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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, 2009

Saturday, November 28, 2009 - "Low Calorie Bread" - It must be a few days after Thanksgiving! A site visitor,who would probably rather remain nameless, commented that she has gained 10 pounds since she started visiting this site. She asked, reasonably, if I knew of any low calorie bread recipes. A bit of hunting around and I found the Menucalc site which will do dietary analysis of recipes. This site does one analysis free, then they start charging, So, I decided to analyze my 100% Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread since she said she mostly baked whole wheat and rye recipes. The numbers shown below are for a one ounce serving.

Nutrient Name Unit FDA Rounding Daily Value %
Calories   80  
Calories from fat   10  
Total Fat g 1.5 2%
Saturated Fat g 0 0%
Trans Fat g 0 0%
Cholesterol g 0 0%
Sodium mg 100 4%
Carbohydrates g 16 5%
Dietary Fiber g 2 8%
Sugars g < 1  
Protein g 3  
Vitamin A IU    
Vitamin C mg    
Calcium mg    
Iron mg   4%
At 80 calories per slice, this isn't a caloric land mine, however a fair number of the calories come from the olive oil (about 8) and honey (about 3) in the bread. Omitting both would cut the bread to about 69 calories per one ounce slice. However, this will adversely affect both the taste and texture of the bread. If you eat four slices a day, you're looking at 320 calories. In the context of an inadvisable 1,000 calorie per day weight loss diet, there aren't enough other nutrients in bread to make that a reasonable dietary choice. In the context of a factory worker's 3,000+ calorie per day diet, it's no problem. We all have to make our own caloric choices. In the end, I don't think there are bad foods and good foods so much as bad choices and good choices.

I have looked at the nutritional information on Weight Watcher's Whole Wheat bread. They claim 90 calories per 2 slice serving. A 2 slice serving is 41 grams, compared to 28 grams for my one slice serving. A bit of math shows that they are running about 62 calories per ounce. I don't know how thick the slices are or how open the crumb is. You can always make the bread lower in calories per slice by using more water, letting it rise farther and thus having a lighter slice. There's nothing wrong with this. However, most over-watered and over-risen breads tend to be light in taste. I'd rather have one slice of bread at 80 calories that made me feel good than two slices of bread at 90 calories that did not. And there's the rub. Too many of us would rather have two slices at 80 calories each (160 total) that made us feel good than the other options. Our choices add up.

Of greater interest is, what's on the bread and what's next to the bread? The bread isn't a dietary island. Quite often when we eat more bread we're also adding more peanut butter and jelly; more Nutella; more honey; more maple butter; more mayo, ham (or turkey), cheese and whatever. Me? I'd rather cut back in other areas and enjoy good bread!

Friday, November 13, 2009 - Bearing Up Under A Grind - When I tell people about the 18 hour bake cycles and how I used to bake for two days straight to bake for farmers market, people ask how I could stand it. It WAS a grind. And I really mastered the art of the catnap.

But one of my favorite things was playing audio adventures on my MP3 player over speakers in the bakery. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy audio books, but I really prefer audio adventures! Audio books tend to just be read. Sometimes the reader will do different voices for the narrator and the various characters. But audio adventures hearken back to the golden days of radio. I love old "Green Hornet" and "The Shadow" dramas.

But those were old shows, and I really want more modern entertainment! One of my favorite source of audio adventures is ZBS Media. I fell in love with their productions back in college when they were played on public radio stations.

There's Jack Flanders, the metaphysical adventurer, who remains my favorite. They have some incredible interviews with some very thought provoking people. There's also Ruby:Gumshoe an Intergalactic Detective who appears in a number of productions. I recently stumbled onto one of their newest productions, "Recipe for Murder," which features a young culinary student and later chef in Montreal who winds up embroiled in a series of murders. There are 8 stories, packaged as two sets of 4. Each set is about $15.00 as a downloadable MP3. I highly recommend them.

