The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts


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Crazy for Bread
Updated: 22 hours 53 min ago

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

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

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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Categories: Blogs, The Bread Feed

The Grain Gathering 2014: Whole Grains Galore

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

Related posts
 Coming up
  • Whole Grain Baking and Cooking Around the World with Naomi Duguid and Dawn Woodward
Categories: Blogs, The Bread Feed

The Grain Gathering 2014: Pizza Porn

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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Categories: Blogs, The Bread Feed

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

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.
Categories: Blogs, The Bread Feed

The Grain Gathering 2014 : In the garden of Eden

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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Categories: Blogs, The Bread Feed

From the British Museum: how to make 2,000-year-old bread...

August 15, 2014 - 6:27pm

Video by the British Museum

For the recipe, click here
I love the string technique...  In the video, the baker says he's using buckwheat flour as the Romans did in those days but the list of ingredients in the posted recipe calls for equal amounts of spelt and whole wheat flour. Note that the bread is shaped right after mixing and that there is only one fermentation. Not a very long one at that, most likely because of the very large amount of starter and the use of wholegrain flours. No mention of steam to promote oven spring, probably because the bread found during the excavations looks quite flat. If you make the recipe at home, remember that the posted baking temperature (200°) is expressed in Celsius: it translates into 392°F.  The recipe lists gluten as an ingredient, which I find slightly odd. I can't imagine the Romans being in a position to supplement weak flour with gluten flour although, according to this article (scroll down to the paragraph titled Grains in Rome), they did favor high-gluten wheat. So maybe the added gluten is today's baker's way to approximate the wheat variety used in the original recipe. For more info on ancient Rome's access to grain, you may want to read Grain Supply to the city of Rome on Wikipedia.  Too bad the British Museum doesn't provide a crumb shot. I would have loved to see one. My guess is that the bread turned out rather dense.  What makes my head spin is the idea that a bread could stay in an oven for close to 2000 years... 

Categories: Blogs, The Bread Feed

Meet the Bakers: Dado and Jacqueline Colussi

July 29, 2014 - 9:15am

Photo credit: Nate Delage (thank you, Nate!) Despite having lived and worked in the Northeast for more than thirty years, I was caught by surprise when I disembarked from the plane in Chicago by a blustery April morning: after a few years in the temperate Seattle area, I seemed to have completely forgotten what real cold felt like. When I mentioned it to Jacqueline - who had come by train to meet me at Midway Airport - she laughed: "Cold? This isn't cold. To me this feels like spring already." Really? She was wearing a woolen coat and hat and a thick scarf was wrapped several times around her neck. I guess all is relative, including weather. I fished my own hat, scarf and gloves out of my backpack (Jacqueline had kindly forewarned me to come prepared) and proceeded to follow her to her and Dado's cozy home. Dado was baking pitas for lunch. It smelled delicious. I took out my camera and my notebook and we got to work, feasting as we talked. Such was the start of a glorious few days spent in this extraordinary couple's company...
As you may already know if you have been following this blog, Dado and Jacqueline Colussi are the creators and developers of BreadStorm, the bread formulation software which delivers bakers from spending much time on calculations (for more on why I am a huge fan of the program, please refer to my original BreadStorm post). We bakers are a astonishingly diverse crowd: some of us seem to have fallen into a mixing bowl before we even took their first steps, others become professional bakers after a career in business, academia, music, healthcare, the law, education, journalism, etc., others yet become passionate bread-bakers but keep their full-time other jobs. Jacqueline and Dado don't exactly fit into any of these categories: yes, they are passionate home bakers and yes, they have full-time jobs that, technically speaking, do not involve baking. Yet they make a living thinking about bread, more often than not twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week, and they bake as often and as much as they can.

