Saturday, November 26, 2011

Week VI: Micro-Bakery Nov. 26

Today's bread turned out tres magnifique. Having a break for Thanksgiving made the baking process more leisurely, and today's weather made deliveries a great pleasure. I'm not sure it's a good thing we're having 60º weather in late November, but I'll take it when I'm biking bread around.

With warmer weather comes a warmer kitchen, and with a warmer kitchen comes more vigorous levain. Once the loaves hit the 500º oven, a number of them expanded to the point of bursting on top (see pictures below). It's a nice effect, though not necessarily something I planned for. Maybe next time I'll curb the vigor by making deeper cuts (scores) in the dough.

The flavor of the French Country Levain this week hit its peak – definitely my favorite loaf thus far. I gave the shaped dough some extra time in the fridge (12-14 hours, rather than the usual 8-10). The extra time, with the addition of warmer temperatures, allowed for a more thorough fermentation and a boost in subtle sour flavors. And to make it better, Megan and I's friends David and Eileen helped us knock out most of a loaf when we made grilled cheese and tomato soup for lunch this afternoon. So good. So good.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Week V: Micro-Bakery Nov. 20

This weekend my Mom, Dad, and sister were in town. Yet the bake must go on, so our Saturday morning was spent around the 500ºF oven. Dad took some photos (see below), Mom and sister went to the Farmer's Market and got a heaping bag of vegetables. Dad got pretty excited about some sunlight shining through the kitchen window, so he set up a photo that looks (in my mind) like a loaf of bread has just beamed in from the heavenly realms. Wild.

This Saturday began the second four-week cycle of Levain Micro-Bakery. I added three subscribers (yay!), bringing the total to eleven, meaning twelve loaves baked per Saturday (one for the house). This was also my first week baking a large batch of Whole Wheat Levain (70% whole wheat, 30% bread flour), which turned out quite well. During the mix I was a little scatter-brained and added too much wheat flour to one of the batches, but no big deal, right? Four lucky subscribers got a bit more fiber than the others. Also, I decided to score (slice before baking) the Whole Wheat Levain with triangles, leaving other shapes for other bread varieties. We'll see how this pattern evolves in the future.

I learned this weekend that baking (especially 10+ loaves) is a very Zen experience. It requires great concentration and balance. You have to be centered. So family, I love you, but in the future I think I'll need to bake on my lonesome (though honestly, great to have y'all here!). I decided to deliver the bread in the car so that the Fam could tag along on my delivery route. It was a beautiful day and a beautiful time together.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Week IV: Micro-Bakery Nov. 12

Well, I just delivered the last loaf of the first four-week micro-bakery cycle (special Sunday delivery). That means 36 loaves baked, and 32 loaves delivered, over 4 weekends (I always eat a loaf myself, it's quality control, right?). What fun. And if it's possible, things are about to get wilder. I'm adding a few more subscription slots (already taken, it looks like), meaning I'll be up to 11 loafs per weekend, 44 loaves per month. Not bad for a teeny-tiny-micro-operation.

The bake this weekend was a little crazy due to a conference at Duke Divinity School titled 'After the Yellow Ribbon.' The conversation centered on 'healing the hidden wounds of war.' Tough stuff. It was a great weekend, though I skipped the Saturday morning sessions to bake 9 loaves of Rustic Light Rye Levain. No pictures, as the camera was at the conference (woops). Ah, well, the loaves were lovely, take my word for it. Megan and I cut into a loaf hot out of the oven (with butter and jam, to die for). Now I've got a busy week of reading and writing ahead, picking up a couple 50 lb. bags of flour, and getting ready for Micro-Bakery Cycle II. Peace.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Week III: Micro-Bake Nov. 5

An excerpt from this week's process.

I'm cloaked in darkness, headlamp lit, stooping over a low-running rosemary bush in my neighbor's yard. It's cold and windy. Leaves are tinkling off the trees like snowflakes. My kitchen sheers cut quick and harsh through the woody rosemary stems. The bush's resin coats my fingers. I keep cutting and cutting, whittling the plant down. I wonder to myself, am I giving or taking life? Am I pruning, or dismembering, this quiet little soul?

This week I made Rosemary Olive Oil Levain. Due to a busy afternoon, it was dark before I got around to picking fresh rosemary from the public bush across the street. In the final mix I approximated my own formula, using other recipes as references. Turns out, olive oil wasn't such a great idea. Any fat, at high temperatures (450-500ºF), does strange things to the crust. Water allows the crust to get sharp and crisp, while oil softens the crust from glass to cardboard. Or so my conjecture goes. Next time, I think I'll just add rosemary.

One of the most satisfying components of this week's bake was scoring the loaves (putting shallow cuts in the dough-tops before putting them in the oven). These marks keep the loaves from rising in the wrong direction. It's like pruning the rosemary bush, helping it grow in controlled, predictable ways. But scoring also has an aesthetic function. It takes bread beyond Goodness into the realm of the Beautiful.