The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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Oven Steam Venting

Many of us get rather, well, steamed, about our inability to produce steam in our home ovens.  Some good techniques have been posted here on TFL.  While I doubt that any of us will be able to produce anything close to the blast of steam that commercial ovens can provide, we may be able to do better than we think we can.

The few seconds of video, above, show steam venting from my electric oven.  From all appearances, nothing much was going on inside the oven.  From the outside, it is evident that quite a bit of steam is present as it hits the room-temperature air, cools, condenses, and becomes visible.  Despite the apparent velocity of the steam exiting the vent, the oven fan is not turned on.  The background noise is the fan in the vent hood above the oven, which has no effect on the rate of steam production or egress from the oven.

My steaming set-up is extremely low tech: a broiler pan on a shelf below the baking stone.  It is preheated along with the oven and stone.  When I'm ready to load the bread, I pour a cup of boiling water into the pan.  A lot of the water flashes instantly to steam.  (I stay well out of the way of the erupting steam!)  The bread is loaded as quickly as possible and the oven door is closed.  Within seconds, I start seeing the steam wafting out of the oven vent.  Needless to say, I won't be blocking the vent; I don't want that steam finding its way into the electronics.

So, nothing new here, really; just an observation that confirms both steam generation and steam venting.  


pmccool's picture

I've begun fiddling with Scottish Oat Cakes.  They are a bit of a departure from my usual yeasted bread baking.  What makes it tricky is that I really don't know what my target is; I suppose I may have to wait for our trip to Scotland and Ireland this summer to see whether I'm on the right track.

There are probably several thousand "traditional" Scottish oat cakes recipes.  That doesn't include all the Canadian variations on the theme, nor the more pancake-like versions.  At it's simplest, an oatcake is a mixture of oatmeal (ground, not flaked), water, and fat that is baked on a baking stone or "girdle" over an open fire.  It is sturdy, hearty fare that can underpin savory or sweet foods.  Having sampled them, I wonder if this was the inspiration for Tolkien's lembas, the Elfen waybread that was so sustaining.  Literary musings aside, the oatcake is the precursor to the scone, which was also orginally baked on a girdle (I'm going to switch to the American "griddle" for the rest of this post).  Nowadays there are recipes for both oatcakes and scones that are oven-baked instead of griddled.

Here in the States, the stone-ground variety of oatmeal is very hard to come by and ridiculously expensive.  We are very accustomed to calling rolled oats "oatmeal".  I chose to exercise two different options for this first go-around.  First, I ground some hulled oats, using the KitchenAide grain mill attachment.  (My wife had found one back in February at a kitchen shop that was going out of business for a price that was substantially less than list price.)  Second, I used our food processor to grind some rolled oats into a faux meal.  I thought that would give me a good idea of both the handling and flavor characteristics of each.

The recipe I worked from is as follows:

  • 1 cup medium oatmeal
  • 2 pinches baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 teaspoons melted fat (bacon fat, if available)
  • 3/4 tablespoon hot water
  • Additional oatmeal for rolling

Let me say right up front that I believe there is a typographical error in the formula.  It seems to me that the 3/4 tablespoon of water should be 3-4 tablespoons of water.  I know that I had to use substantially more than the recipe quantity to achieve a workable consistency.  The process is simple: combine the dry ingredients, then add the fat and water and mix until a stiff paste results.  You want to work quickly with this so that the dough doesn't cool significantly, which makes handling more difficult.  Roll the dough to approximately 1/4 inch thickness on an oatmeal-covered surface.  Cut into 3-inch rounds with a biscuit cutter.  Re-roll the scraps and repeat until all dough is used.  Cook on a griddle over medium heat, 3 minutes per side.  Each batch made 6 oatcakes.

Here's the finished product, ground rolled oat version on the left, oatmeal version on the right:


As prepared, the cakes were soft (in an authoritative way), rather than crisp.  They want plenty of liquid to wash them down; a large bite tends to stick to the teeth while chewing.  The oatmeal version was a hands-down winner over the rolled oats version in the flavor category.  That may not be entirely fair, since I was already won over by the fragrance of the freshly-ground oatmeal as it came out of the mill.  I've tried them with fruit preserves and they are delicious.  I haven't yet tried them with savory accompaniments but can see how they would play very nicely with cheese or smoked meats.  It's difficult to say what, if anything, the baking powder contributed.  There's no acid component for it to react with, so these are not light little puffs.  They are rib-sticking food that can fuel some hard work.  