Despite the fact that writing code doesn't come naturally to most people, Dado and Jacqueline clearly love doing the hard stuff. They also exhibit an obvious delight in working with ingredients and observing changes in their doughs. The pitas are a case in point. Watching them pop up in the oven, Dado says he feels like a five-year old all over again. "No computer screen can match that. We create bread so that we can get off the computer and spend time in the physical world. Our goal in creating BreadStorm was to reduce to a minimum the baker's need to use the computer so that he/she can go back to the dough as fast as possible and watch the pitas popping."
Dado was born to a Finnish mom and an Italian dad. He grew up in Finland but spent lots of time in Italy and the food in his home was a rich blend of two cultures. Dado recounts: "The seed of my interest in bread-baking was planted back in year 2000 in Italy. At a family friend's home, eating home-made pizza baked in an old wood-fired oven made a permanent impression on me. Then in 2004, when I was in graduate school in Germany, the sourdough made by a local baker knocked my socks off, I can still taste it today. A few years later at a friend's forest cottage in Finland, without really knowing what we were doing, Jacqueline and I had a chance to try to bake bread in a wood-fired oven together. It was a massive oven, built in the center of the cottage, to provide warmth throughout, and it had a hearth. The pizza we made came out well, but the bread was a doorstop. A total failure." In other words, a challenge...
Jacqueline and Dado had both been living in Stockholm for two years when they met. Cooking was a shared passion from the very beginning. Baking soon followed. But after several "doorstops," they realized that they had no understanding of what was going on and that guessing and improvising would only take them so far. They needed to get to the point where they could make informed decisions. They turned to books: Jacqueline felt especially inspired by Emily Buehler's Bread Science while Dado first discovered "bakers' math" in Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice. A curtain lifted: there was a system there and not only the wizardry of a prodigy baker.
Jacqueline and Dado come from different professional background but there is a palpable synergy between the two of them. Dado holds a master's degree in computer science, with a minor in math. He's been creating software professionally for the past seventeen years. One of his favorite past projects involved writing weather forecast broadcasting software for a television studio. He says: "I spend a lot of time thinking about how to make software easy for people to use. Many programmers work on systems which never talk to humans, but only to other programs, and that's what I did at the beginning. Then I became much more interested in humans actually using the computer." Around that time he met Jacqueline who had made it her profession to try and understand human/computer interaction. Talk about serendipity...
Jacqueline's background is mathematics, visual arts and dance. "Pure math was my major in college. After college I was looking for a way to blend my interests in math and visual arts. I was actively trying to find my way, when I met a vision scientist through one of my undergrad math professors. 'Vision scientist' -- that was a path I didn't know existed, and it intrigued me. After volunteering in a vision lab for some months, I decided to go for a Ph.D. in vision. And in the years I spent working on my Ph.D., I began to find my own intellectual places: designing experiments to collect data about how we humans process what we see, whether leisurely gazing at the scene in front of us, or reacting in high-risk situations (such as the air traffic controller guiding airplanes to prepare for landing safely at a busy airport); developing mathematical models to describe this behavior; and then exploring how we can apply this knowledge to build more intuitive, easy-to-use computer interfaces for tasks in our daily lives."
Like Dado, Jacqueline was exposed early to adventurous cross-cultural taste experiences : "I grew up in New Jersey baking bread for the family with my maternal grandma whose parents were from Croatia. But what with grad school and a postdoc job, all of which involved a lot of traveling for research purposes, I remained without regular access to a full kitchen for ten years. Looking back, I am not sure how I put up with that. I always hoped to get back to bread-baking..."
To offer a tool to bread-bakers is a joint effort propelled by Dado's and Jacqueline's urge to give back. "When I was in ninth grade," says Dado, "a neighbor of ours started a programming club. I joined it. It was very casual. We met every weekend. In retrospect that neighbor transformed my life. He helped him discover a passion for mastering the computer." As Jacqueline puts it, "were it not for other bakers in other parts of the world using BreadStorm and becoming part of the story, our job wouldn’t be nearly as compelling. We work in the context of a community."
BreadStorm's main idea is to let the human do what he or she does well, which is taking sensory input (temperature, consistency, texture, aromas, feel, look, response) and basing action on that, and to delegate to the computer what no human does with ease, which is computation. "Our brains have developed to respond to sensory stimuli in a way that no computer can (yet). So let’s use our brains for what they are good at and our computers for what they are good at."
The Colussis have been baking their own bread since the summer of 2008. "Dado and I have developed our own respective styles of amateur bread baking, which are complementary to one another, perhaps even symbiotic." Dado has come to love the rhythm of sourdough baking over the years: he makes two loaves of Chicago sourdough every week.
In addition he regularly experiments with other breads, for fun and to expand his repertoire: pitas, panettone, laminated doughs, rieska (a Finnish potato flatbread), etc. During my stay, he experimented making his signature Chicago Sourdough with two different flours (all-purpose and bread) and baked lovely and tasty Karelian pies (with a mostly rye crust and either a rice or a mashed potato filling).
Jacqueline's bread-baking is for the most part driven by her interest in formula development: "I come at a bread in an analytical way, question myself about the role of each ingredient and its percentage, and then develop-bake-develop-bake-develop-etc, sometimes a dozen times or more, until a formula becomes stable (some would say "well balanced") in my hands. I like to bake breads that challenge me to hone my formula-development skills. In this vein, I like to work with soakers and enriched doughs." She bakes bagels once a week.
For my benefit, she went all out and also made beautiful egg breads...
...farro fruit and nut pull-apart rolls...
...and a walnut bread.
To say I was extraordinarily lucky to be spending time with Dado and Jacqueline is to put it mildly. Not only they are terrific hosts but they are lots of fun. We took long walks, went to the Art Institute...
...attended a meeting of the Chicago Amateur Bread Bakers, a group they founded in January 2011,  rode the elevated train...

