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Aroma and Flavor Notes for Bread by Michael Kalanty

Farine - March 22, 2015 - 6:33pm

Image courtesy Michael Kalanty

I have always had my doubts about the word "delicious," finding it both enticing and frustrating. Enticing because it conjures up an array of pleasant olfactory and gustatory sensations and frustrating because these sensations remain wholly undefined, cloaked in a veil of vagueness: hearing or reading that an heirloom variety apple is "delicious" doesn't tell me anything about the taste of the apple, does it? It only tells me that the speaker or writer enjoyed eating it. Good for that person to know, for sure, but no help to me at all if I am trying to decide whether or not I might like it as well.
Having been aware of the emptiness of the d... word for a while, I have made a conscious effort to avoid using it on this blog when describing bread. But of course that meant I needed other words and to my dismay the ones that came to me were not necessarily more descriptive.
Now the task has become easier thanks to Aroma and Flavor Notes for Bread, a tool developed by Michael Kalanty, baker, chef, teacher, sensory scientist (more on that in a later post) and, last but not least, author of How to Bake Bread: The Five Families of Bread. What Mike set out to do, based on his experience working with chefs and bakers all over the world, is to give bakers the words they need to convey the actual aroma and flavor of bread, much as winemakers describe the aroma of wine or coffee roasters that of coffee.
As explained in the accompanying article, the method is pretty straightforward, you start with the crumb and you chew (preferably with your mouth open to better aerate the flavor, so don't try it on a date!).
First you identify the sourness (or lack of) of the crumb, then the character of that sourness. Smooth and dairy-like or sharp like citrus? As it happened we had been to San Francisco a few days earlier and we had brought back from Tartine Bakery a Rye Porridge loaf. I had cut it in half and put it in the freezer reserving it for a special occasion. This test definitely qualified.
I took one half out, waited for it to thaw, "resurrected" it in the oven at 350°F for about ten minutes, then let it cool down. The kitchen filled in with luscious bread baking aromas. Notice I didn't say "delicious," but is "luscious" better? I don't think so,  it conveys judgment, not information. I needed to let go of that mindset and put myself in a evaluation mode.
When the bread was cool, I separated the crumb from the crust and started chewing.
I could taste sourness but what kind? I looked at the orange and yellow infographic : the choices were green apple, grapefruit, lemon or vinegar. Vinegar and grapefruit could be eliminated right away: the one was too tangy, the other too bitter. I briefly thought of lemon but it was too acidic for what I was smelling and tasting. I settled for "green apple."
On to dairy sweetness: did I perceive an aroma of milk or butter? Not really. The closest approximation to a dairy product I could think of was a young raw milk cheese. I wrote that down. Already I was off the chart and liking it: it felt like poetry with training wheels.
As I continued chewing and aerating my palate, I also clearly identified the flavor of cooked grain. Since I have never had rye porridge, I can't say that I tasted it but I did taste boiled grain. And it didn't bring to mind rye as I know it. In fact that bread couldn't be more different from any other rye bread I have ever had. Interesting...
Moving on to the crumb, the first note I perceived was malt. I clearly discerned "roasted" as well but try as I might I couldn't identify either chocolate or balsamic. As I chewed I became keenly aware of the fact that I was very much an apprentice in the art of analyzing aromas and flavors. I was tasting things I had no words for because I had never stopped long enough to establish a correlation between language and what I was experiencing. There is definitely a learning curve to the process. In the end it boils down to educating one's palate. If I try the bread again in a few months after some practice, I will probably be more specific.
I looked at the infograph again. The crust definitely reminded me of a French dark beer, a Pelforth to be precise, which I haven't had in decades. Funny how the tastebuds remember. I assume American dark beers are not that different. But I understand that, to be really useful, the reference would need to be checked.
At the end here are the words I jotted down to describe Tartine's Porridge Rye bread. Probably not enough but hey, it was my first time.
  • Crumb: malty, mildly acidic (like a green apple), reminiscent of oatmeal and a very young raw milk cheese
  • Crust: again malty,  roasted, slightly bitter crust reminding me of a French dark beer.
Now doesn't that tell you much more than if I had just said "delicious?"
Which of course it also was. As well as luscious. Good words for sure as long as they are not the only ones we use.  To conclude I would like to thank Michael for generously sharing this tool with us. Seeing how it immediately filled a gap for me, I am convinced it will come in handy for many other bakers, professional or home-based as a way to facilitate dialogue. Thanks to bakers' math, we already have a good idea of what a bread will be like just from looking at its formula. If the baker adds aroma and flavor notes, we will also know how it will taste. I have a feeling many bakers, especially in the younger generation, will be keenly interested.

