The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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PMcCool

While perusing the cookbook section in a local second-hand bookstore, I came across several copies of Andrew Whitley's Bread Matters in like-new condition.  Despite having a number of bread books already, this one somehow followed me home.  Mr. Whitley's writing style is engaging.  Although he is appalled by the state of British factory breads, he doesn't come across as shrill or vindictive or holier-than-thou.  Rather, he takes a more measured approach in describing what he sees as the problem, how it came to be, the consequences, and some solid recommendations for improving the situation.  (None of which require dough improvers.)  That is not to say that he doesn't employ some well-turned phrases which made me laugh outright in a few instances.  

Having dealt with the deplorable state of the baking industry (emphasis on industry), he turns his attention to providing a tutorial for the home baker who wants to produce healthy and tasty breads.  While I wouldn't necessarily recommend this as a first book for a new baker, Mr. Whitley does take some pains to describe not just what to do but how it works, as well.  He includes a number of bread formulae, including some for gluten-free breads.

One that looked attractive to me was his Cromarty Cob.  It is a lean hearth bread made with a 50/50 blend of white and whole wheat flours, with a rye sour providing the leavening.  

I used a bit of my wheat-based starter to inoculate the rye sour on Friday morning.  On Friday night, I built the production leaven from the rye sour, white flour, whole wheat flour and water, per instructions.  (Note that Whitley's directions assume warm temperatures, since he mentions an approximate time of 4 hours for the leaven to double.  With kitchen temperatures in the 65-67F range, my leaven took about 12 hours to double.)  

On Saturday morning, I mixed and kneaded the wheat flours, water and salt to develop a sticky dough, as directed.  Then I worked in the production leaven.  Whitley only calls for part of the leaven, with no mention of what to do with the excess.  Since I had gone to the effort of making it, I put the entire leaven into the dough.  The weight differential isn't significant, so I wasn't concerned with upsetting hydration levels or dough characteristics.  I then fermented the dough in my proofer at 85F, with one stretch and fold at the 1-hour mark, per instructions.

This formula is sized to produce one loaf weighing approximately 1kg.  When the dough was ready for shaping, I elected to form two smaller boules, since that better fit my needs.  The bannetons went back into the proofer, although only just barely, for the final ferment.  Following Whitley's instructions, the breads were baked with steam at 425F for 10 minutes, then at 400F for the remainder.  And this is what I got:

And the crumb:

Whenever I get around to baking this bread again, I think I will experiment with bumping the temperatures up by 25F or so.  Even with the smaller loaves, I went nearly the entire recommended bake time before the interior temperature was north of 200F and you can see that the color is not particularly dark.

To my chagrin, the bread wasn't entirely cooled when I cut it in preparation for taking to the Kansas City TFL meetup.  Nevertheless, off it went.  In spite of the indignities it suffered, it arrived in fairly good condition.  The crust was still crisp and the crumb still moist.  I especially like the flavor.  While not sour, it is definitely more layered and more complex than a commercially yeasted loaf would have been even with the same fermentation schedule.

A good book and a good bread.  Both speak well of Mr. Whitley's capabilities.

Paul

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With few exceptions, most of my baking in the past weeks has been, well, pedestrian.  One of the exceptions would be Bernard Clayton's Pain Allemande Aux Fruits.  There's no way a bread like that can be pedestrian, even if the baker's efforts aren't stellar.  There was also the treat of introducing a young South African friend to the simple joys of a Southern-style breakfast featuring buttermilk biscuits, sausage gravy and fried apples.  We initiated him into the Kansas City fellowship of barbecue with lunch at Jack's Stack on another day.  He is also now a fan of key lime pie.  But I digress.

A little more bluntly, I've been baking but haven't invested much of myself in the effort.  And it has showed in some rather medocre, if still serviceable, breads.  So I tried to do something about that this weekend and I'm pleased with the outcome.

Back in April 2009, I blogged about the Whole Wheat Genzano Country Loaf from Leader's Local Breads.  I said that it was so good that I would make it again.  Now, almost three years later, I have.  Almost.

