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.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tartine Dough made in a Loaf Pan using Easy Math

A Tartine Bread, made in a Loaf Pan

I wanted to see what would happen if I made the Tartine recipe but baked it in a loaf pan. 

Attempt #1: Black Friday Bread
On my first attempt, I might have missed a couple of folds because I had to rush out to get a computer-printer cable for my wife.  I found the crowds a bit thick due to the Black Friday rush. Yes, we now have sales in Canada on that day too (even though our Thanksgiving Day is much earlier). Retailers say they have to, in order to stop the leakage at the border, but our crowds that are shopping on Black Friday will never be as big, our selection never so vast, and our stress levels not nearly so high.  Still, it kept me away from my bread folding a lot longer than I wanted.

I think the best place to be on a Black Friday is not in the stores but at home, safely baking bread.  I saw people lined up outside stores before the doors opened, waiting for the sales.  I saw them tearing apart displays of electronics.  I saw them lined up at the cash register.  I saw people carrying high-def TVs out 2@ a time in their shopping baskets.  Thankfully though, here in Canada we don't pepper spray each other in our frustration or shoot each other for our already-purchased items.  Not yet anyway.  But we do follow the lead of our more populous neighbour to the south.  One day, it might come to that.

No Rise?
The dough had a tiny amount of oven spring, mostly at the expense of the bread, as it tore itself away from the tin, leaving gaps along the side of the loaf.  I didn't score the bread because I was afraid it would deflate the dough rather than free it.


Although the bread proofed about 4 hours, it didn't really double in size prior to baking.  Perhaps it required slightly longer.  An alternative to a longer proofing, and a better solution to the fact that the dough didn't rise to the top of the pan, if I try this again I would increase the amounts of dough.

I was especially timid with this loaf today, and thinking that the top was browning too quickly, I backed off on the heat during the last 20 minutes of the baking, to 425 degrees F.  The unfortunate consequence of this was that the bread is not well baked in the middle of the loaf.  It remained somewhat gooey there, and after cooling collapsed even further.

Early results, on the ends of the loaves made me realize that this tastes quite all right.  I like the flavour of this bread.  I wanted something plain for a change, after eating olive bread and bread that was quite grainy.

But the middle parts of the loaf were quite gummy, uncooked, and I berated myself for my timidity.

I resolved to make these loaves again, this time I would see if the loaf pans would fit inside a roasting pan, making it into a "poor man's dutch oven".  This time, I would use the newer weights of ingredients.

Attempt #2: Scaled to Perfection
The second time I made this recipe, I adjusted it as follows:

    •    1400g ww flour is the new 100%
    •    980g water is the new 70% hydration
    •    70g water added with the salt will bring it to 75% (or total hydration 1050g)(you might want to bring this up to 80% total, or 1120g, by starting with 1050g and adding 70g of water)
    •    280g of sourdough starter is the new 20%
    •    28g salt is the new 2%

My take on a Bad Review I saw of Tartine Bread
Let's stop here and talk -- at length, perhaps ad nauseum -- about this adjustment in recipe amounts for a minute.  I was quite surprised recently to find one of the bread experts, eric hanner, on the "Fresh Loaf Blogs" giving a bad review (dissenting viewpoint) to the Tartine Bread book

There had been several other, earlier, positive reviews there ( e.g. one by Sam Fromartz and another by dmsnyder)

The dissenting Hanner's comments brought a torrent of replies, some in agreement, and others disagreeing -- many from people who don't own the book and now say they have an excuse not to try the techniques.  Hanner did say, further along in his replies, that someone in his household said that the bread he baked from that book was the "best in a while."  This has been my experience too: I might pick up Reinhart's book, and my wife will cringe.  But when I pick up the Tartine book, she relaxes.  She told me, "I know that when I see you with that book, the results will be good."  So why the negative review?

It seems that Hanner, an experienced breadmaker at the Fresh Loaf forums, was enamoured by Robertson's "advanced techniques" of using the wild yeast leaven, but he had several smaller complaints, and at least two BIG complaints: (1) that the Cast Iron Dutch Ovens that are swapped out of the oven and loaded with dough while they are piping hot at 500 degrees F is just an accident waiting to happen, and utterly unnecessary, once you get on to the trick of using a baking stone and a pizza peel, along with adequate sources of steam.  (2) Tartine's recipe contains non-standard baker's math which will wind up confusing the newbie.

