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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, 2013

Wednesday September 4, 2013 - Help Jane! Get me off this crazy thing! We've used a number of services to send out Mike's (more or less) Weekly Baking Tips. One thing we like about MailChimp is how easy it is to unsubscribe from the list. If you are having trouble getting off the list, please let us know.

Sunday September 1, 2013 - We're good enough, we're smart enough, and doggone it, people like us! We've had a few really nice pats on the back this year. The first was from Indulge Bakery who said we were one of the 20 best Colorado based food blogs. While we started the web site when we lived in Colorado, and there is still a lot of content in our web site, we're in Texas now. Does it count that we really miss Colorado?

Pretty cool! We're jazzed!

Next, The Daily Meal has an article on 8 food courses that will change your life and 32 amazing runner ups. Bake With Mike is one of the 32 runner ups. Considering that the folks at King Arthur Flour are number one in baking, I can't complain about our ranking. It's amazing to be, well, amazing! Here's the post - http://www.thedailymeal.com/8-food-classes-will-change-your-life-and-32-amazing-runners

June 12, 2018 - From the mailbag, again - Dan complained that there are no "basic" sourdough bread recipes on the sourdoughhome web site. I've added the tag "basic sourdough" to make it easier to find them. However, I don't think there are many recipes on our site that go past middle level difficulty. The sourdoughhome site is aimed at getting people started, not turning them into full blown artisan bakers. Each recipe has great instructions to insure that a beginner can make them all. Paradoxically, some of the simplest and most basic breads have the most thorough instructions to help a beginner make them well. Some simple recipes would include all the recipes in the "Fasttrack to sourdough" tutorial, the San Francisco Style Sourdough bread and the 100 percent whole wheat bread.

Ken commented, "My starter seems to be not as "sour" as once was. Everything else seems to be OK. A suggestion for making it more tangy? Love your challah recipe."

There is a lot that goes into the "sour" of a starter. I brush on this, in varying levels of detail, on three pages. Rather than retype it all here, let me share some links. There's "All about sour", either of the two pages on "Maintaining A Starter" or "Fastrack to Sourdough maintaining A Starter" (there is a lot of duplication between those pages), "The Art of the Rise", and the last one I'll mention is "Retarding Dough for flavor enhancement and process control". Between those pages, I think you'll have a good idea where your mojo went and how to get working again.

Malt extract is a recurring issue. Bastiaan asks, "Is it possible to substitute liquid malt extract for the dry specified in Calvel's starter? If so, based on the instructions provided, how many cc's or teaspoon(s) would be required?"

I routinely swap liquid and dry malt extracts in my recipes and really can't tell any difference. There are a few things to watch out for. You don't want malted milk flavoring - that's mostly sugar; you want a barley malt; if liquid, you want it to be unhopped. Some liquid malt extracts are hopped for the convenience of beer makers. Not terribly good for beer, awful for bread! If you get your malt at a brewing supply house, you'll be asked what you want. You want the lightest all-malt extract you can find. They may ask if you want diastatic or non-diastatic. I'd pick the non-diastatic for baking, though there isn't a lot of practical difference.

Pictures, we LOVE pictures! Every so often people send us pictures of their breads. We really love seeing your pictures! I had a photography teacher who never showed us his pictures. He didn't want to influence our style, he didn't want to make us feel bad comparing our student efforts to his 30+ years of experience. He was a master photographer and craftsman. Which is to say, I'd love to share more of your pictures. If you are happy enough with your bread, or think your bread could be instructive, and you're willing to let me share your pictures, please let me know. Partly because of copyright issues and party because I don't want to embarrass anyone, I'll only use your pictures if you say it's OK.

May 27, 2013 - From the Mailbag - Starters and MORE! Bill Carrol sent me a pointer to a GREAT video about making bread the old fashioned way in Italy. How old fashioned? They harvested the wheat by hand and had a horse help winnow the wheat from the chaff! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0p5zNpxxgok Disclaimer - I've only had time to watch the first 10 minutes. The first 10 minutes are great! No promises after that.

Jana took a class with us not very long ago, and had many questions afterwards. They are worth sharing. And it's better than actually thinking up a topic for an email.

"I had a good time in class and was excited to try out my new skills. Last Friday I tried to make the Big Oat Loaf and Gunnison River bread, but they didn’t turn out quite the same as they did in class. And as I tried to make them on my own I had a few questions that I wanted to see if you help me out with.

"I bought a scale, but I am not sure if I like it that much. Did the scale we used, give tenths of grams? Do you know the brand of the scale we used? Of course, I couldn’t weight the small amounts of yeast, so perhaps that messed the breads up a bit too. What would you recommend for the items that have such low weights or measurements like 1/32 tsp or 0.1 gram?"

I use two different scales. Both are made by "My Weigh". You can find them on eBay and at some online shops. They have been durable, accurate and reliable for us in our classes. (Just think Frank Sinatra.)

One is the KD-7000 candle making scale. It will weigh up to 7,000 grams or about 14 pounds in 1 gram increments. They also have a KD-8000 which will weigh up to 8,000 grams or 16 pounds and has several bells and whistles that the KD-7000 does not. The KD-7000 does everything I need, so I've stayed with it.

The other scale I use is the MX-300 pocket scale. They go up to 300 grams, but measure as little as one tenth of a gram. This makes it easy to weigh very small amounts of yeast, salt, herbs, and such.

We talk about how to measure "stuff" here. Sadly, I don't know of stores that let you try scales before you buy.

Jana continued....

"I was a bit confused about when to knead and stretch and fold for both breads. I read the recipe book and recipes and on the loose page I had for the Gunnison loaf it said to mix, then develop the dough….If you are kneading allow the dough to rise—otherwise the stretch and folds take the place of the first knead. What I did was mix the dough and then let it sit for an hr and then did a stretch and fold. But if I wanted to knead it (which was what I should’ve done given the stuff that came up and took me away from the house) would I have mixed the dough and immediately kneaded, or mixed the dough and let it sit until it rose, and then kneaded for 5, rest for 5, and then double, and then knead again and then form the loaf? I didn’t know what “develop the dough” meant. I thought it meant to just leave it alone."
Let's start by talking about developing the dough. We start with a bowl full of ingredients. Flour, water, salt, riser (maybe yeast, maybe sourdough). And we mix it. It becomes a clumpy mess. We knead it. It becomes smoother and more elastic. And more elastic. And more smooth.

Many things are happening at a microscopic level. Two of the main proteins in wheat flour are glutenin and gliadanin (I am sure I just misspelled both, apologies to all). In the presence of water they combine into one protein, gluten.