Now that I'm not baking for endless hours, I still enjoy ZBS' audio adventures as I commute to and from work and on trips. I just plug my MP3 player into my car stereo. Audio adventures are great traveling companions!

Two side notes, I am not being paid or reimbursed by ZBS. I just REALLY like their stuff and hope you will too. Also, many of their productions are very irreverent which might annoy people who take their religion straight, rather than with a shot of humor. Me? I think religion is far too important to be taken seriously. Or as Mr. Miyagi said, "Never trust a religious leader who doesn't dance!"

Sunday, October 25, 2009 - WOW - Why didn't I think of that before? - It was time to put the bread in the oven yesterday and I really needed to get some water into the oven. And I couldn't find the usual measuring cup I use. (It turns out it was in the dish washer.) An empty wine bottle on the sideboard called to me. Quicker than you can say "steam heat" I had it half full of water and poured the water into the pan on the bottom of the oven. It was so easy to be out of harm's way. Cool, comfortable and un-steamed I was. So, next time you're steaming your oven, look for a nice empty wine bottle! If you don't have one, you can always empty one.

Saturday, October 24, 2009 - Baking and Working - Two of the undeniable charms of Mark Bittman's no-knead New York Times Bread are that it's easy for someone who works outside of the home to work into their schedule, and it's certainly better than bread from a bread machine. However, I think we can do better. For the first 7 or 8 years of Sourdough Home, I worked at home and my time was pretty flexible. I could take 10 minutes here a half-hour there and make bread pretty much whenever I wanted. What a luxury that was! Now I work in an 8 to 5 job that is a 6:45 to 6:15 job after commuting is considered. In all honestly, I don't bake as much as I used to, and I miss it. I baked on weekends a lot, and I bake when I teach classes. But my weekends have become more precious, and there are things that must be done that aren't getting done during the week. (I know some of you are saying, "Welcome to real life Mike!" at this point.) Still, it is possible to bake and work. Today I baked some Black Canyon Sourdough Bread. And it would have worked just as well on a weekday. So, here's two bread baking scenarios that will work for a working person. I'll talk about how you can use these approaches with other bread recipes, sourdough or yeasted.

A Preliminary Step - If you've read much of this web page, you know I'm a big believer in using ACTIVE sourdough starter, so it won't be a surprise I'll suggest you start each method by refreshing your starter until you have enough active sourdough starter to mix your bread dough. If you're clever, you'll make just enough active starter for the recipe so you won't have to measure the starter at all. I use a spreadsheet to work out that detail, and I weigh ingredients which also helps.

Method 1 - rise overnight, bake in the morning When I get home, I measure the ingredients, dump 'em in the mixer, set the mixer's timer to 5 minutes and an egg timer to 10 minutes. (One of the many features I like about my Electrolux mixer is it's timer.) At that point, I start making dinner. Or mix drinks. Five minutes later, the mixer stops and the dough is resting and hydrating. This really helps dough development and reduces the total amount of mixing needed considerably, I am convinced dough needs to rest as much as we do. When the timer goes off, I start the mixer for another 5 minute mix, set the egg timer for 25 minutes and go back to preparing dinner or enjoying the drinks I mixed earlier. After dough is mixed, I like to let it rest. If I were in a dry area, I'd cover the mixer after the 5 minute mix. The dough is developed at this point.

Initial shaping - when the timer goes off, I divide the dough into as many loaves as I am making, and do a rough shape on the loaves. I cover them and let them rest for another 30 minutes while we have dinner or a second round of drinks.

Final shaping and overnight rising - when the 30 minute rest is over, I finish shaping the loaves, and prepare them for rising. This might mean putting them in loaf pans, in bannetons, in a couche, or on a sheet pan. Then I cover the loaves and put them in a cool - not cold! - area. They'll rise overnight.

