing, we got some bread baking done.

A two-loaf recipe was divided into four small loaves. The prettiest one will be for our Easter basket.

Since I was baking bread anyhow, I made a batch of oatmeal bread, also divided into four small loaves instead of two regular loaves. That way, we get a loaf each. 😀

I’m looking forward to having one of them with a big bowl of chili, once it cools down enough. 🙂

The Re-Farmer

Babcia’s Bread Experiment: awake!

Thanks to my wonderful daughter taking over for me, yesterday, we had a couple of fresh loaves of bread to try this morning.

I’d started by having the dough baby soak overnight, then added flour to make a sponge. After several hours, this is what the sponge looked like.

My daughter set aside half of this, then used the remaining sponge to make our basic bread. Instead of using loaf pans, she made two big, flat loaves on a baking tray. Here is what I used for breakfast, this morning! 🙂

The bread had a very mild sourdough flavour. For all the months the dough baby sat in the flour, it did not get any stronger in flavour. It was mild enough that I could put them with slices of brie under the broiler, and the flavour of the bread did not overpower the flavour of the cheese. The bread had a very nice texture to it, too.

As for the sponge that had been set aside; my daughter had used the flour from the dough baby’s canister in the bread, but there was still some left. I kneaded some into the sponge to make a stiffer dough, then refilled the canister half way with fresh flour, added the bough baby, then topped it with more flour. The canister is semi-transparent, so when I checked on it an hour or so later, I could see the dough baby had risen enough to work its way through the flour, so I gave the canister enough of a shake to cover it up again. With our temperatures slowly cooling (though I saw a 30C day in the forecast!!), we’ll be using this more often, which should further develop the flavour.

As someone who has never managed to keep a sourdough going for more than a couple of years, I really appreciate how low maintenance the old dough method is. If we can’t going to bake as often, it’ll just stay in its flour bed and dry up. It doesn’t need to be constantly used, fed, stirred, or kept warm. I think this will work out really well for us!

The Re-Farmer

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

Babcia’s Bread Experiment, part 6: restarting

Okay, so after accidentally killing off our ball of old dough “yeast”, I had to start over. Since I have no idea how my grandmother got her first ball of old dough, this is all a guessing game, anyhow!

This time, I went with another old technique: the sponge.

It’s just 2 cups warm water, 2 cups flour and 2 Tbsp of yeast, mixed together. This is the sort of thing one might put into the fridge overnight, to bake in the morning. Instead, I put it in the oven that was warmed up to its lowest setting, then turned off.

After about an hour or more, the resulting sponge was all soft and fluffy!

I added another half cup of warm water, which also made it easier to transfer it to my big mixing bowl, then added the salt and flour, as usual.

Once I’d kneaded in as much flour as I wanted (I have to catch myself and not add too much!), the dough was set aside to rise in a floured bowl. Once again, it went into a warm oven to rise.

But not before I took out a dough baby! My mother described my grandmother as taking dough out for the next batch after the second rising, when she was shaping the loaves. Since I’m using actual yeast in this, I did only one rising before shaping the loaves. I flattened the ball out this time, to see how that changes things as it sits buried in the flour.

As for the rising dough, it ended up taking about 2 hours, even with using commercial yeast!

This would have been a 2 loaf recipe, but I decided to play around a bit.

I made 4 plain mini loaves, first.

Yes, there are only 3 in the picture. My husband already ate one. 😀

After taking the picture, I ate one, too!

The other half was used to make surprise buns. During our city shop, I’d found a gouda-like cheese (I can’t remember what it was actually called) with truffle in it. There was still some left, so I cut it into small slices and wrapped them inside the dough.

I did try and seal the dough well, but as you can see in the photo, the cheese still made its way out, and started bubbling in the middle!

I can hardly wait to try it out!

With our new dough baby, I will have to make a point of using it every few days again. Since I didn’t start out with an “instant sourdough” yeast, it will take longer to develop that sour flavour. At least, that’s my assumption.

