Meet the Baker Behind the Loaves: Melissa Johnson of Breadtopia

What does it take to become a “bread writer?” With so many beginner sourdough books and blogs available nowadays, finding what makes one’s perspective on this growing hobby unique has become increasingly important. However, when authoring a cookbook, this factor can become discouraging. In my opinion, focusing on presenting one’s perspective and methods in a way that readers will relate to and benefit from is what matters most. Fortunately, many of today’s cookbook and sourdough baking book authors start off as bloggers. According to accomplished chef, food writer, food stylist, and cookbook author Alice Hart, this is “a good practice and a way to advertise yourself. These days, a publisher will want to know how they can sell, not just the food, but you the writer. By showing what you’re about and who your target audience is, you’ve just made their lives easier and yourself more hireable” (The Guardian).

Starting off as a nutrition-focused writer, this week’s featured baker developed a passion for writing about sourdough baking through the documentation of her “trying new baking techniques, grains, and flavors; photographing the baking process; and explaining to the others the science and artistry of sourdough.” Melissa Johnson took this passion and curiousity with her when she began working as a recipe developer and documenter of sourdough experiments for Breadtopia at the beginning of 2017. From kubaneh (Jewish Yemeni bread) to corn porridge and rosemary sourdough bread, Melissa has found a way to present her enthusiasm to her fellow bakers in a fun and approachable manner both on the Breadtopia website and in ‘Sourdough Cookbook for Beginners’, the recently released book that she co-authored with Breadtopia founder Eric Rusch.

So without further ado, I present to you Melissa Johnson of Breadtopia.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Being that you initially explored sourdough baking as an extension of your interest in gut health and fermented foods. How has your view of fermented foods changed since you began baking sourdough bread?

Melissa: I have a bigger appreciation for fermented foods since I began baking sourdough bread. I see how fermentation enhances the flavor of different grains and the texture of different breads. For example, I recently made a few batches of Eric’s Traditional Whole Grain Sourdough to mail to my son in college and for the rest of the family to eat at home too. It’s so soft and delicious, and it’s perfect for shipping across the country as it resists staling. In fact, it’s supposed to taste best on day three.  

There are so many things I love about sourdough baking—how the tang of a long-fermented sourdough pizza dough complements different toppings, and how cinnamon rolls leavened with sourdough have a much more complex flavor than when leavened with commercial yeast.

Finally, and a bit unexpectedly, I’ve also found that using sourdough starter in two different chickpea dishes helps me digest them (farinata and homemade pasta made with a mix of chickpea flour and wheat flour). 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Firstly, congratulations on your recently published book Sourdough Cookbook for Beginners, which you co-authored with Breadtopia founder Eric Rusch. With so many beginner sourdough books available nowadays, what steps did you and Eric take to set your book apart from other similar books?

Melissa: Thank you. We really enjoyed writing the book and wanted to address the fact that many people avoid sourdough baking because they’re under the impression that there’s only one way to maintain sourdough starter and bake bread—and that one way is time-consuming, requires a lot of planning, and tends to be wasteful. Even with the uptick in sourdough baking due to Covid lockdown, I sometimes hear people say they won’t continue baking when life returns to normal. 

Teaching people a simpler, more laidback approach to sourdough baking is why Eric created Breadtopia in 2006, and finding the website after baking two loaves of sourdough bread in 2016 is why I kept at it. I’d actually just tossed my starter because after trying a more conventional approach, I really didn’t think I could fit the complications of sourdough baking into my life. 

So in the book, Eric and I explain the fundamental concepts that enable people to make sourdough baking work for their lifestyles and schedules. We also give immediate methods and instructions for beginners to start with and later modify once they gain experience gauging fermentation and gluten development. 

Finally, we created a lot of videos on (click book cover photo) to accompany the book so people could see different techniques and steps in action.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): While reading through the initial chapters of the book I was pleased to find a starter troubleshooting guide. What you feel are the 5 key components of creating a comprehensive and practical sourdough starter guide?

Melissa: I think a starter guide is essentially a dough fermentation guide, and both should explain the importance of observation, the impact of different ingredients (flour types, water, salt, sugar, protein, fat), what happens at various stages of fermentation, how temperature and hydration impact development, and what to do when the most common problems pop up. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): As an avid home cook who enjoys cooking a wide variety of ethnic dishes, I admire your incorporation of complex flavor profiles into your cooking and baking. How would describe your perspective on cooking and how does it influence your bread baking? 

Melissa: I love trying dishes and breads from all over the world, learning how the flavors and techniques traveled over geography and time, and seeing how different ingredients or techniques might achieve similar flavor goals. I’m grateful every day that I have access to information and recipes on the internet, and to different ingredients in the stores where I live. 

I’m also a convenience seeker and shameless ingredient substituter, so the more I learn from different culinary traditions, the more tools I have at my disposal to mix and match, and not make one more trip to the grocery store. 

In both cooking and baking, I’m trying to optimize the effort-to-outcome ratio. Truly, I’m willing to do very effortful activities, e.g. make 50 empanadas with two kinds of filling, if I feel like the end result is worth it. It is 😉 This is also why I love doing baking experiments: finding out how big of a difference a technique or step actually makes. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): As a baker who embraces the benefits of baking with freshly milled grains, how do you choose which grains to mill when developing your recipes?

Melissa: Usually flavor profile and gluten strength are my first considerations – how they will contribute to the style of the bread. Kamut and durum tend to be classic choices for Italian breads, for example, but I also like to test unexpected choices e.g. a soft white wheat grown in Arizona as a component of focaccia. We recently wrote a guide to flour and wheat types to try to help people understand the different flavors and characteristics of various wheat varieties. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Having been a homebrewer for the past 11 years, I enjoy delving into the more scientific aspects of sourdough baking. As someone who is married to a homebrewer, what advantages do you feel experienced homebrewers have when it comes to mastering the sourdough baking process? and How would you recommend that the average home sourdough baker incorporate scientific measurements such as dough temperature and pH into their established baking processes?

Melissa: From what I’ve observed with my husband, homebrewers are experts in optimizing yeast populations. You’re also used to following elaborate processes, and you’re familiar with different grains and the effects of malting or sprouting. When evaluating the finished product, homebrewers talk about mouthfeel and aroma in addition to oven spring, flavor, and crumb openness. And if you’re a homebrew judge, you probably have a very developed vocabulary and palate for describing flavors. Finally, you usually have some cool fancy equipment for temperature control. 

I think that understanding the role of temperature is a fantastic asset to sourdough bread baking, and understanding pH is helpful for creating your own starter or modifying it for a heavily enriched dough like panettone. 

If you need to produce identical breads on a predictable schedule, measuring dough temperature and keeping a steady ambient temperature are crucial. 

I mostly respond to/make predictions based on ambient temperature rather than control it. I do appreciate having my homebrewer husband’s lagering refrigerator at my disposal for 55°F fermentation because I don’t always want the dormancy of refrigerating at 38°F or the speed of 65-80°F overnight (that’s my kitchen temperature spread across seasons). My husband also built me a thermoelectric cooler with a Peltier chip last winter so I could keep panettone dough at 80-85°F.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Similar to the process of malting grains, incorporating home sprouted grains into one’s baking can increase the digestibility and flavor of sourdough bread. How would you recommend that bakers take full advantage of sprouted grains?

Melissa: You can buy sprouted flours and sprouted grains to mill into flour if you have a countertop grain mill. You can also sprout and dehydrate the grains yourself for milling. Finally, you can sprout grains and use them whole in a bread like this Rugbrod or a porridge like this Burbara.   

Barry (The Brewed Palate): While sourdough bread may make gluten more digestible for those diagnosed with a sensitivity to gluten, there are those who prefer to bake completely gluten free loaves. What are some tips that you would give to those trying to bake gluten free sourdough breads?

Melissa: We’re doing experiments with different approaches and hope to have gluten free sourdough starter and bread recipes up on Breadtopia’s blog soon. We also recommend this book by Chris Stafferton, Promise & Fulfillment: Formulas for real bread without gluten. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Other than your book of course, what are some of your favorite sourdough books?

Melissa: I’ve got quite a few sourdough books, but I tend to come back to Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice for a lot of technique and formulas. Even though his recipes primarily use instant yeast, I find it easy enough to convert them to sourdough. I have also learned a lot about recipes with ancient grains and porridges from Tartine No3 by Chad Robertson. Living Bread by Dan Leader and New World Sourdough by Bryan Ford are both interesting and gorgeous too. I’ve been meaning to get Sarah C. Owens’ Sourdough for ages, but haven’t yet. I also love to look at Maurizio’s recipes on the website The Perfect Loaf, and I get a ton of inspiration from various bakers on Instagram. Lately, I’ve been also watching YouTube videos of bakers from around the world making breads I’ve never heard of, and I’m learning more about how vast and beautiful the world of bread is.