The almost refers to three departures from the formula and process presented in the book.  The formula calls for 250g of whole wheat flour in the final dough.  There were only 140g left in my whole wheat flour container.  How did that happen?!  Faced with a hurried trip to the store or improvising, I improvised by subbing in 60g of whole rye flour and another 50g of bread flour to make up the difference.  So, technically, this is no longer Leader's Whole Wheat Country Loaf.  Rather, it is Paul's Now What Do I Do? Loaf.  The second variation is in the mixing regime.  As with my previous bake, I just don't see the purpose or value of the extended high-speed mix that Leader recommends.  After 10 minutes at speed 6 on my Kitchen Aide mixer (note that he recommends 8-10 minutes at "medium speed" which he defines as speed 8, followed by an additional 10 minutes at speed 10), the dough was already clearing the sides and bottom of the bowl and I was able to pull a windowpane.  That, of course, was after switching off the machine which I had been forcibly holding down on the countertop so that it didn't launch itself.  The third and final variation is that I preheated the oven at 500F and then turned it down to 450F after steaming and loading the bread.

In terms of being more purposeful with this bake, I made sure to pull my starter from the refrigerator and refresh it in ample time for it to be fully active.  The biga naturale was prepared and allowed to fully ripen.  I maintained the prescribed fermentation temperatures.  With the exceptions noted previously, I hewed to the formula and process, only deviating where necessity dictated or experience suggested.  Most importantly, I paid attention to what I was doing.  When it came time to shape the loaves, which is an exercise in minimalism, I was very careful to be gentle.  As a result, most of the gas in the dough was retained in spite of this being a sticky dough that wants to latch onto whatever it touches.  I even did a mini-hearsal of what movements I would need to take to get the shaped loaves onto the stone in the oven, which led to my reorienting their position on the peel.  Based on the loaves' development in the oven, I chose to pull the steam pan at about the 9-minute mark.  That seems to have been a good call, based on their coloring.

Given all of that, was the outcome perfect?  Of course not.  But I'm pretty happy with the bread.  Here's why:

The color on these loaves is much closer to what Leader describes in the book than what I achieved with my previous bake, so my decision to preheat to a higher temperature paid off.  Although the loaves sang softly while cooling, the crust retained its integrity instead of crackling.  Here's a closer look:

The higher preheat temperature had a couple of other effects.  One was to boost the amount of oven spring.  The loaves are probably almost twice as tall as they were when they first hit the baking stone.  The second effect is that the crust is thicker and chewier this time around.  I'll take that, given the richness of the flavor that comes with the bolder bake.

The crumb from one angle:

And face on:

One loaf exhibited slight tearing along the bottom, which suggests that I could have let the proofing run another 10-15 minutes.  However, the dough was so gassy that I was concerned more about overproofing.  

This is a good bread.  The rye doesn't stand out distinctly but it definitely adds another layer to the flavors.  The crumb, a day after baking, is moist, cool and firm.  The crust requires a definite bite and some deliberate chewing.  It went very well with today's dinner of brined pork loin. This week's sandwiches should be good.

My advice (mostly to myself) is to pay attention to the details because every detail matters and good bread is worth the extra effort.

Paul

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Believe it or not, Floyd's Sweet Potato Rolls can be made even better.  And I wouldn't even have known that but for a bit of Thanksgiving serendipity.

My youngest daughter and family had been in town for a visit the weekend prior to Thanksgiving.  For one of our meals, she made Elizabeth Karmel's Sweet Potato Bourbon Mash.  Sweet potatoes are one of my favorite things and they play very nicely with a bit of bourbon.  Needless to say, the dish was delicious!

A few days later, I was planning to take some rolls to our older daughter's home for Thanksgiving dinner and decided that the sweet potato rolls would be in keeping with the day.  As luck would have it, there was about 3/4 of a cup of the sweet potato bourbon mash left over; just the perfect amount for the rolls.

The dough came together nicely and the rolls baked up prettily, filling the house with their fragrance.  They tasted even better than they smelled!  As our daughter put it after taking a bite, "It's like Thanksgiving in your mouth!"  

So, if you feel the need for a bit of self-indulgence, I'd highly recommend this.   In effect, you get a two-for-one deal, since the sweet potato mash is worth doing in its own right.

