Monday, March 25, 2013

I Like Bread - You Can Too

Okay, so I love bread and many people do. I love making bread and these days people are regaining that skill. Sure there is great bread out there to buy, but the good stuff is costly. And well it should be as good bread takes time, and time is money. So when you see bread that is cheap, it is either old or probably not that good for you.

 So this post is for those that eat bread and make bread. I am not going to try and convince the non bread eaters to eat this stuff and I am not going to school you on making a loaf from scratch. There are a ton of internet sites and books that can already do that for you. If you are new to bread making I highly suggest you get a good book or read some of the great sites out there and start with a really easy white bread recipe. Master that and make bread that people will oo and ahh over. When you master the white loaf, then you are ready to move on and make some other interesting stuff.

I believe that homemade bread is better and more healthy for you to eat. I will not go into why. Look it up and convince yourself. Also of all the breads, the sourdough is by far the healthiest. Again, do some research. Also research how to make a starter. The info is out there, and it is easy to do. For the purposes of this blog post my starter is made with 50% water and 50% flour. That is slightly important to note. What kind of flour? At the moment I am using a whole wheat starter, though a rye or white will work just as well.

So what am I trying to accomplish with this bread recipe? Well we all want to make that healthy good for you bread, but we all like to eat that ooh so tasty bread, the kind with the crunchy crust and soft crumb (it is a term, look it up). Now the former is usually seen as those dense whole wheat loaves that are kind of blah, the later is generally a white bread. See white bread is mostly sugar, all the good parts of the wheat are removed. That makes it oh so palatable for people and it makes the crust on breads crisp up oh so well. But ideally we want some of that good stuff in there as well.

Sure we can use whole wheat flour, but getting some good less processed things into the bread is only going to make it that much healthier.  Which is why I like to use a combo of white flour and whole grains. So lets get on to the recipe.

I apologize right away that my bread making method is both science and witchcraft. But that is what I do. So get over it.

So first off you need to choose your whole grain. This can be anything really, but it is best to use something with gluten, so corn, wheat, and even barley (rye and spelt are versions of wheat so they count). If you choose something that is low gluten or non gluten (maybe quinoa) then I suggest you add some gluten flour to help it all stick together. Not necessary, but makes for a much better bread. And for the sake of actually making a healthier bread choose a grain that is the least processed. In my case I made a bread using Wheat Grouts, also called Wheat Berries. These are the whole grain with little processing and not just whole wheat flour (which frankly makes really bad breads).

To get the most out of these little kernels of happiness I first cook them down. Wheat berries are dense and require a long cooking time. Hopefully you have the cooking instructions but it is generally 3 times the water to the amount of wheat berries. I ended up with about 1.5 cups of cooked wheat berries when I was finished. You bring them to a boil then cover and reduce the heat and cook for about 20 minutes or so until you have a bit of a mash. Remove from heat and let cool. Then I added 1 cup of sour dough starter with the mash in a bowl and covered it with plastic wrap. So now I have about 2 cups of material and loads of water. It is basically a wheat soup at this point. Now let it sit over night and come back to this:

A bubbling mass of rather pungent liquid. That yeast is working overtime here folks. It is reproducing and along the way its byproduct is carbonic acid which makes bubbles and smell. Mmmm. It is also starting to help the gluten in the wheat form into long developed strands, perfect for helping bread rise. And the longer bread can develop the easier it is for you to digest, let those silly yeast life forms do the hard work I say.

Now this is where the witch craft comes into play. The most important part of bread making is the ratio of water to flour. All the rest is secondary. But in my case with cooked whole grains, it is really rather hard to determine exactly what level of moisture you have. Ideally I would weigh the wheat berries ahead of time then reweigh after they are cooked. But dang, that is crazy. So instead I take my wet mess and begin.

I add 1.5 tsps of salt (any kind will do). Less salt is fine if you need to, but some salt is necessary or you will end up with out of control yeast. I would not go less than 0.5 tsps. I find that 0.5 tsp per cup of flour is generally the max I want and this recipe is about 4 cups of flour, so 1.5 is a nice middle ground. I add 1tbsp of oil (olive or canola work fine and help develop a soft crumb) and 1 tbsp of honey. Again any sugar will do, I like to add honey. And no sugar will also do just fine. Play around with that.