I will also keep taking the dough baby out for the next batch at the start, as the dough it being setting aside to rise. That way, I can do things later on, like knead baking soda in again, or knead in things like herbs or shredded cheese or anything else that catches my fancy.

I just have to not kill the old dough again! 😀

The Re-Farmer

Babcia’s Bread Experiment, part five: I killed it!

Ah, I was afraid of this. I managed to kill the dough ball.

My mother describes how her mother would bake only once a week. So after working using the old dough after letting it sit in the flour few a few days, this time, I left it longer. Last night, I took it out and prepped it to soak overnight, as usual. Unfortunately, I did not have my camera with me.

The dough ball didn’t look any different on the outside from before. The extra time did mean the inside was drier, which I did expect. It was basically a hollow ball. Being drier, it was easier to break up into small pieces. I added 2 cups of water that had been boiled and allowed to cool to the right temperature (because of concerns with our well water), and it was set in a warm oven with the light on, overnight.

This is what it looked like this morning.

Yeah. That yeast is dead.

In stirring it up, the dough was completely dissolved, but no hint of yeast activity.

I can say with confidence that the extra time buried in flour did not kill the yeast. I could have dehydrated it completely, and it should have reconstituted and kept right on going.


I killed it.

And I know how I did it, too.

The last time I used the dough was written about here.

One of the things I mention in there was that I “cheated” by using baking soda. If you’ve worked with sourdough recipes that called for baking soda before, you know what happens! There is a lovely chemical reaction that results in a light, fluffy dough or batter.

My mistake was, I didn’t take the dough ball out before I added the soda. That chemical reaction would have continued after I buried the dough ball in the flour, which is why it still developed a hollow center. However, as I thought might happen, the yeast was spent in the process. I didn’t remember to take the dough ball out until too late in the process, but I hoped that maybe it would still work. Alas, it did not.

Well, this IS and experiment!

So I am restarting the process. I don’t have the “instant sourdough yeast” I used before, so I am using regular yeast to make a sponge, which is currently in a warm oven to get all spongy. I’ll post the details later, but it is also a very old technique. It will slow down my bread baking plans for the day by quite a bit. Ah, well. That’s okay. It’s a learning process, and that’s the whole fun of it!

The Re-Farmer

Babcia’s Bread Experiment, part 4, and baking day!

Last night, I prepared the dough ball from our previous baking. I was really curious about our bubble!

Seeing this reminded me of a story my mother told me, when I was a child, helping her bake bread.

There was a young couple and, while the husband was at work, the wife decided to bake bread. The only problem was, she’d never baked bread before!

She followed the recipe and set the dough aside to rise.

It wouldn’t rise.

After a very long time, the wife decided she had failed somehow and was feeling quite ashamed of her failure. Her husband would be coming home from work soon, so she decided to hide the evidence by burying the dough in the garden.

It was, however, a sunny and warm day. Some time later, her husband happened to glance out the window and saw what appeared to be a giant white mushroom growing in the garden!

The wife didn’t realize the house was too cold for the bread to rise properly, but once warmed by the sun, it rose quite enthusiastically!

Alas, the poor woman’s secret was out, and she had to explain to her husband why there was a giant bubble growing in their garden. 😀

I was talking to my mother on the phone just a little while ago, and told her about the bubble that emerged from the flour, asking if she knew what it made me think of when I saw it.

She knew exactly what that was!

We got a good laugh over it!

So what did this bubble look like when I dug the bread egg out?

Rather funny, I thought!

Like last time, it was light, with a dried, crisp outer shell, and lovely, bubbly dough inside.

I broke it up into pieces, putting it in a crock with 2 1/2 cups of warm water – the full amount I would be using in the dough – and set the crock into a warm oven with the light on, and left it overnight.

Here, you can see how it looked the next morning, after a good stir, and how the finished dough looked as it was set aside to rise.

Since I expected this to take a while, I decided to make a 2 loaf recipe of basic bread. In the time that took to rise, the old dough bread still needed more time!