If anyone with first-hand experience with oatcakes wants to weigh in, I'd love to hear your input.  That help me gauge what I have so far and what might need to change.


pmccool's picture

The past two weeks have been rather more demanding than usual.  We had gone to Colorado Springs to visit our youngest daughter's family for the Easter weekend.  We were just a few minutes away from their house when my brother-in-law called to let us know that he had taken my mother-in-law to ER; her cancer that had been diagnosed a year and a half previously was causing new complications.  We decided to cut our visit short and drive back to Kansas on Easter Sunday.  The following morning, April 1, my wife flew to Traverse City, MI, to be with her mother.  On Tuesday evening, April 2, my wife called to let me know that her mother had just died.  While we knew it was coming, the circumstances made it a surprise; even for, or perhaps especially for, her physicians.  I drove from KC to TC in a little more than 15 hours on Wednesday, April 3, to be with my wife and other members of her family.  The funeral was Saturday, April 6.

We had planned to be in Michigan this week to help my brother and sister clear out the family farmhouse / garage / shop to make the place ready for renters, since my dad moved into an assisted living facility at the beginning of the year.  Since I was already there, I stayed put to help with that process last week instead of making another trip home and back again.  Meanwhile, my wife and her family were working to close up her mother's apartment.  I flew back to KC on Saturday, leaving the car in Michigan for my wife.  She intends to stay until her mother's interment.  For those of you not acquainted with Michigan winters, sometimes the snow is too deep and the ground too frozen to permit the opening of a grave.  This is one of those years.

Today has been a catching up kind of day: laundry, ironing, yard work, and so on.  Thankfully, I needed bread.  The therapeutic value of the making is every bit as great as the nutritional value of the eating.

Since my starter was in need of some therapy of its own, and since time didn't really allow for extended pre-ferments, I wanted a yeasted, straight dough style bread that would fit in with the other tasks of the day.  That put me in mind of Bernard Clayton's The Complete Book of Breads, which has oodles of breads like that.  And since I wanted something with plenty of whole grains, I thumbed through the multi-grain breads section of the book until I happened upon Sennecbec Hill bread.  It's a bread I've made a number of times before, but probably not in the past 3-4 years.  It contains rolled oats, corn meal, rye flour, and whole wheat flour; along with enough bread flour to tie everything together.  It is fragrant with molasses, which also contributes to a rich brown crust and crumb.  It makes a dandy sandwich bread or toast.

The recipe in the book, and at this site, is written with volumetric measures.  Don't go bad-mouthing Mr. Clayton; at the time he wrote the book, American cooks and bakers weren't acquainted with the notion of using scales to weigh their ingredients.  For those of you who are still on the fence about transitioning from volume measurements to weight measurements, here's a gentle nudge.  All of the measurement items in the photo below were required for the recipe, as written.  All of them had to be washed afterward.  If the recipe was in weight measurements, you wouldn't have to use, or wash, any of them.  That's right, scales save dishwashing!  Even if you don't believe that using weight measurements will improve your baking experience (it will!), cutting down on the number of dishes to wash up should be a motivation to switch.


The process for this bread is dead simple: stir ingredients together as directed.  Mix in bread flour until you have a "firm" (Clayton's word) dough.  Knead.  That's the tricky part with this bread.  The molasses, oats, rye and whole wheat flours make for a sticky dough.  There's a tendency to want to keep adding flour until the stickies go away.  Don't.  Do.  That.  Leave it somewhat sticky.  Better to have gloopy hands while kneading (assuming that you hand knead) than a dry, crumbly brick of a loaf.  I switched from a traditional push-turn-fold-push form of kneading to slap and folds as a means of continuing kneading when I gauged that more flour would be too much but the dough was still sticking to the countertop.  The dough was a bit stiff for this method but wound up responding well.  The aforesaid rolled oats, rye, and cornmeal mean that you want to have the gluten structure well established in the dough so that it can stand up to those unhelpful constituents.