Categories: Blogs, The Bread Feed


Brot & Bread - March 19, 2015 - 8:19am
Levain made from applesauce gone bad!Hier geht's zur deutschen Version dieses Posts

The day arrives for every serious hobby bread baker when he or she - no longer satisfied with being limited to store-bought yeast - craves for the star among starters - the homemade sourdough!

The usual pathway to your own starter is stirring some flour into water, hoping that, over time, this mixture will attract wild yeasts and lactid acid bacteria to devour and digest the free all-you-can-eat menu. These microorganisms are either clinging to the grains or parachute down from the air.

Rose Hip Jam with Red Wine & ApplesThree years ago I accidentally hit on a shortcut to get faster to a viable sourdough.

A glass of my homemade rose hip jam, waiting to be labeled, had sat too long in my warm kitchen, and gone bad.

I was about ready to throw the jam in the trash when the tiny bubbles on the surface triggered my curiosity to do a a little experiment.

What would happen when I mixed a spoonful of the tipsy jam together with a bit of flour and water?

To my delight, eleven hours later I had a lively, bubbly starter that provided the mother for the Pain au Levain à la Jan Hedh I made the next day. 

Rose Hip Levain  - with a starter made from turned jam!
Last month, rummaging in our fridge, I found a glass of applesauce that we had opened a while ago, and then completely forgotten. When I removed the lid, a strong (but not unpleasant) alcoholic smell reminded me of my earlier jam experiment.

Applesauce with bubbles and alcoholic smellI was just planning to bake one of the loaves in my Bread Basket for Götz von Berlichingen, and chose Khalid's loaf, made with pureed raisins. It seemed to be a perfect match for a fruit-based starter.

After two feedings (at 12 hours intervals), my new, active apple sauce starter was born!

I took 25 grams, and, just as if it were my regular sourdough from the fridge, mixed it with the water and flours the recipe required. Then I left it alone overnight.

My trust in the power of drunken apples was not misplaced - anybody who doubts it, clearly never snacked on the seemingly innocent fruits from a punch bowl!

The next morning I found a nicely puffed, lively starter - ready for action!

Khalid's loaf, made with wheat, rye and spelt, rose just as it should. With a nice oven spring, it bore witness to the magic of the applesauce levain. It also had an excellent taste, and I will definitely bake it again (post will follow soon).

Khalid's bread - the magic of tipsy fruits
Of course, not everybody has a glass of fermented jam at hand. Tidy housewives (and their husbands) use their stock of applesauce, before it can start breaking bad. But there are other possibilities - for neat freaks and people who, unlike us, don't stuff their fridge with so many baking ingredients and condiments that they get out of control.

You can find hungry microorganisms in other places - for example at your local grocery store or supermarket (no, this is not a call for the health inspector!)

Joanna's (Zeb Bakes) Kefir-Rimacinata-Bread inspired me to a new experiment. Her starter contains homemade milk kefir. Would the active cultures of plain supermarket kefir be willing to do the heavy lifting in my kitchen, too?

Kefir starter: bubbles signal activityMy first trial, using kefir straight from the fridge, like Joanna, started out promising. The bread rose nicely, but, before even reaching it full potential, it ended with a total collapse, when I turned it out of on the baking sheet.

The structure of the dough was obviously too fragile, and not even the boost from oven heat was able to revive the pitiful flounder.

But now my ambition was tickled, and the second time around I proceeded like I did with the fruit-based levains. I mixed a teaspoon of kefir with the double amount of flour (half whole wheat, half bread flour) and left it in a warm spot in the kitchen.

