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Mike's Bread Blog, 2008

Wednesday, November 05, 2008 - New pages, all about starters - THE topic closest to the heart of sourdough is the starter. Without a starter, without maintaining the starter, without knowing how to use a starter, you just can't make good sourdough bread consistently. There is more twaddle online about starter than any other part of baking, and more than about almost any other topic I can think of. I get more questions sourdough starters than all other topics put together. If you're having starter issues, I DO hope that you'll check out the Sourdough Starter Primer - it's been written to answer the many questions I've received over the years.

Some people have commented that some of my pages are too long. I've been careful to write them so the are very accessible. Reading the pages will save you a lot more time than it will take to read the pages. If you have doubts about my advice, please drop me a note and let's chat - your input could help refine these pages.

Friday, October 03, 2008 - Minor headaches - This week our home server and one of our computers had issues. The servers that host our web pages and email are unaffected, but our attention has been divided. Instead of answering emails, we've been repairing computers. We're not done, so if you don't get a quick answer to an email, or a quick delivery of a book, please be patient.

Sunday, September 28, 2008 - A neat blog - A neat lady named Heather sent me a note asking about bread. (I've always loved the name Heather, and as far as I can remember, I've liked all the people I've met named Heather.) While we were talking about sourdough, she mentioned her blot, Craftlit. If you're a crafter or baker who finds you have less time to read than you'd like, and that maybe your hands are too doughy to hold a book, you might surf over to http://craftlit.blogspot.com/. Among other things, she has podcasts of her and her friends reading books. It looks like a neat community!

Saturday, September 27, 2008 - A little blog change - Since 2003, when I started this blog, the blog has grown and grown and it is a bit too big to be a good size for a single page. So, it's broken out into multiple pages. If you're looking for old notes, look to the left.... there are pointers to them there.

Thursday, September 25, 2008 - A minor note - Almost a year ago a friend of Sourdough Home, Ed Zinake, suggested it was time to move from the old table layout we were using to CSS layout. I was willing, but didn't have a lot of time to investigate CSS. Ed wanted to learn CSS, so he took some of the pages at our site and converted them. I used his work on our sister site Bake With Mike but hesitated to apply his work to this site. Today, I converted the first of the pages I redid with the CSS layout to our site. See if you can figure out which. Thanks again Ed!

Saturday, August 16, 2008 - Hard crust question - It's question of the week time. This week Tammy G asked, "I've tried your sourdough recipe and another one that requires all day rising and every time the dough's outer layer is thick and hard. Can you tell me what I'm doing wrong?"

More than likely. Dough dries out when exposed to the air. The longer it is exposed, the more it dries out. This can be more of an issue some places than others. When I lived on the Gulf Coast, nothing dried out. Ever. Not even in a kiln. (Well, maybe that was an exaggeration.) When I lived in the mountains of Colorado the humidity never got much above 30% and dough formed a skin in 15 minutes - or less.

In most climates, protecting the dough is a prudent practice. It keeps moisture in, and bugs, children and pets out. I cover bowls of rising dough with plastic wrap.

I also cover rising loaves with plastic wrap, but that can be problematical. If you have a wet dough that has over risen and become fragile, pulling off plastic wrap that has stuck to the dough can collapse the loaf. With a firm, dense loaf there is no problem. If I know a loaf is going to be fragile, I spray the loaf with oil before I cover it to keep the plastic from sticking. Also, if the bread is covered in seeds or other things like that sticking is very unlikely. Hope that helps. Tammy G. wins one of our electronic cookbooks for having the question of the week.

Sunday, August 10, 2008 - The Art of the Rise Last week I'd mentioned having a letter of the week, and I had a great letter this week. Greg S. wrote: "I hadn't baked sourdough since I was as teenage, many moons ago, and created a starter per your instructions. It ended up being very lively, thank you.

"In your Black Canyon Sourdough Bread recipe, it says, 'Once the dough has rested, form it into boules. If you have them, put the dough into bannetons. Otherwise, just flour the loaves, put them on a baking sheet and cover them with plastic wrap. Allow to rise until at least doubled in size.'

"Being a sourdough newbie, I didn't realize that it went without saying, 'Allow to rise until at least double in size, 8 - 12 hours.' Or whatever the time is. I've done the recipe twice, and expected in to rise in two hours, like yeast breads. The bread is also spreading quite a bit when I put it in to rise; any hints?"