Park the kneaded dough in a greased and covered bowl until it doubles in volume; sort of like this:


Then tip the dough out of the bowl onto the countertop and gently degas it.  Shape into two loaves and place them in greased loaf pans.  I weighed the loaves to make sure that they were equally sized.  They each weighed 1 pound 13.5 ounces, which makes for a nice, full pan with 9x5 loaf pans.  This is how they looked at this stage:


After covering them with plastic wrap, I was off to mow the yard.  When I checked back in later, they were ready to bake:


The critical reviewer will no doubt notice that those loaves are more than doubled in volume; probably closer to tripled.  This is a sturdy dough and is able to stand up to that kind of expansion without collapsing.  Nevertheless, I was very gentle while placing the pans in the preheated oven.  The finished loaves did not exhibit any signifiicant oven spring; no surprise there.  Neither did they show any sign of collapse, which means that they hadn't gone across the line to overproofing.


Pictures of the crumb will have to wait until tomorrow.  The house smells wonderful and I anticipate tasty sandwiches for this week's lunches.


Update: Crumb pic.  Fairly open, considering the rolled oats, corn meal, whole wheat, and rye flour.  At the same time, a nice, even crumb that's great for sandwiches.

pmccool's picture

Most of my bread for the past couple of weeks has come from the freezer, rather than from the oven.  That's a good thing in that the freezer needs to be cleared out but not so satisfying as baking.  It also means that I've had a pretty steady diet of rye bread.  Again, that's a good thing but it was time for a change of pace and taste.

What I wanted was something wheaty, something sourdough.  I turned to Hamelman's Bread and came across the formula for his Vermont Sourdough with Wheat.  That didn't quite do it for me, since it simply swaps out the small amount of rye flour in the standard Vermont Sourdough for an equally small quantity of whole wheat flour.  After a second scan of the ingredients, it occurred to me that I could use equal quantities of bread flour and whole wheat flour, along with 1 ounce of rye flour, to make up the flour bill for the bread.  That would let me keep most of the qualities that have made Vermont Sourdough so beloved by many while satisfying my craving for a thoroughly wheaty bread.

The rest of the process was very much by the book, with two exceptions.  First, everything was mixed by hand, so as to avoid straining my KitchenAide mixer (and because I really, really like to have my hands in the dough).  Second, the whole wheat flour in the bread is from the Great River Milling Company.  It is a very fine-textured flour and it has a high protein content; a bit north of 14%, if memory serves.  I very much enjoy the Great River flour and hope that Costco continues to carry it.  As written, the formula is 65% hydration.  My first guess was that I would have to bump that up to 70% to accomodate the flour's  moisture absorption.  As it turned out, hydration had to be increased to 72% just to moisten all of the flour for the autolyze.  While kneading the final dough, still more water was added, bringing the final hydration closer to 75%.  It could have handled even more water without getting gloppy but I had enough to make a manageable dough that wasn't too stiff.

Since the temperature in my kitchen was around 65F and since I didn't want to be baking at 2 a.m., I used my Brod & Taylor proofer to keep everything at a comfy 75F for both the bulk and final ferments.  That resulted in the dough doubling in volume in just 3-4 hours, which fit very nicely around the errands that had to be run on Friday.

More for appearance than anything else, I rolled the shaped dough in bran before the final ferment.  Chef Hamelman's baking instructions produce a boldly baked loaf.  The bran made a nice highlight against the deep mahogany color of the crust.


Given the 15 minutes of kneading, and the not-massive hydration level, the crumb is fairly even and smooth but not tight.  Since the intended use is for sandwiches, it works better than a very open crumb that allows condiments to drip all over one's clothing.

The flavor is exactly what I was jonesing for: wheat!  The dark crust contributes plenty of caramel and toffee notes, with a hint of chocolate in the background.  The crumb is firm and chewy, while remaining moist and cool.  No squishy marshmallow bread, this.  It is robust and makes a substantial base for sandwiches.  

It's back to the freezer after this disappears but for now, life is very good.


pmccool's picture

Today was, well, not your ordinary Saturday.

Instead, the morning was spent in the company of 9 beginning bakers, ages 5-9 (and their adult "assistants").  Off-hand, I'd estimate more of the bakers were closer to the age 5 end of scale.  There were three dad/daughter combos, a couple of grandmothers with grandson or granddaughter, and the rest were mom and child.  All in all, some really nice kids.  We baked two different breads; one a cheese and onion scone (some opted not to use the onions) and the other a Cape Seed Loaf.  

