The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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Our Crumb

I humbly submit this week's baking epiphany: 

The optimal length for bulk fermentation of our house miche can be conveniently reduced to the following dress code:

• When wearing a sweater (UK: "jumper"), then 3 hours @ 78˚F (25˚C)
• When wearing a T-shirt (UK: Arsenal or Chelsea but not ManU), then 2 hours @ 78˚F (25˚C)

The foregoing code applies only to domiciles in which interior temperature varies strongly with the seasons: as low as 53˚F in Winter (sweater temperature) and as high as 85˚F in Summer (Premier League temperature).  We do not subscribe to the belief that a house temperature of, say, 72˚F is a divinely ordained right.  YMMV.

You can Brød & Taylor them all you want, but those bugs know the score, and the kitchen temperature.  So watch the wardrobe, and the dough, then maybe the clock.

Tom

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Our Crumb

Happy Easter everyone, in spite of it all.

I've been wanting to develop a SD Hot Cross Bun formula for several years, and, despite rossnroller's verdict that his CY version was better, I declare these to be not only a success but superior to all previous Easter's CY versions we've made.

HCB2020


The formula started with King Arthur's CY version and evolved with much input from my Britalian wife for whom these and Colombas are de rigueur for the season, bugger the bloody COVID.  I'll leave the Colomba making to Michael Wilson but am happy to share this Hot Cross Bun formula.  It might not be sweet enough for American palettes, so if you like your pastries sweet, you might want to bump up the sugar.

If you want the formula in BBGA.xlsx format, pm me.

Buona Pasqua a Tutti!

Tom

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Our Crumb

I regretted Toad.d.b since the moment it chose me (I will never confess that I chose it for my TFL username).  Having had a nano-epiphany while composing a post here a few days back, I've gone 'n done it: changed my TFL username to Our Crumb.  And I've adopted an avatar with some ancient family food history.

There.  Done.

dab, you'll have to call them crumbies now.  Or crumbles.  Or . . .

Happy Baking,

Tom

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Our Crumb

The recent flurry of chatter about SFSD, Larraburu Bros and Galal et al. highlights curious issues about the terroir of bread.  It occurs to me that bread has a staggeringly more extreme element thereof than wine, cheese or olive oil.  Forgive me if this is obvious and widely acknowledged.  These are new(ish), or at least somehow suddenly more deeply considered, ideas for me.

Whereas it almost takes a bonafide Supertaster to distinguish olive oils from adjacent Ligurian communes, or wines from neighboring Côtes de Rhone estates, almost anyone could distinguish my bread from that made from the same formula and process by my next door neighbor.  Why is this so?  Why is it that bread baking constitutes such a complex nexus of powerful intersecting and interacting factors dictating its outcome as to render each of our products as unique as our respective human genotypes?  I'd wager that even the gentlest nudges of nuture would prevent identical twins from producing indistinguishable breads in a single kitchen.  There's also the inevitable stochastic fuzziness inherent in any bread formula and process not executed by precison-tuned robots.

The utter personal uniqueness of our baked products is manifest every day in the TFL bread browser.  It fascinates me that, from the images, I can pick out a dabrownman, isand66, Danni3ll3, David Snyder, Alfanso or Elsie_Lu bread without having to click the link.  Ok, part of that arises from my conditioning vis a vis the same lighting and cameras in use.  But our breads are like our fingerprints or signatures - no two alike.  It'd be the same as my handing identical pens and paper to all the above bakers and asking them to forge Floyd's scribble of "The Fresh Loaf".  Each would be utterly distinguishable.  Add time, temperature, microbial, ingredient and equipment variation to that and reproducibility flies right out the window.   Are we hopelessly trying to "forge" Larraburu bread? :-)

Danny's community bakes are another example of 1000 flowers blooming from clonal seeds. Granted, everyone there is really encouraged to express her/his own personal take on a common formula, not to reproduce an ideal to the letter.  It's more an exercise of "lets all explore this space", which is the fun and flavorful fascination of it (thank you Danny!).  Yet it would be an interesting variation if everyone was actually encouraged, in a future community bake, NOT to stray from a strictly prescribed formula and process.  I don't have to tell you the outcome(s!) we could expect. 