"Thank you very much for your offering your love of sourdough; it's infectious."

I liked the kind words, I always do. Yeah, I'm that vain. However, I answer questions even if you aren't so generous with your praise. Heck, I answer letters that are just questions. Anyway, the question prompted some thought about rising bread, and that in turned into a new page on the site, "The Art of the Rise, -or- More About Rising Than You Ever Wanted To Know." The short answer is that if we were talking about commercial bakers yeast, which is quite consistent, I could easily specify a reasonable guess of rise time. However, I don't know what a site visitor's starter is like. Is it fast or slow? Also, how has the site visitor been treating the starter? You can speed up or slow a starter by how you feed it. So, all I can do is say, "the dough should double." And not mention the fact that could be "some day."

There are a number of issues with free form loaves holding their shape. And there are at least three approaches to resolving the problem. One is to improve one's loaf forming skills. Another is to make a stiffer dough. Another is to raise the bread in a banneton or brotform. A last consideration is that some starters, when abused, develop the ability to eat protein, which weakens any dough. These starters typically smell like acetone, or cheap fingernail polish remover. Glen will get a free subscription to one of our electronic cookbooks to thank him for his question.

Saturday, August 02, 2008 - A New Feature - The Letter of the Week - I just had a thought.... I think it would be great to start sharing the email of the week with the web page through this blog, along with my answer. I haven't selected one yet for this week, but next week I will. I think it will help people understand that they are not the only ones with a particular issue in their baking, or their sourdough baking. I look forward to starting the feature... watch this space!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008 - Common Courtesy - It's been about nine years since I started Sourdoughhome.com. And from the day the site came up, I've gotten an unending stream of emails. I have about 4,000 saved in my email package. I lost more than that in a disk crash. Most of the emails are asking for help, some are notes of thanks, a smaller number suggest that my page is in error. I really like getting the emails. I've learned from every one of them, and I don't mind it when people think I'm wrong. It's more important to me that the site be right than I be right. At the end of the email discussion, I'm more certain that the site is correct, even if I wasn't.

Recently, I've gotten a few emails that have me scratching my chin. Here are two of them.
How dare you!
If I knew someone with a sourdough starter do you really think I'd be going through the trouble to learn how to start my own? Maybe you should should take the time to realize that not all of us live in California!
I'll be using other web sites thank you!
I wish you would get to a point sooner. i have read and read and read and only have found out how well you whinne and complain. As a possible new user to this site the last(or first) the i want to read is someone going on and on about how others have failed using your help and how this bothers you. that should have been dealt with privatly. really? who needs the drama you have here?

The messages above are the first ones I received from the senders, and I hadn't sent them any emails prior to getting the emails I quoted. Both are quoted verbatim, with the email addresses of the senders removed to protect their privacy. Both are in response to something on the Sourdoughhome site that they object to.

The tone of both was so rude I am sorry to admit that I replied to them in the same tone they used with me. Or, I was as rude as they were. Oddly enough, they didn't care for my rudeness and felt it was unprovoked.

Is this a trait of the entitlement generation - they expect to be treated with courtesy but see no reason to extend courtesy to others? Science fiction writer Robert Heinlein once had a character say that the sure sign that a civilization was near its end was the decline of common courtesy. Is this caused by, or just a shared symptom with, the increasing political polarization in our society? Our political discourse has reached new lows, bringing to mind a song in which Mick Jagger sings, "He can't be a man 'cause he doesn't smoke the same cigarettes as me." I see many emails and exchanges in mailing lists and news groups that contain attitudes that people would not ever say in person or even over the phone.

Still, I am left with a question. How should one respond to emails like the two above? Angry emails. Irrational emails. Emails that don't actually ask a question or seek to strike up a conversation, but just vent the writer's spleen.

I've decided that meeting anger with anger isn't the answer, and won't be nasty just because a correspondent was. Is it best to just ignore them? Is it better to reply with a note along the lines of, "Hey - you sent that to a real person, and that wasn't very nice. What would your mama say if she saw that?" Is it better to post the emails in a special page, along with the email addresses of the senders? (No, not really.) Is this a sign of the continuing meltdown of our society?

Thursday, June 26, 2008 - And on the other hand, you have more fingers. I've been reading Peter Reinhart's most recent book, "Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor." It is, as you'd expect from Mr. Reinhart, a beautiful book with some great recipes. I've enjoyed all the breads I've made from the book, and some of them will become regular breads. His recipes work more consistently with home-ground flour than any others I've tried. And breads I made based on several of his earlier recipes became best sellers at the farmers markets where we sold bread. A quick warning - this is going to be long. You might want to skip it.

