Mike's Bread Blog, 2010Saturday, December 25, 2010 - The end of 3/8 cup! For some years I've suggested feeding a starter 1/4 cup of water and 3/8 cup of flour. I also mentioned that the flour and water should be the same amount by weight, and to get there you should scoop the flour from the sack. *SIGH* Too bad that the volumetric and weight measurements don't coincide. So, now it's time to return to reality.
If you check flour sacks you'll see that flour companies feel a cup of flour is 120 to 130 grams. The way to make a cup of flour weigh that is to sift the flour, spoon the flour into the cup until it is overflowing and then to use a straight edge to scrape off the excess flour. This will consistently deliver a cup of flour that weighs around 120 grams. No other way of filling cups delivers a consistent weight. If you scoop the flour out of the sack, your cup will weigh between 170 and 200 grams. Worse, you'll have as much as a 25% cup to cup variation.
I talk about this at some length on the "what's a cup" page. I know better. And my suggestion that people weigh was right on. My suggestion to use 3/8 of a cup of flour was not. A cup of water weighs about 240 grams. So 1/4 cup weighs 60 grams. Since a cup of correctly measured flour weighs 120 grams, 60 grams of flour is about 1/2 cup. This is both simpler and more accurate. So, hereafter I'll suggest using 1 part water to 2 parts flour by volume, or equal parts by weight. I hope this change will help people get their starters started more reliably and maintain them better. However, weighing is still easier and more accurate.
Now, if you'll excuse me I have a lot of pages to change.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010 - Herringbone? It was only two days after I put the Bread Slicing Tutorial on line when I learned a new way to slice bread. It really helps resolve the question of rapidly changing slice sizes when slicing a boule. By cutting at an interesting angle, I have learned I can get more, and more consistent, slices per loaf than before. Just visit my Bread Slicing page and look around!
Sunday, August 15, 2010 - PIZZA! PIZZA! - We had a sourdough class yesterday and it was great! One thing that was especially good this time was the pizza! We make sourdough pizzas for lunch in the sourdough class. We made a number of the classic class pizzas - shrimp, asparagus and mozzarella cheese; smoked salmon, thinly sliced red onion, marscapone, and capers; the pesto and mozzarella cheese; and a few others. They were great! However, ever since I'd seen Michael Ruhlman's blog I'd been itching to try the bacon, asparagus, egg and cheese pizza that Michael Ruhlman talks about in his blog. It was a major hit. I'm making another one for breakfast this morning, and will post a picture if we can get a picture before we dive in. It's a great breakfast pizza, and it was pretty amazing for lunch. One thing he stresses that I appreciate and try to teach in class is that the recipes are not carved in stone, changing them is fine, and that you NEED to change them to make them yours. Thanks for sharing Michael!
Saturday, August 14, 2010 - It's just a matter of taste! One of the bakers in today's class had asked if she could bring her starter in for me to smell and evaluate. The only real test of a starter is in the baking and tasting, but I told her to bring it in. When she came to class, she commented that her starter made bread that was too sour. Several students commented they wished they had that problem. I sniffed the starter and said it needed to be fed but was basically fine.
Since her starter wasn't ready for use, we set it aside and made bread with my starters. After hours of work, the whole wheat sourdough came out of the oven. In class we take some shortcuts in making bread so that the classes will be only one day long, and the whole wheat sourdough was a very nice, but mild, whole wheat sourdough bread. She commented that was how her bread tasted and she had thought it was too strong. The other students all commented that the bread was pretty mild.
It's a pity but so many of the things we want, or don't want, don't have absolute references. One person's too crusty is another person's wimpy downstream crust; one person's too sour is another person's mild bread; one person's lethal hot sauce is another person's amusing little garden sauce. I wonder how to develop any sort of real standards so people can more effectively communicate tastes.
Sunday, August 08, 2010 - Videos gone! But returning! - We've been using Google videos to host the videos on our site and they've been doing a great job for us. However, when they bought Youtube they let users of their video service know they were going to stop hosting videos and that we needed to go to Youtube, or somewhere. Of course, we ignored the message. (Are we not MEN?) At some point in the fairly recent past, it seems they stopped hosting videos. Our pages with embedded videos have large white spaces where the videos belong. This took us by surprise, to say the least! (Mostly because we were ignoring the emails from Google. See "Are we not MEN?", above.)