A few hours later little bubbles on the surface indicated its appreciation for this treatment, and I continued feeding it over the next two days, every 24 hours.

On the third day I subjected my kefir starter to a new test - with a "pinched, not kneaded" loaf à la Ken Forkish. The result already looked much better, even though the crumb was still rather dense in some areas. The Overnight Cornmeal Bread didn't taste bad, either.

Made with 3-day-old kefir-levain: some dense areas, but already edible

Over the next days, from feeding to feeding - every 24 hours - my kefir-levain rose and fell exactly as Chad Robertson (Tartine) asks for his starter. A loaf à la Tartine, considered by many the Hol(e)y Grail of bread baking, was destined be the ultimate stress test for my young sourdough.

Voilà - here comes the Brown Rice Porridge Bread, made with a 8-day-old kefir starter:

Brown Rice Porridge Bread from Tartine No. 3
The juvenile starter performed like a real pro, providing a leavening strength and great taste that my normal sourdough couldn't have done any better!

Not only that - I got the blessing of the master himself: Chad Robertson "favorited" my bread on Twitter :)

 Chad Robertson "favorited" my bread
Categories: The Bread Feed


Brot & Bread - March 2, 2015 - 7:09pm

 Hier geht's zur deutschen Version dieses Posts (folgt noch)

After skipping the first two two projects, I was ready to join the Avid Bakers again -
Lemoniest Little Lemon Loaf from Christina Marsigliese, our new source for "Scientifically Sweet" recipes.

I love all citrus-y desserts, the tarter the better! And right now, having shoveled snow almost every day, I wish we could be back where the biggest lemons grow, the Amalfi coast!

Lemons (and Limoncello) in Amalfi - I wish we were there!
A whole cake is always a bit too much for two people who are forced to eat all their output (and they love to cook!), so I decided to make cupcakes instead, with a bit of lemon glaze for even more citrus flavor.

Since the cake contained cornmeal, I did not smuggle some whole wheat in the batter (what I usually do), and because Christina's cake didn't seem overly sweet, and had a lot of lemon juice, I didn't reduce the amount of sugar, either.

True to their name, the cupcakes tasted very lemony, indeed. A little trip to Italy for our taste buds!

Moist and lemony
LEMONIEST LEMON CUPCAKES (adapted from "Scientifically Sweet")
(12 cupcakes)
163 g/1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
42 g/1/3 cup yellow cornmeal
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 tbsp lemon zest
¼ tsp salt
132 g/2/3 cup sugar
80 ml/1/3 cup canola oil
¼ cup lemon juice

120 g/1 cup confectioner's sugar
lemon juice (as needed for the desired consistency)
lemon zest, as decoration

Preheat oven to 350°F/175ºC. Line a standard muffin pan with paper liners.

Whisk together dry ingredients
Using a whisk, stir together flour, cornmeal and baking powder in a medium bowl until well combined.

In bowl of a standing mixer (or hand held mixer), whisk eggs, egg yolk, lemon zest and salt on medium-high speed until foamy, about 40 seconds.

With the mixer running, gradually add the sugar. Then increase the speed to high and continue beating until mixture is very pale and almost white in color, about 5 minutes. It should nearly triple in volume.

Fold the dry ingredients into the egg mixture, first with the whisk attachment....
In a small bowl, stir together oil and lemon juice. Using the whisk attachment, fold 1/3 of the flour mixture into the egg mixture.

Add 1/2 of oil mixture and fold until almost blended. Fold in 1/2 of remaining flour mixture followed by remaining olive oil mixture.

....then the last flour addition by hand with a rubber spatula
Finally, by hand with a rubber spatula, gently fold in last 1/3 of the flour mixture until evenly incorporated.

Distribute batter evenly in cupcake liners (I use a 1/4 scoop). Place muffin pan in the middle of the oven.

Lemoniest cupcakes ready for the oven
Bake cupcakes until they are pale golden, but still springy when touched, and a toothpick comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Let cupcakes cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove them from the pan, and transfer to a wire rack.

