Why is everyone suddenly baking bread? I think I know

When I started seeing all of the posts on social media (and here on Boing Boing) about "pandemic baking," it made instant and perfect sense to me. But then, I started seeing people asking "why?" on Facebook and Twitter. My first thought was "this is clearly a question from non-bakers." If you've baked bread with any regularity, I bet you know why.

The next thing I thought of was this piece I wrote for my 2014 book, Borg Like Me. In it, I talk about my time as a baker, living in a commune in my youth, and another apocalyptic event, a massive snow-in in 2010, that left me trapped alone in my house with dwindling food stocks.

So, I decided to share this story here. TL;DR: Bake some bread. It's hands-on, can be grounding, therapeutic, and fresh-baked bread is one of life's great simple pleasures (for those of us who partake).

Bread of the Snowpocalypse

I’ve always been attracted to the ancient roots, the homely honesty, of bread. When I first moved to Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, VA as a teenager, I lived in a satellite group, called Tupelo. The first Tupelo dwelling was in an old ramshackled farm house that adjoined the main Twin Oaks property. For the farmhouse, we purchased a gorgeous antique cast iron wood-burning stove that I'd lobbied obnoxiously hard for us to get. I really wanted it to be our sole stove, but less ridiculous heads prevailed (I was 17 and full of hippie revolution fervor). Read the rest

Pandemic sourdough: baking this loaf of bread made me so happy

Read the first post in our series on making your own sourdough starter and bread.

The third loaf of bread with my new-to-the-pandemic sourdough starter was a pleasure to bake.

Putting this loaf of bread together for its bulk rise was done in a pleasant couple minutes pause while preparing dinner for my parents. I have been pretty aggressively on my One Meal A Day diet and enjoying 20-24 hour fasts during the pandemic and thus tend to prepare dinner for the family most nights.

I decided to bake an all King Arthur bread flour loaf of bread this time, but I continued to go with 2 cup sized loaves instead of 4. The starter is behaving like it is on something like a 4-6 hour cycle, so I fed it around 1:30 pm and mixed up the dough around 6:30 pm.

I time it like this so that a) the yeast should be in a place where there are many fresh, new and hungry cells banging about the starter and b) the 12-ish hour bulk rise I give my bread will not need me to wake up earlier than usual. If the dough looks like it needs more time, I give it more time. 18+ hours were not unusual in my old home. I would forget to change the thermostat and at night my kitchen would get too cold. Here I put the rising dough on the closed lid of an indoor bbq, with a potholder as insulation.

The dough was sticky and needed a bit of flour to let me work it. Read the rest

Pandemic sourdough baking: my second loaf and some more pretzels

Click here to see the first post in this series on baking sourdough started from nothing but flour and water

After starting a new sourdough starter not long after sheltering-in-place at my parent's place about 12 days ago, I have baked my second loaf of bread!

I've been baking with sourdough for well over a decade. My aged OG sourdough starter is currently in hibernation, however, at my brother's house in Northern California while I am in Southern California. I wanted to bake, but did not have a starter. I decided to make one.

View this post on Instagram

10 seconds of steam coming out of a fresh loaf of #sourdough from my 12 day old #sourdoughstarter #boingboing

A post shared by Jason Weisberger (@jlw) on Mar 28, 2020 at 9:58am PDT

The first loaf I tried with the starter showed that it was almost but not quite mature enough for me really enjoy what I was baking. It reminded me of a prior experience baking with my OG starter when it had not been treated well. Care of a starter is pretty easy, just feed it every day.

I gave the starter another 5 days or so of daily feedings.

I made some more sourdough pretzels while I waited.

Last night I put up a smaller sized loaf of bread. I want to conserve flour as it has been the only thing I've had a hard time finding. Hell, I am using some aged whole wheat...

I combined 1 ¼ cup of bread flour and ¾ cup of 2015 expired Gold Medal whole wheat in the big blue bowl. Read the rest

Pandemic sourdough: the first loaf with my new starter

Click here to see the first post in this series on baking sourdough started from nothing but flour and water

Yesterday I fed my sourdough starter a bit later in the morning that I have been with the intent of putting up my first loaf of bread later in the afternoon.

