I woke up this morning to something I hadn’t seen since the last winter I spent in St. John's three years ago: a snow day. While looking out my bedroom window in the morning it immediately occurred to me: instead of studying for the next day's statistics exam I could play in the kitchen all day.
You’re right. There’s no logic there. But the term "snow day" is ingrained in people from St. John’s since childhood to mean a day where the seemingly unshakeable concepts of “deadlines” and “school” and “work “ lose all meaning in a glorious white-out of snow.
Bakers apparently, see things a little differently, as is evidenced by Georgetown Bakery staying open today despite the blizzard. (Check out the images of Brian as he made an epic quest this morning to get his ficelle.) I agree with the bakers at Georgetown: baking is a perfect snow storm activity.
This post records some notes and shenanigans from inside a kitchen entombed in snow: how to the get the crumb of rye bread just right, how to check your oven for hot spots, and how to get perfect crust.
I got to work in the kitchen on my latest obsession: rye bread. Bread recipes always get me thinking because the slightest changes in the recipe sometimes yield the most drastic changes in the final product. An instance of chaos theory? A butterfly’s wing might cause a hurricane on the other side of the world and a 5% hydration ratio increase in my sourdough boule may result in a flatter, chewier crumb.
I wanted to catalogue some of these modifications here and annotate them with answers I’ve found online while trawling the web and in my compendium of cookbook resources (more snow day activities of choice).
While writing this, I’m currently in the process of baking a loaf of Finnish Rye sourdough. I’m using my new tricks: squeezing lemon juice into the dough, placing the bread toward the front of my oven for baking, inside of a Dutch oven for steam. I’ll update this later and let you know how it goes!
In the mean time, here are more images of Brian's quest for a ficelle this morning in the midst of the first blizzard of the season.
Three days later...
Three days later and my statistics exam is over and my kitchen is full of delicious rye bread.
So how did my new tricks work out?
Baking in the Dutch oven made the most notable difference. The crust was much more foregiving and gave the bread a better chance to "spring" in the oven, giving it a more airy crumb. To avoid burning the crust I stayed away from the hot spot I had previously discovered in the back of my oven, and I also employed another trick: I crimped a piece of aluminium foil onto the bottom rack to deflect the radiant heat from the lower element. This has the desired affect: no burnt crust!
I didn't use the lemon to reduce the moisture of the crumb like I had planned, for the simple reason that I didn't want to go out in a blizzard in search of a lemon. But I did wait three days before cutting into the loaf and this made a huge difference in the structure of the crumb. Essentially it had had time to crystalize (effectively staling the bread), and I didn't have the problem of the rye goop sticking to my knife anymore.
So... if you decide to try any my recipes for rye bread, my parting recommendations would be to bake it inside of a Dutch oven for best crust and waiting three days before cutting into it for best crumb.
As for what to eat with rye? Look no further than gravlox, my all time favourite cured salmon, and which I have blogged about and written a recipe for, too. Just last night I brought a Finnish Sourdough Rye loaf and a quarter-pound of gravlax to a grad school potluck and it was all gobbled up. Especially good with a creamy red ale after finishing an exam season before Christmas. Enjoy!
I'm Erik, the Burnt Chef. I'm a Finnish-born Newfoundlander living in Norway. I have a passion for cooking and a deep fascination for the culinary history of the North. Simplicity guides my cooking. Time, place, and history guide my storytelling. This is my personal blog about food.