Thursday, August 21, 2008

Dried Apricot and Sunflower Seed Whey Bread

I haven't been posting my bread recipes, mainly because they're pretty much all variations on the same theme: Mix some flour, water, yeast/starter and salt; Knead a lot, add in one or two fun ingredients, let rise; punch down, shape, and let rise again; bake, let cool, and eat!

However, I made this bread last night and as I was slicing some up this morning to make my sandwich for lunch, I sampled a little piece of it, and it was really truly incredible. I just couldn't keep such a wonderful recipe all to myself, and so I have shared it below so that you can make your very own dried apricot and sunflower seed whey bread!

I have to offer a small caveat that the deliciousness of this bread may have been partially due to my home-grown sourdough starter, which at just 2 1/2 weeks old seems to be improving tremendously in flavor with each use. While you can certainly use regular yeast for this bread, it may not turn out as rich and complex in flavor, and besides, growing your own starter is so much fun! It's like a cross between a science experiment and an easy-to-take-care-of pet!

But whether or not you have starter,
You will need:
About 400 g whole wheat flour
0.5 liter/2 cups whey
One medium spoonful of salt
Sourdough starter (yeast if you don't have any starter)
About 50 g dried apricots
50 g sunflower seeds

You may be wondering now 'where on earth do I get whey?'. Well, that's simple - you make ricotta, as I did here! That way you get to enjoy some delicious ricotta one day, and then make delicious whey bread the next day! Actually, I think whey will keep in the fridge for quite some time, but I used mine after only a day or two of storage. The only thing is that the whey was pretty cold when I added it to the flour, but I just kneaded a little extra. I suppose you could heat the whey first on the stove if you wanted...

In any case, assuming you have your whey, the first step is to chop up the dried apricots and set them aside with the sunflower seeds. I recommend using nice soft dried apricots if you can get them.

Sift the flour into a large bowl, and make it into a sort of "fountain" with a well in the middle. Pour the starter into the well, and start mixing it into the surrounding flour. Add some salt around the edges (farther from the starter) and continue mixing. A bit at a time, add in the whey, mixing after each addition until all the flour is combined with the whey to get a nice liquidy dough ball.

Transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead for at least 10 minutes. The way I time my kneading is to go until the point when the dough starts to offer some noticeable resistance, and then knead a few minutes past that point.

Towards the end of the kneading, fold in the apricots and sunflower seeds, a bit on each knead so that they'll be evenly distributed. Right before you leave the dough to rise, fold it into thirds twice: take the right side and fold it into the center, and then do the same with the left. Give the dough a quarter turn and repeat. This gives you a nicely folded-under little ball with a smooth top surface. Transfer the ball to a floured bowl, with the folded-under side on the bottom. Cover with plastic wrap or a cloth, and let sit in a warm, non-drafty place (like an oven that isn't being used, or a closet) for at least as long as it takes the ball to double in volume. Since I use whole wheat flour and sourdough starter, both of which are supposed to slow the rising process, I try to make the first rise be a minimum of 3 hours. Longer is better, but since I often start my bread-making when I come home from work, I only have so much time for both rises, the baking, and the cooling, before it's time to go to bed!

After the first rise, take the dough out of the bowl, punch it down (not too violently), and cut it into however many loaves/rolls/boulots you want (a dough scraper is very handy for this). Shape the pieces of dough and then, using a very sharp object, like a razor blade, score the tops of them to let some of the air release during the baking.

I had some fun with the shaping, as you can see below:

Move the pieces to a flat surface and cover with a floured towel. Let them rise again for at least an hour.

Half an hour or more before you want to put the bread in to bake, preheat your oven to about 220º C/425º F. You want the oven to be very hot when you put the bread in, because the first few minutes are the most important - this is when the yeast rises very quickly until finally the heat kills it off, so if your oven isn't hot enough, the yeast won't rise as much before dying.

After the oven is good and hot, transfer your loaves to a baking sheet covered with parchment paper (if you have a baking stone, that's even better - put it in the oven before you preheat it and slide the bread directly onto it when it's ready to bake). After about 10 minutes, bring the heat down to about 190º C/375º F and let bake for another 20 minutes or so, longer if necessary. You can check the doneness of the bread by opening the oven door and tapping the bottom of the loaves with a knife. If they give a hollow sound, they're done. You will also hopefully begin to smell some heavenly aromas while the bread is baking which will clue you in that the correct chemical processes are occuring.

Once the bread is done, move it to a cooling rack, and let it sit until cool, or at least until it won't burn your tongue off if you can't resist the aroma and have to eat some immediately!

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