(The tracks and buildings were not really tilting. I was just having fun with double exposures).
...had breakfast at La Fournette...
...roamed the streets...
But mostly we talked, I watched them cook and bake and we ate. They gave me tasks to perform with BreadStorm, both on my laptop and on the iPad, and documented my thought processes and actions. The experience was an eye-opener both for them and for me: I could see they were intrigued (maybe dismayed but if so, they hid it well!) by the way my brain worked and I was awed both by their methodical and rigorous approach and by the way their minds seemed to complement one another. "“Hey, Dado, I’d like to borrow your brain for a second!" Jacqueline makes a point, Dado listens attentively, thinks for a while and off they go, debating the best way to resolve an issue or answer a question. In a way, Dado is the chief engineer and she is the CEO. "There are levels of abstraction: down deep it is highly geeky. At the top there is a human being with his or her desires, aspirations, limitations, etc. Dado is firmly on the low level. I am more on top. We meet in the middle."

Dado and Jacqueline generously allowed me to publish the formulas for all the breads they made during my stay with them. For ease of reference each of them is posted in a separate post:

Dado's Chicago Sourdough (all-purpose and bread flour versions)
Dado's Pita
Dado's Dough for Karelian Pies
Jacqueline's Egg Bread
Jacqueline's Bagels
Jacqueline's NYC Deli-Style Farro, Fruit and Nut Pull-Apart Rolls
Jacqueline's Walnut Flax Seed Boule

What with the move and other obstacles life has thrown my way, I haven't had much time to bake lately but when I do, I'll be sure to go down the list and recreate these breads for our own enjoyment. I had such a good time eating them the first time around. Thank you, Dado and Jacqueline! And if the breads don't come out of my oven as lovely and tasty as yours, I will definitely keep your observation in mind: "A failure is an opportunity to learn. A wonderful aspect of bread-baking is that there is always more to learn and that is true for all of us. There are so many unanswered questions and so many questions yet to be asked."
Categories: Blogs, The Bread Feed

Dado Colussi's Chicago Sourdough

July 29, 2014 - 9:15am
Chicago Sourdough Bread baked by Dado during my stay
Related post: Meet the Bakers: Jacqueline and Dado Colussi
Dado's Chicago Sourdough with Bread Flour
Dado's notes
Scaling note: I like to scale this formula to 500g of total flour.

1. Dissolve the starter in the water.
2. Add the flour, and mix until homogeneous. Let ferment for 12 hours at room temperature (approximately 20ºC/68ºF).

3. Dissolve the levain in the Final Mix water.
4. Add the bread flour, and the whole-wheat flour, and mix until homogeneous. Let rest for 30 minutes.

5. Add salt to the dough, then stretch and fold.
6. Ferment for 2 hours and 30 minutes at room temperature, or until mature.
7. Stretch and fold twice at 50-minute intervals.

8. Preshape into a boule. Let the dough rest for 15 minutes.
9. Shape into a boule or batard, and place on a piece of baking paper.
10. Proof for 45-60 minutes.

11. Preheat the oven to 260ºC/500ºF.
12. Transfer the bread into a pre-heated Dutch oven.
13. Bake for 15 minutes, covered with a lid.
14. Remove the lid, and reduce the oven temperature to 230ºC/445ºF, and bake for another 30 minutes.

