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Mike's Bread Blog - 2006

Tuesday, November 6, 2006 - Change happens! (slowly) A number of changes have hit this web page all at once, and I hope that you will like them. First of all, I have posted a sourdough bagel recipe. It is the recipe that people around here, including many New York City ex-pats, are very fond of. I hope you'll like it.

Next, I was conned, coerced and cajoled into doing another flour test. This was due to some problems that I was having with some home ground flour. And then it got totally out of hand. I looked at my old favorite, All-Trumps, the new kid on the grocery store shelves, Harvest King, a standby whole wheat Hungarian High Altitude Whole Wheat, a home ground white wheat, and finally a home ground red wheat. To rub salt in the wounds, I also wound up doing two loaves with each flour, one with and one without vital wheat gluten.

Not long ago, I gave a bagel and advanced baking class in Evergreen, Colorado for our friends at Mountain Tops Milling. The classes were great! The setting, the students, and the area all worked together to make it a fun time for all. And it was a reason for me to write a "Back To Bagels" a bagel cookbook and finish up the "Advanced Baking Techniques - Preferments" cookbook. Both have gotten rave reviews from the students at the classes in Evergreen and they are ready for the Christmas shopping season. Surf over to the new "Sourdough Bread Shoppe" and see what strikes your fancy.

Finally, I decided to try my hand at begging. At the bottom of each page is a link that will allow you to painlessly donate money to the upkeep of this web page. My momma "raised me right," so you'll certainly get a thank you email. And who knows what other forms my sincere thank you might take?

Sunday, October 7, 2006 - Where has the time gone, and a rant! - The work on changing the web site, last mentioned on May 6th, has been on the back burner. Sorry... where has the time gone? Things are picking up their pace though.

And now for the rant. I was looking at the web site of a person active in rec.food.sourdough and looked at some of his recipes. He always shows links into the inner heart of his web page, so I was curious what the outside looks like. On the front page, I found this statement, "If you're one of the limp-wristed, commie-hugging, islamofascist lovin', environmentalist wanna-be, anti-American liberal maggots we seem to be plagued with these days; shove off! Cuz you'll find nothing of interest here. Family, friends, and peaceful free thinking men & women of the world; I invite you to enter here..."

It seems that he supports free thinking only insofar as it agrees with his thinking, and you are a friend only if you agree with him. If you don't agree with him, he can dismiss you from his thoughts after he slaps a harsh label on you. In past correspondence with the owner of the web site, it became obvious he always wanted a simple answer. Looking at his web page, I see that is consistent with his life's philosophy. It's easy to substitute the language of hate or a glib phrase for actual thought. So easy, that all too many people on the left and right do it as a matter of habit. And then people who engage in this pernicious habit wonder why our society is becoming increasingly fractured. Worse, the mentality of the sound bite, especially the slanderous one, seems to be what decides elections and public policy through an increasingly ill-informed electorate.

It's sad. Whether your goal is to help build and support an open and fair society, or whether your goal is to be a good Christian, a first step is to hold the door open for others, not to slam it in their faces. Inclusion is not the result of exclusion. The result of exclusion is an increase of hatred and, eventually, violence. I think we've already seen enough of that. I'm not angry. I'm not even especially surprised. Worse, in this case, I'm not really disappointed - in my heart of hearts, I expected no better. But, I am sad.

Saturday, May 6, 2006 - The work has started - For a while I've been talking about changing the website, and my "Introduction to Sourdough" cookbook, to use metric weight measurements. I've started that project, and also decided to standardize the loaf size to 1 1/2 lbs. It's a nice sized loaf, and lets people know what to expect. A number of changed recipes were uploaded today, with a few more each week. Please let me know what you think.

Also, for those of you who like the Black Bean and Chipotle Pepper bread, the recipe calls for either dried peppers or canned ones. I've always used dry peppers. However, last week I discovered that the local store was out of dried chipotle peppers. So, I used canned ones in adobo sauce. And the bread was delightful - and considerably less expensive. I may switch to the canned peppers from now on!

