Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Year-end honors for "52 Loaves"

I'm very grateful for some year-end honors accorded my memoir, 52 Loaves.

The book has been named to both the Kirkus Reviews and Booklist Top Food Books of 2010, and an excerpt has been included in Best Food Writing of 2010. (Of course, if you're only going to buy one food book this season...IT'S THE ONE WITH ALL MY CHAPTERS (not an excerpt), comprendez?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Herb and Bacon Focaccia

When I see focaccia on the menu, I usually turn the page, for more often than not it tastes like stale pizza crust, but being in the mood to try something new, I figured I could easily do better. I went to my cookbook library, but after being discouraged by complicated recipes with poolishes and overnight this and that, I decided to do it the simple way, by started with my basic pizza dough and turning it into focaccia by way of getting they hydration up to 72% and doing some stretching and folding, as with ciabatta.  I had some fresh thyme and sage in the garden, and threw in some bacon for good measure. The result: a delicious, airy crust with an herb-infused flavor.

Here's the recipe:

 326 g all-purpose flour
 161 g levain (see my levain recipe here )
 212 g water
 9 g salt
 1/4 teas. instant yeast

 2 Tbl chopped fresh sage
 1 Tbl chopped fresh thyme
 3-4 Tbl olive oil steeped with some sage and thyme
 6 slices bacon, cooked about 2/3 of the way through  and chopped
  1.  Make the dough: combine all ingredients, mix, cover with towel and allow to rest for 25 min.
  2. Knead by hand about 7 minutes. The dough will be quite wet.
  3. Place in oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap sprayed with vegetable oil spray and let sit at room temp for about 2 hours.
  4. Place in refrigerator for at least 4 hours; more time if you have it. Then return to countertop for another hour or two, until it's no longer ice cold. It won't rise an awful lot; don't worry about it.
  5. On well-floured countertop, gently press dough into a 6-inch square; cover with the plastic and let rest a few minutes.
  6. Lightly flour the top of the dough., then grab the dough in the middle of the square and stretch outwards about twice the original size, and fold back. Do the same with the other half, envelope style.
  7. Cover and rest for 30 min. Repeat the folding; cover and rest 30 min.
  8. Cover a rimmed  cookie sheet with parchment paper and lightly spray with oil. My pan was about 11 by 16 inches, but the size is not too important.
  9. Using your fingers, gently push the dough out to form an even layer over the pan about 3/8 to 1/2 inch high. It may not fill the pan. Add the herbs, cover with plastic and let rise about 1-1/2 hours.
  10. Preheat the oven to 525 degrees.
  11. Fifteen minutes before baking, Brush with the herb-infused olive oil, then use your fingers to gently poke indentations into the dough, thus working the oil into the dough. It will pool up in the dimples. Add the bacon.
  12. Place in oven; turn oven down to 450 degrees and bake for about 15-20 minutes until lightly golden brown. Let cool for a few minutes, but it's best eaten when warm.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A vist to the bread museum (okay, so I'm a dweeb)

On a recent trip to Provence, I found myself staying in Bonnieux, where I'd read in a guideboook there was a certain museum of interest. I asked our innkeeper where it was, and he had to consult a map. "You're the first one to ever ask," he said.

Figures. The museum in question was the Bread Museum, or more properly, the Bakery Museum, La Musée de la Boulangerie, and I wasn't leaving town without seeing it. Fortunately, by the time we'd arrived on this rainy Sunday afternoon, the crowds had dispersed, and we had the place almost to ourselves. Other than the plaster figure loading the (authentic) oven  (the museum was formerly a bakery) and some ancient reapers,
much of the museum is devoted to documentation regulating the price of bread and flour -- not the most thrilling collection, but real important if you happened to be living in France a century or two ago. Still, there were some great vintage posters, some neat antique baking instruments, and we had a grand time. So should you ever find yourselves  in Provence on a rainy day, I highly recommend it. If you find it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Pizza Disastro

What better way to celebrate -- or mourn -- the last week of summer than to make a pizza in the clay oven that had not been used all season long. After some difficulty, I got a good fire going, had the last mojito of summer, then after about an hour, threw in one last piece of firewood and pronounced the oven ready for cooking.

