All grains contain peptides that mimic morphine or endogenous opioid substances. This is where I deal with my latest loaf craving. Get your bread-based exorphin fix here.

Monday, August 29, 2011

60:40 Tornado Bread

What happens when you make bread in a tornado warning? 
Nothing -- as long as one doesn't touch down.

Recent late summer storms have tossed huge damaging tornadoes across our region.  A few days after the pretty town of Goderich on Lake Huron was devastated by a tornado that touched down, an incredibly large storm swept in from the lake and across Southwestern Ontario.  We watched the skies darken early all through the Tornado Watch; and when the Tornado Warning came, we huddled in our basement, under the stairs, until the all-clear came, and the night of rain and lightning.

But I did have to run upstairs a couple of times to check on my bread, which was baking in the oven.  It just so happened that the Tornado Warning occurred precisely at the time that the bread needed to be baked.  So what was I supposed to do?  I proofed it an hour longer than I felt I should have, then went ahead and baked it.

Luckily, no tornado touched down in our locale.  The closest one did take out a barn and a tree nearby; other funnel clouds were spotted but apparently none touched down near us.

What was in the bread?

I was looking in my cupboard for some flax seeds, but I must be out of those.  But as I was snooping around the strange things I've collected, I came across a few interesting grains, and I thought I'd try them in a bread.  I was making 2 different doughs with 2 different wild yeast starters (enough to make 4 breads): one with the official Tartine starter, and one with my 100% whole wheat wild yeast starter, also at 100% hydration.  Both breads were 60:40 flours.  The one using All Purpose flour was 40% whole wheat; the one using Whole Wheat flour was 40% rye.

On the second turn in the bowl, I added to each dough about half of the following:

  • 2 oz Farmer Girl Hột é Sweet Basil Seed from Vietnam
  • 200mg Manitoba Harvest Shelled Hemp Seed from Manitoba
  • 56g Red Quinoa from the bulk food store; probably comes from California
Basil, hemp and quinoa seeds

I made a mistake with the Basil Seeds.  I assumed that this seed would simply act like a poppy seed, and just add a little crunch, and a little flavour.  Perhaps it did, but the Vietnamese use it differently.  They add it to a cold drink, and the tiny seeds swell up and look like fish-eyes, an almost gelatinous texture.  I should have soaked these tiny seeds first.  In Indian Ayurveda, basil seeds are said to be calming and beneficial for Asthma.  Other benefits are also listed.  It is considered a sacred plant throughout Asia where it was first grown.

Hemp seed supposedly contains a lot of Omega-3, but you have to keep the temperature below 350 degrees to get any benefit from it.  You might think that leaves out bread -- but the temperature of the interior of the loaf may not actually get as hot as the oven (bread is considered done when the internal crumb temperature reaches 190-210 degrees F).  Shelled hemp is kind of expensive, but pretty darn healthy.  The seeds are kind of invisible in the crumb of the bread.

Another sacred plant is Quinoa, regarded as the mother of all grains by the Incas.  It is not a true grain though, but the seed of a chenopod.  Its protein is more complete than wheat.  I love to toss red quinoa into bread because of the colour, and because I know its healthy eating.


the seeds are added and turned into the dough

  This bread is pretty darn good.  I gave a loaf to some friends (because it is a hemp seed bread, I told them to eat it, not smoke it), and they claim it is even better than the last bread I gave them to try.  I was given some of homemade peach chutney as a way to say thanks.

Suddenly I'm bartering bread.

 The 60:40 Whole Wheat: Rye loaf:

The 60:40 all purpose: whole wheat loaf:

Notes to Myself
  • Next time, try soaking the basil seeds.  Fish-eyes in the bread might be sort of interesting.
  • Got to try that sweet basil seed drink.

Forgotten Bread

Some more Tartine-style loaves, monkeying with the ratios of WW, AP and Rye flours

The other day my wife and I were cleaning out the basement in preparation for some home renovations: a new cellar office for her. She discovered a couple of love letters from me, to her, that she had kept from when we were dating. I had gone to British Columbia and was staying with a friend, floundering around and trying to decide what to do with my life. The letters show my confusion. All I really had a handle on was that I loved her, and wanted to be with her. That much alone was clear to me.