Gluten is a rather springy molecule, and it is more springy when worked. Dough has two important characteristics, elasticity and extensibility. Elasticity describes how dough tends to spring back when it is extended, or stretched out. Extensibility describes how far you can stretch the dough without it snapping back. All doughs have a balance between extensibility and elasticity. Where the balance lies determines what you can do with the dough. Insanely extensible dough - like Chinese pulled noodles - can be stretched forever without breaking down. Very elastic dough can be hard to form into loaves, though elasticity is the characteristic that helps the dough be strong enough to trap the gas made by the riser. A dough that is too extensible will tend to slump and spread out rather than rise.

There are a number of things that can develop dough. Simple chemistry is one. The New York Times bread and several other "no-knead" breads are in that camp. Water, flour, mixing and time. Many people love those breads, and the long rises do bring a lot of flavor to the table. But the breads aren't all that amazing.

Physical action is another way to develop dough. In extreme cases, like the Chorleywood process, extreme high speed mixing is used to develop the dough very quickly. It really isn't a good thing. More gentle mixing or kneading can also develop the dough. And the stretch and fold also develops dough, though it is more a combination of physical effort, chemical action, and more stretching from the riser to develop the dough.

Whether you do it by ignoring the dough, by handling it by hand, or machining it with a machine like a mixer, changing the ingredients into a dough that can rise is developing the dough.

Which method you use depends on your time constraints and what appliances you have available and wish to use. Despite lots of blog content to the contrary, once your dough is developed, there isn't that much difference between the outcomes. I rarely use mixers - they don't save me enough time. I find I can knead the amounts home mixers can handle by hand as quickly as the mixer can. For larger quantities, or when I have time, I'll do the stretch and fold. It's gentle and easy - it won't aggravate carpal tunnel issues. Although a number of people who told me they couldn't knead because of hand, carpal tunnel or wrist issues found that they can knead without discomfort when they knead the way I do.

I have a discussion of kneading here (with videos!) and a discussion of stretching and folding here - (also with videos!).

In general, the stretch and fold takes the place of the first rise, or at least much of the first rise. You can knead the dough by hand or machine and let it rise for - with my recipes - about four hours. Or you can stretch and fold the dough, and it will take the same four hours. Since you are essentially knocking down the dough every time you stretch and fold it, the stretch and fold takes the place of the first rise. However, some doughs take longer to rise. In the end, your job as the baker is to evaluate the dough and determine if you think it's ready to go on to the next phase.

Jana still has questions...

"Is is possible to have too much time pass between stretch and folds? If the dough is wet, when would it be ok to add flour?"

I usually have about 30 minutes between stretches in class, but that is to keep the class at a manageable length, not for the benefit of the bread. I usually suggest 45 minutes to an hour between stretches and folds. I've gone two hours from time to time. The dough doesn't seem to mind, as Brother Dom used to say, "It's bread, it will forgive you!"

Timing CAN be an issue. Kneading the dough and letting it rise for 4 hours may well work better for some people. You don't want to let the dough rise so far that it collapses in the first rise. (If it does collapse, knead it a bit and continue. You'll lose some quality, but it isn't the end of the world.)

My usual timing suggestion is to make the bread on a day off, see when you need to be there, and then see how you can fit that into a work day. You may be able to make the dough at night, form loaves in the morning, and bake when you get home. I have a page on extending rise time and another on retarding dough, or extending rises through refrigeration. One reader wrote me and told me how she had risen some dough. It went in and out of her refrigerator about 6 times before she baked it. She needed to take the kids to the store - into the fridge, she got home - it came out, time to pick up the kids and take them to little league games - into the fridge. She was amazed how well the bread turned out. So, honestly, was I. My strong suggestion is to get a handle on how the dough works and handles at room temperatures, and then see how you can work with those timings. The less you beat the dough into submission the happier you'll both be.

As to adding flour, one thing I've heard from students more than anything else is, "WOW - I've been making my dough too dry!" It's worth mentioning that my doughs really aren't all that wet in the overall dough spectrum.

In any case, Gunnison River Bread should be a fairly wet dough (though it can be hard to get the last of the flour incorporated into the dough). My suggestion is try the recipe without adjusting the amount of water or flour and see how it comes out. If you liked the bread, you have a good recipe for your kitchen and ingredients. If you didn't like the bread, and you think changing the amount of flour or water will fix it, adjust next time. One of the BIG reasons I like using the stretch and fold in classes is that students don't panic at kneading very wet doughs - the stretch and fold is an easy to develop wet doughs.

Jana is still asking questions -

"The biga was very dry and stiff and didn’t seem to bubble up or get any bigger overnight. I tried to knead it a bit in the morning, but that didn’t seem to help. I made the bread anyway, but I don’t think it was mixed in well, there were a few thicker parts in the bread that I think was the biga. Any tips or thoughts on what I should do, or what I did wrong?"

It's hard for me to know what's happening in your kitchen when I'm not there. Biga is SO stiff that it often doesn't rise. However, the yeast is still working. Normally (if memory serves) biga should work around 18 hours rather than the 12 that "overnight" usually means. Temperature is also an issue. A warmer kitchen (or rising place) will mean more activity. Whether you're cool in winter or have heavy Texas air conditioning, too cool can be a problem. I'd shoot for something around 78F.

Because the biga is so stiff, it can be hard to mix in. I think the recipe suggests cutting it into chunks before using for that reason. Sometimes I mix it with the water in the recipe to dissolve it up front.

Whether you knead or use stretch and fold, it helps to get the chunks broken down. However, sometimes with the big oat loaf the issue is lumps of oatmeal that didn't get well distributed.

Jana really wants to get a handle on things, and asks,

"I mixed the toasted oats in with the final dough. Was I supposed to do that, or use those oats to coat the dough before I shaped it into a loaf?"

That's correct. Both the oatmeal and the toasted oats go in the bread. Uncooked oats are used to cover the loaf. There is a bit of trickiness there... the cooked oatmeal is giving up liquid and the toasted oats are absorbing it. It helps to be patient and not adjust the liquid until you're sure how the dough will turn out a good ways into the dough development.

Jana is really on a roll!

"Also, the recipe didn’t seem to be enough dough to fit in a standard bread loaf pan. I had to use a smaller disposable one. Is that correct, or did I do something wrong where it should’ve fit into a normal bread loaf pan?"

Sorry, I have no idea what a "normal" bread loaf pan is. I have loaf pans that range from 1 to 5 pound loaves. I've seen more or less normal ones ranging from 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 pounds. My suggestion is to scale the recipe so that it will fill the loaf pan a little more than half full. You can increase or decrease that to get the loaf you want in the pans you have.

Jana continues to continue...

"On the Gunnison recipe it says to “scale the dough”. Is that something you do if you are making multiple loafs and have a lot of dough in the bowl? Or is that something I need to do when I am making an individual loaf."

