The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Song Of The Baker's blog

Song Of The Baker's picture
Song Of The Baker

It's summer time.  Finally.  The grill gets cleaned up, and ready to be used as many times as possible until the rain and cold comes again in October.  I have been itching to try making some thin crust pizzas on my gas grill but now utilizing some unglazed quarry tiles.  The tiles really helped up the quality of my breads so I figured they should help my pizzas on the grill.  My past attempts making pizzas on the grill were both frustrating and disappointing.  Burnt bottoms due to the direct flame, and overall just not what I was after. 

I have been craving a thin whole wheat crust..  Kept the hydration quite high, to achieve those bubbles in the crown.  Pretty happy, however, I have to find a better system of transferring the pizza from the peel to the tiles.  This awkward transfer resulted in some misshapen pizzas, but who's grading?  Oh yeah, you guys are.


Ahh, summer...

First one was a simple Bocconcini, Tomato and Basil.


Next was a Greek pizza with spinach, garlic, feta, greek oregano and tomato.

Crown crust bubbling.  Not as extreme as I was after, but still not bad for a first attempt.


Song Of The Baker's picture
Song Of The Baker

I find myself on a rare occasion of being bored, having no work to do and no bread to bake or post.  Perhaps a good opportunity to share a little about my journey to bread baking.


Little did I know at the time, but the 'knead' to make bread was deeply rooted within my creative core long ago...

From the time I was in my early teens (good god, about 23 years ago!  I've always dreaded math), I had a creative drive within me that was itching to get out.  Luckily for me, my parents were willing and able to put me through music lessons.  I started out with piano and keyboards then moved onto the organ.  At this time, I was discovering the magic of classic rock and roll.  Listening to such bands as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, The Doors, to name a few.  I spent hours upon hours in my room, rewinding and listening and learning all those organ solos on my Hammond organ and Leslie speaker combo.  To this day I can still play the entire organ solo to Light My Fire by the Doors, even though I only touch a keyboard maybe once every 2-3 years.  A few good friends and school mates started a band.  I took the lead singer role and keyboards.  By the time we were 15, we played our first gig at a local club in downtown Vancouver.  Quite an experience to have at 15.  Even though we were so young, the bar tender offered us a few drinks each (parents approved of course),  All 4 of us hard rock and rollers ordered peach coolers.  Not beer.  Peach coolers.  Very rock and roll *ahem*.  Soon after, we recorded our first cassette tape of about 5 or 6 songs.  By the time junior high ended we disbanded and I took up a new instrument.  The guitar. 

In high school, when we were about 17, we started another band that would turn out to be a major part of my life for the next 7 years.  We had a good following, released an album that received some good reviews, appeared on a local TV show which aired quite a bit across Canada.  We were selling out shows and headlining in the most popular night clubs on weekends.  At one show, The Bare Naked Ladies gave us a standing ovation and wanted to meet us backstage.  This was too surreal at our age.  I was going to college and working by day, and playing shows at night.  I was having the time of my life.  My creative juices were flowing and were being spread out to family, friends and strangers to experience and enjoy.

In 1997, a few members decided to call it quits and it was the end of my music life, at least to that degree.  Over the years, I continued to pick up the guitar every once in a while, or go to a local music shop and play a piano for a few minutes.  It just wasn't the same.  By this time, I had a business degree behind me so I started working full time in management positions I was not happy with.  I did this for the next 6 years or so.  About 7 years ago I was given the opportunity to come aboard my father's painting contracting business, so I took it.  The position in the company proved to be stressful, challenging and more time consuming than I could ever imagine.  Here I am.  A manager in a high volume construction industry contracting company.  Nothing remotely close to an avenue that would allow ANY creativity to flow out of me.  It has been a very difficult last 7 years mentally and emotionally.

Last summer, I was at a cross roads.  Take over the business from my retiring father the next year, or move on and do...well, I still don't know what.  Due to the frightening unknown, I chose the former.  At that exact time, there was a major project contract I had bid on.  The bidding process was extremely gruelling and took a lot out of me mentally and physically.  I landed in the emergency room with exhaustion.  We needed this project.  Badly.  Not knowing if we landed the project or not, I had to get away for a week and try to recoup.  It was then, on that trip that I walked by a bakery cafe and was drawn to the artisan made breads stacked in the window.  I always loved and appreciated bread.  The comforting texture and flavour and look.  This feeling and urge was new to me though.  I suddenly wanted to be part of the creation of this magnificent display in the window.  The bakers in the shop were rock stars in my eyes.  I wanted to ask them questions and talk to them about the process of baking bread.  All these crazy urges, all within 5 minutes of seeing those beautiful boules, baguettes and batards.  I did not talk to the bakers, and I did not get their autographs.  Nor did I buy any bread.  I did however, come home from that trip learning that we did in fact get awarded the contract that we so much needed for the business.  But I still did not feel what I felt walking past that bakery.