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

Melissa: Living bread and living food mean to me that the ingredients have had minimal intermediaries and processing before my family eats them. Living food is slicing potatoes with the skin still on and making fries on a baking sheet with olive oil at 425°F in the oven vs. buying a freezer bag of skinless pre-cooked fries cut from the one variety of potato bred for a particular length and starch level, and then coated in dextrose, a blend of oils, and a preservative. 

The same applies to bread; a loaf made from whole, sustainably-farmed heirloom grains, fresh-milled with my Mockmill in my kitchen and leavened with a live, wild yeast sourdough culture, bears no resemblance in flavor or nutrition to what you find on a grocery store shelf.

Living food can cost more time and money to prepare and consume, but as a society, we’re realizing that the hidden costs of convenient and less-nutritious foods are even higher. We have more and more people suffering from endocrine and other diseases that are linked to consuming ultra-processed foods. Now we need to work on educating people, prioritizing access to knowledge and ingredients – this is kind of the underlying quest behind my work. 

Thank you Melissa for all that you’ve done and continue to do for the worldwide sourdough community! May your educated and artful way of presenting sourdough baking to your readers continue to bring you much success and be an inspiration to increasingly more home bakers.

Posted in Meet the Baker Behind the Loaves, Sourdough Bread | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Meet the Baker Behind the Loaves: Sune “Foodgeek” Trudslev

Challenging conventional wisdom on a regular basis takes courage and tenacity. In my experience, though, doing so often helps hobbyists of all experience levels view commonly utilized techniques as less intimidating and detail-oriented. With so many beginner and advanced sourdough recipes available nowadays, there are many points at which home bakers could panic over small details and either give up or make mistakes. In response, a number of bloggers have chosen to present their perspectives on sourdough baking as an evolving journey of incorporating discoveries that result from challanging conventional wisdom.

“Experiment time!”

Screen Shot 2020-09-01 at 11.18.49 PMThis week’s featured baker has made a name for himself both on Youtube and his blog by challenging commonly accepted dough preparation and baking methods in order to help his fellow home bakers “get the most out of every ingredient.” Sune Trudslev, a Denmark-based software engineer, guitar enthusiast, and all-around foodie has inspired me and many of my fellow bakers to take a simplified approach to our sourdough baking and bake our best breads.

So without further ado, it is my honor to present to you Sune “Foodgeek” Trudslev.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): How long have you been baking sourdough bread? / What came first your passion or cooking or baking?

sune_foodgeek_chocolateSune: I started seriously venturing into sourdough baking around January 2018. I spent about 6 months baking so often it was humanly possible and I put my first article ‘Sourdough bread for beginners’ out around late summer that year. My passion for baking started when I was a kid. I would be home alone in the afternoons and since my mom would bake bread, we had everything needed to make it, so around 9 years old I found a recipe book and started baking. My passion for cooking didn’t come until my late 20’s.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Who were your inspirations when you were getting started with your sourdough journey?

Sune: I had a keen eye at Maurizio Leo and his site ‘The Perfect Loaf‘ 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): What do you find unique about sourdough baking in Denmark?

Sune: I don’t know if there’s anything unique about it. Covid-19 has changed the world and many many people have been introduced to the wonders of the tamagotchi like being: the sourdough starter. Many bakeries in Denmark have started to change from just adding “sourdough taste” into bread, to using actual starters. I think that’s a wonderful development.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Your blog has a lot of great tools that make sourdough baking approachable and practical. What factors went into your decision to create your own baking calculator/s etc.?

Sune: All my calculators started out of necessity. I found some tools online, but they didn’t really do everything that I wanted or needed, and since my professional background is in software engineering, it was easy for me to make them myself.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): As a long time homebrewer (beer, mead, and cider) and homecook, watching your YouTube videos and then utilizing your Baking Calculator to create a recipe and get started on my personal sourdough baking journey seemed more practical then strictly following a “beginner sourdough recipe.” In your opinion, what is the most practical approach to getting started with baking sourdough bread?

Bread PosterSune: Well, my first recipe for sourdough bread for beginners had a lot of structure to it, but I didn’t really have enough experience to see what was important and what wasn’t. Baking sourdough bread is about cultivating an awesome starter. Taking a simple formula and following a few rules and then you can have awesome bread. That’s what I am trying to show on my youtube channel. Things don’t have to be complicated or dogmatic. That goes for life too.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): How long have you had your YouTube channel? / How has your approach to sourdough baking changed as a result of your channel’s steady growth?

Screen Shot 2020-09-02 at 9.16.12 AM

Sourdough Experiment Playlist

Sune: I started my channel on the 30th of March 2019. My approach to sourdough hasn’t changed, but my methods have changed a lot because of all the testing I have done. My methods are so much simpler now.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): What are some of your future plans for your Youtube channel and blog?

Sune: I plan on making more recipes and conducting more experiments. I also plan to branch out into other baking and food related things and hope to take my current followers with me. Currently the most important thing for me is to be able to make a sustainable channel that I can do full time, but obviously things take time. 

Barry (The Brewed Palate): How often do you bake during the average week?

Sune: I usually bake 2 times a week, they are either for videos or testing for later videos. At some point I hope to be doing this every day and be able to try out more things.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): From watching your videos I’ve realized that we share a common interest in baking with rye. What do you like most about baking with rye? and What are some tips that you’d give for baking with it?


Sune: Rye is a difficult beast, but it is so, so tasty. Our national bread in Denmark is a 100% rye bread which is eaten almost every day by most Danes. If you just want the delicious taste of rye, just replace 20% with whole grain rye. Your bread will be tastier and more sour as well.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): What are your favorite food and bread pairings?

Sune: Food and bread pairings? An awesome garlic naan with some indian food. A slice of toasted tangy sourdough bread with some delicious cheese. 

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

15A85649-3BA7-4B39-B51E-C42295B5C4CCSune: Food is an essential part of what it means to be a human. They say that some people eat to live, but others live to eat. I am the latter kind. I love to try everything in the world, it gives me joy. Food is also the thing that brings people together. I love to cook for others and create a wonderful place for discovery and sharing of ideas. Bread is food, just one of the more awesome ones. Bread goes with almost anything.

Thank you Sune for all that you’ve done and continue to do for the worldwide sourdough community! May your unique and practical way of presenting sourdough baking to your followers continue to bring you much success and be an inspiration to increasingly more home bakers.

Posted in Meet the Baker Behind the Loaves, Sourdough Bread | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Ode to Rye (Part One): Hearty, Traditional, and Delicious

ryeWhile it has been an underdog or “specialty grain” in American baking for many years, rye’s rich tradition in many European countries tells a different story. From German Schwarzbrot to Danish Rugbrød, dense yet flavorful 100% rye breads which highlight this flavor packed grain’s heartiness have been baked for centuries. To quote a New York Times article by Julia Moskin, “Rye, like barley and oats, is an ancient grain that thrives in cold and wet weather. Before modern agriculture and transportation made wheat available everywhere, rye was the best (and sometimes only) option for bread baking in a huge swath of northern Europe, from Russia and the Baltic States, west through Poland, Hungary, Austria, Germany and the Netherlands and up into Scandinavia.” Luckily, in recent years more and more home and professional bakers have started baking traditional rye loaves and made rye bread attractive to a wider audience. Furthermore, bakers around the world such as those featured in Daniel Leader’s book Living Bread, have kept old world traditions alive and continued to inspire others to do so the same.

1OZ-WEY09042018103135When it comes to my love of rye, I’ve always loved eating sandwiches with classic supermarket rye bread or fresh rye bread from my cousin’s bakery and favorite local kosher deli. However, in that manner it was about the caraway flavor and overall texture of the bread and not the grain itself. Once I started homebrewing in 2009 I slowly got to know the unique characteristics of rye and what it contributes to a fermented product, specifically beer. While it complements the malted barley, malted rye usually adds a distinct spiciness and extra mouthfeel when fermented at ale temperatures (∼62-80F). Of course, sourdough starter is not ale yeast, but it is similarly known for its ability to help grains like rye contribute their own unique set of flavors to finished loaves.

