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Mike's Bread Blog - 2003

August 2, 2003 - it's amazing... the number of visits to the web page per day have increased by about 25% since the end of July. I haven't been advertising. The only difference is the speed of the connection. I guess the old 56k (HA - 33.6K if the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter is aligned with Mars) was an impediment to visitors. I am SO happy the high speed link is up!

After a long period of relative quiet and inactivity, I've been busy. REAL busy. How busy? Well, as I type this, the first of the Softasilk flour test is done, now all I need to do is photograph and taste the bread. The first of the King Arthur All-Purpose flour breads is in the oven. And I completed baking the Basic Yeasted White Bread for the introduction to baking pages. By the time anyone sees this page, these pages should be done.

These two flour tests mark the end of the first round of flour tests. I've learned a lot from them about how flour works, or sometimes how it doesn't work. I've also learned more about testing. I'm in no hurry to start a new round of flour testing, though it will happen. For now, I think I'll play with different ways to start starters, different ways to knead (EVERY book I've read has a different way to knead), the English Muffin shootout, and the San Francisco Sourdough recipe shootout. And in my spare time, I think I'll start a bakery.

When the tests do start again, they will be different. How different? Well, all the ingredients will be weighed to eliminate variable. If we knead in more flour than the recipe calls for, we'll weigh that flour too. It'll be two recipes instead of four. And we'll be looking at some things we just haven't looked at this time - like starter rise volumes, elasticity, and extensibility. I'll be thinking about the tests... even if we aren't starting them just yet.

August 1, 2003 - Say... did I mention that the high speed wireless link to the Internet is back up again? Well, it is. Instead of a wimpy downstream modem, we're now connected at somewhere between 756,000 and 1,000,000 bits per second. We are so delighted that we're downloading huge software updates, listening to music on-line and more. We hope there's some bandwidth left over for you to browse our web site.

Also, as I type this the long promised last two flour tests are underway. We're testing Softasilk (a cake flour) and King Arthur's all-purpose flour. We are very eagerly awaiting the results of these tests.

July 31, 2003 - We're getting closer and closer to opening the bakery. Our zoning hearing is on August 13th, and if all goes well, we'll start moving in on August 15th. Luckily, we live in Gunnison, Colorado so it won't be too hot to move. We're hoping to start production in early September.

Once we're in our own facility, we'll be able to have classes again! Our plans are to have a new class, "Simple Simon Met The Pieman!" on Saturday, August 13th, 2003. Just a month after our zoning hearing, if all goes well. If you're in the area, feel free to join us. Well.. not exactly free.

July 25, 2003 - I am SO embarrassed. In the Introduction to baking page's English Muffin Loaf I made a terrible typo! The recipe called for 2 1/2 cups of flour, and I typed in 1 1/2. This must have made the recipe an awful mess! And on the introduction page to! Apologies to all!

July 21, 2003 - Things have been kinda slow around here lately. Well, at least on the bread front. Efforts to open the bakery have gone into high gear, and paradoxically, that means I've had less time to bake, try experiments or new recipes, or mess with the web page than usual.

However, I did find a pretty neat web site dedicated to bread in San Francisco. Max, the webmaster and bread nut, has some very clear ideas about what he likes in bread, and I sure wish his web site had been available when I visited San Francisco. If you're in, or if you're going to visit, the Bay Area, you might want to visit San Francisco Bread Review. Sadly, that link is no longer working. You can find their web site at the Internet Archive.

An observant reader noticed that I have been habitually misusing "it's." Sadly, the correct use of "its" and "it's" is not always clear. "Infopedia," a multimedia encyclopedia, dedicates about four screens to the topic, and concludes, "We recommend that you stick with its for the pronoun and it's for the contraction. " All of which is to say that I have been reviewing my use of "its" and "it's" and have tried to correct them. I hope I haven't introduced typos in the process. Please let me know, won't you?

In the section where I mention that I pulled the plug on the gluten free sections of this web site, I violated my policy on maintaining files for deep linkers. Our guidelines say that, "We'll try real hard (with no promises) to keep them around as long as we're on the Internet." However, the gluten-free experiment has come to an end, it is obvious that there will be no gluten-free products from my upcoming bakery, that I have no good information to share with those who need information about avoiding gluten, and that there are many good resources for celiacs. So, keeping the pages served no purpose. And they are gone. My apologies to anyone who misses them. They're probably cached at Google.

