Baking Bread with Specialty Malts

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I used to make my own beer. But after three ruined batches and not wanting to add to a growing middle-aged paunch, I decided to give away the  equipment. One thing I miss is not being able to make bread with the leftover grains.

That is, until I tried a recipe from Emmanuel Hadjiandreou’s book How to Make Sourdough. Hadjiandreou, a specialist in Northern European breads, taught me that you can skip the beer making and just use malted grains directly in your bread.

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The grains used in making beer are, mostly, barley that has been malted (sprouted) and then either caramelized or roasted. To make beer you soak the grains in warm water to extract the sugars that form in the malting process. Fermenting that sugary malt water creates alcohol. Most of the grain used to make beer is two or six-row malt. You add so-called “specialty” grains (that have been caramelized or roasted) to add flavor. If you skip the beer making and add the specialty malts directly to your dough, more of their flavor makes it into the bread.

Step into a homebrew shop and you’ll find bin after bin of different specialty grains. I decided, with Hadjiandreou’s advice to start with three: a crystal malt (I used a caramel 120), a plain malt (such as Maris Otter) and an American chocolate malt. But you don’t need to use these exact grains. Stick your head in the grain bins and let your nose lead you.

In a 2-pound sourdough rye loaf Hadjiandreou’s recipe calls for 20 grams of chocolate malt and 40 grams each of the other two grains. A lighter hand with the dark malts will reduce the chance of bitter bread.

To soak or not to soak
Usually when I add whole grains or seeds to bread I like to soak them for a few hours in hot water. But when I tried this with the specialty grains I ended up inadvertently starting the beer making process. Much of the syrupy goodness flowed out the grain and was lost when I had to drain it prior to adding it to my dough. Instead, I got better results by starting with a wet dough and letting the grain soften during a very long bulk fermentation and proof. An important last step was to put a bowl over the loaf after it came out of the oven to lock in the moisture. I would never do this with most kinds of bread, but this style of dense German/Scandinavian bread really benefits from a wet post-bake sauna. In addition to further softening the specialty grain it also softens the crust.

While I may no longer make beer, I can still make what I like to call “solid” beer: a.k.a. bread. And with the many varieties of specialty grain, a whole world of flavor awaits.

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Saturday Tweets: Urine, Cats and Swedish Dresses Made From Ikea Bags

The Degrowth Paradigm

Jim Merkel's garden, "poop palace" and power station. Photo: CBC.

Jim Merkel’s garden, “poop palace” and power station. Photo: CBC.

Now in its 50th year, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Ideas show, hosted by Paul Kennedy, tackles controversial topics thoughtfully and in-depth. On the latest episode, a rebroadcast from 2013, Ideas looks at a topic NPR wouldn’t touch with a 100-foot pole:”degrowth.”

As engineer and degrowth advocate Bob Thomson puts it,

Growth has become an element of faith. It’s so deeply ingrained into our cultural narratives. Growth is something that is seen as necessary, where in actual fact, we could probably be a lot happier with less consumption.

The show begins with an interview with Jim Merkel, author of Radical Simplicity, Small Footprints on a Finite Earth and concludes with a visit to the radical degrowth activists of Catalan, Spain.

To those of you who haven’t jumped on the podcast bandwagon yet, I’d suggest Ideas as a start.

The episode I’m talking about, “The Degrowth Paradigm,” can be found here.

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I’ll Need This Someday: Clutter Control for Artists and Creatives

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For the past three weeks two heavy French doors are blocking access to my work bench. Kelly spotted them on the street and we grabbed them for the garden shed she wants me to build (a project, admittedly, that I’m dragging my heels on). Lest I blame Kelly for my workshop clutter, it should be noted that the doors are next to four columns I grabbed from an old house that was being demolished. The columns and the doors are now part of a category of stuff all creative people know about: “I’ll need this someday.”

It seems to me that there are two basic types in the artist/maker/gardener world: those who sketch out an idea and then go find materials and those who start with the materials and then, only later, figure out what to do with. Then there’s the folks who accumulate materials and then never do anything with them.

Of course, life isn’t so black and white. Most of us probably fit somewhere between those three extremes. But lately, especially with the good results I’ve had using the free 3d modeling program Sketchup, I’ve come to the conclusion that, at least in my own case, I might be better off drawing up a design first before scavenging for materials. The universe, I’ve noticed, tends to cough up stuff when you need it, especially in our highly wasteful consumer culture here in the U.S. Facebook is also useful for putting out a call for materials. And, if I can’t find it in the street or through social media, I can always buy used materials at our local ReStore, which benefits Habitat for Humanity.

The same principle applies to new technology. I just heard Kevin Kelly discussing his latest book and I really like his advice to only buy technology five minutes before you need it. That way you don’t end up with things you don’t need and you also have the benefit of having the latest version.

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I’d be remiss if I didn’t address the aesthetic triumphs of those who are expert scavengers, such as our neighbor Doug Harvey who turned the ever present street headboard into an art piece. Then there’s the time I passed up the chance to grab the Olive Motel’s Art Deco sign, only to see it later in a fancy boutique with a $3,500 price tag.

What kind of creative person are you? Do you have a “I’ll need this someday” pile?

When you’ve been blogging for ten years you sometimes duplicate subject matter. It turns out the Kelly already covered this topic in a more detailed post: De-Cluttering for DIYers, Homesteaders, Artists, Preppers, etc.

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The Fine Art of Determining Peach Ripeness

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How do you know when your peaces are ready to pick? For home growers it’s all about color. According to the University of Georgia,

Ground color is the best field indicator of peach maturity. . . The ground color of a peach approaching maturity is light green. A break in color toward yellow is the first definite indication of maturity. Brightening of the red over-color of the skin is another, though less reliable, index of maturity. Red color is typically dull prior to the green to yellow break. When the underlying ground color breaks to yellow, the red brightens and can easily be selected. Color judgments are reliable with many older varieties, but new highly colored varieties with higher percentages of red over-color have diminished the usefulness of color in maturity determination.

Farmers have access to a few tools that can make ripeness determination easier such as this expensive gadget that measures firmness or a brix meter for determining sugar content. These tools could only be justified if you were planning on growing, shipping and selling fruit. More useful for us backyard growers is this gallery of peach fruit color stages.

I’ve been picking them a little on the green side and letting them ripen inside in order to stay ahead of the squirrel menace. This year we’ve eaten a lot more peaches than the squirrels have.