The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts


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Whidbey Bread: Whole Grains for the Home Baker, a Bread Lab workshop

Farine - 1 hour 44 min ago
Organized jointly by Washington State University (WSU) Extension-Island CountyWSU Mt Vernon Research and Extension Center and the Grain Gathering, Whidbey Bread took place over a day and a half in early September on the bucolic grounds of the Pacific Rim Institute in Coupeville, Washington, drawing participants from thirty-five cities, four States and British Columbia. If you have never been to Whidbey Island, then it's time to go. Come with me and not only will you get a glimpse of a lovely corner of our beautiful Earth but you will get some tips from The Bread Lab on how to bake with local flours.
From Clinton where the Mukilteo ferry lands (Mukilteo is about one hour north of Seattle) to Coupeville where we are headed, the island is a blur of water, forests, prairies, small lakes, fields and farms, not to mention sleepy homes and minuscule villages. On good days, mountain views are everywhere. The occasional deer stares as you drive by then goes back to methodically eating a gardener's tastiest flowers, ferries and other boats glide in and out of the landscape, the air is rich with the smell of the sea.

Once you reach the Institute though, all traces of the ocean vanish and, looking at the tiny test fields, all you can think of is how landscape evolves as men come and go.
First on the land were the Salish Indians who had established permanent homes on Whidbey as early as in the early fourteenth century, living off natural resources such as fish,  shellfish, game, fowl, roots, hazelnuts and berries. Tragically they were decimated in the late eighteenth century by the smallpox and syphilis Euro-American explorers, sailors, hunters and missionaries brought with them when they arrived on the island. Entire villages were wiped out. Tensions were high. There were acts of violence. Many of the Salish survivors moved (were moved?) to a reservation off island in nearby La Conner. (For more on the history of Whidbey Island, you may want to check out this document,  my source for the above info).
  White settlers farmed the land, rejoicing in the fertility of the prairie. In 1919, a farmer in nearby Ebey's Prairie set a world record by producing one hundred and seventeen bushels of wheat per acre, using horse-powered machinery. To give you an idea of the magnitude of such yield, according to Dr. Stephen Jones, wheat breeder, professor and Director of WSU extension in Mt Vernon (Steve Jones also runs The Bread Lab), the average yield today in heavily mechanized Kansas is thirty-four bushels. And yet, yet, wheat steadily migrated to the Midwest and although it is trickling back East and West thanks to the efforts of  breeders such as Dr. Jones, of farmers anxious to get more value out of their rotation crops, of bakers working with millers and growers to bring back forgotten local flavors, of consumers choosing to eschew industrial bread, of the sixty millions acres of wheat grown in this country today, only two and a half millions are grown in Washington (all the figures are from Dr. Jones) and Ebey's Landing is now part of the National Historical Reserve for the State of Washington.
One hundred years ago, one hundred thousand acres of wheat were grown across the Sound in nearby Skagit Valley. "That knowledge is gone, the area has lost its grain culture," Dr. Jones says (more on this here). But the Research Center in Mt Vernon is testing more than forty thousand varieties of wheat and The Bread Lab is doing its part to reverse the trend by helping farmers identify varieties that do well under local conditions and whose flavor and functional properties are appealing to bakers.
Steve Lyon, Senior Scientific Assistant at WSU-Research Center in Mt Vernon, took us on a tour of the test plots, demonstrating combine-harvesting...
...and discussing wheat breeding as well as the differences from one variety from another. It was strangely moving to be reminded that the flavor we love and nutrition we crave originates with the humble seed.
  As Steve Lyon explained though, all grain isn't created equal and working with local wheats can be a challenge, one that Dr. Jones is happy to take on: "The way we breed wheat now in this country is that we breed for white endosperm and throw the germ away." He has banned white flour - which he calls "dead flour" - from The Bread Lab and advocates using whole-grain across the board, from bread to pastry. "The average plastic bag bread contains twenty to twenty-five ingredients (and almost always vital gluten). Twenty-one of these ingredients are not needed. All you need to make bread is freshly milled flour, salt, water and a starter of some sort." The Bread Lab attracts bakers from all over the country anxious to hone their baking skills on sometimes unpredictable flours that deliver unique flavors and plenty of nutrition. The goal of the workshop is to help home bakers use these flours as well, both in bread and in pastries.
The bread section of the workshop was taught by Jonathan Bethony-McDowell, baker-in-residence at The Bread Lab...
...the pastry section by Wendy Scherer, head baker for Tom Douglas' restaurants in Seattle. Since I am not really a pastry baker, this post covers only bread. Hopefully another blogger will post about Wendy's excellent demo. Wendy was using whole-grain flour from a Washington State hard spring white wheat called Edison.
I didn't get to taste Wendy's pastries or even to see all of them as we left a bit early on Saturday afternoon but just to look at the cinnamon rolls fresh out of the oven, I am pretty sure they were a big hit.

Wendy Scherer's whole-grain cinnamon rolls Jonathan starts off his talk by paying tribute to the home bakers who, according to him, often show more enthusiasm and thirst for deep knowledge than professional ones. Indeed, he says, it was Dave Miller, whom he calls "the ultimate home baker," who introduced him to whole grains. The "hidden master" who bakes from his house in the golden hills near Chico, California, was his first big inspiration. Very open, hospitable and knowledgeable, Dave freely shared his method and techniques. His doughs are highly hydrated and the single most important piece of information the young baker took home from his visit is that when baking with whole grain you need to use ten to fifteen percent more water because of the higher fiber content. It is impossible to say with precision how much water a baker is going to need for a specific formula: no two whole-wheat flours are identical. Each has its own flavors and functional properties, depending not only on the variety but also on how the wheat was grown, in what type of soil, etc. The baker has to roll with the challenges. "Watch the dough and adjust for hydration: this is where the journey begins," says Jonathan.

