Our Newsletter
Did you know Mike sends out a newsletter (almost) every week? It's filled with news about bread or whatever Mike is excited about this time. It's "Mike's (more or less) Weekly Baking Tips"!

Mike's Bread Blog - 2007

Looking for Camp Bread 2007 notes? Just click these links!
Day 0 Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 The Road Home Again Musings about Camp Bread

November 13, 2007 - Recovering from a serious server crash - Last night the main hard drive in our web, email and mailing list server died. The good news is that the web pages and mailing lists were backed up. The bad news is the configuration files were not. I'd set up the backup routines a few years ago and never revisited them. As we like to say, your backup is only as good as your last restore.

We also say we're never going to buy another Western Digital drive. All of the drive failures I've had in the past 10 years have been with Western Digital drives. Out of about 25 drives here, one was a Western Digital. It failed. They replaced it under warranty. And the replacement failed. Today's word is "Seagate." I could get a warranty replacement from Western Digital again. However, once SpinRite has recovered all the data it can, I'll be beating the drive with a hammer. A big hammer. Not so much in anger, but to make sure I don't send it off for a warranty replacement. Twice is enough!

We're working on the web sites now, then we'll work on email, and then the mailing lists. Mailing list subscribers may be in for a flood of email, sometimes the mailing list server loses count of what it has sent out and when re-loaded will send everything it can find.

November 12, 2007 - An error corrected - For the longest time, I have been referring to my handling of sourdough in the Ciabatta as a biga. However, that is just incorrect. I was mistaken when I started using that term. Biga is an Italian approach to reducing yeast usage in making breads. I am just using a thick starter, which helps increase its taste. So, today I am correcting that oversight. That said, a yeast biga is a wonderful technique to improve bread taste, and one which I encourage bakers to learn. I talk about it in my "Advanced Baking with Preferments" book available through Mike's Bread Shoppe. I'll try to post some disussions of preferments in the recipe section in the next few weeks.

An update on July 31, 2018 - the more you learn, the more you learn. It turns out that there is an Italian biga like process using sourdough. It's called biga naturale. Maybe I'll update the ciabatta recipe.

November 4, 2007 - Croissants! The croissant project is well under way. I've been gathering recipes, reading a lot, and testing recipes. The croissants are not where I want them to be, but they are better than any other croissant I can find in this mountain town of 5,000 people in the middle of nowhere. For now, I'm keeping a semi-log of my croissant experiences. Feel free to read it, but be aware it will keep changin for a while, and that it will not be in the menus until it is finalized. Still, it should be fun to read.

November 2, 2007 - An update A few people have been asking me to put a line on the bottom of each page to let them know when the page was last updated. I've started doing that. Also, I've added a new page (that I may or may not link to) that tracks updates and changes. So, if you're alert and in the know, you can find out what's changed lately. If I remember to update the updates and changes page.

Sorry, this turned out to be more hassle than it was worth. When we complete our migration to a Content Management System, this will happen automatically.

November 1, 2007 - Croissants! One Sunday near the end of the farmers market, I was desperate for breakfast, so as I was getting the dry ice to keep the frozen goods frozen, I picked up a breakfast sandwich at the grocery store and went off to the bakery to help Tiffany package the breads I'd baked a few hours before. Then I discovered that the sandwich was made with a "croissant" instead of a biscuit.

Don't get me wrong, I love biscuits - many formative years in Texas made sure of that - and I love croissants. But I can tolerate a mediocre biscuit more easily than I can tolerate a bad croissant held on a steam table until it is soft, soggy, tasteless, wet, gummy croissant. I'm the same way about coffee and tea. I'd rather have a mediocre cup of tea than a bad cup of coffee. And sadly, all too often when you ask for coffee in a restaurant, what you get is bad coffee. A tea bag and hot water is better. Much better. And I really don't like tea bags.

I shared my disappointment with Tiff and was amazed to hear her say that was the way she thought Croissants should be! She had trouble understanding the concept that a Croissant should have many crisp outer layers, a rich bready - not soggy - crumb, and should be a delightful blend of buttery tastes and rich fermentation.

And that prompted a search of the 'net for Croissant recipes. And a second search of the many cookbooks I have here. What is amazing is how confident all the authors are that their way is THE way to make croissants, and how different they are. I am realizing that the dough isn't as important as how it is handled, how the butter is folded in. Butter is THE ingredient that helps keep the layers separate. The water in the butter boils off and separates the layers. One recipe has you knead the butter in a tub of ice water. Others have you roll it between layers of waxed paper. One has you grate the butter and drop the grated butter on the dough. Several have you beat the butter until it succumbs - oops, is soft. My pastry chef would let the butter warm to room temperature and then work with it. (I am not sure how good an idea that is.) Sadly, I never learned how to make croissants when I owned "the bakery" - I hired a pastry chef and watched her in amazement.

But, darn it, Tiff needs to have a REAL croissant! So, I determined it was time I learned to make good croissants. Well, maybe my own desire to eat a REAL Croissant was a part of the picture.

So, for the past two weeks I've been working on Croissants. And I am finding there is a LOT to keep track of. The dough has to be rolled out a number of times with butter to create many, many layers. You can't rush the dough - of course, you shouldn't rush ANY dough. Don't make them too large or too small. Roll out the dough thinly enough, but not too thin. Don't roll the dough out too quickly or the butter layers will tear. And on and on and on.

I rejected the "knead the dough in ice water until it is soft" technique right away. And, as hinted at above, I am not sure about letting the butter come to room temperture. And the recipe for sourdough croissants was way too sweet. So... the study continues. When things settle down, I hope to put a number of Croissant recipes on the Sourdoughhome web page, even if they aren't all sourdough based. Watch the site! My goal is to serve some world-class Croissants to Tiff before I leave town. And to have a few myself.

After two trials, I have made croissants that are "OK" to me, though my son insists they are great, At least compared to anything else in this town. But, I am on track and will soon have Croissants that delight me. And hopefully my son, Tiff, and you as well.

As an aside, my dogs are very, very happy about this project. Every time I am tasting a new batch of Croissants, they are there, looking intelligent (which is clearly not the case), looking loving (and the DO love the Croissants), looking cute and attentive, and wagging their tails.

October 27, 2007 - strange musings Maybe I've been in the the bakery too long. I no longer know if its the language or the people I don't understand. Let me back up a month or two. During the summer, I bake for the local farmers markets. Getting ready for the farmers markets takes a toll. With an inadequate set of ovens, making and baking the bread typically takes me about 20 to 22 hours. As a result, I have some friends help me. They help me get to the market since I'm more likely to fall asleep than drive safely. They help me sell bread, they help me make correct change. They help me sit up.

So there we were, selling bread at our stand at the Farmers Market. Which one? I'd rather not say to protect the guilty. One of my helpers was Ethel, one of my wife's best friends and on the other side of me was Tiffany a good friend and employee of my wife. They were filling in while my wife, Beth, was out of town.

The market was going well, bread was selling, people - customers and us - were happy. Then two women walked up to the booth. One licked her lips, cleared her throat and informed me in a sultry, yet cheerful, voice, "We're bread whores." Her voice dropped a bit and she continued, "And we REALLY like your bread!"

I'm a guy. Any woman knows that means I rarely know what to do and that I NEVER know what to say. In any case, I'm still not quite clear on what they meant. A real whore trades sex for money. I suppose I'm a bread whore since I trade bread for money. Still, was this a bid to trade their sexual favors for some bread?

If so, what's the appropriate payoff? My bread runs five or six bucks a loaf. If I give them each a loaf, they aren't just bread whores, they're cheap whores. And I'd be pretty cheap too. With two of my wife's friends there, my range of repartee - and action - was severely limited. Still.... I wonder what the heck they meant.

I know what my wife would have suggested would be an appropriate response. "Sell them some bread and smile." As a follow up, they each bought two or three loaves. And I smiled.

Would, "Your place, my place or right here?" have been an appropriate response? Or how about, "What would you do for a loaf of onion rye baby?" Or,"You wanna snuggle up with my Pumpernickel?" *sigh* Guys rarely know what to do, and we NEVER know what to say.