This was so easy! What hadn't I used this thing more? Inside, Anne and I prepared two small pies: one with chorizo and leek, the other with fresh tomatoes and basil. Ten minutes later.... Maybe 15 minutes...Okay, 20 minutes (or more) later I brought both pies out to the oven.

The fire, which had been roaring when I'd last seen it, was nearly out. No matter, I should have enough residual heat. I slid the pie off the peel. No I didn't. I had taken so long to make the second pizza, the first one was by now glued to the peel. I somehow got it into the oven, if a little deformed. Odd... no sizzle. Surely the oven hadn't cooled that much. I put my hand in to test the temp. If you can't keep your hand in for a count of 3 the oven's ready -- I could have left in there all day. I threw in some more wood and huffed and puffed like mad, reviving the fire. Better....now the back of the pie was cooking, but the front was still raw. I tried to rotate it. Ever try to to rotate raw dough in an enclosed space?

Twenty minutes later the pie (which by now resembled a calzone that had been dropped on the ground) was cooked/burned/almost raw, depending on where you looked.

Wising up, the second pie I cooked the way God intended us to cook: in an electric oven on a pizza stone.

Buon appetito!

Friday, July 23, 2010

52 Loaves now available on Kindle

Finally...52 Loaves is available on Kindle, and coming very, very soon (maybe even by the time you've read this) to Nook, iBook, and Sony.

Thanks for your patience, all you e-readers!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Recreating Nana's Potato Bread

I received a distress call from a reader who is trying to recreate a bread she tasted and loved: her "Nana's" potato bread. (Am I the only one who flashes back to the scene in Annie Hall where Woody Allen meets Diane Keaton's parents -- and her "nana" -- whenever I hear that term?)

Anyway, does anyone have any suggestions? The reader's note follows:

I too have spent many hours trying to create a perfect bread and was delighted to hear your story.  I was wondering if you had any suggestions for my own bread journey.My nana always had a homemade bread that was their daily bread. It was this deliciously moist, tasty potato bread that was slightly sweet, with a rich, slightly nutty, moist smell. It could be left on the counter without any covering for a day or so and not get stale.She died was I was in junior high, but at some point, I wrote down the recipe while she was making it one day. I have spent YEARS trying to recreate this recipe and have had no luck. Here is the recipe as I wrote it down.

Boil 2-3 little old potatoes.
Mash in a bowl, working in 3 T. sugar or honey and 3 t. salt. Mash together.

In the meantime, put yeast in potato water or sugar (water)

Alternate a cupful of liquid, then cupful of flour, alternating until like soft cake batter. Put yeast in, let stand until bubbly (about 2 hours). (This is where I become confused with what is considered the liquid. Was it the potato mash or yeast water? Should I combine the yeast water and potato mash? I have tried a dozen variations and can't seem to get it right)

After bubbly, knead in enough flour so that it no longer sticks to your hands. Put in a bowl, grease top, put in over or put wet cloth over it. Rise unt50 miil doubled in bulk.

After doubled in bulk, knead down, cut into greased pan, let rise to top of pan.

Heat over to a little before 350 degrees. Bake about 50 minutes. Turn oven down to 300 degrees after 15 minutes.

I have no exact measurements and have tried to recreate this recipe. I have gotten close to getting the same texture, but I can't recreate the flavor. Do you think this could have to do with the yeast that was floating around that kitchen? Her kitchen always had a delicious smell. She was a big gardener and excellent cook who cooked using local vegetables and herbs from her garden. Her compost was right outside the kitchen. Do you have any suggestions for resources or ideas of how I might recreate the recipe

Friday, June 18, 2010

Largehearted Baker

When the host of the music blog Largehearted Boy invited me to participate in a feature where writers discuss music relevant to their books, my first thought was, "Well, that's a stretch." My second was, "but publicity is publicity," and my third thought (and trust me, three thoughts on any given topic is about my max) was,"this is not such a stretch at all." See why...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Readers Speak