But the tone of the letters, the way the sentences were put together, everything about them seemed foreign and unfamiliar. I had absolutely forgotten the person who wrote those letters. I had forgotten almost all the events that were described.

Love is a strange seed, isn't it? You don't know where it will take you. In my case, it took me back to Ontario, to build a life with my best friend who eventually became my wife. But seeds crack open, and transform in the growing. I'm a different person now than what I was then. I have new confusions. Love remains, but it is an ever-new seed, waiting to crack open the next phase of life transformation. We move on, and we forget the old confusions, the old self that propelled us onward.

The letters were from someone else. We threw them away after reading them, as we also threw away 3 or 4 trailer loads of trash.

That's my segue for this blog: Memory. It appears that every decision and encounter we have had in the past are the things that make us who we are. But how we choose to order those memories is (always) a present-moment event. I am thinking of David Hume and his ideas of causation. Probably I am misrepresenting his ideas, but it seems to me that he showed, using reason and philosophy alone, that we associate causality with priory, when the association can never be proved beyond all doubt. In the case of our our very self, the thing we call "I" seems to be a consistent entity that endures over time and is affected by external events and also effects change on external objects through interaction. But the affects and effects can never be proved absolutely. We can determine now who and what we are and we do that either consciously or unconsciously. Our brains are like computer RAM that only retains the semblance of consciousness by periodically sending electro-chemical sparks along neuronal pathways that we assume and accept as our 'self', and this network of pathways includes memories, aspirations, and emotions and other as-yet-unnamed and mysterious elements of psyche. We are always picking and choosing who we are.

Forgetfulness is a tool that we use to identify what is most important.
Left: a Tartine-style dough, with AP flour.  Right: Whole Wheat, with 10% Rye

I barely remember making this bread. I remember that it was good. I remember that my friend David chose one of the breads made with 90% whole wheat, and my wife chose one of the breads made with what I think now was 70% all purpose, 30% Whole Wheat. But because I was busy doing other things, I didn't blog about it right away.  I'm forgetting the details.

I ate the bread, the particles of what were bread became the particles of my body for a time.

crumb of one of the breads with AP flour

A 90% WW, 10% Rye loaf made in the Tartine Style with 100% whole wheat wild yeast starter.  A good bread.

Now it seems totally unimportant.  In a week or two, everything I've written here will be unfamiliar.  In a few years, I may even have forgotten that I ever had a blog about bread, ever.

Notes to Myself
  • Who the hell are you?
  • What the heck is this blog for, anyway?  Is it about bread?  Who cares?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A couple of failures

A Bad Day for some Tartine Recipes

If you are going to make one mistake, you might as well make two.  Or even three.

In my case, I suspect that the reason the mistakes occurred was because I was trying to do two things at once.  I wanted to try the Tartine Pizza, and I wanted to make the Tartine Potato Focaccia.  Both had oven temperatures of 500 degrees F.  "Great!" I thought.  "I can trial them together!"

And that was my downfall, I guess.  The pizza stone was on the middle shelf and the focaccia was on the lower shelf.  The focaccia pan probably blocked some of the heat from the element, meaning the stone wasn't hot enough; and the pizza stone probably prevented heat from hitting the top of the potato focaccia.  So neither meal was properly cooked.

But there may have been another reason.  Both of them use the Tartine Country Bread Dough, which I had dutifully  turned every 30 minutes for 3 1/2 hours.  But the actual proofing time for these recipes was minimal (it seems to be a bit of a grey area in the recipe as given) and both doughs came off as inadequately baked.

It was late at night when I read the recipe and transferred it to my recipe card, so I really ought to go back to the book and see if I've made any errors in timing or method.

My First Tartine Pizza

I was more interested in the dough than in toppings here, so I just used cheap mozzarella, cheap tomato sauce, cheap canned mushrooms and cheap Italian seasoning.  It was merely an experiment to see how the dough performed.

The oven was definitely hot enough.  And I baked it for longer than the recipe calls for.  Nevertheless, it was not baked.

Dough is uncooked.  Never developed for some reason, once it was formed.
The dough was the worst part.