The early morning bake - In the morning, I look at the loaves and typically turn on the oven to 425F. Then I'll set some water on to boil for the morning coffee or tea and go and get ready to face the day. About the time my morning rituals are finished, I'm back in the kitchen pouring water on the tea leaves or ground coffee. The loaves are put in the oven and a timer is set for 20 minutes. The bread bakes while I fix breakfast. When the timer goes off, I check the loaves and usually move them around the oven. Most home ovens don't bake evenly, so it helps to move loaves half way through the bake. The timer is set for another 20 minutes. As the loaves finish baking, we finish breakfast and getting ready to go to work. When the timer goes off, the loaves come out of the oven and are put on a cooling rack and the oven's turned off. If the bread is going to work with us, we'll bag the bread in a paper bag where it can cool as we go to work. When we get home, there is nice fresh bread waiting for us. Unless you have mice, greedy dogs or other pests, sourdough bread won't be spoiled or staled by sitting out for a work day - it'll still be nice when you get home!

Method 2 - rise during the day, bake in the evening This is a little trickier to pull off, but it does work. Start by making sure your starter is ready for the morning. It will help if you have the right amount ready to go in the morning. The night before, you might also measure your ingredients, so all you have to do in the morning is dump them into the mixer. I find I can mix all the dry ingredients in one bowl and all the wet ingredients, other than the sourdough starter, in another. I don't know about you, but I am more error prone in the morning, so I prefer to pre-measure.

The morning mix - When I get up in the morning, I dump the pre-measured ingredients into the mixer, set the mixer for 5 minutes and the egg timer for 10. I set on water for coffee and start my morning rituals. When the timer goes off, it's back to the kitchen where I start the mixer for another 5 minute run and set the timer for 25 minutes.

The rough shaping - When the timer goes off, I divide and do a rough shaping on the loaves. I cover them and let them rest for another 30 minutes or so. While this is happening, we fix breakfast, have breakfast and make the day's lunches (yeah, we carry our lunches).

Final shaping - I throw on an apron since I don't want to wear flour to work, shape the loaves, and prepare them for rising. That could be in a loaf pan, a banneton, a couche or on sheet pans. I cover the loaves to keep them from drying out, put them in a cool, but not cold, place and bid them a fond farewell.

The evening bake - When I get home in the evening, I turn on the oven to 425 and start preparing dinner or mixing drinks. It takes 30 to 45 minutes for the tiles in my oven to heat all the way through, I set a timer to 45 minutes to remind me it's time to bake. When the timer goes off, the bread goes into the oven and I set a timer for 20 minutes. When the timer goes off, I check the loaves, turn them and set the timer for another 20 minutes or so. When the timer goes off again, the oven is turned off, the loaves are put on a cooling rack. If we haven't eaten yet, the bread can be sliced with a very sharp knife and be part of dinner. I think a well made bread is at its peak a day or two after it was baked, hot bread with melting butter on it has a lot going for it. or on sheet pans.

Fine tuning the process - This works best with a recipe you are very familiar with, a recipe you trust, a recipe whose characteristics are well known. Since you can't be there all day or awake all night, you only want one rise. This tends to create a coarser crumb structure - each time you punch down your dough and let it rise again, the tighter your crumb gets. Coarse or fine in this case isn't a measure of quality, just a matter of taste. Next, if your bread normally rises too quickly to leave alone overnight, you're going to have to re-work the recipe. This is good, because a slow rise builds flavor. So, how do you extend the rise? A thicker dough tends to rise more slowly than a thinner one. Using less riser will slow the rise also. The amount of starter in the Black Canyon Sourdough recipe is very small. You can do the same thing with yeast. However, unless you enjoy disasters, I'll suggest you try out recipe modifications over a weekend. Sometimes when you come home to a disaster, the cause and timing of the disaster aren't obvious - there's a puddle of dough in the bottom of the pan. Did it never rise? Or did it over-rise and collapse? One means you need more riser, the other means you need less. If you would like help fine tuning your recipes, please contact me through the contact us page.