One of the things we talked about was the importance of bubbles, and how those make the difference between a risen bread and a flatbread.  We talked about how sometimes we make bubbles in bread using a reaction between baking powder or baking soda and some kind of acid (a la the scones), and how we let growing plants (yeast) make the bubbles for us (as in the Cape Seed Loaf).  And we covered a lot of other territory, too.  Like, "What do you do when you make a mistake?"  Luckily, I had a real-life mistake to point to: someone, probably the assistant I have yet to hire, had forgotten to include the onions in the scones that were baked for demonstration and snacking purposes.  That gave us the chance to talk about how mistakes can often be corrected or, if they can't, that they usually taste good anyway.  And it gave a good segue to talk about mise en place.  Lots and lots of teachable moments.

After I demonstrated the scones, including the kind of textures that they should be looking for, the chef/assistant teams took their places at their work stations.  The kids had fun cutting the butter into the dry ingredients for the scones.  Some also plunged hands-first into mixing in the buttermilk/egg mixture with nary a thought of "Ooh!  Icky!"  And no, that wasn't just the boys.  One young chef said she would prefer not to cut up the dough into scones, so we baked hers as a bannock.  Once we bundled all of the scones into the ovens, we took a breather to talk about what we had just done and to answer some questions.  Someone asked about oven temperatures and their effects.  Once again, we drew on a real life example (not a mistake!) to show how the scones that were baked on the bottom shelf of the oven were darker than the scones baked on the middle and top shelves of the oven, indicating that that specific oven was hotter at the lower level than it was in the upper levels. 

From that, we moved to a demonstration of the Cape Seed Loaf, which is simplicity in itself.  Though yeasted, it is a batter bread.  All one has to do is mix everything together, scrape it into a greased baking pan, let it rise 20-30 minutes, then bake it.  Because of time restraints, the young chefs needed to bake the bread at home.  Two who weren't able to do so simply mixed all of the dry ingredients together and bagged them for later final mixing and baking.  For the others, we made sure to mix the batter with ice water to slow the yeast growth, which, I hope, gave them time enough to get home to bake the bread before it over-proofed.

It was a very busy, active morning.  I'm interested to see if the hockey game we will go to with friends this evening will be as stimulating.


pmccool's picture

This past Friday, I taught a class on rye breads at the Culinary Center of Kansas City.  The class was scheduled to run from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.  Three different breads were featured: the rustic pumpernickel from ITJB, Eric's fav rye (compliments of the late Eric Hanner), and a vort limpa.  That gave a nice sampling of the diversity of rye breads.  We were able to bake both the pumpernickel and the vort limpa during class; students then took the dough for Eric's fav rye with them to bake at home.

I had had some concerns about the drawing power of a full-day class on a week day.  As it turned out, all 20 slots were taken, with a waiting list in case of any cancellations.  So, yes, there is enough interest, in spite of the schedule.  No doubt the inclusion of a $20 gift certificate for Pryde's of Westport, a local kitchen supply store, figured favorably, too.

A number of the students were familiar to me from previous classes, which makes for a pleasant time.  Based on what I saw and heard, and what came through on the feedback forms, it was a fun day for the students as well as for me.  Most were new to rye breads and to sourdough, so they were pleased to gain some new experience and to receive some starter to take home to use for future baking.

One of the Center's requirements is that the instructor provide food for the students.  In the case of an evening or half-day class, that is typically something to snack on; usually whatever is being made in the class.  In the case of an all-day class like this one, it is lunch.  It was a no-brainer to plan lunch around the three breads being taught.  That led to cold cuts and condiments and pickles/olives/peppers, with fresh fruit for dessert.  

Consequently, I needed to bake bread ahead of time to have it ready for the lunch of Friday.  That worked well, since it also did double duty as object lesson so that people could see the finished product, too.

If you have baked the rustic pumpernickel from ITJB, you know that it is dark and dense and fragrant with rye.  There's no molasses, coffee, cocoa, or caramel color in it, nor does it have a prolonged bake.  My belief is that the scald contributes strongly to the dark coloring and the moistness of the finished bread.  Then, too, all I can find in local supermarkets is Hodgson Mills stone-ground rye flour, which is pretty hearty stuff in its own right.  Even with heavy steam, the loaf experienced some cracking but no blowouts.