Yes. I rarely find it's worth while to make A loaf of bread. I'll typically make 4 or 5 at a time. I freeze the ones we won't eat right away or give them away. It takes no longer to make a number of loaves, and it keeps you from having to bake as often. Worried about bread freshness? Well, the longer it takes to make the bread, the longer it will last. We talk about bread freshness here.

Jana.... Jana.... Jana... you were paying attention in class, weren't you?

"Both breads had very loose crumb structure. I really liked the tighter crumb structure of the loaves we made in class. Can you tell me again, how that is more likely to be achieved?"

When you have fewer rises, you have a looser crumb structure. More rises lead to a tighter crumb structure. If I wanted a tighter crumb structure, I'd probably knead the dough, let it rise, knead it a bit, let it rise again, knead it, scale it, form it into loaves, let it rise and then bake it. Kneading between rises helps the yeast get in touch with starches in the dough they can break down into sugars, digest, and make carbon dioxide and alcohol from, rising the loaf. If you don't knead a bit between rises, your riser will run out of steam. In general, each time you knead the dough and let it rise again, the finer your structure will be.

Additional questions:

"When you bake a batard loaf, do you first start it off on the parchment paper and then move it to the stone in the oven? I know you did that in class, but I wasn’t sure if you always did it. If so, how far into baking the loaf do you move it?"

Parchment paper has a releasing compound so when you bake the dough, it will stop sticking to the parchment. You don't need to slide the loaf off the parchment. In class, it just slipped off. Parchment paper doesn't interfere with oven spring or browning.

"I have a whole wheat sourdough starter I am going to try out. I was going to try the whole wheat sandwich bread recipe in the book and was also thinking of trying the flax seed bread recipe from class. I notice the recipe calls for a sourdough starter. Can I use the whole wheat one I have, and if so, are there any changes in water/flour amounts you would recommend for the recipe?"

In general, I try to use a sourdough starter that uses the same sort of flour that is in the bread. I use a white flour starter with a white bread, a whole wheat starter for whole wheat bread. You can change that around to get the effects you want. However, whole grain and refined "white" flours absorb moisture differently. In general, whole grain flours absorb more water and do so more slowly. So, using a different starter could change the overall amount of water you need to use. Feel the dough, adjust as needed - after you've kneaded the dough and let it rest for 5 minutes.

Greg had a starter question....

"Mike, I made a starter 5 years ago, I slacked off the past 8 to 10 months baking bread, sour dough pancakes etc. Last week I looked at my starter in the crock/garage refridgerator and decided to dump it before trying to save it, MISTAKE! Luckily, I had saved some in a mason jar that was dated ten months ago,I dumped the houch,scraped the mold off, refreshed three TBLS of it and it is OUTSTANDING!!!Smells fantastic!!SUPER fast in rising. I refreshed this morning at 630 am by 930 it has risen three inches in the glass container,seems like it is super charged. Is this normal??"
Honestly, I think you lucked out. My recommendations are very conservative on the web site because I want to keep people's starters out of trouble. I've kept starters in the fridge that long, and what happens is a gamble. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't.

Refrigeration isn't like science fiction suspended animation - it slows down, it doesn't stop. Overall, I find you get longer storage times when you make your starter thicker ( I usually make mine at about 60% hydration) and if you refrigerate it right after you feed it. I feed the starter until it is lively and doubling between feedings, feed it one more time and then into the fridge. Still, even with loading the dice in my starter's favor, I wouldn't go that long on purpose.

Until next time, may your dough always rise, even if you're trying to bake with a starter you ignored for 10 long months!

May 19, 2013 - Mike's Day In The Trenches Suzanne Schneider Johnson, chef and owner of The Chestnut Tree restaurant in Denton asked me if I could bake some bread for the Duchman Family Wine Dinner being held at The Chestnut Tree. The Duchman Family Winery is an unusual Texas winery. The newer generation of Texas wineries has realized that Texas really isn't well suited to growing French varietals. Our climate is, overall, more like Italy. So, they are growing Italian varietals and making Italian style wines. Some Italian vintners who have visited them have commented, "You're doing a better job making Italian wines here in Texas than we are in Italy". Also the Duchman family (pronounced "Dukeman") only uses Texas grapes. Many Texas wineries use California or South American grapes.

It was a very good dinner - great wines and great food. The bread was OK too.

Suzanne offered to let me use her kitchen. And so, I was back in the trenches. I hadn't done production baking in a good 7 or 8 years. I did some timings the two weekends before, which was a good thing(tm). It took two tries to get the timings down, and to work out how to work at lower altitudes- the last time I did this sort of thing, I was at 7,703 feet above sea level in Colorado. I was very disappointed in the first trial bake, not actively repulsed by the second trial bake, and pretty happy with the third bake for the dinner.

I had rented space in another kitchen many years ago, but we worked out the timing so when they were working, I wasn't there. Seeing what went on in a successful restaurant's kitchen was revelatory.

Put another way - WOWZA - did I learn a lot! I got there about 5:30 because my breads need long rises. Around 7:00, her crew showed up. Four women - the mew kid on the block has been there 11 years, which says a lot about the management of the restaurant, as well as the women. They are very nice women - I was underfoot all day, I tied up space they really needed, and they were still nice to me. And they are amazingly hard working women.

Shortly after they got there, I finished mixing the last of the breads. I made Gunnison River Bread, Pane Siciliano (which I need to add to the Sourdoughhome page), garlic head, and my three strand braided garden herb bread. The recipe for Gunnison River Bread - which is a stunningly good poolish based French style white bread - is in the "Mastering Flavorful Breads" AKA "Advanced Baking Techniques - Preferments" cookbook available from Mike's Bread Shoppe. The rest of the recipes should be available in the fairly near future.

Back to the ladies - it made me tired just watching them. For the next 7 hours, they never slowed down. They chopped potatoes for hash browns, they made batters for waffles and pancakes, they made egg washes for french toast, they made beer bread, they made chicken salad, they cleaned and cut up fresh fruit for fruit plates, they cooked several pigs worth of bacon. Cheerfully. And they cleaned up, like dervishes.

The morning started slow with a 6 top and an 8 top - families out for Saturday breakfast before hitting the Denton Community market. And then around 10 it hit the fan. The Chestnut Tree has about 60 seats and from 10 until 2, all of them were filled. And the work in the kitchen was relentless. What was being prepared changed as the day wore on. But food was flying out of the kitchen.

Once an hour, from 7 until about 11, I did a stretch and fold on the doughs and cursed the heat in the kitchen, following Harry Truman's advice, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!" It was hot enough in the kitchen that I ducked out of the kitchen every chance I got - the dough was rising and didn't need me, and I was more in the way than not. They never ducked out. They were too busy making omelets and French toast and waffles and pancakes and and and and.....