To the first objection, I would agree (with one reservation).  I've been burned several times, mostly on my forearms, as I reach for pots in the middle of the oven and touch the side of the stove.  That, however, is because I jam 2 dutch ovens in there at a time to save heat.  In other words, I'm not following the actual Tartine instructions, which would have you use one pot twice.  But I can see how someone with a little less strength might have some trouble moving these heavy pots around.  My reservations about the objection, however, come when you consider the alternative that Hanner suggests: a newbie to breadbaking, shaping, proofing and handling these high hydration doughs gently enough for the use of pizza peels.  That is significantly difficult for noobs, and you will not obtain consistent results that way -- I tell you that from my experience.  The dutch ovens ensure that your loaves, no matter how wet, will retain some shape.  I've been burned both ways, literally and figuratively, in the past.

To the second objection, I'm not really qualified to reply.  I didn't invent baker's math, and I haven't had a course on it, I've only picked it up from osmosis.  I just know that as a newbie, I had a lot of trouble with it, especially when I came to recipes that used different grains, different flours, different preferments and varying ways in which the grains are cracked open.  For example, I understand the idea that all the flour in the dough should add up to 100%; but are we to add to this, for example, the cracked wheat that we might have put in the poolish?  Why not then the cracked grains that we put on the crust?  What about extra bran or germ that we might add to a dough or sprinkle on the crust?  If we aren't to add the weight of the cracked grains, how fine must we grind the grain before we include it in the flour weight?  I've seen different recipes handle these questions differently.  I've also seen hydration handled differently by different people.  Is honey or molasses or malt to be included in the hydration?  If so, in what ratio?  I've seen different experts use recipes with milk, and the amount of hydration might count all or only part of the milk (the amount that is water).  So in short, I'd have to say that baker's math has a lot of gray areas.

This is not the case, supposedly, when it comes to the wild yeast leaven.  Now, I personally find the Tartine method very simple to use and remember.  What Chad Robertson has done is, he has simplified the weights, so I rarely have to refer to the book anymore.  He does this by cleverly making the total flour 1000g = 100%.  No need for calculators.  Everything falls into place after that.  The salt is 2%, 20g.  The water is 75%, 750g.  The leaven is 20%, 200g. 

Woops.  Wait a minute, says ehanner.  That leaven contains both water and flour.  "Standard" baker's math says we are to add the flour of that leaven to the flour amounts.  And the water of that leaven needs to be added to the hydration amounts.  That means, in actual fact, that the total flour of a normal Tartine dough is 1100g=100%.  And that essentially throws off our other percentage measurements, so that the final dough's amounts should read:

  • 1100g flour = 100%
  • 850g water =  77.27%
  • 20g salt = 1.8%

Leaven is included in above amounts, but we will also give it here as a separate percentage of the whole so we can build it:

100g flour = 100% of the leaven build, or 9.09% of the total flour
    (to calculate this percentage, cross multiply to find x:    1100g : 100g = 100% : x%)

To calculate the percentages of the water in the leaven can be a bit trickier for the unsuspecting (read: "me").  Here, we have to be absolutely clear what we are comparing our water to.  We know that our leaven contains 100g of water, because our water and flour are going to be same weight in the leaven.  But do we want to express that water as a percentage of the total water, or a percentage of the total flour?  Curiously, bakers generally give it as a percentage of the total flour:

100g water = 100% of the leaven build and x% of the total flour
    (to calculate this percentage, cross multiply to find x thus:
        1100g : 100g = 100% : x%     x resolves to 9.09%)

Alternatively, you could express it as a percentage of the total water thus:

100g water = 100% of the leaven build and x% of the total water
    *if you tried using water and cross multiplied here to find x:
        850g : 77.27% = 100g : x%        x resolves to 9.09%

Just be darn sure that you use the 77.27% percentage, and don't consider all of the water to be 100%.
Confused yet?

For their recipes, I have seen both Hamelman and Reinhart give the amounts of each soaker or preferment individually and then later give a final tally for the "final dough".  For this dough, for example, Reinhart might say the main dough was 1000g=100%, and his separate leaven build was 100g=100% flour, and 100g=100% hydration.  And then he would give a total for the final dough to be total flour 1100g=100%, final hydration 77.27%.  Hamelman does that too, and I seem to recall one of them saying somewhere "no one ever uses the final total percentages in practice".  So by mentioning it, are we clarifying or complicating things for newbies?

Let me ask this a different way: would Hanner's insistence on the 'correct' way to measure things have made a difference to a newbie, or to anyone else -- besides a baker already familiar with baker's math?  Or would it just have complicated the recipe and left many to scratch their heads with confusion or indifference?  I figure that Robertson simply chose to leave out the final dough percentages, as they have no practical purpose, and would seriously confuse noobs to bread baking.