Since getting back into sourdough baking this past April rye has played a major role in my baking. I started with a 50/50 rye/all-purpose flour starter (it’s now 100% rye and 130% hydration) and the recipe that I have developed as my ‘base recipe’ has 15% rye in it. However, with each successful loaf an urge to delve deeper into the history and potential of baking with rye only got bigger. So in the beginning of August I came up with the idea to embark on a journey called “An ode to rye” in order to work towards mastering the skills necessary to successfully bake as many traditional and modern rye breads as possible. In order to do so I decided to split my loaves into the three following categories.

Categories: A: Ideal table rye breads – 20-35% rye breads 

088FFF30-7378-419B-AF5D-C8014EB45E0AThrough the combination of different rye flours with complementary wheat flours my goal for this category is to successfully bake batard-shaped loaves that are both complex in flavor, good for sandwiches, and for having on the table at meals. I chose 20-35 as my rye percentage range for this category to ensure that the differences made by the rye flour are undoubtedly noticeable without making its loaves too dense.

Progress so far: I’ve baked 6 loaves of a 35% rye (split between dark and light rye) recipe. The first two of which had caraway seeds in them. While I definitely have the flavor profile (well caramelized, hearty, and uniquely rye tasting) that I’m looking for dialed in; I’ve yet to get the fermentation and proofing to lead to a balance of the even crumb and moist yet not too dense texture that I pictured when developing the recipe.

Category B: Creative rye loaves w/ inclusions (mix-ins)

118231219_10100269393131327_4772362105047972111_nFrom pickle brine to dried fruit, incorporating rye into a new or previously baked recipe can add texture and flavor to one’s sourdough loaves. As much as I’ve already been doing so; I feel that there are a lot of traditional and modern recipes and methods that include anywhere from 10-50% rye that I need to bake and taste in order to learn more about the versatility of rye.

Progress so far: Since officially starting this journey I’ve baked one loaf, Drescherlaib from Daniel Leader’s book, Living Bread. This spiced whole spelt and rye loaf was one of two loaves that I baked once I made my rye starter (aka Randolph) 100% rye.  While it came out tasting good, it was too dense for my taste. Next time I bake it I’ll do more initial hand mixing, one instead of two coil folds, and proof at room temperature instead of overnight in my refrigerator.

Category C: Traditional 100% rye loaves

118401566_10100269393056477_6446609908180212235_nDespite being the most challenging to ferment and bake due to rye’s lower gluten (and protein) content, results of baking these traditional loaves can be the most rewarding.  So while I may not bake them as often as the two other categories; I’ll be researching how to achieve successful results just as often.

Progress so far: For my second loaf after making my rye starter 100% rye. I made a 166% hydration levain as per Food Geek’s recipe for Rugbrød, a traditional Danish rye bread. Overall, I was happy with how this loaf turned out and enjoyed pairing it with meats and pickled veggies. However, when I do bake Rugbrød again, I’ll most likely try a different recipe (for comparison) and use a different combination of seeds. For me the pumpkin seeds in this recipe made it harder to gauge when the loaf was ready to make, were too large, and over-shadowed the sunflower seeds.

Up next: In part two of this series I’ll go into more detail about the 35% rye batard loaves that I’ve already baked and how I plan on contuing to tweak the recipe (formula).


Posted in Sourdough Bread | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Garlic & Herb Sourdough Discard Crackers


After thoroughly enjoying my first sourdough discard crackers last week with the help of a recipe by Milk and Pop. I decided to use similar parameters while making a savory version. Now that I’m two batches in I can confidently say that I will continue baking this style of cracker rather than the common technique of mixing oil and spices into discard and baking almost paper thin crackers. By splitting recipe formulation into choosing a puree for initial moisture, water or milk, which spices to mix in, and a combination of flours. This recipe can be adapted to any flavor profile that you fancy when you have some sourdough starter discard to use up.

IMG_20200828_134616_899Recipe: Roasted Garlic and Herb Discard Crackers

Makes 42 crackers  (feel free to half this recipe)

1 cup un-fed sourdough starter discard

1 cup water

1 cup roasted sweet potato puree

10-12 cloves roasted garlic

IMG_20200828_134616_9011 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper (freshly ground)

1/3 cup demerara sugar

1 tbsp minced onion (dry)

1/2 tsp dried thyme

1/2 tsp dried rosemary

1/2 dried sage

IMG_20200828_134616_8982/3 cup sliced almonds

1 cup rolled oats

1 cup AP flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

2 tsp baking soda



Instructions (adapted from Milk and Pop’s recipe)

  1. Preheat your oven to 375°F (190C)
  2. Peel garlic cloves and lay them on top of a piece of aluminum foil, bunch up the foil so that oil won’t leach out. Drizzle the cloves with olive oil, season them with salt and black pepper, and wrap them up tight and put them in the oven. Roast until soft and smelling yummy!
  3. Peel and cube 2 medium sized sweet potatoes (yams), spray the cubes with non-stick spray (or drizzle with oil), and roast them in the oven until tender and caramelize on their edges.
  4. Once they’re finished roasting, puree the garlic and sweet potatoes in a food processor and use the oil from the garlic to achieve and chunky yet smooth consistency.
  5. Grease and line with parchment paper 2 small loaf pans. I usually use a 8X4 inches, but it can be done in a 9X5 inches, it will only affect the final size/shape of the cracker.
  6. In a large bowl, mix the water (or same amount of milk), sourdough starter and garlic/sweet potato puree.
  7. Add the demerara sugar, thyme, sage, rosemary, salt and black pepper and mix to combine.
  8. Add the sliced almonds and mix until incorporated into the batter.
  9. In a medium bowl, mix both the all-purpose and whole wheat flours, rolled oats and baking soda.
  10. Add the flour mixture on the batter and stir until everything is well combined.
  11. Distribute all the batter evenly into the lined loaf pan.
  12. Lower the oven temperature to 350F (175-280C)
  13. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until you insert a toothpick into the middle and it comes out clean.
  14. Let the loaf cool completely on a rack before wrapping it with plastic wrap. Freeze for 40 minutes. If you freeze it for longer than 2 hours, let it thaw for 40 minutes to 1 hour before cutting. If the middle is totally frozen, it’s harder to slice the crackers.
  15. Preheat you oven to 250°F/120C (or 275F/135C if your pressed for time).
  16. Unwrap your loaf. With a bread knife or any serrated knife, slice the loaf as thinly as you can. Aim for 2mm slices.
  17. Place the slices on a baking sheet (you can line them with parchment paper just to prevent any browning on the bottoms) and bake your sourdough crackers for 50 minutes, flipping each cracker after 25 minutes.
  18. Let them cool completely before serving. They will get harder as they cool, so don’t worry if they’re still a bit soft when out of the oven. If you have a cooling rack, use it.
  19. Store your sourdough crackers in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.


These crackers are made with sourdough discard, but you can totally make it with a feed starter. It won’t really make a difference, as you mix everything together and bake it straight away.

The slices must be thin! If you cut them too thick, they won’t get as crispy as the store-bought ones.

You need to use a sharp serrated knife for cutting the crackers: a sharp bread knife will make your life much easier.

Yes, you need to bake them for 50-60 minutes the second time you do it. After 25 minutes, it’s really good to flip every single one so they bake and crisp evenly and don’t burn on the bottom. I bake one batch without doing it and noticed a significant difference.



Posted in Sourdough Bread, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Meet the Baker Behind the Loaves: Paul Lebeau of Wolfgang Mock Companies

Humility, integrity, and conviction…Three qualities that I feel are essential for living one’s life according to a mission statement and its ever evolving reach. While the word ‘passion’ gets used a lot when discussing one’s sense of ferver towards pursuing a personal interest or goal; without the aforementioned qualities, one’s passion may not be sustainable. Furthermore, when one centers his or her career  around providing solutions that have the potential to benefit all of humanity. Switching jobs (shifting gears) entails not only identifying with and adapting to a new company’s mission statement; it also includes taking that statement and allowing it to become part of your core identity.

“There has been an explosion of interest in our story and in orders for our products, which has changed everything in a very positive way for us. For me, it has “validated my validation”, which has enabled me to relax a bit, to feel less isolated in my conviction that we’re doing something very important for humanity. And it has given me precious time for my family and for my breadbaking hobby, not to mention a new long-term project I’ve taken on with the purchase of a good-sized orchard.”

“That “living food”, with its biologically viable embryo in its vitamin-rich sack, it’s “baby bottle” of starches, its magic cloak of minerals and fiber, and its sleepy colony of microorganisms waiting  for a meal, is fantastic food for us. It provides energy and protein, as well as micronutrients in abundance. Once fully fermented, its utility to our bodies is maximized, and the parts our organism can’t use are of great use to the bacteria that populate our guts and help regulate our organism.”