As a home cook, I'm happy when I don't burn the bread in the grilled cheese sandwich and the eggs are pretty much the way my wife and I like them. OK, now try doing that for 60 people. People who won't be as tolerant as your loving spouse. People who may well throw a hissy fit if it ain't just so. There were no hissy fits in the front of the house, because it was "just so". Every time. Without fuss. Without anger. Without Ramseyesque tantrums. Or even Irvineesque melodrama.

Around 11, I started loafing the breads. It took about an hour. After that, I grabbed an iced tea and sat in the shade of the building across the street, looking no doubt like a street person.

Around 2, the restaurant closed, and the ladies began cleaning. I began baking. The convection oven had it's share of surprises for me. The first batch of bread was done in 40 minutes. The second took but 20, and some of those were a bit burned. The third batch was also done in 20. It was quite odd. I've always heard that convection ovens cook more quickly than regular ovens, but the difference between the first and second batches was really strange.

Having watched the crew, my hat is truly off to restaurant workers everywhere! And especially to the ladies who let me use part of their kitchen, though they really needed the space I was tying up. I have a new found appreciation for that platter of eggs, toast and bacon - and the work behind it - that I used to take for granted.

Once the breads were on the cooling racks, I went home, showered, changed and rested. Then it was back to the Chestnut Tree to enjoy the dinner. After the Chestnut Tree closed at 2 and the cleaning was finished, Suzanne managed to prepare two different appetizers for 240 people, and dinner for about 40. Suzanne is the chef at the Chestnut Tree, and a lot of the credit for the training and long term retention of the staff goes to her, as well as the vision on the menu and the special events. The dinner was amazing.

Until next time, may your dough always rise, even if you're trying to bake in a commercial kitchen that is in production! Mike

May 5, 2013 - A question about rise - John, in Tokyo, asked a question, some time ago:

"This is about the rise of the dough, of the loaf...

"Everything works perfectly, the bread tastes incredible, but after finishing the dough, and letting it rise over night.... it simply never rises. Also during baking it does not rise. The finished product stays a little on the hard side, but it tastes the way a delicious sourdough bread should.

"I have checked many websites and found no helpful answer. It seems thé dough is too acidic, which prevents the yeast from doing what it is supposed to do. The only advice I found was the very remark, to change this by trial and error.

"But it did not says by trial and error OF WHAT!

"Can you help?"

If it isn't rising, I have to think it's not quite perfect. Failure to rise can come from many things in sourdough, so I'll talk about some of them.

An overly sour sourdough will have reduced yeast activity. Even though the yeasts in a sourdough culture are more tolerant of acidity than bakers yeast, they aren't immune to it. You want your sourdough starter to be fresh and lively and produce the sour flavor from a long rise in the dough, not to add flavor the way chocolate chips turn a sugar cookie into a chocolate chip cookie.

Some German bakers use a sourdough starter that has become so sour that the yeast has died. They add bakers yeast to get the rise they want. This works, and has been the cornerstone of German rye breads for about a century. However, I'm not a fan and a new generation of German bakers are coming around to the older way of doing things. Use fresh starter, get the sour from fermentation, not from adding acidic starter to the dough.

Next, in dry climates if you don't protect the dough, it will dry out and the dough will form a girdle on the outer layers. This dried layer will prevent rise and oven spring. I usually spray my loaves with olive oil and cover them with saran wrap. The olive oil protects the dough, and keeps the dough from sticking to the saran wrap. The saran wrap does the larger part of protecting the dough. In some parts of the world, this isn't very important. When I lived on the Gulf Coast of Texas, nothing ever dried out. EVER. However, in the high desert mountains of Colorado, dough formed a skin in about 5 minutes and I became very obsessive about protecting dough. The girdle of dry dough can stop the dough from rising.

Temperature can be an issue. If you use water that is too hot, it can kill the riser. If your rising area is too cool, the riser can be slowed tot he point where you think nothing is happening. Normally, I like a dough temperature around 78F. If you get much above 95 you run into troubles with off-tastes.

Until next time, may your dough always rise, no matter what you did to it this time!

Wednesday April, 17, 2013 - Like comedy, the secret of baking is ti


Sorry, that was as close as I could get to putting an old Robin Williams joke onto a web page. More seriously, we all have busy schedules. And fitting baking into our daily schedule isn't very easy. Lately, I've gotten a few emails about the matter, and I've put together a page on scheduling baking. If you're facing these issues, I hope the page will help you.

Friday April 12, 2013 - Oooooh, Smell That Smell! The Smell That's All Around You! What's That Smell?" Not too long ago a reader asked what a sourdough starter smells like. You know, it's odd - in over a decade of having this web site no one has asked me that question. Several more people asked the same question in the next two days. Is it a conspiracy? Or is it just a matter of coincidence? Things tend to go in cycles.

I replied that I talked about starter smell all over the place. Nope, I was told. Maybe hints. They were right. I haven't talked about what sourdough starter should, or does, smell like. So, I've corrected that oversight. A new page all about how a sourdough starter smells. Enjoy! And remember, smell that smell, the smell that's all around you.

Tuesday April 2, 2013 - Goodbye Baking Fun! Before you get the wrong idea, I still think baking is fun, and I hope you do to. However, for the past 10 years or so I've hosted and run a mailing list called "Bakingfun". It was a place for bakers to swap recipes and stories, and a friendly place. When I created the list, many baking forums were not nice places to be. Lots of egos, lots of anger. I wanted to create a friendly place to chat.

The list was successful, but has become unnecessary. Wonderful web sites like The Fresh Loaf have created online communities that are are friendly, supportive, and much easier to use than a mailing list. Sadly, a certain number of people never understand how a mailing list works. Often with amusing, or embarrassing, results.

I'd been keeping the list going because I had really good memories of the list, and I had hopes that it would revive. Still, over the past few years most of the posts have been spam that slipped past the security systems. I've never wanted to be a conduit for spam, so it was time to pull the plug. I'm sorry it's gone. I'll miss it. Heck, I already miss it!

March 16, 2013 - Happy St. Patrick's Day! - I've always thought it a cruel trick that St. Patrick's Day landed in the middle of Lent. A time of abstinence, interrupted by a holiday that has come to be associated with drunken debauchery. Ahhhh.... to be young again!

Our celebrations are a bit lower key these days. Beth, my darling wife, has some Irish roots. She, like many Americans, has many roots. Her family has celebrated for years with corned beef, cabbage. and Irish soda bread. Some point out that this is not, properly speaking, Irish. In earlier Irish days, fancy foods produced in Ireland were sent to England. (One of our free eBook cookbooks to the first person who tells me what this prompted satirist Jonathan Swift to propose.) So, few Irish families ever enjoyed a beef brisket until they came to the new land. Even though times were rough, many of the Irish found they could indulge in the occasional corned beef brisket.

