One of the comforting things the return to winter brings is more baking. I made bread this summer, but it was mostly a disaster. I have been baking bread sporadically throughout my life, and I have come to the conclusion that you must consistently bake in order to reach a certain level of skill. I mean, this is true with just about anything, but bread is like a language in that it necessitates immersion. So, I am now immersed and enjoying it immensely. There are many days when I miss the mark, but each miss shows me what I did wrong, and what I can do better. It’s nearly always delicious–it’s never a total loss. I think what gets me most is how many truly incredible bakers there are out in that image-slavish world that I sometimes get hung up on not being as good as someone else. Oh, the lessons we learn when just going about our business. No matter how many times I tell myself to not worry about what someone else’s bread looks like, I still feel inadequate when mine is not what I envisioned it to be. I tell myself: shouldn’t you know better than this by now?
The thing is, with all this ugly delicious bread, you have to eat quite a bit of it. The more you get into your bread-making groove, the more bread you have, of course, and the more you need to eat. The prettier loaves get sliced in half to inspect the crumb, and then are given to an appreciative friend. A good portion of bread gets cubed and put in the freezer. An equal amount gets dried out and turned into bread crumbs. There is a dedicated section in the freezer for bread and bread by-product. During the cold months, I probably eat bread every day, sometimes every meal. Is that scandalous? So be it. A slice of really good bread, good looking or not, is always a fine companion for a meal. Toasted in olive oil and anchovies, griddled in bacon fat, soaked in stock, coated with melted cheese; they are all iterations of comfort.
The other day I thought of something new to me, and made a porridge from some bread. I was thinking breakfast, a sweet application, and bread pudding was the inspiration, but I didn’t want eggs, and I didn’t want a big production. I poured a cup of hot jasmine tea over a bowl of days old cubed bread, wondering how this would work. After about ten minutes, I put the soaked bread into a saucepan with some milk, just enough, and brought it to a simmer while simultaneously breaking apart the bread with a fork. Served with a dollop of yogurt, walnuts and brown sugar, it was a perfectly filling hot cereal for a snowy and cold day. This is such a basic meal, and has probably been eaten for as long as bread has been around, that I am struck that I’ve never done it before. I felt like I was touching some ancient chord while eating it. Bread with hot milky tea.
I was so energized by a new to me use for older bread, it made me start to think about bread in new ways. Like, what about bread porridge using crumbs? How about a porridge bread with fermented bread crumbs? Fermented bread crumbs!! I loved the meta-ness of this idea, very similar to using grated stale bread as an ingredient for new bread, which is a thing. I filled a quart mason jar 3/4 full with sturdy breadcrumbs (you wouldn’t want to do this with store bought bread crumbs), topped with water, and added a spoonful of sourdough starter. After a few days of bubbling on the counter with a piece of fabric covering it from dust, it smelled correctly sour (like kvass must smell, which I was sort of on my way to making). I used some of the liquid strained off in place of the water in porridge bread, then added the moist fermented crumbs to the bread in place of a soaked and fermented grain. The bread I made was with rye and walnuts, hearty and wintry. I am so partial to the custardy taste of a porridge bread–if you’ve never made one, I suggest you do. I started with the Tartine recipes from Tartine No. 3 like this one here, but have blazed my own trail, making it mine (and consequently, not quite as good looking). It was such a wet dough, and I was sure it would be a failure, yet it came out quite delicious. I was able to eat it for breakfast every day and not tire of it’s richness and flavor.
Some soaked bread crumbs were left over, so naturally I had it as porridge for breakfast. I’ll have to report that it was bordering on being too tart, which I found to be the case when I began fermenting grains last year to add to porridge breads. I learned that adding a spoonful of yogurt or buttermilk as a starter made the grains sweeter, not quite as tangy. The sourdough starter was really making it too acidic–perfect for a loaf of bread, but a bit much to eat for breakfast. I’ll do this in my next fermented bread crumbs experiment. Nonetheless, I ate almost the whole bowl of porridge, because how can you say no when it’s garnished with fermented chives, bacon and sauerkraut?