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, 2012

Monday, October 22, 2012 - the new site is live! After six weeks of feverish editing - four more than anticipated - we're live with the new site. The new site cleans up a lot of issues we had with the old one. Pictures are larger, dead links have been removed, my spelling has been (mostly) corrected. I have to thank many people who subscribe to the "Mike's (more or less) Weekly baking Tips Newsletter" for going over the site with a fine tooth comb and finding many errors. Having a web editor with a spelling checker didn't hurt either. In addition to just being a good idea, the change will make it easier to migrate this site one more time into a content management system, at which point we'll add real blogging add-ons, as well as community forums.

The people who checked out this site before it went live were given an entry for every typo, dead link or other problem they found in the site in a drawing. There are 10 prizes in the drawing. The grand prize is a large printed copy of all three of our cookbooks. Second prize is a digest sized copy of all three of our cookbooks. Third prize will be electronic copies of all three of our cookbooks. And then there are seven more consolation prizes of an electronic copy of one of our cookbooks (we'll let the winner select the cookbook they want.) Since most of the easy problems have been found, I'll offer two entries for each additional problem found. And, yes, that offer is open to people who have already entered. I'll be accepting corrections as drawing entries until next Monday, October 29th, 2012. I'll announce the winners in the next issue of Mike's (more or less) Weekly Baking Tips. You aren't a subscriber yet? It's free! So, check out our subscriptions page.

October 21, 2011 - Making a Mother - Ed wrote this week and asked, "How to make a good sourdough MOTHER starter?" One of the problems with sourdough for a beginner is that different people use the same words to mean different things. A fair number of beginners, when they face this issue, decide to create their own vocabulary, which only adds to the confusion.

Different people use the term "mother" to mean different things. When I was visiting Boudin Bakery in San Francisco they had a large blob of very thick starter they called their mother starter. It was probably around 50% hydration. It seemed to be thicker than window glazing putty. If you want to make that sort of starter, using the Professor Calvel's method would be a good approach. Or, if you already have a good starter you could just feed it 2 parts of flour to 1 part of water by weight and over the period of a few feedings it would be around 50% hydration.

Other people refer to a mother as a thin, batter like, starter that is unrefreshed, or which hasn't been recently fed. I'm not sure why people do that. Truly, an unfed starter gets into trouble. A fed starter is a happy starter.

Until next time, may your bread always rise, no matter what you call your starter! -Mike

A comment Mike on August 13, 2018 as he adds newsletter content to the blog - That seems to be the first use of our signature, "may your bread always rise, no matter...." tag line. I'd been wondering when I started using it! -Mike

Wednesday, October 3, 2012 - the conversion goes on It's not a real secret, but the long awaited conversion has gone into high gear. Subscribers to Mike's (more or less) Weekly Baking Tips have been given a pointer to the site under re-construction and asked to help me find bugs, broken links, typos and misspellings. I've been cleaning up the layout, correcting problems, removing dead links, making pictures larger. It's been fun! The tool I'd used for years to write the site didn't have a spelling checker. But I thought that was OK, after all, I'm pretty good speller! Now, I'm using a new editor and it has a spelling checker. On the good speller theory - well, maybe yes, maybe no, but I am definitely an awful typist! It was very humbling!

I am entering everyone who finds glitches in the new site an entry in a drawing. 10 prizes will be given away. One large set of all three of my cookbooks, one digest sized set of all three of my cookbooks, one electronic copy of all three of my cookbooks, and seven more copies of a single electronic cookbook. One entry is given for each glitch found. Details are in Mike's (more or less) Weekly Baking Tip newsletter. The prize will be awarded a week after the site goes live.

Monday, September 3, 2012 - a neat weekend and Mike learns something

This was originally in the Mike's (more or less) Weekly Baking Tips newsletter, and then made an appearance on our The New Burgundians web page.

Last weekend marked Beth's and my 15th wedding anniversary. So, we decided to go off and have some fun. This time that meant we visited Austin, TX. I lived there for 20 years and like visiting the town again. I haven't lived there in 20 years, and I don't think I'd want to live there now. It's not the same city - its grown too big with all that means.. Still, there's a lot to love in Austin. One thing we love is Antonelli's Cheese Shop. If you love cheese, sausage, breads, chocolate, wines, beers, olive oils and other exquisite foods, you should visit Antonelli's if you're in the area. (Scardello's in Dallas also gets my praise, and money.)

