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.

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".


  1. After reading your thoughts in "Mouse Bread," I wrote a post (in which I referenced your post) and said:

    "Even though the common view would be that the caretaker gives and the patient receives, I think the relationship is symbiotic as there have been a number of studies now that show that helping others benefits the helper in a variety of physical (including stimulating the immune system) and psychological ways. I would add that I believe the caretaker also receives many opportunities for spiritual growth when caring for someone with a progressive, degenerative, incurable, terminal prognosis."

    You asked "But since mirror neurons exist, what is this constant involvement with grief doing to me? I don't know."

    To go back to your quote: "All it really needed was the proper point of view" ~ James Taylor

    What I wrote on my blog, does not answer your question but perhaps it gives another point of view on what the impact of your helping others is on you. As to your specific question, I think the only answer is to strive for balance in your life and you seem to be doing that by engaging in a variety of healthy activities such as your bread baking and camping.

    I believe it is crucial for work with the dying to be done by those who are emotionally and spiritually balanced and the best way to achieve that balance is a variety of healthy activities to offset the drain of working with so much pain and grief. I don't know if you do any energy work but perhaps it might help you also.

    I can offer you nothing to validate this other than my own personal beliefs but I think even your diet is a factor in keeping the balance you need for your work as I very much believe the Standard American Diet is not only physically unhealthy but clogs us emotionally, reducing things like our empathetic beliefs.

    This is my rather long winded way of saying that from the little I know of you from your blog, you seem to be very much on the right track to be in the best shape you can be for your very vital work. I very much wish you the best.

  2. Let's reference your blog entry here so if anyone else finds this "message in a bottle" they can add their 2 cents too. Best wishes: back at ya!

    Stumblinn Blog

  3. Thank you. I am always looking for input from others. I just noticed that I used a wrong word in my post above (should have been empathetic abilities rather than empathetic beliefs) but wrong words is just something I have to live with. I catch as many of them as I can.

  4. No one can catch all mistakes. My friend Dave deliberately put some particularly annoying spelling mistakes in a poem he wrote to see if those he gave it to actually read it. Islamic weavers will deliberately put tiny imperfections in their rugs because they say no one but Allah is perfect. Legend has it that Michelangelo angrily struck his finished sculpture of Moses on the knee, so as to mar it. From these three examples, I say we should embrace our mistakes, which identify us, and humble us, and teach us all. Here in my blog I do not edit out the many awful loaves I've made, due to blunders or ineptitude. I just laugh at myself and move on.

    I think you are doing a brave thing, blogging your way along a tough and mysterious road. Like the paintings of Louis Wain, the breadcrumbs you leave behind you are going to tell us all something about what is happening to you (and eventually, perhaps, if we live that long, what will happen to each of us).

    I say it is a mysterious road because of the strange persistence of Self despite the loss of some abilities. I see a lot of dementia in my work of course, but it also has struck close to home, and there I noticed something interesting. When my grandfather died of Alzheimer's Disease and my Father-in-Law died of Lewy Body Dementia, I reflected that and indefinable element of their 'character' that identified them as a 'self' remained despite their varied other losses. To me, it was as if yes, many neurons and brain cells had been eroded or atrophied, but the broader landscape of who they were remained until the very end. To those of us who knew them well and loved them, their innate character was intact. And a beautiful landscape was revealed in the erosion, as wide and deep as the Grand Canyon.