15. Transfer the bread to a cooling rack, and let the bread cool for a few hours before slicing.

Crumb from the Chicago Sourdough bread baked by Dado during my stay
My observations
  • Dado doesn't go for a specific dough temperature: he uses room temperature water as he has no way to keep his dough warmer than room temperature after mixing anyway
  • He usually bakes in a Dutch oven but during my stay, as he experimented baking with two different types of flour (bread and all-purpose) and his oven wasn't big enough for two Dutch ovens, he improvised an interesting "cloche": he made a stack of large books to the dimensions of his oven, he carefully covered those books with foil, and when he lifted the shaped foil, he had a home-made steam chamber with which he covered his two loaves after placing them in the oven.

  • Dado relies on gravity to fold his dough ("air-folding")
I won't expand on Dado's experiment with the two kinds of flour as it wasn't conclusive: at the folding and shaping stages, the all-purpose flour dough was strikingly more extensible than the bread flour one but the oven rise turned out to be better with the bread flour. Dado didn't put much stock in the difference which he attributed to oven hotspots. He gets pretty stable results when he bakes in his Dutch oven.
The folding pictures above show the bread flour dough. The ones below show the all-purpose one. Same percentages, same weights. Notice the difference?

Using the starter Dado kindly gave me to take back (see Prairie Loaf), I made his Chicago Sourdough bread (with all-purpose flour) when I got home.
Dado's Chicago Sourdough with All-purpose Flour I was very pleased with the results. An excellent bread for everyday eating...

Categories: Blogs, The Bread Feed

Jacqueline's Bagels

July 29, 2014 - 9:15am

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Jacqueline's Bagels Jacqueline's notes
  • Scaling to 250 grams of total flour yields 4 bagels of approximately 100g each.
  • Shaped bagels may be cold-fermented for up to 48 hours, before boiling and baking.
  •  Before baking, simmer bagels in water for 45 seconds on one side, 45 seconds on the other. While wet, set bagels face down in a plate of sesame seeds, to thoroughly coat one side of each bagel with seeds.
  • Bake at 425F for 20-25 minutes. They're done when they begin to blush like peaches.
My notes
  • Jacqueline bakes bagels weekly to try and perfect her routine.
  • For reasons I can't fathom, I seem to have lost the pictures and videos I took of said routine except for this one:
  • Jacqueline sent me on my trek back home (I had a very long layover somewhere between Chicago and Seattle) with several homemade treats, including one of these plump little breads. It brought back memories of our life back in New York when we had fresh bagels from an old-fashioned artisan bagel store every Saturday and Sunday. When the baker retired and sold to a chain, the bagels stopped (for us). Thank you Jacqueline for making me a Proustian bagel!
Categories: Blogs, The Bread Feed

Jacqueline's NYC Deli-Style Farro, Fruit, and Nut Pull-apart Rolls

July 29, 2014 - 9:15am
Related posts:
Jacqueline's NYC Deli-Style Farro, Fruit, and Nut Pull-apart Rolls Jacqueline's notes

Formula inspired by organic Bluebird Grain Farms emmer farro gifted to us by MC.

* Scaling this formula to 250 g of total flour yields 11 rolls of approximately 85 grams each.
* I like to bake the rolls packed loosely together in a round springform pan of diameter 23cm (9 inch). The rolls gently grow together when proofing and baking, to form a pretty disk of pull-apart rolls.
  1. Combine farro with its water. Bring to a boil. Simmer for 50 minutes. Cool.
  2. Boil water for oat-raisin soaker. Pour water over oats and raisins. Cover and set aside for 30 minutes or until cool
  3. Sift together Final Mix flours, salt, and yeast.
  4. Combine the 2 soakers with Final Mix water and molasses. Mix gently.
  5. By hand, gently knead the soaker mixture into the dry ingredients, until the dough comes together. It will be a bit sticky.
  6. Gently mix in whole hazelnuts.
  7. 7. Bulk ferment dough for 1 hour at room temperature.
  8. Divide the dough into pieces of approximately 85g.
  9. Dust baker's bench with a generous helping of whole wheat flour. Roll each piece of dough in the flour to coat its surface; this will make shaping this sticky dough easier, as well as encourage a rustic texture on the surface of the rolls.
  10. Gently de-gas and shape each roll into a tiny boule.
  11. Loosely pack rolls into a springform pan, so that they don't quite touch one another. (They will grow together as they proof and bake.)
  12. Cover springform pan tightly and cold ferment overnight.
  13. In the morning, bring rolls to room temperature. Pre-heat oven to 425F.
  14. Bake rolls with steam for 10 minutes, then 10 minutes without steam.
My notes
  • The formula was also inspired by pull-apart rolls Jacqueline used to buy from a deli when she lived in New York City (hence the name).
  • Oven space is at a premium when both Dado and Jacqueline are baking and Jacqueline's organizational skills come in handy. She knows which dough can wait and which has to be baked immediately when proofed and she plans accordingly. Dado had barely taken his Chicago Sourdough loaves out of the oven that the farro rolls went in: the percentage of molasses, the raisins, the high hydration, all conspired to make the dough super active.
  • Jacqueline used osmotolerant yeast, a yeast developed for use with sweet doughs (10% or more sugar).
  • The rolls were lovely, perfect for breakfast or an afternoon snack.
Categories: Blogs, The Bread Feed