Why is standard baker's math even important?  Well, the baker's percentage sticklers say that it makes a difference if you want to scale the recipe.  Is that true, though? Let's use a simple example: let's say you want to make a lot of bread for a party or a bake sale.    You want to increase the number of loaves you are baking from 2, to 20, lets say.  No problem:  We'll just ramp up the Tartine recipe from 1000g of flour to 10,000g of flour.  The leaven you will need is going to be 20%, so 2000g -- i.e. 1000g of flour and 1000g of water.  We don't even need a calculator for that, Chad has made it easy.

I will leave it as an exercise for the reader to check these amounts against the sticklers method (or rather, the "conventional baker's math method").  Get out your calculators or your pencils and papers and plug in the percentages that we've already mentioned above.   I believe you will see that all we have done by using "official" baker's math is complicate it unnecessarily.

Example from Life
Now let's take a different example, one from my baking today.  Let's say I want to ramp up the amount of flour I originally put into the recipe to 1400g, so I can be sure to have enough dough to put in my 2 tins.  I have just pulled that number, 1400g, out of the air as a rough guess of how much dough I'll need, based on my attempt #1 above. 

Using Chad's method, my 1400g is the new 100%:

    •    1400g ww flour is the new 100%
    •    980g water is the new 70% hydration
    •    70g water added with the salt will bring it to 75% (or total hydration 1050g)
    •    280g of sourdough starter is the new 20%
    •    28g salt is the new 2%

I think that it was fairly easy to scale the dough, this way.

testing to see if 2 pans would fit in the roasting pan, side by side

Yes they do, and they plump up nicely.

A Sandwich-bread-like crumb

How can we compare this to "standard" baker's math?  Using official baker's math, the new 100% should include 1/2 the weight of the starter.  But we don't know the weight of the starter yet, because we have expressed it as a percentage of the whole.  So there is another step involved: first we have to express our 1400g as a percentage of the whole (it is 100% - 9.09% = 90.91%), and use that percentage to figure out how much flour there will be in the leaven.  Now cross multiply to solve for the weight of the flour in the leaven:

1400g : 90.91% = xg : 9.09%
and x resolves to 139.98g

Now we know that our total flour, our 100%, is 1400g + 139.98g = 1539.98g.  Note that using the Tartine method, we arrived at 1540g.  So far, so good.  We're in the ballpark.  Let's use this 100% to figure out the weights of everything else based on the percentages we've previously calculated:
  • 1539.98g flour = 100% (some of this is in the leaven)
  • 1189.94g water =  77.27% (some of this is in the leaven)
  • 27.7g salt = 1.8%
Leaven is included in above amounts, but we will also give it here as a separate percentage of the whole so we can build it:
  • 139.98g flour = 100% of the leaven build, and 9.09% of the total flour
  • 139.98g water = 100% of the leaven build, and 9.09% of the total flour

For my kitchen scale, which doesn't do partial grams or decimal points, this rounds out to very close to what we achieved by doing it Robertson's way.  But you have to appreciate that with baker's math, you cannot drop the decimal places.  When I originally figured this out, I used a hydration percentage of 77% rather than 77.27% and ended up with a final weight that was slightly over 4g off Robertson's method.  Not using the decimal places, or rounding off the numbers too early in the calculations, is going to introduce errors that will be magnified the more you scale the recipe.  If you did the earlier exercise left to the reader, you would see that the salt in the "standard" baker's math is off by 2 grams.  That again is a rounding error caused by the more complex "standard" baker's math.

I admit I'm no genius (I even have been known to misspell genious), but to me, the official way seems unnecessarily harder.  And if I hadn't known the correct values to plug into it, I would have made any number of mistakes along the way. 

Nope, Robertson's math is much simpler to remember, much simpler to use, and it has one dramatic effect: you think of your leaven as something altogether separate from the final dough.  You treat it differently.  It is different!  It is not a dough, it is a leaven!  It is more than the tallies you can apply to the dough.  It is not at all equivalent to the flour and water the recipe otherwise calls for.  Like salt, it is an additive to the flour and water that makes up the dough.  Forget that it too is made also from flour and water.  Robertson's method treats it as an ingredient separate from the dough. 

You will treat it this way.

If you follow his recipe and method.

And I think that you can trust it.

Results of my Second Attempt
Again, I didn't fold it quite as much as a real Tartine loaf -- this time, because I was out walking the dog during some of the bulk fermentation.  I decided that this was beneficial anyway, since I wouldn't get those huge irregular holes, I would have a more consistent sandwich-style crumb if I didn't fold it too much.