Cabbage was, more likely, an Irish food. It's cheap and grows almost anywhere. Some have said the Irish have more of a love affair with cabbage than the potato. (As another aside, the section in "Botany of Desire" about potatoes is riveting!)

And that brings us to the bread. Many people have things called Irish soda bread that aren't. It's made with flour, baking soda, salt and buttermilk. It was the bread of poor people. Adding raisins to it was not an option. If you do add raisins to it, it's called a "spotted dog" or a "railway cake". If you add eggs, baking powder, sugar, shortening and other odds and ends, it's not longer a bread. It's a cake. And not what poor people would eat.

The Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread has lots of good information about soda bread, its history and some good recipes. And, even when made with simple ingredients, it is a very decent bread.

As an aside, Andrew Whitely points out in "Bread Matters" that sourdough seems to reduce the incidence of celiac disease. And that a good indicator if this is true would be to check the incidence of celiac in countries where quick breads are more common than yeasted or sourdough risen ones. From what he says, the incidence of celiac is higher in Ireland where quick breads like this are more common. I hope you won't let that little bit of information keep you from enjoying an annual Irish Soda Bread. If you aren't afflicted with celiac, it isn't likely to kill you!

That said, here's a recipe a friend gave me a long time ago, which is the same as the one at the Society's web page.

White Soda Bread


  • 4 cups (16 oz) of all purpose flour (or cake flour, or a mix of the two)
  • 1 Tsp baking soda
  • 1 Tsp salt
  • 14 oz of buttermilk


  • Preheat the oven to 425F(220C). Lightly grease and flour a cake pan.
  • In a large bowl sift together all the dry ingredients.
  • Add the buttermilk to form a sticky dough. Place on floured surface and lightly knead for about a minute. Too much kneading lets the gas escape.
  • Shape into a round flat shape in a round cake pan and cut a cross in the top of the dough.
  • Cover the pan with another pan and bake for 30 minutes (this simulates the bastible pot). Remove cover and bake for an additional 15 minutes.
  • The bottom of the bread will have a hollow sound when tapped so show it is done.
  • Cover the bread in a tea towel and lightly sprinkle water on the cloth to keep the bread moist.

Don't have buttermilk? You can mix milk with a tablespoon or two of vinegar or citrus juice.

I hope you enjoy this simple Irish soda bread as much as we do!

Don't know how to cook a corned beef and cabbage? Here you go - open the package of corned beef. Drop it in a crock pot. Add the spice packet. Cover with water. Cook with the crockpot for about 4 hours. After about 3 hours, take any wilted outer leaves off the outside of a cabbage. Quarter it, remove the core of the cabbage. Drop the quarters into the crockpot and cook for another hour or so.

Not very complicated, but very good. Serving the corned beef with horseradish is very common.

Until next time, may your dough always rise, and may you be in heaven for two weeks before the devil knows you're dead! -Mike

February 11, 2013 - Rambling, tales from a class, and some GREAT questions from the mailbag! - It was an interesting weekend. We had a GREAT Introduction To Sourdough class on Saturday. We had five students, which is a great size for a class. We made our usual breads and some really awesome pizzas. And we had fun.

One of the students, Sherry, flew back to Louisiana with her rising breads and sourdough starter. She missed her plane (sorry Sherry!) and had to spend the night in Dallas. The hotel refrigerated her rising breads. Between here and there, she kneaded the doughs 3 or 4 times. When she got home, she loafed them, let them rise again and baked them. The 100% whole wheat didn't rise as much as the others, but they came out well. I was amazed at her resourcefulness, at her getting the funny looking stuff on the plane, and how well the doughs behaved. The whole wheat is a little fragile, and I was amazed it did as well as it did!

On Sunday we got together with my parents for lunch. If you live in the Dallas area, Villa's Open Fire Grill, a Brazilian style steak house in Irving, is definitely worth a visit. It's a BYOB place, and it is very affordable - about $17 a head for lunch. We got home in time to hear a favorite podcast.

Last week, I got a number of interesting questions. I'll address two people's questions.

One person asked, "30 grams? Is that enough? It never rose!"

Yeah, that was the question. The whole question. Feeling somewhat snarky, I told the person that I'd left my crystal ball at work, and that my dog had eaten the puck from my Ouija board. So, could he tell me what recipe he was talking about, how he'd treated his starter, and if he'd taken any liberties with the recipe.

He was making bagels and he'd taken his starter out of the refrigerator, fed it once, and used it 12 hours later. It was "bubbling a bit". I looked at the my page for the sourdough bagels. I hate it when I make a mistake on the sourdoughhome page. However, I am always delighted when someone points out the problems, because that means I can fix the problems. The problem this time? Among other things, I hadn't included, or stressed, the word "active" in describing the sourdough starter.

I've added that word and link to the page. Sourdough is an active process. You don't make sourdough by "adding" sourdough. You make sourdough by adding an active culture to bread and letting it ferment to create the flavors we want, and to raise the bread.

Sadly, a starter that was 12 hours out of the fridge just isn't up to the task. Ask a marathon runner what they do to get ready for a race. Do they just get up, put on their running shorts, a shirt and shoes and then hit the course? Nah, they warm up, they have a preparatory meal, they stretch and they get ready.

For sourdough starter in the fridge, it takes several days of feedings to get the starter to be really active. Twelve hours out of the fridge, the starter couldn't raise regular bread, much less bagels. We talk about that on the "Reviving a Starter" page, which is a part of the "Sourdough Starter Primer", which I highly recommend to sourdough beginners (yes, I was tempted type sourdough starters, but I didn't.)

Much less bagels? Yeah. Bagels are two breads where I tell experienced bakers, "everything you know is wrong". The other is rye bread, but that's a topic for another day.

Bagels are a very, very thick dough. Most breads are 65 to 85% water, as a baker's percentage. Bagels are closer to 50%. Bagels are thicker than window glazing compound. How thick is bagel dough? Hobart makes industrial mixers. Their mixers are the flagships and battleships of the industry (though some prefer other types of mixers). They are so sturdy a baker could well bequeath a mixer to their children. A 30 year old Hobart is not uncommon.

Unless you make bagels. In that case, the mixer will be dead in 12 to 18 months. Hobart makes special heavy duty mixers for bagel bakeries.

The riser in a bagel, be it yeast or sourdough, has its work cut out for it. It has to lift concrete. The sourdough just has to be active. Another potential hurdle is if the dough dries out. With long rises, and refrigeration, the dough needs to be protected from drying out.

