Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Deli-Style Rye ..or.. I'm Proud I Did It :)

Abby's my latest hero. She's the one that was both curious & brave enough to experiment with a cool new-fangled method of bread-baking. After she made an inspiring journal entry -with pictures!- about this 'Artisan Bread In Five Minutes A Day', I decided to borrow a book from the library and think about giving it a try myself.

But it's been too hot, or I've been too busy, or it's too smoky, or I've got to get the relish made, or what if the recipe doesn't work for me, or, or, or. Well now. The wild fires all around us are either contained or right on the verge of it. The sky is mostly blue again & the air is almost always sweet to breathe once more. The garden's at the stage it doesn't need so much work or attention. I've just harvested cucumbers & peppers and turned them into our first batch of the season's Amish Pickle Relish.

..and I've renewed the book twice. That makes 6 weeks I've been toying with the idea :/

1. Kay had given me some rye flour from the Butte Creek Mill up in Eagle Point, Oregon.
2. I had caraway seed.
3. We love rye bread.
4. The Artisan Bread cookbook has a deli-style rye bread recipe.

And, with only 3 days left in August, the weather's taken a bit of a turn towards the cool of September. Okay then, I'm in!

And Mama's bakin' again =)

I mixed up the easy, no-knead batter, set it aside to rise for a coupla hours, then tucked it in the fridge to rest for the night. I got up earlier than normal just because I was so excited to try out this too-simple-to-believe recipe and play with the dough; shaping, sprinkling the cornmeal on parchment for it to rest on, brushing with a cornstarch wash to glaze it, making the deep cuts across the top for the 'oven-spring' rising, sliding the loaf onto the preheated baking sheet (I can't wait to get a baking stone!) and watching it rise in the oven.

And so how did it turn out? Absolutely, fantastically delicious! It's got that awesome rye bread flavor, and get this, store-bought rye texture; chewy with a fine crumb. A-maze-ing! The crust starts out crisp but then softens as it cools.

Peggie happened to stop by while I was baking so I couldn't resist sending that first loaf home with her for their supper.

I had enough dough left to make another loaf so I started right in on it. It didn't rise as high as the first, and, not sure if it was as yummy as we imagined, Papa & I kept going back into the kitchen for just another wee slice. We just had to keep checking to see if it's truly as good as we thought ;) We're treating it as dessert tonight...

After supper I mixed up a full batch that'll make 4 more little 1-pound loaves. Or heck, maybe I'll do 2 small & 1 larger one so I can slice it up for Papa's sandwiches for work. But at any rate I've GOT to get one made & sent over to Kay's family since she's the one that contributed the rye!

Abby was so enamored with the new baking skills this method opened up to her she wanted to invest in the cookbooks. I decided to surprise her with the first in the series for her birthday.  Now I've decided to 'gift' myself (& Papa & the neighbors ;) the book, too.

I'm convinced the elusive sourdough artisan bread ..that I've been spending years attempting to recreate.. is very nearly about to make its long-anticipated arrival on the Haus Der Baker culinary scene! Watch for it..

**9/6/12 UPDATE: I've learned that if you use a 'medium' rye flour it makes a lighter, less-dense loaf. My flour is stone ground 'whole' rye flour, which actually I've found I prefer though Papa likes the lighter loaf equally as well. Also, I've decided to leave off the caraway seeds on top. They just mostly fall off anyway. You may, however, decide to stick 'em on better with an egg white wash. I use the original recipe's wash w/o the seeds now before slashing the dough. Gives a nice shiny crust & helps the knife make the cuts nicely, too. But sometimes I don't bother w/a wash at all.

I've also had success cutting the stone-ground rye back to a half cup only & replacing the omitted half cup with unbleached all-purpose white. Makes it a tad bit lighter, though I do really like the more dense version as well.

**Additional UPDATES: as per the suggestions for using baking stones from the Artisan Bread authors, I recently purchased this ceramic glazed stone by Emile Henry from Zappos:

Beautiful & practical all rolled into one. I knew I wouldn't be able to handle the staining on a regular stone, and appreciated that this one can be beautiful & cleaned, as well as function perfectly as a 'regular' baking stone. I loved the eggplant color but decided the classy black one would better compliment my baked goods & match our awesome black oven. It works grand!

**Not wanting to warp my good broiler pan I've left off using it for the steam production during baking. Now I just place a Pyrex bowl filled with hot water on the bottom shelf at the same time I place the baking stone on the middle shelf for preheating. It works just fine! I've also discovered it's a-okay to omit the steam method all together.**

**One more cool note: the longer you leave the dough in the fridge the more of a sourdough it becomes. The rye breads I make by the 3rd day on become a real-live, noticeably tangy sourdough rye**

Jeff Hertzberg's Deli-Style Rye
Makes 4 one pound loaves

3 cups lukewarm water
1½ Tablespoons dry yeast
1½ Tablespoons salt
1½ Tablespoons caraway seeds
1 cup rye flour
5½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon corn starch
½ cup water

1 - 2 tablespoons caraway seeds

Mix the yeast, salt, and caraway seeds with the water in a large bowl or container. Mix in the remaining dry ingredients with a spoon until they are thoroughly combined. Don't worry about kneading, but you want to mix until there are no more lumps of dry flour. Use wet hands to do this, if necessary.

