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You are currently viewing Grain Mash Sourdough Method and Anadama Bread

The mash process is traditional in the bread baking of countries where rye is a dominant grain such as, but not limited to, Russia, Finland, and Germany. It transforms the flavors and performance of flours and grains. For example, Russian bakers sometimes use a potato mash to introduce complex, chocolate flavors into rye bread. In my baking explorations, I’ve found that these techniques also work with corn, wheat, and other grains. In this article, I’ll explain the purpose and process of mashing, and give you my recipe for Anadama bread where I apply this transformative process. You can follow the formula as-is with a cornmeal mash, or you can swap out the corn for oats, whole wheat, or any other grain addition. My hope is that other bakers will see that making a mash opens up possibilities for bread without needing the inclusion of a bunch of additions.

Anadama bread with seeds. Photo: Corvus Corax

Anadama bread is a traditional bread from New England. It’s usually yeast-leavened and sometimes has rye flour in it too. Its name is often attributed to a shortening of “Anna, damn her,” a phrase that was supposedly said by a fisherman who complained that his wife, Anna, made corn-and-molasses porridge too often. He added yeast and wheat flour to the porridge one day to make this bread, and eventually their neighbors all over coastal Massachusetts and beyond began making (or buying) this bread too. Anadama bread was recorded by the U.S. Trademark and Patent Office in 1850.

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Grain Additions to Bread

In the case of Anadama bread, you have cornmeal you want to incorporate into the dough, but you could make bread with any number of additions: whole, cracked, or rolled oats, buckwheat, rye, amaranth, and more. When planning the dough, some of your options for how to add these additions are as follows:

Add the grains as-is to the dough (works best if they are soft, rolled, or milled into flour)

Pre-cook the grains e.g. in a porridge

Make a “soaker” (soak the grains in water, hot or cold, and sometimes also salt to restrict the enzymatic activity)

Make a “mash” (combine the grains with boiling water, which encourages the activity of enzymes and the conversion of carbohydrates to sugars)

Make a porridge then inoculate it with a small amount of starter and let it ferment for 2-4 days (this is what is done with several recipes in Chad Robertson’s book, Tartine No.3)

As a baker, you can choose. In this recipe, I’ve chosen an extended warm mash and a preferment.

The amount of the grain addition is up to you. You can always add more to your dough, but I think you’ll find the mash gives you more intense and complex flavors than simply adding more grains or porridge would.

What is a Mash?

A mash is when you combine a grain and boiling water to activate enzymes in the grain that convert starches to simpler sugars. The sugars are then consumed by the bacteria and yeasts in the levain. You will find that the mash changes in character over time. When it’s done, it is sweeter tasting and darker in color due to the conversion of sugars. For example, purple corn when made into mash turns really purple.

So, the real question is: why bother to do this? Flavor and a softer and more moist texture that resists staling.

Most flour by itself does not have much flavor because we cannot taste long complex carbohydrates. Enzymes in the flour must first break up the complex carbohydrates into sugars, and then we use a sourdough levain to consume the sugars and produce complex and delicious flavors. Some of the sugars are not consumed and they give the bread a sweetness. With this process, you get creamy flavors in the bread and usually a not very open crumb. This is especially true for whole wheat where the bitterness from red wheats is eliminated. A mash creates flavors by making fuller use of the grains with no need to add spices or other flavor additions like sugar. However, you can also put additions like spices into the mash and they too will be transformed by the process, gaining in intensity. For example, caraway seeds in a mash develop a more citrus flavor, and just a little goes a long way.

What is Saccarification?

Saccarification is when the warm mash is extended to release even more sugars from the grain. The flour or cracked grains are combined with boiling water, which brings the mash up to gelatinization temps (158-194F). Once the mash cools to 145-149F, an enzymatic flour such as whole grain rye flour or diastatic malt flour is added in order to boost the conversion of starches to sugars. The mix is then held at this latter temperature range for at least 1.5 hours, though I prefer more than 3 hours.

Why Preferment the Levain and the Mash?

If there is too much enzymatic activity in a dough, the bread can turn out gummy. So we want to achieve maximum flavor in a bread and just the right enzymatic activity. This is where the acid in the levain comes in. It helps control the enzymes. The full process outlined in the recipe below extracts the most flavor from the cornmeal, leavens the bread, and produces a crumb with no gumminess and more softness.

When you combine the mash with the levain in the preferment step of the process, you’re reducing the possibility of  gumminess and increasing the sweet-and-sour flavors. In case of rye, I would always do the preferment step, but with other flours, it is more optional. In Melissa’s test bake of Anadama bread (recipe photo and gallery below), she used turkey red wheat and heirloom purple el hub corn, and she skipped the preferment stage. You can see how her crumb looks a little more fragile-gummy compared with this one below where there was a preferment step.

Crumb of Anadama bread. Photo: Corvus Corax

Pan Size and Recipe Scaling

This recipe is scaled for a 9x4x4 Pullman pan but a medium USA pan will work too. For the dough to fit in a large Pullman pan (13x4x4) multiply the ingredients by 1.44 to have the loaf size Melissa created in the Photo Gallery below. To fill a large Pullman pan more fully, try a multiple of 1.8.

Photo Gallery of Melissa’s Test Bake (Three Stage, Preferment Skipped)

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