My First Tartine Potato Focaccia

Tastes great, but the uncooked dough gives me a belly ache.  I stuck it back in the oven for another 10 minutes after trying my first piece, but that of course, didn't fix the mistake.  If it had worked, this would have been a great recipe.
that's about how many potatoes you need
One potato.  That's how thin the mandoline makes the potatoes -- paper thin.

That's the mound of potato thins it makes.  Potato Chips, anyone?

We have our own garden thyme.  How much is a 'bunch'?

I used about this much.

Add the salt -- and the water (and some starch) simply pours out of the potatoes.
This is less than 1/2 of what I wiped up off the counter before I set the colander over the bowl.

fresh pepper, 1/2 the thyme, and the oil are added

looks and feels a bit like pasta, actually

The dough when first dumped on the oiled pan

After gently pulling it to the edges

that's a lot of spuds

Baked, but not enough.
Uncooked, doughy -- but tastes like the promise of a good recipe


Awful.  Try try again.

Notes to Myself
  • The pizza recipe uses about 1/3 of the dough from a Tartine country bread recipe.  With the remaining dough, I made a couple of 'small loaves' in the already hot oven.  They didn't turn out either.  They didn't rise very long in the proofing stage -- maybe 1 1/2 hours -- but I feel they should have done better than they did.  I didn't put them in the dutch oven, but rather baked them on the already-hot pizza stone.  They deflated and didn't achieve any oven spring.  They were misshapen, and I expected perhaps a ciabatta-like bread.  But it shows signs of being not well risen.  These loaves got tossed in the compost.

    The dough was the problem! 
    The lack of proper bulk fermentation was the problem! 
    The baking temperature was the problem!
  • Probably the wild yeast was to blame: I'd made 3 batches of starter and placed them in the fridge overnight.  Perhaps they needed much longer than 3 1/2 hours to bulk ferment, if they started out fairly cold.
  • Make these one at a time, next time.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Baking with Courage

Some Tartine Style Loaves

I made 4 Tartine-style loaves today.  I fiddled with the ingredients.  Nothing fancy, mind you. 

One was for my sweetie (and the other from that batch I am giving to a nurse who worked a shift for me while I was away camping, with thanks, along with some of the jam we made from wild blueberries and chokecherries.  I rarely give away bread to co-workers, in fact this may be the first time I've done it.  Most girls think -- erroneously, I believe -- that bread aka carbs is fattening.  Well, it depends upon the bread.  In this case, probably the jam is more fattening).  These two loaves contain some AP flour (though not quite the amount in Tartine's Country Loaf).  This was 50-40-10, percentages for AP, WW and Rye flours.

The other two loaves were for me, since I am working nights all weekend and won't be able to bake; I'll be taking sandwiches to work.  They are made with 83% whole wheat, and 17% rye flour; the starter was 100% whole wheat.  I also included about 250g of soaked rye berries.

All dough was retarded in the refrigerator from 0330 until I baked them the following day -- I started preheating the oven when I awoke at 0700.  When the loaves are finished, and the blogging done, I took another daytime nap.

I had some of the whole wheat batch, the one with soaked rye berries.  It is extremely moist.  It is the berries that do this, and they are flavourful because they've been soaked a long time in our homemade crabapple juice.  The bread is baked well enough, but it is so moist it feels as if it is a bread that has taken on some humidity.  My concern for this loaf is not that it will stale, but rather that it will spoil.  While perfectly acceptable for sandwiches, this bread is going to be better toasted.

I'll try to get a shot of my sweetie's loaf if and when she ever cuts into it.

Random Thoughts that -- Trust me -- will eventually Circle Back to Bread

I miss my friend Dave, who died of the complications of his drinking addiction several years ago.  We used to work together, and we had a lot of laughs before he began to really go downhill.  Eventually he succumbed to Korsakoff's Syndrome, and the laughs got fewer.  I tried to get him to quit drinking, but unlike many of his friends and family who had given him an ultimatum, I didn't put our friendship on the scale against the booze.  I had seen how that would go.  He had no one left but me and his mother.

His gait was unsteady as we walked down the street from our hotel room to go to a restaurant, so I reached out my hand to hold him.  We walked slowly down the street arm in arm.  Just then, a carload of university boys drove by and one leaned out the window and yelled, "Fags!"  Dave turned to me and said, "You know I love you, right?  Just not that way."  We laughed our asses off.  I told him to "Fuck off" and he told me to "Fuck off" and we both said it with a smile.