With the plain bread, I took half of the dough, cut it into a dozen pieces, rolled each piece into long, flattened strip, which got wrapped around a hot dog wiener.

It’s been a long time since I made these!

That worked out quite well!

The other half of the dough, meanwhile, also got split into a dozen pieces, which got made into buns.

I baked those in a cast iron pan, to make pull-apart buns.

My Babcia’s Bread experiment still wasn’t rising, so while the buns and wieners were rising, then waiting their turns for the oven, I made another batch of bread.

This bread was my usual oatmeal flax bread, with the addition of chia seeds and hemp hearts. I made a 2 loaf recipe, but divided them into 4 smaller loaves.

By now, my Babcia’s Bread was still not risen a much as I would have liked, but with the oven in use, there wasn’t anywhere I could keep it warm. Besides, it did rise at least some.

I decided not to do three risings this time.

Plus, I cheated.

The bread egg is the same principle as a sourdough, without the moisture levels. Which means the developing yeasts would become increasingly acidic.

I decided to take advantage of that and employ a bit of chemistry.

What happens when you mix baking soda and vinegar?

Lots of bubbles, of course!

What happens when you add baking soda to an acidic bread mixture?

More bubbles!

I sprinkled some baking soda onto my kneading surface and worked it in quite thoroughly. The dough turned out to have risen more than it appeared to have, so it was already pretty light and fluffy. As I kneaded in the baking soda, I could actually feel the dough becoming even lighter and puffier in my hands!

After kneading it enough to ensure the baking soda, along with a little more flour to keep it from getting too sticky – and remembering to take off a ball of dough for the next baking! – I divided it into 4 small loaves and set them aside to rise some more more.

While my Babcia’s Bread dough was still rising, I had time to make yet another batch of bread. Surprise bread!

This time, I made a plain 2 loaf recipe, then added parsley, garlic granules, paprika and dill. After letting it rise, I made a dozen buns, each stuffed with 1 cube of mozzarella and 1 cube of old cheddar cheeses.

It turned out pretty awesome, if I do say so myself!

Here is my bread baking for the day – minus the hot dogs, which were already eaten! Top left is 2 loaves of Babcia’s Bread. In the middle is the pull-apart buns that were baked in a cast iron frying pan, and on the right are a couple of surprise bread buns. In the foreground is one of the oatmeal flax loaves.

This made for quite the productive baking day!

The Re-Farmer

Babcia’s Bread Experiment, part 3b: first rising

When setting the old dough to reconstitute and ferment overnight, I had some concerns about temperature. The crock was sitting on our dining table, and that room gets pretty chilly. I did warm up the rice bag we have been using to warm our fermenting hard apple cider (which is probably ready to be bottled, but we haven’t gotten around to it yet) and set it under the crock, to help keep it at least a little bit warm.

While investigating some cat noises in the wee hours of the morning, I checked it and found it was looking pretty much the same as when I’d left it. So I warmed the oven up a bit, then put the crock in, shut the oven off and left the light on.

This is how it looked about 3 hours later.

Warming it up, did the trick! I’ll have to keep that in mind, as we continue experimenting.

I warmed the oven up a bit again, then put the crock back for another 3 hours or so, before I was able to start making the dough.

That’s looking nice and puffy!

I find it interesting that the pieces are still distinctly separate. When I stirred it, before adding it to some flour and salt in a bowl, I found the pieces separated and stretched, before starting to mix together. The water under the old dough pieces was pretty much clear until I mixed it, too.

I added this to a bowl with 3 cups of flour and 2 tsp of Kosher salt and mixed it together. I kneaded another 4 – 4 1/2 cups of flour in before turning it onto my table and kneading it for another 5 – 10 minutes.

Normally, I would oil the bowl the dough will be rising in, but my grandmother would not have done that, so I used flour, instead.

With this batch, I’ve got the same amount of water as the first batch the old dough came from, but I’m using less flour. That first batch was too dense. With only a little more than 4 cups of flour in here, after I remove some dough for the next batch, I think I’ll just make one large round loaf this time, instead of two.

