Meet the Baker Behind the Loaves: Chiew See of Autumn Baking Diary (Autumn.Kitchen)

Cognitive dissonance – a term for the state of discomfort felt when two or more modes of thought contradict each other. The clashing cognitions may include ideas, beliefs, or the knowledge that one has behaved in a certain way. As one delves deeper into sourdough 6F523050-019F-4FCE-B3FD-9787B6F2CEAE_4_5005_cbaking the idea that trying new methods and/or baking a variety of recipes will lead to one’s ideal loaf tends to be at odds with the objectivity inherent in the idea that one first needs to establish a solid foundation of baking knowledge (starter management, recipe development, dough handling, fermentation management, etc). Often this mental battle becomes even more intense during one’s daily perusing of posts containing gorgeous looking loaves on Instagram and Facebook. Eventually a resolution comes in a form that is unique to each baker’s comfort level and approach to baking. Examples include: finding or developing a dependable base recipe that can serve as a foundation for future recipe development (such as Foodbod Sourdough’s ‘master recipe’) or a simple epiphany (e.g. open crumb isn’t limited to high hydration doughs) that shifts one’s baking journey trajectory.  Luckily, it is often those posting the aforementioned gorgeous loaf photos that advocate for a solid foundation of baking knowledge and technique.

home shooting 2One such baker is Chiew See aka @Autumn.Kitchen , a self-described self taught hobbyist baker and mother of three. While she consistently shares photos of sourdough loaves and baked goods (cakes, cookies, muffins, etc) that are true works of art; she makes sure to present her baking as a journey and each successive bake as an opportunity teach her fellow bakers how to master baking in their home climate. These traits have significantly contributed to her becoming a major influence to bakers living in the hot and humid tropical climate/s of China and Southeast Asia. Having mastered baking in her home climate aka Malaysia, she takes pride in sharing her love of incorporating local ingredients into her baking all while baking classic sourdough breads that bakers from anywhere can relate to and emulate.

So without further adieu, it is my honor to present to you Chiew See of Autumn Baking.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): How long have you been baking sourdough bread? What was your approach to learning and then mastering the basics of sourdough baking?

CS_012AChiew See: I have been baking sourdough for the past 5 years. I dabbled a lot in yeasted loaves before that. Subsequently, in a bid to make healthier breads, I turned my attention to natural fermentation, hence sourdough. At first glance, sourdough seems simple, but the devil is in the details. Mastering the basics entailed making the same recipe repeatedly, adjusting the variables one by one in order to understand the process and get the results I wanted.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): In your Instagram bio you describe yourself as a “hobbyist baker”, do you have a regular day job? If so, how much of your time is taken up by your baking and its related responsibilities (planning, prepping, photography, social media)?

Chiew See: I am a stay at home mother with 3 kids. Before home and hearth took importance, I was a mechanical engineer. Perhaps that’s why I love to analyse my baking. Baking is an everyday affair; I usually wake up early to build my levain (around 6am) and fit in the mixing/kneading around lunch time. And the dough is usually ready for baking during dinner. I spend on average 1-2 hours a day baking and replying to some baking queries (this usually takes place before bed).

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Do you have a weekly baking routine (schedule)? If so, can you describe it in terms of how often you bake and how you keep your sourdough starter ready to bake with?

butterfly pea-AChiew See: I usually bake on alternate days so I keep my starter on the kitchen counter most of the time. It only goes into the fridge on my rest days, which are usually on weekends. I work backwards from the time I need to bake and adjust my feeds accordingly. The day before I need the starter for baking, I will take it out of the fridge and give it a refresh (usually 1:1:1). Once it has peaked I will refresh again in a ratio that suits my schedule, for e.g. if it’s over night I will likely go for 1:3:3. When it has peaked the next morning, I will give it another refresh at 1:1:1, and use this at peak as the levain in the recipe. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): While you recently changed your stance on dough lamination (“I did not include lamination in my process videos posted last 2 weeks. At this stage of my sourdough journey, lamination is optional. However, based on several requests, I am demonstrating one for your reference. I only like to use lamination when adding fruits, seeds, nuts etc.”). What are some key factors for creating dough that is at optimal strength for lamination? What benefits does adding ingredients using lamination have over adding them during sets of coil folds?

Chiew See: Lamination (Instagram video) and I go a long way back. In Malaysia, a popular breakfast snack is roti canai (video). So I kind of experimented with it. Over time as I got to know my dough better, I realise that not all loaves needed lamination. To me, the dough has to be not too extensible/weak to do a lamination, as stretching it out can cause it too weaken. I realized strength can be gained during other parts of the process. In addition, many newbies seem to think that stretching the dough big and wide is the ultimate aim, but actually keeping the dough even is just as important. Over time I realized that laminated dough resulted in a certain ‘look’ in my finished bread that I was not so keen on. However, lamination does have its uses, such as making adding ingredients easier and more evenly distributed.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): What inspired you to name (brand) the sharing of your baking journey “Autumn Baking”? 

Chiew See:  The name is a derivation of my Chinese name, which actually means ‘autumn poetry’. I like to think that I am also waxing lyrical about my bakes, hence the Instagram and Facebook moniker.

18C78DFD-6735-4E4C-ADAD-417B83360296Barry (The Brewed Palate): After 15 months of hard work you released your first book “Autumn Baking: Natural Yeast” this past September. Can you describe what the writing, recipe development, and editing processes were like? 

Chiew See: I started this book with the idea of keepsaking and as a momento for my baking journey. This is a collection of many recipes that are family favorites. Recipe development was hard work, as I had to make sure that they would work in different environments. Luckily over the years I have made friends with a group of like minded bakers, who really helped me test and troubleshoot the recipes. Another area of interest for me is photography, and this has proven very useful as I  had more control over the look of the picture. It is also convenient as I often bake my loaves late at night, and taking my own pictures meant that I could dictate the baking schedule. As I am fluent in both Chinese and English, I wanted a bilingual cookbook to better cater to the audience in this region, especially for bakers in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China.   

Barry (The Brewed Palate); What do you feel is unique about sourdough baking in Malaysia? 

loaf 2Chiew See: Malaysia is located near to the equator and our weather is hot and humid all year round. This creates a different set of challenges. Processes listed in the sourdough books in the west are not applicable. Dough handling is not always easy when it’s above 30C, humidity and proof times also have to be adjusted. So my goal is to document a process that is useful for the bakers living in the tropics, and perhaps indirectly applicable for temperate countries during their hot summer months.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Upon looking over your Instagram feed it quickly becomes clear that each of your loaves etc is infused with your natural artistic talent and mastery of dough handling. Can you describe the recipe development / overall planning process that you go through in order to produce your art infused (swirls etc) loaves?

heart swirl loafChiew See: Living in this part of the world, my bakes are influenced by different trends and tastes, a lot of which comes from Japan, Taiwan and even China. So I aim to convert my favorite yeasted breads to sourdough. Hence you would see a lot of soft breads, along the lines of Hokkaido milk bread or shokupan, and ingredients like matcha, red bean or pork floss. We love our breads very soft in Asia, and with minimal tang. In fact erasing the slight tang from the finished products is a priority with many mothers in this region. Children generally reject ‘sour’ bread. My bakes are usually given away and tasters will give feedback.