This time I had enough dough and during proofing it rose to the top of the tins.  I scored the loaves slightly before putting them into the roasting pan.  One of the tins had to sit a little sideways, but that's okay, the roasting pan lid still fit overtop of both tins.  As an afterthought I put some water in the roasting pan for steam.  That worked surprisingly well.

The loaves had a dramatic ovenspring, showing that I ought to have scored them deeper.  Or perhaps a cross-hatch method.

This time, the loaves were well and truly baked.  A bit of the upthrust crust by the score where it blew apart did blacken somewhat in the heat too close to the broiler. I rubbed a bit of butter on the hot loaves as they came from the oven, to make the top crust a bit softer.  That worked well.

And the taste?

Tartine.  Not at all sour.  Wonderful.  I'm going to go eat some now.  With buckwheat honey.

Notes to Myself
  • KISS 
  • If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
  • For years, Ptolemy's method of calculating the position of the planets was the "standard".  But it was very complicated, because you had to visualize the planets circling the earth in different spheres, and some had retrograde motion.  Copernicus, Galileo and Newton gave us a new non-standard method that was easier to calculate, was provable, and soundly mathematically modeled.  It became the new standard.  I maintain the Tartine Method of Baker's Math is fully adequate to build excellent bread.  It could even become the new standard.
  • For the second part of the baking, once you take the cover off the roasting pan, you could lower the tray, so it is not too close to the broiler.
  • Don't listen to the bad reviews.  Get Tartine Bread book, and start making good bread.

Overunity Pumpkin Bread

 Overunity Pumpkin Bread

Not many people read this blog, or reply to what I write.  That's probably a good thing, because conversations have the potential to keep my thoughts derailed for days.  Here's an example:  an off-hand remark in the recent reply of a reader Anja to one of my recent blog entries sent me to Google.  I had to quickly self-teach myself what she was talking about.

For those who likely missed it, my original blog was about the energy costs of making bread, and Anja (who keeps both a bread blog and a cheese blog, her hobbies) said that her spouse's hobby is working on overunity projects, with the ultimate aim of providing free energy to all.

What is Overunity?
All I know about overunity is what Google categorizes and gives to me in the first page or two of its millions of hits.  That is a moving target, of course, and as new findings are posted under the overunity flag, Google will shift its findings and someone reading what Google dishes up might get a different idea.  But if one browses through what I found from searching, these days, one quickly comes to the consensus opinion that "overunity" is bunk.

Basically, we have basement electronic experimenters who are winding coils in exacting ways (often around ferrite or magnetic rods or rings), in the spirit of Nikolai Tesla, and they are measuring more energy coming out than what they are putting in.  Hence, the prospect of "Free Energy For All" is suggested. 

Overunity proponents try to describe the difference between efficiency and the co-edicient of performance of the systems they design.  In a nutshell, overunity proponents say that their energy devices can allowably draw some energy from the environment to still obey the 2nd law of thermodynamics.  Ore else it allows for hidden or as-yet-unexplained energy sources.

Google offers up what the debunkers say: to actually do what the overunity experimenters say they will do, can do, and have already done, would require us to re-write everything we know about physics.  Any time someone claims to have built such a machine, it can therefore be explained away as a mismeasurement of some input or output.  There is no such thing as a perpetual motion machine.  Anyone who claims to have achieved overunity is therefore misguided, a charlatan, a con artist, or delusional.

Undaunted, some of the basement explorers are actually attempting to re-write those physical laws.  How they will do this is anyone's guess, but you can already see some cracks in the existing mathematical explanations of how the universe works where they might try it: Dark Matter or Dark Energy, quantum physics, the mysterious edges of nanochemistry and nanotechnology, even the methodology and philosophical underpinnings of Science itself can be drawn into question.

Some overunity explorers claim that they are being debunked because the corporations that currently provide energy to the planet would lose too much money if overunity were widely known.  A certain paranoia sets in, where overunity defenders claim they are being silenced, their ideas and even their experiments are being confiscated or ridiculed.

There are electrical plans already online, however, of designs that it is claimed, demonstrate overunity.  Make it, the overunity proponents say, make it for yourself and see.  And sometimes a debunker will make it and find something strange but still won't believe it: the extra energy comes from the environment, they say.  But usually if they build it they don't see the extra energy: the proponents say "you didn't make it correctly," and the back and forth continues.  More often the debunkers won't build it, but will look at the designs and say "poo-poo" before trying it.