I thought (in yet another transparent evasion of my blogging duties) I'd share some reader comments with you this week  Apparently (and I have to admit, somewhat surprisingly) the recipes I provide in the book do work for others as well:
  • I have been baking bread for some time, and read your book just recently.  I tried the Peasant Bread recipe and was amazed.  Every time I've made it, it's turned out wonderfully, nice rise, some gas holes, wonderful flavour.  I add 1/4 cup of flax meal, and make it into two batards with stubby ends, sometimes give one away and eat the other, or freeze one...So thank you for providing such a neat book and a delightful recipe.  I bake pretty well every day and thank you every time. - Janice L.
  • This is the first loaf of bread I've ever made from scratch. It might be the best bread I've ever had.   - Adam C
  • Loved, loved, loved the book!  So fun, and I learned so much- will be buying a few for presents, for sure.  Cheers,  Mary
  • There’s no particularly useful information. The humor is mildly amusing at best. - S.T.
You can't please everyone...Keep those cards and letters coming!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Of Hazy Apples and Starter

My recent mention on the Diane Rehm show that I built my sourdough starter (levain) using a couple of hazy apples (the haze being wild yeast), and the posting of my levain recipe on her website has caused some consternation among listeners who don't have local apples (and who does, this time of year?).

Here are a couple of solutions: Firstly, you can use an apple from a store - but get an unwaxed one. There will still be plenty on yeast on the skin. If you can get an organic apple, so much the better. Or, if you have something else growing that's sweet and local (e.g., someone mentioned they had strawberries; another person had grapes) you can toss that in instead. But you can even skip the local fruit. There's plenty of yeast right in flour. But the other thing the fruit provides (aside from some "local color") is sugar to help get the yeast going. Baking instructor and writer Peter Reinhart adds canned pineapple juice to make his starter (the pineapple possibly having some other beneficial properties, in addition to sugar).

So, don't sweat it -- there are lots of ways to get your starter started, and the website The Fresh Loaf has a number of them. Have fun with it, and if it doesn't work out the first time, throw it out and start over!

Full instruction are included in 52 Loaves, and the recipe can be found on my website

Friday, June 4, 2010

Pain de l'Abbaye

I'm going to let another bread blogger speak for me this week. "MC," as she goes by, who writes the blog Farine (the French word for flour) decided to try making my pain de l'abbaye this past weekend. This is the recipe I developed on the spot while trying to restore the lost tradition of baking to a 1300-year-old abbey in Normandy. It's a bit unusual in that it uses both a poolish and a levain, the reason being that, with the volume of bread they were making, keeping enough levain going for a pain au levain (with no commercial yeast) would have been difficult for the monks, so I came up with a recipe using an overnight poolish (a batter of flour, water, and just a pinch of yeast) for flavor, with a little of my levain thrown in for both flavor and texture.

The result: pain de l'Abbaye St. Wandrille. Read MC's experiences with it and see her mouth-watering photos (that's hers above) here.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

52 Loaves makes NPRs top 15 books of summer list!

This might be preaching to the choir, but I'm pleased to announce that the book that inspired this blog, 52 Loaves, has just been chosen as one of NPR's 15 "soaring summer reads."

As a bonus, for those of you not yet in the choir, they've printed an excerpt of my wheat harvest adventure. Enjoy...

Friday, May 28, 2010

The state of home baking in the States

No, this blog isn't dead -- I've just been on the road touring for 52 Loaves (hey, you can't bake and travel at the same time). A side benefit was that I got to meet (and hear about) a lot of passionate bakers. There was the guy who built a kitchen around a brick bread oven (not the other way around), the doctor who quit his job to become a baker, and the woman who bakes bread for her family every single day. (And no, she wasn't overweight.) Plus just a lot of dedicated people who love baking and homemade bread. Due to my proselytizing I have a feeling that all over the country people are building starters right now. If you want to make your own, just follow these directions. It's easy and it's the first step toward making artisan bread.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Metric or Bust! (Or, bakers weigh everything, part deux)