To make patterns out in a bread, I first need to create distinct colored ‘bread swatches’. I love to use natural food color, and there is a whole slew of food colors/powders available here, especially from Korea. So besides the common cocoa and matcha powders; red yeast rice powder, strawberry powder, and blue pea power are also amongst my favourites. By adding the natural color powder into the dough and then layering different color doughs, I can create the swirls or patterns that I desire.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): One part of the sourdough baking process that at times triggers anxiety is figuring out how to know when bulk fermentation is complete. What do you look out for in order to decide when it is done?

Chiew See:  The first thing and the easiest visible sign is the growth of the dough. The feel of the dough during the coil folds helps me assess strength. There are no shortcuts. The best way to figure it out is to make the same recipe over and over again tweaking one variable at a time. In this case will be bulking at 3hr, 3.5hr, 4hrs etc and comparing the finished product. Using the same flours and even the same container also helps. Newbies tend to explore and change many variables too quickly, be it different flours, hydrations, scoring, different methods, or adding all sorts of ingredients. This in my mind, creates confusion and impairs dough judgement. A solid foundation will help you go a long way.

CS_051-ABarry (The Brewed Palate): Sourdough bread is often called “living bread.” What do the terms “living bread” and “living food” mean to you? 

Chiew See: Sourdough bread is leavened by a microbial ecosystem. It is amazing to see that ingredients that are as simple as flour and water create a living environment for the microbes to work towards leavening the dough. I am continuously fascinated by fermentation and its various branches, be it kimchi, beer, kombucha, tempeh etc. I think it also points to a trend where we seek food that is more whole and pure and to my instincts to have better control of the food in my house. 

Thank you Chiew See for all that you’ve done and continue to do for the worldwide sourdough community! You are a true artisan sourdough baker and an inspiration to countless fellow home bakers.

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Sourdough Baking Journal: The 6.25 hour mid-cold proof power outage

Recipe: 20% Levain inoculation (Randolph), 70% bread flour, 15% whole wheat flour, and 15% dark rye flour…80% hydration 2.2% sea salt. Autolyse: 1 hour / Bulk Fermentation: 5.25 hours w/ 4 sets of coil folds. Overnight proof/retard ∼ 15 hours. Baked 25 minutes covered and 20-25 minutes uncovered @450F.

Techniques used: Luckily I pulled off the techniques that were new to me before the unforeseen 6.25 hour power outage that occured during my overnight proof/retard. Following a suggestion from Kristen of Full Proof Baking, I divided my dough into 3 separate bowls following the addition of my levain and salt. I then proceeded to do coil folds, rather than the stretch an folds which I’ve become accustom to using. I will note that doing coil folds on 1 loaf worth of dough was at times a bit frustrating. Kristen also related that she sometimes skips preshaping her loaves because of how much structure coil folds give the dough. In turn, I too skipped preshaping and final shaped at the end of bulk fermentation. In terms of baking I tried baking one of the loaves covered for the 50 minutes. It ended up lighter in color than I’d like. Then for the next 2 loaves of inverted the lid of my Challenger bread pan and put the bottom section on top of it, this prevented the bottom of the loaves from getting too dark and tough.

Results: Overall all 3 loaves maintained their shape despite overproofing due to the power outage. I’m convinced that their crumb would have been more open (along with more oven-spring) if all had gone to plan. However, it was even and the texture of all three was moist (almost custardy soft). Taste-wise my go-to combination of bread, whole wheat, and dark rye made the crust really yummy and the balanced sourness sealed the deal. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to take crumb shots of these loaves. I’ll definitely be baking this recipe again in order to experience its full potential.

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Meet the Baker Behind the Loaves: Elaine Boddy of Foodbod Sourdough

As fun as venturing into the rabbit hole of detailed information surrounding each method and technique of sourdough baking can be, new home sourdough bakers at times feel obligated to do so. As a result it becomes easy to get overwhelmed by small details while getting their starters ready to bake with and then when preparing and baking their first loaves. Fortunately, there are a considerable amount of influencial bloggers within the world wide sourdough community who go out of their way to present sourdough baking as flexible and approachable. This in effect encourages home bakers to work towards developing a base recipe and process of their own and to view the recipe/s of fellow bakers as guides rather than definite sets of instructions. In my opinion, it also keeps the term “artisan” in front of sourdough bread; meaning, it gives each baker the liberty to figure out how to craft loaves which represent their individual artistic vision.

064F61B6-1CC2-41F0-9261-89B03375264CHailing from a small village in the middle of England called Haversham, Elaine Boddy aka Foodbod Sourdough has made a name for herself by presenting sourdough baking in a practical and approachable manner. Whether through the addition of “mix-in” ingredients, ancient grains, or her recent enriched version. Elaine’s ‘master recipe’ has proven itself as a key to making sourdough baking fun and flexible. Furthermore, through her blog posts, YouTube videos, and interacting with her Instagram followers and members of her “Sourdough with Foodbod” Facebook group. Elaine presents herself as if she is welcoming her fellow bakers into her home’s kitchen to learn how to consistently bake their best bread.

So without further adieu, it is my honor to present to you Elaine Boddy of Foodbod Sourdough

Barry (The Brewed Palate): When you started baking sourdough in 2013, were you already a home bread baker or was reconstituting and then baking sourdough with your friend’s starter your first foray into bread baking?

IMG_1429Elaine (Foodbod Sourdough): I had already made various breads including flatbreads and loaves using commercial dried yeast, but venturing into sourdough was a whole new world, I’d never even heard of it before my friend Selma suggested it!

Barry (The Brewed Palate): As you dove further into the world of sourdough baking, who were some of your influences? Do you still follow them as resources for recipe development etc?

Elaine (Foodbod Sourdough): My influences, and guides, were my fellow food bloggers, the people who introduced me to sourdough, two amazing ladies from blogworld called Selma and Celia, and other bloggers within our sharing community. I read lots of different blogs and posts and experimented and played around with different ideas and suggestions as I learned about this magical art!

 Ideas and recipe development nowadays tends to come from my imagination and what I find in my kitchen cupboard, but I am also inspired daily by the amazing cooks and bakers in my Facebook group, real home cooks in real home kitchens, they are the most inspirational cooks and bakers to me

Barry (The Brewed Palate):  Beyond developing it as a dependable recipe, what other factors were important to you as you developed your master recipe?