Paul

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OldWoodenSpoon has been chronicling his adventures and misadventures of baking the Vienna bread from the Inside the Jewish Bakery book.  Partly out of sympathy and partly out of curiosity, I decided to bake the same bread this weekend to see what would happen.

In a word (or three), not very much.

Things to note:

- I'm using a no-name AP flour

- The yeast was Fleischmann's IDY from a new package.

- Since I had no malt on hand, honey was subbed for the malt in equal amount.

- Ambient temps in the kitchen Saturday started out in the mid-60's and got all the way up to about 71 or 72F, so fermentation times were perhaps 50% longer than those noted in the book.

- The bread was baked in the specified 8.5 x 4.5 pans (in this instance, some cheap steel pans with a bright tinned finish, very lightweight).

- No egg wash was applied.

- As directed, the bread was baked in the center level of a 350F oven after the fermenting dough had just crested above the brim of the pans.  There were no stones, steam pans or other appurtenances in the oven.

The resulting bread was...ordinary.  So ordinary, in fact, that I haven't bothered to take a picture.  The slash bloomed nicely with the modest oven spring, the crust color is a light golden (I'd prefer it to be darker), the crumb structure is very even, maybe 3/4 of the mass is below the rim of the pan and the other 1/4 is above the rim, there are no gummy/compressed/underbaked zones in the loaves, and they stand upright without external support.  In other words, about what one would expect to see in a typical loaf of white bread.

From what I read in OWS' accounts and from what I see in my bake, I would opine that the biggest differences are in the use or non-use of malt and in the oven setup.  Which is the biggest factor, I can't guess, but I am confident that the two are combining to make OWS' experience so thoroughly frustrating.  It would have been nice if I had had some non-diastatic malt on hand just to see if the bread had responded differently.  However, since I used no malt of any kind in this bake, it suggests that the at-least-partially-diastatic malt used by OWS may have had a negative effect on dough structure by converting an excessive amount of starch to sugar and may have led to hyperactive yeast growth for exactly the same reason.  I'm less clear about how the presence of both upper and lower baking stones in OWS' oven might have influenced the outcome, especially since I have previously plunked bread tins down on a baking stone with no noticeable ill effects.  Based on OWS' experience, it appears that the presence or absence of the stones does have an effect, as does the location of the pans in the oven.

For what it is worth, that's my report from the field.  I hope it provides some useful information for OldWoodenSpoon and others who are working with this bread.

Paul

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This was going to be a blow-by-blow account of reviving a starter that had been dried for travel.  Yeah, my eyes are starting to glaze already, too.  So this will get more of a Readers Digest treatment.  And I'll try to stay awake until the end.  What you do is up to you.

Here's the back story: Man lives in Pretoria, South Africa.  Man has sourdough starter.  Man will repatriate to his home in Kansas City.  Man does not wish to lose his starter or begin a new one after his return.

Still with me?  Good.

Having read two different methods right here on TFL for preparing a starter for travel, I chose to do (drumroll, please) both!  And knowing that some or all of my luggage would be subjected to the tender mercies of either the TSA or U.S. Customs, I wanted to make sure that I had enough with me that at least one packet got through.  Or so I hoped.

Technique #1 involves adding enough flour (if your starter is runny) or enough water (if your starter is more like a dough) to some of said starter to achieve a thick batter consistency that is still smearable.  I don't know if smearable is a word but it is the key.  The traveler (your faithful reporter in this instance) needs to smear a thin layer of the suitably hydrated starter on a sheet of parchment paper and wait a day or two for the smear to dry to until it is roughly as crisp as potato chips.  Or potato crisps, for those of you who are still in South Africa.  The dried smears / chips / crisps can be broken into smaller pieces and placed in plastic bags for eventual placement in your baggage or on your person.  Note that thinner smears = shorter drying times.

Technique #2 involves adding flour to your starter until it is so dry that it is reduced to crumbs.  Some mechanical intervention will be necessary; perhaps the edge of a spoon or maybe a pastry blender or even a food processor.  I can say that a mezzalune is effective.  The more flour you try to force into the dough, the less cooperative it becomes; hence the need for mechanical assistance to cut it into ever smaller bits while force-feeding it yet more flour.  As with the flakes, the crumbs can be bagged for travel.