Screen Shot 2020-08-25 at 4.21.43 PMEnter this week’s inspirational featured baker, Paul Lebeau of Wolfgang Mock Companies. After thirty-two years spent introducing medical technology solutions that at first were rejected and are now considered as standard-of-care around the world; he decided to switch gears and spend the rest of what will be his long and storied career helping society “take back an activity that was essential for survival from the very beginning of civilization, and only recently lost: home milling of dry foods” ( article). Since making this switch in early 2016, Paul has both accomplished increasing the amount of homes with Mockmills and inspired many home and professional bakers to embrace the benefits of baking and cooking with whole foods. Just a short conversation with him or perusal of his Instagram feed reveals how much of his core identity is focused on his mission and thirst for knowledge.

So without further ado, I present to you Paul Lebeau of Wolfgang Mock Companies.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): I recently read an interview that you did with a writer on entitled “The Mockmill Revolution: Getting the Most out of Grains.” At various points in the interview you describe how much you’ve learned over the years from like-minded individuals such as professional bakers and food scientists. How would you recommend that a fellow passionate home baker take advantage of all that such individuals have to offer?

Screen Shot 2020-08-25 at 10.07.01 AMPaul: Well, I consider myself a student when encountering professionals who have spent their lives focused on topics that are still new to me. We’re like-minded in the sense that we’re trying to figure out together whether and why people should change the way the go about getting ingredients for the foods they make. What amazes me is how MANY people out there are ready to engage on such topics, primarily through social media. That kind of engagement is available to everyone, whenever they have time and energy for it. Of course, getting out to attend seminars and courses is a great way to get elbow-to-elbow with people who have impressed you from afar, and that’s often a rewarding way to invest one’s free time and money.

The artisan baking community has not a single smug aristocrat (that I know of) on offer; these are all folks who put their trousers on one leg at a time. They are hard-working, generous individuals, laboring at a hot oven in an effort to change the world for the better, preserve and further one of humanity’s oldest arts. And they make themselves available. More impressive for me than the big-name, well-covered, book-author types are the modest, self-taught leaders who share their experiences and discoveries, their opinions and their skills in simple ways through social media. There I have found true friends who are passionate, honest, generous, and dedicated, all around the world. Such friendship is available to everyone who has time for social media, and who fits the description in my last sentence.

Barry (The Brewed Palate):  Since joining the Mockmill team in 2016, how have your role and overall mission evolved and in turn affected your overall quality of life?

Screen Shot 2020-08-25 at 10.28.58 AMPaul: My job at Mockmill has been, and continues to be, to test and validate our belief that every kitchen needs a stone mill. My experience tells me that the process of validating a belief, which entails sharing it with people qualified to evaluate it and objectively receiving their feedback, is one that requires intensive outreach. So I began my mission by listing groups of people who might be the most prone to see interest in making one’s own flour, and by searching for and reaching out to leaders in those groups. My goal had to be encountering them, which meant either travelling to meet people or inviting people to visit us. The second (and always very urgent) part of my mission has been to communicate the Good News of my validation efforts. To let the broad membership of those target groups know that “their leaders” have considered the matter and found that there is merit in owning and using a stone mill, a Mockmill in particular. For that, I had both to travel (do my best to get in front of audiences at conferences, fairs, meetings…) and become highly present on social media (Paul’s Instagram). There, we’ve been careful not to engage in heavy name dropping (“Star Chef So-and-So loves his Mockmill”) or to contract “selfie-itis”, i.e. posting pix of ourselves with celebs. Rather, we’ve sought to encourage everyday bakers who have started their Mockmill adventure to “tell the world about it”. And that has largely been my responsibility.

So in answer to your question, my role evolves as I discover new ways that Mockmill adds value to peoples’ lives and go about starting the validation/communication process that discovery calls for. Think of gluten-free, pizza, pasta, pulses, regenerative agriculture… This list goes on and on. The “Age of Corona”, of course, has put an end to my travel (which, quite frankly, was often terribly exhausting for me and difficult for my family), but not to my outreach activities. I finding myself often reaching out to friends in difficulty (think of the star chefs whose businesses are in tatters) with expression of empathy and admiration. There has been an explosion of interest in our story and in orders for our products, which has changed everything in a very positive way for us. For me, it has “validated my validation”, which has enabled me to relax a bit, to feel less isolated in my conviction that we’re doing something very important for humanity. And it has given me precious time for my family and for my breadbaking hobby, not to mention a new long-term project I’ve taken on with the purchase of a good-sized orchard.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Upon mastering the basics of sourdough baking many home bakers purchase a home grain mill (in many cases a Mockmill). How would one’s recipe formulation and dough preparation processes change when using freshly milled flour instead of pre-ground flour?

Paul: Haha! This is one question I can only answer with speculation. You see, I’ve only ever baked sourdough bread with flour I milled myself! I’ve never used anything but the whole flour, nor used commercial yeast or a mixer, for that matter. So I can’t give practical advice from experience. I can offer impressions I’ve taken from speaking to others though, so here goes.

Here’s what a home or professional baker should find different when he or she begins working with freshly-milled flour:

A. Differences in Dough Texture: The bran in Mockmilled flour will make a noticible difference in the dough. In the case of soft wheat, about 50% will be of a particle size small enough to pass a #45 (0.355mm) sieve. The rest will be bigger pieces.) The dough will require more water; extensibility will not be as great as with bran-free flour. This is because bran (even the small pieces) behaves like a “wall” between gluten molecules that are trying to bind into a chain. (I’ve heard  two leading bread/cereals experts moan publicly about the common belief that “the sharp bran pieces are like shards that CUT the gluten chains. That is nonsense, according to those eminent experts.) In any case, handling of the dough will be different. Since the handling of dough is a most pleasurable experience for me, I don’t believe that using freshly milled, whole grain flours will be a disappointment in this respect. Just different!

B. Enhanced Fermentation: Freshly-milled flour is alive. A few moments before you hydrate it, it is grain, “life capsules” that hold and protect an embryo and its initial food supply. The flour is therefore teeming with life (the grains were covered with microbes just waiting to get at that food supply inside) and with hydration, life-processes, through enzyme activity that is significantly higher than in pre-milled flour, get going very fast. So your dough is much more alive, too, and fermentation can be surprisingly fast. Above all, the biodiversity of whole grain (tens of thousands of discreet phytochemicals, some that bacteria REALLY love, are present) is pleasing to the yeasts and bacteria in sourdough, so building and maintaining a sourdough is easy. (Again, I have no experience with pre-milled flour in this respect; I can’t say “easier”.)

C. Visual Differences: Because the gluten network cannot be established as well as it can in bran-free dough, you simply won’t get the same bread volume that white flour will give you. You can, however, get VERY nice, soft, fluffy, open-crumb loaves. And if happiness for you is big wholes, well, try blending freshly-milled flour with bran-free flour. There are plenty of examples of people doing just that, and loving the flavor and nutritional improvement it brings to their baking.

IMG_2264D. Flavor and nutritional value: Here, it’s a new world. Fresh milling will take you on an adventure in biodiversity, an adventure on which you may try not only different wheats and ryes, but also a boundless plethora of other whole foods: barley, rices, heritage corn, oats, millets, pseudocereals, pulses, seeds, and more! (Some of these require “off-road mockmilling”, so there is learning to be done. It’s an adventure! The rewards are great, too, because starting with your first whole-wheat loaf made with freshly milled, your taste buds will tell you that they’ve been deprived all these years. They’ll want more! Your waistline may complain too, after a while, that it’s shrinking, as the bread’s fiber will give you a feeling of fullness that curbs overeating, and your body’s insulin reaction to bread will be moderated. Your gut bacteria will celebrate, as they are getting the fibre they expect whenever you eat carbs. It’s not known how far-ranging the benefits of a well-balanced microbiome are, but it is pretty certain that they are great. So eating plenty of the kind of foods you can prepare with freshly-milled flour can have positive impact on your immune system, your mood, your bowel habits, your weight, your blood pressure, your resting heart rate… It’s seems exaggerated, but all the research points in this direction. Think of how many times you’ve read or been told that you need to increase your consumption of whole grains!

E. More Flavor: Because the whole grain itself is so varied and flavorful, you need less salt. I’m down to 1.8% for bread in general and even 1.5% when I make my “granipain”, which has at least 22 different grains, pulses, and seeds in its pre-ferment (levain).

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Compared to other countertop grain mills that are currently available to home bakers. What do you feel makes Mockmills unique?