Friday, July 31, 2009 Oh Ghee Whiz! and Some Ramblings - It's odd how some themes echo around until they reach a resolution. More times than I can count I've heard how wonderful clarified butter is. It lacks the bitterness of butter, it doesn't burn nearly as easily as butter, it keeps better, it tastes better, it makes food taste better and on and on and on. A few weeks ago, I was wondering if anyone sold pre-made clarified butter. I'm told it's easy to clarify butter, but not having done it before it just seemed like one more hassle in the kitchen to me.

As I was getting ready for a rye breads class (which was FANTASTIC!), I realized I needed some more coriander and cardamom. However, the prices were insane at grocery stores. An Indian friend suggested a local Indian market, "India Bazaar." I really dread going into ethnic markets for ethnicities I haven't visited before - I always spend too much money! They had some very nice loose teas for $3.99 a pound, the seeds I was looking for and an aisle dedicated to ghee. Ghee is Indian for clarified butter. I grabbed a tin and took it home. It was $6.99 for just over two pounds. If you look at the price of butter, this is a steal!

So, how was it? We're enjoying new tastes in sauteed onions, our morning eggs, and many other foods. It is sweeter than butter, as are the foods cooked in it. I'd never noticed the bitterness of foods cooked in butter until it wasn't there. It turns out there are two varieties of Ghee. Pure Ghee and Cow Ghee. Cow Ghee is yellow, and, as you'd expect, it is made from cow's milk. Pure Ghee is much whiter and is made from Water Buffalo Milk. I hadn't realized the difference. I asked my wife about it and she commented in Italy Water Buffalo milk is very common, as is mozzarella cheese made from Water Buffalo Milk. I'm not put off, and you shouldn't be either. So, head off to an Indian market and get some ghee!

The devil is in the details - it is never clear to me how much detail to put in these pages. How much is overwhelming? How little is too simplistic? So far, I've gotten about one "too much detail!" for every 8 or so "I love the amount of information you put in here!" emails. Of course, I also don't know how many people just bailed out, overwhelmed. Still, I shoot for about a sixth to eighth grade reading level, and tests with various on-line reading difficulty tests show I'm hitting the mark pretty well. So, for now, I think I'll keep the level of detail pretty high. If you have feelings, please let me know what you think through the contact us page.

The New Sourdoughhome Web Site - has been sidetracked for a while. I redid the Bake With Mike web site a while back and then stopped to think about what to do with this site. I want to add forums and real blogging features. However, I wasn't getting a good backup of the site... and I didn't want to put the work done on this larger site in danger. So, while I thought about layouts, features, graphics, backups and such, not much obvious progress was made. Still... I've gotten a good backup, the thoughts are bearing fruit and the conversion is under way. One day you'll be here and you'll click a link and find it's a whole new site. I love surprising people, and I think you'll be happy with the results!

Sunday, June 21, 2009 - Starter My Way, redone One of the funky things about blogs is the most recent things are on the top. This has it's charms since anything new is on the top where you can quickly find it. However, if you want to follow a story chronologically you start near the bottom, read down, then move up to the top of the previous header. Oh well, it's the nature of the beast. Some pages that use real blogging software let the reader re-sort so the dates read as you'd expect oldest on top, newest on bottom. We don't have anything that fancy. What brings this up is around Saturday, March 28, 2009 I decided my starter was in bad shape and that I'd rescue it by trying washing, a technique recommended by Dr. Ed Wood. After the process, I felt I'd made more progress in reviving a difficult starter than I made using my other techniques. However, two bakes later the starter was back to its bad behavior, eating protein. So, it was time to start a new starter.

This time, I took lots of pictures of the process and added them to the Starter My Way page. With all these new pictures, the page will take longer to load, but the pictures add a lot of value to the page. I hope the people who have been asking for pictures will find them and find them helpful.

Sunday, May 17, 2009 - Site redeaux, readjusting to lower altitudes, mystery page, and a hiatus - I've been working for a while on the layout and color scheme of the site. It was getting a bit dated. So, this is the first shot at a redo. I hope you enjoy it. I may fine tune it some more, we'll see.

