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A Winter’s Tale

May 1, 2010

I moved to central Iowa six months ago, in November, at the beginning of what would prove to be one of the coldest, snowiest winters in Iowa history.  What’s a girl to do in a new town, when her car lies buried under several feet of snow for weeks on end?  Bake bread, naturally.  I decided to buy as little bread as possible throughout the long winter, trying instead to bake my own bread on a weekly basis.  A few times, I did break down and buy bread for the sake of convenience, but once you get used to fresh, homemade fare, the supermarket offerings taste suspiciously like cardboard.  Six months later, I find I am still almost exclusively baking all my own bread.

Buttermilk boule with honey & olive oil.

I love Michael Ruhlman’s recent book Ratio: the Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking, and his bread ratio has proved comfortingly reliable throughout my winter of yeasty experimentation.  After much trial and error, I’ve developed a favorite recipe for a dense, moist, chewy “everyday” loaf.


6 oz. warm buttermilk

6 oz. warm water

1 Tbsp black strap molasses

2 tsp active dry yeast

2 tsp salt

2 Tbsp olive oil or ground flax meal

2 cups all-purpose flour or bread flour

1 1/2 cups seven grain flour

1/2 cup rye flour

Mix the first 4 ingredients and let sit until yeast blooms.  Stir in the remaining ingredients and knead until dough starts to feel elastic-y (about 10 minutes).  Roll dough into a ball, place in an oiled bowl, cover, and leave in a warm place until dough has doubled in bulk (usually 1 to 2 hours).  Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Knead the dough again for a minute or two, then gently flatten into a rectangle roughly 12″ x 12″.  Fold the dough into thirds, like a letter, and then fold under the two ends slightly so it will fit into a greased loaf pan (with the seams facing downwards).  Brush top with olive oil and set aside to rise for another half an hour or so.  Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or until brown on top and slightly hollow-sounding when tapped.  Just try and wait for it to cool before digging in.


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