Cover the dough loosely and allow it to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses, approximately 2 hours.

The dough can be used immediately, though it is recommended to cover it and refrigerate it for anywhere from 1 day to 2 weeks.

On baking day, dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 1 pound chunk (roughly the size of a grapefruit). Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching and rotating it. Elongate the ball into an oval-shaped loaf. Allow to rest and rise on a cornmeal-covered pizza peel or cookie sheet for at least 40 minutes. {NOTE: I place the shaped dough on a piece of cornmeal-covered parchment paper on a cookie sheet so it can be easily slid off, paper & all, onto the pre-heated baking stone}

Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450 with a baking stone on the middle rack. Place an empty tray on another shelf in the oven.

Using a pastry brush, paint the top crust of the loaf with the wash and sprinkle on the additional caraway seeds. Slash deep parallel cuts across the loaf using a serrated bread knife.

Slide the loaf off of the tray onto the baking stone. Pour 1 cup of hot water into the other pan and quickly close the oven door. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the loaf is deep brown and firm. Allow to cool before slicing and eating. {NOTE: crust softens after a few hours, especially if, after cooling, it's left in sealed plastic bag overnight}

More tips on baking this recipe here -> Artisan Bread In 5 rye bread tips

Plus the site's very helpful FAQ page here -> FAQ

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Prayin' fer rain :/

...things were looking up. Between the fire-fighting efforts and a bit of a break with higher humidity (gives a lower ignition point to the forest flotsam & jetsam), the situation was getting better. Day time temperatures had dropped to under a hundred degrees and the near-constant smoke was thinning.

Back-burning up on West Prospect had been proving successful. We watched one of those operations blazing late last Sunday night (Aug 12th) from the fence line by the chicken coop. It was horrific to watch as trees would light up like a giant's torch.

A couple days later Ray told me they switched to doing them after midnight when the general Old Station citizenry were most likely a-bed and wouldn't be quite so freaked by the sight.

*  It was much more up-close-and-personal than my camera can capture *

By Wednesday (Aug 15th) the temperatures were starting to cool a tad. Still, the smoke-filled valley made the daylight unnaturally dim. This next picture was taken at 10 am that morning:

The Park & USFS's Reading Fire was getting close to 50% contained. People at fire camp were quite optimistic. So now we come to the next big event.

Yesterday morning (Saturday, Aug 18th), in the wee hours, a brief storm came through the area, cooling it down even more & letting the scent of a light rain make the air a bit sweeter to breathe. Tragically it also brought more lightning strikes.

Around 2:30 pm it suddenly got very dark here. Dark like a rainy afternoon, but this also had that weird yellow-orange light to it. I ran outside to see what was up. I could see no close-range indication of fire, just a huge layer of smoke blotting out the sun and ashes coming down like tiny snowflakes.

When Papa got home from work I learned there was a fire down near Manton heading towards Shingletown! We kept checking for updates online. This new threat, the Ponderosa Fire, in a matter of hours, blew up from 500 acres to several thousand. Here is a picture from the news site, taken from down in the valley on the Manton side, looking back up at the towering, billowing smoke:

Last evening, after supper, I went into the kitchen to tidy up. Someone, somehow, had spilled pepper flakes all over the counter under the window. Wait a minute... that's not pepper.. it's ash! And the white window sills are speckled with it as well! You can see charred pine needle particles mixed among the gray ash. Crazy!

When we got up this morning it looked like there had been a light sprinkling of pepper-infused snow dusted all over everything.

As of today (Sunday the 19th) the fire has burned 12,000 acres, remains zero percent contained, and is spreading north-northeast from the Manton area toward the communities of Shingletown and Viola. 

The ash continues to come down and the day has turned all yellow-y again. That's not an over-exposed picture you see, it's the actual-factual real color:

The boys, with Caitlyn & Dana, needed to get to Redding today for supplies but couldn't go west on Hwy 44 from Manzanita. They had to come all the way around and go down by way of 299. There was a clear spell from smoke when they stopped by this morning. Eli came out to see me in the garden & I snapped a picture of him from where I was picking cucumbers...

 ...just before he ran off to the valley:

It was an amazing moment having blue skies above.

