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23 Dec 20:37


by Greg Ross

To promote a wood-shelled cell phone, Japanese mobile service provider NTT Docomo spent four days building a giant xylophone on a forest hillside on Kyushu and dispatched a wooden ball on a lonely (and somehow harrowing) mission to play “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.”

Here’s the making-of video.

29 Sep 22:03

Bread - Number 26: Getting Closer to Rye Perfection and a Book Already There

by Sheryl
Bread #26: The rye journey takes off with the words of wisdom that caraway seeds and the pre-bake cross slash are critical to success.

Before getting to these two related breads, I have to express my daily praise for the book Six Thousand Years of Bread: Its Holy and Unholy History, a treasure of culture, religion and history. I wish that this book would go on forever; the writing, the research and scholarship are such a pleasure to read that I savor the book as my last reading each evening. I am grateful that the author spent 20 years on this masterpiece, a word I have used only once before to describe anything in my usual reading mix of history, bread, social affairs or fiction (that exception being A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth). If I were to begin writing a book today, it would be the story of the Six Thousand Years author, H.E. Jacob, who sent his notes for the book out of Nazi-era Germany, who saw his history of bread and culture forgotten, and whose book was resurrected at the start of the modern era of artisan bread making.

Six Thousand Years chronicles the history of bread from the Egyptians through the Greeks and Jews, to the Middle Ages and the Christians. From there I do not know exactly where the book will go as I am currently enjoying the explanation of the culture wars at the start of the protestant sects, with the question of whether they would accept the doctrine of transubstantiation - whether the communion ritual in church actually transforms the unleavened bread (that's an interesting discussion in itself) into the body of Christ. There are connections drawn between cultural currents and who is milling the grain, making the dough, selling the bread, and the masses purchasing and eating the final product.This is also a book that describes farming and types of grain and the beliefs of the people and their conquerors as history proceeds from one era to the next.

This is not a book of recipes, rather it is more in the spirit of Michael Pollan, yet with a rich tapestry of mythology, religion, government and culture. It is a book that makes me consider never writing anything again because I will never create such beautiful, informative and still poetic prose as H.E. Jacob. [Photo: Outside of a bakery in Roswell, N.M. Did not try the alien baked goods.]

Back to the bread
Breads #26 and 27 are both rye sourdough breads, about one-third rye, with caraway seeds. Number 26 was a straight dough with a first rise of over 10 hours; it was a repeat of bread #10, but with ingredients measured by weight (well, not entirely). Number 27 - coming soon in the next blog post - employed a sponge and was a do over of breads #20 and 21.

Bread #26 - dough mixed together at once

5.7 oz. bread flour
5.2 oz. whole wheat flour
5.9 oz. rye flour (next time make this 6.7 to 7.1 oz. rye flour)
2 uneven tablespoons starter 
1 tbsp caraway seeds - plus more to cover the dough before baking
1 tsp vital wheat gluten
1.5 tsp salt
16 oz. water

Mix separately the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients. Mix these together well and let rise. Cover the bowl loosely with plastic. My dough sat for 10.5 hours on the counter on a warm summer night. Placed in the fridge for 3.5 hours. 

Baking preparation: This was a very wet dough. Could have used more flour; I would suggest a little more rye, but this time I worked in all-purpose flour during a stretch and fold. Sprinkled flour onto the dough and under it in the bowl. Put a nice amount of flour on my hands. Poured some dough onto a board and made sure the board was well covered with flour. Stretched and folded the dough, well sprinkled with flour. Let the dough sit for 15 minutes, loosely covered with plastic.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees with baking stone and top of la cloche inside. Shape the dough and place it in a well-floured bowl for about an hour (I lost track of time). Cover with a well-floured kitchen towel. 

I placed parchment paper on a baker's peel because the dough was wet and because the parchment paper offers the security that the dough will not stick to the peel when transferring the dough to the oven. Right before placing the dough in the oven, brush a nice amount of water on the top of the dough and sprinkle - and very gingerly press - a generous covering of caraway seeds. Take a lame or a good bread knife, and slash the top. I slash a star. Upon placing the dough in the oven, immediately reduce the oven heat to 450 degrees, something I only remembered about 10 minutes later.

At 32 minutes, I removed the parchment paper and the top of the la cloche. The bread only took four more minutes - a total of 36. Thanking my internal thermometer, I took the temperature of the middle of the bread so that the bread did not become dry. However, it could have used two more minutes.