Elaine (Foodbod Sourdough): To be honest, I did not go about ‘developing a master recipe’. Long before I launched my sourdough site or had any involvement in the sourdough world, I needed to be able to make several consistent successful loaves of sourdough per week for my sons daily breakfasts and lunches and I fell into a routine and way of making sourdough that worked for me. It was consistent, straightforward and tidy, it fit into to daily family life and it worked, and to me those factors are all important for a home baker. I created my website so that I could share it in case it was interesting to anyone and I called it my master recipe on a whim, with no idea it would take on a life of it’s own.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Upon reading over your master recipe’s process, I found three notable differences between it and other versatile recipes that I’ve read since starting my sourdough journey. They are: the use of 50g of starter in order to do an overnight bulk fermentation instead of building a levain or using a larger volume of starter (e.g. 100g per loaf); using a single set of lifts and folds prior to transferring the dough to its banneton, rather than performing formal pre and final shape steps; and advocating for a completely covered bake, rather than splitting the baking time between covered and uncovered. What are your thoughts on these differences?

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Elaine (Foodbod Sourdough): My thoughts are that there are many ways to make sourdough, these are the methods I use and that work for me, and now work for many others too.

It seems that there has been a set of supposed ‘rules’ that have been created by many other bakers in the past when it comes to making sourdough, and personally I don’t believe there are, or should be, any rules. The key is to do what works for you. And if you’re using a wild yeast starter, you’re making sourdough. It’s not defined by a process or steps or looks…

 I share what works for me, and I encourage people to find their best process, in their kitchen, with their flour and their lifestyle. Sourdough is eminently forgiving and does not need it be so restrictive.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): As someone who has baked challah bread (an enriched bread) for quite some time, I loved reading over your enriched recipe. You presented it as flexible and customizable so that those who bake it can figure out what works best for them. For me, customizing this recipe would come from substituting some of the SWBF (strong white bread flour) with other flours such as spelt, whole wheat flour, and rye. How should one adjust dough hydration when using flours that typically absorb more or less water in this recipe?

image1Elaine (Foodbod Sourdough): I’m so proud of this recipe, I had great fun perfecting it and so many people have been using it recently and their loaves look amazing!It’s a great recipe made with 100% white spelt, and it would be easy to use other flours in conjunction with SWBF with no changes to the hydration needed. The recipe is, as you say, endlessly customisable. You can use flour mixes, throw in additions, it’s a fun recipe to play with. I would always advise caution with dark rye flour though and start small, it’s a very sticky flour and too much in a mix can make it hard to stretch and fold.

 Barry (The Brewed Palate): You have some great tutorials videos on your Youtube channel. How do you view the interplay between your channel and your website?

 Elaine (Foodbod Sourdough): Many people are visual learners, and lots of people want to see how things are made rather than just reading the text, so videos are crucial. Also, some people find me via YouTube first, some via my website first, they do different jobs depending on how people search for info online.

 Barry (The Brewed Palate):  Staying on the topic of social media, I admire how interactive you are with fellow bakers both on Facebook and Instagram. How has your approach to sharing your personal sourdough journey with fellow home bakers changed over time?

Elaine (Foodbod Sourdough): Thank you. It hasn’t changed at all, I’m a home baker just like everyone else and I think it’s important to share the fact that sourdough is accessible and achievable for anyone in their home kitchens. I also believe in honesty and openness on social media, I don’t see any point in being anything else so I share what works for me and what doesn’t and try to help people in their kitchens with their flours, ovens and environments.

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Barry (The Brewed Palate): One often anxiety provoking factor of sourdough baking is making sure your starter will be ready to bake with when you plan on baking and that you’ll have enough to leaven your loaves…Once you’ve decided what you’ll be baking for the week, how do you go about preparing/maintaining your starter?

Elaine (Foodbod Sourdough): I keep things very simple. On the day I want to make my dough, I take my starter from the fridge, let it sit for 1-2 hours to warm up, then feed it based on what I’ll need for the amount of doughs I want to make.And that’s it. I don’t feed my starter numerous times or for days before I use it, I feed it to use it only. And I only ever feed my starter based on what I’ll need so there’s never any waste or ‘discard’.

 

Barry (The Brewed Palate):  Your first book “Whole Grain Sourdough at Home” is slated to be released this Autumn (September 8th). Can you describe what the writing and recipe development processes were like?

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Elaine (Foodbod Sourdough): The recipe development was great fun, I could play around with ideas and bake to my hearts content as I tried and tested recipes. I had lots of notes and got through lots of flour!

The writing process is really interesting having had my own food blog for eight years I am used to writing recipes, but to write recipes and text for a book is quite different; also when you work for yourself and you are autonomous, you’re not used to somebody editing your text and making suggestions, so to work with my editor and have that as a two-way thing was a very good experience and a steep learning curve and one that’s been thoroughly enjoyable. You don’t realise until somebody else read your text how often you repeat yourself, it turns out I say ‘lovely’ a lot!

Barry (The Brewed Palate):  What is your favorite ancient grain to bake with and why?

20E59A4F-D4DE-4328-B99C-68A87052A16A_1_201_aElaine (Foodbod Sourdough): I’m torn between wholegrain einkorn and white spelt. Einkorn has such a great flavour and history, being the oldest of them all, and white spelt flour is so silky, both are lovely to use and both taste great. But then I also love emmer flour, it makes great starters and has a wonderful flavour in loaves. I guess the short answer is that it’s impossible to choose.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Taking the previous question a bit further: when you incorporate ancient grains into your loaves, what are your go-to bread and food pairings?

Elaine (Foodbod Sourdough): I like my bread to be the hero, especially if it’s packed with those lovely grains and flavours. I prefer to make the meal the bread, rather than bread accompanying a meal. So either just with good butter, or toasted and drizzled with olive oil.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Sourdough bread is often called “living bread.” What do the terms “living bread” and “living food” mean to you?

Elaine (Foodbod Sourdough): To me it’s real food. It’s food that’s alive and grows and develops and gains strength and flavour and beauty the more we nourish it. It’s also a strong link to nature and the living world around us which is too easy forget in busy fast lives. One of the joys of sourdough for me is that it is a slow paced mindful process, and the fact that our starters are living beings is all part of that. We need to get to know them, and respect them, and nurture and love them, and like all living these, they will love us right back. So I guess ‘living food’ is all about loving food for me.

 

Thank you Elaine for all that you’ve done and continue to do for the worldwide sourdough community! You are a sourdough maven and an inspiration to so many home bakers.

 

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Sourdough Baking Journal: I like soft pretzels and I cannot lye

Recipe: After looking over a bunch of sourdough soft pretzel recipes I chose to follow the recipe of my current go-to sourdough blogger, Food Geek.  I made the following three changes to his original recipe: I used Central Milling’s Organic Artisan Bakers Craft Plus flour instead of bread flour, 200g of starter discard instead of the recipe’s levain, and Fleischmann’s unsalted margarine instead of butter (I keep kosher and prefer to keep my baked goods non-dairy).

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Techniques used: One reason that I chose to follow Food Geek’s recipe was that he used food grade lye instead of baking soda and/or sugar. In general I prefer to make my recipes as authentic as possible and lye is traditionally used for pretzels in Germany and a number of other European countries. Next, at some point’s where this recipe said to wait 30 minutes in between steps, I waited closer to 45, but I doubt it made a difference. Lastly, I didn’t have enough room in my freezer for the 2 sheet trays of pretzels so I put them in my fridge for 45 minutes to firm up before dipping them in the lye bath, adding salt, and baking them.