I really miss having a friend who can tell you to "Fuck off" with a smile.


One of the most interesting books that I've read recently is William Powers "Twelve by Twelve: A One-Room Cabin off the Grid & Beyond the American Dream".  I took it with me on vacation.  Now, a couple of weeks later, something in the book still haunts me.  But before I say what, let me tell you of a predicament I'm in:


I am expected to attend a party with several of my co-workers.  One of the nurses I work with on the hospital Palliative Care Unit has been off work for awhile now and has just given birth to her first child.  All the nurses from our floor who can make it are invited to a meet-and-greet home party to finally see the newborn. 

I feel I have a special connection to the baby's mother, as I was her preceptor when she consolidated and became a nurse a few years back.  Although the student-preceptor relationship is only about 4-5 months long, it is very intense, and despite our age differences I became rather fond of her.  I knew that after teaching her and watching her develop into a fully independent nurse, we would never again be as close.  But my interest in her and her career will never end.

In short, I would love to see her and the baby, even though I will be the only man, and quite likely a bit uncomfortable in a party that is essentially a baby-shower.  This, however, is nothing new: in many of my life situations - working as a nurse, exercising with yoga, baking bread - I am often the only man for miles.  I suspect no one will notice how ill-at-ease I will feel.  My co-workers are all wonderful, amazing people, and they have always made me feel like one of the girls, which is the best compliment that I can imagine.  (Well, perhaps being called a fag is slightly higher on the list of compliments too).

I had wanted to share with the new mother something that Powers had written, that has stayed with me, perhaps in a card attached to a gift.  But now I'm not so sure that the deeply moving passage is totally appropriate, even for a young mother who has looked death in the face countless times while working extensively in Palliative Care.

Recalling the birth of his own daughter, with whom he no longer lives, Powers wrote:

The first time I held her, she was the length of my forearm.  Her mother's ecstatic smile over this perfect form that's come out of her, laced with the courage of giving birth to someone she knows will someday die.  Kathleen Norris captured this:

her water breaking,
her crying out,
the downward draw of blood and bone….

Now the new mother, that leaky vessel,
begins to nurse her child,
beginning the long goodbye.


Now, as I ponder whether or not to put this poem in a card to my friend and coworker, I am thinking also of yet another friend whom I have not seen in a long time.  When I first met him, he assumed he would be dead soon of AIDS, or liver cancer; but with modern medicines, neither his HIV nor cancer has progressed, and he is tasked again with living.  When I first met him, too, he was grieving over the death of his spouse, who had recently taken his own life without leaving a note.

In our frequent meetings, the first year after the suicide, my friend eventually opened up to me and offered the only explanation he could about why his best friend, lover and husband would have taken his own life.  Despite his husband's bouts of depression, he had had a stable relationship, he knew he was well-loved, he had meaningful employment, and he had hopes and goals for life, including the adoption of a child.  Why would he climb to the top of the local grain elevator in the middle of the night in a snowstorm and dive off head-first?  Why would he deliberately kill himself without so much as a note of explanation?

"I'll never know why he did it," my friend told me.  "but I think it was his way of saying 'Fuck you!' to God."

I am thinking how taking one's life is a courageous act, but it is far more courageous to go on living in spite of death's inevitability.  How courageous it is to go on loving, knowing that those you love will one day be dead, and your heart will be broken forever.

I am thinking that giving birth is yet another way to say 'Fuck you' to God. 

It's all in how you say it.  The 'Fuck you' that I refer to is akin to worship.  It is the "Fuck you" said with a smile to a Best Friend.  Every moment of every day can be a similar worship of the Divine, a holy "Fuck you!'

And all thoughts lead back to bread in a long segue in this blog. 

Bread: it is among the cheapest of our foodstuffs, if you are undiscriminating when you buy it.  If you make it yourself, depending on how you do it, it can be among the cheapest or the most expensive of foods -- in terms of time, and ingredients, and the expertise required to do it right, there is definitely a cost to doing it yourself.  Even today, people around the world make their own bread out of necessity, for sustenance.  And others, like me perhaps, do it as an artisan-like hobby.