Now that the great water hassle has been resolved, I'm baking more at lower altitude and I'm remembering what I had to learn to bake in the mountains, and I am starting to undo these changes. My wife has been asking why different breads are so dense. And, I have to admit, they are. So, it's time to increase the hydration by a few percent, to increase the riser by about 50% and then play with things. I may have to start noting on recipes whether they have been tuned for the highlands or lowlands.

I've added a new mystery page to the site. If you're the first to find it's hidden link and tell me where you found it, you'll get a free electronic subscription to any two of our cookbooks.

And, now to the hiatus. I'm in the process of redoing this site to use a Content Management System. This is driven by a number of considerations. Right now, there are about 155 to 165 main files in this web site. It is getting cumbersome to maintain them. A CMS would help with that. I'd like to turn my bread blog into a real blog, and with my present hand-coded HTML, I really can't do that. I'd like to add forums, and, once again, I can't do that. At this point, every change I make to this site is one more change, one more page that I will need to move over to the new site. The changes will slow the conversion twice. Once because it distracts from the conversion, and twice when it's one more flippin' thing to convert. So, I'm calling a hiatus on this site. I'll still answer emails, I'll still be baking. I'll still be giving baking classes. I'll still be thinking of new articles for this site. (One is all but done - a mixer shootout. Hint - other than capacity and life expectancy, they aren't all that different. Sorry KA, Bosch, Kenwood, and Electrolux fanatics.) But the changes will be very minimal.

A sharp eyed reader might wonder about my saying that I might tweak the color scheme back in the first paragraph, and my talking about a site hiatus and limiting changes to the site in the fourth. By using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), all the color scheme information is in one small file. A change and VIOLA! all the pages in the site are changed, so tweaking colors won't be all that time consuming.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009 - Wrapping up the great starter wash and new layouts -

The early results of the great starter wash are very encouraging. Even though I haven't updated this blog in a month (bad blogger! BAD!!), I did keep washing the starter. Over a period of about a week, the starter became more active and smelled better. At the end of the week, I returned to my usual feeding ratios and had a thicker starter that did not throw off hooch. It doubled in size nicely. Sadly, I haven't had time to actually bake with it, so it has been refrigerated. With luck, I'll bake this weekend.

Sunday, March 29, 2009 - More about the great starter wash - If you haven't already read the entry from yesterday, Saturday March 28, you should. Yesterday, at the evening feeding, I noticed the starter formed about 2/3 of inch of liquid on top of the starter, which suggested the starter wasn't doing much. Today, I noticed the starter was definitely bubbly, but there was a clear liquid layer about 1/3 of the way up from the bottom of the container. I don't know what this means, though other people have asked me about this in the past. My basic thought is that thinner starters are apt to throw off liquid more than thicker starters.

As I mentioned, the starter was bubbly and active. I did another wash, and now we'll see what happens. The starter smelled nice, little to no acetone aromas. I have irrational hopes that this will really, really work.

Sunday, March 29, 2009 - an interesting question from a reader about loaves spreading out - Jim, a site visitor from the mountains, asked: "My sourdough bread 'always' spreads out after the loaves are proofed. It does not matter if I proof in a basket, a bowl, a loaf pan, or on a quarry tile. It does not matter if I use white bread flour, white all purpose flour, wheat, or rye flour. It does NOT happen if I put commercial active dry yeast in my dough instead of sourdough. My sourdough rises beautifully, but unless it is contained, it spreads out until it is maybe 2 inches thick. In a loaf pan, anything above the top of the pan runs over the sides of the pan. I really DO use enough flour. After kneading the dough is smooth, elastic, and passes the "windowpane" test. It forms a nice ball after I knead it, but as it rises it goes soft and spreads. I live at 8,300 feet elevation in the rocky mountains, maybe thats an issue? I have tried more flour. I think my wonderful smelling and tasting sourdough starter must be digesting the dough somehow. The bread tastes great, but it is never pretty. Have you heard of this before? Any Ideas?"