 

4BBCB07F-0F91-491F-B3C1-7B70DD65FCB7Results: For my first attempt at soft pretzels these pretzels came out great (I baked 10 instead of the 12 set by the recipe I followed). Their exterior was nice and caramelized which made for a toothsome and slightly crispy crust and the malted Central Milling flour lent a fluffiness to their interior crumb. One caveat of lower hydration breads such as pretzels and bagels is that they go dry quite quickly. Within 1 day after baking them, my pretzels were noticably dry and more chewy. In terms of changes for the next time I make this recipe: I’ll make sure to add the salt during the initials mix of the final dough rather than remembering to do so an hour afterwards. Secondly, I may incorporate a bit of bread flour to see if the higher protein level contributes to added moisture retention…Though I could bake a batch when circumstances would allow for all 10 pretzels to be eaten day of.

For more pictures of these loaves and all of my sourdough recipes click on the ‘Sourdough Baking Journal’ page above.

 

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Sourdough Baking Journal: Poolish loaf w/ home-ground spelt

Recipe: The inspiration behind this recipe came from Ken Forkish’s popular book entitled Flour Water Salt Yeast. Because I was getting my starters ready for bakes later in the week I decided to follow Ken’s ‘white bread with poolish’ recipe. Then after finding some Bob’s Red Mill organic spelt berries  in my pantry, I decided to try making my own flour using my trusty vintageCB468BAB-E4D0-4178-9FDC-F9002A94AFE4 Krups coffee/spice grinder and a wire mesh sieve. However, after weighing out the flour that I had made I realized that I only had enough for one loaf i.e. 200g of sifted flour and 50g of ground bran. Yes, I know I could have use 25% spelt per loaf if I had chosen to make the full recipe, but I was in an experimenting mood. So why not 50% in one loaf? The night before baking day I made the poolish with 250g bread flour, 250g water, and 1/16 tsp of instant yeast. Then the next morning I mixed my final dough which was comprised of the whole poolish, the 250g of spelt flour, 11g of salt, 1.5g of instant yeast, and 140g of spring water.

1E6ACDA5-47E1-4F2F-8FB0-9EC8F2AC851CBulk Fermentation: 3 hours including 3 sets of coil folds. Proof: 1.25 hours @ warm room temp (see below).  Baked 30 minutes covered and 25 minutes uncovered @ 475F.

Techniques Used: Overall I followed the aforementioned recipe (beyond the using 50% home ground spelt instead of 100% bread flour). Though I should note that this was my first time using coil folds instead of stretch and folds and a poolish instead of a levain.

8E0E46C4-BD91-4DC7-B11D-67ABCF5C1015Results: After proofing for a probably unnecessary 15 extra minutes in my warm kitchen (due to oven preheating) I  was ready tobake my loaf. Unfortunatley, it spread upon being transferred to my preheated Challenger Bread Pan . Next, I suspect that due to the 475F baking temp for 55 minutes I lost some shape and oven spring during the second half of the bake (see pictures in journal). Once I cut into the loaf and posted pictures in the sourdough Facebook groups that I’m a member of, the feedback that recieved left me pretty happy with the overall even crumb and flavor of the bread. Lastly, a fellow baker provided me with this link and commented that spelt doesn’t absorb at much water as wheat and therefore one should lower their hydration percentage a bit when baking with spelt.

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Meet the Baker Behind the Loaves: Kristen Dennis of Full Proof Baking

Home-brewer to professional brewer, home-cook to YouTube chef, home-baker to professional home baker. In recent years social media has given countless passionate individuals the opportunity to take the “leap of faith” and go from hobbyist to professional. As a result of this opportunity having been taken by so many like-minded individuals, flourishing online communities have been established, advancements in a multitude of fields have been made, and the quality of life of many has been enriched. One such field or avenue of culinary expression in this category is sourdough baking aka living bread, a hearkening back to the true essence of bread and its signficance to the development and sustenance of civilization as we know it. Hence, it was no surprise to me that I found an amazing collective community of passionate and supportive home sourdough bakers (Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube) when I decided to create my current sourdough starters (aka Randolph and Mortimer) and get baking again after a two year hiatus.

Bread 3Within this continuously growing community, a number of individuals have both stood out as influences to many and chosen to make sourdough baking their profression. One such inspirational individual is Kristen Dennis of Full Proof Baking. A former science editor who as a result of the feedback that she recieved as she shared her sourdough baking experiences with others, decided to make her “full time hobby” into her new (current) profession. Since going full-time sourdough in early 2018 Kristen has utilized her science background and love for sharing her baking experiences with others to amass a following of over 284k Instagram followers and inspired countless individuals to work towards getting the most out of each ingredient they use in their sourdough loaves and other baked goods. Hence, as someone whose quality of life has been enriched for many years by working towards this very goal in each of his food and beverage related hobbies. It was a no brainer that Kristen should be included in this series.

So without further adieu, it is my honor to present to you Kristen Dennis of Full Proof Baking…

Barry (The Brewed Palate): I recently read an interview article on leavenly.com where you were the interviewee. In the article the first thing about you that stood out to me was that you have a PhD in biology and used your science background to help develop your sourdough baking skills. As a homebrewer (beer, mead, and cider) who has learned a lot about yeast and grains over time, I found that my knowledge came in handy when starting my personal sourdough journey this past April. Now that you’ve been baking sourdough bread for a while, do you find yourself continuing to utilize your science background regularly?

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Kristen: Working with sourdough can be quite scientific in nature! Some bakers are drawn to sourdough due to the tactile, more artistic nature of the craft, while others like myself can be drawn to some of the more scientific aspects of bread baking and all the meaningful ways you can tweak the individual variables of the recipe and techniques in order to achieve different results. 

At its foundation, you are working to develop and maintain a culture of microbes – the bacteria and yeasts that make up your sourdough starter. The variables of temperature, humidity, flour, water, and environment each have a measurable effect on the culture’s activity. By playing with the conditions of hydration and temperature, you are able to throw the balance of microbes to favor bacteria over yeast, or even particular strains of bacteria which can have a measurable effect on the final leavening power and flavor of your final bake (think of the differences between a liquid rye starter and a pasta madre/lievito madre). Some environments best cater to a starter that is more sour or sweet in flavor, some provide more leavening power and work well in even enriched doughs. You could write an entire book – a book series! – on just sourdough starters. It’s fascinating to read about and try to test different things at home!

I like to figure out what parts of the overall process can be tweaked and objectively measured so that when I go to do my own analysis and write-ups, I can help others achieve the same results. In science, it is important that a given experiment is reproducible, and you must have proper controls in place. If you cannot reproduce using the same materials and technique, then the information you are putting out there may not be so helpful to other bakers. I do consultations with bakers from around the world every week, and I am nearly overwhelmed by all the variables that go into the process. Optimizing the method to work for the most number of people is tricky but also fun to do. Coming up with ways to help others measure their fermentation or ways to assess the quality of their flour… I feel like my head is swimming with these ideas a lot of the time – I find myself completely obsessed!

