Every year I’m looking forward to the Kneading Conference, hosted by the Maine Grain Alliance in Skowhegan/Maine. Alas, Covid-19 spoiled our appetite for any large gatherings this summer, and the event was canceled.
We baked the Songbird & Sea Bread with Jim Amaral (Borealis Breads), one of the founders of the grain renaissance in Maine. Years ago, he came up with the idea to use not only organic wheat in his bakery, but, also, locally grown grains.
Decades ago, most of the wheat production in the US had gone to the Midwest where high yield GMO grains could be cheaply produced.
Known for its long, cold winters, farmers in Maine had grown potatoes and less demanding grains on often poor soils (as animal feed). Nobody would have dreamed of harvesting wheat again.
Jim not only found a farmer in the neighborhood who was willing to take the risk – he, also, managed to get his hand on small batches of heritage wheat that had grown in Maine a century ago and was adapted to our harsh climate.
The rest is history – meanwhile we have many different kinds of grains growing in Maine again, and barley is not only fed to the swine but sold to the many micro breweries that sprung up in the last years.
The name “Songbird & Sea” alludes to two ingredients harvested in Maine: corn, loved by many birds – though more of the croaking and quacking variety – and laver seaweed (Porphyra).
Asian groceries, natural food stores and many supermarkets offer dried seaweed, either roasted as snack, or (under its Japanese name) as nori for sushi rolls.
Songbird & Sea Bread is a hearty sourdough, with a slight hint of seaweed. The crumb has a greenish hue and tiny black spots from the laver. You can use other kinds of seaweed, too, toasted or untoasted, but be aware that some are saltier than others.
At the Kneading Conference we mixed and baked the bread, of course, on one day. I tweaked Jim Amaral’s procedure a bit and introduced a long cold fermentation.
SONGBIRD & SEA BREAD (adapted from Jim Amaral/Maine Grain Alliance)
10 g refreshed starter
35 g water, lukewarm
35 g whole wheat flour
70 g cornmeal (preferably Abenaki Flint Corn or other heritage corn)
280 g water, divided
80 g whole wheat starter
95 g water
348 g corn mash
320 g bread flour
10 g laver/nori, toasted, if desired*)
7.5 g salt
*) Toast laver at 250ºF for 3-5 minutes (or buy roasted nori)
Morning: Mix starter (DDT: 72-80ºF). Leave for 6-8 hours at room temperature (float test: drop a teaspoon of starter in water – it should float).
Soak cornmeal in 210 g of the water for 6-8 hours.
In small saucepan, bring soaked cornmeal to a boil, then simmer over low heat until soft, stirring every 5 minutes, slowly adding remaining 70 g of the water until most of the liquid is absorbed. Let porridge cool to room temperature.
Place laver and water for final dough in mixer bowl. Let laver soak for 10 minutes.
Add remaining final dough ingredients to bowl with soaked laver, and mix at low speed until all flour is hydrated. Let dough rest for 5 minutes, then knead for another 6 minutes at medium-low speed (dough will be sticky).
Transfer dough to lightly oiled work surface. With oiled hands, pat and pull into rough rectangle. Fold from top and bottom in thirds, like business letter. Repeat from left and right side. Cover dough package (I use the mixer bowl) and let rest for 10 minutes.
Repeat stretching and folding procedure 2-3 times at 10 minute intervals (dough will start to resist). Place dough in lightly oiled container with lid and refrigerate overnight.
Remove dough from fridge 2 hours before using to de-chill.
Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface. Shape into a round. Place boule in floured banneton, and sprinkle with flour.
Cover, and proof bread for 60 – 75 minutes until it has increased in volume by about 1 1/2 times (finger poke test: a dimple made with your finger should be a bit elastic but stay visible).
Preheat oven to 500ºF, with a Dutch oven on middle rack to heat up.
Turn out bread on large piece of parchment paper. Cut paper into a sling, with 2 long pieces as handles. Score loaf as desired.
Take Dutch oven from oven, and remove lid. (I recommend placing your oven mitt on the hot lid to prevent accidental touching). Using paper sling, transfer bread to Dutch oven. Replace lid and return pot to oven.
Reduce temperature to 450°F, and bake bread for 20 minutes. Remove lid, and continue baking for another 15 minutes, or until loaf is golden brown and registers at 200°F (internal temperature).
Transfer bread to wire rack and let cool.
Songbird & Sea Bread keeps for several days, stored in a brown paper bag. Since we are only two people at home and love fresh bread, I cut it in half when it has cooled and freeze one piece.