Saturday, March 31, 2012

LMB: March 31

The fifth cycle of the Micro-Bakery begins, and oh, the Spring is beautiful! The French Country Levain turned out beautifully as well, I might add.

The morning began grey and rainy, the wind coursing through the open kitchen windows. Thankfully, the cooler air slowed the dough down on Friday night and made the process more leisurely.

Due to the rain, I car-delivered the bread again, though it cleared up as soon as the first loaf left my hands (go figure). Had I known of the sunshine to come, I may have been more apt to dry off the bike seat and ride forth. Hopefully I'll get a sunny day next weekend and be back in the saddle.

The trees and vines are blooming like children, spreading open and singing silently alongside the birds. This is, perhaps, my favorite time of year in Durham.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

LMB: March 24

Just because you run a micro-bakery doesn't mean you've attained bread mastery. I'm learning more and more each week, and the learning curve has only grown steeper with Durham's spike in warm weather!

Last weekend, March 17, I let the dough rise too long before shaping it. This weekend, I thought I had a better system in place. I used cooler water, and predicted a 5-hour rise (rather than 7-hour) would do the trick. Besides, whole wheat doughs like this one usually take longer to rise because of the bran in the flour, which works against the gluten. But alas, by the time the dough was shaped it was already full of enormous gas bubbles. These bubbles should have bloomed during the bake and made the bread nice and hole-ly, but they formed too early. Thus, the bread did not rise much in the oven, thus much smaller holes in the bread. I think 3-4 hours of initial rise would have done the trick!

As in the pics, the last batch actually did spring a bit in the oven, but the first eight loaves did not.

Between rain, pollen, and allergies, I decided to deliver bread this week in the car. It was the fourth and final week of the fourth micro-bakery cycle. It's hard to believe, but this has been going running off and on since late October! Thanks subscribers and supporters!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

LMB: March 17

Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone! All is luscious and green, and there's rosemary in the bread!

This week the weather really warmed up, meaning that the dough behaved differently. I used cooler water to try and slow down the rising time, but I guess if the kitchen is 75ºF vs. 65ºF it makes a big difference! One of the bowls of dough was actually spilling over the top!

The extra warmth, in addition to extra time, made this a very intense bread: very sour, very heavy on rosemary. Turns out I picked more rosemary than I needed, so I threw in as much as I thought the bread could handle. On my palette it's great, though some butter or mild cheese would be an excellent way to cut the flavor.

In the next week or two, I hope to procure some photos from the bread workshop I led last weekend, and to offer a blog post about what the workshop was like and how it went (it was great, by the way).

Casting bread on the waters!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

LMB: Back in Action (3/3)

After a few weeks off, the Micro-Bakery is back in action (see exhibit A).

Exhibit A:

This week's loaf was French Country Levain, a mostly white bread with a mild natural leavening. I call it the loaf from which all others spring and by which all others are measured (at least in my repertoire). Actually this weekend, due to some tough scheduling, I had to add use the levian before it had adequate time to sour, meaning that the bread is good, but more mild than usual.

Rain threatened in the sky as I prepared for deliveries but thankfully the ride was pleasant and dry. Thanks to a good friend I acquired some zip-ties to better secure my milk crate to my bike, meaning that deliveries were all the better (no more milk crate wobbling to and fro while going over bumps). I'm still perfecting my methods for not denting the loaves as I ride around; I hate to deliver a good loaf of bread that looks bruised, even if only a little.

Many thanks to any and all supporters of the Micro-Bakery. I'm getting ready to lead a workshop on bread making and spirituality next weekend – super excited.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Micro-Bakery: Feb. 4

Today marks the end of Micro-Bakery Cycle III. Many thanks to subscribers and supporters, and especially to my wife, who's been putting up with my Friday-Saturday bread routine for many weeks.