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Beyond reading and watching videos about beginner sourdough recipes. What other resources do you feel are worth including in one’s research prior to baking his or her first loaf?

Kristen: For me, it was getting my hands in the dough and practicing every week or as often as I was able. You can easily become discouraged early on, but I think trying to prepare yourself with the right sort of mindset – that every bread, every ferment, is a learning experience and it’s actually good to bake those “fail” loaves – you will have resilience and want to keep working at it. Before I got started, I worked for a while with commercial yeasted breads, and I think this was helpful to familiarize me with different flours, dough hydration, general handling, and the baking set up. After awhile I became interested in the challenge of sourdough and the appeal of learning the science behind the fermentation. I would recommend doing some reading (see the online forum, The Fresh Loaf; or join a Facebook Page such as Baking Bread With Friends where you can ask questions and get answers), or watching YouTube videos (especially so you’re familiar with the basics of how to care for a starter). 

Then really the best way to learn is to dive right in and get your hands in some dough! Be prepared to take lots of notes – this can help you improve at a faster rate. Recording things such as temperature, weights of ingredients, and timing – these helped organize my thoughts and gave me better insight after I baked my loaves as to what might have gone wrong. Make mistakes, assess the possible reasons things went wrong, and learn from them! The first “proper” ferment I ever had was achieved by accident – I forgot about my dough while reading a book (funny enough, it happened to be the first book I’d read about sourdough, Open Crumb Mastery by TJ Wilson), and when I returned to the dough found it to be puffy and rounded! I’d never seen my dough like that, and once I baked it and cut it open, I saw signs of tender, light crumb that I’d never achieved before. A huge lightbulb moment for me! You can only read so much – truly, trial and error is going to be the very best part of the learning experience.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): From watching your Youtube tutorials I’ve found that you aim to optimize your dough preparation process in order to get the most out of your ingredients. Can you describe your recipe development process and how it relates to how you structure your tutorials?

Bread 2Kristen: At this point, many of my recipes are based on previous trials with similar ingredients. I have learned through trial and error how different flours or inclusions affect the dough feel, the gluten development, and rate of fermentation. But earlier on when I was experimenting, I had no idea how something as simple as a powder (cocoa, matcha) might affect the dough. But you run it again and again and improve upon the recipe.

I have many bakers contact me about having tried out one of my recipes (“to a T”) and their dough ended up very slack and never built up strength. I try to stress the importance to use a given recipe as a guide, to make modifications based on the fact that you are using a different starter, living in a different climate, and using different flour generally speaking. What is optimized for me may not be optimized for another baker. Instead, it is key to think about a given “recipe” as general specifications – knowing to tweak it accordingly to optimize it for you. 

For instance, one of the most important things to be aware of is that different flours absorb different amounts of water. The Flour Stress Test I’ve posted about is one way to help bakers determine how strong/loose/extensible their given flour would behave in a dough. Weaker (lower quality gluten) flours need a different handling technique too: be it shorter autolyses (or no autolyse), decreased water to help boost strength, gentle handling (omitting stressful techniques such as lamination), etc. Really, it comes down to being brave and trying things out, assessing the result, and planning where to go next.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): While some are hesitant to make their hobbies into a full-time job, you chose to take the “leap of faith” and have been quite successful. When did you decide to make sourdough baking your full-time job and what was the transition from hobbyist to professional like?

Kristen: I began baking sourdough bread about 4 years ago (summer 2016). I found some Facebook Pages later that year and started posting my breads as a way to connect with a community of like-minded people. I really enjoyed the sharing and commiserating and learning. By late 2017 sourdough bread baking had become a bit of an obsession and definitely a full-time hobby. 

Photo 4

In January of 2018 I began the Instagram page, @FullProofBaking to branch out a little and to display some of my prettier breads in sort of an online art portfolio. I was enthralled by the educational accounts such as @maurizio, @trevorjaywilson, @autumn.kitchen, and many others. When others would ask questions or have discussions in the comments section of my posts, I began to feel connected to a community of bakers from all over the world. The Instagram baking community is the most welcoming, positive-energy group I’ve ever met, and I was inspired by it. As time went on, it became clear that people were hungry for more experiments and deep-dive type posts into different aspects of sourdough bread – the more detail provided, the more questions seemed to emerge and the more excited I became to test out new things. Incentivized in this positive feedback loop. 

I branched out further to create a YouTube channel, and began offering supplemental GumRoad PDF booklets as a small way to begin monetizing the business. Workshops began back in 2018 allowed me to meet bakers and work in a more hands-on fashion. Nowadays I’m busy with daily online/phone consultations which has been a wonderful way to connect with bakers from all around the world. Looking back, it all seemed a very natural progression.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): With there being so many methods to achieve the goal of each step of the sourdough dough preparation process, choosing one over another can be confusing at times. Can you explain the differences between stretch and folds, coil folds, and laminations and how you would decide which one to utilize? 

You can make sourdough bread using a vast assortment of techniques out there! This is what I love so much about sourdough – its flexibility and versatility. For most of my doughs, I try to follow a very similar methodology (autolyse, hand mixing levain and salt, and coil folds for dough strength building, similar shaping technique, final proof, bake setup). The fewer variations in overall technique, the easier it is for me to figure out why something goes wrong in the end result. Then, if necessary I can adapt the method for the next trial run. 

If I want to layer two doughs or add seeds, I will perform lamination (a technique I learned from @autumn.kitchen) which also acts to build early strength into the dough. I do not prefer stretch and folds in general. I appreciate the rounded, organized dough following a standard coil fold rather than the grabbing of the dough and pulling the flap up and over the top. I feel the dough gets a better stretch (and a more effective strengthening) following coil folds as compared to S&Fs as well. Also beneficial: each of my coil folds acts as a sort of pre-shape, so that by the end of bulk my dough is already structured and organized and ready to go straight to final shaping. (Even when I mix up a batch for two breads, I’ll divide the dough after adding the salt and bulk in separate dishes for this reason).

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Do you store your starter in the fridge? If so, how do you get it ready to bake? For example, I personally feed it at least twice before either using some on its own or taking a portion to build a levain. 

Kristen: I bake every other day or so, sometimes every day! I do not usually put my starter in the fridge unless absolutely necessary (vacations for instance). The general idea is to take your starter from the fridge when you’re ready to bake, give it a few hours at room temp, then begin several warm feedings to get the starter very active again before using it as a levain in your upcoming bake. 

The first feed out of the fridge I like to do at 1:1:1, then let it sit 6-8 hours (it should be puffy by this time) at a toasty 78-82F. Depending on its activity, I’ll feed at night before bed 1:3:3-1:5:5 (lower ratios if the starter is a little sluggish; higher ratios if the starter is already showing nice signs of activity). Then in the morning I build my levain (which also acts as my first feed of the day), usually at a ratio of 1:1:1 or 1:2:2 depending on my schedule. 5-6 hours later, my starter is ready and I’ll take what I need for my dough. For bakers who are not planning to use again until the next week, you can feed what’s left in the jar (5-10g) at a 1:1:1 ratio, wait a couple hours and then pop back in the fridge till next bake!