As we were looking at Antonelli's meats I saw a prosciutto. It was stunningly La Quercia's Prosciutto (photo courtesy La Quercia) beautiful. The meat was translucent, and somehow glowed with its own inner light. They wanted $40 per half pound. I laughed, shared the joke with Beth and looked at some of the salume. But my eyes kept going back to the prosciutto.

Then I noticed a sign in front of it that said the prosciutto was La Quercia's Acorn Edition. A prosciutto made from Berkshire hogs that had been fed on 60% acorns. Oh. Wow.

This really hit home because every time I've written about why sourdough cultures change flavors, I've mentioned that what an organism eats affects its flavor, or the flavor of its products. The flour a baker uses strongly impacts the flavor of the sourdough. Change your flour, change your culture.

Larger organisms are affected also. Many nursing mothers report their babies become fussy and refuse to eat after mom eats spicy food. And I unfailingly mention that hunters prize boars that have been fed on acorns. I've also commented, from time to time, that I've never had the opportunity to taste boar's meat that has been fed on acorns. Despite many pleas, no one has offered me any acorn fed boar's meat.

And there it was. In front of me. Not exactly the Holy Grail, but certainly quite close to something I'd been looking for, well, for years. I knew it was hideously overpriced. Not, perhaps, in contrast to what such products bring in other markets, or what they are worth. But more in contrast to what a person of moderate means might feel reasonable to pay for food. Still, I'd only heard of pig fed on acorns, I'd never before had a chance to eat such a thing.

We were celebrating our anniversary; we were indulging ourselves and each other in so many ways... so we indulged once more and walked out with a quarter pound of La Quercia Acorn Edition Prosciutto. (I even love typing that full name! La Quercia Acorn Edition Prosciutto. There. I did it again!)

We took the La Quercia Acorn Edition Prosciutto to our hotel room, where we ate it along with a great baguette, some wonderful cheese and a bottle of sparkling wine. So, how was it? What did it taste like? Muddying the water was that I'd never had Berkshire ham before. How much of the taste was from acorns? How much was from the Berkshire hog? OK, I'll cut to the chase.

Did it taste like acorns? No, but I wasn't expecting it would. Bread doesn't really taste like flour, beer doesn't taste like barley, and wine doesn't taste like grapes. Even though each food receives flavor notes from the ingredients.

It had a wonderful aroma. Rich, deep, earthy. The prosciutto was sliced very, very thin; Slices of La Quercia's Acorn Prosciutto, photo courtesy La Quercia so thin you could see light through it, though not quite thin enough to be able to read through it. Being as thin as it was, it melted in my mouth.

The flavor delivered all the aroma promised and added a hint of salt and a slight sweetness. It married very well with both the cheese and baguette. But we preferred it by itself. We finished it with something approaching reverence.

Sadly, we weren't able to make it back to Antonelli's before we left town for another quarter pound. Not for ourselves, of course, but to refine our sensory impressions, so we could better describe it for you more fully, more elegantly. Of course.

I did a bit of Googling after we ate the prosciutto. One food writer, Michael Nagrant of "Serious Eats" said, "Currently the greatest edible item known to man is La Quercia Acorn Edition Prosciutto." Other writers aren't so restrained in their praise.

It is amazing for any prosciutto, and it is all the more amazing that this is an American product. The owners of La Quercia are trying to make a prosciutto that can be mentioned in the same breath as the great hams of Europe such as Jamon Iberico de Bellota. I'm not an expert, but people who are say they are very, very close to being there if they aren't already there.

On the price front, at this writing La Quercia sells their prosciutto directly for $65 a pound. Considering loss from skin and bone, Antonelli's $40 a half pound is really pretty reasonable. The Jamon Iberico de Bellota is around $80 a pound.

If you can find either of these meats, and you are a meat eater, they are definitely worth purchasing. My toes curl in delight thinking about our simple dinner of sparkling wine, cheeses, a baguette and La Quercia Acorn Edition Prosciutto. Of course, the company DID have a lot to do with my enjoyment.