1DCCE796-B339-4C9B-BCE0-01D18D386A5CPaul: The fact that most of the countertop stone grain mills sold today were designed by Wolfgang Mock (KoMo, Fidibus, HaWo’s) and his technical team at the time (the same key people are now in his technical team) is important. Mockmill products integrate improvements on those designs. The team focused very hard on what could be improved in their 20+ year old, successful designs. So the new Mockmill models integrate innovations in stone design and composition, housing design, and manufacturing efficiency. The result is a full range of better, more affordable stone mills than was heretofore available. More than that, though, is the Spirit of Mockmill. Wolfgang, a clinical psychologist by training, is passionate about the positive practices these tools can inspire in people’s lives.  His own lifestyle includes the practice of making his own foods from whole, local, organically produced agricultural products (that his grandmother would immediately recognize as food!) Every week he bakes an oven full of bread for his extended family, using only freshly milled grains and natural fermentation. Everyone at Mockmill HQ is encouraged to do the same, and we make sure that all have a Mockmill at home to that end.

Screen Shot 2020-08-25 at 3.50.21 PMI like to say that I’ve ofter heard the phrase “Turn your Hobby into your Job!” My passion for baking came from the conviction that I would have to practice what I preach if I were to be successful promoting fresh milling. In the meantime, mine may be the most passionate voice you can find on the subject. The passion is authentic, however, as is the whole Mockmill venture. And that is what puts Mockmill head and shoulders above the rest!

Barry (The Brewed Palate):  One factor that every sourdough baker has to adapt to is the changing of the seasons, from colder temperatures in the winter to hot temperatures in the summer. How do you adapt your baking to changes in outdoor and/or indoor temperatures?

Paul: Quite honestly, I am pretty careless when it comes to topics like this. It’s the same when it comes to building/managing my sourdough. I simply don’t buy (for the purposes of my own baking) the need to pay strict attention to all the details of temperature control, starter density, ingredients balance (I don’t think I can notice, for instance, whether I’ve used 1.75% salt or 1.85%). For professional bakers, that detail is terribly important, and great attention is paid to dough temp, ambient temp, fridge temp, water temp, weighing ingredients out to a very precise degree. They have clientèle to please, often a very big job to get done, dozens of products going at once, etc. Many hobby bakers are determined to work in just that kind of professional mode, and I have, as I do for the pros, enormous respect. Since I’m sure that EVERYONE can successfully (and easily) make great and healthy bread with natural fermentation methods, I tend to focus mainly on the freshness and wholeness of my ingredients and “listening” to (or “understanding”) the dough. If the dough is fermenting faster because the weather is warm, I try to take it to the next step before it goes too far. If it is going slowly (for whatever reason) I simply give it more time. Since my house is made of stone, and I live in a fairly temperate climate, the temperature inside doesn’t vary too much. But even when I’ve baked in cabins in the summer heat at an Oklahoma state park and carried dough from the kitchen where it was made to the one in which it was to be baked, I didn’t make any conscious changes to my procedures. The bread simply came out fine! I believe that the relative ease and success of my baking has to do with the whole, freshly milled ingredients I use. The sourdough microbes are happiest with that, the fermentation is naturally balanced, and the dough is “easy to understand”. So, sorry, I don’t (consciously) change a thing. I just wing it, and all works out well.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Nowadays my favorite grain to bake with is rye. Beyond containing less gluten than wheat; what do you feel is unique about the cultivation and milling of and then of course baking with rye?

Paul: I love baking with rye, too. I love its pungent, flowery aroma, and the beautifully dark color it gives the bread. And I love giving the loaves a heavy dusting of flour so that I get a “snowy canyon landscape” as they prove. The neat thing about rye is that it’s “the other grain” for classic breadmaking, setting it apart from wheat. As with barley, the bread chemistry doesn’t work to form the gluten network by which wheat-based dough captures fermentation gases. So rye dough rises based on gas-capturing properties of some special sugars (called pentosans). I like this kind of exception to a rule (“how breadmaking works”) as it challenges me to understand that there is always more to learn and understand. Making rye-heavy bread is simpler than making wheat-based bread, as all the dough handling techniqes (kneading, stretch-and-fold, loaf shaping) are for naught. So just get your lump of dough into a pan or a banneton and let it rise! I got my start breadmaking using a 60/40 rye/spelt recipe taught to me by Pablo Giet @der_becker. It took me a long time to get interested in more than that, it was so simple, so successful, and so delicious. That, for me, is the charm of rye! (Consider, too, that rye is happy to grow in colder, wetter regions where wheat won’t thrive, and you’ll see why it has been so valuable to civilization.) The cute, old-fashioned, shy-but-intriguing kid on the block, though, is barley. Ask me about her! 🙂

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Going along with the previous question: what is your favorite grain (variety of wheat or otherwise) to bake with and what do you like most about it?

Screen Shot 2020-08-25 at 10.57.38 AMPaul: What I love about my baking is the variety of grains I have available. Of course, if you went through my baking journal, you’d find that the one grain I use more than any other is probably spelt, but I hate to say I have a favorite. I get to flirt with them all! In fact, my latest fascination is the “Granipain” method proposed by French nutritionist Christian Rémésy, in which the pre-ferment in a naturally-fermented loaf should be made up from at least 22 different seeds, including 40-45% grains (but not plain bread wheat), 40-45% pulses, and 10-20% oil-seeds or aromatics. Then one makes one’s main dough as always (for me that’s usually a spelt/wheat bread composite) and integrates the more coarsely Mockmilled, 200% hydrated, 1% sourdough inoculated, 24 hr pre-ferment into that dough. Now, try finding a favorite among 22 (minimum) ingredients!

IMG_1513So here are some things I like to use that may give you some ideas: heritage corn, golden millet, wholegrain rice, black rice, purple rice, red rice, black beans, red beans, pinto beans, mung beans, lentils (all colors and kinds!), chickpeas, wild rice (crazy aroma!), malted barley, flax seeds, hemp seeds, rose seeds, black cumin, black sesame. I’m not a big fan of the grassy taste of amaranth, but that goes away when those super seeds are toasted. And I like toasting quinoa, too, prior to milling it. And barley(!), khorasan, oats, sunflower seeds, rye(!), and ESPECIALLY teff!  There is so much to use, so much to discover, so much fun to be had and flavor to discover when you have a Mockmill! PS What I like about Spelt is the fact that it’s exclusively organically grown, carefully handled and cleaned (it requires special de-hulling), and it has been around forever (promoted heavily almost 900 years ago by St Hildegard of Bingen, one of the great female thinkers/authors of our early history.) In my hands and freshly Mockmilled, it makes a highly reliable and flavorful dough.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): While those who enjoy cooking and baking from scratch at home are often called “foodies” as if they’re tapping into current trends or choosing to go above and beyond simple recipes, they’re in reality reintroducing old world cooking techniques back into the mainstream.  How do you view the recent growth of from-scratch cooking and baking? and How would you describe the ease and benefits of cooking and baking with raw (minimally processed) ingredients to someone who is not already an avid home cook or baker?

Paul: Obviously, I’m all for “scratch” baking. I have to be careful not to behave arrogantly when I see a so-called “from scratch” recipe that calls for pre-milled flour! I generally buy into the make-it-yourself approach; my kids (10 & 13) have taught me to make butter from the raw milk we get from a nearby farmer. And my wife loves making yogurt and kefir, which I gladly eat. Because I also buy our butter and eat store-bought yogurt daily, I’m careful not to criticize those who don’t use only freshly-milled flour. But I do believe EVERYONE should know what freshly milled, wholemeal flour is like, and that most people will be better off being equipped to make their own. To those who haven’t taken the first step to begin cooking and baking at home, it may be a hard sell.

But wait, maybe not! There’s a fascination that comes with making one’s own ingredients that can lead to a fascination with the practice of transforming those ingredients to something for the plate! This may be especially true today when we’re living through a pandemic and realizing how important it is that we cultivate a healthy immune system. The ways that cooking from scratch can help us do that are becoming suprisingly evident! So I would say that “there is satisfaction to be found for everyone in taking up cooking from scratch. Surprise yourself!”

Barry (The Brewed Palate): I’d like to briefly touch on some sourdough related food science. One theory about today’s prevalence of gluten intolerance and subsequent demonization of gluten is that humans are not born with the genetics to digest bread products that are made with all of the stabilizers and preservatives that are common in “supermarket bread.” Therefore, they’ve evolved in recent decades to become less tolerant to gluten. Subsequently, it has been found that some people who are sensitive to gluten can eat sourdough bread because the gluten from the grains within it has been fermented (digested) in a manner that makes it easier to digest. Have you encountered this theory? If so, what are your thoughts on its implications?