July 12, 2003 - The yeasted English Muffin Bread recipe is on-line now. This is the second recipe in my (hopefully) painless introduction to baking. It has been YEARS since I baked this recipe, and I had forgotten how very much I liked it. How long has it been since I baked this bread? My darling wife, Beth, fell in love with the bread and said I'd never baked it for her. We're coming up on our seventh wedding anniversary. It's been long while. While it's especially good for toasting, it's good plain, and I really think you'll like it also. Of course, now that I remember how good this bread is, I'll have to work on a sourdough version.

July 11, 2003 - HEY WHAT HAPPENED TO THE GLUTEN FREE PAGE??? I'm sorry, really I am. I had hoped to investigate gluten free sourdough in hopes of producing a line of gluten free sourdough breads to sell through health food stores and share such information as I found. As you may recall, most of the gluten free breads taste like overly-sweetened Styrofoam and don't really deliver what I call "true bread satisfaction."

One of the major pieces of research I was engaged in was to determine if I could safely produce gluten-free breads in a kitchen that also produces wheat and rye based breads. After a good bit of research, the answer is an unequivocal "NO!". Contamination of the gluten free products with wheat WILL occur (wheat flour will stay in the air for several hours). While some celiacs say a bit of gluten won't cause problems, the medical community and the celiac organisations feel that it will.

As a businessman I can't afford to make people sick. As a human being, I wouldn't want that on my conscience in any case. So, all plans for a gluten free line are on hold, until such time as we can afford to have a completely separate gluten free production facility, and have arrangements to distribute the products beyond our small area. It's a separate business, a separate business plan, and I really don't have time to pursue it now. The bottom line is, if I can't do it right, I won't do it at all.

Yeah, but what about the gluten free sourdough web pages? Since they won't be worked on, I wanted to remove them so they wouldn't get people's hopes up. I have too much to do to pursue something that isn't of personal interest at this time.

Yeah, but what about gluten free sourdough? Well, that's still a tough question. I tried several times to start a culture with rice, and each time the culture got nasty. When I used a bit of wheat raised sourdough culture to start the rice culture, it started well. I used 1/2 teaspoon of wheat based starter to 1/4 cup of water and 3/8 cup of rice flour. It took off well. In 1/2 teaspoon of wheat based starter, you'll find about 1/8 teaspoon wheat flour. I took 1/2 teaspoon of that starter and again fed it 1/4 cup of water and 3/8 cup of rice flour. It took off again and smelled nice. I used that starter to make some bread, and it turned out nicely.

At this point, I'd be concerned that was still too much wheat. You make up your own mind. The residual flour in the starter at that point would have been about 1/384th of a teaspoon of flour. And it would be further diluted in making bread. Still..... the peanut butter story haunts me. You haven't heard the peanut butter story?

It was, if memory serves, in an article in Reader's Digest, and it went something like this.... A young college girl was out on the town drinking with some friends. They stopped for something to eat. She ordered a bowl of chili. She touched a teaspoon of it to her lips. And said it didn't taste right and had no more of it. An hour later, she was dead. It turned out that the cook felt the chili was too thin, so he thickened it with a cup of peanut butter. In about 5 gallons of chili. She touched a spoon of it to her lips, and her peanut allergy killed her. I feel terribly sorry for her. And her parents. And her friends. And the cook. He didn't do anything wrong, and someone died. And he has to live with that. I am determined to do all I can to never have to stand in the poor soul's shoes.

So, I won't make a gluten-free bread, or pursue doing so, until I can say, "No wheat, no gluten. Not even a trace!"

I did find a number of good recipes on the Red Star page , as well as on the Bob's Red Mill pages . Nothing that was really sourdough, but they could be converted. I also got a copy of "The Gluten-Free Gourmet Bakes", which has some good recipes, though I don't like her idea of sourdough. You don't need commercial yeast in sourdough. You shouldn't use commercial yeast in sourdough. Anyway, until such time as I start a separate facility, adieu and best wishes to my gluten intolerant friends.