October 20, 2007 - Changes, long promised, on the way I've been getting two recurring threads in some recent emails. One is "your grammar is awful." Sadly, each of these letters has its own grammatical errors. There is an Internet variant on Murphy's law that says any letter complaining about someone's grammar will itself contain errors in grammar or usage. Sure wish I knew the name of that law.... it seems to hold true. In any case, I am trying to clean up my pages.

The second recurring thread is from international visitors. They don't use cups and spoons as measurement devices. And they'd like me to include metric measurements. Actually, I STRONGLY prefer metric weight measurement to volumetric ( cups and spoons) measurement. So, I will be adding metric measurement to the recipes as quickly as I can. This will happen first for the recipes I have been using in my bakery, as I already have the weights in hand. Others will take longer.

Thursday, August 16, 2007 - October 19, 2007 - Where In The World IS Mike?, Status of Continuous Propogation Experiment, Mike Revives an Ancient Starter, and Mike Buys Some Starters Yeah, I really did start this on August 16th, and it really did languish, half done, until October 19th. Real life can be a real pain.

In any case, I have been getting ready to bake, and baking, for two farmers markets, as well as for Mike's Bread Club. My week looked something like this... every day, I have to feed the starters in the bakery - twice. Wednesday is kinda a day off, except for feeding starters and helping pack for our upcoming move to Denton, Tx. Thursday is prep day when I pick up supplies and go grocery shopping. When the supplies are put away, I cook tons of cereal, roast grains, caramelize onions and whatever else will be needed for the next 3 bake days. Next, I turns leftover breads into croutons and bread puddings, make appetizer breads, and do some test bakes. Usually this is about a 8 to 9 hour day. Friday starts the bake cycle, i will make and bake 150 to 210 loaves of bread. This is usually a 18 to 22 hour day, largely because I don't have a big mixer, so all breads are mixed by hand, and because our ovens are kinda small. If possible, I will catch a few hours sleep, and then help setup at the Gunnison Farmers Market, dropping off my sales person, Tiff, to sell bread from 10 to 2. While Tiff is selling bread, I start another bake day, making and baking another 150 to 210 loaves of bread. By this time, I am in serious catnap mode, and can nap for 15 minutes while bread is being baked, waking to rotate the breads, and then napping another 15 minutes. Around 2, I help Tiff pack up the farmers market display and go back to baking. If I can, I will catch some real sleep. Sunday, I go back to the bakery to pack up for the Crested Butte Farmers Market. I will go to the market and try to stay awake to help Tiff and Ethel (a great friend of the family who helps with the market) sell bread and give out samples. At tbis point, I have usually had 4 hours of sleep in the previous 58. As a result, Tiff and Ethel do the driving. When I get home, I sleep for 18 hours or so, and then it's Monday. I get up and bake a smaller number of loaves for local health food stores and the bread club, about a 12 hour day. On Tuesday, Tiff helps me deliver the breads and then I estimate what I'll need to bake the next week and then I order supplies. With a better setup bakery, the time could be slashed, but we're about to move, so it's not worth buying gear just to move it. So, where is Mike? Probably sleeping, if he can manage it.

Status of the Contiuous Propogation Experiment In the olde days people baked every day and starters were happier and better than they are today, or so goes a common theory. So, I decided to not refrigerate the starter this summer but to keep feeding it every day. Twice. Did the starter mature and keep getting better? Is it better than refrigerated starters? At this time, after a summer of continuous propogation, I have to say I didn't notice any real differences between refrigerated starters and starters continuously propogated. However, it IS worth noting that I usually feed a refrigerated starter for at least three days at room temperature before I use it.

Mike Revives an Ancient Starter At the start if this summer I was having problems with starters. They kept getting side tracked and picking up the bacteria that can eat protein, which made for some sad loaves. I found a packet of Carl's 1847 Oregon Trail starter that was 2 1/2 years old. I decided to start the starter just to see what would happen. Would the starter start? Would it be useable? In order to make sure that I was looking at the starter and not the critters on the flour, I poured boiling water over the flour I used to revive the starter, and then split the sterile flour into two containers. The Carl's did start before the more or less sterile flour. However, it did not revive as a true Carl's starter. It smelled bad and never really became a healthy vibrant starter. So.... when you get a baggie of Carl's starter, or anyone's starter, use it.

It is worth mentioning that the baggie we used was not packed in an inert gas enviromnent, and that the baggie was stored at room temperature. Packing the starter in nitrogen or freezing may or may not help preserve the starter.

Mike Buys Some Starters I had some serious starter issues this summer. In a period of weeks, they'd start eating protein. So, I tried experiments, washed the starters, and on and on. In the end, I bought two starters from a well known seller of starters. I revived them according to instructions and found the claimed differences between the starters were greatly overstated, and that the starters soon started dissolving protein. I prefer Carl's 1847 Oregon Trail starter. However, I didn't have time to order one and wait for it. So, I started a new starter. I used Rocky Mountain Milling's High Frontier whole wheat flour to start the starter my way, and it took off nicely. Perhaps the Rocky Mountain Milling flour had nicer bugs. Perhaps it was the continuous propogation, but the starter worked nicely all summer, and never started dissolving protein.

Monday, June 11, 2007 - Continuous Propogation, Classes in Evergreen, Bagels, and more on Continuous Propogation - As I mentioned in the June 2cd post (below) I decided to not refrigerate my starter to see what changes come about in the starter. After the June 2cd post, I fed the starter twice every day. My next bake rolled around on June 5th, and I took the starter to the bakery, brought it home, and kept feeding it. I took some to classes in Evergreen, Colorado, and elaborated it to the point where we had enough for 8 students and three other people to make 3 loaves of bread each, for me to make 36 bagels, and then for 6 students and in instructor to make another loaf of bread and 4 bagels each. The starter came home with me at the end of the classes, and is still being continuously propogated.

And, what about the classes? Oh, what joy! After my bake Wednesday night, and a chance to rest up on Thursday,our son, David, and I drove off to Evergreen Colorado on Friday. We met Giselle Hall, the owner of Mountain Tops Milling and the sponsor of our classes in Evergreen, at the Evergreen Academy and started our preparations. The Evergreen Academy is a Christian private school which has a great setting for our classes - and more importantly has opened their doors to us. Giselle sends her kids there, and they seem to be getting a good education. Back to bread... we had to triple the amount of sourdough starter. boosting it up to 11,000 grams, or about 22 and 1/4 pounds, for the class. I made extra, which turned out to be a good thing, since I forgot to make a sourdough whole wheat starter.

On Saturday, I got to class a little early and elaborated, or fed up, some more starter for that night's bagel production and the next day's classes. Eight students came to class and we started making bread. Then we made pizza with leftover sourdough starter, and then after the subsequent pizza party we continued making and baking the bread - a San Francisco style sourdough, a whole wheat sourdough bread, and my infamous black bean and chipotle pepper bread. All turned out well, even though we had to make the whole wheat bread with a white starter. I spent some extra time focusing on how to knead dough was time well spent. Many people don't know how to knead, and many more just think they do. Doing it right saves you a lot of time and effort and results in a superior product.

There was a bit of excitement. One of the students took her pizza to the oven and used a peel to put the pizza on the baking stones. Sadly, the confidence she exhibited was not well placed. The pizza wound up all over the back of the oven. It smoldered. It smoked. And then it set off the fire alarms. Giselle called the alarm company to tell them there was no fire, just smoldering food in an oven. Since she didn't have the magic password, they told her, "That's what ALL the arsonists say! We have to send the alarm on to the fire department." She called the fire department and repeated her story. A small town volunteer fire department is more trusting than a national alarm company. Still, they had to respond to the alarm, but they sent two guys to the school instead of a whole fire truck. The LOUD sirens blared for over an hour before the firemen figured out how to turn them off. Oddly enough, the students had trouble hearing and paying attention to my lecture due to the alarms. When the alarms were finally turned off, the silence was deafening! The headmasters of the Evergreen Academy came in to make sure everything was OK. We gave them some pizza and apologized for the disturbance. I have made a mental note to give a talk on how to put stuff into the oven safely with a peel before the students touch the peel. Despite the hour delay in everything, the last of the breads came out of the oven around 5:00. A good day! A good class!