Jonathan likes to mix everything by hand. For the purpose of the workshop, he is making two identical doughs using different whole wheat flours: commercial flour bought in a bag from Camas Country Mills in Oregon and flour that is being milled as he speaks (from Renan wheat - a French cultivar - grown in nearby Skagit Valley.) He will bake both boules and pan bread.

MC-The Bread Lab's Whole Wheat Loaf What follows are the notes and photos I took during the demo.
  • Jonathan uses a 100% hydration, 100% whole-wheat starter fed with freshly milled flour and refreshed two or three hours before mixing in order to get a milder taste (as yeast populates before bacteria). 
  • He feeds his starter everyday, sometimes three or four times a day (but you don't have to): "The more regular you are, the more your starter will adjust to you (it is a question of survival for the organisms that live in it)."
  • A white starter goes a lot slower than a whole-grain one, so it is good at slowing things down.
  • All you need to start a starter is flour and water on a one-to-one ratio. Freshly milled whole-grain flour provides more food for the starter than white flour. You can also use whole rye flour (that’s what goes the fastest).
  • A pH between 3.8 and 4.5 is where your levain will be (neutral pH = 7.) The lower the number, the more acidic the starter. Once the pH is below 4.5, yeast and bacteria start to work it out.
Refers to a period of rest after the initial mixing of flour and water (no salt). Gives gluten a chance to develop on its own, cutting down on mixing time, which means the dough heats up less and doesn't oxidize as much.
  • Very important with whole gains because of the bran. The bran needs to get supple and for that, it needs water and time. "But then the best breads need time."
  • When mixing, you need a certain amount of friction to develop strength, so don’t add water all at once. Assess the dough as the flour hydrates, add some of the held back water, let it rest, go back, assess again, etc. 
  • Once water and flour are incorporated, let the dough rest.
  • You can autolyse for a day if you like: more sugars become available, there is more enzymatic activity. The dough will be slacker though. Experiment and see what you like best.
  • Flour out of the bag is really dry and soaks up the water. Moisture contents varies considerably though. Each flour has its own hydration. There is a big difference between fresh flour and stone-milled commercial flour in terms of water absorption: bagged flour takes way more water to yield same consistency as the Renan. In this case,  Jonathan had to up the hydration on the Camas bagged flour dough to close to 100%.
  • Putting levain in the autolyse is optional. It helps with the breakdown even more but the drawback is that you are then on a time frame because fermentation starts.
  • When done with the autolyse, add levain and salt.
  • Jonathan keeps his hands wet when mixing. "Do not add flour. If your hands get sticky, rinse them off."
  • There is no one way to mix. Squeezing works. "It is important to evenly squeeze and make bonds happen."
  • With wetter doughs, more squeezing. "At the beginning, you can also use old school kneading to develop strength."
  • Keep folding dough over on itself before starting to add water.
  • Let it rest for a while, then go back to it. It will have changed.
  • When a dough is very wet, roll and push, then rotate.
  • "You don’t want to be rough with the dough. "Think of it as giving it a massage."
  • Freshly milled dough is way coarser, yielding heartier bread. Finer flour yields a more open crumb.
  • The idea behind folding is to strengthen the dough while it is fermenting. The number of folds depends on the dough.
  • Do not use flour on the table.
  • Do a letter-fold.
  • If folding in bowl, watch out for tearing. Use flat hands, not claws. Make sure the tension remains even over the four sides.
  • If not retarding in the fridge, do a three-hour bulk fermentation at room temperature, followed by a ninety-minute to two-hour proofing. 
  • A short bulk fermentation at room temperature, then a long proof at room temperature make for a tighter crumb.
  • You will get a more irregular crumb by doing a long bulk fermentation followed by a short proof.
  • Sourdough likes 78 to 80 degrees for fermentation (favors both yeast and bacteria equally),
  • If room temperature is colder, use warmer water when mixing or give fermentation more time. Using warm water gives fermentation a little boost.
Pre-shaping and shaping
  • Pre-shaping gives you another chance to tighten a slack dough. By contrast, if the dough is strong, be very gentle and help it relax.
  • If the dough is not very gassy, let it rest in the pre-shape longer whereas if it looks very active, move on to shaping quicker.
  • To shape wet dough, fold it four ways as you do when strengthening it (see Fermenting), then roll it.
  • Once you are done, just drag the loaf slighlty with your pinkies underneath. Do not wind it on the table (it makes for a denser crumb).
  • Let it rest a moment on the table before putting it in a basket.
  • Dredge it in flour.
  • Use a scraper to pick up the shaped dough.
  • For really wet dough, best to use a linen-lined wicker basket. Dust the basket with flour (Jonathan sticks to whole wheat flour). Try not to get too much flour at bottom of basket, mostly flour the sides. At this stage it is better to err on the side of too much flour than not enough. Also dredge the loaf in flour before putting it in basket.
  • If using a pan, spray it with oil. If using semolina to dust baskets, mix it with fifty-percent whole wheat flour.
  • When putting your loaf in the pan, don’t fill the pan till the ends. A wet dough will expand. (Different from drier dough).
  • Pay attention to details. The more you pay attention, the more you learn. Bread baking eaches patience and handling skills. "It is a holistic system: it teaches you how to handle those whom you care about."
  • For a boule, make a parcel, flip it over so that the weak spot is at the bottom and there will be no need to score.
  • For a pan bread, dust the shaped pullman with a little flour, then score.
  • As it is easier to cut when the dough is tauter, you can do more ornate cuts when you score after shaping and before proofing. 
  • You want a deep cut (¼ to ⅓ of an inch)
  • Another good technique is to take scissors and go down the middle (after proofing)
  • If you want an ear to form, score at a 45° angle to get a flap. If you cut straight in, the scoring will open wide.
  • Wet dough: use the fridge to chill it just before you bake it (after proofing it almost all the way for about 30 min at room temperature or cold overnight): it makes it easier to score and easier to get out of the basket.
  • A good technique for home bakers is to use a Dutch oven.
  • Or use steam: Bob Bryan, a serious home baker who lives on Whidbey and is Jonathan's assistant for the workshop, uses a steam machine, covering the glass in the door of the oven with a towel when he sprays the water into a restaurant pan holding lava stones.
  • Use whatever steaming technique works for you.
  • For whole-grain bread, bake 20 min at 500°F  (white bread at 75% hydration should be baked at 460°F).
  • Remove the top of the Dutch oven after the first twenty minutes. Bake another thirty minutes. Check for doneness by tapping the bottom of the loaf with your knuckles. It should make a hollow sound. If it doesn't, put it back in the oven for another few minutes.
The bread came out beautiful. The taste of the grain shone through. I wish I had written down the difference in flavor (if any) between the bagged flour from Oregon and the freshly milled one because to save my live, I can't remember if one bread was tastier than the other. What I do remember clearly however is thinking that no matter how interesting the workshop and demos were, in practical terms, they weren't much help to the home baker if access to local wheat was an issue. And for most of us, it is.
In Washington State, I lived close to a chain of natural food stores that carried local flours and within easy driving distance from a mill and farms selling flours milled from the grains they grew. Where I am now in California, my options are pretty much limited to supermarket flours unless I order online or travel to a big city where more choices are available, albeit at a price that makes home baking an expensive proposition. Even on Whidbey Island, close to grain-growing Skagit Valley, a show of hands makes it clear that access to most of the wheats Jonathan is talking about remains very limited. The closest most of us can get to a local wheat is by ordering online from Camas Country Mills. So I would say the first order of business is to get local flours out to the home baker! One possibility for us home bakers across the country could be to follow the example of the Los Angeles Bread Bakers, to get organized geographically and to bulk-order from farmers or millers in our state or region. Meetup anyone? Let's start the ball rolling! Until then, to quote Steve Jones, we might be be stuck to baking with roller-milled "soul-less, nameless wheat."
I couldn't possibly close the post without mentioning that, on the second day of the workshop, Gerry Betz and Larry Lowary, my friends from Tree-Top Baking down in South Whidbey, brought in an amazing array of whole-grain breakfast treats. These pastries were a most persuasive introduction to Wendy's demo if it needed one!
Tree-Top Baking's Spelt-Apricot Scones (100% whole-grain)
Tree-Top Baking's Cardamom Rolls (50% whole-grain) Even though I do not have much of a sweet tooth, I fell really hard for the spelt-apricot scones and Larry kindly gave me permission to post the formula. Thanks, Larry!