Recently a reader wrote that, while he understood why I measured all ingredients by weight (in grams) in the recipes included in 52 Loaves, he didn't own a metric scale and suggested I post volume equivalents on this blog. It's a legitimate request, but I think I'd be doing him (and all bakers) a disservice if I did so. Here's why:
  • First of all, bakers weigh everything. Even, as I've mentioned before (in this blog's initial post) the firewood that goes into the brick oven. This is because measuring by volume (especially flour) is inherently and unavoidably inaccurate and inconsistent. Someone's 2 cups of flour is someone else's 2-1/4 cups. Even water is hard to measure by volume, given the miniscus (the curvature) in the measureing cup. And just 5 grams of water (inperceptible in a measuring cup) can make a difference in your bread.
  • Secondly, you're going to be investing a lot of time and a little bit of money to master artisan bread. A really nice, accurate, digital kitchen scale like the one I use can be had for just $19 -- the cost of a few of bags of flour. I don't know if people realize how cheap these things have gotten recently. I like mine so much, I even use it for weighing the water for coffee every morning. Okay, so I'm a bit anal, but...my coffee is consistent.
  • Thirdly, I'm on a personal, one-man campaign to convert the United States to the metric system. Weren't we, like, supposed to do this 40 years ago? I remember being prepared for this "calamity" in high school science classes. So, bakers unite! Let's go metric!
PS: If you have a serviceable scale that only has Imperial (US) weights, use Google or Bing to do the conversions in my recipes for you. In the search window, just type, e.g., "500 g in ounces" and it will give you the equivalent.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

52 Loaves interview on NPR's Weekend Edition

I had the pleasure of recording an interview with Liane Hansen, the host of NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday, which aired on May 2. Liane's one of the best in the business, and we had a great chat.  You gotta love NPR: they actually ran my comment that a threshing flail (for wheat) "looks more like something more likely to found smacking the buttocks of a member of Parliament in a London S and M den than used in the preparation of food."

You can hear the entire interview here.

Follow- up on New York Post bread review

So, a funny thing happened on the the way to the New York Post article featuring my review of restaurant breads. A reader helpfully pointed out I never included a link to the article. This is because the Post chose not to run any of my reviews, perhaps because I found so much of the bread, well, forgettable. So here's a brief summary of my ratings:
  • The bread served at Nice Matin, which is baked by Pain D'Avignon, is a beautiful miche (a large, slightly flattened loaf). This is real, artisan bread. You can almost feel the hands of the baker on it.
  • Danny Meyer's newest place, Maialino, serves a nice, mild sourdough, perhaps the best bread I tasted the entire day.
  • I'm confounded by the so-called "lardo" served at Del Posto, which is yet another Mario Batali operation.  This cured pork fat, which has the consistency of butter and the taste of pig fat is unpalatable. Give me some cold, sweet, unsalted butter anytime.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Reviewing NYC Restaurant Bread (Be Careful What You Wish For)

I spent yesterday afternoon in the offices of the New York Post reviewing restaurant bread, which the Post had assembled from over a dozen NYC restaurants. I know this sounds like a dream assignment for a baking enthusiast and writer, and I have to admit, I was the proverbial kid in a candy store --- until I started to taste the candy. By the tenth loaf I was about ready to pack it in. Not only did I skip dinner (does beer count?), but I don't know if I'll be able to even eat a slice of toast for a month.

But it was a great adventure. I got to walk the length of a real newsroom (rows of business-attired women and men in ties -- until you hit the sports desk, which is exactly what your think it would be. Everyone looks -- and dresses like -- Ray Romano)

As for the bread, I don't want to steal the thunder from the article (which will be appearing, I believe, the weekend of April 24-25), but the most shocking thing to me was how many of the breads were incompatible (salty, garlicky, cloyingly sweet) with a cocktail or a glass of wine. Or the food to follow, for that matter. I'll post a link to the article when it comes out, but in the meantime, home bakers rejoice: Your bread is better than what 99% of restaurants are serving.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

You Want Mice With that Pizza?