Waiting for their glaze
For the glaze, mix confectioner's sugar with enough lemon juice to make a thick but still liquid icing. Spoon glaze (about 1 teaspoon each) over tops of cupcakes. Decorate with a little bit of lemon zest.
Categories: The Bread Feed


Brot & Bread - February 28, 2015 - 3:52pm
Hier geht's zur deutschen Version dieses Posts

Another blizzard howls around our house, the third in two weeks! Alpine mountains tower over our backyard, shoveling is almost futile with the drifting snow, and a curtain of dagger-like icicles hanging from the roof grows to scary dimensions.

Icicles of Terror?
What can you do to avoid succumbing to the winter blues, or getting stir crazy? After digging out from another 11 inches of "light snowfall" to make our house accessible again, there's only one answer:

Go into my cozy kitchen, enjoy the warmth of the wood stove, and bake some more!

Emergency supplies to survive the next blizzard
Fortunately I always have nuts, Nutella, cream and rum in stock - perfect for making something rich and comforting to sustain us during this bone-chilling ordeal: Bohemian Hazelnut Torte, to our rescue!

Not for nothing, Czech Bohemia, once part of the Hapsburg Empire, is famous for its truly rich cuisine. With its wealth of pastries and calories it is no doubt on par with neighboring Austria and Bavaria.

Like all cakes in pastry chef Karl Neef's wonderful book on cakes,  Sonntagskuchen und Festtagstorten, Bohemian Hazelnut Torte needs a bit of work, but is so utterly worth the effort. In other words - a cake "to die for!"

The filling requires nougat. Unlike the one available in the US, German nougat is not white, but made with chocolate. Fortunately, Nutella is a good substitute.

Tart and spicy Pflaumenmus - my favorite jam
Another typical ingredient in Bohemian/Austrian pastry is Pflaumenmus (Austrian: Powidl). This spicy plum butter is similar to apple butter, but a bit tarter and more intense in flavor. You can substitute it with apple butter. Or get the real thing from a German deli shop, or at the commissary, if you are, like me, married to a veteran. 

Or you can make a pretty good substitute from prunes, without the hours-long baking process the original requires  - see my recipe for Pflaumenmus-Ersatz.  

Even though we really love our desserts - we are only two people, so I usually downsize, and bake either medium sized or even mini-tortes. You can choose between the two versions.

This torte is really "to die for" (here the mini-version)
BÖHMISCHE NUSSTORTE - BOHEMIAN HAZELNUT TORTE   (adapted from Karl Neef's Sonntagskuchen und Festtagstorten)

75 g/2.6 oz all-purpose flour             
15 g/0.5 oz hazelnuts, toasted (toast together with the nuts for the caramel)
1 generous pinch cinnamon
1 generous pinch baking powder
3 large eggs
55 g/1.9 oz sugar
30 g/1 oz melted butter, lukewarm

60 g/2.1 oz sugar
10 g/0.4 oz butter
110 g/3.9 oz hazelnuts, toasted ((toast together with the nuts for the sponge cake)

60 ml/1/4 cup water
3/4 tsp. sugar
40 g/1.4 oz rum

5 g/0.2 oz gelatin powder (or 3 sheets gelatin)
25 g/5 tsp cold water
550 ml/18.6 oz heavy or whipping cream
40 g/1.4 oz sugar
75 g/2.6 oz Nutella
35 g rum (2 tbsp + 1 tsp)
185 g/6.5 oz plum butter*) or apple butter

*) or make it yourself: quick and easy plum butter substitute

Toast all hazelnuts (for sponge and caramel) together in a dry pan, until golden, and most of the skins can be rubbed off. Use 15 g/0.5 oz for the sponge and set aside remaining nuts for the caramel.

Preheat oven to 355ºF/180ºC. Grease a 9-inch/23-cm springform pan, and line the bottom with parchment paper. (Or, if you don't want to deal with cutting a fairly thin cake in halves, grease and line two 9-inch/23-cm round cake pans).