The vort limpa is a party in a compact loaf.  It is redolent of molasses, orange zest/juice, anise, fennel, cardamom, and beer.  With a smear of sweet butter, it's practically dessert.  And it still makes for some darn good sandwiches and toast, too.

Many, many of you have made Eric's fav rye and know that it is a stellar example of a deli-style rye bread.  It makes a magnificent base for a wide range of sandwiches.  While I enjoy the bite of the caraway, my wife often prefers it when I substitute either fennel seeds or dill seeds for the caraway.  No matter how you tweak it, this is a seriously good bread.

With those out of the way, I needed to build up my starter to have sufficient for 21 batches (20 students + 1 instructor demo) of the pumpernickel and Eric's fav rye, plus enough to give away.  That turns out to be a lot of starter.  Really, really, a lot.  Keep in mind that this class was initially planned last summer.  At that time, I was focused more on pulling together the bread descriptions for inclusion in the advertising and the formulae to go into the student's class booklets.  There should have been some thought given to the amount of prep.  I know that now.  Yes, I do.

For instance, this is what all of the scald for the pumpernickel looks like with half of the sponge incorporated.  You can see that it occupies most of one end of my kitchen's island:

The lighting isn't very good; it's all down light from the ceiling and island light fixtures.  There isn't a lot of ambient light at 6 a.m. in January here in Kansas.

This is the second half of the pumpernickel's sponge, ready to mix in with the scald; nothing but rye flour and water, and it smells wonderful!:

Sponge and scald, ready for the final mix (I could have used a big spiral mixer right about now).  Note that the sponge is lighter in color than the scald, even though both are made with the same flour:

Needless to say, it took a number of trips to schlep all of the ingredients from my kitchen to the car, and then again from the car into the teaching kitchen.  I suspect that we will rerun this class at some future date but there may be a change in the lineup that reduces the amount of prep I have to do.

There aren't any photos of the actual class.  I didn't think to grab my camera on the way out the door and there wasn't time to use it, anyway.  

My students were an interesting group.  The youngest may have been in their late 20s or early 30s.  The oldest were, well, older than me and I'm 57.  One couple took a day off from work to attend.  All were alert and inquisitive, with lots of good questions.  We had a lively discussion about how to begin and maintain a starter, which would have been shorter if I hadn't misunderstood a key part of one inquiry.  ;0  During the course of the day, there were a lot of questions about dough consistency and how it was affected by the amount of flour or water people worked into their doughs.  I had talked at length about how sticky some of the doughs would be and not to try to kill the stickiness with flour.  A few still wound up with some stiff doughs that needed more water.  Some students were almost completely new to bread making while others had some good skills.  Tips on shaping and docking and slashing led to another flurry of questions.  These are all areas where the hands-on aspect is hugely valuable, since a book just cannot provide that tactile feedback.

It was very satisfying to share these breads with such an eager group of learners.  And it was a very full day.  I was happy to climb into bed that evening.

Since one student was a no-show, and since I had intentionally made more starter than I expected to use, I wound up making a double batch of Eric's fav rye on Saturday and a double batch of Hamelman's sourdough walnut raisin rye on Sunday.  We have happy friends.


pmccool's picture

More than a little irony in that title...

Let's talk about the new, first.  That would include the second edition of Hamelman's Bread and the pain de mie formula found in it.  It would also include some new Pullman pans that I picked up recently.  The book is remarkable, as many before me have said.  I don't see this one getting shoved aside by future books, as has happened with some that I own.  Yes, there are a few nits (why weren't the home formulae in metric units instead of English units?) but they are rather trivial compared to the quantity and quality of information residing between the covers.  The Pullman pans figure as a long-delayed gratification.  When faced with that much "new", why not put all of them together?  And then, to really put it over the top, why not employ a previously unused shaping technique?

That takes us to the "could be improved" part of the tale.  Not the formula, mind you, nor the pans, either.  The dough was a real treat to work with, especially since I usually work with breads having a significant percentage of whole grains.  It was smooth, silky, satiny; embodying all of those lush descriptors that cookbook authors love to employ.  The new (to me) shaping technique even worked nicely, thanks to txfarmer and others who like assemble their loaves from smaller components.  And the finished bread tastes wonderful, too.  

