Starting a Sourdough Starter Talk at Artisinal LA

Final-ALA-Poster-664x1024

I’ll be doing a short talk at Artisinal LA this Sunday October 13th at 4pm on how to start a sourdough starter. Artisinal LA (yep, the “A” word) is a showcase of local small food vendors. In case you’re not in LA this is what I’ll be demonstrating:

Mark Stambler, who co-founded the LA Bread Bakers with me and Teresa Sitz, will also be doing a talk on baking bread at 4pm on Saturday.

The Lament of the Baker’s Wife

flour pile

This our flour collection, The Leaning Tower of Pizza.  Erik collects flour like Emelda Marcos collects shoes. The collection is  taking up a good deal of the floor space in our kitchen. Supposedly it will one day be moved to our garage–after the garage is remodeled–but waiting for the garage remodel is somewhat like waiting for Godot, or the Armageddon.

Speaking of which, if Armageddon does arrive, you know what that means? Pizza Party at Root Simple!!! Woot! We could feed the neighborhood for a month. Those are 50 lb bags. They are propped against 5 gallon buckets. A five gallon bucket holds about 30 pounds of flour. I think we’ve got at least 200 lbs of flour piled up here. And where will it all go eventually? Straight to my hips, sweetheart!

And I know I shouldn’t complain. “We have too much food!”  “There’s nowhere to put it!” “All this artisanal sourdough is making me fat!” Boo hoo. This the lament of the baker’s wife.

Is Urban Homesteading Over With?


It seems that we’re back in a period of irrational exuberance. I know because I keep hearing about people lining up to buy crumbling 1,000 square foot bungalows in dodgy Los Angeles neighborhoods for $1,000,000. History tells us that during these periods folks ditch their chicken coops and vegetable gardens and head to the mall to shop.

I hope I’m wrong, that during our next economic bubble people will be more sensible. And the fundamentals have not changed, specifically the uncertain future of fossil fuels. I’m not trading my trips to the feed store for a shopping spree at Hot Topic anytime soon.

So I thought I’d plug a few search terms relating to urban homesteading into Google Trends to see what is going on. This is, of course, highly unscientific–Google Trends may just reflect media generated interest, not what people are actually doing. Here’s what I found:

Backyard Chickens

Many urban homesteading activities are seasonal–in spring people start searching for information on chickens and vegetable gardens, so you’ll see upward spikes towards the end of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Judging from the results on “backyard chickens,” it looks like that it’s a trend that is growing in popularity. Some of this activity may be related to legalization efforts, but I’d like to think that it reflects a growing dissatisfaction with our industrial agriculture system.

Gardening

It seems that searches for gardening of all kinds–I tried “vegetable gardening,” “vegetable seeds,” “rose pruning” and “lawn care,” are down. I think this may reflect a demographic shift–an older generation dying off. We need to get young people gardening!

Bread Baking

No wonder I can’t seem to offer enough bread baking classes.

Bicycles


Cycling is down, but I’m sure this reflects disenchantment with Lance Armstrong and professional cycling.

Searches for “bike commuting” are up slightly.

It’s inevitable that media interest in home ec topics will decline when the stock market is up. Just remember how quickly vegetable gardens and chicken coops were abandoned in the 1980s. But I have a good feeling that the lessons of the last few years will stick better than they did in the 1970s. What do you think?

Someone Please Buy Me a KoMo Grain Mill

KoMo Medium Mill

KoMo Medium Mill

So out of the hundreds of vendors I visited at the Natural Foods Expo I’m literally down to only one that I found interesting: KoMo grain mills. Being an avid fan of baking German style breads such as Volkornbrot, I almost fainted with excitement when I stepped up to the booth of Pleasant Hill Grain, who imports KoMo mills to the US.

KoMo’s products are designed by a German/Austrian team, Peter Koidl and Wolfgang Mock. Unlike cheaper grain mills that have metal grinders, Komo mills use a corundum/ceramic stones. This kind of material generates less heat and higher quality flour. KoMo makes quite a few models in varying capacities. Some are motorized and some are manual. They also make an interchangeable milling insert if you need to keep glutenous and non-glutenous products separate.

The salesperson showed me how easy it is to disassemble the mill for cleaning.  The two models I was considering were the KoMo Magic and the KoMo Medium Grain Mill. I got so excited that I had to use supernatural powers of resistance to keep the credit card from flying out of my wallet on the spot.

Komo's "FlicFloc Manual Flaker."

Komo’s “FlicFloc Manual Flaker.”

In addition to grain mills they also make a manual flaker, the “FlicFloc” with a striking, triangular design. For now, I’ll stick with my crapular $30 surplus store flaker. They also make a number of kitchen granaries that had me reaching for the credit card.

The only downside I can see to KoMo products is price. But these mills seem so well designed that I’m fairly certain they will long outlive cheaper mills. If you have one please leave a comment.

Thankfully there’s an entire youtube channel devoted to spinning KoMo grain mill porn. I’m cancelling my Netflix! And, sorry, but I have to note how much these mills look like a herma (NSFW!)