In any case, I now have a better idea of what feeding hogs acorns can do to their meat, and the experience has filled me with delight, admiration and no small desire to do it again. Next time, with melons!

Sunday, April 22, 2012 - Some GREAT videos! Here's something you may find interesting. There were a series of six videos on Youtube that documented the creation of a community bakery in Bedale, England. They were great! However, they have been removed from Youtube. There is still a documentation of their opening day here. You can follow them on Facebook. There's also a video on the science of sourdough that starts here. I haven't checked that one out yet, but it looks promising!

Sunday, March 25, 2012 - Sauerkraut und Sauerteig This week Margot Levy, a fan of this web page (thank you Margot!) asked a question I was ready to just blow off. Anyone who has spent much time at Sourdoughhome knows that I really think that flour and water are necessary and sufficient to start a sourdough starter. You don't really need anything beyond that. Moreover, in all the cases I've found the critters in whatever else you use - be it bakers yeast, cabbage leaves, grapes, yogurt or what not - are the wrong types to start a sourdough starter. These other things might get your starter off to a rip-roaring start, but it won't be a sourdough starter until that stuff dies off.

Margot asked, "what about sauerkraut? Can I use sauerkraut juice to start a sourdough starter?" My knee-jerk reaction was "NO!" However, I know that sauerkraut is fermented by lactobacillus bacteria, the same bacteria that make sourdough sour. The question is whether they are the same strain.

I did some Googling and came across this web site: Professor Lindquist's site where he talks about all sorts of interesting sauerkraut related things. (Sadly, the original site is no longer available, so the link takes you to the saved version of the site at the truly amazing Internet Wayback machine.) Interesting, there is a very predictable progression of bacteria in the sauerkraut. I've made sauerkraut a few times and found this page fascinating! Also found on another page is that two of the final bacteria are also active in some sourdough cultures. (L. Brevis was one of them.) Having made a number of batches of sauerkraut, I highly recommend that you give it a try. The product you make at home will be richer and milder in flavor than the store bought stuff. In addition to the link above, there are a number of youtube videos that tell how to make sauerkraut. I'd look for ones made by German or Scandinavian grandmothers.

In Professor Lindquist's web page there are some critter counts from the sauerkraut that shows how effectively the succession of critters occurs. I shared this with Debbie Wink and she sent me some papers that show a very similar progression occurs in sourdough. I'll comment on them when I have a chance to read them.

An interesting difference between sauerkraut and sourdough - with sourdough we cultivate and keep the starter using it to make subsequent batches of bread. We feel that the starter gains in strength, flavor and general goodness as it develops. With sauerkraut attempts to make the next batch with the culture from the current batch are not satisfactory. Each organism contributes to the final product, and much like reading a mystery novel racing to the end really doesn't improve things. Sauerkraut depends on the succession of bacteria to develop its flavor.

This lack of reuseability in the sauerkraut juices means that the manufacturers have a lot of salty liquid to dispose of. It's an industry wide problem.

So, what about starting a sourdough starter with a bit of sauerkraut juice? It's time to equivocate a bit.

I have no idea if commercial sauerkraut is typically made by natural fermentation today. Industry trends for the past century have been to get rid of natural fermentation whenever possible. It is, in my biased view, a mistake, but it is a trend. Having owned a bakery, I am convinced that fermentation scares health inspectors - they tend to see it as perishable food at room temperature rather than food in a process. In any case, if the sauerkraut wasn't naturally fermented, it won't have the critters you're looking for to start a sourdough starter.

Next, if the sauerkraut was pasteurized, the critters were killed off.

You'd want nice fresh, unpasteurized sauerkraut, if the critters are what would help a sourdough starter.

If you look at the nutrition label of the sauerkraut, you'll see its a high sodium food. You need about 2 1/2% salt to make the fermentation work. I have not idea what that much salt would do to a sourdough starter. One of my sourdough starters uses a little salt (less than 1% of the flour weight).

As I was dithering Margot sent me another email. She decided not to wait on my advice (probably wise, all in all), and used some sauerkraut juice and her starter just took off like a rocket!

So... what happened? One thing that happens as sauerkraut ferments is that it becomes more acidic. And if sauerkraut is made by other methods, they would acidify it to give it it's characteristic bite.