IMG_2241Paul: Sure, that wisdom is often shared in the circles I travel in, and I’ve been interested in the scientific work going on to understand why that is. Some recent work, that for example explains how fermentation breaks down FODMAPs (long sugar chains) if allowed to take place slowly enough, is a fun story to tell. Early in my Mockmill mission, Wolfgang gave me Michael Pollan’s book “In Defense of Food”to read. His argument “don’t eat foods with ingredients the names of which you can’t pronounce” resonated well with me. So it all makes sense. Look, when I make bread, it contains: Whole foods, water, salt. Nothing else. Now “whole foods” may be grains, pulses (legumes), seeds, fruit, and spices… But they’re all WHOLE foods. I think that the “supermarket bread is bad” argument is superficial. What I prefer is the “whole foods are good for you” argument. Consider how easily people can avoid debilitating diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, bowel cancer, and obesity if they simply stop eating (so much) refined sugar, refined grains, refined corn, refined soy, processed potatoes, and fruit juices. Throw alcoholic beverages in on top of that. None of that stuff is truly good food, in fact Pollan may argue that it’s not food at all! And the alternative, those “things your great-grandmother would recognize as food”, are truly GOOD for you. And your body is programmed to tell you that you’ve had enough of them. That’s great, when you consider that engineered foods (anything refined or processed) is “engineered” to trick your body’s appetite-regulating system. It’s the GOAL of food engineers that you KEEP WANTING to eat MORE! So we can simply refuse the oppression of the modern food industry that leads us to morbidity and an early death by eating whole foods. I’m 100% convinced that it’s the way to go. And I’m sorry for anyone who has invested their modest means in shares in the half-dozen or so food giants (corporations). They may be disappointed if everyone follows my example.

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

Screen Shot 2020-08-25 at 11.11.47 AMPaul: Wow! Cool question! Let’s take seeds as an example.  Once I asked a 10-year-old (girl) visiting my Mockmill booth at Slow Food Nations in Denver “What’s a seed?” I was bowled over when she promptly replied, “a seed is a baby with its bottle on its back”. Indeed, every seed, every whole grain, harbors a life. An embryo. A plant with the potential to bring forth hundreds of viable, reproducing offspring. It’s wonderfully packaged by nature for a long wait until conditions are right for its coming out. A wheat seed, for example, is wrapped up in a protective, 8-layer tapestry woven from tens of thousands of discrete phytochemicals, each with a specific purpose (known, for the most part, only to nature.) Our earliest ancestors found they could easily collect handfuls and handfuls of (mixed) seeds, bring them home, crush them with a rock, and ferment them by adding plenty of water. After a few days, they could heat and then eat them. That was the beginning of bread. Without knowing it, they were mimicking what birds do, when the seeds they snip up and break in their beaks go first to their crops to be fermented before passing further down the digestive tract.

That “living food”, with its biologically viable embryo in its vitamin-rich sack, it’s “baby bottle” of starches, its magic cloak of minerals and fiber, and its sleepy colony of microorganisms waiting  for a meal, is fantastic food for us. It provides energy and protein, as well as micronutrients in abundance. Once fully fermented, its utility to our bodies is maximized, and the parts our organism can’t use are of great use to the bacteria that populate our guts and help regulate our organism. This “living food” is of fabulous design. True, once the seed is milled, the little plant inside is dead. If the resulting meal is then heated and/or dehydrated, the seed’s natural microbiome will be depleted. (This is one reason that it’s much easier to build a sourdough from freshly-milled whole grains!) That seed, that grain, is losing value from the moment it gets crushed in the mill. So it is important, I believe, to leave food living as long as possible before sacrificing it for our needs, and eating it whole. That’s the simple principle and at the same time the genius of the Mockmill Story.

Thank you Paul for all that you’ve done and continue to do for the worldwide sourdough community! You are an authentic and passionate carrier of the whole grain (and whole food) torch (or should I say baker’s peel), and in turn, an inspiration to countless home and professional bakers. 

Posted in Meet the Baker Behind the Loaves, Sourdough Bread | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Meet the Baker Behind the Loaves: Emilie Raffa of The Clever Carrot

While I’ve featured bakers who have went from hobbyist to professional in this series; I’ve yet to feature a baker who went from corporate job to professionally trained chef to sourdough baking focused chef. You may ask, what would motivate someone to make these significant life transitions? In my opinion it is a drive for balance and a sense of fulfillment. While having a full-time job provides structure to one’s day, it cannot always provide opportunities for a healthy work / personal life balance. Secondly, depending on how well the tasks involved in one’s profession relate to an individual’s passions and sources of joy; even an ideal job can leave one feeling like something is missing in order for it to provide a true sense of personal fulfillment. For some this “missing ingredient” comes as an unexpected surprise that ends up changing the course of one’s personal and professional endeavors forever.

“My blog focused on healthy comfort food and balanced living. However, my world changed overnight when a packet of dried sourdough starter showed up on my doorstep… all the way from Sydney, Australia!” …

“I became utterly obsessed with baking the natural way (no rapid rise yeast) and was fulfilled on a level that was deeply connected to something way bigger than me. Through Priscilla, which Celia has graciously shared with hundreds, if not thousands of people all over the world, I became part of an international family tree of bakers!” 

EC382441-74BB-4AD7-B386-A098051CD467Two quotes from this week’s featured baker, Emilie Raffa of The Clever Carrot.  Well known for her easy to follow sourdough bread, dessert, and food pairing recipes. Emilie’s passion for baking and cooking nourishing food shines brightly in her amazing photography, published recipes and guides, and love for engaging in conversation with her fellow bakers. Between 2006 and 2012, she went on a journey of self-discovery which included graduating from the International Culinary Center, working various cooking-related jobs, creating her website, and most significantly, making a life-changing connection with a fellow blogger who helped initiate her sourdough journey. While her accomplishments in cooking and baking speak for themselves. I hope this article provides you with further insight into the mind and lifestyle of the amazing woman that she is.

So without further ado, I present to you Emilie Raffa of The Clever Carrot.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): As an avid home cook and foodie I found your personal journey from corporate to culinary life quite relatable. Do you feel that the journey that you went on to make your love for cooking and baking into your profession still influences how you approach current professional and personal culinary pursuits?

659689ED-1A9E-412D-A524-7567E375C775Emilie: Absolutely. My gut drives my most of my decisions. If I feel unhappy, whether it’s in the professional or personal realm I’m pretty quick to switch gears, if needed. A yoga teacher once told me “If something doesn’t feel right, it’s most likely not. Don’t fight it.” This has been my mantra ever since.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): When looking over your beginner’s guide I found that one unique aspect of your recipe is the 25g of olive oil. Beyond its ability to soften the texture of a loaf’s crumb. What led to your decision to include olive oil in this recipe?

Emilie: Ahh yes… the olive oil. Everyone always asks me about this 😉 The inclusion of olive oil in my beginner sourdough recipe is how I first learned to bake. I followed the recipe of my dear friend and sourdough mentor, Celia (she blogs over at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial) and that’s what she did. I followed suit. It creates a soft, plush crumb and a crispy crust.

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 also balancing baking with other daily responsibilities (family, work, chores)?

Emilie: I bake for fun. So, fitting sourdough into my daily schedule has to mimic that otherwise I won’t do it. Overnight doughs are the most practical at the moment; I do not have to fit them in between anything else (except sleep!). In the early morning, I shape and bake the dough before leaving the house. Or, if I’m pressed for time I’ll just chill the bulk dough until ready to use later in the day. I usually bake in bulk 2x/ week.


Barry (The Brewed Palate): Because one can bake using recently fed starter (leaving enough behind to keep their starter going) instead of baking with a separately built levain. How do you define the term ‘sourdough discard’? and Do you use your discard in a recipe immediately (after feeding your starter)?

Emilie: Typically, sourdough discard is defined as the portion of starter you remove before feeding what’s left in the jar. It can also refer to recently fed and collapsed starter that you’re not using to make dough. When baking with discard, I use it right away or ferment it overnight in a pancake or waffle batter.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): As a sourdough baker who enjoys using starter discard in dessert recipes; what are five tips that you’d give to a baker trying to get the most out of incorporating starter discard into his or her dessert recipes?

1BA47580-2E6E-4A34-9F36-53E8943F3769Emilie: I don’t have 5 tips, but I do have 3 good ones!

For sweet recipes….

1) Always make sure the discard is in good condition. If it smells too acidic or has a ton of dark liquid on top, don’t bother using it. Your dessert recipes will taste like vinegar.

