In a semi-organizing mood one day, I approached my shelves of recipe book for bread. Some, like Jean Hewitt's 1971, New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook, have other recipes. A favorite was a simple "Crusty White Bread," an ersatz French bread, made with olive oil or clarified butter. Many guests were once impressed.
"Baba a Louis Bakery Bread Book" by John McLure, rarely mentioned among the bread bloggers, was one I purchased a few years ago in NYC but never used. The subtitle, "The Secret Book of the Bread," seemed to promise more than a slim volume might deliver. I was about to be surprised by a delicious bread and a radical (for me), new approach for raising dough.
But first, an introduction to McLure and his bakery in Vermont. He shared about a mysterious health condition and receiving a "chain cake," similar to a chain letter. He was instructed to pass along some soured batter he'd been sent. He used all of it to make a cake in the shape of an ahkh.
Then fed it to "our pet pig." Okay, I could see why I'd put the book aside: it did not mesh with my life in Manhattan. It felt too 1960s and I needed to be more grounded. Now, however, in Portland, Oregon, which sometimes feels as if it is levitating, I was more prepared for his secrets on "reversing the decline of bread."
Photo from his book illustrates McLure's method for creating a properly moist environment for the second rise of the dough. The picture was important to show dough in a baking pan covered by an inverted baking pan. I have no idea why the bread pan is elevated but do get that the pot on top was to keep the warmth inside.
My approach was to spray water inside the bottom of a deep roast pan(had to be high enough so loaves would not make contact as they expanded. Covered it all with a dish towel tucked around all the open spaces. Almost engineering.
Open Sesame (a la Baba) was the "soured yeast" bread which did not use my own sourdough starter but:
3 cups wheat flour
3-1/4 cups white flour
1-1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1-1/2 Tbsp sea salt
2 cups + 2 Tbsp water
...were mixed together to "form a nice firm ball of dough, placed in a covered bowl, left to rise for 12 hours. Resulting in a soured dough. Earlier 3/4 cup of sesame seeds had been roasted. After this long first rise, the dough was cut in half and seeds kneaded into each piece, shaped into round loaves, then put into the towel-covered cocoon above for several hours to double. Coated with egg glaze, baked at 375 for 40 minutes. Tasted so good, sesame seeds very subtle, long-lasting.
Delighted with this one, I tried another McLure recipe, Peter's Grain Bread-- soaked oatmeal, bulghur, wheat flakes, sunflower seeds and millet. Same method but did not a success. Know what I need to do differently. Will try again because I'm intrigued by the mix of ingredients.
Never learned the story-behind-the-story of ankh cake or how McLure moved past his health problem. Looking for information on the ankh, however, led straight to a blog by a gentleman in Harlem! Back in my last neighborhood. He has studied the Secret of the Ankh, and believes it is "...not only a symbol of Life but the elements that create life." Like bread.