The go-to loaf of bread that I like to bake is based very closely on the Breadtopia no-knead sourdough recipe. Yes, they based theirs on the NY Times.

When I sensed my starter was at the right stage in the yeast feeding cycle for me to most effectively kick off a loaf of bread, I did.

I measured ¼ cup of starter and mixed it into 1 cup of warm water and let it sit.

Deep in the back of my mother's refrigerator are 3 bags of whole wheat. About 2lbs of King Arthur that expired in 2017, about 2 lbs of 365 Organic that expired in 2019, and about 4lbs of Gold Medal that I bought last summer and is good for a year or so. I took the 2017 and measured out 2 cups into my favorite big blue bowl.

I had a bag of King Arthur Bread Flour at my new home, which is several miles away from my parents' home, where I grew up and am currently staying with them, as they are in their mid-70s. I ventured out to get this bag of flour, as I was freaking out with it less than a 5k road race away for some reason. Read the rest

Pandemic sourdough waffles

UPDATE: Jason baked some bread!

Do you like waffles?

I am waiting for the sourdough starter, that I mixed up from flour and water last Monday, to be ready for bread baking. At the same time I am loath to waste ½ a cup or so of perfectly good starter at each feeding. Today I used the discard to make waffles for my parents.

My very simple sourdough waffle or pancake batter recipe is as follows:

Simple Sourdough Waffle and Pancake Batter

Ingredients:

½ cup unfed starter ½ cup flour ½ cup milk 1 egg ¼ cup oil or butter 1 ½ tsp baking soda 1 Tbs brown sugar a splash of Grand Marnier

Mix the starter, flour, and milk in a large bowl. You can let them sit overnight if you want to be fancy. You may also use the sort of milk known as buttermilk for the milk addition and have buttermilk sourdough waffles.

Add the egg, oil, baking soda, and brown sugar. If you like, and I certainly do, I recommend adding a splash of Grand Marnier liquor to the batter.

The EtOH cooks out and you get a very nice, sweeter than savory flavor. This is important to note as I do not suggest adding the liquor if you are making the waffles to accompany fried chicken! When made with buttermilk and all the overnight rests these are the most awesome waffles for Fried Chicken and Waffles. Sometimes I top them with eggs benedict, hollandaise and a chili pepper-infused maple syrup.

Read the rest

Baking through the pandemic: Sourdough soft pretzels

UPDATE: Click here for Day 4's fry bread

UPDATE: Click here for Day 5's waffles!

A few days ago I started a sourdough starter because baking chills me out and provides stuff to eat.

I took a look at the old French Press carafe I am using as a container a few hours after the 3rd time I fed said starter. The starter looked like it was READY TO GO but I figured I should probably feed it a few more times just to be sure. I did not, however, want to discard any of the starter, and as the off-gassing of the yeast was dangerously inflating towards the top of said carafe... I baked some pretzels.

I use the same recipe and technique I do for commercially yeasted pretzels, simply replacing the 'one packet of active dry yeast' with ½ cup of sourdough starter AND reducing the flour and water additions by about ¼ cup each. I figure my starter is about 50/50 but maybe a little wet.

I also used 1 cup of 'very old' whole wheat flour that my mother had in the back of the fridge. I replaced 1 cup of AP or bread flour with the WW and added a bit of water. Whole Wheat needs more h2o than white.

I mix the starter, water, and brown sugar in a measuring cup and let them sit for 10-15 minutes before I combine with the other dry ingredients.

Everything worked out just fine. I prefer the pretzels without the whole wheat but I was afraid I was wasting flour on a too young starter so all in all... Read the rest

Baking through the pandemic: Sourdough starter day 2

UPDATE: Click here for Day 3's status (I baked pretzels!)

UPDATE: Click here for Day 4's fry bread

UPDATE: Click here for Day 5's waffles!

Day 2 and my starter is looking really good!