I am not in any position to say that overunity is possible or not.  I haven't made any of these devices and I am not likely to.  I don't have the tools, the equipment, the knowledge, the know-how.  To me, it seems quite unlikely that a basement experimenter will discover ways to give free energy to the world simply by winding wires around graphite cores in specific ways.

But I can understand their human impulse to experiment, to push the boundaries, and to hope for a solution that will benefit all humans. 

Segue to Bread
And in a way, I place myself among their number in this regard: after all, I am merely a home baker who likes to try different recipes for bread.  I eat my results, good or bad.  All the while I'm baking loaves, I am thinking about the multiple aspects of grain, yeast, flour, dough, bread, and about whether we as a planet are going to be able to grow enough food to sustain our human population without destroying the habitat of all other species.  I wonder about the new technologies in grain production, and have taken it upon myself to edit the wiki on transgenic wheat, even though I haven't ever accomplished transgenesis myself, let alone some tried-and-true hybridization techniques.  I'm not a farmer, not a seed producer, not even a baker.  I am a home baker, a rank amateur who needs to eat something and has discovered bread fills a particular void in my diet.  I am a health professional, who is curious about the effects of eating grains in the amount I consume (and in the amount the world consumes), but I do not have a laboratory and cannot do the requisite science to even know what it is I am eating. 

To put it bluntly: does it make sense that I will discover a way to make bread that is healthy, different, excellent?  Does it make sense that I will find a way to feed the world?  I am a basement dweller, a bottom feeder.  I am going to continue to do the basement kind of work required to keep a hobby, and I am going to continue to try to think globally, asking whether this could or should work for all.  But realistically, what am I going to accomplish by blogging about bread?

By now, most people know the marvellous story of Viktor Frankl, who conceived of logotherapy while interred in a Nazi concentration camp.  What he discovered through observation was, the ones who had meaning in their life had a survival advantage.  When they lost their reason for being, death was virtually assured.

Perhaps for me, blogging about bread is a small toehold to meaning.  I may not save the world, but I'm interested in it.  I can't abandon it.  And I say all of this in reply to yet another comment Anja has left on another blog of mine.

Maria Speck suggests in her book that when we cook at home, we become aware of our food, we become aware of its subtleties and its flavours.  We are less likely to overconsume such food, and it can actually be a way to diet.  For me, baking bread is a path of awareness to what I'm eating.

As for writing about it, I find the more I put into it, the more I get out of it.  For me, that's overunity bread.

Pumpkin Bread
I finally got around to pureeing the hallowe'en pumpkin.  I know, I know, you are supposed to use those "sugar pie" pumpkins for baking, not the jack-o-lanterns.  But I always use these, it works fine, and they are a lot easier to find.  And this time of year (post-Hallowe'en) you can often even find them for free, tossed out at the curbside or in farmer's fields.  I dragged one home yesterday that I found while walking the dog.  So I decided to do something with one of them, the one we already had.

I washed the pumpkin thoroughly, then cut the pumpkin in half and placed it down-side in a roasting pan in about a cup of water.  Then I roasted it for 90 minutes.  My pumpkin was pretty big, and both halves wouldn't fit in the roasting pan.  I thought I could do it with 2 roasting pans, but the top one burned a bit under the broiler.  That's okay, though.  The inner pumpkin flesh was fine.  I scooped it out and pureed it.

starter is combined with the puree

after kneading to incorporate all the puree

I made a couple of Tartine-style loaves, using the pumpkin puree as the 75% hydration.  I figured that it wouldn't be enough hydration, but I started there, and was able to entirely incorporate the 1000g of whole wheat using it.  I did have to knead it for about 5 minutes to get it all incorporated though.

I let it sit for a bit, then added 100g of water.  I let it sit a bit longer.  Then I added the salt with an additional 50g of water.  So who knows exactly what the actual hydration of this loaf is?  The original 75% puree was not entirely water.  So you can't say it is 90% hydrated.  You'd have to know the actual hydration of pumpkin flesh -- and I suspect every pumpkin will be different.  So it will always remain a guessing game.  But my dough feels more or less like a regular Tartine dough that is somewhere between 70-80% hydrated.

I gave it a couple of turns and then added some pumpkin seeds (150g).

I was also thinking about adding some whole coriander seeds, and some paprika.  The Folks at Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day give a pumpkin puree bread recipe that I've used before, and they include some fresh pepper.  I was thinking along those lines.  But all I ended up doing, this time, was adding some paprika to the whole wheat that I used for the crust, during the final folding, on my counter workspace.  It is barely noticeable in the final taste.