Jacqueline's Egg Bread

July 29, 2014 - 9:15am
Related posts:
Easter was in the air the week I visited with Dado and Jacqueline Colussi in Chicago and Jacqueline baked these two gorgeous breads with the holiday in mind. She used beets to color the eggs. The formula is one of the sample ones included with the BreadStorm software.
Jacqueline's Egg Bread Jacqueline's notes
  • I find scaling the yield to 650 g is a nice size for a 3- or 4-strand braided loaf. 
  • Syrup: In a saucepan, combine the butter, milk, water, sugar, and salt. Cook over low heat until the butter is melted, and the sugar and salt are dissolved. Set aside to cool.
  • Egg Mixture: Whisk together the eggs and sour cream. Set aside.
  • Dry Ingredients: Sift together the flour and the yeast. 
  • Mixing: Once the syrup has cooled to room temperature, whisk it into the egg mixture. Add this mixture to the dry ingredients. Mix well, then knead vigorously by hand for 5 minutes, or until gluten develops.
  • Bulk Fermentation: Cover the dough with a cloth. Ferment for 1 hour. Punch down. Ferment for a second hour. 
  • Shaping: The dough is ideal for braiding, and works well as a 2-strand twist, or a 3-, 4-, or 5-strand braid. 
  • Proofing: Proof the loaf under a cloth for 30 minutes to 3 hours, depending on the ambient room temperature.
  • Pre-heating: Pre-heat the oven to 425˚F (220˚C). 
  • Egg Wash: With a fork, whisk together the egg yolk, a pinch of salt, and a few drops of water. Just before baking the loaf, brush it with egg wash up to 3 times. This will give the loaf a shiny, mahogany crust. (Leftover egg wash can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.)
  • Baking: Just before placing the loaf in the oven, reduce the oven temperature to 380˚F (195˚C). Bake for 25-35 minutes, depending on the size of the loaf. Cool completely before slicing.
My notes
  • Jacqueline's egg bread is based on a taste memory (her grandma used to make it). She wanted consistency of a challah without the kosher constraints. So there are eggs and butter in it.
  • Jacqueline likes to experiment with different sugars. In this version of the egg bread, she used muscovado sugar (which explains the pale brown color of the dough). She normally uses 16% turbinado sugar. She seems to remember that she reduced the sugar amount to 10% in this version because the muscovado is much more flavorful than the turbinado but it could have been 12%.
  • The eggs were dyed with beet dripping (from peeling cooked beets). Jacqueline hard-boiled them in that liquid with a splash of vinegar.
  • Jacqueline found the dough stickier than usual. Maybe because muscovado sugar absorbs water differently?
  • She used the Craig Ponsford technique of egg-washing the proofed loaves dough three times, letting them dry in between. The method locks the steam in and yields a gorgeous gloss.

Categories: Blogs, The Bread Feed

Jacqueline's Walnut Flax Seed Boule

July 29, 2014 - 9:15am
Walnut Flax Seed Boule baked by Jacqueline during my stay
Related posts:
Jacqueline's Walnut Flax Seed Boule Jacqueline's notes

* I find scaling the yield to 650 g is a nice size for a medium-size boule.
* I usually don't score this loaf, as it doesn't seem to require help expanding in the oven. Perhaps the milk, honey, and walnut oil tenderize the dough, allowing it to expand evenly in the oven without ripping.

