Culturing butter at home to enjoy with sourdough made with freshly milled wheat

Baking great tasting, and looking sourdough bread with freshly milled wheat is only complicated if you are used to market-bought wheat. Like we all are.

These two loaves are pretty identical, the only difference in their composition was perhaps 1 tablespoon of extra water in the loaf that got the dusted linen crust. I eyeball water in the measuring cups and do not weigh anything.

I used 2 cups of King Arthur bread flour and 1 1/2 cups of the Hard Red Winter Wheat supplied by Grist and Toll for each loaf, as well as 1 1/2 cups of water, 1/3 cup of well-fed starter and 1 1/2 tsp of Trader Joe's fine sea salt.

I find the Grist and Toll wheat slows fermentation down. Everything I read suggested fresh wheat would speed things up, by my experience showed that more patience and more time are needed. In addition to giving the first ferment more time, close to 18 hours rather than a normal 12-14, I also engaged the use of my Rancilio Ms Silvia espresso machine. I put the fermenting glass bowls of dough on top of Silvia, and her warming tray helps kick the yeast into high gear.

Fresh whole wheat absorbs water differently than market-sourced wheat. 'Hydration' or ratio of flour to water in the dough is something a baker can pay a lot of attention to if said baker wants. I don't bother, but you do need enough water in the dough to get everything to stick together. I suggest reserving a little water or a little flour from your initial mixing, and you can add a bit more of whichever material you held back if you feel the texture is off. Typically you want a wet and sticky ball of dough that'll require you flour your hands to work with it. A little dryer or wetter is not a problem.

'Hydration' influences the crumb of the bread a lot, and you'll get bigger bubbles in your bread if there is more water. Why? Bread rises as water evaporates out of it during baking. Lifting the bread up. More water will create more steam and if the yeast has done its work there will be lots of little pockets formed in the dough to catch it and expand like a balloon. Too dry dough and you'll get very dense bread. Too wet a dough will run like a non-Newtonian oobleck.

I know that around 1 1/2 cups of water works with around 3 1/2 cups of flour. Reserving 1/4 cup of flour or water will probably be enough to let you fiddle. You can also just add a bit more flour or water. It will not hurt anything.

The loaves rose about 1/2 as much as I thought they should overnight, so I gave them a few hours on the espresso machine's warming tray. Rotating between the bowls every 45 minutes or so, so as not to let the heat of the tray cook the bread, the dough rose some more and had a very fermented and gluten-y texture when spread out for folding.

I chose to put the wetter dough in the linen lined basket, as I felt it was less likely to stick there than in a plain banneton. Both came out of their proofing baskets just fine and cooked up well.

One loaf went with my daughter to her mothers, so she'd have sandwich bread this week. The second loaf was shared with a guest who taught me to make my own butter at home.

Making butter seems pretty easy. I will certainly be doing it again. All it took was a pint of heavy whipping cream, a dollup of yogurt and then my stand-up mixer. My guest had combined the cream and yogurt a few nights before and then left it to sit on her counter for a day. Once the cream had taken on a tangy taste and smell, she refrigerated the concoction. When we were ready for butter all she had to do was let the mixer run on a relatively high-speed, splash shield in place, until the cream formed butter fat globs and the buttermilk separates.

I was enthralled watching the cream change into all the various types of cottage cheese, creme fraiche and other various milk products on the path to butter.

After squeezing and rinsing the butter we salted it a bit and stuck it in my bell jar butter crock.

I have been told that making my own cultured butter is a good skill to go with the bread baking.