So, winter's over and it's time, I figured, to So, winter's over and it's time, I figured, to pull the tarp off the clay bread oven I built in my garden (with assistance from number-one son), build a good fire, and make some pizza. Never got past step one: seems the oven has acquired some tenants  -- make that squatters -- over the winter. The back of the oven is dominated by a huge mouse nest, complete with mice. Could be worse. Last year is was wasps. Maybe next year it'll be foxes. Foxes are cool.

(Footnote: I made pizza indoors; the mice should be moving on shortly).

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Singing Bread

Some time ago, when I visited Bobolink Dairy, a small grass-fed dairy and bakery in New Jersey, I watched their baker make hundreds of loaves of bread in a wood-fired brick oven with a flue temperature of over 600 degrees. But the most memorable event of the day occurred when she pulled the finished boules out of the oven. On hitting the relatively cooler air (it was summer) of the bakery, the loaves all started to crackle and pop, making a symphony.

"They're singing!" she cried. Well, I'd only experienced that singing once myself, when I'd baked outdoors in February in my clay oven, but for some reason yesterday I pulled a loaf out of my kitchen oven and it started singing. Perhaps not coincidentally, the loaf was graced with one of the most attractive crusts I'd ever made, with fissures and exposed crumb making (oxymoron alert!) random patterns across the top.

Why did this particular loaf sing when hundreds before did not? Who knows? Was the bread (or the crust) any better? It was was a gift. I'll probably never know...

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Pain Perdu

I think this morning I may possibly have made the best pain perdu (French toast) I've ever eaten, thanks to some fresh vanilla beans that I picked up at the open air market in St. Martin a few weeks ago for an absurdly low price (why didn't I bring home more??!!?) and some fantastic organic maple syrup (I'm trying to figure out what would make maple syrup non-organic; I thought you just go into the woods and tap a tree, but this stuff was better) my daughter brought us back from Montreal. (Thanks, Katie!)

As I'm sure almost everyone knows by now, pain pendu (literally, "lost bread") was invented by the French as a way to salvage stale baguettes, which is handy since baguettes seem to go stale about 10 minutes after they come out of the oven. (Not joking here: many French visit the bakery twice a day to get their morning and evening baguettes.)

Here's the recipe -- ridiculously simple. If you don't have a vanilla bean (or don't want to sacrifice to French Toast the one you paid 5 bucks for at Williams-Sonoma), you can substitute -- never mind, you can't; it won't be the same. In the photograph, the dark strip at the top of the slice on the right is a wayward piece of bean.

Pain Perdu
Serves 2

8 1-inch-thick slices day-old baguette
About 1/4 cup of milk
1 egg
A tablespoon or so heavy cream
1 vanilla bean
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons butter

  1. Slice one side of a vanilla bean from end to end, so you can fold it open like a book. Then, using a paring knife, scrape off the interior of the bean.
  2. Add the milk, egg, cream, a dash of salt, and bean scrapings to a bowl and stir thoroughly. Cut the bean casing in half and toss that in as well.
  3. Warm the mixture in a microwave or on the stovetop, remove from heat, and let sit for at least 10-15 minutes.
  4. Soak the baguette slices in the mixture while preheating a large skillet, turning frequently. Soak until all the liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes.
  5. Add butter to skillet, and saute the bread at medium heat, being careful not to burn the bread.
  6. Serve with maple syrup.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Baking Bread at Home

 Photograph by Jennifer May.

This week I'll let someone else do the talking. There's a nice piece by a Woodstock writer and artist, Peter Barrett, about baking bread at home with wild yeasts in the current issue of Chronogram, the Hudson Valley arts and living magazine. Even though the writer calls me "somewhat curmudgeonly."  Has he been talking to my wife or my editor?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Blizzard + Pizza = Bliss

Can't imagine why the local pizza place wasn't delivering yesterday...wimps. No matter, homemade pizza is so much better than anything your local joint is making, once you try it you'll be hooked. A couple of tips:
- Preheat your oven with pizza stone in place for at least an hour.
- Don't fuss over getting the crust round. Less fiddling is best, and it tastes the same regardless of the shape
- To prevent a soggy crust, instead of a sauce, take whole Italian plum tomatoes and press out most of the liquid between your hands, then lay the strips right on the crust.