Cal Fire says there are 3,000 homes, 20 commercial buildings, and 300 outbuildings threatened. It has destroyed at least 7 homes. There are mandatory evacuations in and around the Shingletown area & Hwy 44 is closed from the Lake McCumber road up to Viola. I guess it comes as no surprise that Shasta County has declared a state of emergency. This is a map of the fire's current anticipated path:

Papa just called from work to say the smoke is so thick they can't see more than a quarter mile. Only one of his crew & his boss showed up today. Being that they're all from Shingletown that was pretty much expected; they're busy protecting their homes or evacuating.

Wild, wild times. So ya... PRAY FOR RAIN!

Friday, August 10, 2012

We're burning up again :/

"A series of thunder storms passed through Lassen Volcanic National Park and the neighboring region. These storms produced a number of lightning strikes which ignited several small fires in the area. The Park is currently suppressing the Reading Fire. The Fire started on July 23 and is located at 7100 feet in elevation approximately one mile northeast of Paradise Meadows between the Terrace Lake and Paradise Meadow Trails."

( Info taken from the Park site. Click on this link for daily updates: http://www.nps.gov/lavo/parkmgmt/current-fire-acitivity.htm or go to the InciWeb site ..also found on that NPS link)

Back in the day, summer thunder showers were usually exciting and wet. Remember all those summers, when you kids were little, how we all loved to stand under the safety of our porch and thrill to the lightening flashes, booming thunder, and pouring rain? Buckets and buckets of rain. We'd see the flash, then count til the thunder rolled to judge how far away the lightening was.

Occasionally there'd be a strike that would create a bit of excitement with a small spot fire but either the rain or a helicopter or hand crew attack would quickly extinguish it. Seldom was there the devastation that now seems to plague our forests continually. Now every summer we hold our breaths watching, wondering, waiting for the start of the raging inferno that we know is coming.

This current fire is another one of those tragic dry-lightening storm-produced blazes. For a while it crept harmlessly along the forest floor in Lassen burning the underbrush & generally doing an efficient 'clean-up' of small fuels... something that's actually helpful to the eco-system of the woods. Unfortunately it wasn't contained, got into heavy fuel, and quickly got out of hand within a few days.

Here's what we could see from the side yard 4 days ago on Monday evening (Aug 6th) as things had gotten severely out of hand:

Papa had arrived home 2 hrs late, since his way back to the maintenance yard had been blocked when the fire jumped the road up by the Devastated Area. He had to re-route and go up over the Peak, down, around, and over to Mineral, Manton, & Shingletown to get back to headquarters on the Manzanita side.

That band of smoke just got heavier and more oppressive until it stretched clear across the sky as far to the North as we could see.

As usual, we need to keep the house opened up all night in order not to swelter too badly from the hot summer days in this old uninsulated house (it's been at and near 100° all week). The first night, however, we awakened at 4am as the house began to fill with the settling smoke. This is what we found as the dawn broke; you can't even see to the rim:

The daylight has that eerie, not-normal, yellow glow to it:

No more beautiful morning views of Sugar Loaf & West Prospect to the South :(

By Wednesday evening the heat of the day had been so intense we couldn't open up for cooling breezes until after 8pm, and the intensity of the fire increased the drifting, settling smoke causing us to shut down just before 1am. That's the norm now. Doesn't allow for much change in temperatures in the house and BOY HOWDY does it get stifling by 8pm-open-up-time!

Papa & I drove to Susanville yesterday to get out of the horrid smoke. On the way home, just at the Old Station overlook coming down 44, we were dismayed to see the fire had grown and was over at the base of West Prospect Peak.

Last night there was a community meeting held by the Park Superintendent to discuss what's going on. We're really hoping that with enough input and hindsight these small 'helpful' fires will be dealt with differently in the future. With our dryer and more dangerous climate & environment changes in the past decade the National Park fire management plans need to be reassessed and dealt with in a more aggressive way.

That's our 2¢ worth at any rate...

As of today more than 9,000 acres have burned, but, since it is now on USFS land, there will be more varied & energetic attacks. There are 27 hand crews, 19 engines, 4 helicopters, 763 fire people involved, and an estimated cost-to-date of $1,500,000. And, it is only 5% contained. Ouch.

Peggie called this morning to tell me I'd better not come out to help in the yard today since the smoke was laying even thicker out at their place. They could see the flames last night from their house.

When he got to work today Papa learned that all his campgrounds were evacuated & that he was temporarily reassigned to work up at Butte Lake. The Park highway is closed at Crags Campground clear to Summit Lake. Portions of the Pacific Crest trail are closed. Forest Service roads & trails on the east side of Hwy 44/89, clear from Old Station to the Park, are closed.

Tonight, when Papa returned home from a meeting in Burney, he told me to take a flashlight out to the woodpile and look at the sky. It was orange and glowing in the south. I came back in just as Eli called on his cell phone saying they were all up at the Hat Creek Rim Overlook watching their Park burn. He was pretty sad. Not sure if the group got any night-shots, but if they did I'll do an update with some more pictures.

And for now that's all the news from (literally) Lake Woebegone...