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Two pieces of baking equipment that I’ve seen in your recent video tutorials are your Brod & Taylor proofer and Challenger Breadware bread pan. How long have you had them and how have they helped you improve your sourdough baking?

Photo 3Kristen: The Brod & Taylor has been so wonderful to have these last couple years. Especially in the winter months, I was having such problems keeping my starter warm enough. Really takes a lot of the guessing out of the dough temperature, and lets me experiment with higher temperatures when I want to play around with my conditions. The Challenger bread pan has also been incredibly wonderful to have! I used to bake my dough on a stone, with a giant roaster lid and steam tray (broil tray filled with lava rocks). Also using a Dutch oven (I’ve burned myself an embarrassing number of times with this method). The pan is great to have as it is designed for exactly the types of loaves I bake. The right dimensions, well-placed handles, great steam retention, even heating. The best oven spring I get is when using the Challenger bread pan, and also wonderful even browning in the second half of the bake (with the low-profile walls on the base). I tell bakers, you surely do not need these products to make great bread, but they definitely make your life easier!

Barry (The Brewed Palate): While experienced sourdough bakers know that sourdough breads, etc., are not all sour-tasting, home bakers who have yet to try baking artisan sourdough bread may be hesitant to do so due its potential sour taste. What would you say to someone who presents with this opinion?

One thing I remember being surprised about – if you care for your starter by feeding it always at peak, be careful not to let it collapse and build up in acid load, and ensure it’s nice and active before using it in a bake, the resulting breads do not turn out sour in flavor! My starter, Ozzy, smells like cinnamon and bananas, and is relatively sweet to taste (with a very mild sour flavor). If you prefer breads that are not so tangy, try feeding your starter as close to peak as possible and ensure the starter is quite powerfully active (meaning, it can rise and peak fairly quickly after a given feed). The general rule I like to follow is that, after a 1:1:1 feed when kept at ~80F, my starter can peak (triple) in 4-6 hours time.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): As an avid home cook I enjoy perusing your instagram posts for ideas for ingredients to add into my loaves. However, I’ve found deciding when the optimal time to add the “mix-ins” a bit tricky. Can you share some basic guidelines for when to add certain “mix-ins” (e.g. dried fruit, spices, chocolate)?

Bread 1

Kristen: For me, it’s an easy rule of thumb: if your ingredient is “spreadable” (like a jam, roasted mashed garlic, oil or butter, or oat porridge), then I recommend folding it in gently after incorporating the salt. If the ingredient is “sprinkleable” (a technical term, I’m sure) like seeds, chocolate, or chopped herbs, then I add while the dough is stretched out during lamination. If you are not laminating, then just fold in or sprinkle some on at every coil fold. The ingredients will work themselves into the dough as you continue to fold throughout bulk. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Sourdough bread is often called “living bread.” What do the terms “living bread” and “living food” mean to you? 

The practice of using wild yeast to leaven dough goes back thousands of years. I had not heard of this term “living bread” until I received Dan Leader’s new book with that title. It’s a term that seems to speak to the history of sourdough and to the farmers who grow the seeds and harvest the grain and millers who grind the flour; to the bakers who produce the bread in large volume bakeries for the community or at home for their families and friends. 

I love the idea of “living bread” in terms of the history and culture, but also (as a biologist) I am thinking of the little beasties that make up the culture. The use of a microbial culture that efficiently ferments a dough: the bacteria working to make a nutritious, easily digestible, delicious staple baked good that is shared by people all over the world. The action of the cultured yeasts to make the final loaf open and light, tender and fluffy. I see my bread dough itself as “living” as it grows proofy throughout the fermentation, growing right in front of my eyes – even as it rises in the oven in its final oven spring. It’s all quite endlessly fascinating to think about!

Thank you Kristen for all that you’ve done and continue to do for the worldwide sourdough community! You are a sourdough rockstar and an inspiration to so many home bakers.

 

 

 

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Sourdough Baking Journal: Cinnamon Raisin Nostalgia

Cinnamon Raisin Boules July 9-10, 2020

E99AA12A-1FAF-449A-83B8-014CFF971B29Recipe: The inspiration behind this recipe came from my middle and high schools years when I would often eat cinnamon raisin bread and cream cheese sandwiches for breakfast on my way to school. To get started on my sourdough version of this nostalgic bread I searched for a recipe to base mine off of and found this Baked – the blog recipe. Because the blog post for this recipe gave a lot of suggestion for customization I took stock of ingredients that I had on hand and landed with the following recipe. 70% bread flour, 20% whole wheat flour, and 10% dark rye flour. Followed by 21% levain (Mortimer), 2.2% salt, 16g cinnamon (added during mixing of dough), and 250g raisins. As with the previous recipe, I decided to forgo autolysing the flour for this recipe.

Bulk Fermentation: 5.25 hours at room temperature with 3 sets of stretch and folds. Raisins added during second set of stretch and folds after 35 minutes of soaking in water w/ 1.5 caps of pure vanilla extract added. Followed by preshaping, a 30 minute rest and final shaping into boules. Overnight Retard/Proof: 18 hours  Baked 25 minutes covered and 25 minutes uncovered @ 450F.

Techniques Used: While the recipe that I was loosely following called for adding the salt, cinnamon, and raisins after a 40 minute autolyse and before the first set of stretch and folds. I decided to add the raisins during the second set of stretch and folds like I did for my olive/black pepper/lemon zest boule (see above).

03973AF1-9825-4EA2-B747-69FC94965C83Results: Flavorwise both boules came out tasting great. However, due of the added sugar from the raisins and my not significantly changing my heat deflection technique (see previous recipe). The more well caramelized portions of the bottom crust at times added a somewhat bitter quality to the taste. Next time that I bake this recipe I will definitely add the raisins and cinnamon as instructed by the recipe that I was following. Firstly, because the loaf that I baked in my challenger bread pan had a considerable amount more raisins in it. Secondly, some slices (from both loaves) had the majority of their raisins towards the bottom rather scattered throughout. Appearance-wise my scoring didn’t turn out as planned, but turned out attractive nonetheless.

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Sourdough Baking Journal: Semolina in Sourdough?

 

Semolina/Bread Flour Batard Loaves – July 9-10, 2020

5848A5A9-0DC0-4892-9298-E0F4942D0E1BRecipe: After seeing a lot of posts about using semolina flour in sourdough bread in the two sourdough focused Facebook groups that I’m a member of I did some research and landed on the following recipe…For these loaves I used 67% bread flour and 33% semolina along with 20% levain (Mortimer), 2.2% salt, and 75% hydration. Because I made my levain the night before and wanted to get the loaves shaped and in the refrigerator as early as possible; I decided to forgo an autolyse and mixed all of the ingredients together at once.

