Bread-making fell a little flat

February 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

With this project, half of it is figuring what I enjoy doing and the other half is learning what I don’t necessarily enjoy. This week I learned that I’m not really that into baking bread. I love eating it and enjoyed getting to know two different local places where I will continue to buy great, fresh bread. To be honest, their bread is probably much better anyway.

I guess in the process of doing all of these things I’m learning a bit about myself. Bread is its own, living breathing thing that needs to be taken care of. As a bread parent this week, I suppose I vacillated between over-bearing on the one hand and neglectful on the other in my parenting methods.

I did succeed in making my great grandmother’s rye bread and enjoyed it with my house guests this weekend. I think I may have overzealously kneaded the hell out of it and it was really dense. I love making things that are part of my family history but unless I was doing something terribly wrong, I think this type of bread doesn’t really work as well nowadays. It was very heavy and probably reflected more of a need to fill the bellies of a large family during the 30s than what our palate likes nowadays. Most likely though I messed something up.

On the neglectful side, I underestimated how long it would take to get the Tartine Bread starter going and over the weekend got a little distracted with my house guests. I think it will finally be ready to use tomorrow, but I wasn’t being very good about feeding it on a regular basis.

Overall, I just wasn’t feeling it. It could have been the fact I had a lot of distractions this week, but I also don’t like the stop and go nature of baking bread. I’m sure when you get a rhythm down it doesn’t feel that way, but I felt like I couldn’t keep to the schedule the bread needed. I suppose I also don’t like it’s unpredictability. You really don’t know what it’s going to do. Baking in general here makes me feel that way.

I do think even failed attempts give you a better appreciation for what you’re eating and learning about. I have the utmost respect for our local bakers. They are a devoted lot. I will also try some of the no-knead recipes people sent along this week as they might be more my speed.

Needing to knead

February 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

I was talking to my Mom earlier on the phone and she said: “It sounds like you’re doing more bread-eating than bread-making this week.” Leave it to your Mom to get your butt in gear. I decided to get going making her grandmother’s rye bread recipe. I have guinea pigs (i mean guests) in town this weekend who will be my taste testers.

Given the simplicity that our times require in most of what we buy, when it comes to bread you can make pretty darn good bread without having to go to much effort. My friend Kathy posted about a friend’s company,, where you can order an easy kit.

My Great Grandmother’s bread takes a little more work. To her it was probably one of the easier parts of her day raising 9 children, of which my Grandmother Susie was the youngest. She immigrated to PA with my Great Grandfather who was a Methodist minister. You can imagine with 9 children on a minister’s salary they didn’t have a lot of money to go around. Rye flour was more economical in those times, so this recipe probably not only reflected their German heritage but also necessity.

Great Grandma Zinz’s Rye Bread

2 c. rye flour
3 T molasses (this is my favorite part. it smells so delicious)
2 T crisco
1 T salt
1/2 c. sugar
mix ingredients above together.
add 2 c. boiling hot water and mix well. add 3/4 c. cold milk to cool mixture. dissolve 3 pkg household yeast in 1/2 c. warm water and let sit for a few minutes, then add to mixture.
add 6 c. white all purpose flour. turn onto a floured surface and knead for at least 15 minutes. (I was working up a sweat!) can add up to 1 1/2 c. flour as you knead. i only added 1/4 c.
Put into greased pan or bowl and let rise until it doubles in a dark, warm spot.
Note: I live in a colder, dry climate so I’ve devised a somewhat questionable method to help my bread rise:
It’s probably the only thing that’s keeping me from canceling cable right now since I love my apple TV.  I know this would be considered some major health violation.

After the dough has risen, punch it down and divide it into bread pans. Let it rise to double size again in a warm, dark place. Bake at 375 for 45 min – butter top of bread and remove from the pans.

I am going to experiment making one of the loaves in a regular bread pan and the other in a dutch oven. From what I’ve read, home ovens lack moisture needed in the baking process, so dutch ovens help use the moisture from the dough during the baking.

I will be baking this tomorrow morning. Hopefully it isn’t too crazy of a night out so that I can be a good host and have fresh baked bread and freshly roasted coffee ready when my friends wake up!

Breadworks, the hearth of the neighborhood

February 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

The sun is shining, it’s warming up so I thought it would be a perfect day for a stroll over to Breadworks (Best of Boulder 2010). Their sign out front does a perfect job of greeting you with what they’re about. And in case you’re not familiar with artisanal bread, as you walk through the door you’re treated to cases of beautiful breads that look almost too pretty to eat.

Annette, the front manager, kindly showed me around and explained a bit more about what they do. Everyone in Boulder is so nice. She took me back to show me the kitchen, still in full baking swing at 11:00. Here they work from a sourdough starter which is a little different from the sponge starter at Great Harvest. I will be trying out both types of making bread over the next couple of days. I didn’t meet the baker, but Annette did ask him about cooking at high altitude for me and he said he’s never had any problems. Nice to know.

One of the most impressive aspects of their business is their enormous stone oven. It is an impressive piece of equipment that transforms each mound of dough into a beautiful, golden crusted masterpiece. Inside is a huge round stone platform that gets turned by the wheel as they add loaves. Pretty impressive.