Everything appeared to be going well in the early stages:

There's just one niggling little problem.  Someone (I need to get an assistant, if only to serve as whipping boy) miscued on the dough quantity calculations.  It wasn't a fat-finger mistake, either.  More like a fat head mistake.  I shouldn't be so negative.  This bread actually achieved something that many home bakers want to emulate in their breads: ears.   No, no, no, not that kind of ears, this kind:

Maybe I should call them eaves, instead of ears.

Anyway, the loaves have a beautiful fluffy core, perhaps 2.5 inches across, with an approximately .75 inch wide perimeter band that is dense and firm.  Quite firm.  Oh, okay, it requires some serious chewing!  Not your Momma's Wonder Bread by any stretch of the imagination.  The crust is lovely, though.

Just guessing, but I probably had about 15% too much dough for the pans.  Thank goodness for a non-stick lining and some generous greasing before putting the dough in the pans.  The lids were somewhat reluctant to release but came off without requiring excessive force or causing harm to anything.  

I think I want to try this bread again, albeit with the right amount of dough in the pans.  If that works as I expect it can, the next step will be to experiment with some of Hamelman's ryes, baked in the Pullman pans.  If I get really brave, I may even try the Horst Bandel pumpernickel.

Despite my frustration with myself, it was a fun experience to play with a new bread, new pans, and a new technique.  And I've only scratched the surface with this book!


pmccool's picture

The first week of December featured a lot of baking, in marked contrast to the prior week.  Having my hands in that much dough was a genuine pleasure.  Even better was the knowledge that most of it was for the benefit of others, rather than for myself.

On Saturday, December 1, I finished my shopping and dropped off the ingredients in preparation for a class at the Culinary Center of Kansas City.  I also prepared biga that evening for a batch of Stollen.  On Sunday afternoon, I prepared and baked the Stollen, three loaves worth, and two loaves of a Bohemian Christmas Braid.  Students who get to see what the finished product looks like, and enjoy eating it, in class go home happier than those who do not.  (And they did like the taste of these breads!)  On Monday evening, I prepped enough biga for 20 batches of Stollen. 

The Bohemian Christmas Braid, before and after glazing (it's easy to see why my wife handled braiding duties for our daughters' hair):

And the stollen, prior to basting with melted butter and blanketing in sugar:

The class on Tuesday evening ran from 6:30 to 9:00.  I arrived at the Center just after 4:30 and spent the next couple of hours prepping ingredients, portioning the biga, and prepping one batch each of Stollen and Braid dough so that they would be available for demonstrating shaping techniques.  Meanwhile, my assistant was setting out the required implements at the student workstations and taking care of other room preparations.  The students started rolling in as we were wrapping up our set-up steps, so we were able to start right on time. 

The students ranged from bread baking newbies to experienced bakers wanting to pick up some additional information about the specific breads being taught that evening.  For instance, one lady was curious about what adjustments she would need to make since she mills her own flour at home.  Regardless of their experience levels, they were a wonderful group to work with and I thoroughly enjoyed our time together.

It’s interesting how little things crop up.  We ran short of fruit peel for the Stollen because I made a mistake in my estimating.  However, we had more raisins and currants than required, which I had anticipated, and that allowed us to make up for the shortfall in the fruit peels.  It also gave a good opportunity to illustrate how to be flexible while baking, adapting to unforeseen circumstances.  I’m still scratching my head about the flour though.  Since I didn’t have the final count when I shopped, I assumed that all 20 places would be filled.  From what I calculated, we needed about 42 pounds of flour; therefore, I picked up a 50-pound sack at Costco.  We used up every bit of that flour and pulled some from the Center’s pantry!  Since I haven’t found an error in my calculations, it’s still a mystery to me how that much flour was used. 