  1. Boil the water. Combine the water and oats. Cover and set aside for 30 minutes. The oats will absorb water and soften, so the crumb will be soft and tender.
  2. Chop the walnuts. In a frying pan, toast the walnuts over low heat until they become fragrant. For best flavor, remove the walnuts immediately from the hot pan. Set them aside to cool. 
  3. Check that the soaker has cooled.  (If it's too hot, it may harm or kill the yeast. To test whether it's cool enough, you should be able to comfortably leave a finger in the soaker for 10 seconds.) 
  4. In a large bowl, combine the soaker and all other ingredients. Knead by hand until you can feel the gluten coming together.
  5. Add the walnuts and flax seeds to the dough. Mix gently and thoroughly.
  6. Cover the dough. Ferment it overnight in the refrigerator.
  7. In the morning, shape the dough into a boule and proof it for 2-3 hours at room temperature. Pre-heat the oven to 460˚F (240˚C).
  8. Bake the loaf for 20 minutes at 460˚F (240˚C), then for another 25 minutes at 430˚F (220˚C).

My notes
  • This formula is part of the sample formulas included with the BreadStorm software.
  • Jacqueline made the bread on that particular day with fine whole wheat form Fairhaven Organic Flour Mill in Washington State which I had given her. As she was mixing it, she reflected that the dough was much drier than it is with the organic whole wheat from Bob's Red Mill which she normally uses. She had to up the hydration to 82.5%. Different flours absorb water differently, so she was expecting having to adjust the hydration. She started by adding 1% water and increased the amount incrementally to 2.5% (8 g) until she got the consistency she was looking for.
  • A lovely bread with a nutty flavor. The taste of the grain shines through as well.
Categories: Blogs, The Bread Feed

Dado's Dough for Karelian Pies

July 29, 2014 - 9:14am

Related posts:
Dado's Dough for Karelian Pies Dado's notes

Karelian pies are traditionally filled with one of two fillings: leftover mashed potatoes, or leftover sweet-rice porridge.

1. In a bowl, mix all ingredients. The dough will be firm.
2. Shape the dough into a cylinder (shaped like a rolling pin, with diameter approximately 4 cm).
3. Cut slices from the cylinder that weigh about 15 grams each.
4. Use a rolling pin that's tapered on the ends to roll the slices into thin disks, each with a diameter of approximately 10-15 cm.
5. Put some filling in the center, and fold the sides in, nipping the folds into the traditional wave shape.
6. Bake at 300ºC/575ºF (or higher) for 5-7 minutes.
7. Brush with melted butter before they cool.
8. Store in the refrigerator in airtight containers for up to 10 days.

Jacqueline's comments

  • The rice pies are filled with a porridge made of 100% sweet rice to 250% milk to 250% water. We buy the rice at our local Vietnamese market.
  • The potato pies are filled with mashed potatoes (made as rich or as lean as one likes when it comes to milk, butter, and cream).
  • The pies are served with a sauce made of chopped hard-boiled egg mixed with butter. The ratio is to one's taste. Dado and I usually prefer it light on the butter.
My notes
  • These little pies are utterly addictive and I can't decide whether I like the potato ones or the rice ones better. Definitely a must-make!

Categories: Blogs, The Bread Feed

Dado's Pita

July 29, 2014 - 9:14am
Pita breads made by Dado during my stay Related posts:
Dado's Pita Dado's notes and suggestions:

Scaling the formula to a yield of 420g gives four pitas of approximately 100g each.
  1. Mix all the ingredients until they are fully amalgamated. Let rest for 30 minutes.
  2. Stretch and fold. Let ferment for 60 minutes.
  3. Divide the dough into pieces of 100 g.
  4. Put the pieces on a sheet, and cover with plastic, to avoid crust from developing.
  5. Put the sheet in the refrigerator for 12-36 hours.
  6. Preheat the oven to 260 ºC (500 ºF).
  7. Dust the counter with a generous amount of flour.
  8. Shape each piece into a flat thin disk (this takes practice, don't give up after first failures!).
  9. Let the pieces proof for 20-30 minutes.
  10. Transfer the pieces onto a baking stone, and bake for about 5 minutes
  11. Let the pitas cool down for 5 minutes, before filling them with all manner of goodness. In our house, we like to stuff them with ten tasty ingredients: homemade hummus, leaves of fresh spinach, shaved carrot, thickly sliced red cabbage, thinly sliced red onion, sliced hardboiled eggs, grilled slices of Cypriot haloumi cheese, chopped parsley, tahini (drizzled), and olive oil (drizzled).
Categories: Blogs, The Bread Feed