I don't know if it is Mr. Reinhart, or if it is just part of the publishing game, but I do find the book is oversold in a number of respects, and as I've found with a number of his other books, he gets some of the technical details wrong. It is, perhaps, a bit presumptuous of an ordinary baker to be critical of someone who teaches at Johnson and Wales, who has won the James Beard award for at least two of his books. Still, I have been a baker since the mid 1970's, a professional baker since 2002, and have read more about baking than just about anyone I know.

Let's repeat that I have great respect for Peter Reinhart as a baker, as a cheerleader and recruiter for the artisan bread movement , and as a human being. Everyone I know who has met Mr. Reinhart sings his praises. His spiritual books are very moving, and have moved me. Still, I find errors in his baking books. (I'll quietly pray his spiritual books are more accurate.) And there are a few things that just annoy me. A lot.

The oversold or over-promoted part.... let's start with the new techniques part of the title of his current book. Using slow fermentations, soakers and retardation are not in any way new. He combines the techniques in interesting ways, but they are new in the same sense that placing dual headlights on the front of car horizontally instead of vertically is new. Effective? Yes! Interesting? Yes! New? No, not really.

At one point in "Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor," Mr. Reinhart comments that one person's poolish is another person's biga. Sadly, in a sense he's right. Most of my visitors are in the USA, and we don't have a baking vocabulary to call our own. So we use French and Italian terms. Less often, a few German terms creep in. And all too often, they are misunderstood. So, what one person is calling a poolish may well be what someone else would call a biga. However, as educators I strongly feel we have an obligation to use technical terms correctly and to instruct others in their correct use. There ARE very specific definitions of terms like Poolish and Biga. And we improve communication when we agree to use the correct definitions. So, in another - and very important - sense one baker's poolish is not and never should be another baker's biga.

As the webmaster and person behind this web site, I get a large number of emails from people having problems with sourdough. And a surprisingly high percentage of them are using techniques from Mr. Reinhart's books. Like Mr. Reinhart, I've been a practicing baker. Like Mr. Reinhart, I teach hands-on classes, though on a smaller scale. Unlike Mr. Reinhart, it seems, I get lots of emails from people having problems and I've refined my techniques over the years to handle the issues my correspondents encounter. Part of the problem comes from his non-standard use of baking terms. If I had nickel for every time someone told me they were making a barm of their sourdough, I could retire. Or when they tell me they are making a poolish from their sourdough.

Though it was used elsewhere, barm is a largely British practice that was an early alternative to sourdough. It used yeast from fermenting beer to raise the bread. It is a good technique, but like bakers yeast, it is an anti-sourdough. You can't make a barm out of a sourdough any more than you can make a vegetarian meal of pork chops.

Similarly, poolish is a yeasted technique. It was developed in the mid to late 1800's when bakers yeast became available. Bakers yeast is less labor intensive and, in the hands of apprentices, more reliable than sourdough. When bakers switched to bakers yeast they made two discoveries. Every time they baked, they had to pay the yeast company - sourdough was essentially free since all the water and flour in the starter left the bakery as bread. Also, the customers complained that the bread had less taste. Bakers are about the most thrifty people you'll ever encounter, so they had to come up with a way to solve these problems. And the same answers solved both problems. The Polish developed the poolish, the Italians the biga. Both are techniques that start with small amounts of yeast and cultivate it over night. The long slow ferment increases flavor and builds up the amount of yeast in the poolish or biga. When I bake bread in commercial quantities, I use about 1/6th the yeast to make a batch of 27 poolish based loaves of bread than it takes to make one loaf of simple yeasted bread. Back to the point, you can't make a poolish, a biga or a barm out of sourdough.

Many of the people who ask me for help with their starters are following Mr. Reinhart's instructions and they are invariably underfeeding their starters, both in quantity of food and frequency of feeding. In the current book, Mr. Reinhart talks about the amount of sourdough misinformation on the web.

He's right, there IS a lot of misinformation on the web. It's in the nature of the beast. There is no mandatory certification of web site content. So, you have to pick the web sites you rely upon carefully. I am very happy about the number of people who use my site, and how many people thank me for my help. I strongly feel that most of the sourdough oriented web sites are written about methods which have worked for the site's author. Which is why I suggest beginners pick one guru and stick with that guru. Switching gurus and methods will only confuse you until you get far enough along to understand how sourdough works.