Bulk Fermentation: 5.25 hours w/ 3 sets of stretch and folds. Followed by preshaping, a 30 minute rest and final shaping into batards. Overnight Retard/Proof: 18 hours  Baked 25 minutes covered and 25 minutes uncovered @ 450F.

Techniques Used: Being that this was my “eighth bake” I found it quite easy to follow basic recipe parameters once I decided to use 33% semolina flour. Because I had my air conditioner on and my Brod & Taylor proofer as an option for controlling bulk fermentation temperature, I was not worried about baking on a hot/humid day. In turn, after my 3 sets of stretch and folds I put my mixing bowl of dough in my proofer for the remainder of bulk fermentation which was set to 80F. Lastly, in an effort to only change one variable at a time in terms of avoiding a overly caramelized and tough bottom crust. I decide to add an extra cookie sheet/roasting try to on the oven rack below my bread pans (Lodge combo cooker and Challenger bread pan  for heat deflection and to preheat at 500F and bake at 450F (rather than starting covered at 500F)…

F847ED2B-9D2A-438F-9EED-E9D35B1E0FB2Results: Overall, I felt that the bottom crust was not any tougher than my previous loaves and the changes that I did make were effective (see pictures below). Next time I’ll rotate the loaves earlier and follow some advice that I got from Jim Challenger and do the following. I’ll completely remove my baking vessels, invert their lids, put them in the oven, and then put their bottoms on top in order to deflect even more heat during the uncovered portion of baking. In terms of appearance, I scored my first ever wheat stalks and am quite happy with how they turned out. The semolina gave the out of the loaves an attractive blonde/yellow hue, but the crumb was pale due to 2/3 of the flour being white bread flour. Flavorwise, both the crust and interior were balanced. I think I’ll have to use more semolina next time to really taste how much it can contribute to a sourdough loaf’s flavor profile.

For more pictures of these loaves and all of my sourdough recipes click on the ‘Sourdough Baking Journal’ page above.

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Meet the Baker Behind the Loaves: Jim Challenger of Challenger Breadware

Since I started baking sourdough bread this past May I’ve been baking in a Lodge 3.2 quart cast iron combo cooker and while my loaves have been coming out looking and tasting great. I’ve also noticed that it presents some limitations to me as a new sourdough baker and for my future baking plans. For example, well or slightly over-proofed loaves have been hard to carefully lower onto the skillet portion of the cooker. Secondly, while I’ve been happy with the evenness of the crumb in my loaves. I feel that if I had even a slightly larger baking vessel, I might be able to achieve more open crumb even when using up to 40% whole grain flours (e.g. 60% bread flour, 30% whole wheat flour, and 10% dark rye flour)…

As with my homebrewing hobby, I immediately began watching copious amounts of Youtube videos about sourdough baking and joined three sourdough Facebook groups within the first week of getting my starters going. In addition to “bread porn”, requests for starter management guidance, and feedback on finished loaves. One topic that is often discussed in these groups is baking vessels and how to master baking in them. So when I saw a post about how much a fellow baker loved her new Challenger bread pan, I immediately went to the company’s website to read up on what makes this cast iron unique. While scrolling through Challenger Breadware’s impressively designed website I came upon an affiliate application and quickly filled it out with information about The Brewed Palate. To my surprise, the company’s founder, Jim Challenger emailed me directly less than 24 hours later with the news that my application had been accepted. Then after a few back and forth emails it was decided that Jim would not only send me his revolutionary bread pan to review, but he’d also answer some questions whose answers I would share with The Brewed Palate’s regular readers and all those who I am able to reach in sourdough baking community.

So without further adieu, I present to you Jim Challenger, founder of Challenger Breadware…

Barry (The Brewed Palate): How’d you get into bread baking? Did you have any specific sources of inspiration? 

4E8E6701-A619-4D1D-A5AB-675B34A0977AJim: I’ve always cooked for my family, including all my kids’ friends. We started having pizza parties because well who doesn’t love pizza. All the kids went crazy for the pizza especially because they got to pick all their own toppings. One day it dawned on me that to make better pizza, I should learn to make bread. It is something that I’ve always wanted to learn, and I’d tried a few times in my life. I started with yeasted bread, but soon after I met Trevor Jay Wilson. He helped me, and he said if I ever wanted to make sourdough, I should just jump in right away. I became obsessed and that was almost 4 years ago.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): How did you go from home baker to deciding to make your own bread pan? Do you have a background in engineering or manufacturing? 

Jim: I started developing the pan because I was just really frustrated with all the hacks I had to use to bake bread. I went from the tiny Lodge pan to the deep Le Creuset to the Baking Steel that I used for pizza. I broke my oven twice trying to keep it well steamed. I’m a programmer by profession and an entrepreneur at heart. I met a woman on Instagram (Sara Dahmen @housecopper), and she’d made her own cast iron skillet. We talked about my ideas for a real bread pan, and she hooked me up with her product designer and foundry. I was only going to make a few for myself and friends to pay back my initial investment. The Instagram bread community went crazy for them, and I was flooded with emails. I looked at my wife Lisa one day, and I said, We have to start a real company. We launched the company and the Challenger Bread Pan on August 1, 2019. It’s a lot of fun and a lot of work, but I truly love giving this Pan back the community that has sustained me as a baker and allowed me to make really good friends all over the world.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): What are some of the challenges that arose as you moved towards starting your own bakeware business? 

Jim: Our first major challenge was the our original foundry could not make enough pans fast enough to satisfy demand. It took a lot of work to find a good and big enough second foundry to make our pans because they are difficult to manufacture mostly due to the handles we designed on the cover to make them safe and easy to handle. Our second biggest challenge is finding the best way to make these pans affordable to bakers all over the world and to let them learn about the Pan and baking bread in general in their own language. The size and weight of the Pan make it expensive to ship, and the customs duties can be really high in lots of different countries. We continue to innovate and invest in ways to help bakers everywhere.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Was it difficult to expand your business once demand grew rapidly? 

Jim: Yes, mostly due to the reasons I discussed above. In addition, everyone who I turned to told me to focus on the US first and forget the rest of the world. I’ve made far too many baker friends all over the world, and I refused and continue to refuse to give up on them.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Since expanding your business, have there been any issues that bakers have experienced with the Challenger bread pan? How have they been addressed?

Jim: Honestly, we have not had any issues that have been experienced by bakers. Everyone that receives the pan absolutely loves baking in it. We’ve been told over and over that bakers are baking the best bread of their lives once they started using the Challenger.

