Baking Bread

I love to bake bread and baking bread on the David B’s wood cook stove is a very different process for me from baking bread at home. During the boat season I wake up at 5am and start the fire in the stove. While the fire heats up the oven I grind some coffee beans and mix together my ingredients for muffins. I pull out the bread dough I made the day before from the refrigerator and set it on the counter. I like to let my dough rise in the fridge overnight to give the loaf more flavor.

As I go about my morning’s routine, I wake Capt. Jeffrey up at 6am with a cup of French press coffee. Usually about that same time an early-rising passenger will come up to pilothouse to share with me the ritual of First Cup. I love the quiet of the morning on the David B with one or two passengers to chat with and the smell of muffins baking and bacon cooking on the stove. While morning slips away the bread that I’ll make for lunch rises slowly. Sometime after breakfast when the dishes are done and we are underway, it’s time to shape the dough.

I make my decision on what to do with the dough depending on how hot the pilothouse is and what the day’s activities will be. If we decide that lunch will be early, then I make rolls, if we’re going to have a late lunch, then I’ll make a full sized loaf. After the bread for lunch has been shaped, I take out the dough that will become dinner’s bread. I also take out my sourdough starter, Whiskey Golf and make dough for the next day.

While the shaped dough for lunch rises, I’ll occasionally check on it. I lift the cloth that covers it and I lightly lay my hand on the dough to feel for warmth and elasticity. If I bake the bread too early, the dough will ‘blow out’ during oven-spring. If I let it rise too long then the gluten strands will be weak and dough will collapse causing a flat, ugly loaf. I’m feeling the dough for the right moment when I can put it in the oven and have a loaf of bread that emerges some time later with the perfect shape.

Loaf

The key ingredient of baking bread on the David B is our Heartland stove. Since the stove been going since 5am, its oven box has stayed hot all morning. I don’t bake bread in the Heartland by oven temperature. I mostly judge when I can bake bread by how much and what kind of wood I’m feeding the stove and what the stovetop thermometer is reading. The bread bakes in its own time and it’s done when the internal temperature reaches 180-200 degrees Fahrenheit. The magic of the Heartland appears to be in the dry heat of a wood fire. I can make a thick, dark, chewy crust that is bursting with flavor and with an interior that remains moist and soft. In my opinion there is nothing quite as good as warm sourdough bread made on the David B with a dollop of herbed butter I whipped up. Yes, I do make my own butter, but that’s a topic for another day.

While I sit here writing today’s blog waiting for today’s bread to rise I know this bread won’t be the same. It will be good, but my GE electric oven can’t produce the same crust as the Heartland. The crust is never as chewy and won’t brown in the same way. At home I’ve resorted to making all my breads in the Dutch oven for moderately chewy and lighter crusts. They are good, but really, never as good as when I make them on the boat and I can’t justify the decadence of making butter for just Jeffrey and me. I’m already looking forward to April when I can stoke up the Heartland and make bread to share with passengers. I know the bread on the David B will be more than just good.

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