One advantage a web site has over a printed book is the ease of correcting it. At one point, I mentioned making a biga out of sourdough. When I realized I was mistaken, I corrected the error. That is harder to do with a printed book.

Mr Reinhart talks about web sites that obsess about feeding schedules and Nitro-Pak White Flour Simple Sourdough Pan Bread feeding quantities. He mentions that some bizarre sites put rulers in the photos of their breads. When I Google for sourdough, this site is usually on the first page of results, a fact which pleases me more than perhaps it should. So all this leaves me wondering, "Was he talking about me?"

On the off chance he was, and on the off chance that you, or he, are wondering about these topics, I'll finally explain and bring this long post to an end. I work very hard to make sure that this web site has extremely reliable information. When I make mistakes, and I do, I go out of my way to correct them. It is more important to me that the site be correct than I be correct. ALL the recipes at this site have been tested again and again and then again.

It's a truism that it takes a consistent process to create a consistent product. From seven years of answering questions about sourdough here, in rec.food.sourdough, in the Bread Baker's Guild of America mailing list, the bread baker's digest, the Baking Fun mailing list and most recently at The Fresh Loaf, I have seen many of the same problems again and again. The biggest is people don't take care of their starter, their starter is on the ragged edge of death, and it will not deliver consistent - or good - results. And the people become sourdough dropouts. It can be argued that I over-emphasize the importance of a very regular feeding schedule. However, the result of this emphasis is the people who follow my suggestions and guidelines made consistently good sourdough bread. Is it the only way to make consistently good sourdough bread? Of course not. There are many paths to good sourdough. But, for me, the first step on the path is a healthy starter.

Which brings us to the rulers. A lot of time and trouble was spent, perhaps wasted, at Sourdoughhome testing flours. And after a while people wanted a way to gauge which flour produced bigger loaves, a way to tell how big or small the crumb structure was. I could have put my Swiss Army knife or a coffee cup in front of the bread, but I thought a ruler was a more reliable guide to the bread and crumb size.

Mr. Reinhart's references to these things left me wondering, gee, was it me? Having heard what a great guy he is, I am sure there was no ill intent in his statements. Just as there is no ill intent in my concerns about his ongoing problems with getting the names and details of basic techniques right.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008 - Musings on the "artisan bread movement" - Recently in the Bread Baker's Guild of America mailing list, and then over at The Fresh Loaf, there were heated discussions of what artisan bread and artisan baking were, and whether either actually exists. I was surprised and disappointed that members of the Bread Baker's Guild of America, who's motto is, "Serving the Artisan Baking Community" were hostile to the term, and even the idea, of artisan baking. The discussion showed that there was a lot of misunderstanding about what artisan baking is, and is not even among bakers.

First, an artisan is a skilled craftsman. NOT an artist. Some of the artisan's work can show artistic accomplishment, but one thing that distinguishes a craftsman's work from an artist's is that the craftsman's work is first and foremost useful. A cooper's barrels may be - and often are - beautiful, but if they don't hold water, we don't want them. A baker's bread may be beautiful, but much more often than not, we want something we can eat. An artisan is a cut above a journeyman or even most craftsmen in that their work is of a higher quality. But it isn't fine art. The baker is not expressing his joy in life when he bakes a loaf of bread, her joy in finding true love, nor his disappointment his lover left him. They're making food.

Since an artisan is a person, we don't have - in a strict grammatical sense - artisan bread. A loaf of bread can never be an artisan. Give it tools, ask it to make something - it'll sit there until it decomposes. We have artisanal bread. Some people think the end of that work is significant in the discussion. Maybe yes, maybe no. While I will gently correct someone's grammar on this issue once, there are more serious issues that do need to be addressed.

What distinguishes artisanal bread from other breads? Simply put, it was made by, or under the supervision of, a skilled craftsman.

Some people confuse "French bread" with "artisanal bread." Artisanal doesn't get into the shape, style or ingredients of the bread. The artisan picks all of those to make the desired bread. And whether it is French, Italian, Swiss, Dutch, Belgian, Tanzanian, American, or something no one has ever seen before, if it was made by an artisan, the bread is artisanal bread. Similarly, some people feel when they make bread in a loaf pan, it isn't artisanal bread. If they made the bread, it is artisanal bread.