The next thing we need to understand is the kind of bagels I am trying to have you make. Many people think they know what bagels are. You get them at Einstein Brothers. You get them from Sara Lee in the grocery store. Nah. Those are donut shaped pieces of bread. A real New York style bagel is a dense, chewy and flavorful piece of bread. You have to work at eating it. It's hard to find classic New York style bagels even in New York these days. Many New Yorkers have never had one in their entire lives. I talk about the history of New York style bagels and their virtual demise in the bagel page. When fresh, the crust should be crisp, the crumb finely structured. If you drop a bagel, you move your foot pretty fast to make sure you don't hurt yourself.

An ongoing issue with sourdough is that I don't know how active your starter is. So instead of being able to tell you how long to let something rise, I have to tell you what to look for, and how to change your results.

After we mix the dough, we let it rest for a few hours and then scale the dough and form the bagels. Then we let the dough rest at room temperature for a while. The dough is so thick, it may not - and probably won't - appreciably rise. This gives the sourdough starter time to multiply and rise. This time is called "floor time", when the dough is on a rack that is on the bakery floor.

After the floor time, the bagels are put in a cool area. In the bakery, we kept our walk-in cooler at 55F or so. This is considerably warmer than a home refrigerator, and it is too warm to preserve food. However, we're not preserving food, we're producing it. The bagels get a long slow rise, called retarding, until you are close to being ready to bake.

Next, you bring a pot of water to a boil, put some malt extract in the water, and then boil the bagels for a minute per side. If the bagels float at once, you let them rise too long. Next time, give them less floor time, or reduce the temperature of the retarder.

The bagel should float in about 15 seconds. You may want to nudge the bagels to make sure they aren't stuck to the bottom of the pot. They do that. If your bagels aren't quite ready, it could take a minute for the bagels to float. If the bagels really aren't ready, they may not float, and you should let them rise a bit longer at room temperature. You don't want to let the bagels boil much more than 3 or 4 total minutes. If they boil too long, they get ugly and get a rubbery consistency when baked. Don't ask how I know this.

And now, we get to a discussion of the control points.

We need a balance between the quantity of riser, the temperature, the floor time, and the retarding time. So, if your bagels don't float, what do you do?

There is the question of now, and the question of next time. Now, you turn off the water. You let the bagels rise at room temperature for an hour or so. And then heat up the water and you try to boil them again. if they don't float, let the rest of the bagels rise some longer. Sooner or later, they'll rise.

Most of the corrections we'll talk about are to make the next batch of bagels better. I'd use more riser only as a last resort. If the bagels don't float, give them another hour of floor time. You might track the temperature of your floor time so you won't be too surprised when the seasons change and so do your bagels - there is a relationship between time, temperature and rise.

You can also raise the temperature of your cooler. If you get, or are, serious about baking, I'd suggest getting a used upright freezer through Craigslist or your local ad paper and an external thermostat. Many brewing supply houses have the external thermostats. That would let you set the temperature at 55F or so, without having your egg, your milk, and your meat spoil in the fridge. Why a used upright freezer? The space in a chest freezer is hard to use - the shelves in an upright are great! And, a refrigerator, for our purposes, wastes space with the freezer section. Finally, since we're only going to 55 or so and we won't be using it to preserve food or running it all the time, a used one is almost certainly good enough.

If you can't raise the temperature of your refrigerator, you could extend the retarding period. Even though it's cold, the yeast and bacteria are doing their thing. Or, you could extend the time period between the refrigerator and the boil. Take notes so you can fine tune your process and reproduce your successes.

The moral of the bagel story... The real point here? There are many ways to achieve your baking goals. Depending on a recipe to get you where you want to go the first time isn't a really great strategy for success. Learning the craft and learning how to tailor the process for your kitchen, for your ingredients, and for your taste is the path to longer term success.

Kirk, who bought our Introduction to Sourdough cookbook (which is., we like to think, the next best thing to taking one of our classes). And Kirk has some interesting questions. As Rosanne Rosanna Dana used to say on "Saturday Night Live", "You ask a lot of questions for someone from New Jersey!" Still, they are such good questions, they are worth answering.

"1. To make dough, Beranbaum (The Bread Bible bottom page 447) and Reinhart (Bred Baker's Apprentice bottom page 233) instruct beginning flour in the mixing bowel and then adding water. Intro to SDB recommends the opposite: water in bowel first, then adding flour. Like you, my wife also adds flour to water."

I can tell you why they do what they do, and why I do what I do. If you add the water to the flour, you control the hydration without adding more flour. Adding more flour would change the bakers ratios so that the amount of riser, salt and whatnot (whatnot is VERY important) would be off. This is especially important if you are using volumetric measurement (cups). Cups of water are accurate and consistent. Cups of flour are not.

I weigh all my ingredients on a digital scale. The starter goes in first. If I put too much in, I dip it out. I zero the scales and add the water. If I go over, I dip the water out. By being careful, I don't take out much, if any, starter, as I remove excess water. Next I zero, or tare, the scales and put the flour on top. It floats. If I put too much in, I scoop it off the top. I again zero the scales. I make a little well in the flour and pour the salt into it. If I go over, I can scoop it out, which I can do because it is in the well.

When I put the mixing bowl on the mixer, the mixer won't splash liquids - the flour keeps that from happening. It just works fast and easy for me. As to adjusting the amounts of flour and liquid - when you have a stable recipe, you rarely need to adjust very much. Also, it is hard to add water to a running mixer. You all too often wind up with an unexpected shower.

All that said, does it make a real difference in the quality of the bread? No, not really. Whatever works for you.

"1a I ask, because I have had difficulty incorporating all the flour called for (870 gm not including the starter) into 450 gm water in your recipe. Usually the dough is 50-125gm short on flour- in spite of (according to the recipe) 10 - 50 gm xs water. (I use a good baker's scale.)"

I'm about to admit to being the village atheist here. I am not a big fan of the KitchenAid mixers. I have one, and I've used it for years. However, despite what they say, it isn't all that good for making bread. It has a very limited batch size, if you use whole grains, you have to cut that in half, and you can only do two batches in a row. But, all hope is not lost. I'd be curious about the hydration of the starter, and I'd suggest starting with the mixing paddle, getting the ingredients mixed, and the switching to the dough hook. A better option? Mark, one of our regular students reports that since the "Mastering Flavorful Breads" class, he hasn't used his mixer. He either kneads by hand or uses the stretch and fold technique. I find kneading by hand takes no longer than using a mixer. The only time I use a mixer is when I need to do things while the dough is mixing, like the night before a class. Of if I'm making bagels. (BTW - be very careful with a KitchenAid and bagels. Really!)

"2. Is the sour flavor enhanced most during primary fermentation or proofing?"

I don't think it matters. Total fermentation time is the issue. If your bread rises too fast, knead it again, and let it rise some more. You don't want the dough to collapse. Some folks disagree saying that the primary, or bulk, fermentation is where the flavor develops.