For the sponge, grind nuts together with flour, cinnamon and baking powder
Place flour, 15 g/0.5 oz hazelnuts, cinnamon and baking powder in food processor. Pulse, until nuts are finely ground. (Grinding nuts together with flour or sugar prevents them turning into a greasy "nut butter").

Place eggs and sugar in a double boiler over simmering water. Using a whisk, beat mixture until it reaches 120ºF/49ºC (maximum). Remove at once from the heat and transfer to bowl of an electric mixer. Beat until egg mixture has cooled, and turned pale yellow and foamy.

Fold flour mixture and melted butter in egg mixture
Fold first flour mixture in egg mixture, then melted butter, until combined. Transfer batter to springform pan, or distribute in the two cake pans, smoothing top(s) with a rubber spatula.

Bake cake in springform pan for about 20 minutes (about 10 minutes for cake pans) until top is light golden brown and still feels elastic when slightly pressed in the center.

Allow cake to cool in the pan on a rack, then remove springform ring (or loosen rim in round pans with a knife), turn sponge out onto the rack, and peel off parchment paper.

The sponge should be light golden brown, and feel elastic in the center
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place sugar in medium sauce pan over medium heat. Melt, stirring constantly, until sugar turns golden. Add butter, stirring until blended. Add hazelnuts, stirring vigorously, until they are covered with caramel. Scrape out and spread nut caramel in one layer on prepared baking sheet.

Caramelizing hazelnuts
In small bowl, stir together sugar, water and rum, until sugar has dissolved. Set aside.

In small bowl, sprinkle powdered gelatin over cold water (or cover gelatin sheets with cold water) to soak.

Whisk heavy cream with sugar until soft peaks form (standing or handheld mixer). Microwave Nutella until softened, then stir until smooth. Transfer to a medium bowl.

Folding rum-gelatin mixture and cream in Nutella
Heat soaked gelatin together with rum mixture in microwave (or on stove top), until it has melted. Stir rum-gelatin mixture together with 1 tablespoon of the whipped cream into bowl with the softened Nutella (to temper it). Then fold in remaining whipped cream.

Cut sponge horizontally in 2-3 layers (if baked in a springform pan) Put bottom layer on a serving platter. Grease ring of springform pan or cake ring, line with a strip of parchment paper, and place it around the bottom cake layer.

This cake cutter makes horizontal cuts easy 
For 3 layers: brush bottom layer with 1/3 of the rum mixture, spread 1/3 of the plum or apple butter over it, followed by 1/3 of the filling. Repeat with two remaining cake layers.

For 2 layers: use 1/2 of brushing liquid, plum (or apple) butter and filling per layer.

The torte is assembled, now it has to be chilled
Place torte for at least 4 hours in the refrigerator.

Remove cake ring from chilled torte. Using rolling pin, coarsely crush caramelized hazelnuts. Sprinkle top of the torte with nuts and caramel shards. 

Torte topped with nuts and caramel (here the mini-version)
MINI-BOHEMIAN HAZELNUT TORTE  (use diet scale or fraction weighing spoon!)

41 g all-purpose flour             
8 g whole hazelnuts
1 pinch cinnamon
1 pinch baking powder
97 g eggs*)
30 g sugar
16 g melted butter, lukewarm

*)break an egg into a cup, beat lightly, then measure the desired amount.

33 g sugar
4 g butter
62 g whole hazelnuts

33 g water
2 g sugar
21 g rum

2.9 g powdered gelatin (or 1 2/3 sheet gelatin)
1 tbsp cold water (for gelatin powder)
310 g heavy or whipping cream
25 g sugar
41 g Nutella
20 g rum
100 g plum butter (or plum butter substitute) or apple butter

Prepare like the larger torte, but cut sponge only once horizontally and use 1/2 of brushing liquid, plum or apple butter, and filling per layer.

This torte will not get old (here mini-version)
Submitted to Sugarprincess Yushka's monthly blog event "Calendar of Cakes".

Categories: The Bread Feed


Brot & Bread - February 28, 2015 - 3:27pm

Hier geht's zur deutschen Version dieses Posts (folgt noch)

Nothing better than a slice of freshly baked bread with butter and jam, especially with Pflaumenmus - spiced German plum butter - one of my favorites. Pflaumenmus is made from Italian plums, cooked for many hours to a dark mush, and seasoned with cinnamon and a hint of cloves.