I strongly recommend that you clearly label each bag so that there is no leeway for interpretation by the various uniformed officials who may have their hands in your luggage at some point.  We all know what happens when we assume, right?

Thus prepared, your faithful reporter placed a baggie of dried starter in every piece of luggage.  And, for reasons yet unclear, every bag and every baggie made it all the way to the proper destination.  On the same day.  

Being somewhat surprised to find myself the proud possessor of a surfeit of dried starter, I did what any American male worth his salt would do: I set up a competition.  Keeping one baggie in reserve as insurance, I combined 10g of flaked starter and 25g of water in one container and 10g of crumbed starter and 25g of water in another container.  Here's how they looked at the start of the competition, flakes to the left and granules to the right:

Pretty exciting, huh?  Other than some fogging of the inside of each jar, they looked about the same 24 hours later so I added 15g of flour of each.  At the end of the second 24-hour period, they were still pretty flat.  There was a whiff of...something...from the granules jar but the flakes jar smelled mostly of wet flour.  By the end of Day 3, there was evidence of bubbles in the granules jar and a hint of expansion.  The flakes jar was still pretty quiet; just a stray bubble or two.

Yep, that's right, the excitement continues to build!

At the end of Day 3, I discarded half of each sample and added water and flour in a 1:2:3 ratio.  I also moved them to some smaller plastic containers.  Here's how they looked after dinner and settling into their new digs:

Just to keep you on your toes, I've switched the granules container to the left and the flakes container to the right.

Some 12 hours later, there was some genuine growth going on:

And from a different perspective:

The crumbs sample has expanded noticeably and is riddled with bubbles.  The flakes sample has expanded just slightly and has fewer bubbles.

And that's pretty much how it went for the next few days.  The crumbs sample consistently out-performed the flakes sample.  Even on a 12-hour feeding schedule, the crumbs sample smelled consistently of acetone which suggests that it was burning through its food between feedings.  The flakes sample never developed a notable yeasty / fruity / sour odor in the week's time that I ran the comparison, although it did get past the wet flour odor.

If your eyes are still open at this point, you can hang on for the wrap-up.

For short-term storage, such as for travel, I would choose the granules approach to drying starter over the flaked approach.  I've done the flakes technique twice now and it required a full week to get back to a sluggish level of activity in both cases.  For longer storage, I'd use the flakes.  Why?  Because it seems to be a more stable form that is less susceptible environmental upsets.

I have some notions about the difference in behavior of the two.  First, the granules weren't as dry as the flakes.  That seems to have allowed the yeasts and bacteria of the starter to get back to work faster, possibly because they were less stressed and did not shut down entirely.  Second, although the organisms were tightly bound in a relatively dry environment, they were also surrounded by food even if they could not exploit it easily.  The down side for the granules is that their higher moisture content would make them more susceptible to attack by molds and other organisms, which militates against using them as a long-term storage option.

The good news is that there are options for the traveler, as well as for disaster recovery.  The easiest way to travel with a starter, of course, is to tuck a small blob in a plastic bag or other container.  That's probably the easiest way to lose it to a zealous inspector, too.

And the reward for any of you who have stayed awake through this entire dissertation?  Pictures of the pain au levain baked with the reconstituted starter, which now smells the way a healthy and happy starter should.  Note that the bread was made at about Day 7 or Day 8; not because of the starter's readiness but because of the baker's schedule.  The starter could probably have been used on Day 4 or Day 5.  First, the loaf:

And then the crumb:

Happy travels!

Paul

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After about 22-23 hours in transit from Johannesburg, which includes a 4-hour layover in Atlanta, I arrived in Kansas City just after noon on Friday.  It's a wonderful thing.  And kinda weird at the same time.

No baking this weekend.  That will probably wait until next weekend.  Meanwhile, I've been keeping busy with things like buying a pickup, getting a new cell phone, catching up with friends and neighbors, revisiting some favorite restaurants, yard work, sleeping, etc.

I'll post about the starter rehydration once I get that kicked off.  I'll probably do more lurking than anything else for the next few days.  There's a lot of catching up to do around the homestead.