At the end of the day, I used Giselle's Electrolux DLX mixer to mix up my two poolishes, my biga and then to make two 18 bagel batches of soudough bagels. Bagels are a tough dough that will challenge a mixer. The Electrolux didn't falter, the motor didn't try to stall, and the dough was wonderfully developed! I am so impressed that I ordered one of the mixers for my own use. I'd have loved to have taken one home with me, but Giselle had sold the last of her stock mixers before I told her I wanted one, so Electrolux will be drop shipping the mixer to me.

I hate to say it, but I don't trust KitchenAid mixers to make bagels, or even back to back batches of bread. They aren't really designed to handle heavy loads like that, and when you reduce the bagel batch size to something the motor can cope with, the batch is so small that the dough hook can't effectively mix and knead the dough. They just aren't strong enough to do a reasonably sized batch of bagels well. It isn't a matter of the power of the motor - my old commercial Hobart mixer had a less powerful motor than any KitchenAid you can buy, and the Hobart was indestructible! It's a matter of design appropriateness and build quality. A variable speed motor is a bad choice for a mixer that is making bread. It has to delivery high torque at low speed, something a variable speed mixer has trouble doing. Over the years, the KitchenAid mixers have become flimsy. (Remember though that the KitchenAid mixers cost about the same as they did more than 20 years ago! Not much else I can think of has held the price so well. You might think they had to cut some corners to maintain the price.)

The Bosch Universal mixer I used to own just wasn't up to the task either. The Bosch had troubles with many of the bread recipes we used at the bakery, and its beaters were too fragile. After my employees broke three sets of beaters, I listened to their requests and sold our Bosch Universal mixer on eBay. I am really looking forward to receiving my new Electrolux mixer! It will let me easily do rye breads and bagels. I'll write up more about it when I get it.

After we mixed the dough, we took it back to Giselle's house. By this point, the dough was risen, so David and I scaled and shaped the dough into bagels. After an hour of sitting out, the bagels were covered and put in the fridge until morning.

In the morning, I again used the mixer to mix up autolyse. Again, there were no problems. The six students for the "Advanced Baking with Preferments" class came in, and we started by making Gunnison River Bread, a really nice French style bread based on a poolish, then we boiled and baked the bagels David and I had made the night before. After we ate bagels and cream cheese, we made Big Oat Bread and a sourdough wheat using an autolyse to really bring out the flavors. (Sorry, those recipes aren't on this web page at this time.) After that, we started making bagels for the students to take home, boil and bake. It was a great two days! I always enjoy teaching in Evergreen, and the students seem to get a lot out of the classes. We get a number of students who have never been able to bake, or to bake at our altitude, and other students who want to take their baking to the next level. Lots of smiling faces. David took some pictures - after I have a chance to look at them, I'll post some of the good ones here.

At the end of the class, I took a bit of the left over starter and fed it up, and thus the continuous propogation continued. The starter had been sluggish and the flavor of its breads had been a bit lackluster when I started this exercise. The starter almost quadrupled in size after it was fed! And the smell of the starter is tantalizing. Rich, complex, with sharp notes in its aroma. The breads made with the starter are getting better. More about this after this week's bake.

Sunday June 2, 2007 - Continuous Propogation When you watch Cesar Millan, "The Dog Whisperer," he always gives the same advice. "You need to walk your dog!" And he seems to be right. And in these pages, I've talked about how a happy starter is one that is continuously propogated and used. How a starter that is continuously used will mature more than a starter that is kept in the refrigerator. Lots of problems are reported to just go away when a starter is continuously used.

Right now, I'm baking once a week for Mike's Bread Club, and as summer gets closer, I'll be baking three times a week. In short, there will be no reason to refrigerate my starter. So, I'm giving it up for the summer to see where the starter winds up. As I write this, I am on day three of feeding up a bit of starter from Thusday nights bake. I started with 2 grams of starter and added 1 gram each of flour and water. I'm up to feeding 32 grams each of flour and water as I write this.

The preliminary results are that the starter is developing a richer, more complex, aroma. And it's getting more likely. I'll be posting followups to this as I do some baking with the starter.

Thursday May 31, 2007 - The Desem Project and It's the little things You know, "The Desem Project" sounds like a bad science fiction movie. In any case, I've FINALLY started working on a Desem starter and bread. I am documenting it in the Desem Starter page. Once the project is finished, I'll redo the Desem Starter page completely. I'll try to blog it in a more timely fashion than I managed with Camp Bread.

It was the night before the rye lab class at Camp Bread and I realized that I didn't have my hat with me. It's a Tilley Endura or Survivor or something like that. It's a great hat. I wear it while baking to keep my hair out of other people's bread. The word had gone out at Camp Bread that they REALLY wanted people in the labs to have their hair controlled. A surprising number of younger bakers took the "easy" way out and had shaved their heads. No hair on head means no hair on food. What to do, oh what to do?

I remembered the "Camp Store" had some baseball caps. The only time I have found baseball caps that fit was when I was in the Army, and they were all green, which hasn't been a favorite color for years. Why don't they fit? 'cause I have a big pumpkin of a head. So, my choices were, look for a baseball cap and hope it fit, put a towel over my head, shave my head or skip class. I ruled out "skip class" because I really wanted to go. I ruled out shaving my head because that drives too many women wild. (Nah, I'm just attached to my hair. Even if it is graying.)

So, it was off to the Camp Store. I found a cool black cap with Camp Bread 2007 logo on it (picture coming real soon now.) I let out the strap in the back and tried on the hat. And I was amazed - it fit! So, now I am wearing my Camp Bread baseball cap a lot! Sometimes it is the little things that bring us the greatest joy or the greatest disappointments. This time a simple thing - a baseball cap that fits me - really brightened my day!

Sunday Evening May 27, 2007 - Administrivia - Server Maintenance Coming
Readers Digest Condensed version - we'll have a bit of down time in the next few days, no more than an hour at a time and during our off-peak hours, as we bring up a new server.

The longer version for the techies among ye - In the next few days, we'll be moving our server from FreeBSD to Ubuntu Linux. Our FreeBSD server has been great - 470 days of continous up time from the last reboot until the reboot yesterday. It's the most "set it and forget it" operating sytem I have ever used! However, our installation is so out of date that there is a lot of newer software we can neither install nor run, software we really want, like good blogging software so we can have a REAL blog, so we need to update it. Our choices are to upgrade from FreeBSD 4.8 to FreeBSD 6.2, or to a completely different operating system. Both upgrades, if I want to be safe, really involve a new bare-metal installation. I've been playing with Ubuntu on another system for a few weeks and I really like it. It is easy to install, easy to use. So, that's what we're using. FreeBSD, while it is all but bullet proof, is not as easy to use and administer. I'm getting old and grumpier and I want things to be easy. IS THAT SO WRONG?

I do have a fair amount of system management and administration experience (like 25 years), so the downtime will be minimal. But there will be downtime. If we're missing, don't worry, it's not because the Internet gods are angry with us or because we didn't pay our Internet bill. It's just a transition. Once it's over, I think you'll be delighted with the results. Once the server upgrades are over, I'll be looking at using Ubuntu on my own computers. I've just gotten a little tired of being on the Microsoft upgrade merry-go-round. It's time for a REAL upgrade.

Sunday Morning May 27, 2007 - Revisiting recipes From time to time, it's a lot of fun to revisit recipes. I was asked to bring some sort of covered dish to a church potluck today, and decided that the best thing I could take would be a Cheesy Bread Pudding. It's a favorite recipe, and I had some bread left over after Thursday's bake. Bread pudding is a great way to turn excess bread into something you will enjoy, or something you can sell if you're in the business. So, I printed the recipe and started preparing the dish... only to realize that I don't make it that way anymore! And that it was time to update the recipe. So, I took a new picture of the cheesy bread pudding (long overdue - the old picture was kinda unappetizing), and re-did the recipe. It's a lot nicer now. If you haven't tried the cheesy bread pudding, you really should! Do I see a raised hand in the back? You have a question? How was the bread pudding received at the potluck? Well, all I brought home was a dirty baking pan... not even any good sized crumbs left it!