In the standard sourdough progression, the Leuconostoc bacteria have their day in the sun. And its not a real sourdough starter until they are killed off. Which is the big reason I comment I wouldn't use a sourdough starter that is less than a week old. Leuconostoc bacteria foam up like nobody's business, but they don't have enough strength to raise bread. As the sourdough starter becomes more acidic, the Leuconostoc bacteria die off and the lactobacillus bacteria take over. Debbie Wink found that if you acidify the sourdough starter using pineapple juice rather than water to start the starter, the Leuconostoc bacteria never get going allowing the lactobacillus bacteria to develop more quickly. This has spared a number of sourdough beginners a lot of anguish!

So, if Margot used a nice fresh, non-pasteurized sauerkraut, the lactobacillus bacteria in it might have kick started her sourdough starter. Otherwise, the acidity could have just killed off the pesky Leuconostoc bacteria and opened the field for the bacteria we like having around.

All this talk about baked goods and sauerkraut makes me wonder if Kolache Haven is open today. They're a decent little bakery in Denton, TX that makes a really nice sauerkraut and sausage Kolache. Maybe on the way to work tomorrow....

Thanks to Debbie and Professor Lindquist for their insights. As always, the people whose ideas I "borrow" have the insights, I just add errors and typos.

Monday, January 2, 2012 - Happy New Year! Happy New Year! Despite my fear that it's going to be a long and awful slog through to November (for our non-USA readers, that's when we will have our next national elections), I have great hopes for this year. I hope that this year will be a happy one for all of you and your families and loved ones, a year filled with prosperity, joy, happiness and good health. A year where you are surrounded by the love of those you hold dear.

It's been a quiet holiday at the Avery household. We've both been working hard and we needed some rest time. There more than a few days over the holidays where we got out of our robes only to don a swim suit and soak in the hot tub. Recharging ones batteries is a great start for the year!

On New Years Day memories came back to me of Gingerbread Pancakes at the old Omlettry West in Austin, Texas. It was a classic hippie dive. Slow service, lax hygiene, but great food. One of the things they were especially known for was their gingerbread pancakes. I hadn't had them in over 23 years, but some memories stay with you. One of the staffers at the Austin American Statesman had conned the Omlettry West out of their recipe and published it. That was fortunate since I don't live in Austin any more, and even if I did the restaurant is no more. I'd given Beth a waffle iron for Christmas, and she suggested I should try turning that gingerbread pancake recipe into a gingerbread waffle recipe. So I did. It turned out well enough that I thought I'd share it with you. You may interpret that as meaning I'm still not quite ready to write a more meaningful message. I hope you'll enjoy the recipe though.

Gingerbread Waffles This recipe is modified from "Ellie Rucker's Almanac". Gourmet Magazine had requested the recipe from The Omlettry West, and Texas Monthly said they were the best pancakes in Texas.

I like to think the waffles are at least that good.

  • 4 eggs, separated,
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar,
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk,
  • 1/2 cup water or milk,
  • 1/4 cup brewed (NOT instant!) coffee,
  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour,
  • 1/2 tsp salt,
  • 1 tsp baking powder,
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda,
  • 1 tsp ground cloves,
  • 1 TBSP Cinnamon,
  • 1 TBSP ginger,
  • 1 TBSP nutmeg, and
  • 4 TBSP melted butter or margarine.

Cream together:
4 eggs yolks, and
1/4 cup brown sugar.

then add:
1 cup buttermilk, and
1/4 cup brewed coffee.

Sift, and then measure:
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

In a separate container sift together:
2 1/2 cups sifted unbleached all-purpose flour,
1/2 tsp salt,
1 tsp baking powder,
1 1/2 tsp baking soda,
1 tsp ground cloves,
1 TBSP Cinnamon,
1 TBSP ginger, and
1 TBSP nutmeg.

Beat, until stiff but not dry:
4 egg whites

Then combine the liquid and solid ingredients, adding:
4 TBSP melted butter or margarine.

Fold in the beaten egg whites.

Cook in a waffle maker as you would any other waffle. This recipe may require a fair amount of liquid adjustment. Make sure that the batter flows off of the spoon fairly evenly, or the waffles will be too heavy, and will never cook all the way through without burning the edges!

Serve with butter, maple syrup, honey, or molasses.