It was a dark and stormy night... We slept on, blissfully unaware but when we awoke, the world was white and hushed. Mist shivered on the bare trees and the road had fallen silent. After a long, long while, we heard the distant growl of the snowplow. It came nearer, nearer, And each time it rumbled by the house, the driveway became a little more impenetrable. We were stuck. Nothing that a good shovel and a bit of elbow grease wouldn't solve but it had started raining cats and dogs and we hoped the rain would do the work for us. So we stayed in and I looked for something to cheer me up. I had made a big batch of bright green pea soup the day before (from a recipe I found ages ago in The Three Ingredient Cookbook by Jenny White and that we love it so much I have made it countless times since) and I recalled reading that in the country, when they have leftover vegetable soup, they sometimes mix it with ripe starter, add flour until they get the right consistency and bake it. I had ripe starter galore (never a problem in my house), I had flour, I had soup, so I decided to have fun and bake a pea pod bread! Ingredients: For the soup (these proportions are enough for the bread and for soup for 2 the night before) 2 bags of frozen peas (454 g x 2) (for the soup, I like the Trader Joe's brand because the peas are tiny and never floury but if you are going to make bread with them, maybe floury isn't that bad! Anyway I only had the regular supermarket brand in the freezer, so that's what I used) 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed 1 bit of butter 500 ml water or broth (just enough to cover the peas. Bouillon cubes can be used if broth is not available) For the bread (enough for 1 big bread and 1 roll) 186 g mature firm starter (60% hydration) (the starter I used was 50% white whole wheat) 620 g unbleached all-purpose flour 640 g soup (mixed with an immersion blender) salt (I can't give you the precise amount because it depends on how much you salted the soup. You'll just have to taste. I know I underestimated the proportion) freshly ground pepper (to taste)
By the way, even if you don't plan to make pea pod bread, I would still encourage you to make the soup. It is such an easy and tasty recipe to have in a recipe repertoire that it's worth trying to see if you like it and, the day after, eat the leftover with beet chips. It's so delicious that, by right, Julia Child should have invented it! Maybe she did, for all I know...
Beet chips are no-fat and easy to make : wash and peel some raw beets (I happen to love the taste of yellow beet but any color would work), slice them really thin, put the slices on a half-sheet pan covered with foil, drizzle lemon juice over them (I used Meyer lemons which I had bought by mistake thinking they were organic and couldn't use for baking because their skin isn't "zest-able") and bake 2 or 3 hours in the oven at a very, very low temperature. Sprinkle some salt over the chips when they come out of the oven and enjoy! By themselves, beet chips are pretty addictive but with the soup (just lukewarm is fine), especially with this (Meyer-)lemony aftertaste, wow!
For the soup
- Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan
- Add the garlic and let it soften a bit (but not color)
- Add the frozen peas and mix with a wooden spoon (I cover the pot half-way with its lid at this point to get the peas to thaw faster)
- When the peas are more or less all separate, pour water or broth to cover
- Let simmer about 5 minutes, uncovered
- Add pepper, if desired
- Mix with an immersion blender
- Eat hot or warm (in the spring or summer, the soup can be eaten cold with chopped fresh mint)
- If using the soup for the bread, make sure it cools to room temperature. Conversely, if the soup has been kept in the fridge, put it in the microwave for a few seconds to bring it to room temperature. (I had made the soup the day before and even though it had remained at room temp - 64ºF -, it was pretty cold considering the fact that the flour came from the garage and was at 53ºF. I wanted the dough to come out at 76º F. So I heated up the soup to about 120º taking care to mix it with a bit of cold flour before letting it touch the starter)
- Read above, step 9, to adjust the temperature of the soup, keeping in mind that the desired dough temperature is 76ºF
- Mix starter, flour and soup until medium soft consistency and low gluten development (short mix)
- Taste to adjust salt and pepper
- Transfer to the counter and knead by hand for a few seconds, then put in an oiled dough bucket or bin and let it ferment 40 minutes
- At 40 minutes, take the dough out, give it a 4-point fold and put it back in the bin or bucket
- Let it ferment another 40 minutes
- At that point, I had 1442 g of dough. I divided it in 1 1-kg piece and 1 442-g piece.
- Pre-shape the big piece as a boule or as a cylinder. Divide the smaller one in 6 small boules Let rest covered for 15 minutes
- Shape the six boules tightly to make them look like peas (only 5 will go into the pod, the other one will be used for tasting)
- Shape the big piece first as a tight batard, sprinkle flour along the middle and crease it with a thin rolling pin, pushing the bottom of the dough against the counter to make it flat but taking care not to tear it. Remove the pin and dust the dough at the bottom with some more flour, put 5 of the little boules into the crease (taking care to flour them on the sides where they touch, so that they remain separate when baking)
- Set the peapod and the small boule to ferment, right side up, in a big plastic bag on a half-sheet pan covered with semolina-dusted parchment paper
- Pre-heat the oven to 470ºF/243ºC with a cast-iron pan at the bottom and a baking stone on the middle shelf
- After 40 minutes, check the loaves and if ready (the indentation made with your finger springs back only slowly), score them as desired, pour 1 cup of water in the hot cast-iron pan (watch for the steam!) and bake for 5 minutes at 470ºF, spraying some more water into the oven twice in the first 5 minutes
- Lower the temperature to 440ºF/227ºC and bake for 20 minutes, then turn the loaves around so that they don't brown more on one side than the other and bake another 15 to 20 minutes, or until their internal temperature reaches about 210ºF/99ºC
- Cool on a wire rack.
Boule for tasting: the crustNow comes the $100 question: what does the bread taste like? Well, surprisingly enough, not at all like soup! It tastes half-way between a chestnut flour bread and a sweet potato bread and since the soup wasn’t sweet, it can only be because the wild yeast found some sugar in the peas and chomped on it. Perhaps because of that sweet taste (which wasn’t perceptible when I was mixing the dough), the bread isn’t quite salted enough. However the black pepper makes up for it, quite serendipitously, by giving it a welcome bite. So, yes, I like the bread but (there is a but!)... I am disappointed by its color. I wanted a green bread, if not the bright green of Irish soda breads on St-Patrick’s Day, at least some specks of emerald here and there to make up for the grayness outside. But, as you can see from the picture, the bread is greenish at best. Oh well! Perhaps next time I should reserve some of the peas and hand-mixed them in the dough at the end (maybe even still frozen peas which would thaw and bake in the bread and so keep their gorgeous color?). But that will be for another snowday...