To say "no" to the cheapest wonderloaf is to be somewhat counter-cultural.  To say "no" to the white-bread, Chorleywood dough-extruded, gas-infused, preservative-laden, overpackaged, tasteless, over-travelled, run-of-the-mill everyday bread found on the day-old shelf of your local grocer is to say "no" to the corporations that would feed us, both materially and spiritually.  Fuck you. 

To bake your own bread is a tiny subversive act.  Bread is a revolution in waiting.  Always was, always will be.

But I am more than just a simple Bread Anarchist.  With every bread I make, I am taking hold of life, forming the dough, shaping it to my own, small will.  Baking bread is my way to say "Fuck you" to God, the Universe, to Life, to everything it all supposedly means.  "Fuck you" to the corporations, and the societies, and the religions, and the politicians and the doctors and the pharmacists and the lawyers, to all the bureaucrats and middle management who are obstacles rather than facilitators.  Baking bread is a "Fuck You" to chronic diseases, and the inevitability of death.

I say it with a smile, and I enjoy eating this bread and sharing it with others.

To me, there is nothing more Divine than this Way.

Notes to Myself
  • The whole wheat loaves were tighter and easier to manipulate. Maybe you should back off the hydration of the regular Tartine Loaves by say 50g, to see if you find them easier to handle.
  • You really need to get a couple more baskets to retard these loaves, if you insist on baking 4 at a time. Why not get a couple of real bannetons? Other than the fact that they are expensive, I mean. A couple of cheap dollar-store colanders might be good enough.

If anyone is going to comment to this, please consider including a 'Fuck you' and a smile :)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Mouse Bread

Mouse Rye Bread

What's in the name?

In the first Star Wars movie ever released, A New Hope, there is a scene where Chewbacca is led through the halls of the Death Star wearing handcuffs, and he roars at a little nameless robot that has since come to be known as a 'Mouse Droid'.  The Mouse Droid apparently becomes frightened of the Wookie and scoots away.   As the invented universe of Star Wars grew, these scuttering little Droids became known as MSE-6 Droids, or colloquially, Mouse Droids.  Some are walkers, and some are rollers.
MSE-6 Droid, aka "mouse droid"
 I remember watching this scene in the theatre for the first time, and recall how the kids around me all laughed: imagine a galaxy far, far away where little robots could 'feel' scared.  To the littlest kids around me, it was a sight-gag, a moment of hilarity, perhaps a relief from their own tensions and fears during a dramatic turn in the movie.  But I was not laughing, I was intrigued.  We had already seen robots in the movie that seemed to express emotions (C3-PO was always whining about something), but these were complex machines that had been specifically designed to interact with humanoids.  So what was so absurd about the Mouse Droid feeling frightened of the wookie?

Could simple machines experience emotions like fear?  If so, there must be some way to program them to have feelings.  Intuitively we suspect that artificial emotions would be even more difficult to build into a machine than artificial intelligence.  Already we can program machines that can beat some of the best human minds in chess; but have we even begun to consider how to program machines that will emote?  Without the ability to feel, though, I suspect that no machine will ever pass a Turing test.  Humans can detect in an instant the sincere emotional quality of those around them.

More recently, I have been intrigued with some current theories as to how and why our own human emotions evolved.  Long before I was ever a nurse, I was interested in affective states.  Why do our emotions exist?  What are the primal emotions?  Why do we empathize with those around us who are experiencing rich emotive states?  These are questions that I obsess about, since in my everyday work world, I am generally in the midst of some of the more powerful named emotions -- love, anger, grief.  Pain itself has long been considered an emotion, and it carried the argument for Darwin's 1872 text "The Expression of the Emotions".  A large part of my job is spent circumventing the human machinery of pain with narcotics synthesized from the elements in the vegetable kingdom; many plants contain narcotic substances, and you have to ask "why?"  What possible reason could there be for a plant to contain a substance that will dull the pain of an animal or human that ingests it?  Somehow it adds to the plant's survivability.  Is it a pure defense mechanism on the part of the plant, meant to harm us?  Or is it another of those examples found everywhere along the chain of living organisms where cooperation and symbiosis has found a place?