A nice loaf.  My wife is particularly happy with it, because she can put honey on it and it doesn't drip through the holes.  It is a bit denser, but not terribly heavy.  I think it has a nice flavour, only mildly pumpkiny.  The shelled pumpkin seeds give it some interesting local texture.  The unshelled seeds on the crust are just decoration, they don't add or detract much in any way.

It may be that my wife likes this loaf because there is a lot of pumpkin puree and she doesn't like to eat the soup that I make with it.  Not that it is a bad soup, but it is just that there is always so much of it, she ends up eating it for weeks on end.  "Freeze the puree," she suggested, "and make bread with it again."

Despite her advice, I made some soup with about 6 cups of the puree and the bread and the soup together make a nice lunch meal. But I probably still have enough for a few more pumpkin loaves.

Notes to Myself

  • Next time I might try adding whole coriander seeds.  Nasturtium seeds might be nice too, for a peppery flavour without pepper.  Capers might be a bit too peppery.

    I've given a loaf away to someone whose cooking I respect, and asked him what spices he would suggest.  I hope to get some input from him.
  • Or: this entire segue to bread from Overunity could just be the junkie in me talking out of my ass.  To learn about my own addiction impulses, I'm currently reading Gabor Maté's fascinating book "In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts".  He says

    "recurring themes emerge in my interviews with addicts: the drug as emotional anaesthetic; as an antidote to a frightful feeling of emptiness; as a tonic against fatigue, boredom, alienation and a sense of personal inadequacy; as stress reliever and social lubricant.  And … the drug may -- if only for a brief instant -- open the portals of spiritual transcendence"

    I think we as humans can give anything -- even a drug, even bread, even blogging -- deep meaning.  We are basically able to turn anything into a religion.  We can find our meaning anywhere, and that might be another definition of animism.  That ancient impulse becomes a thread that continues through all our religious expressions:   

    "Split a piece of wood; I am there.  Lift up the stone, and you will find me there."
    Hey, presto.  I'm bread.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

YAOB - Yet Another Olive Bread and the Choices we Make


"I still need to decide about breakfast"
                            - Lierre Keith

In private conversations with Macropneuma, following his reply to my very first blog entry, I indicated that I didn't know where blogging about bread was going to lead me, and in fact I suspected from the outset that it might lead me to give up on wheat and bread altogether. 

Nevertheless, in this blog I would investigate bread, including the dangers and health benefits of eating grains, and I would strive for whole grain recipes.

I certainly suspected from the outset that bread -- certainly, the bread we have been given in our supermarkets, and probably even most of the loaves that we can make at home from all purpose and polished bread flours -- are unhealthy.  But I craved bread.  Is it truly the exorphins in the grain that did that to me? Who knows?  Perhaps.   Is it the junkie in me talking, when I say that I've come to believe that there is no way that the earth with its growing population can sustain an animal-protein diet?  Whether or not it is true that the entire world can no longer eat the same way a paleolithic pre-agricultural hominid tribe did, I have come to believe that we need grains to feed the world, and bread is one way to get the protein and calories into us. 

No doubt part of my thinking in this matter has been influenced by a book I read  several decades ago: John Robbins "Diet for a New America."  That book was influential in turning me into a vegetarian.  I was a vegan for a year, but at the time I found it especially difficult, and ultimately, for me, unhealthy.  My compromise in remaining a vegetarian might not sit well with Robbins, who is pretty entrenched in writing vegan propaganda.

More recently, I read Lierre Keith's "The Vegetarian Myth: food, justice and sustainability," (complete with some rebuttals of some of Robbins' points) and if you read an old review I wrote on it, I think that you can tell I was deeply influenced by that book as well.  Not enough to stop being a vegetarian yet -- because I do not believe the book adequately addressed all the reasons I had for becoming a vegetarian in the first place, and I do not have the ability to adequately raise animals sustainably on my small urban landholding for slaughter.  Or, after 20 odd years as a vegetarian, it may just be habit by now.

The power of books about our diet to change whole lifestyles cannot be overestimated.  We want to eat healthy.  We want to do the right thing for ourselves, for our loved ones, for the planet.  But we all draw our lines in different places.  I have read dozens of books on Peak Oil, but I still drive a car despite my deep moral regret.  Likewise, I can understand if someone reads a book on vegetarianism and comprehends the moral and environmental reasons why our current practices in meat production are wrong, but he or she continues to eat meat.