Many people feel that if it's "good bread" it's artisanal bread. Well, we would hope if an artisan made it that it would be good. But in one of the Coupe du Monde du Boulangeries, the French team burned their bread. Badly. Stuff happens, even to some of the best bakers in the world, experienced and having just gone through special intensive training. (Maybe that will make you feel better about your last kitchen boo-boo. If it can happen to them, it can happen to anyone!)

And now... to the real heart of the matter. From time to time I go into the grocery store and see a display of attractive breads labeled, "Artisan Breads." Sadly, their breads are usually as flawed as their usage of the English language. The breads typically aren't good. They are made with bleached flour, over kneaded, too much yeast was used to make them, they were proofed too quickly, and then under-baked. They are tasteless blobs of ultra-white glow-in-the-dark bread, And, if they were made by people, I would still be willing to call them artisanal breads. However, far too often, they are made by machines.

The usual growth pattern in artisan bakeries is to start doing almost everything by hand. Few bakeries mix the dough by hand, though a real person is running the mixer. Then they buy a machine that cuts the dough to the appropriate size and forms the loaves. Then the automation continues a bit here and a bit there until they have a machine that is connected to bins of ingredients, water lines, gas lines and electrical lines. A machine that measures the ingredients, mixes them, scales them, loafs them, rises them, slashes them, bakes them, cools them and bags them without much human interaction or involvement. At some point in that progression, I feel the bakery loses the right to use the words artisan and artisanal. At some point, the craftsman is no longer involved. I don't know where to draw the line, but strongly feel it should be drawn.

If a loaf of bread was made on a clever bread line that can measure, mix, scale, shape, rise, slash and bake bread without any human help, it isn't artisan or artisanal bread. Whether or not it looks or tastes good. All artisan and artisanal mean is, "made by a person." Is that important to you? Is it worth an extra buck or two a loaf? As a former baker, I hope so. But it upsets me, truly upsets me, that the bread is being misrepresented as something it is not. I'd even accept the cop-out of "artisanal style bread." The modifier "style" means "it kinda looks like the word being modified, but it's not what the word I'm modifying describes." I encourage you to do two things when you see this fake "artisan bread." Don't buy it. And complain to the bakery manager, the store manager, and the store's headquarters about it. Make it plain you feel that this is misrepresentation and you don't like it. ("If one person does it, they'll think he's crazy and they won't draft him. If two people do it, they'll think they're gay and not draft either of them. But what if 50 people a day - YES 50 PEOPLE A DAY walked in, sang a few bars of Mike's Anti-bread desecration and walked out? They'd think it was a movement!" Apologies to Arlo Guthrie.)

Seriously, if the fake artisan bread bothers you, please tell the powers that be at the store about your objections. And either find some place to buy good bread, or make it yourself!

Monday, June 2, 2008 - Classes, classes classes! - We've finished our second round of classes in our new facility and we're quite happy with the results. We had a few rough edges, but no big ones, and the students were happy too. Next time, we'll take pictures and put them on different web pages! If you want to take some classes, check out our Bake With Mike page!

Saturday, May 24, 2008 - Water and classes - No, water and classes aren't really related, but both have been very important to me lately. Ever since I moved, making quality breads has been somewhere between difficult and impossible. And it was the water! Our short term answer is to use bottled water. We're using spring water, not distilled. We carefully checked the vendor's specifications and we're happier with our breads than we've been since before the move. (If a water vendor would like to sponsor this web site, drop me a note through the contact us page.)

As I am typing this, I am waiting for the first students to arrive. We're having our "Never ever baked before" introduction to baking class. We've offered this class before, but we've never had takers. And this is the first time we've had classes here. I am very excited - I spent much of the week writing the cookbook for the class and testing and re-testing recipes. I'm ready for anything but the reality I'm facing!

Thursday, May 01, 2008 - The spreadsheet, revisited at last! - for years, I've made a converter spreadsheet available for download at no cost. Shortly after I put it on line, I stopped using it because I was working exclusively with weight measurements and I just didn't need the spreadsheet. A site visitor pointed out that I had said the converter would convert yeasted recipes to sourdough recipes, and that it didn't. So, I went into the spreadsheet and in 5 gruelling hours reworked it. It's still ugly. And if you're not a spreadsheet geek, it still won't make much sense to you (despite the instructions in the spreadsheet), but now it will convert yeasted to sourdough. Only straight doughs though, no poolish, biga or pate fermente need apply. If it works, please let me know. If it has trouble, please let me know that too. If you can make it beautiful, please send me a copy so I can put a better spreadsheet on this page. It's functional. It just isn't very pretty.

