Baking Bread in a Casserole Oven vs. a Combo Cooker

71V58kIANBL._SL1200_One of the tricks popularized by Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread recipe is using a Dutch oven to bake the bread. The Dutch oven harnesses the moisture in the dough to create a steamy environment. This allows the dough to rise rather than toast immediately. Commercial bread ovens (and some high-end home ovens) have steam injection systems that serve the same purpose. A Dutch oven is a lot cheaper, of course.

The trick is to get a loose and wet dough into a 500ºF Dutch oven without either burning yourself or smacking the loaf against the side of the pot. Some people first transfer the dough to parchment paper and then transfer that to the Dutch oven, (See Eric of GardenforkTV explain this method). Two years ago I finally broke down and bought a Lodge Combo cooker:

61mB9jx6oXL._SL1200_To bake bread in it, you use it upside-down. The dough goes into the frying pan part and the pot goes on top. In order to get an evenly baked crust in our old oven I’ve got to turn the pot periodically in the last part of the bake. And that’s the problem. The handles make that difficult. It’s not a big deal (I can twist the loaf in the pot), but I’ve concluded that I would have been better off buying the Lodge casserole pot pictured at the top of this post since there’s no long handles.

Incidentally, trying to steam a home oven by spraying the inside with water or throwing in a wet towel does not work as well, in my opinion, since a lot of that moisture is lost out the vent.

045 Whole Grain Baking

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In episode 45, Kelly and Erik discuss whole grain baking, specifically a workshop the Los Angeles Bread Bakers put on featuring the very talented Dave Miller. The picture is of the bread Dave baked in the workshop. Clockwise from upper left: einkorn, sonora wheat, charcoal wheat and spelt/rye. Miller was featured prominently in Michael Pollan’s book Cooked. During the show we mention:

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. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Three Things I’ve Learned About Baking Bread With Whole Grain

sonora wheat loaf and joachin oro wheat loaf

Sonora wheat loaf on the left, Joachin Oro loaf on the right.

I’ve gone through a number of bread baking conversion experiences over the last 20 years. I began with Nancy Silverton cookbook, moved on to the cult of Chad Robertson and have finally ended up drinking the whole grain cool aid of pro-bakers Craig Ponsford, Dave Miller and Josey Baker. Then I got really crazy and started milling my own flour from heirloom wheat. Here’s three things I’ve learned:

1. Keep it wet. Whole grain flour soaks up much more water than white flour. Bread recipes are a ratio between flour and water. In bread baking parlance this is called a hydration ratio (to get the hydration ratio you divide the water by the flour–the quirk of baker’s math is that the flour is always 100% ). Old school bread recipes, most of which require a lot of kneading, have hydration ratios in the 65% range. Popular no-knead white bread recipes have hydration ratios in the 75% to 80% range. Whole wheat? We’re talking a range between 85% and 110% depending on the type of grain you’re using.

2. Shorten the fermentation time. I use a sourdough starter and, in my experience, whole grain seems to be more active than white flour. Now we’re not talking about the crazy kind of rise that happens with commercial yeast, but I over-proofed many whole wheat sourdough loaves until I figured out that I needed to shorten the first rise (bulk fermentation). The white breads I used to make required a four to five hour bulk fermentation. The whole grain breads I’m baking now seem to do fine with just three hours (depending on the weather, of course). Once I shape my dough, I put it in the fridge to proof overnight. The time in the fridge makes wet dough easier to handle and develops the flavor. And that cold dough can go straight from the fridge and into the oven.

3. The biodiversity of grains and the way they behave as bread has been a astonishing and sometimes frustrating experience (note the difference in the photo above between a loaf made with Sonora wheat and a loaf made with Joachin Oro wheat). Many varieties of  wheat I’ve worked with need to be baked in a loaf pan since they don’t have the gluten to hold their shape as a boule or batard (unless you’re a master like Dave Miller). The Joachin Oro I’ve been getting from my local mill Grist & Toll, on the other hand, yields big and perfect boules. Flours can be blended, of course, and this is the next frontier I plan to explore. And milling your own introduces another variable I’m still getting use to. The fineness of the flour effects the rise of the dough. The convenience and control of home milling has been both life changing and, at times, frustrating.

