The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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I just returned yesterday from my first visit to Haiti as one of a group of 16 graduate students in public health, forestry and environmental studies, and nursing. Our route took us from Port au Prince, the capitol city devastated by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake in January 2010, through the Artibonite Valley, the epicenter of the subsequent cholera outbreak, and finally to the city of Hinche in the Central Plateau, the site of a suspected sewage dump that set off an epidemic that has killed thousands.

We spent a week in the town of Deschapelles, located in the Artibonite Valley about 70 miles north of Port au Prince. Our group stayed at an inn run by a member of the founding family of Hopital Albert Schweitzer. At each meal, we received heaping helpings of multiple varieties of starch - rice and beans, fried plantains, fried potatoes, and bread - a common cuisine in many areas located in the tropics.

With a paper-white, dense, dry crumb and a hard, smooth tan exterior, this bread can't disguise its lack of nutritional value. Unless slathered in butter, it has no flavor at all. Even when fresh, it has a stale, crumbly quality. The dough is probably made from a low-protein, low-quality flour, minimally hydrated and leavened as quickly as possible.

A 10-mile hike from Deshapelles, through a set of mountains, and to the next valley brough us to Bastien, a small town known in the local area for small, round, spongy boules of bread. Our guide called it "mountain bread," though I'm not sure what the proper name is. We saw a beehive-shaped clay oven next to one of the homes nearby.

In Bastien, we also met a lady selling fry bread. The flavor resembled that of a salty, unsweetened donut. We asked her how she made her bread, and she mentioned flour, water and salt. It seemed to be chemically leavened. I asked her in my horrible kreyol, "eske mwen kapab pran foto ou?" - May I take a photo of you - and she was happy to oblige, proudly posing for a shot with her product. Having hiked 5 miles of winding, hilly trails under the hot sun, we were quite hungry (in the first-world kind of way), and the sensation of fat and salt on our palates gave us a euphoric rush. I can only imagine what it must be like to eat a hunk of fried dough when you're truly hungry.

Ironically, diabetes and hypertension are on the rise in the Artibonite Valley in the midst of malnutrition. It seems to be an emerging trend in many developing areas - disease of excess right alongside diseases of deprivation. It's difficult to avoid starchy, high-fat, high-sodium foods when they are the most affordable and available. We're familiar with the same patterns here in the United States.

It somehow seems fitting that the bread in a place with such a complicated past and an equally complicated present should be so simple; it's a basic food that allows people to fill their bellies and go on with their lives. Spending time in an impoverished area always reminds me what a privilege it is to be able to choose what I eat, and to turn down the things I don't want to eat. It is also a privilege to have had the education to make knowledgeable dietary decisions, and to never have been forced to decide between going to school or eating dinner. For those of you who were lucky enough to have a spring break, I hope it was enjoyable, and I look forward to hearing about your adventures.

Daan's picture

Bread vs The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Bread Baking

February 22, 2013 - 10:01am -- Daan
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I have both excellent books: Bread (second edition) by Jeffrey Hamelman and The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Bread Baking by the French Culinary Institute.

Oddly enough: the breads I make from Hamelman turn out te be always a big success. Of course, sometimes after the second try but the work, they turn out well.
My breads from FCI never work... I have the impression the doughs are always too wet. Even when the overall formula is almost identical!

I676's picture

Baking Bad

February 18, 2013 - 3:27pm -- I676
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TFL should totally work on a pitch for a new TV show to be known as "Baking Bad." Main character to be known as Walter "White." That's a bread video I'd totally watch. (It's all about the next cook bake.)

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Somehow, I had overlooked the formula for Whole Wheat Multi-grain bread in Hamelman's Bread. Thanks to Khalid (Mebake) for calling it to my attention! When he named it his favorite bread, I knew I had to try it.

This is a 50% whole wheat bread made with a liquid levain and added instant yeast. It has a soaker of mixed grains and seeds. I found I had to add about 15 g of water to the dough during mixing to achieve a medium consistancy. 

The dough weighed a bit over 2 kg. My wife has been wanting some soft, whole wheat rolls for sandwiches. I thought this formula might make rolls she would like, so I made four 3.5 oz rolls in addition to two 840 g bâtards.

I baked the rolls first at 480 dF for 12 minutes and cut one for sampling. It had a sweet, wheaty flavor. The crust softened with cooling. The crumb was firm and chewy. My wife judged it suitable for its intended purpose. 

The bâtards were baked at 460 dF for 15 minutes. At that point, the crust was already getting dark. I lowered the oven temperature to 415 dF and baked for another 23 minutes.

The bâtard crust was somewhat crunchy. The crumb was more open and more tender than that of the rolls.

The flavor of the bâtard was more complex than that of the roll. It has no perceptible sourness and a slightly sweet, wheaty flavor like the roll. It is indeed a delcious whole wheat bread and one I will definitely make again. I expect it to make wonderful toast and sandwiches.

Thanks again, Khalid!

David

evonlim's picture
evonlim

my colorful sourdough breads...  using charcoal powder, goji berry, blueberry, japanese pumpkin.

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