Is Bob’s Red Mill’s Farro Actually Spelt?

Bob's Red Mill's "Farro"

Spelt or farro?

Bob’s Red Mill has introduced a new product they are marketing as “farro,” identified on their website as Triticum spelta or . . . spelt. What’s going on here?

Three grains, emmer (Triticum dicoccum), spelt (Triticum spelta) and einkorn (riticum monococcum) are, according to Wikipedia, “sometimes (but not always) distinguished as farro medio, farro grande, and farro piccolo, respectively.” To add to the confusion spelt and einkorn, are also known as faricella, or “little farro” in Italian.

Confused? According to a 1997 article in the New York Times, “Farro, Italy’s Rustic Staple: The Little Grain That Could,” “true” farro is emmer (Triticum dicoccum) and considered superior to spelt.

The distinction between farro (Triticum dicoccum) and spelt (Triticum spelta) is important. Triticum dicoccum, has different genetics than Triticum spelta. Specifically Triticum dicoccum has four chromosomes, Triticum spelta has six. There are unproven theories that more chromosomes may equal more allergenic compounds. This is why there’s an interest in primitive wheats like Triticum dicoccum and einkorn (which has only two chromosomes). There are also important culinary distinctions between true farro and spelt. They taste and are prepared differently.

I’m not saying that spelt is bad. And Bob’s Red Mill is not making any health claims for their “farro.” None of these grains are gluten free. I’ve written Bob’s Red Mill for clarification about their “farro” and will include their response when I get one.

To learn more about why genetic distinctions between wheat varieties is important, watch this Extension Service webinar, “The “Ancient” Grains Einkorn, Emmer, and Spelt: What We Know and What We Need to Find Out.”

Update 3/9/2014: I spoke to a sales representative from Bob’s Red Mill who told me that their farro is spelt that has been scarified. Sorry Bob, but farro is not spelt.

Cooking Bread in a Dutch Oven and Alternative Steaming Techniques

breadinpot

Commercial bread ovens have a steam injection system. The steam keeps the surface of the dough supple so that dough can expand gracefully during baking. Jim Lahey’s popular no-knead bread recipe uses a dutch oven to emulate steam injection. The Dutch oven method seals in the moisture contained in the dough during the first half hour of baking. It works great and I cook all my bread this way.

screwedupbread1

That being said it can be tricky to plop a loaf of wet, sticky dough into a 475º F Dutch oven without either burning yourself or messing up the dough. I’ll note that even when I’ve screwed it up (like the loaf above) and the dough lands off center, the bread still turns out fine. It’s just an aesthetic issue.

Some other bakers have come up with variations on the Dutch oven technique. Chad Robertson, baker and author of Tartine Bread suggests using a cast iron combo cooker like the one below:

  combocooker

You use it upside down, putting the dough in the skillet rather than dropping it down in the pot. Then you stick the pot on top. I imagine that the handle is handy.

Someone in a bread class I was teaching suggested using a bread baking stone and simply inverting a pot or large roasting lid over the stone. As long as the lid or pot seals properly, this should work too.

Other folks use parchment paper and don’t do the inversion at all. I’m a bit skeptical, but haven’t tried this technique myself.

claychosce_

You can also buy a clay cloche, but they’re on the expensive side.

There are other steaming methods. I used to throw a shot glass of water in the oven–it just doesn’t work as well and, I’ve been told, can damage some ovens. I’ve also tried preheating  a roasting pan and then pouring water in it, but it doesn’t work as well as the Dutch oven. And I was really surprised to read about an elaborate steaming technique that involves a length of chain in a roasting pan described in the Bouchon Bakery Cookbook. Too much work!

For now I’m going to stick with my Dutch oven. Most of the time I manage to get the loaf into the pot and our kitchen is so small that we don’t have room for more gadgets.

If I’ve left out any steaming techniques or you have an opinion, please leave a comment . . .

Los Angeles Bread Bakers Blog

Just a short time after planting–a field of wheat sprouts in Los Angeles County.

The Los Angeles Bread Bakers, that I helped co-found along with Mark Stambler and Teresa Sitz, now has a blog: losangelesbreadbakers.blogspot.com. A big thanks to Saul Alpert-Abrams for putting it together and to Paul Morgan for blogging!

Paul has been writing about the wheat we helped plant at Maggie’s Farm in Agoura Hills, a suburb of Los Angeles on the western end of the county. It’s the second year that we’ve helped farmer Nathan Peitso with planting wheat. We got no crop last year due to either birds or not harvesting the wheat soon enough. We’re hoping for better luck this year.

Thanks largely to Mark Stambler, California has a cottage food law and Paul is also posting videos of a presentation that took place this weekend on how to get a cottage food permit in Los Angeles.

And if you’re in Southern California and interested in learning about bread baking and meeting other bread bakers feel free to join our meetup: http://www.meetup.com/Los-Angeles-Bread-Bakers/. LABB is for everyone–amateurs, pros and people who have never baked bread in their lives. If you’re not in SoCal start up your own bread meetup!