Plum butter tastes similar to apple butter, but noticeably tarter and more intense. Pflaumenmus - or Powidl in Austria - is not only a tasty spread for sandwiches, but, also, often used as sweet filling in dumplings or pastry, especially in Austria and neighboring countries of the old Hapsburg empire.

Bohemian Hazelnut Torte with plum butter (the dark layer)
Married to a Vietnam vet, I can get plum butter and other German delicacies at the commissary in Bangor. But if you have neither access to a military base, nor to a German deli shop, and don't want to go through the lengthy process of making the real thing from scratch - there is an easy way out: DIY-Pflaumenmus-Ersatz!

When I wrote my blog post for Bohemian Hazelnut Torte I was wondering what kind of substitute could be used for plum butter. The best of all husbands suggested apple butter, and it comes fairly close, but is somewhat milder. Then I thought of the dried prunes I like snacking on, looked at ingredients in some Pflaumenmus (from the scratch) recipes, and got to work.

Ingredients for Pflaumenmus-Ersatz
This is what I came up with: a combination of the mellow acidity of balsamic vinegar and the fresh zing of lemon juice for tartness, brown sugar and maple syrup (or only brown sugar) for sweetness, and cinnamon and a hint of cloves for spices.

The prunes have to be soaked for several hours (or overnight), so that they can be easily pureed, using either a food processor or an immersion blender. The plum butter substitute tastes better the day after it's made, so give it a 12-hour rest in the fridge to allow the flavors to blend.

Not only good for baking - we had Pflaumenmus-Ersatz with pancakes and maple syrup for brunch: delicious!

200 g dried prunes
3/4 cup/180 g water, boiling
40 g/5 tsp. balsamic vinegar
4 tsp. lemon juice
4 tsp. dark brown sugar (or 1 tbsp. brown sugar and 1/2 tbsp. maple syrup)
1/8-1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon (to taste)
pinch ground cloves

In a small bowl, pour boiling water over prunes. Cover, and let sit for several hours (or overnight) to soften.

Place softened prunes with soaking liquid in bowl of food processor (or blender). Add balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, brown sugar, maple syrup (if using), cinnamon and cloves, and process until mixture is smooth.

Season with more lemon juice, brown sugar (or maple syrup) and cinnamon to taste. Transfer plum butter to a jar or bowl, cover, and allow to rest for 12 hours, until flavors have blended.
Categories: The Bread Feed

Sometimes the signs...

Farine - February 25, 2015 - 5:09pm
...are sad. There is a beach a few miles from where we live and we often take our little dog running on it. Most of the time the sand is bare: no weeds, very little detritus, only crabs, broken seashells and the occasional driftwood. Today the tide had brought in more stuff than usual: shiny pieces of redwood, polished rocks, large empty shells. I spied an unbroken sand dollar and an iridescent blue shell shaped like a tiny comma.
I continued walking, keeping my eyes on the ground. I couldn't shake the feeling that a sign from Noah was imminent and that it would materialize if only I paid close attention. I didn't have long to wait. Here it was at the edge of the surf: a lone kid shoe, full of water and sand, of a style and size that looked just right for a six-year old boy.
I stared. I could feel my heart racing and my throat constricting. But the dog was running ahead, chasing seagulls. I snapped a picture and reluctantly followed.
On the way back, the shoe was gone. As if it had never existed...
Categories: Blogs, The Bread Feed


