Bread and art — Panem et artis
By Christina Stock
With the nation on lockdown to slow down the spreading of COVID-19, this might be just the time to learn how to go back to the basics, what our forefathers — or rather foremothers — considered common knowledge: How to bake bread, in particular in today’s recipe, how to bake sourdough bread from scratch without the need of mixes and bread makers.
The recipe I share with you took me years to perfect, it had to be adapted to our arid climate and high altitude. Let me just tell you, I could have easily built a house with all the failed loaves I created. Fortunately I had a very patient husband who encouraged me not to give up, and you — our reader — will benefit from it.
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The preparation takes a little time, and time is what we have right now, being stuck at home, unless you are one of the true backbones of our community and essential. If so, perhaps you can share this recipe with a neighbor at home and they may very well share a loaf of bread or two.
For a true sourdough bread one of the foundations is the yeast starter, which you have to start a day or two ahead.
Ingredients for three cups of sourdough starter:
1 Tbsp active dry yeast (unfortunately we live in a arid climate and we can’t catch wild yeast in the air)
1 cup warm water
1 cup warm milk
2 Tbsp sugar
2 cups flour
Mix the yeast and warm water in a high bowl and stir until the yeast is completely dissolved. Add the milk and the flour, beat until it is smooth without any remaining lumps. Transfer the mixture to a 2-quart container, pottery or ceramic is best. I use a tall cookie jar. Cover with a lid and let stand at room temperature (best in a warmer kitchen, especially in the summer when your A/C is running). Every two to three hours stir it gently. After 24 to 48 hours the mix will sour.
If you don’t use it right away, stir it down and put in the back of your refrigerator.
Remember, if you use one cup of the starter, you need to “feed” the yeast mix with 1 cup of flour, 1 cup of warm milk and a tablespoon of sugar and stir. You can use the mix after 12 hours again for your next loaf. If you want to bake several loaves, you can easily double the amount.
Now to the sourdough bread, this recipe works for one large loaf or several smaller ones. You can even make buns out of them.
Basic sourdough bread
1 cup sourdough starter
1 Tbsp active dry yeast
2 cups warm water
2 Tbsp molasses (or sugar, but I prefer the rich flavor of molasses, you can also use honey)
2 tsp salt (very important otherwise the bread will taste bland)
5 to 6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups rye or other flour
1 teaspoon cornstarch, mixed with ½ cup water (for the wash to make the crust perfect)
If you had the sourdough starter in the refrigerator take it out and let it come to room temperature. Combine the yeast and 1/4 cup of the water in a large bowl. Add the molasses/sugar and stir until dissolved. Set aside for 5 to 10 minutes. This is the test if the yeast is alive and will be able to make the bread rise. I usually put it in a warm spot on top of the refrigerator or inside the cold stove and cover it with a moist kitchen towel — again, because it is so arid in Roswell. After the 5 to 10 minutes the liquid should be bubbly. If it is not, sorry, you need to get fresher yeast at the store and start anew.
When the liquid is bubbly it is time to stir in the remaining 1 3/4 cups of water, salt and the sourdough starter.
Now it’s work-out time: Use a heavy duty spoon — or you can cheat and use a slow dough mixer. Add 4 cups of the all purpose flour, 1 cup at a time. Beat vigorously for 10 minutes, gradually adding the rye and/or stone ground rye flour. Beat for another 5 minutes until the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl.
I love my bread to have more substance, so I don’t always use plain flour, but mix it up with more rye flour and even stone ground rye flour (only 1 cup with 4 cups of regular flour or it will be too tough).
Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface. Knead for 20 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic, adding flour as necessary to prevent stickiness.
Dust a large bowl with flour. Place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat on all sides. Cover with a moist dish towel and return it to a warm, draft-free place, such as the inside of the cool stove. After 1 1/2 hours it should have doubled in size. Punch down the dough, gently turn and return to the stove for another hour.
Prepare a nonstick kitchen parchment sheet and sprinkle with cornmeal.
Punch down the dough. Cover it with a moist dish towel and let rest for 30 minutes.