One upshot of this line of thought is the utter futility of trying to accurately reproduce the character of Larraburu's legendary holey :-) grail.  Please don't get me wrong.  I'm not writing this to troll or diss the efforts eliciting the lively discussion and investigations currently @TFL.  On the contrary.  Just publicly ruminating about it.  We all bake (and braise and grill and stew) guided by a vision, often derived from an image in a cookbook or on a website or TV show.  The memory of a cherished bygone flavor is a powerful and worthy windmill for our personal tiltings.  I certainly do.  We all do.  Go for it.

But given the above musings about the utterly uniquely personal terroir of baked bread, how could any non-Larraburu bakehouse alumnus today possibly reproduce the flavor of a bread that was baked half a century ago at a particular bay area location with particular (mostly unknown, forgotten, scrapped) equipment with a long lost menagerie of microbes, an unknown or effectively extinct water, flour and salt supply, vessels, ambient temperature and humidity by sets of long retired, dead and mostly forgotten hands, eyes, noses and tongues?  How surprising is a result like, "the worst bread I've baked in a decade?" :-)  Well actually, a little.  But maybe that speaks to the immense scale of the challenge of trying to crack the code of bread terroir.  Maybe its quietly telling us You Shall Not Pass.

So why is a bread's character so exquisitely expressive of terroir?  Flour x Water x Salt x Yeasts x bacteria x time x temperature x humidity x hands x vessels x countertops ...?   Fill in some numbers (and factor in the barely knowable nonlinear interactions of those variables) and it becomes combinatorially astronomical.  And convincing.  Here's a hypothesis:  Acceleration, amplification and diversification by high heat.  Wine, cheese and olive oil don't get cooked at 500˚F during production.  Afterward in the kitchen perhaps, but not in the making.  As Michael Pollan has pointed out (highlighting research and scholarship by others), cooking over fire may have accelerated human evolution.  Maybe it's the heat of our ovens that is primarily responsible for launching our breads off in the zillion different directions represented by the endless diversity of our finished products.  But that's probably only a small part of it.

Or maybe it's just that when it comes to wines, cheeses and olive oils, there are only so many orchards, vineyards, pastures, caves, and (increasingly, worryingly, genetically uniform) plant and animal breeds on the planet.  But there are 8 billion of us, each built and driven by 20k genes represented by gazillions of alleles.  Neither us nor our kitchens are clones.  How could we expect our breads to any more uniform than we or they are?

Thanks for listening, if you've made it this far.  Over to you.  Got bread to bake.

Tom

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Our Crumb

Farina Bona is a unique flour produced in Cavigliano, a village in the Swiss canton of Ticino.  Cavigliano sits in the Valle Onsernone that runs east out of Locarno, the lakeside town from which the better known (to bread bakers) Valle Maggia runs north.

This deeply yellow flour is milled from toasted but unpopped maize kernels and smells very much like what you would expect:  It has an unmistakable and intense popcorn fragrance. Farina bona production dates back centuries, was eventually abandoned but has recently been revived by some romantic slow foodies.  History and production notes can be gleaned from the official Farina Bona website or Wikipedia.  

How to toast corn without popping all the kernels, you ask?  With legendary Swiss precision, of course. Remove the pan from the fire after exactly one third of the kernels have popped (those Swiss can count really fast.  Who knew?).  Then [optional: fire up Netflix,] eat the popped kernels and mill only the Old Maids.  Mind you, this is the ‘revived’ procedure. From the official website, it is clear that the current revivalists are making their best guesses as to the actual but unrecorded protocol followed by the late, venerated Annunziata Terribilini (no, I’m not making up that name).

As interesting as it would have been to visit Cavigliano when we were motoring in that direction this past summer, we were happy to find 250 gr bags of Farina Bona (along with a dazzling range of cheeses and chocolates, as well as fresh Pane Maggia) in the food hall of Manor, nearby Lugano’s big department store.


Hot damn.
The fragrance of the stuff is incredible.
Did I say that already?  

Now, most of the recipes provided in the online Farina Bona cookbook are for sweets.  Sounds tempting and we'll get around to some eventually.  After all, Piedmontese maize biscuits ~ pasta di meliga ~ are seriously delicious and rival biscotti/cantucci/cantuccini for the cappuccino dunkability crown (pasta di meliga are available from Eataly and some Carluccio’s (UK)).