MC-Larry's Spelt Apricot Oat Jam Scone
Categories: Blogs, The Bread Feed

Meet the Baker: Mel Derbyshire

Farine - October 11, 2014 - 8:15pm
Were I allowed one word and one word only to describe Mel Darbyshire, head baker at The Grand Central Baking Company in Seattle, I would pick "excellence" and still I wouldn't be doing her justice. What about the determination which, back in 1997, propelled  the young UK-born chef to join Grand Central in Portland, Oregon, as a dishwasher because "a friend worked there"? What about the willpower that had her washing dishes during working hours then doing prep and maintenance? What about the passion that kept her watching the bakers all the time? What about the love of learning that made her apply for a basic pastry position when a spot opened up unexpectedly? What about the energy that drove her to work fast so that she could help the bakers with the baguettes after she was done with her own tasks? I could go on and on but from talking to Mel and watching her work, another word comes to mind: "integrity." Here is a baker who won't settle for half-way measures: she clearly feels her job is to get both doughs and bakers to be the best they can be. If I owned a bakery, and Mel was my head-baker, I know I would sleep sur mes deux oreilles, literally "on both my ears" (French for soundly) at night.
Within a year of securing the entry-level pastry position at Grand Central, Mel was promoted to Jeff Smalley's assistant (Smalley was the head baker). When Jeff himself moved to a higher position, Mel was recruited to replace him. But she "had no science" (her words), a problem when you are expected to lead a team of old timers. So Grand Central sent her to the National Baking Center in Minneapolis where she took a weeklong class with Didier Rosada. She came back with knowledge and it gave her authority. Still she was a woman replacing a man, the team was mostly male. It was a rough learning curve but she pulled it off.
Two years later, she moved to Seattle and got a job with Leslie Mackie at Macrina Bakery. She was head baker there for a year and a half. Mel recalls these eighteen months as a most formative experience: she was called upon to apply all that she had learned to new products and a new environment. "Everything was different. At Grand Central, we relied on long fermentations, mostly cold and in bulk. Leslie's doughs were a little wetter and they were warm. I had to learn to shape them. New processes, new recipes... But Leslie is a great instructor, very talented and 'old school'. She played a pivotal role in my development as a baker."
Mel moved back to Portland, took some time off and was recruited again by Grand Central, this time as an on-call baker for it organic line: high hydration doughs, lots of different flavors. On her free time, she played rugby, soccer, went snowboarding. Then a full-time position as night-crew manager opened up at the bakery and she took the job. She wasn't happy about working nights but it was an opportunity. She soon found out that the nightshift attracted a different type of people, many of them hard-core rockers and musicians. It was a definitely a culture shock compared to her other experiences. She held the job for two years, learning valuable lessons about managing along the way. Then as Grand Central grew, the head baker moved on and Mel was made co-head baker with Tom Clark. When he in turn moved on in 2003-2004 (he is now at Blackbird Baking Company  in Lakewood, Ohio), she become head-baker herself (wholesale and retail). In 2007, it was decided that, for the sake of consistency, all the bread should be produced under one roof. Mel's greatest source of pride is that she moved production across town in one single night with no hitch. She remembers loaves proofing in the back of trucks and making it to the ovens on the nick of time but she didn't lose a single one...
Meanwhile the bread scene was evolving back in Seattle: Macrina, Essential, Larsen's, Columbia City, all were competing for retail and wholesale and Grand Central was plateau-ing. In the spring of 2011, management asked Mel if she would be interested in moving back to the Emerald City to give the bakery more spark and help put it back on the map. Mel took the job for six months on a trial basis and realized it was a really big and challenging one. But she had old friends in the city, she loved living there, her partner agreed to the move and, let's be frank, Mel has yet to resist a big project or a challenge! She’s now been there for over three years.
The way Mel sees it, today Grand Central is very much back where it wants to be in Seattle. The challenge is no longer the competition but consistency and quality at volume: making not only ten but a thousand beautiful baguettes. That requires high standards of training, education and accountability. Mel's team is truly multinational -Ukraine, Cambodia, Vietnam, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, United States- a situation that requires a delicate touch and a high level of cultural empathy. Before Mel took over, the focus was on getting things done. Her first priority was to retrain the bakers and impress upon them that what they made was important. They needed to be proud of their work and product. It took a while. The first six months were rough: some people left because they couldn't embrace the change. Mel needed the bakers to buy into her and her passion. She spent a lot of time on the floor, eating the bread so that people would get the message that theirs wasn't just a job, that they were making something precious. She gave a lot of positive feedback: every beautiful loaf was shown back to the crew.