Even as we are slowly beginning to understand the physical basis for pain and feelings, and as we begin to manipulate them with medicines, there is a point where, as a nurse, I can only surrender to feeling.  It turns out that one of my best tools is emotive, empathic, and sharing the grief of my patients and their families as the moment of death nears.  But since mirror neurons exist, what is this constant involvement with grief doing to me?  I don't know.

no wheels

Blogs are where one digresses.  Let's move on.  As for naming a bread after the mouse droid:  I just think that when I turn one bread tin over top of another to bake a bread with steam, or even just to let it rise on the counter, the double tins remind me of the Mouse Droid.  Sure, the name I've given to this bread is nerdy and obscure.  But I bet that the Lucas Arts people came up with the mouse droid in the first place by placing a baking tin upside down on the chassis of a remote controlled car.

What's in the bread?

I had the thought that Rye Dough isn't really kneadable.  So if you are not going to knead it (and therefore if you are going to bake it in a tin), why not take the hydration higher -- in fact, much, much higher?  Eventually my question became: Why can't you, in fact, take the hydration of a rye dough to 100%?

Before I left for vacation I asked my wife to get me 'the largest bag of rye flour she could find, at Arva Flour Mills.  That was a mistake, I guess.  I thought she might get me the 5kg bag, instead of the 2kg bag, but instead she brought home this industrial strength 100kg bag that I didn't even know existed.

So what to do with all this rye flour?

First off, I decided to make myself a 100% rye sourdough.  A TBSP of the wheat wild yeasts, was added to rye flour and water for a couple of nights and voila, I had one going nicely.

With the rye sourdough I was making daily, I decided to try baking a 100% rye loaf.

First Try

My first attempt was a disaster, and I wasn't entirely sure why.  I didn't know whether it deflated because it was at 100% hydration, or if it fell because I took the lid off to look at it before I put it into the oven, or if it fell because it wasn't baked long enough, or at too-low a temperature, or if it fell because I wasn't gentle enough when moving it to the oven?

Second Try

So I baked the exact same thing again (well, this time I didn't add the rye kernels that I had soaked), and I didn't look at the dough, and I was as gentle as possible in moving it to the oven; I also tried baking it a bit longer and slightly hotter.

If it failed again, I would know: 100% hydration for rye bread is not going to work!


Results: yes, it caved in a bit.  Which leads me to suspect that a 100% hydration is not going to work with a straight rye dough.  But the 375 degree heat, and the 80 minute baking time helped to bake the loaf fairly well.  A couple of the edges are even a bit dark.

Both of these loaves are extremely sour tasting.  That has its place, of course.  Sometimes I crave a sour bread now.  But most people would not accept the taste of these loaves.  There is another problem: they are far too moist, even a day or two after baking.  They require further toasting to hold up, and the knife drags through them.  This is far more like cake consistency and appearance than bread: but the sour taste will quickly tell you that this is no cake.

Third Try

In this loaf, I used some whole wheat flour at 100% alongside the rye, thinking that it might provide more structure for the loaf.   I kept the rye to 60%, the whole wheat to 40%, the hydration at 100%, the salt at 2%.  I also added about 250g of soaked rye kernels.

I mixed everything up on the 8th and refrigerated the doughs separately.  It wasn't until a couple of days later that I mixed it all together.  And once I had it in the pan, I only let it sit about 90 minutes before baking it.  I really didn't want it to rise too much, since I had filled the pan to the top and didn't want it to overflow.  Besides, the less fermentation the better, since it would simply become too sour again.

That is a lot of changes, so whatever happened was really not going to prove anything.

This loaf tastes a lot more acceptable, but it is still extremely moist inside and requires toasting to use, even though it baked for 85 minutes, the last 15 minutes of which the top of the Mouse Droid was off.

The soaked rye kernels are noticeably flavourful, but this bread doesn't taste half as good as Nils Schöner's Applejuice Soaked Rye bread.

And because of that I will leave off baking these experimental, high-hydration rye "mouse" breads and turn back to Schöner's excellent bread book, "Brot", for my next rye breads.

Notes to Myself
  • Return to Schöner's book 'Brot' for tips on Rye.  Consider baking your way through his book!  The breads I have tried have turned out well, and are well appreciated by others.  The ones I have not tried look great.  It will save you some experimental woe if you follow a few recipes...
  • Save some of these sour mouse breads for altus.  Just let them stale and add some, for example, to Nils' "Peasant Bread".