 

So far we've just salted our precious Farina Bona into the weekly house miche our usual way:  At 3% of total flour, it coats and thereby de-clumps home-flaked porridge added at the second fold.  

We'd taken to using Alt Altus and/or powdered dehydrated sweet corn for that purpose this summer (in combination, an uncanny approximation of Farina bona), but popcorn is one of those smells and tastes that evokes such universally happy associations.  So why not.

Farina bona would need to be closer to 10% of total flour to take center-stage and give the miche an assertively corny character. But we’re after some light maize counterpoint here, not a Popcorn Requiem Mass.  At 3%, it's a largely subliminal hint barely peeking above the radar, but a happy hint is better than no hint at all.

There’s an outside chance that Eataly sells Farina Bona in their stores (they don’t online*).  It's just the kind of unique regional product they'd promote. I keep forgetting to forage for it there.  But then again, Italy has far too many worthy regional culinary delights competing for precious Eataly shelf space.  More importantly, Cavigliano’s being culturally but not politically Italian is almost certainly a deal-breaker. Still, if you're lucky enough to have an Eataly nearby, take a look.  And a sniff.

Happy Baking,

Tom

___________________

* If you Google(Shopping) <Farina bona>, you get a page of Farina bona fan T-shirts.  I don’t know where that’s coming from. Maybe those romantic slow foodies have hired a PR firm.

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Our Crumb

Looks like this fellow Karl de Smedt had the same idea as Alt Altus.

I like his name for it better: Fleur de Levain.

Happy Baking,

Tom

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Our Crumb


Here is a simple method for processing leftover starter into a versatile ingredient that can favorably increase the complexity of a bread's flavor profile.  It's a "toadie" in dabrownman's parlance. Perhaps a “cheat” in yours. Ok, it's not strictly altus. It had aspirations to become bread but never got the call.  Hence “Alt”. Here’s the...

What for

A few reasons. Uses for Leftover Starter is a recurrent theme at TFL.  Periodically air-drying some as a backup should be #1 on everybody’s list.  Baking it into croccantini is a favorite, especially if you accumulate large quantities of spent fuel (true, that link is not about leftover starter, but her video is a hoot.  You’ll never hear Mary Berry say, “Oh shit I forgot to add the rosemary!”).  Or you can just make another loaf with it (try mine or fernerz).  Here it gets baked, pulverized and christened “ingredient”.  Another nobler destiny for your spent fuel than an ignominious plop into the bin.

Second, I harbor a bit of an obsession with the Maillard reaction, likely owing to the relative dearth of its craveable products in our home’s vegetarian cuisine (me by choice because of my dearest’s inherited intolerance of meat).  Dry-toasted “toadies” and grano arso are short on Maillard products owing to their deficit of a key reagent required to mobilize reducing sugars and amino acids so that they can encounter each other and spontaneously react: water.

Third, I discovered a while back that fearless flavor prospectors Cortney Burns and Nick Balla included pulverized, blackened bread in Bar Tartine’s wacky cache of flavorings.  Fancy that. Right there on the rack alongside turmeric and allspice (as well as powdered dehydrated beet, kale and parsnip).

Fourth, I’ve noticed that when our oven steam apparatus shamelessly drips where it shouldn’t -- onto the loaf baking below -- the resulting bit of wet-burned crust can be surprisingly tasty.

Finally, a fellow loafer recently posted a query about preserving starter by drying it down in the oven – a strategy doomed to be about as gratifying as drying a bathed cat in the microwave.  Maybe he meant “proofer”. Regardless, that suggestion may have catalyzed the coalescence of the above sources into the process and product described below.  I have serially tinkered with the method over for the past several months. It’s very simple and forgiving. All loaves pictured here are 60% fresh-milled wheat with 1-3% Alt Altus-coated oat porridge added.  Without further ado, here’s the ...

How to

 1. Preheat oven to 400˚F.  A countertop toaster oven serves well if you have a small amount of leftover starter to process.  Avoid convection as it will render your Alt Altus case-hardened (crisp outside, soft inside) or quickly blackened if you are not properly attentive.

