Sunday, December 4, 2011

Ich bin ein Berliner

As is now forklore, when President Kennedy made his famous speech in Berlin in 1963, pledging America's support against the Soviet blockade, he announced, "Ich bin ein Berliner," meaning, "I am a Berliner." Unfortunately, this was heard by most in the crowd as, "I am a jelly doughnut," as Berliner is the common name for this yeast-raised, deep-fried doughnut. I just cooked up a batch, using a recipe from Dan Leader's latest book, Simply Great Breads, using my wife's homemade wineberry jam for the filling. They are absolutely delicious, especially when eaten warm, right out of the fryer.  And gorgeous to look at on the plate. But be warned: they are highly addictive. Grab a copy of Dan's book and give 'em a try. One tip not in the recipe: forget the awkward pastry bag for filling these things. Instead splurge a few bucks for an icing syringe (aka cupcake injector). Bon appetit!

Friday, October 21, 2011

52 Loaves now in paperback

The last remaining hardcover copies of 52 Loaves have, alas, gone to where unsold books go to die (which is often to attics, as insulation -- I have this dream of my own books one day insulating my house), as bookstores make room (we hope) for the paperback release, complete with a lower price, a new cover design and shorter subtitle. If you don't own it yet, look for 52 loaves at a bookstore near you, or order online.

Yes, you can just take the recipes and instructional videos from my website , but if you really want to know why there's a picture of any abbey and the cover and what I'm doing with a scythe, you'll have to read the book. As Julia used to say, "Bon Appetit!"

Friday, May 27, 2011

A fishy way to build a levain

Thought you bakers would appreciate this recent posting to the Bread Doctor feature of my 52 Loaves website. This reader has come up with an - um - creative way of aerating his sourdough starter, or levain during the building stage. (A mature levain does not need oxygenation). I file this under "wacky ideas that should become part of the breadmakers'  canon." Bravo, Chris Kmotorka!

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While I'm sure my wife will be less than enthusiastic...I used to keep a sourdough pot then stopped, but not before drying and freezing some starter. I am pulling a Frankenstein as I revive it--I hooked a small aquarium pump (with a new hose) and am using it to keep air bubbling up through the starter. Do you foresee any problems? I'm thinking it will take care of the stirring part. 

He followed up, at my request, with a photo and a further explanation:

The Birth of the Aquarium Pump Levain

Let it be known that I am a man of leisure. This means that if I think something can be done more easily, in a way that will save me effort, I will inevitably work twice as long and twice as hard to find out.


Do I want to stir my infant levain every few hours and risk inadequate oxygenation? Of course not. Do I want my Frankenstein Starter, resurrected from dehydrated and frozen sourdough to return to the land of the living through such mundane means? Of course not. Something mechanical and unnecessary is certainly required. Thus the birth of the Aquarium Pump Levain.


The set up could not be simpler. A small aquarium pump, quarter inch hose, and my tub of levain. Unfortunately, I already had the aquarium pump and some unused hose so I wasn’t able to turn this into a several hour project with multiple trips to the pet store, and if lucky, the hardware store to boot.

Apparently I got lucky. It didn’t take long for my levain to start bubbling and begging for food. It was while stirring in another feeding that I hit on the idea of the aquarium pump and I immediately gathered the pieces (all two of them) and plugged one end into the wall and the other into the belly of the beast. Bubbles. Big bubbles. Oxygen bubbling up from the bottom of the tub to the surface. This certainly seemed like it would work. If I wandered through the kitchen I would sometimes move the hose around a bit to make sure air was hitting different spots, but other than regular feeding, I didn’t spend any time whisking and stirring.

But I can’t help thinking that they probably make some kind of octopus fitting the would allow me to sink the hose into the starter with three or four of more pieces of hose radiating throughout the levain and feeding the oxygen to all corners at the same time. I might have to do that. You know, for those weekly feeding sessions. Time for a trip to the store.



Friday, March 25, 2011

The Earth Oven Returns to the Earth


From 52 Loaves
 “I’m going to have to build the oven base over again, with mortar,” I moaned to Anne.
“What’s so wrong with that?”
“The project is escalating. Now we’re into a permanent structure.”
“Not necessarily.”

Guess my wife was right (again). Recently, the tarp that had been protecting my earthen bread oven from the elements blew off while we were out of town for a few days, exposing the oven to a torrential downpour, followed by frost and snow, and, well, it's safe to say that that oven has baked its last loaf of bread. The force of the hundreds of pounds of clayey earth collapsing on itself even destroyed the base(!), blowing out the mortared brick.

The truth is, I only used the oven on several occasions, because it was so time-consuming to heat it to baking temperature, but I'm still sad to see it go, for I had at least been able to hold onto the illusion that I'd someday use it again.  (I'm also sorry not to have a time-release video of its demise.) In memorial, then, here are some photos of the oven, followed by a full reprint of a chapter from 52 Loaves about its construction.

Here's my son Zach digging the foundation. What came out of this immense hole (see next photo), mainly clay, would eventually become the oven.



Once the base was completed, a wet sand form provided the inner mold for the oven -- all that clayey soil we'd saved from the foundation.

When it was good, it was very good.


 

Click here to read Terror Firma, the short chapter on building the earth oven: round  1.
 

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