We all make choices about what we are going to eat.  We all draw the line somewhere.  I have an embarrassing story about that, actually.  I was once speaking with a bunch of co-workers who asked me, as a vegetarian, if I ate milk, cheese, eggs, etc. When I said I did, I also indicated that each of them also drew a line about what they would and would not eat: "How many of you won't eat liver?  Or kidneys?  Or brain? Or cow's tongue?"  Just then, another co-worker walked into the room, and everyone became utterly silent.  It was almost as if we had stopped talking simply because she was in the room, and the silence grew uncomfortable.  I could see in her eyes that she thought we were talking about her.  So I tried to include her in the conversation.  Unfortunately, I blurted out to her, "Do you like tongue?"

The point is, we all make decisions based on what we read, or what we think we know; and I suspect we all have our own preferences, predilections and prejudices to guide our  thinking when it comes to food. That is why I am sympathetic to something that recently happened to another bread blogger that I follow (thanks to Google Translate).  Mariana Aga has written thoughtfully and well, and although she writes in a language I can't read, I've come to appreciate her depth and her interesting thoughts on many subjects related to bread in her blog "Выпечка хлеба" (Bread).

Mariana's Avatar
Is this Goodbye Mariana?
However, it seems now that the bread blogging community may lose one of its favourites.  At the precise moment when she went to the bookstore to buy half a dozen books on German bread baking, which surely would have turned her blog into one of the premier bread blogs on the planet, she also brought home William Davis' book "Wheat Belly: Lose the wheat, lose the weight, and find your path back to health".  And reading Davis' book has caused her to consider forever giving up on wheat, rye, barley.  She is now as disgusted with bread made with these glutenous grains as I was with meat, twenty odd years ago.

Google translate will not translate all of the many many replies she has had to her blog entry (it translates some of them, but then it decides no one will read all of them, and so quits translating). But it would appear that many people, like me, look forward to her writing and love the breads and the thoughtfulness that she shares with the world.  They all will miss her writing.   Some are for the book, some against it.  Some are angry about her choice, some applaud it.

But Mariana has not yet totally given up blogging.  Since reading Davis' book, she has continued to write and share her baking expertise.  In reply to someone who was grateful that she has not stopped, she replied (In Russian, of course, and this is Google Translate's attempt at delivering her meaning to me):

I continue to come from a parcel of books about the bread that I had ordered, and there are very interesting. I decided to share:)   after I told them that cooled to wheat, one hundred people went pisyat leave a comment that I was a fool and shook his finger at his temple, and another hundred pisyat add to buddylist. it is strange to me, what are they add, if I said I would write more about. But I decided to at least about these books brand new blog to tell your friends so they know where to look for information. I know how difficult it is when you start and you do not know what to grab.

And so, it seems, she will begin to blog about gluten-free baking.

And I will continue to follow her thoughts, via Google Translate.

YAOB: Yet Another Olive Bread
One of my co-workers likes my olive bread, so I've made her yet another loaf.

A couple of small tins of olives, in salt brine and nothing else: 364g for 2 loaves
The loaves are each about 600g of flour, at 80% hydration

But I keep telling this co-worker how easy it is to make, and I have threatened to give her a modified version of Jim Lahey's recipe so she can make her own.  Lahey, of course, uses bread flour and I use whole grain flour; he uses yeast and I use sourdough; and I use Tartine-style folding whereas he uses a no-knead method and a long (18hr) bulk fermentation.  Still, the techniques and the methodology in the recipes are essentially the same.

You mix up the flour, water, leaven and olives and let it bulk ferment.  Then you shape it and stick it into a flour-lined tea-towel in a basket to proof.  You stick a Dutch Oven (or as I did for a year before owning one, a casserole dish) in the oven to preheat (450 degrees F), and plop the dough into it, covering it for the first 20 minutes of a 40 minute bake.  The last 20 minutes are uncovered, and then the bread comes out of the oven to cool on a rack.  Simple.
I made 2 olive breads here.  In the bread I made for myself, I added some boiled, soaked, spiced and roasted wheat berries to see what would happen.

This is one cup of wheat berries added to a thermos, and it sits in boiling hot water overnight.  Then they are sieved, and a few spices (I guess I've got salt, paprika, cumin, turmeric and coriander) are added to them while still damp.  Then the berries are roasted in the oven.  I stopped roasting this batch when the grains were still a bit chewy.  By adding them to the olive bread though, the ones on top are quite crunchy, and the ones on the interior added a variety of textures.  The crunchy ones mostly roll off while slicing, so that is just messy.  But they make a nice snack on their own, so hey.

She cracked into her loaf right away at work. 

I waited until the next day to crack into mine

For now at least, I continue to eat and blog about bread. 

Perhaps because it doesn't disgust me as much as many other things I could eat.

Notes to Myself
  • Where do you draw the line, between what you will eat and what you won't eat? Remember that this line is a shifting line. Remember that every choice is a political act.