Next time, I think I’ll up the water and flour quantities a little bit, and make a bigger batch. I don’t think I’ll adjust the amount of salt, though. Not unless I end up doubling the recipe or something.

The dough is now covered and set aside for its first rising. I’ll give it at least an hour, probably two, before punching it down and leaving it for a second rising.

I will post again, later today, with the final results! 🙂

The Re-Farmer

Babcia’s Bread Experiment, part 3: reconstituted, and more of the story

Tonight, the plan was to continue with my attempt to recreate bread, as much as possible, in the way my mother remembers my grandmother baking.

I spent some time doing research on the method, but there is nothing out there that quite matches what my mother describes. I gave her a call today with more questions, and got more of the story. 🙂

This video was the closest I could find to what my mother described, but it left me with a lot more questions.

Obviously, my babcia didn’t put the piece of dough into a jar and stick it in the refrigerator. They didn’t have refrigeration. The dough in the video is almost a batter. Also, did my babcia use rye flour? Since she baked only once a week, she had to have been making a LOT of bread. How much did she bake, and how much of the dough did she set aside for that much baking?

My mother had difficulty understanding some of my questions – and she’s at a loss as to why I am even bothering with all this! Using commercial yeast is just so much easier. 😀

So it took a while, but this is what I was able to find out.

My babcia’s weekly baking was for about a dozen round loaves. This was all one big batch. Her dough bowl must have been huge! She worked up the dough, using the old dough that was reconstituted overnight for leavening, then left it to rise. She then punched the dough down and left it to rise again. After the second rising, she would punch it down again, then knead and shape her loaves, laying them out on a flour covered surface. The shaped loaves would be left to rise one more time before baking in their masonry oven.

It would have been when she was forming the loaves that dough was taken out for the next batch, and all the scrapings from the wooden dough bowl and leftover bits of flour, would be incorporated into the ball. My mother says the ball of dough was about the size of a loaf of pumpernickel bread that she sometimes buys at the local grocery. That would make it about 3 – 4 cups of dough, before proofing, though I do take into account that, given her age at the time, her memory of the size might be distorted by her own small size.

Still, it’s enough information to assure me that my egg sized lump of dough is probably about the right size for a 2 loaf recipe.

I also learned that my babcia did use rye flour, as well as the wheat flour and corn flour my mother had already mentioned. Basically, whatever they had on hand. Or whatever was left, after either the Russians or the Nazi’s came through and took everything again.

It was a rather precarious existence for them!

I also confirmed that my grandmother’s dough was NOT a wet, almost batter like dough, like the one in the video above. My mother described it as being more like the sort of bread she used to bake all the time, when I was a kid. Considering that I helped her with bread baking for many years, that gives me a very good idea of what I will be looking for.

Armed with more information from my mother, I started on reconstituting our bread dough “egg” in preparation for baking with it, tomorrow.

Here is how it looked, when I dug it out of the flour.

It was most definitely larger than when it first went in! Not extremely so, but enough to really notice.

It also felt a lot lighter than when it was first put in. I was very interested in seeing how it looked on the inside!

Ooooo!!! That looks amazing!

The outer shell was almost flaky in texture, and was clearly doing a great job of allowing the yeasts to continue to ferment without contamination.

It actually rather reminded me of the sourdough in this video, minus the fire.

It’s interesting to note that, historically, people did conserve their sourdough starters while traveling by putting it into their bag of flour and allowing it to dry out. What I am making now will certainly result in a sour dough, eventually, though it is not at all the same as maintaining a sourdough starter.

Since I will be making another 2 loaf recipe, I decided to reconstitute the dough ball in the full 2 cups of water that will go into the recipe. I could probably have used half that amount, without any issues, but I figured, why not sue the full amount? I wouldn’t use the full amount of water if I were, say, making a dozen loaves, like my grandmother did, but for a small batch of bread, it should be fine.

