July 14, 2019 (95 Days Old)
Bread In A Hot Iron Pot
It would be tough to keep a website about cast iron interesting without talking specifically about the food that is created with a hot iron pan.
Similarly, it would be tough to keep a website about my cast iron experience without talking specifically about sourdough bread.
As much as my sourdough process is one that has followed a path from making a
starter
STAAR-terr
A sourdough "mother dough" which is a bit of dough where the active yeast colony is kept alive. Each time bread is made, part of the starter goes in the dough, part is "fed" with fresh flour and water for next time.
(mother dough), methodically refining a recipe, and understanding the nuances of
fermentation
FUR-mint-eh-shun
The time during which an live organism grows inside of food. In the case of sourdough, yeast grows inside of dough. This produces gas (for fluffy bread) and flavour (for tasty bread).
that lead to changes and improvements in the final flavour, all that bread eventually spends a span of time in the heat in a great big cast iron
dutch oven
DUHch UHH-venn
A heavy, deep, thick walled pot with a tight-fitting lid. They are named this because of some renaissance era casting process not because they are in any way a "Dutch thing."
.
Sourdough is slow food.
If you were around in the ‘oughts of the twenty-first century, you may recall the bread-machine craze that swept North America, where everyone seemed to be buying a single-function box for their counter that would barf out a loaf of bread every couple hours (so long as you kept feeding it ingredient mixtures).
Flour, Water, Salt
In a future post I’ll detail the effort required to
grow a starter
grow a starter
Take some flour and water mixed: Then find some wild yeast and cultivate it through many different phases of decay, growth, and finally bready-amazingness. This will test your nerves and your nose and your resolve.
from scratch, but for now, and for those who haven’t yet stumbled upon the cast iron approach for cooking a leavened loaf, here’s my simple recipe.
A good bit of starter goes into a bowl.
By weight, add 500g of the flour mix of your choice.
By weight, add 12g of salt.
By weight, add 350g of warm (but not hot) water.
Stir to combine, but only just to combine, then let it sit for a good 20 - 30 minutes for the gluten in the flour to blossom.
With a wet hand, grab, pull, stretch, and fold the dough until it’s reached a good, cohesive, well-blended texture (this doesn’t take much more than a couple minutes).
It's all about that wait.
Sourdough is a days-long effort for no other reason than the longer the dough matures, the better the “sour” flavour.
After my dough has been mixed, it gets covered and goes into the fridge.
I’ve done the math for myself, and I know that if I need a loaf for Saturday evening (say for a party) that means I need to cook it on Saturday afternoon, which means it needs to be out of the fridge for the final
leavening
LEH-vuh-ning
The span of time waiting for bread to rise to be ready for cookening.
on Saturday morning, which means it needs to be in the fridge Friday morning (at the latest) which means I need to make the dough Friday early when I wake up and before I got to work, which means I need to
feed my starter
feed my starter
Cut the starter in half and throw one half in the trash (or bake with it if you don't want to be wasteful.) Add a cup of flour and a half cup of warm water. Mix. Wait. Repeat forever.
on Thursday evening, and if I haven’t baked in a couple weeks then I should have done two feedings, which means Thursday morning for the first feed.
Deep breath.
Three days for a loaf of bread.
The Cookening
The dough emerges from the fridge, little-changed visibly but deeply, fundamentally, amazingly different than when it went inside.
The core of that dough is now alive with the wonderful yeasts that have been building a rich, dough-based society ripe for expansion (and exploitation).
Turning that dough into a smooth, leavening-ready ball which will sit in a covered basket for 6 to 8 hours is really the subject of what should be a video: It’s tough to explain in words and needs to be shown.
Instead, skipping ahead, let’s talk about cast iron again.
In particular, 30 minutes before I’m ready to cook, when the dough is basically doubled in size, I’ve ensured my oiled dutch oven (lid on) is preheating to 475F in the middle of the oven.
No one said this was going to be complex: 7 quarts of hot iron are pulled from the pre-heat, the dough is rolled from its basket into the centre of the vessel, the lid is put back on, and the whole thing goes back into the oven for 30 minutes of magic.
One Important Step
After 30 minutes, the lid is removed, and the cook’s diligence is required to hit the perfect browning (not burning) point somewhere between a further 10 and 15 minutes of baking.
The cast iron may play only a minor role for the last hour of a three day process, but it is an important role.
Simulating a bakery oven in a home kitchen, the cast iron dutch oven is a story of consistent heat, contained moisture, and an oven-within-an-oven.
As I keep writing on this site, exploring the nuances of a hobbyist’s cooking perspective, sourdough, how sourdough and similar slow foods intersect with the world — universe and philosophy — of cast iron cuisine will hopefully become apparent.
Slow food from thoughtful ingredients and purposeful cooking.
Cast iron and sourdough are the opposite of bread machines and
Instapots
INN-stah-pawts
Tradename for those fancy counter-top gadgets that cooks a bunch of different things, like rice, bread, eggs, soup, etc. You'll be able to pick one up at a garage sale cheap in about 2 years.
and microwave speed-heating food into mush.
They may just take one step together, but it’s an important step and one worth pondering.
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