After 24 hrs of sitting the ½ cup of water and ½ cup of Signature Select pre-sifted All-Purpose enriched and bleached flour looked like a blob of wet flour. I added another ½ cup of each, mixed it up and set it back on the counter.

24 hours later the blob had fluffed up quite a bit and doubled in size. I had not expected to see this much activity fast -- but I have baked a lot in this kitchen over the last 6 or 7 months or maybe the air here is packed with good yeasts.

I added another ½ cup of warm water and a ½ cup of flour. Tomorrow I will probably use 1 cup of the starter for something non-risky like pretzels and continue to feed the mother.

UPDATE:

About 2.5 hrs after I fed the starter it looks pretty great. I will make pretzels later:

Previously:

Day One Sourdough Starter Read the rest

Make a sourdough starter to bake bread during the pandemic

UPDATE: The first load of bread has been baked!

UPDATE: Click here Day 2's status

UPDATE: Click here for Day 3's status (I baked pretzels!)

UPDATE: Click here for Day 4's fry bread

UPDATE: Click here for Day 5's waffles!

Due to the pandemic bread was in short supply at my local market. I bought a bag of flour. Rather than using active yeast, however, I am starting a new sourdough starter. It is quite easy and takes some time, which I certainly have. Read the rest

Holiday Baking Inspo: Corgi Butt Bread

I love Corgis so much. This Japan-based bakery's corgi butt bread is something that I can really get behind. Read the rest

Creeptastic eye pies

"Look into my pies"

Baker Lorraine Elliott has just the thing to bake this Halloween: creepy, vanilla-scented rhubarb "eye pies." A conversation with her friend Nina inspired them:

"I'm so hungry I'm going to eat someone's face off!" she said with madness in her eyes, while kneeling dangerously close to my face.

"How long have you been on this diet?" I asked.

"A day," she said solemnly.

...I offered her a rhubarb tart but alas that wasn't high protein enough. Moral of the story: eat pies even ones with eyes or you could possibly want to eat someone's face off.

Go to her blog, Not Quite Nigella, for the recipe.

(Nag on the Lake)

photo by Not Quite Nigella Read the rest

Honey whole wheat sourdough pizza dough

Last night I made honey whole wheat sourdough pizza crust. It was quite good.

As a kid, there was a pizza place in my hometown that made a deep-dish pizza with a whole wheat crust. It was great, I tried and I couldn't replicate it. Then I substituted honey instead of sugar.

This simple crust is good.

Honey Whole Wheat Sourdough Pizza Dough

1 cup bread flour 1 cup whole wheat flour ½ cup sourdough starter 1 ½ tsp salt 3 tbs honey 1 ½ tbs olive oil ½ cup water

First: Mix ½ cup water, ½ cup starter, oil and the honey. Let sit while you measure out the dry goods and combine them all. Depending on your flour, and your starter, you may need to add a little flour to the mix to get a good consistency. Stop when it feels like the dough that you want to roll out.

Second: Leave it alone, probably covered, for 45-60 minutes. Refrigerate to store or use right away.

Bake at 475F or higher for 20 min, deep-dish. Probably the same for thin crust.

I have been using this dough for the crust of my deep-dish pizza, but you can easily roll it out for super-thin, Neapolitan stuff too.

Unless you do roll it super thin, I doubt this crust is going to get super cracker crisp, as it is sourdough and will retain more chew the longer you let it rise. Read the rest

Beware Noel Fielding's dizzying shirt on this week's episode of The Great British Bake Off

The Great British Baking Show host Noel Fielding always wears wild shirts, but outdid himself on the "Dairy Week" episode of season 10. At least as transmitted on video, the wavy lines seem to shift like a lenticular print. You can get a brief glimpse in this clip from the beginning of the episode (along with a Nine Inch Nails baking pun), and watch the full episode on Netflix:

Please comment below if you're able to track the shirt down online.

UPDATE: Thanks to FlowOfElectrons, here's the shirt. Read the rest

My old Lodge chicken roasting pan bakes sourdough loaves, pizza and fries chicken

I gave my mother my treasured 5-quart Lodge deep skillet and lid when I found a lovely antique to restore. I've been using it while visiting with them.