Saturday May 26, 2007 - Some more reflections on Camp Bread I never finished the blog entries for May 23, 22, and 21. I'm updating them today, and adding some pictures to the blog. I hope you will enjoy it. Expect more changes over the next few days.

First a few ironic observations about the hotel we stayed in, the Embassy Suites. The Embassy Suites on Gateway in San Francisco advertises itself on its web page as San Francisco's Gay/Lesbian headquarters. That seems like a rather big boast, but OK, whatever. While we were staying there, the Sonoma Moms had a convention there. One of their sessions was titled, "Raising G-rated children in an X-rated world." I have to assume that the Sonoma Moms hadn't seen the hotel's web page. Also, when we checked in, we noticed that there was a placard at the check-in desk that advised that the hotel would not tolerate parties. And, as a result, they will not allow more than 4 people in a room with a king sized bed. Or 6 people in a room with double beds. I don't know... 4 people in a king sized bed sounds like someone is having a party. I hesitate to think what made these policies necessary, or why they were considered adequate. My wife often tells me that I just don't understand the obvious.

And now, back to baking. One of the things that surprises me is how expert, world-class, bakers have totally opposite opinions. Both of the bakers I am refering to were Team USA Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie competitors in the bread/baguette class. One of these bakers assured us that the different types of yeast - fresh, active dry or instant - were the same within a companies product line, and that they would produce similar results, though the number of dead yeast cells in active dry yeast would increase the extensibility of doughs. Another world-class baker commented that he just didn't like dried yeast, he ONLY used fresh yeast, that the results with dry yeast just wasn't as good. Is it any wonder that ordinary bakers are, at times, confused, when world-class bakers can't agree on what seems like basics?

My only regret about Camp Bread is I didn't have a real chance to thank a number of people who have been important to me. Two that come to mind right away are Abe Faber who has given me endless good advice over the years, and did a great job as the camp director. Also, Craig Ponsford has saved my cookies a number of times over the years.

A final post Camp Bread note. I was quite worried - four days of eating well but not wisely. I was afraid to get back on the bathroom scales when I got home. Finally, I worked up the nerve - I didn't gain any weight on the trip! WHEW!

Wednesday May 23, 2007 - The Road Home Again As I type this, I am sitting in the San Francisco airport and realizing I haven't udpated the blog for a number of days. The entries below were all written on the 23rd. To put it simply, by the time I got back to the hotel room, I was too tired to stay awake at the keyboard. Maybe it would be better to have Camp Bread on the east coast..... people seem to be invigorated when they travel east, and drained when they travel west.... at least it works that way for me.

It's been a GREAT couple of days. I learned more than I could have imagined about rye breads. I met great people, people who were just names on emails have become real people to me. Caring people. People with wonderful smiles, great handshakes, and charming laughs. People with whom I have broken bread. People with whom I now share a deeper bond. I've been to many conventions over the years. Some were run more smoothly - though this was a very smoothly run conference. But none featured better food (you remember the title of Alton Brown's first cookbook, don't you?), and none were more meaningful to me. I suspect what I felt there was what people go to festivals like Burning Man to experience.... a melding with a group mind. Or maybe just a chance to hang out with people who share a calling, a passion, and a lifestyle. Great thanks to everyone who made Camp Bread happen!

Tuesday May 22, 2007 - Camp Bread - Day 3 - More time with the rye guy, and the new team is selected!

The big surprise of the day was that Jeff Hamelman isn't German. Sure, he is of German extraction, but he isn't German. He's spent time there, he's learned about rye there, but, he isn't German. I suppose between the name and the penchant for rye breads, I just assumed he was German. Germany is one of a number of countries where rye breads are at least as common as wheat breads.

In the rye class, Jeff showed us how the starters look when they are ready. The rye flour dusted on top of the rye starter made it easy to see how developed the starter was The surface of the starters, which had been dusted with rye flour, had a series of cracks all over it. It was easy to tell which starters were still rising, which had peaked, and which had begun to recede.

The flax seed soaker had developed a very gelatinous quality from the oil s the water had pulled out of the seeds. The bread in the old bread soaker had lost all its structural integrity and Jeff again assured us that we wouldn't be able to see the old bread in the new bread, though the benefits of the old bread would be obvious.

Jeff mixed the doughs in a spiral mixer, and then showed us how to form loaves with rye doughs. He commented that you can make very nice rye breads with as little as 10 to 20% The proof is in the tasting - jeff Hammelman cuts up samples of the rye breads his class prepared rye flour. He also commented that in Germany, such breads could not be called rye breads. To be a rye bread, a bread has to have 100% rye flour. If a bread has a blend of rye and wheat flours, it is a mischbrot, or mixed bread. If it is mostly rye flour, it is a roggen mischbrot, if it is mostly wheat it is a weizen mischbrot. (If you are a German speaker and want to correct my spelling or terminology, please do so through the "Contact Us" page.) The big issue with rye doughs is that they are fiendishly sticky. A light touch and dry hands are essential. If your hands are at all wet, they will pull the loaves you are forming apart. So, if your hands get wet, dry them.

Again, Jeff declined the offer of a proofer, except for a finicky rye bread called a Detmolder Rye. My friend Samartha has a web page that goes into the Detmolder rye process in some detail. Jeff commented that the people at the cereal institute in Detmold had largely codified what old bakers knew by instinct. Where Samartha uses ingenious equipment to regulate starter temperatures, Jeff just puts them closer to the oven or the floor. Both bakers make EXCELLENT rye breads.

Jeff rose all but the Detmolder rye in bakery carts that had a cover on them. From the Puff Pastry With The Masters class - I had some palmiers (Elephant ears) and they were the best I've ever had He looked at them from time to time, and an hour or so later, it was into the ovens! The breads baked at fairly high temperatures for fairly long periods of time. The Detmolder rye was made using only sourdough as a leaven - according to Dr. Michael Gaenzle, most German rye breads today use sourdough for acidification and bakers yeast for rise. However, this was not always the case, and need not be the case. I have received reports that this is changing - large bakeries have discovered it is both cheaper and better to use sourdough exclusively.

Jeff felt the starter was up to the task, so he made the Detmolder rye just with starter. About the time the other ryes were out of the oven, Jeff cranked the oven up to 525F. About the time the oven got there, the Detmolder rye breads were ready to go into the oven. After 5 minutes or so, it was time to drop the temperature to 425. Oops. The ovens are steam tube ovens with very high thermal inertia - in other words, they don't cool off quickly. Brian saw Jeff fretting and asked if he could help. Jeff suggested opening the doors to the racks we weren't using and applying lots of steam to the ovens to cool them. This worked, somewhat. The ovens did get below 500F, but never did get to the desired 425.

Jeff kept a nervous eye on the breads as he talked more about baking rye Breads from the brick oven baking class breads. If the breads started burning on the bottom, he'd put them on sheet pans and then back into the oven - the sheet pans would act as an insulator and protect the breads from the effects of the direct heat. Brian looked around for another oven we could commandeer, but in the end Jeff decided the breads were doing OK in the hot oven. Using ovens you aren't familiar with are a hazard of teaching classes in different locations. The teacher has to just wing it.

A recurring comment from Jeff was that rye breads with lots of rye in them, like the 80% rye he made the first day of class or the Detmolder with 90% rye flour tend to be gummy until they have a day or two to age. He made us promise we wouldn't cut into the high rye breads for several days. As an aside, it was worth the wait!

During breaks and quiet moments, we looked in on the last day of competition for the Team USA Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie. Three bakers were competing Breads from the sourdough class in the bread and baguette portion, and my email aquaintance and new friend Solveig Tofte was competing. The breads from all the competitors were amazing. One that stood out was a triangular loaf that had a distinct blue color. The baker had dusted the breads with flour through a stencil so there were Himalayan writing on the loaves. Jeff kept us busy enough that we only caught glimpses of the competition - which is as it should have been. If I am lucky enough to go to Camp Bread in a year when the team is being selected again, I think I'll take the whole Artisan 101 class and watch the bread and baguette competition. What I saw was amazing.