For the record, this weekend more than made up for my disappointing bake last week. For some reason, I was more in tune with the process this time, and that made all the difference. I mixed in the evening, went out, then came back to find the dough puffy and soft (a good sign). I heated the oven a little hotter, and made sure to slice (score) the dough more carefully. And voila, the loaves expanded beautifully in the oven, came out with a rich, burnished crust, and sang as they cooled on the counter.

I'm taking the next couple weeks off from the Micro-Bakery, due to some travel and my birthday, but I got some classic bread books in the mail this past week and look forward to trying some new recipes during my time off!

Note: if the pictures seem redundant, it's because I was reveling in the explosive rising of the loaves. It's the year of the dragon, and jagged, fiery dragon bread is back.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Micro-Bakery: Jan. 28

Another weekend, another bake. It was a beautiful day to bike around Durham, and after a long, hard week, it was the salve I needed.

I was a little disappointed with the baking process this week, as the mixing, initial ferment, and scoring (slashing) didn't go as planned, but the bread is still good, still holds up as a sturdy staff of life.

In other bread news, I'm super excited about the coming spring because I'm co-leading a workshop on the craft and spirituality of bread-making at Anathoth Community Garden. I finally broke down and ordered copies of some bread books that will be useful teaching aids, and of course, useful tools on this helter-skelter bread pilgrimage.

On a confessional note, I feel like I'm wandering a little aimlessly at the moment, sort of on a bread plateau I don't know how to get past. All I know is that there are deeper springs, deeper wisdoms in the shadow ahead; getting there is another matter. I suppose the best thing to do is to keep walking, keep dreaming. This I'll do, no question.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Micro-Bakery: Jan. 21

A molten grey sky hangs over Durham today. There was a lull in the rain while I delivered bread (thankfully) but the sky started drizzling again after the last loaf was handed off. As such, I got a little wet on the way home, not to mention soaked under my jacket due to the humidity. However, the air was warm enough, and the rain merciful enough, that I still enjoyed the ride.

Today's loaf was a Light Rye Levain, using about 30% rye flour in the dough. Last time I tried this bread I used about 20% rye, and I think 30% is a definite improvement. The crumb is moist and chewy, and the crust is plenty crisp. It's just enough rye flavor to entice but not overwhelm rye-skeptics.

Also, due to a wash of busyness yesterday, I had to straight-knead the dough instead of slow-kneading as I normally do. This means, basically, that most Fridays I fold the bread at intervals throughout the afternoon, rather than mixing each batch for ten-twelve intensive minutes up front. But I front-loaded the work yesterday, and wow, what a task! It takes a lot of stamina, but still, it's satisfying to pummel bread into the counter for 30-35 minutes straight (10-12 minutes for each of three batches). I really need to get a bigger container so I can mix all twelve loaves at once. In due time.

The photos highlight the quality of the crust, which turned a deep brown-red thanks to the added rye. I'm also fascinated by the way some of the cuts (scores) in the crust developed in the oven.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Micro-Bakery: Jan. 14

The first week of micro-baking in 2012 was a resounding success in my estimation. Still doing twelve loaves a week (one for myself), trying to commit to a healthy variety of breads, and still happily bike-delivering loaves around Durham.

I intended to make an Herbs de Provence Levain this week, but got started a little late on my hunt for fresh herbs. Thankfully, my neighbors across the street (who are LMB subscribers) have a great herb garden, and let me harvest their herbs for my bread (thanks neighbors!). The rosemary bush in their front yard is an incredible variety, huge, with bright, thick needles, sweating with fragrance (see picture below). As rosemary was most prolific, rosemary features most prominently in the bread, but I also added a some fresh oregano, fresh thyme, and a hint of fresh lavender. It may not be a balanced Herbs de Provence, but it's a delicious herb blend all the same.

Saturday, just as I was getting on my bike to deliver, the sun hit its peak warmth for the day. It was a beautiful ride, and brought one of E.E. Cummings' poems to mind. Actually, the first line of this poem is a prayer I whisper many days when I step out and discover the world bright and crackling with life. Here's Cummings' poem in its entirety:

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any – lifted from the no
of all nothing – human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)