My recipe uses a levain, or wild-yeast starter, which I highly recommend, but if you don't yet have one, increase the instant yeast to 1 tsp, and increase the all-purpose flour and water by 80 g each.

Makes 2 12-inch pizzas:

274 g all-purpose flour
48 g whole wheat flour
161 g levain
200 g water
9 g salt
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
2 teaspoon olive oil (1 teas in dough; 1 teas for brushing the finished crust)

12 ounces fresh mozerella
1 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes
A handful of fresh basil leaves
Oregano for seasoning
  1. Feed starter at least 2 hours or night before beginning
  2. Combine all ingredients, and allow to rest (autolyse), covered, for 20-30 min.
  3. Knead by hand for 6-7 minutes or in a stand mixer on medium speed for 3 min. Dough should be silky and elastic.
  4. Place in oiled bowl; cover with oil-misted plastic wrap and allow to ferment at room temperature 4-5 hours (can also be refrigerated overnight and brought back to room temp)
  5. An hour before baking, preheat oven to 500 deg. F
  6. Divide in half. Press gently into a disk on a well-floured countertop, then get hands underneath and stretch out using your knuckles, moving the dough with little jumps. 
  7. Drop onto a peel that is well dusted with cornmeal.
  8. Brush crust with the remaining olive oil
  9. Top with strips of tomatoes that you've squeezed most of the juice out of and that have been seasoned with a little salt, pepper, and oregano
  10. Add slices of mozzarella and basil leaves, if using. Optionally, sprinkle a little more olive oil over the top.
  11. Bake till top is bubbly and crust is browned. Don't be afraid of some charring. Most of us have a tendency to undercook pizza.
  12. Allow to sit for a few minutes before eating, or your skin on the roof of your mouth will come off like the peel of an orange. Trust me on this. 
Bon appetit!

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Sound of Flour

A photographer came over for a photo shoot this week, and after shooting about a thousand photos, wanted to record the sounds of bread making as well. "I want to capture the sound of flour," she said.

"Artists!" I muttered to myself. If there's one activity that's silent, it's bread making. Except, as it turns out,  it's not. Once I started to listen, the sounds of flour becoming bread became deafening: whipping fresh flour into the starter; the creaking of the oven door; the hiss of steam, the scraping sound of a finished loaf sliding off the peel; the crunch of eating a slice.

Even, yes, the sound of flour -- as it fell into the mixing bowl. Listen to your next loaf of bread; it has much to say to you.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Steam: Part II

Within 30 minutes of posting Steam: Part I, it was pointed out to me by a distant relative (my son, but he lives 3,000 miles away) that I have a social responsibility to mention that in my zeal to create steam in my own kitchen, I had destroyed not one but two ovens (three, if you count that I destroyed the second oven twice).

550 degree steam and electronic controls don't mix. I totally fried the electronics panel of oven #1 and was forced to move to oven #2 where I managed to produce a small explosion.*

BTW, it's my opinion that the main reason for electronics in ovens is to guarantee built-in obsolescence. My mom has an oven built in the 1950s that's still going strong. A bi-metal strip for a thermostat, heater coils, that's all you need, but if manufacturers still built ovens like that, they'd never sell any new ones.

*From the shameless promotion department...if you want to hear the full story of my exploding ovens, my argument with the appliance repair man, and what not to tell your spouse when you bake...the full story is revealed in excruciating detail in 52 Loaves: One Man's Determined Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust

Friday, January 29, 2010

Steam: Part I

Much has been written about home bakers' favorite ways to generate steam, which is essential to good bread making. Here are some methods that some well-known bakers have used:

Julia Child tried for a while dropping a hot metal ax head into a pan of cold water. (You can just picture Julia, wearing a welder’s helmet and asbestos gloves, holding a pair of tongs with a red-hot, glowing ax-head at the other end.)

Mark Bittman reports "filling a pot with stones and preheating it, then pouring boiling water over the stones to create a wet sauna (quite effective but dangerous).”