There was a bit of concern though, another Solveig fan who had been watching the competition commented that Solveig was doing a great job, but it looked like she was slower than the other competitors. Since the Coupe is a timed contest, so is the qualifying contest. Would she finish on time? Would she be penalized for being slow? Would that knock her out of the running?

After classes were let out, we were encouraged to go to the mess hall where there was an open bar and a nice buffet of appetizers. A big feature of the buffet were breads and pastries that the students had made. ALL were excellent! We milled around and ate and drank and talked for some time. Finally Abe asked us to come to order and a presentation ceremony began. The first Calvel prize, in the memory of the late Professor Raymond Calvel, was given to Christian Vabret, the founder of the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie. After more talk, Abe introduced the judges of the Team USA competition, and then the nine contestants. Three people had competed in each of the categories, Artistic breads, Viennoiserie (or pastry), and bread and baguette. The members of the previous Team USA presented Team USA aprons to the winners. These were Dara Reimers of Auburn, ME in Artistic Design, Peter Yuen of La Patisserie P of Chicago, IL in Viennoiserie, and Solveig Tofte of The Turtle Bread Company of Minneapolis, MN in the bread and baguette category.

I had met Peter briefly at Camp Bread as I was chatting with Daisy Chow. He seems like a nice guy, but he was (understandably) more interested in talking to Daisy than me. As mentioned earlier, I had some connection with Solveig and was pulling for her. When she was announced as a team winner, her face just glowed with an incredible joy. Most adults have lost the ability to feel, much less show, joy so deeply. I was, and am, delighted for her! For whatever little it helps, I am rooting for them and hoping they will go to Paris in 2008 and return with a gold medal!

After the announcement of the team, the largest bread sculpture ever created was unveiled. Ciril Hitz had created the sculpture, but I regret to admit I was too beat to really admire it. I was thinking of getting back to the hotel and catching up with Beth who had been alone, except for evenings, for the previous three days.

Monday May 21, 2007 - Camp Bread, Day 2 - You and your oven, and Mike meets the rye guy I was curious about the breakfast the Embassy suites served, and I really wanted to have breakfast with Beth, my better half. So, I had an omlette at the Embassy Suites and then headed off to Camp Bread where I had some coffee and a few pastries with fellow campers. The breakfast at the Embassy Suites was very nice. A good assortment of fresh fruit, nice (but far from stellar) baked goods, omlettes, juices and more. A good way to start the day, if you aren't on your way to something better.

On the way in to the mess hall, I noticed that Dan Wing had gotten a lot done on the masonry oven for his class, and Kiko Denzer had already fired up his mud Some of the pastries made by campers at Camp Bread - you see why pastries in the hotel just DIDN'T impress me! oven. I had REALLY wanted to take one of their classes, but there were so many classes and so little time. Both Dan and Kiko were building their ovens in the parking lot and we campers were encouraged to view their progress. When I asked him, Dan said he hoped to burn some largely ceremonial newspaper in the oven he was building. A mud, or earth, oven like Kiko's is a lot faster and cheaper to build than a masonry oven like Dan's. It would be interesting to find out how they last, and, if built well, how they compare in regards to thermal efficiency. A massive masonry oven is the most fuel efficient way to bake bread - some ovens get 7 or 8 bakes from a single firing. I suspect that most mud ovens aren't built with as much mass, so they would Didier Rosada pulling some of the Artisan 101 breads out of the oven deliver fewer bakes per firing. On the other hand, that may well meet a home baker's needs better than a massive masonry oven.

After looking at the ovens in the parking lit it was almost ironic that my first morning class was the "Getting to know your oven" class with Michele Suas. It was informative and depressing. He covered all sorts of ovens. Just not the convection ovens that I am stuck using b ecause they are in the rented kitchen I am using. When Michel asked for questions, I asked how to make the convection ovens work better, more evenly. Michele's advice was that I sell lots of bread and buy some decent ovens. *sigh* I was hoping for a silver bullet. Of course, when you look at rack ovens, they are all convection ovens... but they have more control options than the smaller convection ovens I am using. Michele gave An assortment of breads made by the Artisan 101 class. lots of great troubleshooting advice and warned us to not mess with some parts of the oven, like the air flow control louvers in rack ovens unless we really had to.

After the morning class, it was time for lunch, which was again catered by Artisan Bakers.

In the afternoon, it was time to go to the lecture portion of Jeff Hamelman's Rye 101 class. Lots of things that had been troubling me about rye were explained. Jeff is an excellent teacher, and if you have the opportunity to take one of his classes, at Camp Bread, at the King Arthur school in Vermont, through the King Arthur traveling classes, or wherever.... jump at the A closeup of some of the Artisan 101 breads opportunity. The big issues are that rye has very poor gluten, that the gluten cannot be well developed. Rye has a starch called a pentosan, and acidifying the rye flour with sourdough starter will cause the pentosans to gelatinize and they will then trap gas in much the same manner as gluten. However, pentosans Jeff Hammelman and a camper mixing up the flax seed and old bread soaker are not as effective as gluten, and a loaf of rye bread is constantly losing gas. So, when a loaf reaches its peak, it MUST go in the oven at once. It must not wait for an oven.... with wheat breads, you can delay putting a loaf into the oven for as long as an hour. Not so with rye. If it's not rising, it's collapsing.

Near the end of the class, we went to the lab where we refreshed the rye starters we'd need the next day to make rye breads and created a number of soakers.

After the starters they were mixed up and put into bus tubs, Jeff sprinkled rye flour on them. We were curious, and Jeff said the rye flour on the starter would make it easier to judge the starters maturity tomorrow.

Soakers are pretty much what the name suggests - stuff put in water to soak up I didn't get to try one of these, but I was taken by the beauty of the Tropical Ensaymada - simple and elegant the water and get more tender. One soaker was not a real surprise. It was flax seeds. Some people soak seeds, some people roast them. I've been more a roaster than a soaker.... but now I'll have to play with both techniques. The surprise soaker was - cut up rye bread from an earlier bake. Evidently old German and Jewish bakers use old rye breads soaked in water to add flavor and moisture to their breads.

Jeff again surprised us. There was a temperature controlled proofer available, but he declined to use it. He asked Brian Wood if it would get hotter or cooler overnight, and then suggested putting the starters fairly near the ovens since the night would get cooler in the SFBI labs. He commented that if it had been too warm, he would have put the starter containers on the floor so the cool concrete would keep the starters cooler. He also adjusted the amount of seed culture in the starters he made to allow for the ambient temperatures. "If it's warm, use less seed culture. If it's cool, use more. Just feel your Zen and go by feel. You'll be close enough."

For a fairly, perhaps excessively, measurement oriented guy like me, it was somewhat of a shock to hear a world-class baker suggest just doing things by feel and by hunch. Maybe I need to be a bit less retentive. On the other hand, it is hard to duplicate something you didn't measure in the first place.

At the end of the day, the breads that had been made by the different classes were on display, and they were very, very good.

Monday evening was the big reception. Il Fornaio, a local Italian caterer, donated the meal to the guild - a generosity that just stuns me! It started with drinks and hors devours. Little bits of savory meats or cheeses arrayed on nice rye breads. Cheese stuffed and walnut topped figs wrapped in proscuito. Mushrooms filled with neat stuff. Mussels that had been removed from their shells and mixed with something that vaguely resembled corned beef hash, and then put back into the shells. The only sad thing for beer lovers was they only had two beers, Beck's Lager in green bottles and Pabst in cans. They had a nice assortment of wines, but the beer selection was unimaginative. And this in San Francisco, the home of Anchor Steam Beer.