I used water that had been boiled, first, as a precaution with using our well water. Once the water had cooled down enough, I put it in a small crock style canister that I have, then added the broken up pieces of old dough.

After that, it just got a quick stir, to make sure all the pieces were thoroughly immersed.

I don’t expect this to overflow as the yeast develops but, just in case, I placed the covered container on the lid of a large mixing bowl.

Now, it just sits for the night. 🙂

I am very interested in seeing what this looks like in the morning!

The Re-Farmer

Babcia’s Bread experiment, part 2; the beginning

Photo heavy post ahead. 🙂

Okay, here it is! My very first attempt at slowly recreating my grandmother’s bread, with her use of “old dough” yeast that she kept stored in flour in between baking day. (Part 1: the story)

The first goal is to create the bread dough yeast starter, and for that, I need to make a yeast bread.

Here are the ingredients.

Water, yeast, salt and flour.

That’s it!

I used Kosher salt, as I figured that was more like what my grandmother had available to her.

For a 2 loaf recipe, I used 2 cups water, 2 tsp salt, about 2 tsp yeast, and between 5 and 6 cups of flour.

The yeast is my “cheat”. Back in the spring, when everyone started panic buying, yeast was among those things that became hard to find. One of our local grocery stores now not only stocks lots of the usual big name brand or two, but a wide variety of brands and types of yeast. When I spotted a “sourdough” yeast, I grabbed a packet, just to try it.

Since some of the dough from this batch will become the “mother” of future batched, I thought it was appropriate to use it.

The ingredients list is interesting. Both wheat and rye is used.

If you’re wondering about the sorbitan monpstearate, this is what I found:

“Sorbitan monostearate (abbreviation SMS), or Span 60, is an emulsifier esterified from sorbitol and stearic acid with the European food additive number E491. This ingredient is mostly used in baking yeast by improving the activity of instant dry yeast when the yeast is rehydrated before use. “

Speaking of rehydrating…

For the 2 cups of water, I boiled it first, because I have doubts about our well water. We really need to get the water tested, but a full test is really expensive, so… boiling it is.

I measured out half a cup of water into another measuring cup to rehydrate the yeast. I could have done it in the full 2 cups, but the half cup cooled down to a safer temperature for the yeast faster.

The inclusion of rye in this really changes the colour!

I let it proof for 5 minutes. I don’t know if I should have proofed it longer – I have recipes that call for anything from 5 to 15 minutes. It’s bubbled up, though, so I decided to go ahead.

While it was proofing, I mixed the salt into about 2-3 cups of flour. Without a wood bread bowl, I decided not to use a plastic one, and tried “dump your liquids into a well in the flour” method.

That looks…


The next while was spent with very messy, sticky hands, incorporating the rest of the flour and water in.

Thankfully, my daughter came down to give me a hand, adding the flour and water as I kneaded it in.

Once it was all mixed in, I kneaded the dough for about 15 minutes.

I may have used too much flour. I’ll have to keep that in mind for next time.

I did notice a difference in texture from my usual bread. Although I kneaded the dough until it felt smooth and satiny, it never looked smooth.

In fact, the longer I kneaded, the rougher it began to appear!

So I went by feel rather than appearances when it came time to set it aside for a first rising.

It went into an oiled plastic bowl, turning to coat all sides with oil. After covering the bowl with a tea towel, it went into a warm oven to rise.

Earlier in the day, I had prepped a baking stone and was curing it with oil in the oven. The oven was off but still warm; prefect for proofing the dough.

Once it was in the oven and rising, I set a timer to check it in an hour while my daughter started a batch of French bread. Checking it at an hour, I decided it needed more time, by my daughter’s bread was rising by the, too. So I took the bowl out and put my daughter’s dough in the warm warm oven, and set my timer for another hour.

This is the dough, after 2 hours.

After turning the dough out to prepare the loaves, I had to make sure to do that most important part.

Collect a dough egg! 😀

This humble little lump of dough is what it’s all about.