If in Mel's words, "bread is like a canvas," then the lame or knife is the baker's brush. When scoring the Como bread, the baker tries to keep the girth of the loaf very consistent, so that the slices are all similar and well suited to sandwich-making.
The crew is a mix of men and women. When Mel started, only one woman on the crew had been trained to mix or bake, all the others were shapers.  Mel endeavored to train everyone to mix, shape and bake. She picked the tiniest woman - who was very talented and hard working - and started with her. It took a year to get everyone cross-trained but to Mel's way of thinking, if a baker doesn't do all this, if he or she doesn't understand about fermentation and proofing and how it impacts the final bake, then the job becomes a mindless task. "Now we bake when the dough is ready. That's what improved quality and consistency: the crew is making decisions based on dough and not schedule and order: if a dough has been mixed warmer, you shape that batch first for instance." What Mel considers her biggest achievement is training the shift managers to do more: learning to work on the computer and use spreadsheets while running the crew and keeping up the quality. 

From left to right, Marina Lopez and Guadalupe Gracias-Segovia
The team consists of thirty-five bakers in two shifts and the bakery runs twenty-one hours a day. Communication between crews is very important. Mel likes to recruit from within (other departments at Grand Central) or to hire friends or family of team members. She sees it as essential to create a good structure so that everybody is well supported from the dishwasher to the head baker. She loves to see how things have evolved in three years, with people now lifting dough and smelling it and a more open floor plan. "There was no light in the facility before: the walk-ins covered the windows. Redesigning the place was a priority: we built new walk-ins, took down the old ones. People were happier and stood taller with natural light. We redesigned the mixing space, making it more efficient: mix, ferment, shape, proof, retard, bake, now the flow makes sense. We also put in inside windows: now you can see and hear each other. Everyone is part of the bakery."

Flor Mendez, production manager Work in a large production bakery is exciting. "Volume plays such a role: it is a dance. I love the multitasking, my internal time goes off, and I thrive on that energy." A bigger part of Mel's role over the past four or five years has been to do research and development. Grand Central is now doing more seasonal items. Seattle and Portland take turns coming up with new products, which leaves some room for creativity. Mel meets regularly and often (in person every couple of months and via video conference weekly) with the production management team which includes Piper Davis, daughter of Grand Central founder and the driving force behind the bakery's commitment to work with local ingredients and responsible producers, and Brian Denning, head baker in Portland, to discuss issues relating to production quality, consistency and goals.
Such an issue was what to do with Grand Central's signature potato buns. They were tasty and popular but the recipe wasn't designed for volume: it called for buttermilk and sour starter, so the fermentation went fast (lots of enzymes) and it was a challenge to maintain consistency in size and weight. The bakers had a sixty-minute window when they needed two hours. What wouldn't have been a problem for two hundred buns was another story for one thousand.What to do to add stability to the formula without compromising flavor and quality?

Once a solution was found though, Seattle couldn't just move forward and adopt it. Portland had to be on board. To maintain consistency and insure quality would not be an issue in Portland if they modified the formula, the buns could not be too different from the existing ones. In other words Mel had to find a way to get the result she was looking for within the challenges of working in a large company with two locations. I suspect that the constraints can be frustrating at times but that the challenge carries its own reward and that Mel is exactly the right person to take it on.