"3. Any suggestions on flour selection or dough preparation to improve the structure and keep it from collapsing during primary fermentation, proofing, and shaping a loaf?"

This isn't like selecting the steel reinforcements to build a high rise or a bridge. I find almost any all-purpose flour works fine. I find all-purpose flour gives a better flavor than most bread flours, except for bagels where you need more protein.

If your dough is collapsing in the first rise, you let it rise too long. This really damages the structure of the dough. Most bakers I know suggest throwing the dough away when this happens. Some say you can knead it, cut it into chunks, freeze the chunks, and use them as "old dough" in later batches of bread. After thawing them, of course. I wouldn't use more than 10 to 15% of this as old dough.

Another issue is dough development. You want the dough to be developed enough to pass a windowpane test.

Again, if it collapses during proofing or after after loafing, you let it rise too long. Don't do that.

We talk about how to tell when dough is ready to bake in the "Basic Yeasted White Bread" recipe in the "An Introduction to Baking" class. One way to check is to gently poke the loaf with your finger. Not too deep, maybe the depth from your fingernail to your fingerprint. If it collapses, don't test the rest of the loaves, just bake them - and don't slash them either. If the indention remains, they are ready to bake, slashing is a possibility. If the dough springs back, let it rise a bit longer.

Other people, afraid the dough will collapse if they poke it, will lay their hand atop the dough and feel the tension of the dough. This requires practice to know what you are feeling for, and it is hard to describe how things feel. So, try poking and then resting your hand atop the dough. This really is gentler.

After you get experience, you can tell when a bread is ready by looking at it as well as time and temperature and you might determine that, "This bread always rises in 6 hours at 78F." However, this really is a "trust but verify" scenario.

Another training aid is to put a quarter cup of dough into a 1 cup Pyrex measuring cup. You can see by looking at the gradations on the cup how far the dough has risen. And that will help you see what the dough looks like when it has risen to twice it's size, and when its gone as far as it's going to go.

Sorry that this is a bit long, but until next time, may your dough always rise, and may may your bagels be bullet proof! -Mike

February 2, 2013 - thoughts about starting a new starter, sourdough and gluten, and the mailbag - sadly, my starter is not behaving as well as it usually does. I am at a point where I need to start a new starter. It always bothers me when this happens. To me, it means I haven't taken good enough care of my starter. I mean, how would your pets, or children, do if you only fed them or paid them any attention when you felt like it? And stored them in the refrigerator in the interim? It isn't really good for pets, children or starters. However, it is about the only way we have to keep a starter going in this day where we no longer bake daily, or even fairly often.

Starters are happier when they are used and fed constantly. Happy might be a bit anthropomorphic, but by happy I mean that the starter behaves well rises dough well and gives the dough a good flavor.

On the other hand, a number of classically trained bakers feel if you refrigerate a starter, you ruin it. Period. And one classically trained baker, by which I mean French, feeds his starter hand ground flour every six hours. I wonder when he sleeps. He also starts a new starter every 4 to 6 months. Even though he never freezes it. He is looking for a specific flavor profile and feels he can't get it with an older starter. When someone tells you that you have to do this or have to do that with sourdough, chances are good with a bit of research you can find someone else who breaks those rules with good results and follows them with poor results. So.... take notes, be mindful of your results, and then change your procedures until you are making the bread you want to make. In the end, making the bread you want to make is the only real test of the validity of your processes and procedures.

How can you tell when a starter isn't working well? Well, if it isn't rising, or if it smells bad, those are big clues. I usually find a healthy starter will double in size between feedings (assuming your starter is at 100% or lower hydration - thin starters don't have the physical strength to rise much - they just get foamy), and then should smell fresh and good.

As starters smell more like acetone (cheap fingernail polish) I find they degrade the gluten in the dough too much. Too much, you ask? Yeah. Sourdough degrades gluten and acts as a dough conditioner.

A number of Italian scientists have been doing some very interesting work with sourdough. They find that sourdough makes gluten free breads taste better and have better texture. These breads also seem to speed the healing of the damage to the intestines that celiacs suffer. Further, some sourdough wheat breads do not seem to cause problems to people with celiac disease. The papers are very vague as to how the breads were made.

Were I a celiac, the papers would lead me to seek out gluten free sourdough breads on the theory that it shouldn't do any harm. As to sourdough wheat breads, if I were a doctor these papers wouldn't change how I treat celiac patients, and if I suffered from celiac, they wouldn't change my diet - the papers are just too far from being ready for prime time. However, I would keep an eye on the papers until they got to a point where they are actionable.

As I've said before, and will say again, my own feeling is that people have eaten bread for thousands of years with no ill effect. Problems have cropped up as we diverged more and more from classic bread making methods. It's not bread that's bad, it's what we've done to it.

On the bright side, the funky starter gives me a chance to revisit Professor Calvel's way of starting a sourdough starter. I noticed the pictures aren't very good. So, I've started the starter as of 8:00 this morning.

And now... to the mailbag!

Hanns Ishida writes:

"I've been trying to make a sour dough starter now for the past month and gone through over 4kg of flower. I live in the Cebu, Philippines where it is hard to find some ingredients. They do have all purpose white flower but I haven't found whole wheat. I always make it to the 1st or 2nd feeding, on the 2nd feeding it does double in size. Then on the 3rd, everything stops. I've read your pages over and over again. I've tried plastic containers, glass containers, cheese cloth, plastic..... I'm getting so frustrated but I'm not going to give up. So if you get my email, I need some tips or suggestions."
It can be hard to start a sourdough starter with older flour, or white flour. The critter counts are pretty low. The intial burst of life is probably the wrong bacteria starting up. That it dies down is a good sign. Still, to put things in perspective, a number of very experienced sourdough bakers have told me they have never been able to start a starter using white flour. It takes time and patience. It might be easier to order whole wheat flour from the US. Or, if you have friends who live on or work on an American military base, you might ask them if they can get you some whole grain flour.

Failing that, I can only suggest patience. If it stops, I'd skip a feeding or two. The idea here is that if you feed it you are diluting the critters in the starter, perhaps keeping them below a critical level. Not feeding the starter gives them time to multiply and take over the starter. Once the starter takes off, then return to a more normal feeding schedule.

Phillip found a recipe very similar to the Panama Bread recipe I use to demonstrate the stretch and fold technique. He noted that my recipe uses about twice the flour and wonders,"what's up with that?"

I really don't know since I didn't write the other recipe. However, flour is different in different parts of the world. My mother had to relearn how to bake when she came to the United States from Germany. And the Bread Baker's of America team has to practice with French flours for a while before Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie. French flours handle differently than American ones.