Two of the campers, Miyuki and Juliet, made centerpieces for the tables. They were all made with bread or dead dough (an A centerpiece sculpture made entirely of bread - click on this to see a larger, more detailed, view unleavened dough used for artisitic purposes - when baked, it feels a lot like wood). Each of them was covered with many small replicas of different baked goods. Each was different. Each looked like a modern sculpture. Each was beautiful. Each one had a blackboard (made of dough) that had a nice food - Another view of another centerpiece - please click on this to see a larger, more detailed, view especially bread - related saying on it. There was a wide variety of sayings. One of my favorites was, "The dog isn't wagging his tail for you, but for your bread." I got pictures of most of the sayings because I wanted to use them in my bakery email signature file, but - like an idiot - somehow didn't get a picture of a whole sculpture. I've winnowed through the pictures and found a two that give a taste of what the centerpiece sculptures were like.

The dinner consisted of a marvelous looking steak, a very tasty grilled swordfish fillet, or a vegetarian lasagne that the vegetarians at our table said was very nice. Dessert was a nice, but not terribly inspired (or inspiring) cake imbibed with a liquer and served with pastry cream. Perhaps we should have stayed for the dance, but Beth and I both abhor loud music so we thought it would be better to bail out early. It was a great evening, a chance to dine rather than just eat, and another chance to socialize with people from around the country.

Sunday May 20, 2007 - Camp Bread, Day 1 - Mike Pontificates (yeah, so what's new?), Mike Meets ..... everybody! The day started with breakfast. Every day, the campers eat breakfast and lunch together. Sunday, like most days, the breakfast was catered by Boudin Bakery. They served some excellent pastries, and I had far more Flatbreads are the most universal, and perhaps the most loved, of all breads pastries, and far less fruit, then I should have had. After a bit of breakfast, where I met Kathy Keyes of Pagosa Springs Colorado, Solveig Tolfte - a competitor for Team USA in bread, JoEllen DuFresne (the Barefoot Baker), and several other people, it was off to teach class. JoEllen is also blogging about Camp Bread at her blog site. (However, when I looked at her site on September 15, 2012, there was no mention of Camp Bread, so it seems she let those articles expire.) I think she may have had more fun in San Francisco than I did.

I taught a "So, you want to own a bakery" class aimed at a serious home baker who wants to open a bakery. Having been there, having done that, and still bearing the scars, I told a few cautionary tales that were mostly well received. My class notes will soon be on the Bread Bakers Guild of America web site in the members only area. Another, though not a big, reason to join the group. My class was a part of "Artisan Baking 101" taugh by Didier Rosada and Tim Foley, members of previous Team USA's. After my class, there was a round table discussion, and then it was lunch time.

Lunch was catered by Artisan Bakers, Craig Ponsford's bakery in Sonoma. I An assortment of pastries made by campers at Camp Bread have never had such elegant boxed lunches. Nice sandwiches, fruit, chips made from crisped bread slices, and a nice salad of fresh greens with a rich vinagrette. It was another chance to talk to fellow bakers. More than a few times people looked at my name tag and said, "OH! You're Mike Avery!" Sometimes they also said they religously read my posts. I felt a bit embarassed, and soon started encouraging them to also post in the list. Having been Mike Avery all my life, I've never been terribly impressed by that fact.... so the recognition was a little embarrassing. Still, it WAS enjoyable. An assortment of regioal French breads rarely seen in the USA All too often, posts go out to mailing lists without any reply to them, so I wonder if they helped someone. Even though I was very happy to meet the people who had avidly read my posts, I am embarassed to admit, I enjoyed meeting the people with whom I had corresponded more than meeting the people who I had never heard from. The take home message here is... engage in communication! The big important difference between mailing lists and books is it's easier to have a discussion in a mailing list (or newsgroup or blog.) I am firmly convinced that everyone in a mailing list has something to contribute to it, and feel they should do so. As a long time list host and moderator, I also know that less than 10% of the subscribed members of any list ever contribute to it.

After lunch, I sat in on Didier and Tim's afternoon class and really enjoyed it. It pulled a number of things together for me that had been disjointed facts. Both of them are wonderful people, but my impressino was that Didier has spent more time as a teacher and Tim has spent his career in the bakery away from people. Didier was the more open and engaging speaker.

That evening was the only evening without a reception or formal gathering. However, there was a small reception with a "Science Fair." Bakers from around the country did simple experiments to see if some commonly held beliefs were, or were not, valid. Something like bakers meet MythBusters. Keith Guisto of Guisto flour in San Francisco investigated the commonly held belief that freshly milled flour doesn't perform as well as aged flour. The myth was, largely, busted. Daisy Chow of Clear Flour Bakery near Boston was intrigued by a discussion in the Bread Bakers Guild mailing list about alternate ways of developing dough. She found that (a drum roll please) she created the best doughs with the stretch and fold technique. There were some studies of pH development in sourdough cultures and the effect of that on breads, and a number of other studies. Some "studies" were very thinly disguised marketing, but considering how much the vendors who supported Camp Bread and the Science Fair contributed, it would be churlish to resent it.

Then it was back to the Embassy Suites where we enjoyed their happy hour - free drinks and chips from 5:30 until 7:30. We talked to Eric Baumgartner of Bloemhof at some length. We used one of his molders while we running a bakery and really liked it. We also liked the support he gave us. Eric was taking the Artisan 101 class and learning to become a baker. For many years, Eric has been designing and supporting bakery equipment, but he's never been a baker, so this was the time when he choose to rectify the situation. Somehow, after a long day punctuated by far too many blended Scotch whisky's on the rocks, I just didn't feel up to adding to the blog.

Saturday May 19, 2007 - Camp Bread, Day 0 Day zero? Yeah, it was the last setup day and the day the instructors were given their orientation classes. Beth and I got up bright and early and moved from the Homewood Suites to the Embassy Suites. The move wasn't all that suite. We took the Homewood Suites courtesy van to the airport and then looked for the Embassy Suites courtesy van to get to the Embassy Suites. A taxi driver asked if we needed a ride. When he heard what we were waiting for, he suggested we call the hotel.

A quick phone call later, we found out that the next van would not be at the airport for over an hour. If we wanted, we could take a taxi and the hotel would reimburse us for a taxi trip. We thought few seconds and jumped into a cab. While the thermometer said it was considerably warmer than at home, between the wind and humidity, we felt quite cold. The taxi driver had NO idea where the hotel was. However, that didn't stop him from taking off at 90 miles an hour. As the taxi meter was reaching $22.00, and we had seen and pointed to our hotel several times, which always seemed to prompt him to go in another direction, the driver stunned us. He turned off the meter, called someone on his cell phone, and after talking in an unknown language for a while drove back to the airport. As the point where he could have gone into the airport, he turned left, and re-started the meter. When it hit $8.05, we were there. We tipped him well and thanked him. The hotel staff was amazed at the low fare.

Sadly, the Embassy Suites is not as nice a hotel as the $50.00 a night cheaper Homewood Suites. It is in need of - and getting - an overhaul, but that's not the real issue. We had lunch at the hotel's restaurant. I have rarely had such an uninspired sandwich or such limp fries. Beth asked for a reuben on marbled rye, and the bread was falling apart. At a rather high price.

When it was time to use their Internet connection, I found it was $9.99 a day, and not as good as the free connection at the Homewood Suites. Both hotels are owned by the Hilton chain. The difference is surprising. However, the Embassy Suites does have a complementary happy hour every day of the week, which is not true of the Homewood Suites. Still, for the difference in price, I can afford to buy my own booze.....

It was time to head over the San Francisco Baking Institute for an instructor orientation. And that's where my day really tood a turn for the better. I finally got to meet a number of people who were only names on email messages, or a voice on the phone.

When I walked through the door, the smell of GOOD bread was such a welcome thing, I just felt at home. In the lobby was a display of breads that I think were made by students of SFBI. A bread display The picture is a bit washed out, and the breads were even more lovely than the picture shows. As always, you can enlarge the picture by clicking on it. I'll probably edit the picture when I get back home so it looks more like what I saw... but this is a quick stream of conciousness thing.

