Thursday, February 28, 2008

Nathaniel the Vampire Slayer bakes bread

Remember Nathaniel, whom I promised to introduce properly months ago, but somehow never did? Nathaniel, as I have mentioned, is Matt's roommate. He's the Vampire Slayer not because he's a die-hard Buffy fan (though he does like the show) but because he really, really loves garlic. He also likes to bake.

Although I have baked bread on occasion, I'm more likely to whip up a quickbread than anything involving yeast as a leavening agent. (Scones, anyone?) So I'm extremely glad that someone else is around to do it instead.

(Nathaniel is a physicist. The slash mark in those loaves is a "Feynman diagram of a tree-level process.")

Nathaniel bakes many different types of bread. We've had braided challah, French baguettes, whole-wheat boules, and even some experimental sourdough. The only catch is that he never seems to bake enough of it... it's always gone by breakfast the next day.

Whole-Grain German Dark Rye

This is Nathaniel's recipe, in his own words. I take no credit for any successes, and no blame for any failures.

(Makes two boules)

Mix together in a large mixing bowl 3 cups whole-wheat flour, 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, and 1 tablespoon caraway seeds until well blended. In a small bowl dissolve a heaping tablespoon active dry yeast in half a cup of warm water, and stir in a pinch of sugar and a pinch of flour, to wake up the yeast and whet its appetite.

In a saucepan, heat on low 1.5 cups water, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 2 tablespoons butter or oil, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1 tablespoon salt. Stir this until everything is dissolved into the liquid. The liquid should be slightly warm to the touch but not hot; when it is, and the yeast is bubbling happily, add the liquid to the flour mixture, stir it in, and then add the yeast mixture and stir that in. When everything is nicely combined, start adding rye flour, one cup at a time, until you've added 3 cups. Turn the dough out on a lightly-floured surface to knead. This is a very stiff dough, and it's a workout kneading it. Dough is kneaded when it passes the "windowpane test", which means that you can tease a piece of it out into a sheet thin enough to let light through before it breaks.

When dough is kneaded, put it in a bowl, cover with a tea towel, and let it rest for 20-30 minutes, then punch it down, divide into two equal pieces, and shape into boules. Grease a baking sheet, sprinkle with cornmeal, and place the boules on it. Brush a little oil on the surfaces, cover with the tea towel again, and let rise until double, which can take an hour or more.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Slash a pattern into the tops of the loaves with a very sharp knife (this may also be done right after shaping), and bake for 25-30 minutes. A finished loaf will sound hollow when thumped on the bottom. If you're not sure, an extra 5 minutes won't hurt.

Allow to cool at least a little before eating. This is a dense, flavorful bread and goes well with chili, hummus, and other strongly-flavored foods. It also makes delicious toast.


wing said...

Oh these look even cooler than the old bread he made. Nice. =)

alex said...

Surely you're hexing, Mr. Feynman.

Ann said...

Gorgeous Geek Bread!

Karyn said...

I don't know a thing about yeast breads, which makes me very, very sad.

Beautiful boules!