Other differences - are the authors of the other recipe going for the same style of bread that I am? How comfortable are they with very wet doughs? My only suggestion any time such a question comes up is, try it. And then please tell me the results.

David asked about a certain companies Sourdough English Muffins, wondering if they are really sourdough.

Sadly, I can't comment on a specific company and product because I'd like to not lose my house and retirement. However, most companies who are using sourdough are proud of the fact and will mention sourdough starter in the ingredient list. Also, if the company adds acetic acid or lactic acid to the product, chances are good they aren't using sourdough.

That said, bakers argue about how to list sourdough in the ingredients. It is basically flour and water. So adding "sourdough culture (flour, water)" to the ingredient list would tend to confuse people.

When in doubt, write the company and ask. And if they say they don't use a sourdough culture, write back and ask how calling the product sourdough without using a sourdough culture isn't misrepresentation of the product.

Sheila asked,

"Where does one purchase 7 grain, 5 grain or other multi-grain cereals? Is there a particular brand that is better? I assume these 7 grain cereals are cereals that are cooked and not crunchy from the box."
She must have been reading the 7 grain bread recipe. I find the cereals at grocery stores and health food stores in the cereal aisle. After her question, I added some more text about cereal, saying, "I've used both Arrowhead Mills and Bob's Red Mill cereals with good results. While the recipe calls for 7 grain cereal, I've used 5 and 10 grain cereals as well. You want a cereal that is intended to be cooked, that features whole grains, and that you like." Or, try different cereals and see what works for you. Different brands of 7 grain cereal will be different.

Susan is having trouble finding the instructions on how to knead she'd seen on our web site the day before she sent the email to us. Typing the word "knead" into the search bar at the top of the screen turned up this page as the first hit. There's also a pretty good pictorial in the "Basic Yeasted White Bread" page in the "An Introduction to Baking" tutorial.

Bob asked,

"I had a friend bring me a starter from her home location in Alaska. Also a book called Alaskan Sourdough Cooking. You might have read or seen it.

"Any way the starter after a couple days and stirring few times a day when I put it in the refrigerator has a lot of Hooch I guess is the right terminology. Do I remove or just stir it in. Very thin starter also it seems but smells and tastes OK. It said I can use right away. Have no idea on that one. Unless it has been proven and I do not have to continue to feed it for some time.

"Next it says never use a metal object to sir a starter. it seems some where I have read that but not sure if it was in any of your information."

I'm never happy when people ask me questions based on instructions on other web sites. It's not that they don't have valid approaches, it's just that it's not MY approach to sourdough, and I really can't answer questions about someone else's approach to sourdough. Still, I hate to be unhelpful, so here we go....

I prefer a thicker starter, I discuss how to feed starter here. The metal thing is just an old husband's tale. I talk about a lot of them, in the Sourdough Myths and Folklore page. Enjoy!

Sally Coot asked about how to protect their rising dough. A search for "processing cap" or "protect dough" at the web page would explain that. It was in the February 14th entry.

Tim asked about what white whole wheat flour is.

The term is, at first glance, confusing.

Since we started cultivating wheat from early grains, we've been changing it and making it more what we wanted. Conventional wheat has a reddish color due to pigments in its our layer. The outer layer has a certain amount of bitterness that some people object to.

White whole wheat flour is made from a newer strain of wheat, one with less of a colored outer layer. It has a milder taste than conventional red wheat, so many people (children of all ages) find it's flavor profile more pleasant. Bread made with white whole wheat is lighter in color than bread made with red whole wheat. Using it is a way to get children (of all ages) to eat a whole grain bread. (Note, Dr. Weil, among others, does not think the term "whole grain" should be applied to a product that uses ground grains, the metabolism of ground grains is different from unground, or minimally ground, grains. That's nice.)

From what I read, about 90% of the wheat in Australia is white wheat. And the amount in the USA is growing. It is not a gmo product, it is the product of regular agricultural selection. However, from the point of view of a baker, white wheat is a bit harder to work with and produces a blander and more insipid bread. The nutritional profile is a mixed bag. More of some things, less of others. All in all, I don't use or recommend the stuff.

While that doesn't bring us to the end of the mail bag, that takes me as far as I want to go this time. When I started, there were over 170 emails waiting for me to do something with them. Now there are just 133. Some got personal replies. Some were just ignored. Your email may still receive an answer!

Until next time, may your dough always rise, and may you always take a tip from me and avoid white whole wheat!

January 27, 2013 - Odds, ends and a mailbag dump - Yesterday I went to a WordPress meetup and was recharged! I've updated The New Burgundians page with a piece I am calling, "At the corner of ennui and apathy". I hope you enjoy it.

And that brings us to the bulging mailbag.... Al comments:

"I'm making your carrot, pineapple, walnut, sourdough muffin with raising problems and wondering if my sourdough strength may be the reason its not raising(it doesn't always have a high crown).I've also found that if I use one of those Teflon rubber type pans that it raises better(almost perfect)"

The pan can make a difference. Spraying a pan with a releasing spray that contains flour, like Baker's Joy, Baker's Secret, some of the PAM sprays, or even oil and a dusting of flour, help baked goods rise. Also, the muffins really don't rise a lot. Remember to use an older, rather than a fresh, starter, and you should be OK. The test is in the eating. Muffins should be somewhat risen, dense, moist and flavorful.

Elaine asks:

"I was reading your page on Desem Bread. You made some really good comments about your experience with it, but in the end, you didn't say how the bread turned out, or what it tasted like.

I'm looking to use a natural starter, but any sourdough I've ever tried is too sour, and I don't like the sour taste. Any info./advice on this would be greatly appreciated."

I hate to admit it, but I'm not a big fan of desem bread. It was relatively flavorless. I've had a few from bakeries that I respect, and theirs was as unimpressive as mine. I guess I should have tried to find some the last time I was in Europe.

Of greater interest is how to handle starters and sour. To some extent the starter builds the sour, but the flour and how it is handled are also important. If you search for "sour" at the web site you'll find a whole page on nothing but sour!

Until next time, may your dough always rise, and while you wait for it to rise, check out The New Burgundians page!

Friday January 4, 2013 - The Swirly Rye Chronicles - Beth, my wife and best friend, really likes Swirly Rye bread. You know, the bread where a light and a dark rye bread are formed into a single loaf. Pepperidge Farms makes a loaf like that. However, it's not sourdough. And it is a mass-market bread. Even though Pepperidge Farms is a decent mass-market bread, I'd rather eat bread I, or a local baker, made. And, really, I knew I could do better.

Many loaves of bread and many hours of editing a web site later, we're there! You can see the results at the Swirly Rye page. I hope you enjoy it! If you do, thank Beth. As is so often the case, she was my inspiration.