Categories: Blogs, The Bread Feed

In Search of the Perfect Loaf: A Home Baker's Odyssey

Farine - September 14, 2014 - 1:04pm
Sam Fromartz' new book, In Search of the Perfect Loaf: A Home Baker's Odyssey is the story of a quest. Like all serious home bakers' (SHB) efforts to make good bread, the journey begins at home in his kitchen. Sam hasn't gone to culinary school, he hasn't spent years working in a bakery. He started baking his own bread for exactly the same reason I did: because there was no real bread to be had in the neighborhood he moved to. Like many beginning bakers (I plead guilty!), he first tried his hand at baguettes, which is "the equivalent of wanting to knock out a Beethoven sonata when you sit down at the piano for the first time." He failed, moved on to other breads which he learned to make well, but never forgot the unmet challenge.
So when opportunity knocked at his door several years later in the shape of a commissioned article for Afar Magazine, he jumped at the chance to go spend a week in Paris learning from Arnaud Delmontel, a baker who had won best baguette in Paris in 2007. From the long hours he put in at Delmontel's boulangerie, he learned a crucial lesson: bread baking isn't about the recipe, it is about the feel, the "visual, tactile, and auditory clues" that tell you what you should or should not do. The feel comes with time... Back at home in Washington, DC, Sam practiced, practiced, practiced and was rewarded a couple of months later when his baguettes won "best in DC" in a blind testing against professionals, a crowning achievement for a SHB!
With success came fame. Alice Waters (from Chez Panisse no less) called Sam to have him bake bread for a charity dinner she was planning to host in Washington (I remember being awed when I read about it back then.) Partly thanks to Waters, there were (and are) several great bakers in the Bay Area and over the following years, Sam visited many of them: Michel Suas, president of the San Francisco Baking Institute, Steve Sullivan, founder of The Acme Bread Company, Kathleen Weber, co-founder/owner of Della Fattoria, The Bejkr Mike Zakowski who won silver for the United States at the World Bread Cup in 2012, Chad Robertson of Tartine Bakery, etc.
Sam being as talented a writer as he is a baker, the reader is pulled into each of the stories. We see bakers at work in a blur of motion or relaxing when the work is done, we touch flour, we observe dough, we feel the heat of the ovens, we hear the crackling of the burnished loaves as they cool on the racks, we breathe in the aromas and like the author, we are hooked. With him, we go bakery-hopping in Paris and meet other passionate bakers, including Frédéric Pichard for whom bread dough's two-step fermentation process is akin to champagne's and who cares so much for the taste of his bread that he has a farmer grow an ancient variety of wheat exclusively for him.
Although Sam takes us to Weichardt Brot in Berlin to learn all about rye and to the South of France to interview farmer/miller/baker Roland Feuillas, the book never turns into a guidebook to the best bakeries in the United States and Europe. The reader is actually invited to bake along: there is at least one recipe per chapter, and yes, there is one for Feuillas' bread which one of my French friends - herself an accomplished baker - once described to me as the best she ever had.
Sam describes how to build and keep a starter, opens his pantry to our inquisitive eyes, lists his sources for unusual or heirloom flours (in case you don't live in an area where local grain is available or you want to try and reproduce the flavor and structure of a particular loaf), and mostly he explains, again and again, that every flour is different, that reading the dough comes with practice and that we should not be afraid to experiment and learn from our failures. He retraces a brief history of wheat (to help us understand the various baking properties and flavors of today's grains), gives us a synopsis of what goes on behind the scenes during fermentation, explores the vagaries of hydration and encourages us on our own journey to our dream loaf.
I had the good fortune to attend a conversation between Fromartz and Tartine Bakery's Chad Robertson in San Francisco the other day in honor of the launching of the book. Both lovers of whole grains, they revealed that they were not necessarily fans of loaves containing 100% of one particular grain: Sam's favorite rye bread is made with 30% wheat and Chad prefers to add cooked grains to his breads than bake with 100% wholegrain flour.
Both bakers debunked the myth that sourdough reflects a particular region (Chad started sourdough cultures in Mexico, in France and in Denmark: they all behaved the same.) If bread is good in the San Francisco area, it is because the weather is pretty mild year-round. When the temperature dips as it occasionally does, the Tartine bakers know to put the starters on higher shelves and sometimes even cover them with blankets. The fluctuations keep everything interesting. Chad prefers shaping  before cold fermentation (to prevent aromas from dissipating when manipulating the dough) while Sam prefers bulk fermentation (a SHB would be hard put to fit several baskets in his or her home refrigerator).
Both like to keep their starters mild by feeding them often and using them young although Sam prefers his a tad firmer (70 to 75% hydration) to slow the pace of fermentation.
With wonder in his voice, Chad recounted that the loaf shown being made step by step in his book Tartine No 3 had actually been mixed and baked in a home baker's house in Berkeley. No staging had been involved in the photos. It was the first time he had had a chance to look at a bread out of a pot in a home situation and he had been "shocked" (his word): "The bread was like the best ever at the bakery. It was indeed the perfect loaf!"
So, readers, take heart. With practice and determination, you too can reach the Holy Grail and a book such as Sam's is a good companion to take on your journey: the author has been there, done that. You will benefit from his experience, learning over and over the most important lesson: don't overthink the dough, just observe it. (At the beginning you may need to touch it but after a while, looking should suffice. Chad confided that it drove him nuts when his bakers poked the dough and that he tried to teach them to rely on their eyes instead of their fingers.)
In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that Sam sent me an advance copy of his book. When I received it, though, I had already pre-ordered the electronic version.  Once I started reading, the furthest thing from my mind was to cancel the kindle version. In Search of the Perfect Loaf: A Home Baker's Odyssey is a book I look forward to having at the tip of my fingers wherever and whenever I bake. (Plus I couldn't very well ask Sam to write a dedication on my e-reader!).