I liked this question enough to finally award another question of the week prize. It was the first question in a while that moved me to award a prize!

Dough spreading out is very common. And frustrating. And there probably isn't a single reason for it. It's kinda like asking your doctor, "Why does my back hurt?"

I'll go through a number of the reasons, from the easy to the hard ones.

You hit upon the biggest reasons in your note. I'll go through them anyway.

If the dough isn't well developed, it probably won't be able to hold it's shape. The windowpane test is an important test f dough development. It works with straight wheat breads, which includes white flour, whole wheat flour, spelt and kamut based breads. However, it doesn't apply to rye breads, or breads with lots of stuff like seeds and cracked grains in them that interfere with the test. I like the windowpane test because if gives you a good idea of what dough should feel like when it is developed.

If a dough is too soft, it won't hold its shape. And that's awkward for me to admit because I spend a fair amount of space talking about how most beginners make their dough too dry. So, yes, there is a too wet and too soft, just as there is a too dry. I think I usually quote Beatrice Ojakangas who says, "Dough would rather be a bit too wet than a bit too dry." "A bit" is a key phrase there. I recommend weighing ingredients at all times, but when you are trying to resolve a problem it becomes even more important. With cups you can have a 25% cup to cup variance in the amount of flour in the cup. I've had people tell me they used more flour but the dough was even softer. Well, that would be because the cups were "lighter" than last time. You get more consistency and predictability in the process when you weigh the ingredients. San Francisco Sourdough Bread is often made at 58 to 60% hydration, which is a very dry dough. Most sandwich doughs are around 65% and many "artisan breads" are closer to 85%. The dryish doughs require good development and then long rises. Boudin uses about an 18 hour final rise. So there is room for experimentation there.

Altitude can play a role here. In general, as you go up to higher altitudes you need to make the dough firmer and use less riser. When I was baking at 7,700 feet I used about 2/3 the riser that sea level recipes called for and the recipes were about 3 to 5% lower in hydration than sea level recipes. However, since your yeasted breads are coming out fine, I am not inclined to think this is an issue here.

Loaf forming techniques are also very important. Julia Child stressed "forming a gluten cloak" when she formed loaves. By this she meant forming the loaves in such a way that the dough's gluten was stretched over the loaf, which caused the gluten to act as a girdle, maintaining the shape of the loaf. This requires good dough development and practice. I plan on adding some loaf forming videos to the site after I complete the site redesign. (Everything I add now is one more thing to convert.) However, there are some excellent Julia Child videos at PBS.

Next, many loaves that look like they were formed well actually weren't formed all that darned well. What happened was an unpromising piece of dough was put in the oven where oven spring transformed it from an unpromising flat lump to a beautiful round boule. I have several recipes that really depend on oven spring to create a nice loaf. And they consistently do. However, this requires good control over your process, or your loaf will just sit there in the oven, staying flat. The French view excessive oven spring as a flaw, not a virtue. If a loaf springs too much that is an indication that it didn't have enough rising time, and that it didn't fully develop its flavor. As with everything, there is a balance that needs to be struck. The keys to oven A loaf with somewhat excessive oven spring spring are a well developed dough, a dough that hasn't been allowed to rise too long, a hot oven, direct placement on a hearth (or oven stones), and a fairly wet oven for the first crucial minutes of the bake. Slashing can help prevent the loaves from tearing themselves apart. Generally, if a dough has risen too long it will have no oven spring. Gauging when the dough is ready takes practice and attention to detail. If you have too much oven spring, your loaf can tear itself apart, as shown to the right.

The last topic I'll touch on is that starters soften dough to a greater or lesser degree. And in this context, I am including yeast based starters such as poolish and biga as well as sourdough starters. Dead yeast release glutathione (I'll have to check the spelling on that) which relaxes dough. Some bakers add dead yeast (brewers yeast from health food stores) to dough to soften it. And there is dead yeast in all the starters. So, with quantities the same as a straight dough, you can expect a sourdough, poolish or biga based bread to be somewhat softer than a straight dough. Usually, that's not significant, but it can be.