 2. Dilute your leftover starter, if necessary, to turn it into a thick batter (*see footnote).  Don’t add too much water – just enough to make it viscously pourable. Aim for 110% hydration if your starter is less than that.  [Note: Fresh leftover starter is best, so make this soon after serially refreshing your starter for a bake.  For example, bake your Alt Altus while the dough from which the starter was left over is final-proving and the oven is pre-heating.  Ancient starter dredged from deep in the fridge yields a bitter product.]

3.  Position parchment paper on a sheet pan and pour diluted starter onto it in a tight switchback pattern of narrow bands close enough to one another to ooze together into a very shallow irregular puddle.  A baking sheet with an efficient non-stick coating can be used instead of parchment paper. Recommended: Sprinkle fine salt over the surface of the puddle now.  This can make the final product somewhat snackable, especially if you bake it more blonde than bold.  It’s always reassuring to add an ingredient to bread dough that already tastes good enough to eat by itself.  Salt does that here.

4.  Put your preparation into the oven or toaster oven.



5. After 6-8 minutes, when the surface has become dry to the touch and is beginning to tan, flip the paper over with the lightly baked product still attached, now underneath.  Return it to the oven to dry the parchment-product interface sufficiently to free the paper when you next open the oven.

6.  After another 6-8 minutes, remove it from the oven and carefully peel off and discard the paper.  Separation anxiety may necessitate gentle encouragement with a spatula.

7.  Return product to the oven and repeat flipping and rotating it every 5-7 minutes.  Begin to break off product to a countertop plate as edges acquire a shade you’re comfortable with along the blonde > chestnut > black spectrum.  Parts will brown at different rates, so keep a close eye.  Reduce the time interval between tests as the process accelerates to completion.  Reward your patience by toasting some pistachios on the baking tray ;-).

8.  Turn off the oven, open the door and put the plated product back inside until the oven is barely warm.  Convection (with no heat) helps here.



9.  Cool fully on the countertop.



10.  Like dried herbs or coffee, the product is best stored intact and pulverized just before use.  A modernist might store it under vacuum. The rest of us: a ziploc bag. When ready to use, pulverize in a mortar, food processor, coffee/spice grinder, grain mill or ziploc bag+rolling pin. 

Uses

The amount of Alt Altus to add in any application depends upon the boldness with which it was baked and, of course, personal taste.  The darker product can be quite potent and is best deployed sparingly for optimum effect. Otherwise its strident notes can overwhelm others with which it should gracefully harmonize.

•  Add granulated product equal to 1-3% of total flour to any bread formula. Our preferred method is to mix it, coarsely ground to drip coffee sized bits, at 3% into cooked, cooled, broken-up porridge that is ready to be added to dough at the second fold. This also conveniently reduces clumping of porridge additions.    

•  Fold it at 1-3% of total flour into pizza or pasta dough (al grano arso) or polenta (to give it an authentic saracena look, if not exactly the flavor).
   
•  Jump-start a gumbo’s roux with finely powdered product (Warning: May be a capital offense in some Louisiana parishes).
   
•  Add powdered product to any chili, gravy, sauce espagnole or veggie burger mix.
   
•  Consult Burns & Balla.



Prospect

It has not escaped our notice that creatively varying the ingredients in this method could yield some novel flavors. Sourdough starter is just flour (here wheat, spelt and rye) fermented in water by sourdough microbes. One could prepare an Alt Altus batter from scratch (i.e., not from leftover starter) in which the flour was replaced or supplemented with powdered substrates prepared from other cereals, legumes or even dehydrated vegetables.  The liquid in which they are suspended (with or without fermentation) to create the batter could alternatively be apple/raisin yeast water, other populations of fermentative microbes or simply water supplemented with a suitable solute (shoyu, Marsala, Marmite, liquid aminos*). Toasting such batters and pulverizing the products to generate “spices” would subtly expand the flavor space represented by most pantries.



Happy Baking,

Tom

 ____________

* Including liquid aminos (up to 10% v/v of total leftover starter - more than that becomes Weapons Grade) in the dilution liquid makes a somewhat richer Alt Altus. Reduce added salt when including this or other salty supplement.

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Buongiorno everyone.  It's been a while.

Perhaps it's our old world village roots, but my wife and I are happy to have more or less the same bread day in and day out.  As long as it's very good bread.  Sure enough, we've been enjoying bakes of this delicious bread just about every week for the past year.  It is appropriately versatile for our vegetarian table, supplying lunchtime sandwiches and the evening table's basket.  The formula and process have proven robust enough to survive our recent relocation across 2500 miles, two time zones, +2000' in elevation and a decidedly less capable oven than that in which the bake was initially developed.  Perhaps that warrants a TFL post.