Sam Fromartz with Chad Robertson Just in case you are curious, here is a picture of the crumb on Chad's country bread...
Chad hadn't thought to bring a bread knife but the audience wouldn't let him leave without having a taste. So he kindly let us tear into it, which makes for a terrific memory! (And believe me, the bread was good!).
Categories: Blogs, The Bread Feed

The Grain Gathering 2014: (Mostly) Baking With Naomi Duguid and Dawn Woodward

Farine - September 1, 2014 - 3:50pm
Naomi Duguid, author (most recently) of Burma: Rivers of Flavor and Dawn Woodward, owner of Evelyn's Crackers in Toronto, Canada, make an excellent teaching team (and pair of friends, I suspect.) Both world travelers, both lovers of whole grains and both down-to-earth in their approach to baking and cooking, they held three workshops during the Gathering: Waste Not!Toast: Whole Grain Pan Loaves; and Multi-Grain Baking: Cookies, Scones & Pie.
Naomi also delivered the first keynote address of the Gathering. Her talk was short on words and rich in images. Saying that she liked to think she traveled to cultures rather than countries, she proceeded to open our eyes to a wider world of grain beyond artisan bread as we know it in the West. She typically travels with her camera and a few lenses, most often with no interpreter or guide and relies on infra-verbal communication to connect with the people she meets. She takes almost no written notes, using her camera to record the ingredients and steps required for whatever dish or bread is being made in front of her.  As she writes in her blog, "Food is a thread that we can use to help understand others, in fact to help visualise ourselves in their place. Even as there are rocket launchers attacking, in Gaza or Syria, there are home cooks figuring out how to feed their families, and bakers heating their ovens to get the day’s bread baked. And that visualising of the daily food preparation, and family meals of others, in turn helps us remember that we are all on this planet together. It helps us have respect for the people we share the planet with, just as, when we were in primary school, we were all in the classroom together, with our differences and our difficulties, embarked on trying to understand what was going on and to learn." As each slide appeared on the large screen, Naomi commented on the person, the grain, the recipe, the location. She seemed to have total recall of each encounter and I marveled at the richness and diversity of the world she carries inside her head. I asked her for a few slides to share with you and she kindly sent the four I am posting below. Thank you, Naomi!

A woman making sushi in the village of Miyama, Japan...

A baker baking lavash in Masouleh, Iran...

Bakers baking sangak in Isfahan, Iran

Women crushing, grinding and winnowing barley to make a coarse bread which they will ferment to make thalla, a local beer, in Lalibela, Ethiopia

Dawn Woodward, aka Dawn-the-Baker, has impressive credentials as a baker (she was once head baker for Dan Leader at Bread Alone Bakery.) Watching her and Naomi at work, I was struck by their complementarity: for instance, Naomi is charmingly fuzzy about quantities (after all, most of the cooks and bakers she meets in her travels use neither scales nor cups or tablespoons) whereas Dawn weighs everything. But then Naomi is a writer and Dawn runs a cracker business. Naomi embraces variance, Dawn aims for consistency. No wonder they make a great pair of instructors.
Their first workshop was entitled Waste Not!. Being a firm believer in (and unconditional lover of) leftovers, I was looking forward to discovering new creative ways to use old bread. I don't know that I actually learned a lot (I am already using bread crumbs and croutons) but I had fun hearing what fellow leftover fans think up around the world.

Dedas Kharcho Not all the recipes came out as expected. The one I was most interested in, Dedas Kharcho (old bread frittata) turned out a bit wet and (to me) rather unappealing looking even though the taste was mostly all right. Such are the hazards of cooking in the open with unfamiliar local ingredients in front of a crowd. In the write-up for the recipe, Naomi says: "This traditional recipe from Georgia transforms old bread into succulent eating. Quantities are casual. Cubes of dried bread are tossed in hot oil with onions, then simmered in added water. Once they are tender, whisked egg is stirred in, to make a kind of frittata. The recipe was given to me by Dali, a woman of eighty-five ... who had worked for years as a chemist in the Soviet era then found herself out of work with no pension after the breakup of the USSR. Her garden is a marvel, and so is her pantry, filled with shelves of gleaming preserves." That tidbit of information awoke a cherished memory: my first husband's Danish grandmother used to make a tasty omelet with whipped eggs to which she added a spoonful or two of flour and lots of chives (aeggekage). Inspired by this beloved staple of family vacations in Denmark, I sometimes add a spoonful or two of surplus starter to my own frittatas (as well as anything leftover veggies I have on hand). Although I love having a use for my starter, next time I will try old bread. In a spirit of kinship with Dali,  I'll make croutons and see how the frittata turns out (I may toast the croutons a while longer and hold back on the water a bit). Having had a wonderful old Georgian friend in my young adulthood (he had escaped from Tiflis by boat in a cage - sadly I no longer remember the details -  when the Soviets invaded Georgia after the Revolution and made it to Paris via Istanbul), I love the idea of adding a Georgian recipe to my repertoire.

Austrian Knudel (soup dumplings) Check out the Waste Not! booklet for more recipes and flavors: I particularly like Dawn's m'hammara and fruit bars as well as the gazpacho, panzanella and garbure suggestions.

Kvass I almost forgot to mention that Naomi and Dawn brought to class some kvass they had made with leftover rye bread from the Bread Lab and that it was excellent. Judging from some of the faces in the audience when the jar made the rounds (for sniffing purposes), not everybody agreed with my assessment. Naomi explained that she and Dawn had put chunks of rye bread in a bowl, poured boiling water over it and let it soak overnight. Then they had drained it through a sleeve, tossed the rye and poured the liquid (which by then had a gorgeous smell) into a glass jar, added a little starter (yeast and a bit of lemon juice would do too), honey, a few raisins and some blueberries (because some happened to be available). They had let the mixture sit, loosely covered with cheesecloth in a warm place for about three days.  After draining it into a jug, they passed tiny goblets around. The fragrance was divine (I could definitely get high on it) and the taste remarkable but rather fierce. Definitely not for the faint of heart. Although I will try my hand at it one of these days, I'll most likely be the only one in my household to partake of it. Where tastebuds are concerned, the Man is courageux mais pas téméraire as we say in French (courageous but not foolhardy).