Paul

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PMcCool

As part of my preparation to move from South Africa back to the United States, I dried my sourdough starter using two different techniques.  The first was to simply smear a thin layer of batter-consistency starter across some parchment paper and allow it to dry at room temperature.  The second was to mix flour into some starter until it was reduced to crumbs.  I found that a mezzalune was very helpful in the latter stages of incorporating the flour by allowing me to chop the progressively stiffening starter into smaller and smaller pieces while blending in more flour.

The finished product, two bags of crumbed starter and three bags of flaked starter:

That gives me one packet per suitcase.  Each will be appropriately labeled.  Hopefully, at least one and maybe all will arrive home with me. 

I'm interested to start rehydrating a bit of each to see which one comes back to fighting trim more quickly.  I'll post follow-ups when I can.

Paul

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Because of some scheduled maintenance on my car, I had to work from home one day a week or two ago.  That afforded me an opportunity to accomplish a couple of additional objectives: first, clear out some of the pantry contents in preparation for my pending move and second, make some bread.  As it turned out, that also became my last bake in South Africa.

In terms of the pantry, there was just enough rye flour to make a small rye sour, a couple of kilos of crushed rye, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, sesame seeds, whole wheat flour and bread flour.  While I couldn’t use up everything in a single bake, I was able to put together a formula that utilized all of those ingredients to some extent.  I thought that I would aim for something around 70% hydration, on the assumption that the resulting dough would be somewhat slack but still have enough body to carry the load of the crushed rye and seeds.  After some measuring and calculating, the draft formula looked like this:

Rye Sour

42g white starter (mine was roughly 60% hydration and there’s nothing magical about using exactly 42g)

140g whole rye flour

140g water

Soaker

200g crushed rye (cracked rye or rye chops would work just as well)

50g sunflower seeds

50g flax seeds

50g sesame seeds

350g boiling water

Final Dough

All of the rye sour

All of the soaker

450g water

150g whole wheat flour

850g bread flour

13g yeast

20g salt

The rye sour ingredients were thoroughly mixed the evening before baking day and covered while fermenting at room temperature (in the upper 60’s F).    The next morning, the sour was noticeably puffy, though nowhere near doubled.  When I poured in the water for the final dough, the sour detached from the bottom of the bowl and floated to the top.

The soaker ingredients were mixed the morning of baking day, covered, and allowed to cool until they were just warm to the touch.

The final dough was assembled and baked as follows:

  1. The rye sour, the soaker, and the water were combined and thoroughly mixed.
  2. The remaining flours, yeast and salt were added to the sour/soaker/water mixture and mixed until thoroughly combined.  The dough was sludgy and stiff, more like a rye dough than a wheaten dough.
  3. The resulting dough was quite a bit stiffer than I wanted, so I began adding water and mixing and kneading to incorporate the water.  Some 25 minutes and probably another 50g of water later, I called it good enough.  My initial thought had been to arrive at a dough that was slack enough to handle with stretch and folds.  That may not be a realistic goal, given the quantity of crushed rye and seeds.  This dough required a lot of muscle to perform the usual push/turn/fold method of kneading.
  4. The dough was placed in a greased bowl, covered, and allowed to ferment until doubled in volume. 
  5. After gently degassing the dough, I shaped it into two batards.  Boules would probably have worked just as well but my gear, including bannetons, was somewhere between Johannesburg and Kansas City.  Since I had to improvise, I placed the shaped loaves on a parchment lined baking sheet and covered them, allowing them to ferment until they were nearly doubled in size.  It was about that time that the dealership let me know that the car was ready.  Plan B, then, accompanied by much muttering.  I placed the loaves in the refrigerator and hoped that they wouldn’t over-proof before I got back.
  6. A little more than an hour had elapsed by the time I got back to the house.  The loaves looked a bit wobbly.  More muttering.  I preheated the oven (and steam pan) to 230C/450F which proceeded as it usually did, which is to say sl-o-o-o-o-wly.  Taking the loaves out of the refrigerator, I tried to slash them with the sharpest of the dull knives that were available to me, which caused a visible settling of the loaves and not much of a cut.  Quickly dumping some boiling water into the steam plan, I then manuevered the sheet pan with the loaves into the oven as gently as possible and left them to themselves for about 45 minutes.  During that time they regained about half of the volume they lost when slashed.
  7. When the loaves were done to the eye and the ear (the instant read thermometer was in the same crate as the bannetons and knives, remember), they were removed from the oven and allowed to cool on a wire rack, covered with a towel.