July 6, 2003 - We just got back from Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure where I toured the Boudin Bakery. It was amazing to see so much bread made with so little human contact. The bread was beautiful, but the taste of the bread wasn't at all what I expected of a San Francisco style sourdough bread. Still, it was fun seeing how it's done in the big leagues.

After a number of notes from readers who tell me they have no baking experience, I've started putting together a short "Introduction to Baking" page with a number of yeasted bread recipes on it. The recipes are easy and good, and provide a great introduction to baking. If you're a total beginner, you might try starting with these simple recipes.

June 15, 2003 - I've been playing with Danish and Croissants. In sourdough, of course. Lots of fun. If you have a favorite Danish filling you can suggest, please send the recipe on to me through our "Contact Us" page. If we like the recipe enough, we'll include it in our web page and give you credit for sharing, or creating, the recipe.

All this is in the interest of starting a commercial bakery here in Gunnison, Colorado. Our most recent efforts have been directed towards finding a good location to start the bakery, and to obtain funding for some of the startup costs. Things are looking very positive! Once we open, readers of this web site will have an open invitation to visit us.... remembering that we will be a production bakery, and we might well put you to work .

June 5, 2003 - Playing with the WhisperMill has been a lot of fun. Where the KitchenAid mill takes a long time to grind 5 lbs of flour coarsely, the WhisperMill takes minutes to grind the flour finely. I've made biscuits (plain old buttermilk biscuits - I haven't liked the sourdough biscuits I've tried. They're rolls to me, not biscuits), communion bread, and several batches of whole wheat bread. So far, everything has worked out well. The breads rose well, especially the bread made with the 100% Whole Wheat Flour recipe. I' ll put more of a write up on the WhisperMill in the useful tools section before long.

May 28, 2003 - IT'S HERE!!!! What, you might ask.... well, it's my WhisperMill. When "Health For You Ministry" A GrainMaster WhisperMill became a sponsor of the Sourdoughhome pages, they offered me a GrainMaster WhisperMill grain mill rather than cash. (Sadly, they are no longer in business. Since then, I've been doing business with Mountain Tops Milling. The owner is a good friend and a great person. Give 'em a try!)Since I'd wanted one for a while, I was delighted at the prospect. It took a while to get here because a lot of merchandise from the orient has been stranded in customs due to fear of the SARS virus.

Despite SARS, it finally made it. Five minutes after it hit my front porch, it was on my kitchen counter, and five minutes after that, it was grinding grain. Some regular readers are probably aware I've been using a KitchenAid GrainMill attachment, and that I've felt that it just couldn't grind the grain finely enough. That will not be a problem with the WhisperMill. The WhisperMill has two plates in it, called micronizers (if memory serves) that are spinning at something like 45,000 RPM and when the grain hits the plates, it explodes into powder. The flour is very, very fine. At its coarsest setting, it's finer than what the KitchenAid could produce. The flour was also heated less than in the KitchenAid, and it was ground in one pass - I usually run grain through the KitchenAid twice to get the flour as fine as I can get it.

I was surprised by the WhisperMill - when I turned it on, it moved on the counter. The motor is pretty high powered, and the startup torque kicked the machine. Now I steady it with a hand. Some people have told me that the name "WhisperMill" is a joke in poor taste, that it sounds like a jet taking off. Well, when I first turn it on, it does sound like a jet reving up. But when you add the grain to be ground, it quiets at once. It's a LOT quieter than the KitchenAid GrainMill attachment (my wife has asked me to not use that while she's around, the noise gives her a headache). I'll get out my Radio Shack Sound Pressure Meter tomorrow and see how loud it is. My guess is "not very" since I could hear household noises over the mill without any problems.

Of course, the final test is in the bread. So tomorrow I bake. I'd bake today, but it takes a while for the starter to get going. Once the bread is made, I'll update this with tasting comments and pictures of the bread. This won't be a full-fledged flour test, because I was too excited about having a new toy to be that patient. In the next week or two, I'll repeat the Nitro Packed Winter Red Wheat and Nitro Packed Hard White Wheat tests with the WhisperMill, and we'll see what's what.