2) Do not use discard directly out of the fridge. Again, it might be too acidic. Fresh is best. Use your nose.

3) The consistency of your sourdough discard will effect the consistency of your dessert batter. Do not be afraid to add more liquid or flour if necessary, to get the right texture.


Barry (The Brewed Palate): Being that you’ve been sharing your cooking and baking experiences on your blog since 2012. How has your approach to sharing your personal culinary journey with fellow home cooks and bakers changed over time?

Emilie: The climate of blogging has changed immensely over the years. And although my blog content has shifted to mostly sourdough and baking recipes, my approach has remained the same: simple, conversational, and most importantly, practical. I never post recipes that I wouldn’t share with my mom or make something look easy when it’s not.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Since being published in October 2017 your book ‘Artisan Sourdough Made Simple’ has received a lot of praise. Have you thought about publishing a revised edition with updates based on what you have learned in recent years and the feedback that you’ve received?


Emilie: Yes and no. Book writing is tricky- the process is never really finished until you intentionally let it go. I could literally edit myself for ages! With that said however, I’ve jotted down and analyzed the most frequently asked questions and comments since the book’s publication. So, if and when the time comes I’ll be ready to update with the most relevant information.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Nowadays sourdough bakers are baking with quite a large variety of flours, from all-purpose to ancient grains. Can you describe how you go about baking with a type of flour for the first time?

Emilie: Two things: First, I highly recommend sticking with the same brand and type of flour for several bakes. Practice through repetition is the only way you’ll understand how a specific brand and type of flour will perform. This is critical. If you keep making changes, you’ll never know where you went wrong (or right!). Second, try baking smaller loaves. Whenever I work with a new flour, I scale down my loaves so that if I mess up, it’s not a total waste of flour and money.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): Within sourdough baking (and many food related pursuits/hobbies) there seems to be a push towards keeping things simple in order to make it less intimidating and seem flexible rather than its process and methods being held to a set of rules that need to be followed  At the same time there can be immense enjoyment in delving into the details and “geeking out” over ingredients and sourdough fermentation science. How do you relate to this “two side of the loaf” dilemma? and How would you present it to fellow sourdough bakers?


Emilie: Great question. The term “simple” is different for everyone. Some bakers want a no frills approach to sourdough, whereas others find a sense of calm in analyzing the geeky stuff. I fall somewhere in between. I’ve found that offering just enough info for reference without going overboard, is key. Additionally, I always tell those who are new to sourdough to find a baker or an author who resonates with them. Does their style and approach make you feel calm and confident? If so, you’re on the right path!


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

Emilie: If you take sourdough quite literally, it’s bread made with a live fermented culture of flour and water. So right there, you are experiencing all of the living benefits from friendly bacteria and enzymes. But if you take it a step further, sourdough is not just bread; it’s a living connection. Not only do you grow, cultivate, and maintain a relationship with your sourdough starter; the act of sharing sourdough- whether it’s your starter or a loaf- is the the ultimate form of connecting with others. And in a time where social distancing has become the “norm,” finding ways to connect is more important then ever. Sourdough has bridged the gap all over the world.

Thank you Emilie for all that you’ve done and continue to do for the worldwide sourdough community! You are truly living a life which defines “living bread” and in turn are an inspiration to countless home and professional bakers. 

Posted in Meet the Baker Behind the Loaves, Sourdough Bread | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Meet the Baker Behind the Loaves: Maurizio Leo of The Perfect Loaf

Biology, beer brewing, and engineering…what do they all have in common?  Those with backgrounds in these fields tend to find sourdough baking to be quite engaging and relatable. Couple that with a background in cooking good food from scratch, and you’re sure to see it as a means to increase your quality of life. To sustain the feelings of fulfillment gained from learning about the ingredients, methods, processes, and flavor combinations involved in baking naturally leavened bread, one embarks on a journey of experimentation and shared experiences. Adjusting variables, baking, and then sharing the results with family and fellow bakers all combine to elevate the experience.

theperfectloaf-horizontal-3In today’s social media-centric society, many sourdough bakers benefit greatly from finding and following bloggers whose perspectives and baking journeys are relatable to their own.  With my background in homebrewing and adventurous homecooking, one blogger whose website and Instagram feed that I have found  especially helpful, engaging, and relatable is Maurizio Leo of The Perfect Loaf. Having been raised on simple yet delicious from-scratch Italian cooking, and having made a career out of utilizing his analytical mind as a software engineer, he presents his sourdough baking as a journey of experimentation and kitchen spontaneity. He does so in a manner that is easy to follow, easy to learn from, and that effortlessly inspires others.

So without further ado, it is my honor to present to you Maurizo Leo of The Perfect Loaf.

Barry (The Brewed Palate) I really enjoyed reading over the ‘About’ page on The Perfect Loaf website. Especially how you stated your overall primary goals and values: “Here at The Perfect Loaf, I marry my analytical side and entrenched value for good food to share my journey in baking naturally leavened sourdough using my wild yeast starter.” Can you describe how these two important values play out as you develop and then bake your recipes?

theperfectloaf-maurizioleoMaurizio: I grew up in an Italian household surrounded by family that cooked uncomplicated food from scratch. Whether I was at home with my mom and nonna making pasta or at my dad’s Italian restaurant in the back with the cooks and pizzaiolo, I saw firsthand food made by hand with deliberate care. Watching my nonna hand roll pasta during the week like it was second nature, or watching the thousandth pizza my dad made at the restaurant–I think these things stay with you from childhood to adulthood. They instill an appreciation for nourishing others through hard–but satisfying–work. I like to think the baking I do today falls in line with the cooking and baking my family has always done, a way to make honest food with hard work and dedication.

I’ve always been an analytical person, and the precision and the science behind sourdough baking drew me in from the start. I quickly took to the numbers behind the formulas. I started asking questions about what would happen if I changed this flour or that salt percentage, what would happen if I extended the proof time in the fridge, and how would these things affect fermentation in the end? Each bake became an experiment for me, a way to test all the input parameters that go into a loaf of bread and then iterate on the results until the final loaf was what I had envisioned. It turns out a simple loaf of sourdough bread is an elaborate concert of microorganisms, and it’s up to us as bakers to decide which microorganisms dominate. That concert can be adjusted using the many levers we can pull as bakers, whether it’s temperature, pre-ferment percentage, flour composition, etc. My analytical side pushes me to approach a particular bread formula and process as an algorithm that needs optimization. It just turns out that optimization results in a delicious loaf of bread in the end.

In the end, baking can be a precise endeavor with spreadsheets, formulas, percentages–which my analytical side loves–but it’s also a creative outlet, a way to play the alchemist and create something new with each mix. It starts with precision and planning, but once I get into the kitchen, creativity, spontaneity, and last-minute adjustments become essential.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): My next question is a two-parter: What was your transition from software engineer to full-time baker like? Next, how do you feel that your engineering background helped you as you started your sourdough baking journey?

Maurizio: Well, I’m not a full-time baker just yet! I still do software engineering work in some capacity each week, and that’s great for me. I still enjoy engaging that side of my brain, changing things up periodically during the week to write code and think about functions, memory allocation, and concurrency. But I still feel these analytical aspects of my personality hang around when I transition back to baking, and they sometimes have me look at a problem or roadblock differently. And this goes back the other way, too: if I’m struggling with something in software, sometimes baking has a way of inspiring a new solution or a different approach.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): One factor that I admire about your Instagram posts is that you present your baking experiences as a journey towards achieving the best end result for each of your breads. How do you choose which variables to tweek (adjust) when baking a recipe again?

theperfectloaf-horizontal-5Maurizio: I think a lot of this comes down to experience. When you start developing your recipes, you discover what effect a specific input will have in a bread formula, and what changing that input might mean on the result. The beautiful thing about bread is that each input is related to every other in some, sometimes tangential, way. Changing one ingredient requires the baker to think about how it might affect the dough’s overall consistency, how it might affect fermentation, or how it might change the final flavor profile. It’s this interrelated web of inputs that makes testing over and over so exciting: you draw on experience to help navigate you toward your end goal.


Barry (The Brewed Palate): One factor that every sourdough baker has to adapt to is the changing of the seasons, from colder temperatures in the winter to hot temperatures in the summer. How do you adapt your baking to changes in outdoor and/or indoor temperatures?

Maurizio: The changing seasons always seem to catch bakers off guard, myself included. The easiest way to be mindful of this is always to be observant of your sourdough starter. If your kitchen is warming up as summer approaches, you will see this firsthand in your starter as it begins to show signs of increased fermentation activity: more breakdown and an increased sour aroma. To combat warm temperatures, decrease your starter seed percentage (inoculation) and perhaps drop the percentage of whole grains added to reduce overall acidity and keep your starter on the same refreshment schedule. Conversely, in the winter, increase the inoculation and work back in whole grains to increase fermentation activity and speed things up. 

