Well, the wild yeast formula has gone to all the testers and today I am sending out the questionnaires. If you are a tester and have not received either of these e-mails by Wednesday please let me know and I'll resend. I've received some good questions so, to minimize e-mails, here are a few FAQ's that will, hopefully cover some of your concerns. As more issues arrive, I'll address them here in future postings.
1. What kind of flour should I use? Any brand of whole wheat flour is fine but, if possible, try to get higher protein rather than lower protein wheat. If it doesn't specify (such as Pillsbury or other major brands) just go with what you can get. Yes, you can grind your own flour, just note it on the questionnaire. The grind of flour should be fine grind, but you can also use coarser grinds to supplement. The starter can be made with any type of grind.
2. What if my starter is moving faster or slower than predicted? The dough always dictates, not the written instructions, so if the starter is moving faster than expected, move to the next stage when it looks ripe and ready (if it's doubled in size that's a pretty good indicator). If slower, then wait for the dough to indicate when it's ready to go to the next stage. As always, mention this in the questionnaire.
3. Why is this starter firm rather than wet and spongy like the barm in previous books? In reality, we could make it either firm or wet, but I find that working in small batches as we are, the firm starter is close to the hydration of the final dough so it is easy to increase or decrease without changing the water percentage. This will be useful on hot or cold days when we want to increase or decrease the amount of starter. It is also easy to make my hand, and it kneads like bread dough.
4. What if I'm intimidated by starters and have only baked with commercial yeast? You can try making the dough without starter (the master formula calls for both starter and commericial yeast)but two things may happen. The starter adds complexity and acidity, and thus intensifies the flavor. Also, the acid protects the dough from enzyme attacks on the starch in the oven, which usually yieds gummy and smaller loaves. If you do decide to make the recipe without starter let me know in the questionnaire; perhaps you will feel that the extra work of making a starter is not worth it. If this is your first time working with wild yeast starters, it could be a good time to dive in.
5. What is a mash and why are we using it? A mash is flour that has been scalded by boiling water and then maintained long enough for certain enzymes to sweeten the starches. This creates a sweetness not available in flour fermented the usual way, and also softens the bran and germ to make it more enjoyable to eat. This is one of the steps that makes this bread different from any other whole grain bread you have made or tasted. One tool that helps control the temperature of the mash is a crock pot. If you don't have one, you can still make the mash by wrapping the bowl of hot mash in a blanket to keep it warm for as long as possible. This will all be explained in the recipe instructions.
6. Is this bread, with all its troublesome steps, really worth it? That's an important question and it's on the questionnaire. I need you to tell me.
7. Do I have to make the starter from scratch or can I use one I already have (or can I convert a white flour starter to whole wheat). You can definitely use an existing starter if you have one. If you want to convert it to whole wheat, the instructions are given in the first e-mail recipe.
Okay, enough FAQ for now. Perhaps more the next time.
I'm working on the instructions now for the whole wheat bread and hope to have them e-mailed to you by next week. It's amazing how long it takes to write out clear instructions and this dough is so complex that it's even more of a challenge. So, if I'm a few days late, please bear with me.
Check this blog every week for updates. I can't wait to get your feedback.
And to all you non-testers who are just tuning in, I promise to post some other news and such for you too.
Till next time, may your bread always rise!