I will comment that if you want a coarsely ground grain, such as for authentic Pumpernickel, a Danish Rugbroed, or to use coarse grains to decorate a loaf, the WhisperMill is not your mill of choice. The coarsest grind I got out of the WhisperMill was finer than the finest I've gotten out of the KitchenAid. I'll definitely be holding on to my KitchenAid Grain Mill attachment for coarsely ground grain.

May 24, 2003 - As I have been looking into starting a bakery here in the mountains of Gunnison, Colorado, I have been told a number of times that a real growth area is in gluten free/wheat free breads. So, I tried some to see what people with Celiac/Sprue are eating instead of bread. And all I can say is, I feel your pain.

The stuff that is sold as bread really doesn't give me "true bread satisfaction". The closest I've gotten so far is in using Bob's Red Mill's Bread Mix. It is enjoyable, it has a mouthfeel like bread, and it's gluten free. Of course, it's loaded with dairy products, so if you are sensitive to milk and eggs, you are still out of luck (though they say soy milk would work also.)

While I'm not afflicted with a wheat or gluten intolerance, I am interested in researching the issue. For once, I have more questions than answers. I hope you'll join me in finding some answers.

May 19, 2003 - At last the new "Introduction to Sourdough" book is available. Just skip over to the downloads page and you can check it out! The recipes are classroom tested, and the book has gotten great response from students in my classes as well as the early readers.

May 15, 2003 - HOORAY!!! My trusty Canon S-10 camera has been repaired and sent back to me by the folks at Canon. (Hint - if your digital camera breaks, check with the manufacturer first, they usually have faster and cheaper service than going through a camera store.) So, that means that the last two tests in the flour test can be run.

The last two tests? Yes, the last two tests. For some time, I've been less and less happy with the current structure of the flour tests, so I'm revamping them. I'm also tired of making the same recipes again and again. The new flour tests will feature two bread recipes, and a number of significant tests that the current tests do not. However, I will be spending more time on the other tests, such as the San Francisco Sourdough recipe and the Sourdough English Muffin tests.

And then, there's the bakery, but that's for another day.

April 24, 2003 - Oh, how embarrassing! I'd attributed the 20% Bran Flour idea to Joe Ortiz, who wrote "The Village Baker", when it should have been attributed to Dan Leader, who wrote "Bread Alone". Since I haven't heard from either baker/author's lawyer, I assume no one noticed, or cared. Still, apologies to both gentlemen, as well as to the readers of this page.

The convection oven is still soaking in oven cleaners. I hope to finish cleaning it tomorrow, burn off the residue, and then bake in it again on Monday. With luck, pictures and comments will follow.

April 22, 2003 - WOW!!! Has it been that long? I guess so! Since I last wrote here, we held the "Introduction to Sourdough" class in the Johnson Building Art Gallery. It was great! Six people showed up, and they left with two loaves of wonderful bread each, as well as pizza leftovers. The highlight was probably my first attempt to make a sourdough version of Bernard Clayton's "Grandma Spurgeon's Cinnamon Rolls." They were amazing. When they came out of the oven, class stopped for about 10 minutes, and all I heard was eating noises and soft moaning. The recipe will be included in our "Rolls and Sweet Breads" book, due out the fourth quarter of 2003.

Sadly, my digital camera has died. It's in a box on its way to be repaired. Until it gets back, there won't be many updates to this web site. When it does get back, there will be two updates to the flour tests, and then the tests will stop for a good while. I want to make the tests much more rigorous and control some presently uncontrolled variables.

Sarah, the church secretary and all-around nice lady, offered me her used convection oven. It is a Wolf commercial convection oven. It took two tries before we could move it. It's a heavy beast. And now, I'm getting used to it and trying recipes in the regular oven as well as the convection oven. Some people tell me that a convection oven isn't all that good for bread, but it's great for roasts, pastries, cakes, and laminated dough products. We'll see, I guess. With luck, we'll have some pictures next time.

March 31, 2003 - I've been putting up signs for the classes, and I've started getting some phone calls and reservations. More interestingly, I finally had a nibble on the "This Space For Hire" banners. Sandi of "Health for You" has hired the space for at least the next six months. I've had an eye on some of her merchandise for a while, and now I'll be able to find out if it's really as good as she says... without spending any money! When I have a chance to play with the WhisperMill, I'll share my impressions with you. I have a feeling that it will take over a lot of grinding duties from my KitchenAid grain mill, but from what I read it really can't produce grain as coarse as a few of my recipes call for, so I won't quite retire the KitchenAid grain mill just yet.