That weekend I spent hours reading articles about bread and searching web pages dedicated to home bread baking.  Is it possible for one to learn how to make breads at home such as the ones I saw in the window of that bakery?  Don't you need years and years of schooling?  What about all the equipment?  Surely one would need to spend $10,000 + on an oven, no?  I stumbled on The Fresh Loaf and started reading blogs and forums as a non-member.  My questions were quickly answered that yes, it is possible that I could learn how to make bread at home.  Having never touched my hands on bread dough before in my life, I began to bake bread.  I felt that passion rise up again.  I was feeling something I had only felt when I picked up my guitar and wrote music those years ago.  This is what I needed so badly in my life.  An outlet for all that stress I deal with at my work.  Something to once again create and share with those important to me.

Yes, I decided to take over the family business.  Of course there is always the satisfaction of feeling proud in keeping my parent's hard work and determination all those years alive going into the future.  But other than that and possible financial opportunity, there is nothing more that this career will ever give me in what I truly need to flourish.  Baking bread however, has given me a creative outlet that I craved all those years after the music stopped.  A creative process where I can once again be part of from start to finish.  To make, to feel, to share.  To enjoy.  Music it is not, but it is a song of the baker.


Here is a link to one of the bands that influenced our music, The Posies.  This is a great rendition of 'Song Of A Baker,' a song by classic rock's Small Faces.  I found it quite fitting to use a tag name inspired by a song that I loved long before I ever imagined I would be baking bread.  For all you rock and roll aficionados, turn up your speakers and enjoy:

Lyrics below:

There's wheat in the field
And water in the stream
And salt in the mine
And an aching in me.

I can longer stand and wonder
Cos I'm driven by this hunger.

So I'll jug some water, bake some flour,
Store some salt and wait the hour.

When thinking of love,
Love is thinking for me
And the baker will come
And the baker I'll be

I'm depending on my labour,
The texture and the flavour


I can no longer stand and wonder
Cos I'm driven by this hunger

So I'll jug some water, bake some flour.
Store some salt and wait the hour.


Song Of The Baker's picture
Song Of The Baker

I didn't have much time to bake this weekend, so I decided to fit in a simple focaccia bake to go along side a Spaghetti Pomodoro I was planning to make for dinner.

I used some recently dried home grown rosemary, freshly cracked pepper and coarse sea salt for the topping.  I also used a very nice California brand olive oil that I brought back from our recent trip to Arizona.  The flavours came through nicely but the crumb was very Wonderbread 'white bread-ish' for my liking.  I like my Focaccia with a bit of stronger structure within the crumb.  Considering I made this with very little effort and time, I can't complain for a simple and fresh-out-of-the-oven accompaniment to the pasta.


Song Of The Baker's picture
Song Of The Baker

I haven't baked in almost a month and my hands were starting to shake.  Withdrawl is no fun.

I decided to bake up a couple of staple loaves with some small tweaks to test my post vacation abilities.  Simple levain with whole wheat, bread, and rye flours.  Flax, barley, sunflower, cracked wheat, oats, and sesame seed packed.

Forgive me for going overboard with the photos.  I recently acquired some new gear and learned some new techniques on Photoshop.  A bit shutter happy since my trip to Arizona (668 photos!).



And now to go off on an Arizona prickly pear theme tangent.  This bread is a great excuse to use that up.

This one is dedicated to dabrownman.  Thought I would capture what that lucky bum gets every night of his life.

Mesa, AZ., my new favourite place to visit.




Song Of The Baker's picture
Song Of The Baker

Sorry for the duplicate post however I realized I posted this bake accidentally in the forum but wanted it on my blog.

Today I finally had a chance to bake the Tartine loaf with my new baking gear.  This is the second bake with the gear.  I strongly suggest to anyone experiencing the same issues as I had with bakes, GET THESE SIMPLE ITEMS.  It has taken my breads up a few notches and fixed all my problems immediately.

And the larger loaf with crumb.

Song Of The Baker's picture
Song Of The Baker

Sometimes you pause and wonder why it took so long to do some things.

In the last week, I finally gathered some important tools that for no reason other than being busy and perhaps lazy, completed my home bread baking needs.

I had been struggling with scoring, more specifically the lack of blooming and ears.  With some help from David Snyder and these new tools, it looks like I have finally overcome these issues.

These are the three items I picked up.

1. Unglazed Quarry tiles:  Till now, I had simply been baking my breads directly on my trusty roaster pan.  I was not getting the proper burst of surface heat required for a proper bake.  $3.50 at a local tile supplier.  I hope in the future to find a larger square and have it custom cut to fit the roaster.

2. Razor Blades:  Till now, I was using a utility blade to score my loaves.  I realize now that the utility blade was much too thick compared to these Wilkinson Sword blades.  The scoring came effortlessly and helped in producing a nice swift, clean cut.