Farine - February 21, 2015 - 12:33pm
Signs are everywhere. Only we don't always see them. For three nights in a row last month, the shortest of five ivory flameless candles lined up on our kitchen counter lit up all by itself and I thought nothing of it. On the fourth night, it occurred to me it could be a sign. From Noah. The day after, it lit up during the day, then the battery died. I put in a new one but the candle didn't turn itself on again that night or any other night since.
Two weeks later, it was the turn of a red candle, the middle one of a set of three. This time I took a picture before turning it off. It didn't light up by itself again.
Now, unbeknownst to me, family members had consulted a psychic the week before Christmas. From what I heard later, it had been a poignant experience because so much of what that person said or hinted at about our family was eerily specific and accurate when there was no way she could have had access to that information through "regular" channels (even if she had had a chance to google the various branches of the family tree, including the distantly related and international ones, and she hadn't).
I must say I was flabbergasted when I heard the details. I have never been to a psychic and it has never even occurred to me to go see one. It would be fair to say that I am more of a skeptic than a believer. Yet I am convinced that there is much we do not know or comprehend about the world and that the essential may well be "invisible to the eyes" in the words of French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. One of the things the psychic said was that Noah was trying to communicate with his family through "something related to feathers" and/or through electrical interferences.
I hadn't been told yet on Christmas Eve when I spotted the yellow bird on one of the bushes lining our driveway. I hadn't been told but from the joy and peace that suddenly came over me, I "knew" it was a sign from Noah. The bird's feathers looked extraordinarily soft and fluffy and its eyes were bright. It let me approach as I took out my phone and started snapping pictures. It only flew off when I came too close for comfort and even then it still lingered in full sight a few minutes longer, eyeing me from its perch on a limb. I had never seen it before and never saw it since.
My daughter sent me these two pictures she took last week at the graffiti park in the college town where her oldest child goes to school. The Spanish words means "the lost son." The graffiti were next to each other. The thought of this juxtaposition sends chills down my spine. What are the odds that this might be unrelated to the loss of Noah? From what my daughter learned the graffiti are regularly painted over with fresh ones. What are the odds that these two should be up there for a broken-hearted mother to see on her visit?
Just as when we went back home in the month following the murder and the first three letters of the confirmation code on our flight itinerary was NOA... What are the odds of this having been a coincidence?
Yet we can never know, can we? The candles may have been malfunctioning, the bird a migratory visitor on its way to warmer climes, the graffiti totally unrelated to the tragedy that befell our family, the airline code the result of sheer randomness.  We may be looking for meaning where there is none.
And believe me, even though hearing from Noah is our dearest wish, it is also immensely sad it should be through such paltry and evanescent means. Only yesterday I was playing TimeLine and SmartyPants with my eight-year old California grandson (he was born six weeks after Noah and his twin sister) and we were having a great time trying to answer quizzes, solve puzzles and put scientific discoveries in chronological order. We went grocery-shopping and I made him lunch and it was just plain ordinary life and it threw into stark relief how pathetic it is that such trivial things as the sight of a bold bird or a rogue candle should bring happiness and peace.
And yet...
And yet it is better than nothing. The "signs" hint at the possibility that Noah is still out there and still close to us.
If they signify nothing else, they mean our love for him is very much alive. They mean he is missed every minute of every day. They mean we believe his spirit hasn't died. And if that isn't a reason to feel happy and at peace despite our sorrow, I wonder what is.
Categories: Blogs, The Bread Feed