Shape the dough in a tight ball and place on the baking sheet. Cover it with the moist dish towel and let it rise 45 minutes to one hour.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
To make the wash, bring the cornstarch and water to a boil in a small pan over low heat. Stir until it becomes thick and clear. Brush the loaf with it. In Germany we would carve in the traditional tic-tac-toe sign. This is to prevent the loaf from cracking. Bake about 35 minutes, until golden brown. Put the loaf on a wire rack to cool completely.
Dust with a little flour and rub over surface.
Books for comfort:
Last week, we started the series about indie authors and their books who are part of the New Mexico Co-op out of Albuquerque. Today, we introduce to you a true New Mexico native artist, Paul Ré.
Ré sent us his biography and details about his art, books and life:
“Ré is best known for his book ‘The Dance of the Pencil: Serene Art’ by Paul Ré (1993), his widely shown traveling exhibit of Touchable Art for the Blind and Sighted, and most recently for the Paul Bartlett Ré Peace Prize, administered by the University of New Mexico Foundation. The Peace Prize has been endowed to encourage persons in all disciplines in the advancement of both internal and external peace. Ré is now making a second tactile exhibit, Inspired by Nature, which is dedicated to environmental conservation.
“Ré was born in Albuquerque where he still resides. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in physics with honors from the California Institute of Technology in 1972. Ré has been acclaimed as ‘a virtuoso of the pencil’ for his art of “quiet greatness and noble simplicity.’ In 13 states, he has had 22 solo exhibits including those at University New Mexico Jonson Gallery, Albuquerque Museum, Triangle Gallery, Wichita Museum, Sumter Gallery, J.B. Speed Museum, the Colorado Springs Museum and the Karpeles Museum in New York. A documentary film on his ‘Touchable Art’ was produced by SCETV in 1990 and a companion book was created. His art has been praised by Georgia O’Keeffe and by the transcendental painters Raymond Jonson and Ed Garman as well as by Nobel Laureates Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, Richard Feynman and Roger Sperry.”
UNM Press has published Paul Ré’s new book “Art, Peace, and Transcendence: Réograms That Elevate and Unite.” Since its publication the book has achieved the highest honors, such as Winner of the 2016 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award in Philosophy; Finalist in Arts, Science, and Large Format Cover Design and recently Distinguished Favorite in Fine Arts from the 2019 Independent Press Awards.
“Art, Peace, and Transcendence: Réograms That Elevate and Unite,” has been described as an invitation with art, peace and transcendence; a journey for harmony, wisdom, and inner joy. According to the description, “his hybrid hand-digital prints, Réograms, are a unique art form very distinct from the Rayograms made in the 20th century by the American Surrealist Man Ray. Ré’s prints are computer manipulations of the drawings, paintings, and sculpture he has created over his forty-year career — the transformations may be mild or dramatic, each manually massaged into a harmonious whole. A large amount of hand work is involved and the Réograms are very different from his long-ago originals. A physics graduate of Caltech, Ré also has a background in philosophy, yoga, and meditation. This experience informs his often witty commentary that accompanies each of the 58 full-page plates, placing each piece in its historical context.
“One of his goals is to promote peace and harmony by means of science guided by wisdom. Throughout this book, he stresses the necessity of preserving earth’s biosphere. Ré also emphasizes that because the physical universe emerged from the Big Bang, that common origin unites us all — all human beings and species on earth and beyond, all matter and energy, everything that exists.
“Since 1974, Ré’s work has been derived from closed curves. These not only symbolize the interconnectedness of everything in existence but are philosophically related to String Theory of modern physics, which holds promise in being a Theory of Everything. Through his universal creations, Ré takes us on a journey of discovery of our oneness with the whole of the universe, and the source from which it emerged.”
For more information, visit paulre.org. In his email Ré writes that all proceeds from his books support the Paul Ré Peace Prize. According to his website, “the Peace Prize is given to that UNM student, faculty or staff member, alumnus or retiree who has promoted peace, harmony and understanding among people of the world, both within him- or herself and outwardly through tangible works. Also eligible are persons who regularly do volunteer work for UNM programs or UNM affiliates. These works may be on a local, regional, national or global level.”