3. Local mill organic bread flour:  Till now, I was using Robin Hood Bread Flour.  A brand similar to King Arthur Flour in the states.  I finally picked up some good quality, freshly milled bread flour.  I will never go back to brand name, store bought flour.  Flavour was FAR superior and price cheaper per pound.

For many of you, these items are nothing but common sense and obvious items for successful home bread baking.  For me, it now a revelation and a must.

Here is today's bake that utilized these new tools for the first time.  It started out as Vermont Sourdough, but due to mishaps in the mixing stage, I made all kinds of additions and deletions to the original formula that I decided to call it a Vancouver Sourdough.  No offence to the JH original.

My trusty steaming method of a roaster, with 4 6"x6" stacked, and a tin can to hold the boiling water.

Song Of The Baker's picture
Song Of The Baker

After a short break from posting in my blog, I am back at the helm.

This weekend I thought I would try a seeded rye that, at first sight a while back, had me drooling since.  Breadsong's post of this bread inspired me to try, bake, devour.

I adjusted the formula to include organic spelt flour, as I did not have any barley flour on hand.  Also, instead of barley malt, I used 50% molasses 50% honey.  This bread may surpass my love for Danish Rye.  It has a dense texture, very pleasant, light flavour, with a touch of sweetness.  I am not usually one for any sweet hints in my bread (unless dried fruit used), especially rye, but it works nicely in this one.  Definitely a new addition to my regular bakes.

The only adjustment I would make is the total amount, as it overflowed a bit in my bread pan.  The original formula is meant to fit into a 9" pan, I only had an 8" on hand.



Song Of The Baker's picture
Song Of The Baker

Today I was on a mission.  To defeat this fear of developing and shaping rye dough.  I learn best through video and photos and I have found that there are not nearly as many video tutorials for rye breads as there are for white breads.  I used a 40% formula and followed all that I have learned on this site as much as possible.  My last week's attempt came up short with little rise/oven spring.  This time, a combination of longer bulk ferment and proof times, along with an amazing organic medium rye flour from a local mill, produced loaves that I am finally happy with.  Not to mention Dumbo sized ears that I have never achieved before.  Flavour is lightly rye, with a definite sour tang.

Shaping was done in air with wet hands, and proofed in brotforms for almost 2 hours at 78 degrees.

Crumb shot a day later.  Any suggestions/comments on the crumb from the rye experts out there? 

Song Of The Baker's picture
Song Of The Baker

After my shopping spree at a local grain mill yesterday, I was in the mood to experiment with some different flours.  I had some left over buttermilk in the fridge from my Danish Rye bake so I decided to make my (ever popular in these parts) buttermilk pancakes but with organic spelt flour.  I was a bit on the careful side and opted to still keep 1/2 cup AP flour in the recipe.  These turned out so well that next time I might even eliminate the AP flour all together.  As a note, the apple topping pairs VERY well with these so don't omit if you have a choice.

Spelt Flour Buttermilk Pancakes with Caramelized Apples


1 cup spelt flour
1/2 cup AP flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
3 tbsp sugar
1 large egg
1 ½ cups buttermilk (or 1 ½ cup homemade buttermilk, see below)
2 tbsp melted butter
1 tsp vanilla
Oil for skillet
Extra milk to thin batter after rest

Combine all ingredients and mix just until combined.  Do not over mix, lumps are ok.  Let sit in fridge to rest for at least 20 minutes.  Before cooking, add up to ¼ milk to thin the batter, if needed.  Note:  This batter takes approx. 1 extra minute per side than AP flour pancakes.  Check the insides by cutting into the middle to ensure batter is fully cooked.
Makes approx. 6-7 pancakes.

Home made buttermilk:  Add 2 Tbsp white vinegar or lemon juice to a measuring cup, then add enough milk to make 1 ½ cups total.  Transfer to bowl and let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes, or until thickened.

Caramelized Apples:


2 large apples
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp butter
Pinch salt


Peel and core apples.  Half the apples then cut thin slices.  Heat butter on high heat in a saute pan and add the apples, sugar and salt.  Saute on high heat just to caramelize the sugar, about 3 - 5 minutes.  Add a dash of cinnamon to taste.  Take off the heat and let cool slightly.

Top the pancakes with the apples and some maple syrup.





Song Of The Baker's picture
Song Of The Baker

I have been excited to bake a simple rye bread since my starter had become ready to use.  Also, I went to a local organic mill and stocked up an all sorts of grains, flours as well as a hard to find Puy lentil from France.  I chose to do a 40% Rye with some toasted and roughly ground seeds (sunflower, flax and caraway) within.  I also got to use a brotform for the first time.  I will update with crumb photos, but I have a feeling I should have seen more oven spring and height from a formula such as this one.  I did forget to bulk ferment an hour, so I just proofed for a full 2 hours.  Any rye experts out there, please let me know if this could most likely be the cause of such a poor spring.


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