A few minutes later, I had met Abe Faber, Gina Piccolino, Monica Lanzack, and Craig Ponsford. A few minutes later, I'd met Kiko Denzer. ALL are such nice people. It was very odd, but even though I have never been to the SFBI office, and even though I had never met those people before, I felt like I was home.

Shortly after that Brian Wood, one of the SFBI instructors, took us on a tour. Here he is showing us Brian Woods showing us an oven one of the SFBI ovens. Brian kept apologizing because there were so many different varieties of equipment at SFBI. I felt it might have come about because the people at SFBI had been buying what they could get at a reasonable price, but that it was a good thing since it would give students a broad base of experience, and an ability to handle a wide variety of equipment. Brian shows us a mixer

After we saw the ovens, it was off to the mixers, of which there were many, and then to the sheeters. If you haven't run accross sheeters yet, they are a device that turns a blob of dough into a sheet of dough. They can be, but usually aren't, used to develop dough. They are used in pastry making to roll out dough to help create the laminated layers of butter and dough. They are also used to make crackers such as lavash crackers, and pizza dough in pizzerias that don't toss their dough by hand. Brian shows is one of SFBI's sheeters

During the orientation, a woman caught my eye. I kept looking at her thinking, "Damn, where do I know her from?" She must have noticed my looking at her, and she is a more forthright person than I am as she came over, stuck out her hand to be shaken and said, "I'm Melina!" I gave her my name and shook her hand and we chatted a few minutes. I still have no idea who she reminds me of - I'm pretty sure that I had never met, or seen, her before. *SIGH* A senior moment. Ya gotta love 'em. Anyway, Melina was a teaching assistant at Camp Bread and very helpful during - and after - Camp Bread.

After the orientation, Abe asked, "You're a computer guy, aren't you? Could you check out the computer projectors before you go?" So, I spent sometime making sure people could use their PC's and MAC's to show slide shows.

That put us into reception time. Last time the BBGA had a Camp Bread, the Boudin Bakery in San Francisco hosted a reception for the guild. They did it again this year. And it was very, very nice. An open bar is always a delightful thing. There was a wonderful buffet of their breads, incredible cheeses, crudites, fresh fruit and more. Another buffet had a great assortment of seafood. And then they brought out desserts. I'll have to do some serious walking tomorrow!

But the best part of the reception was a chance to talk to many, many more people. Too many to name, too many to remember, and worse, I don't have pictures. I was just having too much fun to even remember I had a camera with me. Well... tomorrow I teach about the baking business as a part of the Artisan 101 class. I need to get some sleep so I can try to be sage, witty, convincing and engaging. So, tomorrow, I'll teach, then I'll take more pictures and post more tomrrow night.

Friday May 18, 2007 - The Trip To Camp Bread After the bake night Wednesday night, and resting up on Thursday after the deliveries were complete, it was time to fly to San Francisco. It was amazing! Despite past experiences that had me cringing in anticipation, United Airlines, the only airline that serves our mountain hamlet, was on time throughout. They were overbooked (as always), and as always, were looking for volunteers to take a later flight. However, we really didn't want to get in at 9:30 at night.

More realistically, I've found that things either go well with United, or it's a disaster. As I sometimes quip, it's a short distance between United and untied. We weren't bumped and got into San Franciso on time - the airline was United!

While the official hotel of Camp Bread is the Embassy Suites, we are here a day early, so for one night we're staying in the Homewood Suites. It's nice enough, and considerably cheaper than even the special rate at the Embassy Suites. Once we checked in, we went across the street to the Raddison and enjoyed their bar. It had been some time since I was in a bar that could - and would - make a black and tan. After a black and tan for each of us, and a Guinness for me, Beth and I returned to our hotel room and ordered room service from Cecilia's, a local Italian restaurant. We weren't expecting much other than not having to leave the room. What is it about airline travel that is so draining? All you do is sit for several hours and arrive as tired as if you'd walked the distance instead? Back to Celilia's - we were delighted with our linguine with clams, our linguine with shrimp Alfredo, the bruschetta, and the moderately priced chianti. After our trip and our meal, we called it a night, and dreams of sugar plums, or Camp Bread, danced through my sleep. Finally, a chance to meet the people who have been so important to me for a number of years!

Wednesday May 16, 2007 - Organization! A few times lately, I've gotten comments from people that they don't like the organization of this web site, and that it is hard to navigate around. I am forced to concede that the look if the site is getting a bit dated, and I am starting to think about cosmetic and organizational overhauls. When I started the web site, we had about 10 pages. It's grown a bit since then, and I can see that the organizational structure may not have kept up with the slow explosion of information.

So, if you have suggestions for improving this web site, I'd be delighted to receive them. Just hit the Contact Us and select the "A Hint For Your Web Site" subject.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007 - did the earth move for you? For quite some time, I've been saying I was going to reduce the number of starters on hand here. I talk about that at some length in How Many Starters Do I Need Anyway? I finally emptied all the jars, the excess starter is in the trash, and the jars are soaking in the sink. I found I hadn't opened, or refreshed, 4 of the jars in over a year. It was time to let go.

Like I asked in "How Many Starters," how many starters can people actually use enough to understand and appreciate? I think the number is probably a single digit number, unless you have a reason to collect and quantify starters. And for me, the number is, right now, one.

Monday, May 14, 2007 - Getting ready for Camp Bread If you listen carefully, you can hear bakers all over the country getting excited. They're packing bags, checking their plane reservations, drying their starters for transport (the pesky security people get upset about liquids!). What's happening? Well, I guess I showed my hand when I mentioned Camp Bread.

Camp Bread is an annual gathering of artisan bakers from around the United States. It starts May 18th. It is sponsored by the Bread Baker's Guild of America (BBGA), an organization dedicated to helping artisanal baking in America. It's a chance to learn new things, hone skills, and most of all, a chance to get together with other bakers. A chance to be reminded that we're not the only lunatics. The BBGA is open to serious home bakers as well as professionals, and many of the attendees will be serious home bakers. All of this is to say that, if time allows, I'll be posting blog entries from Camp Bread.

Saturday, May 12, 2007 - Never be too proud to learn from a mistake Back in the days when I was running the Colorado High Attitude Bakery the two most important people in my life were Beth, my wife, and Becky my pastry chef. Becky was a hard worker, utterly dependable, and she taught me a lot. We talked endlessly as we worked, and probably know more about each other than anyone else.

No, she's not dead, or even injured! This isn't a eulogy, it's a story about learning from ones mistakes. And, no, Becky wasn't the mistake. Now, can we get on with the story?

Since the bakery shut down, I've been making and selling bread on a much smaller scale, and proving that it ain't what you make that counts, it's what you get to keep. Mike's Bread isn't a household word, but we do make money at it. Not a lot, but enough. Since we have started Mike's Bread, Beth has helped me mix just about every bake day (the Thursdays before the first 4 Fridays of the month). However, this week Beth was out of town. And I needed help. So, as I always do, I called Becky and she came in to help me. Becky hasn't been helping me terribly often, which is more a reflection on how often I call her in than how often she is willing to help. Becky is still a good friend, and she will drop almost everything to come and help me. And I her, for that matter.

Will I EVER get to the point? Yes... keep reading.

Becky's boyfriend had been sick the night before, so she hadn't slept much, and she was still worried about him. He seemed to be OK, but as any mother will tell you, that doesn't mean much. All of this is to say that Becky was a bit out of practice at helping me, and that she wasn't at the top of her game. So, she used all of the white sourdough starter to make our sourdough whole wheat bread. Which is supposed to be 100% whole wheat. And that also meant our white breads were going to have a touch of whole wheat in them. By the time she figured out what had happened, it was too late to correct matters.

But what happened was the mostly whole wheat sourdough bread rose marvelously! It had a great texture! And a lovely taste! While I like whole grain breads, 100% whole grains really aren't to my taste. They tend to be too heavy. And to lack in the taste department. But this bread was GREAT! It was about 1/3 white flour in the starter and 2/3 whole wheat, with honey and olive oil in it.