That was the lesser degree. The greater degree comes about if don't tend to your starter well enough. I urge people to use fresh, active sourdough starter because this leads to more consistent results. In part this is because the activity levels are more consistent, but also because the acidity and dead yeast levels are more under control than when you use a riper starter. There is one further, and uglier, wrinkle. Our starters might be called "natural starters" because we grew them from flour and water and whatever grew in there became our starter. While we think of our starter as having one strain of yeast and one strain of bacteria in it, it would be more accurate to say that one strain of each are dominant by orders of magnitude. If the conditions in the starter change, the dominant organisms change. Normally the dominant critters in sourdough digest the starches in the flour they are fed with, producing carbon dioxide, alcohol, and flavor. However, if the starter is not fed enough some critters that can digest the proteins in the flour (and the proteins in the other critters in the starter) have an ecological advantage and will start coming to the forefront. There are two symptoms I see when this happens. The starter develops an aroma that reminds me of acetone (aka - cheap fingernail polish remover), and the doughs made with the starter are far too liquid.

What to do about starters that develop this problem is up in the air. A few authorities suggest that such a starter cannot be salvaged, that while feeding it might put the good critters back in a dominant position, the bad critters are still there in much larger numbers than they should be and they are ready to take over as soon as you skip a few feedings. This matches my experience with ill behaved starters. However, I am looking at Dr. Wood's "washing" technique (see the bread blog entry below and we'll see if that can deal with a catastrophically misbehaving starter. As I write this, the experiment is still under way.

Saturday, March 28, 2009- Washing Starter - a test born of desperation - I know better. It's not even a "I should know better" deal. I know better. So, there's no excuse for me to leave a bottle of starter alone, unloved, and unfed in the refrigerator for far too long. How long? Uhhh. 9 months. I needed to bake, so I started my usual starter revival technique. I took a tablespoon out of the fridge, mixed it with flour and water and then found it was slow to take off. About 3 days. Even then, it smelled like acetone (cheap fingernail polish remover). And the dough I made with it - a very low hydration Challah - was a very soft dough. That didn't hold its shape. It should have been very firm, very dry. It seems the sourdough starter had been taken over by organisms that eat protein, and my past experience suggested that a starter that does this is not a candidate for rehabilitation. There is a very low probability of rehabilitation and a high percentage of recidivism. I was ready to throw it away when I remembered Dr. Wood talking about "washing a starter" as a way to recover a starter. I've never tried the technique. I felt that it didn't offer anything beyond what my normal recovery technique offered. However, from experience and input from professional bakers, I felt I didn't have a good way to recover the starter. But I really wanted to recover the starter. So, it was time to try the washing technique.

The basic technique is to discard all but one cup of starter, dilute it with warm (not hot) water until your starter jar is full. Stir vigorously. Discard all but 1 cup and then add 1 cup of flour and 3/4 of water. These steps reduce the acidity dramatically through dilution. After the feeding, the starter is still very liquid compared to my usual starter. Thinner starters tend to work more quickly than thicker ones, which should be an advantage when trying to revive a starter. The technique is repeated every 12 hours, and repeated until the starter is recovered. Dr. Wood has repeated the process for 6 to 8 days. This has always left me wondering if the revived starter was the same starter that he started with, or if it was like Stephen King's "Pet Semetary" where the revived critters aren't quite the same as they were. My jaundiced view is that in 6 to 9 days I can start a new starter. Still, Dr.Wood is THE starter expert. So, it's time to start the process.

After the first feeding the starter was thin and just sat there. I looked at over the course of the next 12 hours. It had no signs of life.

After the first 12 hours, I repeated the process. I diluted the starter,stirred, and discarded. When I added the water and flour and began stirring, a considerable amount of foam was generated. I have hopes that the starter is taking off. I'll know in the morning. The starter has lost its acetone smell. We'll see if the starter revives and what the starter smells like in days to come.