As I’ve been doing this project and encounter equipment like this it makes me a little jealous…I’m not going to lie. This and the professional coffee roaster made me salivate a little bit. I don’t think we have room for either in our house though at the moment. I will have to stick to using my little dutch baker in my crappy oven.

The thing I love about Breadworks is that they also think about what everyone loves to eat with bread and I can think of few things as wonderful as soup. They have an extensive amount of soups they make throughout the year. The bread bowl has to be one of the best comfort foods in Winter. I have leftovers to eat, so I skipped it but I did bring home a loaf of their Pain Au Levain and their Green Olive and Sage.


Great Harvest Bread Co.

February 9, 2011 § 3 Comments

I still don’t have dough to work with of my own yet, so I stopped by the Great Harvest Bread Company this morning to check out their operation. One thing I love about this project is that I’m getting out and exploring places I might not have known about otherwise. Scott, the owner, was nice enough to show me around and explain a bit about what they do. I’m starting to notice a common theme with the craftsmen/ladies I’ve met thus far and I’d say they share a certain gleam in their eyes when they talk about what they do.

Another trend I’ve noticed with people who devote themselves to a craft, like bread-making, is that they care about the entire process from ingredients to how the customer enjoys what they’ve made. Scott showed me how each day they mill over 200 lbs. of their own grains from Montana and use it to make bread the very next day so it is completely fresh. That’s right. They mill their own flour EVERYDAY on-site. Scott also makes it a point to offer each customer a free fresh slice straight out of the oven when you stop by. I imagine when you go to all that trouble, you want to see the look on people’s faces when they’re enjoying the fruits of your labor. I tried a slice of their white bread and it was the perfect thing to warm me up from the cold outside.

At Great Harvest they use a sponge fermentation method, so they start from scratch each day. They make over 300 goodies each day from white loaves to rye to cinnamon rolls. I may or may not be eating one of those delicious cinnamon rolls as I type this. Scott chuckled to me that he still loves it after 27 years because he learns something new about bread each day. It’s a living, breathing entity I suppose.

Wonder how far I’ll get in a week in getting to know bread…

taking good care of my mother

February 8, 2011 § 1 Comment

Today I made my first ever “mother dough”; what I hope will be responsible for generations to come of delicious little breads. It was surprisingly easy, only requiring a mixture of water and flour. The Tartine Bread book walks you through making it as well as how to feed it. They refer to it as a starter, since I believe “mother dough” is used more in the context of sourdough. I like the term though and think I’ll be more inclined to take better care of a something called “mother” than I would called “starter”.

Starters are basically a result of fermentation that allows you to naturally leaven your bread using wild yeast vs bakers yeast. I was struck by the fact that “lactobacillus” came up in my research again. When I did my pickling week, I came across it in the fermentation process of kimchi and sauerkraut. It has become a popular health subject as a probiotic that can potentially do anything from boosting your immune system to improving digestion to even staving off various cancers. In bread, it is an integral part in the making of bread but doesn’t typically survive the baking. Many companies are attempting to change that.

The “mother dough” I’m making should take a few days to feed and train before it’s ready. For many bakeries their starter is something they tend to and craft over many years. The Boudin Bakery in San Francisco has a starter dough that dates back to 1849 when their sourdough french bread became famous during the Gold Rush. Supposedly it was so valuable that Louise Bourdin heroically saved it in a bucket during the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906.

I will try to take good as good of care of my mother this week.

Please pass the bread

February 7, 2011 § 4 Comments

There’s a great scene in the movie Scent of a Woman at the Oak Room in NYC where Al Pacino asks Chris O’Donnell to pass the rolls, breaks into one of them and just breathes it in saying: “bread’s no good west of Colorado, water’s too alkaline”.  I’m glad to live on the cusp here in Boulder, CO.

Bread is the oldest, most revered prepared food with evidence of it dating back over 30,000 years. Bread used to be the center of the table where people used to sit and have delicious meals together. Unfortunately, in today’s diet obsessed culture, bread is often associated with and ostracized by otherworldly concepts like “carbs” and “gluten free”. A lot of people want it as far away from them as possible. I kind of wonder if bread isn’t one of those great traditions of civilization we’re losing to the guise of “health”.

I love bread, especially toast with lots of butter dripping from it. Some of my fondest memories were of going to my grandmother’s house in Pennsylvania and being greeted by the smell of fresh rye bread through the door and being met with a slice of it right out of the oven with butter in the process of melting on it. My Mom has continued to make that bread and this week it’ll be my turn to give it a try.

I am going to learn how to make my great-grandmother’s rye bread recipe as well as explore Tartine Bread, a great book from Tartine bakery in San Francisco. I will be learning how to make my own starter from it. Locally, I’m going to pay a visit to a couple of establishments, Breadworks and Great Harvest Bread Co. I hope to gain some insight into baking at high altitude. Baking is always a tricky proposition here in Boulder.

I will also be calling on my friend Jess, who has the equivalent of a green thumb when it comes to baking.

Let’s do this.

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