So, what next? This week I was supposed to unveil a new light wheat raisin bread - a lot of my customers seem to be hooked on olive or raisin bread. However, I lost the recipe I was going to work from. It was JoEllen's Light Wheat Raisin. With the recipe gone, what's a fella to do?

The answer was obvious - add raisins to the mostly whole wheat bread Becky had put together for me. So, next week will be the unveiling of Becky's Light Wheat Raisin bread. I think it's gonna be GREAT! I hope she doesn't mind I used her name. Of course, if she complains, I'll probably put her picture on the label too! As Star (the empress of all the universes in Robert Heinlein's "Rocky Road") used to say, if you have enough problems, they can be used to solve one another. If the recipe works out well enough, I'll post it here in a week or three.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007 - Pan De Yema Oaxaqueno! And more movies too! I was recently asked to make a Mexican style bread for our church's communion the day after Cinco de Mayo. I've had, and enjoyed, a number of Mexican breads, but I've never made any. After hitting Google Beth and I found a number of nice recipes. And we selected the Pan De Yema Oaxaqueno (PLEASE don't ask me to pronounce it!) It is very much like a brioche - rich, eggy, sweet and with a nice crumb. It also has anise seed in it, so the flavor has legs! I really like the bread.

While making the recipe, I measured and weighed everything so I could convert the recipe to a spreadsheet, and also took movies - I've had a few requests for more movies. So, surf over to knead and convert and you may be surprised!

Classes are coming up! Surf over to the classes page for more information.

Monday, May 7, 2007 - The Lead Wars Well, that might be a bit of an overstatement, but that's the way blogs work. What are the lead wars? Every time someone suggests using unglazed quarry tiles to bake on, someone pops up and warns that such tiles could contain lead. I've asked each of these people to please share any documentation or grounds for this concern. And then they look at their feet, mumble something and shuffle off to stage left.

I have looked on line repeatedly over a period of years for anything that suggests that there could be lead in quarry tiles, and so far had found nothing. My research suggested that the clay used to make quarry tiles did not contain lead. It also suggested that the real issue was the glaze on tiles. Some glazes contain lead, and if they are not fired at a high enough temperature, the lead is not stabilized and can be leached out if used with acidic foods. This is more of a problem in third world countries where they tend to skimp on firing the pottery. So, in short, don't use that cheap pitcher you got in Mexico to serve orange juice. All of what I found was suggestive rather than authoritative. It was good enough for me to feel my family was safe eating my bread. However, I was still concerned that I might be misleading people when I suggested using unglazed quarry tiles.

When the matter came up again, I did another search. Here are some of the unsubstantiated comments I found:

Since 1978 the US has outlawed construction materials that contain lead, so tiles made since then may not contain lead! You'd think I'd have been happy to find that, but a closer look showed that it applied to paint, not, as far as I could tell, tiles.

There is lead in clay, and therefore there could be lead in unglazed quarry tiles and the contradiction There is no lead in clay, nor in unglazed quarry tiles! This wasn't very satisifying either, especially since all the statements were unsupported and were on the level of people in a newsgroup or mailing list sharing their opinions.

So, that led me to visit the OSHA, FDA, USDA, and NSF web pages. No joy. The important stuff on those pages are written in a language that bears a superficial resemblance to English. But it's not English!

So, I found the 800 number for the Center for Disease Control. They gave me the 800 number for National Lead Information Center. The National Lead Information Center only deals with paint, but they gave me the toll free number for the FDA. After an eternity on hold, I talked to a nice lady who suggested using a lead test kit from a hardware store.

Now I have good news and bad news. First, my tiles tested lead free. That's good news for my family and me. The bad news is that just because my tiles tested lead-free doesn't mean your tiles will also test lead-free.

I truly believe that there is little likelyhood that unglazed quarry tiles made in the USA will have lead in them, and I would have no hesitation about using them. However, if you are concerned about the matter, I will suggest you either buy tiles that are certified as being lead free or test your tiles for lead. Most paint stores and hardware stores should carry lead test kits. They are cheap and easy to use.

Saturday, May 5, 2007 - I am SO conflicted. Two weeks ago, Linda Kincaid of the Boston Herald called me and asked if she could interview me for an article she was doing about sourdough bread for the Boston Herald. I was, of course, delighted and flattered. Linda is a charming person and we had a great chat. And on the second or third the articles were released. She quoted me correctly, and I was very happy with her coverage of the Sourdoughhome.com web page.

What bothered me was that she talked to someone at King Arthur Flour. Was it jealousy? Of course not! It was that they repeated SO many of the romantic old husbands tales that surround sourdough. And that are incorrect. I KNOW they have some excellent people at King Arthur. So, it was disappointing that they connected Linda to a less than fully qualified source. As a result, I've added a Myths And Folklore of Sourdough page in hopes that some of the myths and folklore might start to die off.

My grinching isn't to say the articles were bad. They were very good. Sadly, as of September 14, 2012 they are no longer online, so I've removed the pointers to them.

Sunday, April 1, 2007 - No, this isn't an April Fool's joke. I've gotten a few emails lately that comment upon my understanding of what a pain au levain should taste like. One of the hard things to learn from cookbooks or web pages is what a bread should taste and feel like. What a bread should look like is pretty easy to handle, that's what cameras are for. Taste and feel are different matters.

Luckily, I have an answer. How about a bread tour of Europe? Would you be interested in touring France, Germany, or Italy for 5 to 7 days and visiting many bakeries? Would you be interested in keeping civilized hours and eating bread and touring bakeries? Or would you like to go in before dawn and watch, and maybe help, the bakers make their breads? We'd also do some more classical tourist things. If you're interested, head over to the contact us page and select the "WOO WOO - ROAD TRIP!" option.

Sunday evening, March 11, 2007 - Some days, I can't leave well enough alone. Thanks to a friends advice, I was able to upload the movies in the Stretch and Fold page to Google and embeded them in the web page. This makes it easier for people to view the videos, and reduces my bandwidth requirements. I hope you enjoy the new movie setup. Please, let me know how it works for you... just head over to the contact us page.

Sunday morning, March 11, 2007 - A few updates.... A few eagle eyes readers have made suggestions for the new movie pages I mentioned on Monday, March 5th (see below.) Also, I have gotten a lot of notes over the years where people aren't sure how to tell when their bread is done baking, or at what temperature they should bake their bread. I've been sending out advice on this topic for some time, and finally decided it was time to put this needed advice on the web page. My basic idea is that baking is a matter of balance.

Monday, March 5th, 2007 - MOVIES have come to Sourdoughhome.com! I've known for some time that my digital camera could take videos, but I didn't have a good way of putting them on-line. So, this past weekend I put in some extra hours and now, there are movies online. There are two new pages for you to enjoy that feature movies.

The first is Peelology 101, or a short course in how to get risen dough into the oven safely. We feature a regular peel, and our much loved super peel. Hope this helps someone!

The next page is an overview of a number of things that all came together at once. I've been asked for movies of how to do a stretch and fold for some time, so I did that. I've been asked for movies of how I use scales, so I did that. And I needed to try out a new recipe, so I did that too. It's a long, detailed, but fun page. And try not to sing that old song too often as you make "Panama Bread." "Panama Bread."

I'm hoping to get some more starting a starter info on-line real soon now too. I've been taking pictures of both techniques I use. We'll see how they come out.

Saturday, February 17, 2007 - After months of praise for the sourdough bagel recipes, I have gotten a few "It doesn't work for me" emails. So, I have updated the sourdough bagel recipe to address the issues. I can't stress a few things enough, and evidently didn't.

You need to use a strong, or high protein, flour. Bagels shouldn't have more than about 1/4 whole grain flour in them. You have to develop the dough well. The dough may not rise. It is SO dense that the riser, whether yeast or sourdough, has trouble raising the dough. But that's OK, because we are making thick, chewy crusty New York style bagels, not California style cake products. To those who wrote with questions, thank you! I appreciate questions, they show up the weak spots in my instructions. Also, I REALLY appreciate it when people as ME about my recipes rather than posting questions in blogs, mailing lists or newsgroups where the people have no understanding of, or interest in, my recipes!