Buckwheat Love

Farine - February 14, 2015 - 8:17am
So the other day, I bought a small bag of Bob's Red Mill organic cracked buckwheat (marketed as "creamy buckwheat") thinking I would make porridge for breakfast and use the rest in a rustic bread. Maybe because I grew up eating buckwheat crêpes regularlyI have a huge fondness for blé noir (literally black wheat) as my grandmother used to call it (the other name being sarrasin) and as it is still called in half of Brittany and I was looking forward to a new buckwheat experience.
Well, I was disappointed: not only did the cracked buckwheat boil into a solid clump but it had no taste at all. To the point that it ended up in our little dog's food bowl (she didn't seem to mind, maybe because I added a non-inconsiderable amount of shredded chicken and sweet potatoes). In any events it had a very positive effect on her innards which had been rather scrambled because of her unbridled passion for sand crabs (we walk her on the beach most days and she treats it not only as her personal race track -which is good- but also as an all-you-can-eat sushi bar -which is less beneficial to her health).
Anyway I had buckwheat on my mind in a generally dispirited sort of way when French chef and pastry chef Philippe Conticini was invited on On va déguster, one of my favorite French weekly food radio shows, and I heard him describe, among other things, a topping he makes with buckwheat and hazelnut meal. Unlike the other recipes the chef shared on that day, this one was pretty simple and I jotted down the reference, thinking it could come in handy.
A few days later I got an interesting oat chocolate crumble recipe in my mailbox from Smitten Kitchen, a blog I love not only for its food but for also the verve, energy, humor and otherwise sheer New-Yorkishness of its author, Deb Perelman.
The recipe called for pears. That caught my attention. A dozen big organic pears had been ripening on the counter for the better part of two weeks and I knew they were about ready to eat. I was idly trying to remember if we had any oat flakes left over from the last time I made granola when the Conticini buckweat topping popped into my mind. Bingo!
Next thing I knew, I was caramelizing pears and grinding cracked buckwheat into flour. When all the ingredients were ready, I put the caramelized pears in an oven dish, covered them with a layer of unsweetened frozen raspberries, added dark chocolate chips and a generous sprinkling of buckwheat topping, and into the oven it went for about thirty minutes. I won't lie by saying it came out gorgeous. In my experience, melted chocolate always looks iffy under a toasted surface but it smelled divine and tasted even better, especially with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.

For 5 or 6 people


For the fruit base
  • 4 ripe pears, peeled, cored and diced
  • 60 g sugar
  • 60 butter 
  • 200 g frozen raspberries
  • 1 teaspoon of corn starch
For the topping
(makes way more than you need for this recipe but can be refrigerated and used on other desserts or even on oatmeal or yogurt)
  • 100 g buckwheat flour
  •  50 g salted butter
  • 50 g brown sugar
  • 65 g hazelnut meal
  • 2 generous pinches of fleur de sel (or regular coarse sea sal
Since Deb explains in details how to make the fruit base and the process is pretty straightforward, I won't go over it again. As suggested, I added a teaspoon of cornstarch to the caramelized pears to thicken up the juices a bit. If you do that, remember to mix the cornstarch with some cold liquid first. (I took two tablespoons of pear juice out of the pan, added an ice cube until cool, removed the ice cube, mixed in the starch and put the whole thing back in with the pears.)
The recipe for the buckwheat topping being given in French, I'll run it by you in English: basically all you have to do is mix the buckwheat flour, butter, salt and hazelnut meal in the food processor until you get a finely granulated powder, toast it for a few minutes in a frying pan until satisfyingly blonde and fragrant. Et voilà, you have a dessert that's both reasonably healthful and decidedly decadent. Enjoy!
Categories: Blogs, The Bread Feed

About love

Farine - February 9, 2015 - 5:51pm
Love is when an eight-year old French girl decides to make a Pithiviers (an almond cake) for her family. She has baked Pithiviers before and is confident it will come out well. So confident that she forgets to use flour. Butter goes in and ground almonds and sugar and who can remember what else but what comes out of the oven is a flat disk. At the end of dinner that night, the so-called Pithiviers is solemnly brought out and sliced. But the smell and taste are off-putting (mushroomy in fact, probably because of the baking powder) and nobody is actually able to eat more than one bite of his or her share except the little girl's dad who pronounces the sorry cake the best flourless Pithiviers he has ever had.
Love is when you bake a brioche for your Valentine and you make it a hundred percent whole wheat to compensate for all the butter you used that he shouldn't be eating and you bungle the shaping because really you never learned how to make a brioche à tête like the ones you see all over Paris and because of the poor shaping, it doesn't rise as well as it should but you bake it anyway and when you slice it open to reveal a somewhat under-baked center, your Valentine says there is nothing wrong with your brioche that a little browning in the toaster won't fix.
Love is a lot like gluten in bread dough: it binds us together, yet leaves enough breathing space around each of us that we can grow and change and still be part of a whole. In the face of the relentless waves of violence, ugliness, intolerance, and plain old stupidity that are threatening to sweep us under, the humble metaphor is reason enough to keep on baking.
Happy Valentine's Day everyone!

Categories: Blogs, The Bread Feed
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