Monday, February 23, 2009 - An update to Mike's Food Philosophy - I muse, I wax philosophical, I clean up some typos, I offend more people. All at the old same place, Mike's Food Philosophy.

Thursday, February 12, 2009 - A well deserved "Thank You!" - The generosity of the readers of this site is a source of constant amazement to me. People share stories with me, recipes with me, and more than one has pointed out errors and other typos. I always appreciate the corrections, as I want the site to be right more than I personally want to be right.

The most recent person to help correct the site is Mitch Saed. Mitch has gone through almost all the pages in our site and has corrected them. The corrections ranged from catching typos, errors and much more. I can't thank him enough, so I'll just say, "Thanks Mitch!" If you find the site improved, it is largely his doing. If you still find errors, its probably because I didn't follow his advice in some places. I'd give him a set of my cookbooks, but I'm afraid that he'd think I was trying to get him to proof read them too.

Sunday, February 01, 2009 - A really neat looking gadget - Berkshire Bread's EasyRise - I can't tell you how much email I get every day. Some people tell me how 10 messages a day just overwhelm them and I try not to giggle, smirk or laugh. If I only got 10 good messages a day, I'd be pretty sure something was broken and I'd lost more than 90% of my good email. A lot of the emails want to sell me stuff. And most are quietly deleted. Every now and then, I get excited about a product, and this is one of those times.

Most of us jump through different hoops to proof dough and raise bread. And we're never really happy with what we're doing. Michael Taylor of Berkshire Innovations has told me about his new gizmo called the Easy Rise(tm)(Patent pending). It's a proofing box that is thermostatically controlled, small enough to fit on a counter top, and folds up for easy storage. It's not another huge single-tasker that will eat your counter space. It can be used as a warmer, not just a proofer, and it can be stashed in a drawer or on a shelf. It's worth a look at www.berkshirebread.com. The only bad part is you can't buy one yet. They're still trying to prove that there is sufficient interest in their product to justify people investing in their company. So, please go and take their survey. And maybe we'll be able to buy an EasyRise before long.

In case you're curious (or suspicious), I have no financial interest in Berkshire Innovations, Berkshire Bread, nor any of Michael Taylor's ventures. I have not been paid or compensated for this announcement. I just think it's a neat looking gadget and thought I'd share the link with you. If it comes to market and their terms are favorable, I'd be interested in carrying it at Mike's Bread Shoppe, but that's a long ways off.

Saturday, January 31, 2009 - What happened to the weekly contest? - A while back I started giving a prize to the best question asked in a week, and printing it here. I'd hoped to do that weekly. However, I'd hoped that I'd get questions I hadn't seen dozens of times before, questions which weren't already answered on the site. Sadly, there haven't been many questions like that. So, the contest has become sporadic at best. If you send a great question, it could wind up here, and you could get a free book. But that won't necessarily be a weekly event. Or even a monthly one. Though it could happen more than once in a week. It all depends on the questions I get.

Oh, I've gotten lots of, "My bread is awful, what did I do wrong?" questions. Questions where that IS the WHOLE question. I usually need a little more information than that to be able to help. What recipe were you using? What did you do? What form did "awful" take? The more you can tell me, the better I can help you. Just use the form on the "Contact Us" page to send me a message.

Monday, January 26, 2009 - More starter stuff - One day, we'll talk about bread and not starters. Oh well, it seems today isn't the day. My last set of updates to the "starter my way" page was well intentioned. As in, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." Based on feedback I'd been getting, I thought I was making a reasonable change to the page. I wasn't.

I'm going back to the idea of, "let the starter sit until it shows signs of life before you feed it the first time" school of starter management. After that, I prefer to feed a starter twice a day. The exception is the people who are maintaining their starters in temperatures lower than 65F or so. These may benefit from being fed once a day during the startup phase. If you ran into trouble with my earlier instructions, please accept my apologies. In the next week or 12, I'll start a new starter and take pictures to liven up the "starter my way" and "Professor Calvel's Starter" pages.