On Friday, December 7, I baked 6 loaves of a Honey-Oatmeal Cinnamon Swirl Raisin Bread, adapted from the Honey-Oatmeal Sandwich Bread in the KAF Whole Grain Baking book.  Six, because that’s as many 9x5 bread pans as I have and because that’s as many as can easily fit in my oven.  Then on Saturday I made 4 more loaves.  We hosted the Christmas party for my wife’s colleagues on Sunday and the bread was for gifts for them and for some other friends.  And one for us, too!  In addition to making fabulous toast, this bread goes really well with ham and cheese.  Other baking that Saturday for the party included about 3 dozen Eggshell Rolls from Clayton’s Complete Book of Breads and Rye Rolls, source not recalled at the moment.  The Rye Rolls got a bit of a tweak when I substituted 1 teaspoon of caraway and ½ teaspoon each of coriander and fennel seeds, crushed, for the called-for 2 teaspoons of caraway. 

Honey-Oatmeal Cinnamon Swirl Raisin Bread dough:

Baked and bagged:

Eggshell Rolls:

Rye Rolls:

The  Honey-Oatmeal Cinnamon Swirl Raisin Bread also marked the first time I have used the Great River brand of whole wheat flour.  I had picked up a 10-pound bag at our local Costco, having seen it there for the first time.  I believe PostalGrunt mentioned it in a recent post of his, too.  Based on my experience, I like this flour.  The grind is quite fine.  I should buy some Wheat Montana flour again to see whether one has a finer grind than the other, or if their textures are approximately equal.  The bran flecks are the same size as the rest of the particles.  My first guess would have been that the flour is produced with roller mills but the Great River Milling site says it is stone-ground.  Although I couldn’t locate a precise analysis, GRM says that their bread flours are milled from hard red spring wheat and “we strive to purchase wheat that contains 14 percent protein and strong gluten content.”  From a purely empirical point of view, I’d say that they hit their target for the bag I purchased.  Not surprisingly, I had to increase the liquid content to achieve the desired dough consistency.  The resulting dough handled well and rose well, too.

The Great River flour bag:

This past weekend I made a batch of Cromarty Cob from Andrew Whitley’s Bread Matters. Having blogged about this bread previously, here, I won’t go through a blow-by-blow account this time.  I made two deviations from Mr. Whitley’s formula and process.  First, I increased amounts by 50% to produce two medium-size loaves, rather than one large loaf.  Second, I let fermentation proceed at ambient temperatures in my kitchen, which ranged from 65-68F, instead of the recommended 82F temperature.  As a result, fermentation times for the levain and for the final dough were in the 12-hour range, each.  With the whole-wheat content being approximately 50%, this yielded a bread with a noticeable sourdough tang.  The wheaty flavors that were masked by the cinnamon and raisins in the Honey-Oatmeal Cinnamon Swirl Raisin Bread get to shine in this loaf, too.  I expect that using a higher fermentation temperature would lead to a bread with a more subtle sourness and, therefore, a more wheat-forward flavor and fragrance.  As it is, I’m every bit as happy with this bread as I was the first time I made it.  And I’m happy to have found another high-quality whole wheat flour to work with that doesn’t inflict exorbitant shipping costs.

Since odds are pretty good that I won’t post any new blog entries between now and Christmas, please let me wish each of you a blessed and merry Christmas.

pmccool's picture

While there has been some baking going on here, most of it has been very pedestrian; basic stuff like sandwich breads and pain au levain.  With our kids and their kids coming home for the Thanksgiving weekend, an opportunity arose to inject some variety.  On the day before Thanksgiving, I made 2 dozen oat-wheat pan rolls.  On the morning of Thanksgiving, I made cloverleaf rolls.  The treat there was that my just-turning-4-years-old granddaughter, who is very much interested in helping in the kitchen, asked to be involved in the process.  So, Grandpa got some help from Miss Carmen.  She helped with the early stages of mixing:

Later, she assisted with the "smushing" (aka: kneading) of the dough.

Then she helped with shaping the rolls:

It wasn't long before rolling simple balls of dough for the cloverleafs became boring.  So she switched to making carrots.  Although a bit blunt and rather crooked, they did indeed look like rather stumpy carrots.  She was quite pleased with the effect.  The photographer, sadly, did not record this variation; she was probably distracted by Younger Brother.  Grandmas tend to be easily distracted by grandchildren, especially by 2-year-olds with huge brown eyes.  Carmen was delighted with the outcome and made sure to ask for a carrot roll with her meal.

