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.
 

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