It was no easy thing when I gave my Mom my Lodge chicken pan. I had been using it for ages as my primary skillet and perfected fried chicken in it, as many of my colleagues here at Boing Boing will attest.

I have been instructed that his style skillet be called a chicken ROASTING pan and the lid's stalactite-like points are what makes it a 'self-basting' lid. Evidently 1 roaster size chicken (3-5lbs iirc) will fit in it, and with the lid on the bird will roast up nice and juicy.

I have never done this. I bought it to fry chicken. I learned it was awesome for frying eggs, bacon, pancake and sauteeing things. It became the most used item in my kitchen. Then I started baking in it like a Dutch Oven.

The Lodge ended its daily use, however, when I found a larger Wagner pan at the Goodwill and restored it. I started baking in my dutch oven. It is a bit easier to maneuver. When cast iron sits and isn't used, it needs to be used and this pan was truly special. I tried alternating between it and my Wagner, but the extra space and smoother finish of the Wagner kept it on my stove. It was a little easier to fry bacon and sear steaks and fish in the #9 vs the #8 pan. Read the rest

"Huge drug bust" at Gatwick Airport was actually vegan cake mix

Last week, police at London's Gatwick Airport turned up a suitcase filled with bags of white powder. Further testing revealed that the pile of evidence was actually vegan cake mix on its way to a restaurant in Brighton.

According to a statement from the British Transport Police, the bags "were soon reunited with the owner, who has promised officers and staff a slice of cake in return."

(CNN) Read the rest

A cheap bread lame that should work just fine

I bought a bread lame.

A friend of mine is doing all sorts of fancy scoring to his bread. Mine just tastes good.

I will try to make some fancy cuts in some bread soon, it will probably taste the same. This lame is as cheap as I could find, as I do not think they make much difference. I have seen some fancy stuff tho. I think I have had and lost other lames, so I am going cheap.

Premium Hand Crafted Bread Lame Included 5 Blades and Leather Protective Cover via Amazon Read the rest

Second try with my neglected sourdough starter

Sourdough is not the complicated, finicky bread baking technique some folks might like you to believe. Sourdough baking takes very little effort and is mostly an art of patience.

This loaf is an example of what you can achieve by barely paying attention to your starter. I left mine in the fridge for months, and then forgot it on the kitchen counter.

Here is the dough after its first rise, and before I spread it out for folding.

Here is the loaf in its proofing basket. It was VERY wet and took a lot of the flour out of the basket.

Here is the finished second loaf, baked from a starter that had been left on my kitchen counter, unfed, for over a week. Previous to ignoring the starter on my counter, I had left it in my fridge for well over 6 months.

Here are some details on preparation of a basic sourdough loaf. Read the rest

Baking with an ignored sourdough starter

Unlike all the breadcore pals I have baking loaves with hand-ground sorghum and Bolivian yeast strains kept at 75% hydration, I left my sourdough starter on the kitchen counter for a week and didn't bother feeding it.

After another midafternoon phone call from a friend who newly discovered baking as a relaxing and delicious artform asking for recommendations on baking something crisp-but-gooey, I looked at the live starter I keep on my counter. I transplanted it from the sleeping mass of junk a week or so back, baked a few great loaves of bread, and then kinda forgot about it. I had other stuff on my mind. The phone conversation led me to desire bread.

Intending to put up a loaf later in the afternoon, I fed the room temperature but dormant starter. First, I mixed all the hooch back into the starter. I then discarded a cup of starter and added 1/2 cup each of warm water and flour. Then I stirred, covered and gave it 4 hours.

I used the starter to prepare my go-to no-knead loaf of bread, flour and whole wheat. Said dough was permit to rise overnight. Pretty much everything looked like dough normally does on a first rise. I then folded the blob! The dough was pretty wet, I left it to proof in its basket.

I had a hard time deciding when it was ready for the oven. After 90 minutes I could see some large bubbles had formed in the dough, and a poke-with-index-finger test was getting what I thought were correct springing back results, but something looked off. Read the rest

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