Dough at beginning of bulk ferment:

Dough at end of bulk ferment:

Finished loaves:

On the plus side, this is a very good bread, particularly with regard to flavour.  Lots of earthy notes from the rye while the sunflower seeds provide a more mellow richness.  The flax and sesame seeds each contribute to the crunch factor.  Surprisingly, this is not a tough bread.  Neither is it dry.  It is, however, very substantial, requiring real chewing.  Given the lengthy kneading, the crumb is very even, composed of small cells.  In spite of the high percentage of bread flour, it reminds me more of a vollkornbrot.  It definitely feels like a vollkornbrot in the stomach; thin slices are just fine, thank you.  I can report that it plays very nicely with ham and cheese but tends to overwhelm smoked chicken breast.

There are a number of things to address if I am able to try this again once I’m back in the States.  The first is to bump up the hydration.  Pushing it to 85% may not be too much.  That might loosen the dough enough to permit use of the stretch and fold technique and gain a more open crumb.  Then again, it may be too soft to carry the soaker successfully.  Maybe, just maybe, a bit of sweetener would bring some of the grainy flavours forward; perhaps a drizzle of honey or molasses, or a combination of the two.  Not tolerating any interruptions between final fermentation and baking will be important, too.  If the ambient temperatures are in the 70’s F or higher, going entirely sourdough with no commercial yeast is also an option.  Depending on moisture content, some alterations to the baking profile may also be required.  For instance, a wetter dough with some sweetener in it might want the high initial temperature for the first 15 minutes or so to drive oven spring, which would then have to be dialled back to prevent the crust from burning before the interior is thoroughly baked.  Hmm, I’m going to have to reacquaint myself with U.S. flours.  That may push things in unexpected directions, too.

Considering that the whole thing was jerry-rigged from start to finish, I’m reasonably happy with the outcome.  Probably the biggest frustration is that it over-proofed during the final fermentation.  Even with that happening, the bread is not crumbly at the top and dense at the bottom.  If I can source the ingredients (I’ve not had much luck locating rye chops or crushed/cracked rye in stores back home), I’ll definitely take another run or three at this to see whether I can come up with something that I can produce reliably.  If any of you want to try some variations on the theme, let me know how things go, please.

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Today was a fun day, featuring a thoroughly informal and just as thoroughly entertaining class on how to make bread.  Eight friends and acquaintances received a lesson on making a honey whole-wheat bread.  Two of them thought that they would just observe but we had them up to their elbows in flour along with the rest of the group in no time flat. 

It was raucous and messy and fast-paced.  Lots of questions (good ones!) and lots of interest.  At the end, we helped Joan clean up her kitchen and get things put back to rights.  Afterward, everyone took their shaped and panned dough home for the final rise and baking.  I've already seen a couple of FB posts.

The format was simple.  Everyone brought their own utensils and I supplied the ingredients since I need to clean out the pantry anyway.  I had a sheet with the recipe and instructions printed up for each student, along with another tip sheet that, among other things, referenced TFL.  I had everyone weighing and measuring after a minimal intro, then used the autolyze time to go into a bit more detail and field questions.  There was one bobble, mine, while assembling the final dough, in that I forgot to have them put the butter in the dough.  So much for practicing mise en place!  Anyway, it was a good opportunity to demonstrate that just about any mistake is recoverable and that adjustments are inevitable even without mistakes.

We used the time for the bulk ferment to munch on a loaf of Sweet Vanilla Challah that I had brought along for that purpose, along with the demo loaf of the honey whole-wheat that I had prepared in advance.  Bonus discovery of the day: challah smeared with Nutella and coconut butter is way more than just good.  Next time you're in Florida, pick up a jar of the coconut butter.  Just sayin'.