March 10, 2003 - I went by the Johnson Building Art Gallery in scenic downtown Gunnison, Colorado to talk to the owner of the gallery to see if she was serious about having cooking classes. She was. Nancy Tredway leases the kitchen to Katie's Cakes, a local bakery specializing in wedding cakes. A talk with Katie showed she was enthusiastic too. We quickly settled on a date... now all I have to do is publicize the classes. I am so excited, I can hardly type. This whole web page is about sourdough evangelism, and this will let me do more of it! I hope to see you in one of our classes! Our schedule, and more information about classes is on-line, of course.

March 5, 2003 - Our church had an Ash Wednesday soup and salad supper. The church secretary asked me to bring bread. (It pays to give people bread.... when I was working out the recipe, I gave her a Sourdough King Cake.) For the dinner, I brought two loaves each of my Sourdough Black Bean and Chipotle Pepper Bread, Challah, and Bohemian Rye. It was a real ego boost to have people raving about the breads.

Despite my long-held belief that people in Colorado just aren't pepper bellies, the Black Bean and Chipotle pepper bread was the hands down favorite. The dinner was held in an art gallery, and the owner made it a point to tell me they used to have cooking classes in the gallery until the cook "vanished mysteriously," and that she'd love to have classes in the gallery again. It turns out there is a full commercial kitchen in the gallery. WOW!!! A possible home for my classes again!

February 27, 2003 - great, now I've sold out to the powers of darkness, egotistical ravings, and stark madness. In short, I've added a blog page to the Sourdough Home. As if anyone cared about my ravings.

In this blog, I won't be boring you with details about who I slept with last night (I'm so boring that it was my wife, unless she was out of town, in which case our dog might have curled up at the foot of the bed), the cool drugs I took yesterday (unless you think 1/4 aspirin is exciting, you may reasonably assume I don't take drugs), or why my boss is a total jerk (I'm self-employed... I really can't criticize my boss).

This blog is about bread, because that's one of my major passions. Because I'm a tech-nerd, I'm not using blogging software to do this. I'm just using the same web creation software I use for the rest of the Sourdoughhome web page, Arachnophilia 4.0. If that bothers you, get over it.

Anyway, to the baking anecdote than prompted the creation of the Breadblog. There I was, baking my tail off. I was working on batch of the Black bean and chipotle Pepper, another batch of the Bohemian Rye (with altus), and two batches of Challah. I wasn't being totally masochistic, I was preparing for a church event and had been asked to bring bread. The Challah recipe had always bothered me because you're left with several egg whites left over. And then you break ANOTHER egg to make an egg wash to make the bread pretty. It isn't a big waste, but it is a waste.

So, I decided to try a (small) experiment. I added some water to the egg whites, mixed up the mess, and used that as my egg wash. It worked great! That still left me with a bunch of egg wash though. So I decided to put the wash on the Bohemian Rye and the Black bean and chipotle Pepper breads. It was SUCH an improvement in the appearance of the breads! If you don't use a wash on your breads, you should try it!

I think I'll try a cornstarch wash next... so I don't have to break an egg every time I bake.

How did the breads turn out, you ask? GREAT!!! The black bean and chipotle pepper bread has a wonderfully moist crumb, a great taste, and the peppers add a lovely bite. The Bohemian Rye was the minor disappointment of the day. It was a very nice bread, but the rye and caraway flavors were a bit subdued. I'd only given it one rise, so the rise time was short. Next time, a longer rise.

The real champ was the Challah. I'm still working on that recipe. The tricky part is getting the dough dry enough that it braids well, and wet enough that it works well. It's a delicate balance. The dough was just a little too dry this time. Next time, I'm going to weigh the flour as I use it so I can get better control over the dough. I let the dough rise overnight so it would have time to triple. It did, and then some. And then I made the braided loaves in the morning. What is amazing is how complex the taste of the bread is. If you haven't tried making Challah before, give it a shot... I think you'll be happy with it!