An attractive feature of the formula, besides its 60% fresh milled flour, is the ca. 30% supplement of (usually oat, but at times barley or spelt) porridge, sprouted or otherwise fully hydrated grain.  A recently adopted and salutary upgrade has been to lightly toast the rolled grain before cooking it up as porridge.  This practice echoes yesteryear's Miche Maillard, infusing not only the crust but, somewhat less so, the crumb, with a toasty maillardesse.  Importantly, a >100% hydrated supplement such as porridge continuously hydrates a fermenting, predominantly wholegrain, dough, enhancing final crumb structure.  I don't recall mention of this benefit in T3.

Formula:

 

Process:

We have settled on the above ratio of white to red wheat.  More white is too bland and more red can be too intense.  Variation in the cooked or sprouted supplement provides plenty of opportunity for subtle week-to-week diversity.

Happy New Year, Happy New Administration and Happy Baking.

Ciao.

Tom

[Notes added in "proof" :-) :

1. Error in Process above:  On First morning, "Weight out rolled oats equal to 15% weight of formula's total flour" (not 30%).  Sorry about that.

2. We quarter these miches when cooled, double ziploc bag each quarter and freeze two.  They keep and thaw well until the next bake.]

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Last week's 10% Einkorn, 40% Hard White Wheat was deliciously encouraging.  Egged on by Josh, I wanted to explore this mix more by "pushing" both the Einkorn and the overall wholegrain level this week.  I also wanted to add a sharper accent with some red wheat.  Easy as 1-2-3:  10% Hard Red Wheat, 20% Einkorn and 30% Hard White Wheat.  I also upped the overall hydration to 84% (again, taking a page from Josh's nice post), to accommodate the increased wholegrain proportion.  But maybe too much: Einkorn doesn't absorb water the way more branny wheat does (as noted by Mini this week) and this bread benefited from a day in the basket swaddled in Bee's Wrap.

The einkorn flavor comes through rather more assertively here than at 10% last week, despite the presence of some Hard Red Wheat in this formula.  This makes for a very pleasing balance of these grains, certainly no unpleasant bitterness from the einkorn.  I may try 20%-20%-20% next time, as that was in the running for this bake -- to give the mild einkorn and white wheat more of a run for their money by increasing the hard red, and dropping the hydration down a tick or two.

Process is exactly the same as last week's 10%/40%, with formula modifications as noted above.

Happy baking,

Tom

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Our Crumb

Long time, no post.  Busy.  But baking.  This is a simple, mild-flavored yet satisfying table bread with open crumb and assertive crust:  50% whole grain:  40% hard white wheat (Central Milling organic) + 10% einkorn (Heartland organic), all fresh-milled.  Departures from our habitual (Acer) process are retarding not in bulk but in banneton, followed by a short, warm proof:  1 hour at 95˚F.

Formula  (2x700 gr loaves)

Process (48h)

First night:  Refresh levain.  Ours is grown @ 75-80˚F @ 80% hydration; rests on countertop between daily feedings of a hi-fiber Gerard Rubaud ration.  If you feed intermittently, refresh at least once immediately prior to this one.

Next morning:  Mill grains.  Prepare levain and incubate @ 75-80˚F all day or until domed.

That evening:  Combine final flours + water (hold back 50 ml) and autolyse ~1 hour @ room temp.  Then fold, squeeze and pince in levain, water and salt.  French fold to uniformity and beginning of gluten development.  Bulk ferment @ 85˚F for 2 hours with letter folds every 10-20 min for first 1-1.5 hours.  Divide, rest, shape, tuck into floured bannetons, bag and refrigerate.  Nitey nite.

Baking (next) day afternoon (in time for cooled loaves at dinner):  Preheat oven @ 500˚F.  Proof loaves 1 h @ 95˚F.  Dough should rise noticeably, but far from final volume (almost top of bannetons).  Score and bake 20 min @ 500˚F with steam, then 5 min @ 435˚F with convection and ~10 min @ 435˚F without convection.  Interior should be just over 200˚F.

Happy Baking!

Tom

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