Some pictures:

I'm pretty sure that at least one or two will use this as a launch pad for further baking on their own.  Even if it doesn't become something that they choose to do consistently, they at least have the knowledge that they can make bread on their own.  And that it can be a lot of fun.  That's a good thing to have.

Paul

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A few weeks ago, I blogged about a bake that was destined for dinner with friends.  I had asked what they would like us to bring and the response was "Something that would go well with snoek pate."  Since I didn't have a clue about what Marthinus put into his snoek pate, other than that snoek is a fish, that left me with (in positive terms) a lot of freedom of choice.  I wound up choosing two breads: a sourdough in the pain de compagne vein and Reinhart's pain a l'ancienne.

Before I go further, I should provide some context.  Marthinus had an 18-year run as chef/owner of one of Pretoria's top restaurants.  Although he has changed businesses, he remains passionate about food and cooking.  He is still very selective about the ingredients he uses and very creative with how he puts them together for the finished dish.  When presented with something, he wants to know what went into it and what process or processes were used.  And he is not bashful about sharing his opinions.  For Marthinus, flavor matters.  A lot.

With that in mind, I was both relieved and pleased to see Marthinus enjoy both breads.  He was especially taken with the flavor of the pain a l'ancienne.  So much so, in fact, that this chef and self-avowed non-baker has begun experimenting with pain a l'ancienne at home.  He's already made it twice, with neither effort quite reaching the goal that he wanted to achieve.  One was, from his description, over-fermented.  The other was probably under-hydrated. 

In spite of not hitting a home run with the first two attempts, Marthinus is soldiering on because the flavor of those breads was still captivating.  As he put it, "There isn't a bakery around here where you can get bread that tastes like this!"  Knowing Marthinus, he will have bread whose crust and crumb is as satisfying as its flavor in the not-too-distant future.  It might even be the final motivation to press ahead with a WFO that he had already been contemplating.

Seeing his interest in the bread's flavor has caused me to give some more thought to the importance of flavor.

We all bake for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes it is as fundamental as putting food on the table for our families.  Sometimes we bake because it satisfies an inner longing to master a craft and produce something that appeals to the senses.  Sometimes we bake because it is better to knead a batch of dough than it is to punch someone or something.  Sometimes we bake because it lets us take an active role in making foods that are wholesome and unadulterated.  Sometimes we bake to be reminded of a special place, or time, or person.  Sometimes we bake because we can produce something better than we can get at the store for less cost.

Whether our reasons for baking are utilitarian or esthetic, we all bake for flavor.  If bread tasted or smelled like cow flop, we wouldn't eat it. 

As you read through the posts here on TFL, you will see frequent mention of the flavor and fragrance of the breads that are being produced.  People get downright lyrical as they try to describe the flavor of the breads they make.  It isn't surprising.  Every bread sooner or later goes into our mouth.  And as we chew it, the initial visual impression that we had of it is supplanted by the flavors and aromas that permeate our mouth and our nose.  At that point, our attention has shifted away from whether it had a open crumb or a tight crumb, a dark crust or a light crust.  What we want is flavor; the kind of flavor that tells us "Yes!  This is the way that bread should taste!" 

Flavor is so important to us that we aren't content to simply savor the notes that come from the grain, the yeasts, the bacteria, or the enzymes that have all contributed to a specific bread's flavor.  Bread's flavor calls for other flavors, sweet and savory.  Depending on the bread, we may want the simple luxury of butter or a drizzle of olive oil or a scattering of salt.  Or maybe a PB&J is in order.  Or we might marry some good ham, Havarti cheese, and a grainy mustard with an earthy rye.  The possibilities are as infinitely variable as the people making the decisions and the ingredients they have to work with  Every one of those choices is driven by the desire for flavor.

Although I have used Marthinus, with his training and experience as a chef, as an example of someone who cares about flavor, each of us in our own fashion is also concerned about flavor.  Whether or not we consciously acknowledge it, every loaf of bread we bake is another step in the pursuit of flavor.  Some of us are adventuresome, others are cautious.  Some of us crave the new, others want familiar comforts.  Some want in-your-face flavors, others prefer to thoughtfully consider the more subtle flavors.  We each, though, want our bread to taste good

The next time you chew a piece of bread, think about what you are tasting.  And enjoy!

Paul

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