Page 18 – Lucky Peach #11 – All You Can Eat
That’s right, I made a quite a comeback. Not only was I dying to get up on a recipe, but I decided to probably do one of the weirdest LP has printed thus far. It’s not the first time I’ve made bread from scratch, but this kind of bread is odd. It’s made with a starter that has cornmeal and boiling milk. That’s not normal, people. The deal with bread is that it’s fermented (in case you’re new). Usually you want some good old fashioned bacteria to get up in your starter and then you use that to make your dough, it rises, you bake it, yadda yadda yadda. Well, in this case, the welcome pathogen is Clostridium perfringens, and as our science-loving-foodie-writer Harold McGee explains, “Its cells can divide every ten minutes, a handful turning into trillions of hydrogen makers overnight. The hydrogen gas can leaven dough just as yeast-generated carbon dioxide does. The result is something known as ‘salt-rising bread.'” As far as the All You Can Eat umbrella goes, he attributes this recipe to “the far shores of edibility.” The situation here is that the bacteria produces acetic, lactic, propionic, and butyric acids. That last one contributes a sharp smell of aged cheese, and the one right before it is typical of Emmental-style swiss. Yeah, trippy, more on that later.
It took me much longer to make this bread then it should’ve, but I attribute that to the fact that the key to the whole deal is the temperature. From the get go, the starter needs boiling hot milk, then the starter and sponge need to kick it at like 100 – 110 degrees, while the dough also needs to rise in a warm environment. The recipe suggests a warm oven (mine doesn’t go that low) or a water bath. I said, ‘Fuck You,’ politely and used my dehydrator (the ol’ Excalibur). To be honest, I don’t really know if it worked, but a day and hours later, I made the bread, so there. Ironically, it was like 90 outside here in Silver Lake when I was doing this, so at one point I actually put the sponge outside because I swear the dehydrator didn’t seem warm enough (yes, it has a temperature gage, but shit…).
I followed the recipe to the tee and then went off-roading (not literally). I made my starter, let it sit in my dehydrator for 10 hours, took it out and it didn’t seem as fermenty or what I like to call “hooch-like,” but I just kept at it. I added the necessary ingredients to the starter to make the sponge, let that sit for 4 hours in the dehydrator, but it never looked as bubbly as I hoped, so that’s when I put it outside for a few hours, then finally caved and brought it in and made the dough. It looked and acted like bread dough at that point though, so bombs away, I spread it in the loaf pans and left it to rise (again, in the dehydrator, which usually is a really good place to proof shit). 6 hours later it didn’t look good, nothing Easter Jesus like about this bread dough. I went out, tried to forget about it, came back by midnight and it had risen! Amen!
Of course, it was now midnight and I really didn’t want to bake the bread, but I did. After about 27 minutes, it looked pretty brown on the outside, but wasn’t done on the inside. I let it go the full 45 minutes and pulled it. The outside was really crusty and I knew it would be hard, I don’t know if it was the cornmeal, but it was just a bit rough around the edges, if you know what I mean. But the insides were perfect. Here’s how it went down in a much quicker time span than the trauma I went through.
The bread has a curious taste. When I took it out of the oven, my house smelled like a funky cheese. Since we don’t hang out that often, you don’t know that I hate funky cheese, meaning blue or anything veiny or gorgonzolaesque. Fuck that shit. I do love feta, gouda, munster, swiss, cheddar, mozzarella, and even brie – but no blue cheese, YUCK. But the smell was mild, and it was cheesy, which made me believe I did something right since it obviously had that lovely blend of acids I mentioned earlier. The bread does kinda taste cheesy too. I can’t put my finger on an exact way to describe it really. It’s like a thick, creamy tasting bread. It’s rich but not actually that salty to me. It tastes like cheese bread, but there’s no cheese! Sharon, my trusty neighbor really couldn’t wrap her head around it either, but we both ate it up. I actually think it was even better like 2 days later, when I had it with my breakfast.
*Note: Do NOT eat the raw dough or lick the spoon while preparing this recipe – the microbes in this bacteria are actually associated with food poisoning – told you this was weird – but none of the strains actually produce toxins (thanks to the baking process bacteria and toxins are inactivated).
**One more note: The recipe also appears on Popular Science.