Now slowly add in some flour and start stirring. I do it 1/2 a cup at a time until it gets hard to stir. Then add 1/2 cup (I use white flour because, well it makes better bread and adding more whole wheat at this point will likely just make you add more sugar to get the taste right) and start to knead the flour. It will still be quite wet and in the end I add about 2 cups of flour to this part of the recipe. I normally add close to 2 cups and keep a 1/2 cup on the bench and use it to constantly dust the dough to keep it from sticking. This will be wet dough, so dust often, but really much more than 2.5 cups of added flour will be too much. After about 5 minutes of so of good kneading you can form it into a ball and place it in a greased dish.

Now let it wait. The longer it takes to double in size, the better the flavour of the bread, so don't place it somewhere hot. As it is winter I normally keep it near a non sunny window, but you can actually keep it in the fridge as well. Check on it every hour or so until you see this happening.

Yup that has risen. So take it back out, flatten it down to get rid of the built up gas, and reform into a ball. Use a floured surface as, again, it is quite wet. Need to know how to properly form a ball? It is important at this point as it is the shape it will be for cooking. Well look up or Goole or Yuotube, boule. That's the French term for ball and that is the shape you are making.

Pretty, n'est pas?

So you take your boule and you place it in some floured parchment or wax paper, then wrap it in a tea towel, the shove it in a garbage bag. What? Yes, I use a clean black garbage bag which I keep hidden with my flours. It is cheap, it holds in moisture and warmth for the final rise and it is cheap. Did I mention cheap.

Anyway at about 45 minutes in it is time to get prepped for the bake. So you take a large dutch oven and place it on the lowest rack in your oven with the cover and and preheat the oven to 475F.  That may seem hot, likely because it is. I use a stainless steel dutch oven so it is generally warmed up when the oven is, about 15 minutes or so. If you use a cast iron one or ceramic, it will take a lot longer to preheat, so experiment. Likely it will take at least 30 minutes. But I have heard that cast iron does wonders for the crust.

Once the ovens are heated, it is time to bake. Get your loaf ready now.

So you unwrap it all, score it with a sharp knife (I use a bread knife) and place into the dutch oven. Do the oven bit fairly quickly so you don't lose heat and sprinkle some corn meal on the bottom of the dutch oven to add in the removal of the bread when you are done.

So why the dutch oven? Pro bakers use oven that inject steam. This allows for the formation of great crusts. It also allows you to bake at higher temps with the loaf drying out. And high temps do yummy things to sugar.

Again some witch craft, but bake it from 20-30 minutes with the dutch oven covered. It is hard to worry about going overboard at this step, but I aim around 25 minutes. Then after that, remove the lid and bake an additional 15-20 minutes until you end up with a nice dark brown crust. You loaf will have sprung at this point and taken on its final shape, the final round of baking is all about the crust.

Boom. Remove from oven and place on a rack for cooling. You want to get it out quickly to protect the crust and you want it to cool on a rack to, again, protect the crunchy crust.

So what do you get? A yummy and healthy loaf. And probably one with a sour flavour (that kind of depends on the yeast). But is is also moist and fluffy. It makes great sandwiches, great toast, and a great way to eat all sorts of toppings.

Do yourself a favour and do not cut the loaf until it has cooled to room temp. Bread isn't done cooking until then and you will end up with a soggy loaf if you do. No need to ruin things at this point.

So get out there and experiment with all sorts of grain. I also just made a corn and rye mix using corn grits and rye flakes (I couldn't find whole rye kernels but will continue to search). I will next try steel cut oats. Yum. Go to your local bulk food or health food store and find all the exciting things you can use.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Hey Ian, Done Any Races?

Well as the title suggests, I haven't been very good about keeping up with my race reports so far this year. I mean what with my posts about heated cycling gloves and training with heart rate zones, you would have thought maybe I just wasn't racing at all.

Well I actually have done a few races this year already, three in fact. So instead of big in depth reports, I'll throw out some quick reviews of those three races.