The bread was beautiful and crackling. On top it showed the cross slash, of course. The taste was very good - almost there. I am motivated to do another rye immediately.





29 Sep 22:02

Bread - Number 24: Indestructible and One-Third Whole Wheat

by Sheryl


Bread - Number 24: You cannot ruin this mostly white bread

This one-third whole wheat bread dough could probably be dropped on the floor and stomped on and would still turn out decently. I love that, but wish this were so with more whole grain doughs. This bread is based on Bread #5, Part 2, but with starter and with previous volume-based measurements adjusted for weight measurements.The great news is that the starter works just as well as the commercial yeast. It is possible to use a small amount and a long rising time for wonderful results. I prefer long rising times for taste and for the convenience of being able to go out to work all day. 

I baked this bread twice because the first time it ended up a bit pasty, as if wet. I needed to trust my instincts and use my own weight-adjusted measurements instead of those on even trustworthy websites. Just because someone else says that one cup of bread flour is the equivalent of 128 grams of bread flour does not mean that your cup of bread flour, or anything else that you have been using to make delicious breads, is that same 128 grams. It might be 139 grams or 160 grams. 

The second time, I measured a cup of the whole wheat flour and then a cup of the bread flour and transcribed my measurements for each. The dough, magically, was more like cake batter and less pancake-like. The results were much improved, with just the smallest bit of wetness still left in the dough. There was a beautiful crumb and a lovely crust. This good, even lacking the good-luck cross/star slashed into the top of the dough before it went into the oven.

There's a movement? And has it already passed me by?
When making this sourdough starter and the dough, I kept hearing Michael Pollan on the radio, seeing references to him on twitter, and clicking links to watch his television news appearances. His presence gives gravitas to a movement of which I was unaware until recently. Slow food is quickly going mainstream. Now, people beyond Brooklyn and Portland are fermentation experts. Before I started this 108 breads project, I did not know about starters, the supposed health benefits of fermentation, or the existence of locally-milled flours. Actually, I had no idea of the universe of flours, books, and products in which one could become immersed, if not obsessed.

I had never seen a sauerkraut recipe or passionate descriptions of any. The idea of homemade sauerkraut would have caused my eyes to roll. Now I am the crazy person considering burying the jar of fermenting sauerkraut in the backyard per a friend's/another crazy person's recipe. But then he is the one who loaned his copy of 52 Loaves to me and started this whole obsession in the first place.

As usual, I am slow, and quite late to slow food. As it happens, however, I gave up most sugars and white flours years ago. Hardly ever let my children near an antibiotic and I consider a Diet Coke something for a special occasion. (Though every few years there are months of a daily diet soda.) Slow food was something I started before I was aware I was doing anything. Oh, and this week I give up all cakes, cookies and pastries for at least one year. I would rather have a nice slice of bread.

143 g. whole wheat flour (one cup)
332 g. bread flour (two cups)
1 1/2 cups water
11 g. starter
1/2 tbsp salt

Very simple. No sponge, levain builds, poolishes, bigas or other preliminary dough stages. Just a good bread that is pretty much indestructible. Mix all ingredients. Let stand for 12 hours in a bowl that is loosely covered in plastic. Place dough in fridge for up to a couple of days or move on to preparation for baking. I kept my dough in the fridge for six hours, but I have left it in for more than a day.

Forgot to keep notes, so probably did usual shaping and left out for an hour to an hour and a half. I preheated the oven to 500 degrees with la cloche top and baking stone inside. Also, I did not write down how long I left it in the oven, so probably 40 to 45 minutes. A bit distracted with the new internal thermometer, which is mostly good. One should be careful to insert the thermometer into the center of the bread and not all the way almost to the bottom.

The taste was fantastic. An easy bread and a cheap thrill of feeling like a skilled baker. And the bread looks beautiful. Okay, the photograph of the bread cut open reveals its fault.

Just to have something to shoot for, the dough needed to rise some more.

29 Sep 22:01

Bread - Number 23

by Sheryl
Bread - Number 23: The Spelt Variations
Like the Goldberg Variations, but more tasty

Purchases: Internal food thermometer $35 with shipping (half=price sale at Thermoworks)

I made the same 100 percent spelt bread three times to learn from mistakes, correct mistakes, and reach perfection. Reached pretty good. Thank you to my new trusty internal food thermometer, I did not bake the last loaf to death and before the end of the day, I personally consumed half of it.