Grandpa is still bemused by the way that much help resulted in more work to be done.  Even so, it was lots of fun.


pmccool's picture

Whew!  All of the planning, all of the strategizing, all of the preparation, all of the anticipation, and poof!, it's all history now.

Thirteen wonderful students showed up a few minutes before 9:00 this morning for a class on breakfast breads at the KC Culinary Center, ready to learn about kolaches and sourdough English muffins.  With the support of my able assistant, Kay (who somehow managed to stay out of the photos), I was able to get through all of the material in the allotted 3 hours.  Along the way, we talked about flours, sourdough starter maintenance, dough texture, the differences between sticky/tacky/dry doughs, how to adjust dough moisture content if it was too sticky or too dry, the advantages of weight measurements over volume measurements, why English muffins are better fork-split than sliced, how kolaches can play sweet or savory, and a other life-altering topics.  Flour flew, laughter rang, dough got onto all kinds of surfaces, muffins and kolaches were consumed.  I think just about everyone took a chunk of starter for further experimentation at home.  All in all, it was a fun morning.

Several students said that they will return in December for the Christmas breads class, so I'm not the only one who thinks things went well.  And Kay, who has seen a bunch of classes and instructors, said it was a good session.  She is excited that the classes I have scheduled for this term feature breads that no one else has taught at KCCC.  

I did manage to squeeze in a few photos when the students were busy and I could step back for a moment.  There aren't as many as I would have liked but, hey, I was just a bit busy most of the time.

First up, 3kg of sourdough starter on Friday evening, ready to go into the sponge for the English muffins.  This is the result of two builds, one Thursday evening and another Friday morning:

If that sounds like a lot of starter, take a look at how much sponge it launches:

The Coke can gives an idea of the scale.  All of this had to be transported this morning from my house to the culinary center.  I might try a different strategy next time...

Next up, some English muffin consumption:

Yeah, they were good!  This group thought so, too:

And then it was time to go to work on kolaches:

And another table of kolache bakers (the young lady at right front will be heading off soon to the Johnson & Wales culinary school in Denver):

And the third group of kolache bakers:

As you can see from the photos, the students really focused on what they were doing.  They asked lots of good questions and made sure that they understood the answers.  It's fun to work with a lively and interested group like this!

The format for the class involved some "TV cooking" to make sure that we covered all of the bases in the amount of time that we had.  We actually worked backwards, beginning with shaping prepped dough for the English muffins.  That was followed by shaping the kolaches, also working with prepped dough.  Then we came back to the English muffins, cooking them and taking a short break to eat some muffins, answer questions, and talk about what we would do next.  I demonstrated a cheese filling for the kolaches and used it to fill some of the kolaches.  Since we were time-constrained, I used canned cherry pie filling to fill the rest of the kolaches.  The kolaches then went into a preheated oven.  Then it was back to the work stations to mix the final English muffin dough, using the prepped sponge.  Once that was mixed and kneaded, each student bagged his/her dough and put it into the refrigerator to griddle at home later.  Then we shifted to the kolache dough, with each student preparing, mixing, and kneading the dough from scratch.  That, too, was bagged and refrigerated to take home.  We finished with some questions and answers, much of which focused on how to use the starter that I handed out (which was at 50% hydration) if they were to make another batch of the English muffins at home, given that the EM recipe calls for 100% hydration starter.  That gave a good opportunity to underline measuring by weight and to explain how adjust quantities of flour and water to achieve a specific hydration level.  I never said "bakers math" out loud but that was effectively at the core of the discussion.  Once that process was clarified, we were at the end of our session.  Everyone gathered up their doughs and their starter samples and headed home.

I stayed to debrief with Kay and go through the student feedback forms.  One of the things that she noted was how there was lots of chatter among the students as they were leaving, which was a good sign.  Kay said that if people slide out without saying much, it usually indicates dissatisfaction.  The feedback forms confirmed what she had observed, with complimentary comments from the students.  I say that with a sense of relief, not braggadocio.  Some of the students are effectively "frequent flyers" at KCCC, so I don't want to do anything to drive them away.  Nor do I want to develop a reputation as someone to be avoided.  More importantly, bread should be fun and I want my students to walk out the door knowing that they can do exactly what we did in class and have it turn out well.

After some cleanup and gathering up what I had brought with me, it was time to go home, which is where my wife snapped this photo:



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