The next workshop, Toast: Whole Grain Pan Loaves, was mostly Dawn's baby.
She had spent a week at the Bread Lab over the winter working with Jonathan Bethony (the baker in residence) "to create whole grain pan loaves that would be ideal for toast."
She had baked a batch of three different breads prior the workshop, was proofing another to bake in the wood-fired oven while she demoed the hand-mixing of yet another one, which explains why the photos show doughs and loaves at various stages in the process.
Since she targets the farmers markets with her whole-grain toasts, she has come up with a bunch of tasty toppings which can be varied ad infinitum, depending on what's in season and on hand.
I strongly recommend checking out the Toast: Whole Grain Pan Loaves booklet where you'll find the recipes for all the loaves as well as ideas for more toppings.

Dawn and Naomi taught their last workshop Multi-Grain Baking: Cookies, Scones & Pie under a tent near the process lab in front of another, smaller, wood-fired oven, the main one having been commandeered by the pretzel workshop (which attracted a big crowd).
Of the three workshops, it was probably the most fun because of the instant gratification factor: Dawn and Naomi made a huge variety of goodies and baked them on the spot, which means we went from naked ingredients to happy tastebuds in the course of ninety minutes. My favorite was maybe the rye savory galette.
It was actually so popular that I barely reached the table in time to take a picture (and snatch a small piece) before it literally vanished in front of my eyes. The filling was hard-boiled eggs, sautéed green onions and a large amount of cooked tarragon and spinach.

Using a sweet version of the same dough, Dawn made a gorgeous and flavorful apple pie.

Dawn and Naomi next mixed and baked Ancient Durum (Kamut) Ginger Cookies...

...Barley Scones with Coffee & Molasses...

...Red Fife Tart with Pinenut-Cardamom Filling...

...and, last but not least, Buckwheat Cream Scones...
The scones were very tender. I wish I had been hungry enough by the time they came out of the oven to eat more than a large crumb. They looked tantalizing spread with butter!
As a possible variation, Dawn and Naomi suggested using a combination of cornmeal, rye and Red Fife, which they described as stunning. The basic idea is to give a free rein to your imagination, using grain as a flavor. Thumbs up to that suggestion!
I will post the link to the Multi-Grain Baking recipe booklet as soon as I get it. Meanwhile enjoy the pics! And thank you, thank you, thank you, Dawn and Naomi! The workshops must have been a lot of work but they surely reached their goal and broadened our horizons.

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YeastSpotting 8.30.14

Wild Yeast Blog - August 30, 2014 - 6:59pm
Loaves and Rolls, First Batch Loaves and Rolls, Second Batch Flat Breads, Sweet Breads, and More YeastSpotting is a periodic collective showcase of yeasted baked goods and dishes with bread as a main ingredient. For more bread inspiration, and information on how to submit your bread, please visit the YeastSpotting archive.

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The Grain Gathering 2014: Whole Grains Galore

Farine - August 30, 2014 - 2:20pm
Here are a few more images gleaned during the Gathering...

Wood-fired Pretzels with Jeffrey Hamelman from King Arthur Flour

Wood-fired bagels with Mark Doxtader from Tastebud Farm

Flatbreads from the Tandoor oven with Frank Milnard from Wood Stone Corporation
Cookies with Renee Bourgault from BreadFarm
Four Wheats, Four Miches and Four Madeleines with Jonathan Bethony from The Bread Lab and Dawn Woodward from Evelyn's Crackers
Quesadillas from Patty Pan Cooperative

Breads in Braids with Andrew Melzer

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 Coming up
  • Whole Grain Baking and Cooking Around the World with Naomi Duguid and Dawn Woodward
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The Grain Gathering 2014: Pizza Porn

Farine - August 29, 2014 - 6:05pm
I can't decide what I like best about wood-fired pizzas: the chewiness of the crust, the layer of melted cheese cushioning each bite, the flavor-imbued toppings, the caramelized edges...
...but I know that Mark Doxtader, owner of Tastebud Farm near Portland, Oregon and master pizza baker at last week's Grain Gathering, hit all the boxes on my list with whatever pizza came out of his traveling wood-fired oven (not that I actually tasted them all, there were so many different ones that I don't think anybody could have, but I breathed in their fragrance and I feasted on their rugged good looks and I got a pretty good idea of what they tasted like).
A former farmer (which is probably why the toppings are so fresh, diverse and creative), Mark is rumored to be planning a restaurant. For now though, you can find him, his pizzas and his bagels at the Portland Farmers Market on Saturdays and you'd better believe that when we have an opportunity to go back to Portland, I will try and make sure we hit that market.
I took a few pictures and I was going to post only those but when I saw the luscious ones my friend Gerry Betz took, I got such a bad case of the drool that I asked for permission to use his as well. Gerry is one half of the team of bakers at Tree-Top Baking in Clinton, Washington, and a talented photographer. Consider yourself warned, you are entering browse-at-your-own-risk territory! Thank you, Gerry!

I forgot to ask Mark what percentage of whole wheat he put in his dough but I am pretty sure it was substantial as the flavor of the crust was deep and complex. I have asked for the formula and I'll post it if/when I get it. Meanwhile, enjoy!

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The Grain Gathering 2014: Wood-Fired Artisan Bread with Richard Miscovich

Farine - August 27, 2014 - 9:13am
Richard Miscovich is the author of From the Wood-Fired Oven: New and Traditional Techniques for Cooking and Baking with Fire, a book you definitely want to check out if you haven't read it yet, even if you don't have access to a WFO (as is my case). WFO owners will love to find out how to make optimal use of their oven's heat cycle and serious home bakers (or anyone wishing to bake bread at home) will treasure the wealth of information it offers on mixing, fermenting, dividing, proofing, etc. I like it that the book is never dogmatic and that the reader feels Richard's presence every step of the way. In the fall of 2011, I had the privilege to attend a BBGA class he taught at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island (where he is an associate professor at the College of the Culinary Arts) and I remember being awed both by his teaching and by his baking. Needless to say, when I discovered he would be doing both at the Grain Gathering, I made a beeline for his workshop (although I unfortunately had to leave smack in the middle to attend a talk on natural leavening). The linearity of Time is indeed the scourge of the human condition, isn't it?