We are in the process of re-doing our videos, uploading them to Youtube and updating our web pages. We hope that everything will be taken care of in the next few days.
Saturday, July 24, 2010 - Good bread found! Since I've been in Dallas, I've been looking for a great bakery. Now, to me, a great bakery is one that sells great bread. I'm not after a sandwich, I'm not after a cake, and I'm rarely there after pastry. I've been to Empire Baking Company, which D-Magazine's annual reader's poll proclaimed to the best in Dallas. It was good. But not great. If it was closer, I'd go there for bread, but it's not worth the 40 mile drive to me.
This weekend, Beth and I went to the Coppell farmers market and there was a booth from the Village Baking Company. I've met Clint, the owner, twice and he's a very nice guy. His bakery smells awesome and I love the facility. But by the time the bread is sold at Sprouts, which is where I'd found it, the magic had leaked out. So, I wasn't expecting much.
However, the smell drew me in, even though I'm still on a crazy low calorie, low carb and low satisfaction diet. And I bought two loaves - a New York Rye and a Country Olive with Kalamata olives. Both were exceptional! Right now, for my money, Village Baking Company is the king of the heap, the best in Dallas, and it could hold it's own where ever it was. If you're in Dallas or Austin, check out their web page and face book page and then visit the farmers markets they sell through. You won't be sorry!
Sunday, July 11, 2010 - More Rambling, More Subversion - It's odd how things come in sets. I was talking to a co-worker about the changes in the American diet and lifestyle since the Second World War. Next I found an interview with Andrew Whitley, the author of "Bread Matters: The State of Modern Bread and a Definitive Guide to Baking Your Own." Andrew talks about why bread just isn't what it used to be, why it has no taste, why it isn't good for you, and why it does aggravate health conditions. Luckily, he offers answers. Answers which sourdough lovers and slow food aficionados should love. I expound at some length over at my Food Philosophy page.
Sunday, June 20, 2010 - Whoda thunk it, we added site search
For some time I've wanted to add a site search capability. Many people seem to
have trouble navigating our (to me) intuitively obvious and (to me) simple site
navigation. So, I wanted to add a site search capability. About 20 minutes at
Google and 20 more editing the site, and it's here. At the bottom of each
page, you'll find a box like something like the one to the right. If you don't see it,
you might have disabled active content, pop-ups or tracking code. If you want to use the
Wibiya does. We think they offer a good service to you, and us.
Just enter what you're looking for and Google will search Sourdough Home for you, returning all the cool stuff you're looking for. I'm jazzed! I hope you're delighted! If you find a page without a search box at the bottom, please let me know, just copy and paste the address of the page and we'll jump right on it!
Tuesday, June 15, 2010 - (Simulated) starter emergencies and a killer pizza recipe - Our recent trip to Alaska taught us two things about Alaska. It is against state law for a tourist to ever be more than 15 feet from a souvenir shop in a city, and 50 feet in the wilder parts of the state. Also, tourists must be offered Salmon or Halibut at every meal. Preferably both. I loved that part of it. So, that brings us to the pizza recipe. At the Nenana View Grill in the McKinley Chalet Resort we were served a salmon, red onion, capers and marscapone pizza. You could probably substitute crème fraiche for the marscapone. (Follow up comment a few weeks and a pizza later - crème fraiche was too runny, though the taste was fine. Stick to marscapone.) Use each to taste, though a sparser pizza is probably a better pizza here. It was so good my toes curled! (As were the ones we made at home later on. And I'm not even all that fond of capers!)
While we were gone, I received a few emails asking about what to do if you discover you just baked all your starter. Wow! Bummer dude! Ahhh - be more careful next time? More seriously, don't send me an email. It's not that I don't care, it's that your starter crisis will more than likely be over before I have a chance to answer you. However, I'd heard about an emergency recovery technique for this situation that sounded promising, so I simulated the crisis and gave it a try. It worked, and I documented it with two movies. Next time, we're going to rehearse before we use up all our starter. No, really.