Thursday, April 27, 2006 - Back to the roots - I've said it before, and I'll say it again, I hate the rudeness of newsgroups and many mailing lists! Last week I was in a discussion in rec.food.sourdough, a news group that should be available through Google Groups, about how to measure and a woman there was condescending and called those of us who weigh ingredients "boys who like to play with toys." A day later, she called me sexist. *sigh* Stuff like that brings out the worst in us all. As the newsgroup saying goes, "Please don't feed the trolls." If you are looking for a nicer mailing list concerned with baking, you could do worse than checking out our BakingFun mailing list.

All of this leads back into weighing and getting back to ones roots. I am more and more convinced that weighing ones ingredients is the most valuable learning tool one can have, other than a hands-on baking class. One of the most important things you can learn is how dough should feel. To further complicate matters, doughs for different breads will feel different. So, you need to learn how each dough for each bread feels. And that's very hard to communicate in print or in videos. There is NO substitute for hands-on classes here. The next best thing is weighing your ingredients. If I can tell you what sort of flour to use, and I can tell you how much water and flour to use, you are close to having the right dough. Sadly, flours DO vary from brand to brand and batch to batch. But these variations are much less than the variations between one persons cup and another persons cup. In alt.bread.recipes different people weighed a few cups of flour, and the results were staggering. A cup of all-purpose flour ranged from less than 100 to more than 200 grams, when different people weighed it. And individuals had as much as a 25% variation from cup to cup. Cups are a bad way to share recipes, and a bad way to teach people to bake.

Because of the discussion in rec.food.sourdough, as well as a promise made a while back, I've started redoing the recipes here and in the Introduction to Sourdough cookbook to use weights. And that has been a wonderful exercise! For the last few days, I've been baking a batch or two of bread every morning. I knead by hand, so I am reminded of the feel of dough, how dough should feel, and how to make it feel that way. I have nothing against mixers, I use them in the bakery every week. But it is easy to become disconnected from how the dough feels when you use a machine.

If you find you're having troubles with your bread, I strongly suggest you get a set of scales, start weighing your ingredients, and start making bread by hand again. You'll find things clearing up quickly.

As part of the process of converting recipes from cups to grams and then making them more manageable, I've put together a worksheet you might find handy. It's Mikes Bread Worksheet. It's available at no cost from our downloads page.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006 - weighty matters - This past weekend, we had a lot of fun teaching an introduction to baking class. However, we realized how very inadequate measuring ingredients by volume is. And that makes learning to bake that much harder. So, we're starting to convert our recipes to measurement by weight, and we'll talk about why in a number of places. We'll start by redoing the introduction to baking pages and then move on from there. This will be the first major change in the web site in a number of years..... we'll keep the volume measurements, but just add weight measurements to the recipes.

In order to make converting to measuring by weight easier for our readers, we are looking into starting to offer scales for sale on our web page. We have been using "My Weigh" brand scales for several years, and we really like them.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006 - SuperPeel - A good while ago the people at SuperPeel asked us to look at their SuperPeel. At the time, I was up to my ears in starting a bakery and while I looked at the SuperPeel, and while I liked the SuperPeel, I never wrote it up. I'm correcting that oversight now.

The SuperPeel is a scaled down version of a commercial oven loader. It is like a pizza peel, but it has a movable canvas belt on it that lets you pick up and deposit bread, pizza, and other things you want to bake quickly and easily. In a baking class this weekend, I had students make Pizza for lunch. We picked up fully loaded pizzas and deposited them in the oven on tiles without losing ingredients or deforming the pizzas. All the students are ready to go off and buy a SuperPeel for themselves. It's a great tool, and one we heartily recommend. I'll try to put pictures and more of a description in the tips and techniques section "real soon now".