You have a more dangerous (or interesting) method? I'd like to hear about it, but you'll have to go to some lengths to top a red hot ax head. Me, I'm pouring about a cup of water in to a cast iron skillet I just leave in the oven all the time. Works great, but forget about ever using it for omelets again.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Perfect Baguettes at Home

Dan Leader suggests in his latest book that the secret to one of the most celebrated baguettes in Paris might be a touch of corn flour. This week I substituted 40 grams* of corn flour (note: corn flour, not corn meal) for all-purpose flour in my Baguettes à l'Anciennce, and I like the results. The dough felt gritty as I started kneading, but the corn flour did eventually blend in, and seemed to provide a creamier interior.

My recipe uses a starter, or levain, You can easily make your own levain by following the instructions here, but if you absolutely insist on using a straight dough, simply increase the flour and water by 125 grams each, increase the yeast to a teaspoon, and knead for a few minutes longer. The texture won't be quite as airy, and the taste not as rich, but it's far still better than anything you're likely to buy. A recipe (which assumes you have some experience with baking) follows, but if you don't, not to worry: Detailed instructions and photos are included in the full recipe on my website.

*Yes, that says "grams." You'll need a scale (see my previous post) and will need to think like (gasp) a European. Or Asian. Or Samoan Islander. Or a resident of just about any other place on the planet that long ago converted to the easy-to-use metric system while we still struggle with ounces and pounds. But don't get me started...Here's the recipe.

335 g all-purpose flour
40 g corn flour
250 g levain (fed 2 hrs or the night before)
220 g water
¼ teas. instant yeast
10 g salt 

  1. Mix all ingredients and allow dough to rest for 25 min.
  2. Knead by hand on unfloured countertop for about 7 minutes, till dough feels silky and elastic.
  3. Return to bowl, cover with oil-misted plastic wrap, and ferment 4-5 hours
  4. Preheat baking stone in oven to 525 degrees F.
  5. On floured countertop, divide into 4 small balls, then fold and roll each into a baguette
  6. Proof between folds of linen couche or parchment paper for 1 hr
  7. Transfer to a peel or the back of a cookie sheet. Score each loaf with a razor
  8. Slide into oven, add steam by your favorite method, and reduce oven temperature to 475.
  9. Bake for about 25 minutes (start watching at 20) until dark brown, and interior is 205-210 deg.
  10. Cool on rack at least 1 hr before serving.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

52 More Loaves (Lesson 1: Bakers Weigh Everything - even the firewood)

I love bread -- by which I mean real, hearty, peasant bread with a crispy but chewy crust and an airy, aromatic "crumb" (the word used to describes the interior of the loaf, not the stuff you brush off the bedsheets when you're done eating).  Yet such loaves are as rare in my neighborhood as flamingos, so the only way to enjoy great peasant bread was to bake it myself. I've described my year of learning to bake (and learning quite a few other things as well) in the forthcoming book 52 Loaves: One Man's Determined Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust.

With the book completed, am I done baking? Hardly. I'm back for Act II, which might be titled, "52 More Loaves: Baking Everything Else in the World." For after a year of baking peasant bread and only peasant bread, I've moved on, because of a surprising secret I learned along the way: With a minimum of effort and experience, you can bake far better bread, rolls, pizza, and even pastry than you can buy anywhere. For real. So these days I'm baking anything that breathes anaerobically (that is, is leavened with yeast) and sharing experiences and recipes here.

Something else I learned: Bakers weigh everything. In grams. It's the only way to get consistent and accurate results. I visited a wood-fired-bakery in New Jersey whose baker even weighed the firewood! So if you'd like to try some of the recipes I'll be publishing in the coming weeks and months, pick up an inexpensive digital kitchen scale. They range widely in price (the high-end ones add useless features such as calorie estimates), but if you need some guidance, the very reliable (and cheap) one that I use is the Escali. Not only is it under $25, but it holds its reading when you remove the weight from it (instead of going back to zero), a real convenient feature. It's hard to explain, but you'll see it when you use it.



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