98209360_3127412533983543_8967292974132101120_nSide note: Upon being accepted as a Challenger Breadware affiliate I did a Youtube search for their bread pan and came across a video posted by a baker who initially was having difficulty with the bottom of his loaves turning out darker than he would like. In the description of the video he described a solution that Jim advised him to try i.e. ” to put the pan onto 2 overturned baking pans (see photo below).” While trying this method didn’t work for the baker, it is similar to what I do when I bake (see photo to the left). I set up my 2 oven racks into the lower portion of my oven and put a large baking sheet on the bottom one. I’ve found that this deflects a fair amount of radiant heat when baking with my Lodge combo cooker. However, the baker ended up coming up with his own solution that I found ingenious. “I then employed a small wire rack that I had laying around (perhaps from an old toaster oven). I bake at 500 for 20 mins then turn down heat to 450 and place the rack under the loaf which is on parchment paper for the last 20 mins.” One caveat that I think may be a matter of preference is that I didn’t think that the darker loaf shown by this baker was too dark (“burnt and tough”). Lastly, I also don’t always mind when the bottom of my loaves are almost as caramelized as the rest of their crust.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): How often do you bake nowadays? Do you have a specific method/process of your own that you’ve developed as you’ve become a more experienced baker?

89E29C88-E9AA-49D3-8C30-1B004ED4FBAB

Jim: I try to bake bread every day. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays I bake 16 loaves of bread that I give aways to friends in our community. It is one of the most fulfilling things that I’ve done as a baker. For the first almost 55 days of the pandemic, I baked 12 loaves each and every day and gave them aways to families in need in our community.

I’m always trying to learn to be a better bread baker because there’s always so much to learn. My goal is to always help beginning bakers because I remember how frustrated I was at the beginning. I developed my Keep It Simple Sourdough (KISS) recipe for beginners along with a video that’s available on our website. I continue to play and tweak with this recipe and process trying to break it down into its simplest form.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): With all the beginner sourdough baking guides out there nowadays, how would you recommend that a new baker prepare to bake his or her first loaves of bread?

Jim: To me, I believe that the biggest problem that beginning bakers have is that most recipes contain far too much water for a beginner. It’s why I developed my KISS recipe and process. I also recommend that beginning bakers stick with one recipe until they’re really happy with the bread they’re pulling out of the oven, and they should make bread with all-white flour until they’re happy too.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): In addition to the Challenger bread pan, what other pieces of baking equipment (vessels/tools/implements) do you use on a regular basis that you’d recommend for other bakers to have in their kitchens (new and experienced)?

Jim: All the tools and baking equipment that I use everyday are in the Baker’s Arsenal on our website. We are working on new products that will be coming out this year that will also help bakers bake better bread every year, and we will continue to offer recipes, videos, tips, and techniques on our website. Our goal as a company is to help people bake better bread every day — without frustration!

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Sourdough bread is often called “living bread.” What do the terms “living bread” and “living food” mean to you?

Jim: This is a great question! Better and healthier eating is one of the things that I think really draws people to bread. It’s been the backbone of cultures for 1000s of years. Until commercial yeast was invented around the turn of the 20th century, bread was always made with natural living yeast. It’s why it’s so much healthier and tastier than the bread people purchase in grocery stores. To me, living foods are fermented foods, and the fermentation makes them healthier for you.

 

Thank you to Jim and his wife Lisa for accepting me as a Challenger Breadware affiliate. I’m looking forward to reviewing/baking with your bread pan and working with you on spreading the word about your contributions to the worldwide bread baking community.

 

 

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Palate Pleasing Projects 2: Living food

Since my last update I’ve continued with two of the three projects that I shared my progress on (sourdough bread and ethnic (international) cooking), and took on one fortunate additional project. I was able to make my first batch of homebrew after taking a four month unplanned break from doing so. On Sunday, June 21st I finally made my first Ethiopian tej mead and am looking forward to sharing updates on its progress with you in future posts.

Now, why did I call this post “living food?” While ethnic or spice driven cooking does not contain living yeast like my two sourdough starters (aka Randolph and Mortimer). The spices, herbs,  and vegetables used are full of healthy and sustaining nutrients and leave me feeling like I’m truly in touch with each ingredient that I choose to cook with. Furthermore, in recent years old world food preparation and cooking methods have defined much of what it means to be a “foodie.” Living food is defined by fermentation, a process which contributes to the creation of a plethora of aromas, flavors, textures, and probiotic benefits. In other words, it unlocks the life within natural ingredients and allows our bodies to run efficiently and sustainably. Lastly, getting to know each element of what it takes to get the most of each ingredient that we cook with can only increase our appreciation for the end results on our plates and in our glasses. L’chaim to living food and drink!

Current Projects:

Sourdough bread

Since baking my first two sourdough loaves on May 10th I’ve baked nine more loaves. I’m happy to say that despite some steps and end result characteristics not fully meeting my expectations in some cases. All of the loaves looked and tasted great. In addition, to continuing to experiment with different percentages of dark rye and whole wheat flour, I’ve started baking with spices, herbs, and vegetables. As shown in the picture below, I’ve baked an olive/black pepper/lemon zest boule, sourdough focaccia with red onion, green olives, and grape tomatoes, and two roasted garlic/fresh thyme boules. Next, on Wednesday June 24th, I recieved my Brod & Taylor folding proofer and slow cooker after a two month wait due to high demand. I’m hoping it’ll help me dial in my bulk fermentation times and achieve better results overall. In terms of upcoming loaves, I recently purchased loaf pans in order to bake sandwich bread and caraway seeds and a second batard banneton so I can bake two dark rye batards at a time.0C9E7A57-7302-475D-8AC4-F953F9ACB6E1_1_201_a

 

Ethnic Cooking

Positive reviews on an Indian meal that I cooked for a friend and his wife on May 25th led to the creation of Make It Kosher meals, a home catering service focusing on kosher ethnic meals for those living in my local area. Reviews have been great and I’ve been able to keep this side gig on a schedule that works well for me and my family. So far all of the menus have been Indian dishes whose recipes I’ve found online and adapted to be kosher (e.g. replacing yogurt with coconut milk). Chetna Makan’s YouTube channel, website, and books have continued consistently providing me lots of great recipes to cook for my menus and for my family. I’ve also purchased a book entitled 660 curries and bounced ideas off friends who also enjoy Indian cooking. In addition, to my cooking of Indian dishes, I’ve started getting back into cooking both Ethiopian and Mexican dishes. After making a fresh batch of berbere spice mix, I made both injera flatbread and a Ethiopian beef stew. The following weekend I decided to make Mexican birria by slow cooking beef in a chile and tomato mole-esque sauce. Over the summer I plan on cooking more Mexican and south and cental American dishes in order to both broaden my horizons and further improve my cooking skills.

 

Homebrewing

As described above, I made my first batch of mead (or homebrew for that matter) in about four months on Sunday, June 21st. Ever since I started watching Mark Weins’ food travel videos on Youtube. I’ve wanted to make a batch of Ethiopian tej mead. I used a combination of clover and buckwheat honey along with the traditional gesho root to create the must. I then let the wild yeast on the gesho root twigs settle into the honey must for 2 days before adding 4g of Safale US-05, a clean fermenting yeast. Within 24 hours more visible signs of fermentation kicked off and this 3.25 gallon batch has been fermenting nicely ever since. I plan on taking my first gravity sample at the two week mark. By then I should know whether it’s time to wrack the mead off the yeast and gesho root.

 

Cheers!

 

 

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