I love to watch professionals score their proofed loaves. It always reminds me of dancing. The movement starts before the lame (or blade) even touches the dough. As Richard explains in his book, "Ideally, the motion is continuous, with the moving blade cutting neatly through the dough and continuing on its trajectory." Another baker I know phrased it differently but the idea is the same: "The lame has to hit the ground running!"
The bread was 40% whole wheat. As you can see from the images below, it turned out beautifully even though it started over-proofing a bit out in the warm air: if you let your dough over-ferment, the yeast uses up all the sugar and there will be no caramelization. So the proofing baskets had to be carried back all the way through the orchards to the retarder in the lab and brought back out again when the oven reached the right temperature. Fermentation does go more quickly with whole grain (the bread was 40% whole wheat), a wet dough (hydration was at 82-85%) and warmer temperatures.
Richard uses a garden mister to steam his oven. Someone asked how much steam to use. The answer: "You know there is enough steam when you can no longer keep your hand inside the oven to add more!" It is important to bake in a humid environment because the bread expands more, the score marks open more fully and you get a really good color with shine. If you bake at home and don't have a wood-fired oven, Richard recommends using a cast-iron combo cooker or to bake on a hearth stone or a sheet pan with a large metal bowl inverted over your loaf for the first twenty minutes.
  For those of us who can't get to his classes, Richard mentioned he had a video out on Craftsy, Hand-made Sourdough - From starter to baked loaf. I haven't seen it yet.
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The Grain Gathering 2014 : In the garden of Eden

Farine - August 25, 2014 - 6:23pm
The 2014 Grain Gathering (formerly known as the Kneading Conference West) took place last week on the gorgeous grounds of Washington State University Agriculture Research Center in Mount Vernon, Washington. It was the fourth of these events and as we now live in California (I had sent in my registration long before I knew our move would be a done deal by the time mid-August came around), I truly thought, before flying up, that this one would probably be the last one for me.
After all, I do get it: eat locally and seasonally, be gentle with the landscape by favoring organic or at least environmentally friendly agricultural methods and always remember that farmers need to make a living too (after all, if there were no more farmers, there'd be nobody between us and Big Food, a thought too scary to contemplate). So I had more or less convinced myself that this year's event would be mostly a rehash and that having attended the first four ones, I was done!
Well, I am happy to say that I was wrong and that I flew home with dreams of the fifth Gathering dancing in my head! The name of the event was changed from Kneading Conference to Grain Gathering because, as Steve Jones (wheat breeder and Director of the Center as well as of the Bread Lab) puts it: "Nobody kneads anymore." Plus bakers are not the only ones interested in grain: farmers, millers, breeders, brewers, etc. flock to Mount Vernon as well. In fact, more than anything, the "gathering" dimension is what will keep me coming. I love the energy and dynamics of encounters with participants from all over (twenty American States, three Canadian Provinces, the United Kingdom and South Africa.) I love it that bread isn't the only focus, that classes, lectures and workshops on milling, malting, brewing, breeding, building earth ovens, transforming a stationary bike into a grain mill, etc... are all mobbed as well.
For an idea of the scope of the Gathering, you may want to take a look at the schedule. In an ideal world (where Time wouldn't exist or if it did, wouldn't be linear), I would have attended all classes, lectures, tours and workshops concurrently but as it is, I had to choose. So I forewent production baking (even though the workshop was run by two bakers I greatly admire, Mel Darbyshire from Grand Central Bakery in Seattle and Scott Mangold from Breadfarm in nearby Bow-Edison), the roundtable on the farmers' perspective, the one on milling and nutrition, the tour of the orchards and gardens, the visit to the wheat, barley and buckwheat fields, the talk on the science of bread, and many more that I won't  even mention because I feel bad for missing them all over again, but if you check out the program, you'll have a good idea of what I am talking about.
In the end I opted for workshops that spoke louder than others either to my imagination or to my practical side or more often than not, to both. I attended all three of Naomi Duguid and Dawn Woodward's instructive and stimulating demos on the use of whole grain in everyday baking and cooking. I watched Richard Miscovich score proofed loaves before loading them in a wood-fired oven (Richard is an extraordinary baker and instructor and seeing him work is both a teaching moment and an experience you are not likely to forget.) I only caught the tail-end of Jeffrey Hamelman's pretzel workshop but still, I arrived at the wood-fired oven in time to see him score the pretzels (or not as he said it was a matter of personal preference) and hear most of his account of the tough love teaching methods of his German baking instructor.
I listened to a very interesting presentation by two high school students who won first place in the food science category at the 2013 Washington State Science and Engineering Fair for their project on fermentation and gluten.
I attended a lecture on natural leavening which went largely over my head but gave me the great pleasure of finally meeting microbiologist Debra Wink and hooking up again with Andrew Ross, professor of crop and soil science and food science at Oregon State University. I spent time with beloved friends, connected with other bloggers, met bakers, writers and Facebook friends I had never seen in person before, I took part in the Bread Lab's tasting of four different wheat varieties, all grown in the Skagit Valley, and I ate my way through three days of the most seductive event food imaginable.

Peach and bacon pizza In between, I took pictures (or, shall I say, "gathered" images) with joyful abandon (making up for last year when my left arm was in a cast.) I will post some (okay, a lot) of them in the coming days. If there are any recipes you are specifically interested in on the basis of the photos, please let me know and I'll ask for permission to post them. As far as I know, no pizza recipe is available but from the look of the ones I saw, the only ingredient that appears absolutely necessary is a boundless imagination!

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