As far as your dough, always me mindful of that final dough temperature!

Barry (The Brewed Palate): As a long time  homebrewer (beer, cider, mead) malted flours are quite intriguing to me. What differences have you realized in your baking between malted and non-malted flours?

Maurizio: Diastatic malt certainly will have a profound effect on the dough fermentation activity, final crust color, and to some degree, the flavor of the final loaf. Most of the white flour I use is malted from the miller, so it’s rare for me to add any further. When added judiciously, diastatic malt can help correct a flour that might have low enzymatic activity to ensure vigorous fermentation and proper crust color.

For a past bake, I’ve gone through the exercise of malting wheat berries (non-diastatic), milling them, and then added them to a dough to produce a mighty flavorful bread. It was a rather enlightening, not only was the resulting bread fantastic, but it also had me experience firsthand how much work the process is for maltsters.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): For those who bake one or multiple times per week, developing a dependable base recipe (or set of parameters) can be very helpful. Do you have a base recipe that you bake regularly? What factors would you recommend that bakers consider when developing their own base recipe?

theperfectloaf-vertical-6Maurizio: I have several recipes that seem to always find their way into rotation here. My focaccia is one of them and a bread that I’ve yet to post to my website, but one I’ve been tinkering with for a long time in some form or another (if you follow along, you’ll likely know it has some Type 85, some whole spelt, and some low protein white flour in some combination!). But I think the key to developing a dependable recipe is finding a process that works with your schedule and a set of flour that is readily accessible. The key to a base recipe is having as many things as constant as possible; this way, you can then change one thing to take the bread in a different direction or test a theory and immediately grok the results.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): One great benefit of social media (e.g. Facebook and Instagram) is that around every creative and artful hobby there is a growing community of like-minded individuals sharing their experiences and offering advice to their fellow creatives. Being that you’ve been sharing your sourdough experiences since 2013. How has your approach to sharing your personal sourdough journey with fellow home bakers changed over time? 

Maurizio: I don’t think my approach has changed significantly over the past 7-8 years. I use these social outlets to connect with other bakers as you said, they’re a fantastic way to form a group around a shared passion. My posts have always been a look at what I’m baking, what I’m testing, and where my current sourdough interest might lie. It’s fantastic to have such a vibrant community of sourdough bakers online, a community where we can discuss every facet of baking with the goal of continuous improvement. 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge all the wonderful bakers I’ve met on Instagram, Facebook, and through my website. Their connections and daily interactions have kept me pushing the craft forward in my home kitchen; they’ve undoubtedly kept my unending curiosity stoked and the passion alight through their work!

theperfectloaf-horizontal-8Barry (The Brewed Palate): Out of all of the sourdough starter guides that I’ve read I found that your’s takes into account pretty much every nuance that a home baker may encounter or ask about while making and then learning how to maintain his or her starter. How did you plan out the structure of your guide? How has it evolved over time?

Maurizio: All of the guides at my website start with a blank page. I fill in the page over time as I test, test, and retest. In the process, little things pop up and have me inspect something I might have otherwise taken for granted or not paid attention to, and I record whatever it may be. As I work on the guide (which sometimes takes me way too long!), it slowly gets filled in and takes form. In the end, I still step back and ask myself whether there are any gaps or areas where instruction is lacking. And after publishing, I still revisit old posts and update them with new findings, a better way to do something, or a way to address someone’s question they might have sent me.

Part of the reason I started The Perfect Loaf is to help others find an answer to those little gaps, the areas where instruction is sparse or nonexistent. In essence, it’s the very thing I wish I’d had when I first started baking.

Barry (The Brewed Palate): As someone who embraces the full versatility of sourdough baking. How would you describe the benefits of utilizing sourdough starter (levain) in baked goods such as pizza, pastries, and baked desserts?

Maurizio: I feel natural leavening has a vast range of applicability in baking and even cooking, and I use my starter just about everywhere I can. Not only does sourdough bring added flavor to many baked goods, but it also brings nutritional benefits if the flour used in the recipe is allowed to ferment for some time. Fermentation makes the vitamins and nutrients present in flour more bioavailable and more manageable for our bodies to process. With all these benefits, and if you have a sourdough starter always ready to be used, why not?

I do think some viennoiserie and bread formulas are more suited for instant yeast–croissants come to mind–and in that case, while I would still give it a go with 100% natural leavening, those might, in the end, be better with instant yeast than sourdough. And this is an important point: it’s not that using instant yeast is wrong or “the enemy,” it’s another tool to be used in a bakery like any other. I don’t use it in my kitchen (I also have little experience with it), but I’m not against it in the slightest.

theperfectloaf-horizontal-4Barry (The Brewed Palate): Sourdough bread is often called “living bread.” What do the terms “living bread” and “living food” mean to you? 

Maurizio: There can be so many definitions for this, but sourdough is precisely that, it’s food that’s genuinely alive–in fact, I use this term often when I’m writing about the dough during bulk fermentation. It should look alive: bubbly, risen, and active. And you can see it in so many other places, beginning with your sourdough starter to pulling the finished loaf from the oven. The dough is alive, and it’s teeming with microorganisms that are doing most of the work for us, making our food healthier and delicious.

But perhaps there’s also another way to look at it: each baker’s bread is living in the sense that it never really is static and set. Our bread changes from day to day as it evolves through changing seasons, flour variations, and even the baker’s mood and sensibility. In this way, it’s always changing and evolving with us; as we grow as bakers, our bread grows.

Thank you Maurizio for all that you’ve done and continue to do for the worldwide sourdough community! You are a prime example of what it means to embrace sourdough baking as a means to enhance one’s quality of life and an inspiration to countless home and professional bakers.

Posted in Meet the Baker Behind the Loaves, Sourdough Bread | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sourdough Baking Journal: Roasted Garlic and Chive Foccacia w/ Roasted Tomato-Balsamic sauce

Recipe: For my second go at sourdough focaccia. I followed Maurizio of The Perfect Loaf’s ‘A Simple Focaccia’ recipe. As with my first focaccia (see above), I swapped the all-purpose flour with Tipo “00” flour in order to achieve a chewier/pizza crust like texture. For toppings I used roasted garlic, chives, roasted plum tomatoes, and sliced red onion.3E39AE4A-6F3D-4FB7-9510-C401B0FF37BF

Techniques used: As stated above, I followed Maurizio’s sourdough focaccia recipe for the entirety of this bake. However, I did utilize the overnight option described in his recipe i.e. “Instead of proofing the dough at room temperature for 2 hours, cover the rectangular pan with an airtight cover and transfer to the fridge. The next day, take out the dough and let it come to room temperature and finish proofing.” Upon taking mine out of the fridge I left it out at room temperature for 2 hours to proof and then baked it.

Results: First glance I was not satisfied with how this focaccia turned out. Meaning I felt that it didn’t have enough surfact bubbles and while the bottom browned more than my first focaccia, the top didn’t brown enough. Also, it didn’t seem like it rose enough. However, upon cutting into it and seeing it’s nice looking crumb I realized that despite entering my pan size on the Food Geek’s focaccia recipe page, I probably used his original recipe instead of clicking off the page to an adjusted recipe. Therefore, this focaccia could not have risen as much as its predecessor. Secondly, I probably should have used my starter earlier i.e. 6-8 hours post feeding rather then 10.5. Future planning aside, my family and I deeply enjoyed pairing it with the sauce. I’ll definitely make an accompaniment or two next time I bake a sourdough focaccia…

Roasted Tomato-Balsamic sauce: This off the cuff recipe was put together after speaking about focaccia pairings with my cousin, Chef Seth Warshaw of Etc Steakhouse (Teaneck, NJ) – While I eye-balled the ingredients, I’ve estimated them here in order to share a cohesive recipe. 

Roasted Veggies:

4 plum tomatoes

4 scallions

5 garlic cloves

1 medium-sized red bell pepper

1/2 a large portobello mushroom cap

Additional ingredients:

About an 1/8 of a large red onion

2 tbsp olive oil

3 tbsp balsamic vinegar

S&P to taste


Roast the veggies and then blend/puree them in a food processor with the remaining ingredients until you reach the texture of your liking.

Posted in Sourdough Bread | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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 ado, 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.

Posted in Meet the Baker Behind the Loaves, Sourdough Bread | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in Sourdough Bread | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment