Josey Baker on Bread: Whole, Wild, Wet, Slow and Bold


You can make bread or babies with Josey Baker’s advice. Earlier this month, the bread cult I co-founded, the Los Angeles Bread Bakers, hosted a class by author and enthusiastic bread nerd Josey Baker. Baker and his mentor Dave Miller (yes, they do have oddly appropriate surnames) have developed a style of baking that Josey has turned into set of five principles, a kind of Kama Sutra of bread: whole, wild, wet, slow and bold. Let’s get funky and break that down.

To make white flour, all the good stuff in wheat is sifted out, leaving it lifeless. Even “whole wheat” breads are made with a significant proportion of white flour. It’s been this way now for a long time. White flour, once the exclusive domain of the elite became, in the 20th century, the ubiquitous loaf of Wonder Bread many of us grew up with.

And what about that whole grain flour at the supermarket? Imagine if the only wine available in stores was wine-in-a-box, and it came in two flavors, “white” and “red.” This would be a sad world. Well, our whole grain flour choices are actually worse: there’s only one kind sold in supermarkets. Despite appearances, though, there’s actually a whole wide world of biodiversity and flavor to be found in wheat, varieties such as Kamut, Sonora, Charcoal, Triple IV, Einkorn and Red Fife, to name just a few. All are radically different in terms of color, texture and flavor. It really is analogous to wine varietals. Both Baker and Miller take advantage of grain diversity by working with farmers, milling their own flour and creating 100% whole-wheat loaves that highlight the flavor differences between wheat varieties. We’re very lucky in Los Angeles to have a retail mill, Grist & Toll, that sells many different varieties of fresh ground flour and whole grain. But, for those of you not in SoCal, check the interwebs for local millers or mail-order sources for flour and whole grains.

The wild refers to wild yeast, as in sourdough or “levain” in French. For me the best thing about working with wild yeast is that the bread has a more interesting, pronounced flavor. Another big advantage is that, due to the lactic acid producing bacteria in wild bread cultures, your bread will last a lot longer–up to a week in my experience. Lastly, though it hasn’t yet been proven, there may be some health advantages to wild starters. The lactic acid bacterias might make bread more digestible.

Both Baker and Miller mix up doughs that are surprisingly wet. Whole grain soaks up a lot of water to begin with, but both Baker and Miller push that wetness to very high hydration levels: sometimes in the neighborhood of 120% hydration if you’re keeping score. (N.B. Hydration level refers to the ratio of water to flour by weight: 100 grams of flour mixed with 100 grams of water = 100% hydration)  A big advantage of wet dough is that you don’t need to knead it. The gluten strands align on their own in the wet dough matrix. You still have to do some stretching and folding to help the gluten alignment process along, but you don’t have anything that resembles traditional kneading. Very wet doughs have the disadvantage of being difficult to turn into hearth loaves. Dave Miller overcomes this by his almost supernatural ability to shape dough. It’s almost like he can just stare at a pile of what looks like pancake batter and miraculously turn it into neat little boules. Baker had a great tip for those of us not as adept at forming loaves out of wet dough: just bake your bread in a loaf pan. Problem solved! I’ve been doing a lot lately.

The refrigerator is your friend. Doing some part of the fermentation in the fridge lengthens the fermentation time and helps develop more pronounced flavors. It also allows greater flexibility in your baking schedule. Got to go to work? Pick up the kids? No problem. Put that dough in the fridge. Baker likes to do the bulk fermentation (e.g. the first fermentation) at room temperature, shape the loaves, and then proof them in the fridge. They can then come straight out of the fridge and into the oven. Miller, due to some quirks in his schedule, likes to do the latter part of the bulk fermentation in the fridge, shape the loaves and then proof them at room temperature. One advantage with Miller’s approach is that cold dough is easier to shape. Personally, for reasons I can’t quite explain, I’ve had more luck with bulk fermentation at room temperature and proofing in the fridge.

One of the biggest mistakes newbie bakers make is puling their loaves out of the oven before the bread is really, truly done.  Both Miller and Baker leave their loaves in the oven until they are almost burnt. The reasons are multiple. Take the loaf out too soon and, particularly with whole grain breads, the crust will be too soft. Another reason is that Miller contends that the sort of whole grain breads you buy at the supermarket are under-baked. Poke the center of those commercial breads and the texture is often like play dough. Plus, I’d say, those boldly baked loaves are pretty.

Josey Baker’s formula is simple: find an interesting grain, ferment it with a sourdough starter with a lot of water, use the refrigerator to your advantage and bake it to the edge of being burnt. The details of this process will be the subject of future posts.

I made soup out of a Halloween pumpkin and it didn’t completely suck


Our neighborhood of tiny, overpriced bungalows is the place to go trick or treating, for some reason. A record keeping neighbor counted 300 trick or treaters at his door this weekend. He had collaborated with another neighbor on an elaborate, coordinated display: Mount Olympus vs. Hades. Up on Mt. Olympus (one side of our street is 30 feet higher than the other), Zeus wielded a shiny cardboard lightening bolt, while down below the devil dealt with those 300 kids. I made a mental note to up our Halloween decor game next year as all we had was one hastily carved pumpkin and two uncarved pumpkins.

The next day, surveying the trail of candy wrappers on the sidewalk, I felt a little guilty about those uncarved pumpkins. I resolved to eat them. An NPR story, “Do We Waste a Lot of Pumpkins We Could Be Eating?“, tipped me off to an Epicurious Curried Pumpkin soup recipe that uses coconut milk and hot pepper flakes. The recipe takes advantage of the fact that you could make delicious soup out of cat litter with coconut milk and hot pepper flakes.

Of course that same soup would taste a lot better made with a kabocha squash. And Halloween pumpkins make great worm food. But I was reasonably pleased with the soup, especially after it had mellowed in the fridge for a day.

How was your Halloween? What do you do with the leftover pumpkins?

067 Wild Drinks and Cocktails With Emily Han


Our topic this week is wildcrafted drinks and cocktails with writer, recipe developer, educator, and herbalist Emily Han. She is the author of Wild Drinks and Cocktails and the Communications Director for Emily’s website is During the show we discuss the difference between “wildcrafting” and “foraging” and how you can use easily foraged herbs, fruits, pine needles and flowers to make shrubs, switchels, tonics and infusions. Emily also shares her easy distillation method and advice on what to do with all those prickly pear fruits!

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

How to Seed a Pomegranate

In lieu of a podcast this week, I thought I’d offer a short video on my favorite method for seeding a pomegranate. While there are as many ways to accomplish this tedious but rewarding autumn chore as there are roads to Rome, I’ve found this particular technique the easiest.

First choose a large bowl to prevent splatter and subsequent spousal arguments. Then slice the pomegranate in half along its equator. Take a spatula or other sturdy object and then spank the back until the seeds release (this sounds more erotic than it actual is). If I’m lazy I just pick out the pith from the bowl. If I’m more thorough I’ll fill the bowl with water so that you can easily skim off the pith which floats to the surface.

Our tree gifted us with an abundant crop, so this has been a daily practice for the last month. This is also confirmation of my theory that the easiest things to grow make the most work for the cook.

What’s your favorite pomegranate seeding method?

Easy Scandinavian-Style Bread

bread loaf

I really like the dense, hearty whole grain loaves which are popular in Germany and Scandinavia and other points north, but which are difficult to find in the U.S.  I’ve come to like these better than the airy kind of bread, as a matter of fact. Fluffy bread doesn’t really seem like real food to me anymore, and white fluffy bread tastes like cotton candy.

Of course, I’m spoiled because Erik is a baker, so he makes me delicious, black hole-dense loaves of sourdough rye. Or at least, he used to. Now he’s on crutches, trying to recover from a bad case of Plantar fasciitis. This means he’s not doing anything in the kitchen anymore, and my bread supply is gone.

Sure, I could wake up his sourdough starter, take on the mantle (or apron?) of Household Baker, and start making these loaves myself, but I’m already taking on extra chores with him off his feet, so I’m not inclined to take up this one as well. Yet we can’t live two months without good bread. What to do?

Fortunately, I’ve found a solution to our bread crisis: a perfectly good yeasted recipe which makes a dense whole grain loaf with minimal effort. No starter. No kneading. No rise time, even. It’s a quick bread, essentially. It takes 5 minutes to mix up, then you plop it into a loaf pan and put it in the oven for 1 1/2 hours. That’s it.

It lacks the sour flavor and chewiness you get from developed loaves, true, as well as the health benefits/improved digestibility that comes from the fermentation process. But you know, it’s still very good. And it’s 100% whole grain and packed with healthful seeds. And for a yeasted bread, it keeps well. Our loaves have been lasting at least three days on the counter top, unwrapped.

This isn’t a bread for soaking up sauce, or making fancy sandwiches, because it’s not springy. Instead, it’s a bread for layering with cheese or lox or slices of cucumber and salt. It’s also great toasted. But mostly I’ve just been eating it slathered with that fancy cultured butter that Trader Joe’s has started selling lately.

Now that I’ve got you all excited, I’m not going to write the recipe here, because I’m using it exactly as I found it on The Transplanted Baker. I have nothing to add or change, or any excuse at all to claim it as my own. She calls her version of this recipe (which originated with Nigella Lawson) “Lazy Man’s Bread.” I’ll have to call this blog entry “Lazy Man’s Post.”

See: Lazy Man’s Bread at The Transplanted Baker