Lessons learned: This recipe should not be left to rise overnight on the counter. The dough will over-rise, causing sadness even though less than a dollar of ingredients have been ruined, even though more starter is available, and even though the world is not nearly at an end. Other options are putting the dough in the refrigerator sooner or using less starter, both in an effort to slow down the process and sleep through the night while the dough rises.

Another lesson: An internal body clock will wake you in the wee hours of the night if there is the slightest suspicion that the dough will over-rise, not in time to catch the dough at its peak, but probably at a point where an edible bread can be produced.

Yet one more lesson: No recipe can totally account for different room temperatures, differences in flour batches, and the sourdough starter's phase of the starter cycle of eating and resting at which the starter was added to the water to make the dough. Get friendly with the dough at each stage and learn what it needs along the journey.

Scientific test coming: Whether dough rises better and bread is of higher quality if starter is at a phase where it will float in water or whether rising time will vary, but bread quality not affected.

Essentially a do over
Used the breadtopia spelt sourdough recipe. Same as Bread #7, but this time with starter instead of yeast, and no sweetener. The recipe comes with two in-depth videos that effectively walk one through the process. Recommended for beginners. In my three variations, I used different starters, the third time with a spelt starter. I also varied the sizes of the loaf, the rising times, the number of stretch and folds, and the baking times.

[Photo of starter right after being fed.]
280 g water
11 g spelt starter
424g spelt flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
oats for coating dough (before placing in oven)

Mixed water and starter first. Starter did not float. Added flour and then salt. Really enjoying the digital scale. Easy to use and clean. Very precise measurements in grams or ounces.

I did three stretch and folds at intervals of 20 to 30 minutes. I admit that I varied the number and the timing of the stretch and folds without any apparent consequences for the dough. [Photos are two different doughs after the third stretch and folds.]

Afterward, I let the dough rise on the counter for about five hours, perhaps less. Any more, at least in a springtime kitchen, was too much. Place in fridge or proceed to final rise and baking. I left mine in the fridge on the second try for 26 hours and that seemed like too much. I think the dough went past its peak rise. 

Shaping and Preparation
Breadtopia man recommends an easy shaping technique for this bread. Essentially, take "corners" of the dough and bring into the center so that the dough becomes a sphere. Then handle around for 30 seconds or so until the shape becomes a classic boule. It is described on breadtopia as an alternative to a direct degassing technique, such as punching down the dough. Then refine the shape further if necessary. 

Leave the dough on a well-floured board, loosely covered in plastic, for 15 minutes.

At this point, prepare your bowl, banneton, or basket for the dough's final rise. I used a bowl sprayed with baking spray. I poured some oats over the baking spray so that what would become the top of the bread would be covered with oats. That worked out well - plus there were plenty of nice, roasted oats that fell off at some point in the oven. Quite tasty.

I turned on the oven to 500 degrees to get it nice and hot. Be sure to put in the la cloche and baking stone or whatever you are using to create a steamy environment in the oven. My oven seems to need a good hour to get that hot, according to an independent thermometer, though the oven claims to heat up much faster. 

At 15 minutes, place the dough in the bowl or whatever. Allow the bread to enjoy its final rise for an hour to an hour and a half. Mine lost its shape, which made me nervous, . This dough was sufficiently dry to get in the oven with just flour on the baking peel, but I admit that parchment paper is better insofar as it reduces anxiety and does not seem to compromise the bottom of the bread.

Turn the dough gently onto the peel if you are using one. Just before putting the dough in the oven, score your line or design on top. I always do a star with the bread knife, which generally, if I'm lucky, produces a cross. I am getting tempted to go out and buy razor blades to do some fancy scoring.

Reduce the oven temperature to 450 degrees. I put a note right near the oven to remind me because I forget this part. 

At 30 minutes, remove top of la cloche and parchment paper. Take the bread's temperature. Mine was 203 degrees at this point. It was good to have this information as otherwise I certainly would have left the bread in the oven for too long. In fact, I did that the first two times. I was so excited that the thermometer was already proving its value. 

A nice crackle. A beautiful bread. Two hours later: A heavenly taste. I waited for a late breakfast of tea and butter on the spelt sourdough. So, so good. I ate half of it before the afternoon was done.  It's the cross on top. Works every time. I'm still Jewish. No plan to convert just because the cross seems to be the good luck charm.

The best part is that I made a wonderful bread with my own starter.