Monday, April 28, 2008 - The Things You Discover - when you're trolling the net! Every now and then I look at Google to see how well Sourdoughhome is doing. Are people able to find it when they are looking for baking and sourdough information? Are other sites referring to it? And, if so, how? It's not just an ego trip, it helps the utility of the page if people can find it. I was surprised and delighted to find that baking911 was using our trouble shooting material. Looking at their site, it is a great site for general baking questions (though their sourdough pages do need work.) Cookies, cakes, breads and more.... a very good resource!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008 - Carrot Pineapple Sourdough Cupcakes are here! One of the big success stories when we were running our bakery were the sourdough carrot-pineapple cupcakes. We made them HUGE. They were more like mini-cakes than cupcakes. They were dense, moist, rich and delicious. Then we topped them with a cream cheese icing and that took them over the edge. If I had a nickel for each time someone complained that they were too big and that they couldn't POSSIBLY eat the whole thing... and then eat the whole thing, I'd be retired to a life of leisure. You can make a cupcake or a cake with the recipe. And it's a great way to use up excess sourdough starter. Give it a try, I think you'll like it. Oh, despite the presence of carrots, pineapple and walnuts, I don't claim that this is health food or healthy food. But, it's great food!

Friday, April 04, 2008 - Why am I on "Press Your Luck"? Well, maybe I'm not on "Press Your Luck" and it just feels that way. I've been hit with the elusive, and pesky, triple whammy. If you're wondering what I'm yammering about, hang in there, it'll be explained. As some people know, I just moved from the mountains of Colorado to the lowlands of Texas. A drop of about 7,500 feet in altitude. Also, since I'm not baking professionally, I can no longer get my favorite flour, GM's All-Trumps. Instead, I'm using the good, but different, King Harvest. It has lower protein. And finally, the water has changed. In Colorado the water was so hard you could get bruised taking a shower. Here it's WAY soft.

All this adds up to bread dough that is too soft and doesn't rise as well as it should. I am finally remembering that I used about 1/3 less riser in the mountains than I used to in the lowlands, so now i need to increase the amount of riser.

I'm not trying to sound too whiny, but this is causing me to remember how much "fun" it was to learn to bake in the mountains, and to have a renewed understanding of how frustrated some people get when they have trouble baking, and to remember that no matter how silly some issues bakers have might sound to other people, they are very real and very serious to the baker. And now, it's time to make another batch of bread. Maybe I'll be closer this time. Just maybe.

Monday, February 25, 2008 - An oopsie - Someone asked me a question today, and I wanted to point him to the spot on the web page where I talk about the topic of the Rule of 240. I was surprised to find I mention it in passing, but never really discuss or explain it. That oversight has been corrected. Just surf over to http://www.sourdoughhome.com/bakingintro2#ruleof240 for an overview of this handy rule of thumb concerning dough temperatures.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008 - Active sourdough starter - WOW - two posts in one day! In answering a question from a visitor, I realized I really haven't explained what I mean by ACTIVE. There are two parts to my definition. For me to consider a starter to be active, it should have been fed within the past 12 hours, and it should have risen to double in size after that feeding. When I was running the bakery one of my mantras was, "it takes a consistent process to create a consistent product." Most home bakers don't have the fetish about consistency that commercial bakers do, but it IS a drag when you make the same recipe twice and once it is is bland and rises in an hour, and the next time it takes 16 hours to barely rise and it is as sour as a mouth puckering sour candy. Having a consistent starter helps minimize this sort of issue. I usually pull my starters out of the refrigerator and start feeding them about two days before using them. This time frame insures they are vibrantly healthy - or very active - when I am ready to use them.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008 - An update to Peelology - I was telling people at TheFreshLoaf about my page about how to transfer bread to an oven using a peel and realized that since I had put that page together, I'd learned a bit about how to present movies in my web pages, so I re-did the movies. I hope they are helpful to you!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008 - Our First Mailing From Sanger! - LET THE BAKING BEGIN! (and an ironic observation) - I've met our local post office workers as I mailed out the first copies of the cookbook from the new address. Thank you to our first customers in our new location for your business! Also, we've found the grocery store and now have flour, so the baking can begin! I think another round of New Bohemian Rye. and then some baking tests. In Emily Beuhler's book, "Bread Science," Emily talks about how liquid oil s, such as corn oil and olive oil, give different results than solid oil s such as butter and lard. She didn't have any pictures to show the differences, so there will be some baking tests real soon now.