Have you been baking with whole grains? How has it been going with you?

Poor Man’s Paninni Press

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Go ahead, spend your hard earned dollars on an electric paninni press, yet another one of those counter space hogging single-use appliances. But let me tell you what the hip kids do: wrap a brick in aluminum foil, put your sandwich in the pan and plop that brick on top. Turn the sandwich once, and you’ve got paninni.

This kitchen hack will keep you out of trouble with the spouses, partners and housemates who glare at yet more kitchen gadgets. And you’ll still be able to enjoy hot and delicious, horizontally-coerced Italian sandwiches.

lodge cast iron paninni pressBut the hipper kids might have a Lodge cast iron paninni press. For what the aluminum wrapped brick lacks is the ability to make those special paninni grooves across the surface of the bread. Plus you can preheat the Lodge press and avoid having to flip your sandwich. But, you might still face rage from housemates intent on radical decluttering.

I have no personal experience with the Lodge paninni press. Do any of you? Is this something I should order, in a late night Amazon binge, the next time Kelly is visiting relatives?

032 Grist and Toll, an urban flour mill

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In episode 32 of the Root Simple Podcast I talk with Nan Kohler, owner and miller at Grist & Toll, a mill in Pasadena, California–and the first mill to operate in the L.A. area in the last one hundred years. We discuss varieties of wheat, the health benefits of whole grains, how to work with them and why flavor is important. Kelly is not on this episode but will return to the podcast next week.

Links
Ruth Reichl visits baker Richard Bertinet in England

Joaquin Oro wheat

White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf

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. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Who Killed the Non-Electric Toaster?

pyramid non-electric toaster
I don’t regret my unsuccessful attempt this Sunday to fix our broken toaster. It made me remember designer Thomas Thwaites’ attempt to build a toaster from scratch and how well that project showed the complex, interconnecting supply chain involved in manufacturing even the simplest electronic device.

The failure of our toaster was caused by a break in the heating wire. Following these instructions, I attempted to mend the break, but it was in an awkward location and, like most objects these days, the toaster was not built to be fixed.

Disassembling the toaster laid bare the flaws in the design of all toasters. The heating wire (called nichrome wire–short for nickel-chromium) is fragile and extremely vulnerable to an errant bread crust.

I vowed to find an alternative and remembered seeing non-electric toasters that people used to use back in the 1920s when our house was built. These types of toasters have not died out entirely. Most non-electric toaster designs look like the one above. Some Googling  also led us to an innovative looking non-electric toaster called the DeltaToast.

Counter-intuitively, all of these simple stove top toasters coast about twice as much as electric toaster, at least in the US. This leads me to my question for you, our dear readers. Have you used a non-electric toaster? How do they compare to electric toasters?

Note from Kelly:

I noticed that the stove-top or pyramid toaster seems to live on in Australia and New Zealand, judging by the number of businesses I found selling them there. The toasters were also much more reasonably priced than they are here– but shipping to the US was crazy expensive, scudding that possibility entirely. So I’m particularly interested in responses from readers in these countries. Who is buying and using them?

Also, there are many antique stove-top toasters available on Etsy for about ten to twelve bucks, but they’re all rusty and worse for wear.

Foodcrafting 101

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I’ve been teaching bread classes for years now at the Institute of Domestic Technology. It’s about time I made note of this. The class I teach is part of a full day of classes that, in addition to bread, will show you how to make jam, cheese and ricotta. All this fun takes place in the haunted Doheny Mansion! There’s a class coming up in January. To sign up head over here. Gift certificates are available.

Sunday, January 4th, 10am ~ 4pm
Historic Greystone Mansion, Beverly Hills

A 1-Day Workshop with 4 class sessions & lunch.

$195 {includes lunch, beverages, ingredients and supplies}

Unleash your inner foodcrafter. This full-day, hands-on workshop will prepare you to start making your own artisanal bread, jam, mustards and ricotta from scratch. Your d.i.y ambassadors/instructors will be some of the city’s finest food crafters.