Sunday, May 30, 2010 - I'm easy but I'm not free! - As long as there has been a Sourdough Home web page, I've answered questions from people having trouble with baking. And I've taken no small amount of pleasure from this. I've met a lot of great people, and made some wonderful friends. Over the years, the number of emails has continued to grow and grow. This morning I sat and answered questions from web site visitors for four hours and at the end, I was still woefully behind on answering questions.
It has become painfully obvious that things have gotten out of control.
I need to recertify in several computer areas, I need to work on the web redesign, I need to publish new books, and there isn't enough time. And that doesn't address the important areas of my life, things like staying connected to my family.
If I don't answer my emails, I feel guilty. If I do answer my emails, I fall behind on other things, and feel guilty.
I've reached a point where SOMETHING needs to be done. A number of web sites have stopped taking questions. If you send them emails about their site, you get no answer. I don't think that's fair. If you're going to be on the web, you shouldn't create an ivory tower with a moat around it. The only real answer I can come up with is that it's time for me to stop answering questions for free. I've been looking at how much time I spend answering questions, and how much my time is worth. So, beginning today I will charge $10 per question I am asked. Whether this reduces the number of questions I see, or enhances our cash flow, I can live with the outcome. I'm not really happy about the idea, but it is time.
Saturday, May 08, 2010 - Some vendors who have been recommended to me - I've had a few vendor recommendations in the past few weeks, I haven't done business with them, so this isn't a full endorsement. I'm just letting you know the sound interesting. On the Useful Tools page, I mention that I like wooden kneading troughs. Fall Creek Woods sells a wide variety of wooden bowls, some of which are intended for use as kneading troughs. The bowls I saw on their web page are beautiful, they are works of talented crafters, works of art even. Which is to say, some of them are a bit pricey but beauty has its price.
I've been asked more than once where to find affordable bannetons and brotforms. Lucky Clover Trading has a great price on bannetons. Use their search tool to look for Rattan Coil Items or bread. The rattan coil items are brotforms, just dust them with flour and use them for rustic rye breads. You may also line their bowls with a floured linen liner to use them as bannetons.
Friday, April 30, 2010 - Meditations upon a soup Not too long ago my wife and I attended a dinner sponsored by our favorite wine bar, Wine Squared. They work with a local chef to produce a lovely tasting menu paired with really nice wines. The chef comments on the food, the sommelier, Brook, comments upon the wine. The food and wine are exceptional. And the company is just great! It is so rare to fall into several different groups and have pleasant, stimulating civilized conversation. At a recent dinner, one of the entrees was a lettuce soup. It had a lovely Israeli olive oil and a grind of Egyptian pepper on it. I'd heard of lettuce soup, but had never had it. I was expecting something bland and yucky. Chance, the chef, made something lovely.
And that inspired me. I wanted to do something similar. So, I searched the net until I found an interesting sounding recipe. It was on a San Francisco area foodie blog. It was a nice recipe, and I think it is better now. It has sparked musings in my food philosophy page, and I hope you enjoy my spin on the recipe. It's a fast, easy and very tasty soup!
Sunday, March 21, 2010 - It ain't what you eat, but the way that you chew it! I've been doing a lot of non-bread stuff lately, which has really given me an itch to bake again! Of course, working on financial documents always makes me itch. Today my documentation is in an envelope ready to be mailed to my tax preparer! So, it's time to focus on bread again!
Why that Delbert McClinton quote? In my web site, I strongly favor one way of handling sourdough starter. Enough so that when people ask me questions about a technique they picked up at another web site, I suggest they try my way or ask the other web site's author. There are, in truth, a lot of reasons for this - it's not (just) ego. I strongly believe if you're going to put something on the web, you should answer the email it generates. I answer all my email (eventually - I'm 5 weeks behind but I'm catching up!) and I feel answering the email you get is part of the price you pay for being on-line. Also, it's not fair of me to comment upon someone else's technique. If I had a nickel for every time someone in a newsgroup, blog, mailing list or other online forum comments that this or that way of doing things can't work - without knowing a thing about it - I could retire. I do believe that if someone puts a recipe or a technique online, it has worked for them. At least once. And they are the best person to answer questions about it.