My first of the season was the Tri-the-Oval event. I did this one last year and had some issues during the race, so it was good to be back.  But, alas, I went into this one with some sort of weird ankle issue that had prevented me from doing much skating practice in the weeks leading up to it. Skating, Ian? What? Yes, this is a winter triathlon done in Halifax and starts with a 5km skate on the outdoor long track speed skating oval. From there you head off for a bike ride (it was supposed to be 15 km but I will discuss that) and finish with a  run of 4.5 (4.2) km's. So the big deal about this race was that we had some stormy weather heading into it, but not wintry stormy weather. No we had a big rain storm and 4 C temperatures. So that meant that we had to cross our fingers and hope the oval wouldn't be ruined. It wasn't and the skate was fine, the bike ride though was supposed to be a great onroad / off road kind of deal on mountain bikes. Sadly we had to eliminate most of the off road stuff due to the heavy ice and slush which cut the distance down quite a bit. The run was fun though with huge puddles, mud and slush. Anyway, my last years issues were not a problem this year. My ankle seemed to hold up well during the skate, thanks to a last minute modification to my skates and I left the ice in 27th position, with a time of 13:38, which was slightly faster than last year. My bike went well after I switched out to a different tire and upped the pressure. I managed the 5th faster bike split, which I think included T1. I rode in 16:41 for the 5.5 kms. And I finished with a decent run of 20:55 for the listed 4.5 kms and the 6th fastest time of the day. I had a horrible T2, not being able to get my helmet off,  so that makes my run time even better. I had a great day and finish strong in 9th place, well above my last year's placing of 15th.

The picture of me skating looked really bad.

Now a couple of week later I signed myself up for the MEC Point Pleasant Park Winter Classic 5K. Now there was a 10K option here folks, but I opted for the 5K. Why? Well I have been doing quite a bit of work at getting a fast 5K this year already and my first A race of the year will be the Atlantic Lung Run 5K. So I figured I would see how I might fair at the distance.

All racers started together and the 10K runners did 2 loops.  I figured I would  be able to grab all the data from this race and use it to see how my heart rate training was coming along. It was a simple 5K run on trails and ice. I knew this was not going to be a PB type race for me due to the terrain, but I hoped to still get a decent result and maybe crack the 19 minute world. Sadly I was only able to get a 20:28 but when looking through the results  it was plain to see that everyone's speed was quite a bit down. The hills were steep, but it was the running on patches of ice that really did it. Still I managed to get 3rd overall and 2nd male. I have a nice medal to show for it. And when I downloaded my Garmin to see how things went I was pleased that I managed to get my heart rate up to a high level and keep it there for over 17 minutes. Great stuff. And I didn't go for broke in the last kilometer, as I was too far behind second place. So it is good to know I probably have a little more free speed to go.

And look all smiles after the race! No pain!

The last race I have done was just this past weekend. It is a classic Nova Scotia race which I have never done, the Back to Basics 8 mile road race. Due to the price of the race ($5!) I couldn't pass it up. And I knew I was once again, not at my best, but this race would replace a threshold run for the week anyway, so why not go for it. 8miles is about 12.5 kilometers. Well my Garmin says 12.71 km.

It turns out this race is rather hilly. As in really hilly. My Garmin profile chart looks like a heart beat. No music was allowed as we were running on the roads, so I got  good song stuck in my head with a good beat (Pumped Up Kicks) and away I went. Now this race being much long than a 5K and having some really fast runners I really wanted to watch my pacing. I went out easily enough  but noticed that I was quite easily hanging with the leaders. So a quick glance said 3:30 min / km. Oh no I said to myself and began the process of slowing down. I hate slowing down as I feel like a freight train and it actually takes me 05 km or so to get down to the proper speed. Anyway, I got down to a 4:15 pace or so and felt comfortable there. By now I was close to a mile into the race and generally alone, with 2 women behind me and 8 people in front of me. I would stay there and keep a pretty decent pace for the next 5 miles  by which time the woman behind me finally caught up and passed me. Now she wasn't running so much faster than me, as I was kind of spacing out and drifting a bit. So I managed to pace right back up to her and use her as my pace bunny. It was great. I picked my pace right back up and hung in there easily. By mile 7 she said I could take off if I wanted to as she was just concerned with the lady behind us. But that lady was no where to be seen by this point. So I stayed where I was until I reached  half a kilometer to go. I felt like I had a little gas left in the tank so I thanked Erin and off I went, up the final climb and through the finish line in a time of 52:49. An overall pace of 4:09, not much off the pace I set for the MEC 5k. Great stuff I though as this was early in the season and my speed was already starting, this was the same time I ran at the end of the year 2 years back. And my heart rate data showed that I was actually slightly lower on average than my MEC race as well.

I finished the B2B  race 9th overall and 7th male. I looked at the times ahead of me and some were in the 44 min range. Yikes. I currently have no picture of this race to share sadly.

So it is really nice to see that my early season training is coming along, and thanks to training in my proper heart rate zones, I am not nearly as sore and tired as I used to be, all while getting far superior workouts.

Next up, the Lung Run. But that is a few weeks away yet, and I need to get a little distance into my feet as well, as I signed up for the Bluenose Half Marathon again.