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
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
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.
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10 seconds of steam coming out of a fresh loaf of #sourdough from my 12 day old #sourdoughstarter #boingboing
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
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
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
TeranGroup presents a "novel thermomechanical model" for simulating rising dough and the properties of bread, cookies, pancakes, etc. Read the rest
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
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
Sourdough baking is only hard if you want it to be. I took my starter on the road and made a lovely loaf of rye bread with my first try.
I am heading out on an early summer of adventure with the dogs, in our VW Westy. As we were leaving the house, I grabbed the sourdough starter and put it in the bus' fridge. We're stopping at my brother's for a bit and I decided to bake some bread.
A small container formerly used to house take-out Chinese or Indian serves as the perfect size for my counter-top starter.
I started with 1 cup of h20, 1 cup of bread flour and 1 heaping tablespoon of starter. I add 1/2 cup of each four hours later and then feed as I deem necessary. Usually once a day, discarding 1/2 cup and adding 1/4 cup h2o and the same of flour.
Bob's Redmill Dark Rye was on sale. I combined 2 1/2 cups of bread flour with 1 cup of Rye and a heaping tsp of salt. In a measuring cup I combined 1/4 cup of the starter with 1 1/2 cups of warm water. Then I mixed them together to make this sticky doughball.
I gave the dough about 18 hours in its first rise. It more than doubled and was super sticky. That is a wonderful sign!
I then spread out the dough and folded it into a loaf. I let that loaf rest for 10-15 minutes while I improvised a banneton. Read the rest
I was sent some small-batch, whole grain, locally sourced flour. I baked some bread.
One of my oldest friends recently went BreadCore on me. He is baking beautiful loaves, paying attention to hydration and scoring some cool designs with a fancy schmancy lame. To thank me for being his on-call baking consultant, he sent me 7.5 lbs of two different small-batch flours that he loves.
I am a no-stress it'll all work out in the bake, baker. I am over a decade into delicious bread, pizza, pretzels, waffles, and bagels and I don't like to stress over baking. Baking is a relaxing and fun food preparation method. I guess this is the opposite of everything a highly technical Breadcore baker wants to hear. I do not weigh my ingredients. So, my first thought about specialty flour was "Fuck, this'll complicate things!"
I was wrong.
I opened the bag of Hard Red Spring Wheat. I baked my first loaf at 70% Trader Joes AP flour and 30% HRS. I did reserve some flour from the initial mix, as I was afraid the HRS would drink more water than market flour. I ended up adding it all in and developed a very sticky ball of dough that rose very well. It baked up beautifully.
On this bake, I lowered my oven temperature 5 degrees. In my mind, I was holding back one Kadam for the imaginary Hebrew god to whom my parents dedicated the 12th year of my life. In reality, I'd noticed that my friend who baked at the same temps I did got a much less explosively crumbastic crust on his loaves. Read the rest
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
Everyone I know is on a sourdough kick. My sister was talking some stuff she learned in a class, so I took these photos to show her what "waking up the starter" means to me.
When I took my starter out of the fridge and looked in the crock I saw a deep pool of hooch. It has been since Thanksgiving that I used it, and I may have put this batch in the fridge back in June or July 2018.
I take a heaping spoonful of the starter and...
...gently mix it with 1/2 cup of warm water and 1/2 cup of flour. Then I set it aside for 4 hours.
I feed the starter every 4 hrs when I am awake, until it is awake. When I sleep the yeast can sleep. Once I have 2 cups of starter in my bowl, I discard 1/2 and add 1/2 cup of water and 1/2 cup of flour again, maintaining the volume at around 2 cups. When the starter looks like this, it is ready to use.
I used the starter, baking a loaf of bread in my Dutch Oven.
Bread with butter, jam and cheese was yesterday's meal. Read the rest
Carbo pareidolia. Read the rest
Konel Bread specializes in bread that depicts animals, cartoon characters, and other fun stuff when it's sliced. Read the rest
Atlas Obscura just added an interesting new section on strange and wondrous foods, like salt-rising bread leavened with bacteria that cause gas gangene. Read the rest
I tried the popular Irish brand Odlum's Irish Brown Soda Bread mix to see if it was better or easier than my standby recipe. Read the rest