Into our flour canister it went!

I almost forget to get a picture before burying it!

My other daughter labeled the container for me.

She is a hoot! 😀

The ball of dough will now dry out until the next time we bake this bread.

After dividing the dough, I decided to form it into round loaves.

By this time, my daughter’s loaves were in the oven.

Where she forgot to take out my curing baking stone.

So they got to have their second rise on a normal baking pa, instead.

In kneading and shaping the dough, once again, the dough got rougher rather than smoother! You can really tell in the one of the left.

I then left them to rise, checking them after about half an hour.

My daughter’s French bread was done well before my second rising was done!

The ended up needing another hour of rising time.

The baking stone had cooled down quite a bit by then, but was warm enough that I transferred the loaves over, and I think that residual warmth helped them rise even more. The above photo was taken just before they went into a 400F oven.

All done!

I am not sure how long they took to back. I set my timer for half and hour, then kept peaking and resetting the time for another 5 minutes, over and over. I think it took about an hour to bake.

I was quite impressed with how much the loaves rose in the process!

The next part was the hardest.

Waiting for the loaves to cool down!

For all that the loaves rose so much in the oven, they still felt surprisingly dense. I was also a bit surprised by how fine a crumb there was.

I taste tested one piece plain, one with ordinary butter, and one with a garlic herb butter.

I’m having a hard time describing the flavour. It was certainly tastey, but I think I was picking up the rye flavour in the “sourdough” yeast. It did have a “sourdough” tang, but one that is quite different from any sourdough we’ve made ourselves.

The sponge was soft, yet toothsome. The crust was crusty enough to be a good chew, but not so crusty as to cut up the mouth (something I have issues with, when it comes to most “crusty” breads).

The plain slice was tasty, but the buttered slices definitely were better. With no fat in the bread itself, the butter really brought out the flavours that were more muted in the unbuttered slice.

All in all, this very plain, very basic bread was a success.

It is, however, just the first step in the process. It’s purpose was to provide us with some dough to reserve for the next batch. Every batch of bread we make using the bread egg now sitting in the flour canister will be another step closer to recreating my Babcia’s bread.

While my grandmother did her bread baking once a week, we will probably make our first batch using the bread egg in 3 or 4 days.

I am really curious to see how it will look when we fish it out of the flour, and how the overnight soak will turn out! For a first time use, I don’t expect the flavour will be much different, but who knows? I’ve never done this before! 😀

The Re-Farmer

Babcia’s Bread Experiment, part 1: the story

I may have mentioned in past posts, about my mother’s memories of bread baking in pre-WWII Poland. I was fascinated by what she could tell me. With no commercial yeast available, I had thought my Babcia (grandmother) had used a sort of sourdough. I know my father remembers this; a portion of the bread dough would be set aside to continue to ferment, and be used in the next batch of bread.

My grandmother did something different. She allowed her old dough to dry.

We lost our own sourdough starter, the Sourceror this past summer. It almost made it to 2 years, but we had a real problem with fruit flies this year. Somehow, they managed to get into the container and contaminated it.

Having a big bubbling bowl on the counter has been a bit of a problem for other reasons, so the more I heard about how my Babcia saved her dough, the more I wanted to try it.

My mother’s memories go back to the late 1930’s, early 1940’s. Then WWII happened and they eventually ended up in Canada, where commercial yeast was available. After questioning her about it, this is what I’ve been able to piece together.

Babcia would bake bread once a week. She would set aside some of the dough, adding in the scrapings from the wooden dough bowl, form it into a ball, then burying the ball in the flour. The night before she would be baking bread again, she would take out the dried ball of dough, break it up into pieces, and soak it in water overnight. In would get all bubbly, and that would be her yeast for her bread baking, with the cycle continuing each time.

My basic bread recipe includes things like oil, sugar, eggs, milk… all things that I just couldn’t see handling sitting in a bag of flour for a week without going off. On questioning my mother, I learned Babcia used none of these things. It simply wasn’t available. Her bread was flour, water, a bit of salt, and the reconstituted old dough. That’s it.