    I hope we don't all end up eating Soylent Green.
  • You can give a starving girl some olive bread and she will be satiated for a day; or you can teach that same girl how easy it is to bake bread and she will be satiated for a lifetime.  Even if she does prefer her friend to make it for her.

Friday, November 25, 2011

What's in my Cupboard? Bread

"Whats in my cupboard?" Bread

Upon return from vacation, I just required some quickly made bread.  Coming home was like arriving again at some place I'd never been before. I had to take a look in my own cupboards to see what was available.  There was a lot there, and I just used what caught my eye, what was close at hand, or what seemed interesting.

After refreshing my sourdough, I made a simple whole wheat 100% wild yeast integrale bread, Tartine-style, but I also added on a whim some sunflower seeds that I covered with 50ml of water, and added some spices to:

  • ww flour 1000g
  • water 70g + 5g (+5g later with seeds brings this to 80% hydration)
  • salt 20g
  • leaven 200g
  • sunflower seeds 100g
  • water 50ml
  • ground coriander seed 1/2 tsp
  • ground cumin 1/4 tsp
  • paprika 2/3 tsp

The salt was added on the first turn, the sunflower seed mixture was added on the second turn, and I continued turning Q30min for another 3 hours.

The final result tasted good.  When fresh, the crust of this loaf was nice and springy, not hard and crunchy (like what my wife complains about).

A Baker's Clay Basket?
As the gift-giving season approaches, I've had a couple of people wonder what they can get for me.  Daniel Handler (of Lemony Snicket fame) wrote in Adverbs that you have to be very careful of what you say you like, as holiday season approaches, because even an offhand remark might result in you getting something unexpectedly weird and not so wonderful.

I think I already asked for some real bannetons -- these are proofing baskets too expensive to warrant the purchase of, if you are shopping for yourself.  I use colanders, or wicker baskets, nothing over a couple of bucks.  I love the official look of breads that have been proofed in real bannetons, but I've never felt the need to pay that much money for a real cane basket.

I don't know if I should have mentioned the banneton, though.  You see, I've had this idea in the back of my mind for some time now that I'd like to try something a bit different.  I wondered if I could make my own basket out of baker's clay, and have it work for proofing.  So today I had the kitchen all to myself, and decided to see what would happen.

The recipe for baker's clay is tons of flour, lots of salt, and some water.  You mix this up and knead it until it gives you something that feels like playdough.  You could add food colouring to make it pretty, but I didn't want to bother.  Some recipes also call for alum, and I didn't use that either since I didn't have any on hand.

  • 4 c flour (626g)         100%
  • 1 c salt (240g)       38%
  • 1 1/2 c water (360g)    58%

I mixed it up, rolled it out and spread it overtop of one of my wicker baskets that I'd lined with foil.  Then I baked the whole thing for about 45 minutes at 250 degrees F (yep, the wicker was in there too, on some parchment paper atop a baking pan).  Afterwards, I put it into my dehydrator overnight on a low setting.  The idea is, I want it to dry out enough so that it will get hard and retain its shape.

There was enough baker's dough left over for me to make a few large cookie-sized disks.  This was just a trial for another idea I had -- that of making something that would leave an impression in the proofing dough.   I was thinking, you could put them in the bottom of the basket and dust around them and on top of them, and it would leave a design in the final loaf, sort of like stencilling a loaf, only different.

I don't suppose a baker's clay basket could really be used for proofing bread.  The reason I say that is because the cookie-sized disks with designs on them did not come off the top of the bread easily.  Furthermore, they left the final loaf a bit salty in the spot where they intersected.  A proofing basket would intersect in all places with a proofing loaf, so the whole idea just sucks.

But it sure was fun to play in my own kitchen again.

Ah, home sweet home.

Notes to Myself
  • The spices didn't add all that much to the loaf, but it tasted quite nice. I think I chose them based on the thought "what would taste good with sunflower seeds?"
  • What other herbs and spice would taste good with bread?  Variety is...
  • What other seeds would taste good with bread?
  • My friend got one of these loaves. I was going to deliver it and walk his dog with my dog one day, but my wife wouldn't let me go, she had jobs around home that I had to do. So it goes.
  • I don't suppose it could really be used for proofing bread. The reason I say that is because I thought I'd try to use some scraps I had left over to make some cookie-sized disks with designs on them that I could toss into the bottom of a basket, to imprint a design on the top of a loaf. I used a couple of these baker's clay disks here, but they did not come off the top of the bread easily. Furthermore, the left the final loaf a bit salty in the spot where they intersected.