The workshop includes four, 1-hour foodcrafting sessions, catered lunch and beverages. Each participant will be sent home with their very own bread, a take-home containers of cheese, bread dough, a jar of fruit preserves and a container of mustard. You’ll also receive the Institute’s signature instruction manual with recipes and materials/ingredient resource guide empowering you to recreate everything at home.

Foodcrafting 101 Workshop Schedule:

Bread Making:

Master the simple technique of bread making from scratch using the no-knead bread recipe from the Institute Director’s own cookbook. Learn about types of flour, where to purchase them, how to shape loaves and achieve the perfect crust. You’ll learn how to recreate a professional bread baker’s oven at home and produce loaves that rival accomplished bakers.

Cheese Making:

Get invited to better dinner parties with this easy technique to turn great milk into fluffy, creamy ricotta. You’ll be able to take home your cheese with some delicious recipes–if you can wait that long!

Jam Making:
Canning is back big time! We will peel, chop, dice and otherwise macerate whatever we find fresh and in season at the farmers’ market that week and learn how to turn it into jam. We will then learn how to can in a water bath and preserve our bounty for up to a year. After class, equipped with your newly-found knowledge, you’ll be well on your way to experimenting at home with other fruits. Besides, we all know someone with a tree of unpicked fruit that simply cries out to be made into jam.

DIY Mustard:

Good artisanal mustard isn’t necessarily something you’ll only find in a fancy jar from France. Crafting handmade mustard from scratch is as easy as turning on your blender. You’ll learn about different types of mustard seed, unique ingredient additions such as Guinness Stout, liqueurs, orange flower water, coffee or fresh citrus zest. You’ll have an entire flavor bar™ of spices, sweeteners and herbs to pick from as you create your own signature mustard blend.

INSTRUCTORS INCLUDE:

Erik Knutzen: Co-author of The Urban Homestead and Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World and a L.A. County Master Food Preserver

Joseph Shuldiner: Institute Director, and author: Pure Vegan: 70 Recipes for Beautiful Meals and Clean Living, Chronicle Books

Zach Negin: Co-owner of SoNo Mustard company

015 Worm Composting and Skunks

Our worm bin.

Our worm bin.

On the fifteenth episode of the Root Simple Podcast Kelly and Erik discuss how our cleaning project is going, worm composting, the ongoing skunk menace in our garden and we review two books. Apologies for some clipping in the audio and the cat interruptions.

Worms
During the worm composting segment we cover:

Skunks

What are we reading

Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof.

Bread: A Global History By William Rubel.

Kelly mentions Werner Herzog’s Happy People: A Year in the Taiga.

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. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

2,000 Year Old Bread

A Root Simple reader sent me a link to this video from the British Museum showing a chef recreating a 2,000 thousand year old loaf of bread found in one of the ovens of Pompeii.

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Coincidentally, I’ve been reading Bread A Global History by William Rubel. Rubel puts forth a couple of theories about the history of bread. One, that there’s nothing new about white bread. The elites have been eating white bread for a long time. Ironically, healthier whole wheat breads tended to go to poor folks. Also he says that the Pompeian bread would most likely, as this chef proves, look and taste a lot like contemporary “artisinal” sourdoughs. In other words, the bread you buy at a fancy bakery like Tartine in San Francisco hasn’t changed much in 2,000 years.

The British Museum has helpfully provided a recipe should you want to make your own version of this bread.

Virtuosic Bread Shaping

This video proves that to learn a skill one must repeat it 10,000 times. That was the advice of a chef friend when I asked her how she learned to shape pizzas.

The bread being shaped here is called Markook, In Arabic, مرقوق، شراك. It’s a flatbread found throughout the Middle East (an Armenian friend who grew up in Lebanon told us about it). A casual Youtube search will reveal many different Markook shaping techniques. Here’s a pillow free version making the rounds on Facebook:

Back to learning a difficult skill. In the case of shaping dough it’s often best to practice with a sacrificial lump of flour and water that you’re not going to eat. It takes the pressure off and you’re free to try and try again. This applies, of course, to many other skills. Once you get the basic motion down, than it’s time to put some pressure on and try it for real.