But back to the Delbert quote. I just ran across the Farine web site, which is a real treat. I need to add her site to my links page. In particular there is a series of articles about Gérard Rubaud, a classically trained French baker who wound up in North Carolina. A North Carolina based baker friend whom I greatly respect commented, "I gave a friend a loaf of my bread and after trying it he commented, "I really like Gérard's bread" which I took to mean I need to work on my own bread more." I was curious what could inspire such devotion to M. Rubaud's bread.
M. Rubaud's work is a labor of deep-seated love with a singularly French focus. His treatment of his levain, or sourdough starter, is intended to control the acidity of the levain, to make sure the natural flavors of the grain shine through into the bread. A traditional San Francisco Sourdough Bread has the opposite focus, with the goal of maximizing the expression of the sourdough starter in the bread at the cost of the wheat or rye flavors. M. Rubaud starts a fresh starter every 4 to 6 weeks in the summer, every 3 months during the winter months. He feeds it every 5 hours (which must really limit his social life, not to mention his sleep), he makes sure it never gets below 46F, and makes sure it is no more liquid than 50 to 60% hydration. He also feeds his starter a mix of freshly ground red wheat, white wheat, spelt and rye flour mixed with organic all-purpose white flour. In contrast, I suggest beginners keep their starters around 100% hydration, and some other sites suggest around 170% hydration. I suggest feeding twice a day, others as little as once a week or so. I suggest using white flour to feed the starter, as do most web pages, unless they have a strong whole grain focus.
The moral is one I've known for some time but haven't stressed enough. There are many ways to start, maintain and use sourdough starters. None of them are wrong if they help you make the bread you want to make. None of them are right if they stand in the way of you making the bread you want to make. "To a man who has only a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail."
So - what's the take home message for you? If you're a sourdough beginner (you have NO idea how much I wanted to type "If you're a sourdough starter"), I still suggest you pick a guru, be it a book or a web page, and work with one approach until you understand it and it works for you. Then branch out and look at other ways of handling sourdough. But most of all, have a good time doing it!
Sunday, February 14, 2010 - Valentines day and a discovery! - Long time site visitors, and those who are obsessive about looking at every page here (thank you!) know I really liked Saran Wrap's "Quick Covers" and I talked about how the large ones were big enough to cover almost any bowl. In fact, I covered 5 gallon buckets with them. However, Saran Wrap didn't sell enough of them, so they discontinued the pack of large covers, and then dropped the line altogether. A correspondent suggested I go to Sally Beauty Supply and check out their disposable shower caps. Sally is a chain of beauty supply companies that sells direct to the public. When I was dying my beard, I got my beard coloring there. (Hint for Mr. Grey - the stuff in the grocery store is not as good as the professional products!)
The shower caps are just $1.99 for 10 of them. I was intrigued and went off to Sally. As soon as I entered a friendly sales lady jumped forward to help me. She suggested that I might want to look at the "very similar" processing caps also. The processing caps are used in beauty shops to keep the strange chemicals they put on clients hair from dissolving the paint on the walls and triggering asthmatic attacks. The caps looked very similar to the shower caps. The helpful sales lady smiled and told me she uses the processing caps as shower caps (nudge, nudge, wink, wink). And the processing caps are $1.99 for 30 (YES - THIRTY) caps. We had a baking class this weekend, and the caps were just great! I hate throwing away plastic wrap. These reuseable shower caps are *SUCH* a step up from plastic wrap! Reuseable, and the elastic band keeps them where you put them. I haven't tried putting them on a 5 gallon bucket yet, but I think they'd fit.
Friday, January 01, 2010 - A long awaited change to Mike's Sourdough Calculator - in 2001 I wrote a calculator spreadsheet to help scale and convert recipes. Since shortly after that, I have not used it. I use other spreadsheets and don't go back to that one. I've gotten a number of improvement suggestions. And I really should put them in place. But - how would you like to update a spreadsheet you haven't even looked at in something like 6 to 9 years? Jean Symes made the reasonable request that I add a grams function. I did that and cleaned up a few other issues. If you haven't used the spreadsheet, or if you haven't looked at it in a while, you might go ahead and download it. I think you'll find it is easier to use. (Addendum November 7, 2011 - I was wrong, The spreadsheet was pretty awful. I've removed it. I may fix it, but I'm not really inclined to do so.)