Cranberry-Pecan Harvest Bread – A Tale of Baking in Two Cities

 

Perfect size for one round loaf of bread
My favorite easy no-knead bread

Packed with a brand new Dutch oven and my favorite no-knead bread recipe, I set out to visit my sister E. in Bangkok and bake her some crusty wholesome breads. Who could resist the smell and taste of freshly baked bread? Maybe E. would start making some delicious breads on her own. Baking bread feeds not only my hunger for food, but the hunger for intellect and community as well. I am taking my bread-making adventure on the road!

E. and her family have just relocated to Bangkok. She is not a baker, but someone with an open and perceptive mind and a quick study. She has a Miele convection oven with which I am familiar. I can’t be more pleased to see the control panel I know well and not having to read the user manual. Getting a few ingredients: flour, yeast, cranberries, raisins and pecans, I had everything under control to start making bread. So I thought.

Passed the dimple test before going into the oven

The first attempt went smoothly, with no major surprises, except the bread had some serious sticking issues. The dough was placed in the Dutch oven, greased with oil, for proofing. After about two hours, it was ready to hit the cold oven for baking. Out of the oven, we found the bread sticking to the bottom and sides of the Dutch oven. Undeterred, we dug our fingers into the heart of the warm bread like a bunch of hungry kids. It was a satisfying scrumptious treat at midnight.

Low rise coming out of the oven

Let’s step back. This is 80% high hydration dough (397 gm of water vs. 503 gm of flour). Duh, no wonder it sticks to every surface it comes into contact with: fingers, countertop, bench knife and Dutch oven. No amount of dusting with flour and greasing with oil could get around the stickiness of the dough. At home, I always use parchment paper as a sling to place the dough in the Dutch oven and leave it in there, no matter how dry (or wet) the dough is. It is a good practice. In fact, it is the best practice. Lesson learned: you’d pay for being lax on best practices.

How much protein is in this whole wheat flour?

We were all over Bangkok on a mission searching for parchment paper, as we took breaks from sampling Thai cuisine or visiting temples. Went through aisles after aisles in every grocery store we knew of, but to no avail. Finally, we talked to a group of expat volunteers (who put out a beautiful spread of home-baked pastries and cookies) at the National Museum and quickly discovered that we should be looking for baking paper, not parchment paper, in specialty pastry supply store. Halleluiah!

In the second bake, we added whole-wheat flour, called for in the recipe, and used baking paper to prevent sticking. However, there was another problem. I mistakingly used the wrong kind of salt, iodized salt, from the kitchen countertop, instead of sea salt! The bread came out very salty and flat without much of a rise or oven spring. Salt weakens gluten development and the expansion of the loaf. Clearly the wrong dose of salt was responsible for the low rise. The other unknown was the whole-wheat flour. One of these factors or the combination of both got me stumped.

 

It was time for me to leave Bangkok – without baking the intended cranberry pecan no-knead bread. Humbled by the experience on the road, I went back to my kitchen in metro New York, tended to my sourdough starter, and made the naturally leavened version (no commercial yeast) of the cranberry-pecan bread. I followed the time-honored approach of periodic stretch-and-folds during the long bulk fermentation stage and then allowed a few more hours of proofing. Here is the master recipe. The bread was perfection.

Well, who needs a perfect loaf? We need all-city, versatile, and intuitive bakers who can talk to and connect with their dough wherever they are!

Note: This post is submitted to yeastspotting.

Natural leaven, long fermentation, baked in a Dutch oven
Open crumb and good crust

 

 

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