The flour would have been flour they milled themselves (at least they did until the Nazi’s caught them using an illicit hand mill and destroyed it), using grain they grew themselves. My mother says corn flour was also sometimes used, which they also would have grown themselves. The ingredients may have been few, but my mother remembers it as being the best bread; especially when corn flour was added. She remembers it was light and fluffy, too.

My mother was too young at the time to remember a lot of details, though, so I did some research. I know that bread can be as basic as flour and water, but if salt is used, would that be a problem? I know that sugar feeds yeast, while salt retards it. How would having salt in the dough affect the old dough yeast cake? Also, how much dough was set aside? My mother remembers a “ball”, but as young as she was, her sense of how large that was would be distorted.

In my research, I found quite a bit about “old dough” bread baking. This gave me a lot of the information I was looking for. For some types of old dough baking, dough is set aside before the salt was added, while others were taken out after. Both work. As for how much was taken out, I eventually found a general “about the size of an egg” description.

What I didn’t find was anyone who used old dough that was stored in flour. Nor did I find any that stored the dough for weekly baking. Most described setting the old dough aside in the fridge for 2 or 3 days, at most. In some forums I found, people described using it in their daily baking. Not a single person described using their old dough the way my mother remembers her mother did it. They all used wet dough. None used reconstituted dry dough.

I have decided, instead of getting a sourdough going again (for now), I will try and recreate my Babcia’s bread.

Of course, some things I will simply not be able to recreate; at least not now. We’ll be using plain old AP flour. I won’t be adding corn flour right away. I don’t have a big wooden dough bowl like my Babcia would have had (with a wooden dough bowl, yeast would have gotten into the wood itself, adding its own layer of flavours). I also don’t have a wood burning masonry stove (something similar to this, with a sleeping area on top) like my grandmother would have been baking in.

I found some proportions for ingredients for 2 loaves that I will start with, and I will probably experiment with making some a couple of times a week before I start adjusting quantities for larger batches.

One of the main differences in this experimental process is that I don’t have a yeast “mother.” My mother has no memory of where her mother got hers from. It was always just there. She may well have gotten her first old dough from the family members she was living with (my great grandparents having already gone to Canada to start a homestead, only to not be able to send for their children as they had planned, because of WWI). However, as they saw the warning signs leading to WWII, they abandoned their farm in Eastern Poland, taking nothing but the clothes on their backs and a goat they could milk for food, to settle in Western Poland. At that point, my grandmother likely got another old dough ball from one of their new neighbours.

It’s amazing how much history is intertwined in something so ordinary as how my grandmother leavened her bread!

So this is what I will be doing in my experiment that will possibly span years.

Today, I have started a first batch of plain bread; it’s rising as I write this, and I will post about it separately when it’s done.

I will be using a commercial “sourdough” yeast I happened to find, in this first batch.

After the dough is risen and before I shape it into loaves, I will break off some of the dough and store it in a container of flour, then bake the rest of the dough as usual.

In a few days, I’ll reconstitute what should be a mostly dried ball of dough overnight, make another 2 loaf batch, then continue repeating the process.

What should happen: the flavour of the bread should change and develop over time, just as with a sourdough.

What might happen: I’ll have sucky bread that doesn’t rise properly? The dough ball will start molding? The yeast will die off and I’ll have to start over? I have no idea.

For the first few months, at least, I will stick to the same basic mix of flour, water, salt and the old dough for yeast. Eventually, I will try adding corn flour. If I do decide to modify the recipe in other ways, it will be by doing things like kneading in herbs or shredded cheese or whatever, after the dough ball has been removed. I won’t be adding things to the base recipe, like sugar, milk, oil or eggs.

After I’ve done a few batches, and assuming this works, I plan to give some to my mother to taste. Hopefully, she will remember enough to be able to tell me if I’ve succeeded or not! 😀

The Re-Farmer