Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Story about Sam's bread

My friend Alice Waters sent me this link yesterday, a wonderful story about bread. I loved it and wanted to share it.

What to Do When Alice Waters Calls, Seeking Bread

Saturday, January 23, 2010

My Loaves

I'm proud of all my sad and not so perfect loaves of bread and wanted to post them because it shows a process underway.While looking back at images of the breads I've made over the past months, I'm finding it interesting and in fact very encouraging. Learning something new take lots of time and practice and there is no fast track to perfecting something. There are lots of subtle experiences to take in along the way as well.

I'm such a perfectionist and at times quite impatient, which is why I never took on baking. But the things that I'm taking in during this process is really interesting. I never realized this as much until last week while I was in NYC.

I needed to buy bread for some dinners. I went to several well known bakeries to buy some pain levain and at both places the bread I bought was crap. Both bakeries claimed that the bread was made with a sourdough starter. The texture or moisture wasn't there and both loaves lacked any expressive flavors. I also noticed that at these bakeries they both offered extensive selections of breads and pastries. When I think of my favorite places for bread, it's bakeries that only sell a few varieties of breads and at least one of their breads is made with a natural sourdough starter. Most bread out there is really commercial even if the bakery bakes daily. Their are of course some exceptions;  Acme Bread, Della Fattoria in Northern California and Ken's Artisan Bakery in Portland to name a few.

I guess I've developed a discerning palate when it comes to bread over these past few months which is quite unexpected and shows me that I'm really learning what good bread is and should be. I can't wait to bake again next weekend, I have skipped a couple of weekends and I jonesing for it. I'm actually going to try and make a larger batch and produce several 2 pound loaves and am going to start a new starter as well, using some tricks I picked up from Chad.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Ham Good

ham dinner, still hungry When my friend Craig called to tell me he had been given a 15-pound smoked ham from Heritage Foods for Christmas, we wasted no time in inviting some friends over to enjoy it.
Heritage Foods is one of the best sources to buy meat in this country. Started by Patrick Martins, who formerly ran Slow Food USA, Heritage promotes small family farms and genetic diversity and sells sustainably raised meats, poultry, goat and game, as well as charcuterie and Native American foods and cheeses. You can even trace where your meat came from on their Website.
ham dinner, still hungry To take our dinner party up a notch, we invited our friend Jodi, who is a great baker. She made an apple tart from Alice Waters’ cookbook as an homage to Alice, who had given Craig the ham. I thought, What better to go with ham than grits and collard greens? So I made a stop at the Santa Monica farmers' market for Flora Bella Farm, which has the best collard greens and escarole available right now. While I was there, I also picked up some persimmons, and when I got home made an escarole, persimmon and hazelnut salad.
As the ham was baking, the smells coming from my kitchen were so intoxicating that I was transported to memories of my childhood—having a Sunday lunch after church with my family. I decided to add a jar of June Taylor’s hand-cut Seville Orange Marmalade over the ham for the last hour it cooked.
ham dinner, still hungry The ham was spectacular. Seriously, I can’t remember the last time I have had a ham that good. The chunks of Seville orange peel were perfectly caramelized and crispy—the syrup created a lovely sauce. The collards, grits and ham were matched nicely. And the salad, with the perfectly ripe persimmons, crispy escarole and toasted hazelnuts was great. It’s now one of my favorite winter salads to make. In fact, I love it so much I'm going to post the recipe in my next blog.
ham dinner, still hungry Jodi’s apple tart was exquisite. We reheated it and served it with a combination of whipped cream with some crème fraîche whisked in. It was one of those magical meals that was so special I'm going to make it a tradition and repeat it again next year and the year after.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Bread, Bread and more Bread

For the past few months I’ve been busy baking and I think I’ve developed a bread that is absolutely delicious; it isn’t perfect but it is a pretty good step towards becoming the bread of my dreams. When I was in northern California for the holidays last month I took one of my loaves to the bread master himself, Chad Robertson at Tartine. I was eager for his critique.

Chad started by telling me that I wasn’t shaping my bread properly so the center of the loaf was a little too dense. After he straightened me out on that score he taught me something else: He put my bread in his oven and showed me how to bring a baked loaf back to the state of just baked freshness. Of course, this magic will only work with bread that has been made with a natural sourdough starter but it worked. The loaf I’d baked a day before was almost as fresh and moist as when I’d first taken it out of the oven.

I learned a bit more about the starter from Chad as well. I had taken my starter up north with me and fed it several times a day though I never had time to bake a loaf. Chad explained that there is a special moment when the starter smells perfect and you know it is ready. It will take time for me to be attuned to this and to really be in sync with my starter but that is,I learned, what baking is all about.

(By the way, Chad also gave me a look at his new book, Tartine Bread, which will come out next fall. It’s absolutely original and inspiring. Anyone interested in making bread will want to own this book. I don’t want to give away what makes it special so I’ll just leave it at this: I’ve never seen anything like Tartine Bread.)

At this point in my journey, I can say I am pleased with my progress. When you consider that I don’t have professional equipment and that I’m turning out loaves on a stone in my little domestic oven, I’m doing okay. I have to keep making adjustments and improvisations. Right now I’ve decided that because I haven’t been able to get the crust I want, I am going back to baking in my cast iron Staub pot for the next few times. I think it’s the only way for me to get the kind of heat that a professional oven can supply.

I’ve also started experimenting with pizza dough. I’ve been baking it in my Weber egg shaped grill. I heat the Weber with wood before putting in a pizza stone. More about my methods and the results in a future blog. And more about the great flour from Central Milling too.

Studying bread and baking pain levain at home is the most satisfying experience I can imagine. I am taking every step necessary to achieve the perfect loaf.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Central Milling Company

Any artisanal or commercial baker in northern California worth his or her name is now using flour from Central Milling. When I visit a bakery my first question is always, what flour do you use? The answer is invariably, Central Milling.

The company’s mills are in Utah and most of the flour is organic except for Red Rose and Gilt Edge. The history of the company goes like this: The Giusto family owned Guisto’s flour company which was located south San Francisco until they eventually sold it. Unhappy with the product the new owners were turning out, Keith Giusto decided to start up his own company in Petaluma and produce a top-notch product.

On a visit to the company warehouse I was impressed by the wide variety of flours they produce. Each flour has a very specific purpose and Central Milling works closely with bakers to create blends for their needs. Their most recent products are THE One Organic Baguette Mix and Organic Cracked 6 Grain Mix.

The flour arrives from Utah each week and is sent out that week. Freshness is all! Nicky Guisto, Keith’s nephew, showed me photographs of their wheat fields. From the way the wheat is planted, in a circular formation, to the water powered mills that process the grain, no effort is spared in producing the finest quality flours.

I bought three flours to start with. The Beehive Organic Unbleached Malted All Purpose, High Mountain Organic High Gluten Wheat Flour, and Organic Whole Wheat Medium Flour. Each of these was suggested by Nicky as appropriate for the kind of bread I am trying to make. Since I have also been experimenting with pizza dough I asked Keith to recommend a flour. He told me to try the Artisan Country Organic Type 70.

Since my visit to Central Milling I have been baking quite a bit. My next blog will report the results.

Central Milling