I actually have my own starter (I found out the French call it a chef). So, I started my chef with freshly ground whole grain flour and water on Friday. I decided to try catching some natural yeast in the air first and if that didn't work, I would start over by adding a little yeast to get it going. My first experiment worked! The little chef was quiet Saturday and Sunday I fed it fresh water and flour and Monday it started bubbling! I can't believe it! Today it finally has a sour aroma and I even used some of it in the bread I made today!!
My favorite librarian (not many people can say they have their own favorite librarian and I have 2!!), also referred to as the Liberry Lady, recommended a couple of books to me before the holidays. It is a fictional series but has great recipes in bread baking tips written right into the story line. I loved them! So, yesterday I tried the Country French Bread recipe and it was amazing! Today, I actually tried it with my own chef and with whole grain flour instead of white. Once again, amazing!
I do have to say that my family isn't a whole wheat family. I have tried numerous times over the past few years to incorporate whole wheat much to my family's chagrin. Often the response I get is something akin to "it's quite similar to cardboard, how'd you do it?" I found out that freshly milled whole grain is much, MUCH different than whole wheat flour you purchase from a store. It's kind of like comparing the really cheap chocolate (like the kind of "chocolate" Easter Bunnies are made from) to Godiva... there really is no comparison!
Chad found a grain mill for me at a garage sale this past summer. For a while, it remained in the box because though I had prayed for one and had asked for one, I really wasn't sure what to do with it. My friend, Diane, came to my rescue and blessed me with a huge bucket of wheat and some simple instruction. Now, all 5 of us are enjoying bread that actually has fiber in it.
Here's the recipe for Country French Bread. I think I'm going to use what I made this afternoon into French Toast.
Pain de Campagne (Country French Bread):
Poolish (or sponge)
1/2 t. yeast
1/2 c. water
3/4 c. whole wheat flour
Dissolve yeast in water, then stir in flour until mixture forms a thick batter. Beat about 100 strokes to develop long strands of gluten. Cover with a damp cloth and let sit for at least 2 hours at room temperature. Longer is better, up to 8 hours. Or let poolish ripen in refrigerator for 12 to 15 hours, keeping in mind that it must come to room temperature before you make bread, so allow 2 extra hours.
all of poolish
2 1/2 c. water
1/2 t. yeast
5 1/2 to 6 1/2 c. white bread flour (I used whole grain too and it worked well)
1 T. salt
When poolish is ready it will be bubbly and loose, with a definite smell of fermentation. Scrape it into large bowl, add water and yeast and stir until poolish is broken up and mixture is frothy. Add flour one cup at a time until dough becomes too difficult to stir, then turn our onto well-floured board and knead for 10 to 12 minutes, adding flour as necessary (I used my mixer with dough hook for all of this). Sprinkle salt over the dough and knead an additional 5 to 7 minutes. At first dough will be quite sticky, but don't add more flour than is absolutely necessary to keep it from sticking to the work surface. A moist dough yields a wonderful, chewy texture.
When you press your finger into the dough and it springs right back, it's ready. Shape into a ball and cover with a damp cloth while you clean and oil a bowl. Place dough in the bowl, turning it to cover the whole surface with oil. This keeps it from forming a dry crust, which will inhibit rising. Cover with the damp towel and let rise at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 2-3 hours. When you press your finger about half an inch into the dough and the indentation remains, it's risen enough.
Deflate the dough gently and let it "rest", covered, for about 30 minutes to relax the gluten. Then cut it into 2 pieces, and shape for baguettes or round loaves and place on a heavily floured dish towel with folds between each loaf for support. Dust tops with flour, cover with damp towels, and let them rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until they increase in size about 1 1/2 times.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. When the bread has risen, place loaves on baking sheet lined with parchment paper or dusted with cornmeal. Make several diagonal slashes with a single-edged razor or serrated knife. Adjust the oven rack to the center and place a heavy pan on the lowest shelf or on oven floor. Pour boiling water (from your teakettle, if you have one) into heavy pan and then slide your baking pan with the loaves of bread into your oven. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes and then reduce the heat to 400 degrees and bake for 25-30 minutes or until bread sounds hollow when bottom crust is tapped. Turn off the oven and prop the door open slightly and let bread sit for 5 minutes. Then remove and cool on racks.