As people who know me know, I love just about any fermented food, and have been active in most styles of fermentation. So, I was thrilled when my wife gave me a copy of, "The Billionaires Vinegar", a really fascinating book about the finding and auctioning off of the most expensive bottle of wine yet. The bottle of wine sold for $156,000 at auction and was a bottle of 1787 Chateau Lafite Bordeaux that was said to have been owned by Thomas Jefferson. I haven't read far enough to know if the bottle that the Forbes purchased was good, or as the title hints, vinegar. Two other bottles of the same age and vintage from the same source were good. I also haven't read far enough to know if the bottles stated history was correct. Please don't drop me an email and spoil the surprises. I have been enthralled by the book, and recommend it heartily. The irony? After a recent shopping trip, I called Beth to tell her I'd found some Merlot at Walmart for $2.97 a bottle. From the ridiculously expensive to the merely ridiculous. The Walmart wine? If you're a wine snob, don't bother. It is undated, and a bit too sharp for a Merlot, with more tannin bite than appropriate, and otherwise thin. It's not bad, and OK for less than $3.00, but I'm not going to rush out and buy a case.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008 - The Trip Is Over - 16 hours on the road from Gunnison, Colorado to Sanger, TX! Reunited with my love (my wife) and in a new house. Our garage is filled with boxes. My office is, at best, partially, set up. Still... we are ready to sell cookbooks, both electronic and printed. We'll add more merchandise to the breadshoppe as soon as possible. (Please don't ask HOW I could POSSIBLY move from Colorado to Texas. Both are great places to live, misplaced regional loyalty aside.)

Friday, January 25, 2008, Water, water everywhere - Over the years I've gotten a fair number of questions about what sort of water to use with sourdough. Interestingly enough, the information has been on my page for some time, but It's not always been easy to find. Still, it IS tempting to suggest some sort of esoteric bottled water, insisting that only water from Sumatra or Fiji will do the trick. But the truth is that people have been using almost any water for thousands of years. What has changed is that for the past few generations is that we are chlorinating water. In the Sourdough Myths page, as well as the starting a starter page, I have elaborated on the water discussions.

Thursday, January 24, 2008, Sourdough and Bread Machines - I've received emails again and again over the past 7 years asking about how to make sourdough bread in bread machines. I thought the senders just weren't reading the web site. However, a recent check of the site showed that I hadn't put a page in place about Sourdough and Bread Machines. If you are trying to make sourdough bread in your bread machine, this note is a must read!

Saturday, January 19, 2008, A New Beginning - Over the past 7 years (WOW! Where does the time go?) I've gotten thousands of emails asking all sorts of questions about baking with sourdough. And it finally occurred to me that the common theme was a search for a good consolidated introduction to sourdough. I've seen a number of such pages, but all are lacking something. So, I decided to write my own Fast Track to Sourdough. I'd thought about calling it "Sourdough Shake and Bake" but decided against it. The pages include simple guidelines for maintaining sourdough as well as 2 sourdough recipes that I haven't put on these pages before. Sadly, the Fast Track pages got caught up in a system wide update and were put on the web server before I wanted them there. A few long keyboarding sessions took care of the text, but I still need to put some pictures into the pages. I probably have some I can use in the archives, but they won't go online today. Please use the "Contact Us" page to share any comments you might have about the new pages.

January 9, 2008 - a new bread! (kinda) In the past few months I've received a number of emails from people who wanted to make the Bohemian Rye bread but couldn't because they couldn't find medium rye flour. It seems that most grocery stores have stopped carrying this flour. So, I had to re-do the bread recipe so that we could still make the bread. The result isn't identical to the original, but New Bohemian Rye (Edie's Bread) is very similar, and several people who have tried the recipe have told me it is the best rye bread they have ever eaten. I hope you'll give it a try!

January 6, 2008 - A New Look - I had gotten a bit tired of the blue borders and ultra-white background of this web page. So I decided it was time to clean up the design. And about a hundred hours later, it's changed. I'm sure that there are problems in the new layout and pages. I'm wading through the pages to take care of the issues. If you find something odd, such as links that don't work, please let me know.