How Not To Bake Bread

Homegrown Neighbor here:

So Mr. and Mrs. Homegrown are away on book tour while I’m holding down the fort in L.A. and looking after their chickens.

I figured that while they are away and not blogging much, I can step in and entertain you with tales of my epic baking failures. Sure, lots of blogs have pretty pictures of food and neatly typed recipes, but everyone likes a good tale of failure now and then.

Now, my neighbor Erik, aka Mr. Homegrown is quite the bread baker. He can turn out beautiful, tasty loaves of bread with ease. Down the street here, my loaves are quite the disaster. I’ve been wanting to learn to bake bread for a while and my experiments haven’t been going well. I’m hardly an incompetent cook. I can even bake cakes and cookies and other things leavened with baking powder or soda. But with yeast, well, I just haven’t figured it out.

I’m trying to follow the Mother Earth News ‘no knead’ bread recipe that you bake in a dutch oven. I’ve tried other yeasted bread recipes before with little success. Since this one is supposed to be easier, I thought this is the perfect bread for me! Apparently some folks gets great
results with it. Grumble. Grumble. I get chicken feed. Not that the chickens are complaining. They love this experiment.

One loaf flattened out completely in the bottom of the pan. I was able to glean some of the pretty tasty insides before turning it over to the hens. The next loaf I was determined to shape better. The dough was a sticky mess. It stuck to everything including plastic wrap, my hands, the bowl. I added more flour to deal with the stickiness but things still went wrong. I at least got something that looked more like a loaf than a pancake. But I think I cooked it too long. Again, I cracked it open, ate the soft inside of the bread and gave the rest to the chickens.


I tend to be a very experimental cook. I like to learn from my failures. Often things taste good but aren’t pretty, but after a few tries I can make them taste and look good. But not bread. It defies all of my time tested methods of how I teach myself to do things. I’ve been reading books on baking and they make my head hurt. How much protein is in the flour or what kind of enzyme does what is way beyond my comprehension at this point. So when the neighbors get back, in exchange for ten days of chicken- sitting, I’m going to have Mr. Homegrown teach me how to bake a darn loaf of decent bread. With none going to the chickens.

Mr. Homegrown here–happy to give a bead lesson, but I’ve had plenty of failures myself. One tip would be to use a scale when measuring bread ingredients. Another would be to make sure you’re not using old, dead yeast. Lastly, I know you’re sick with a sore throat and that’s the time to order take-out.

Tartine Bread

A whole wheat loaf fresh out of the oven at Tartine. It tastes as good as it looks.

As a bread baking geek I’ve set a goal of visiting the best bakeries in every town I’m in. Here in San Francisco, on our book tour, I had the privilege of waiting in the long line outside Tartine Bakery to buy a loaf of bread.

It was well worth the wait. Founded by Chad Robertson, Tartine specializes in naturally leavened breads with dark, thick crusts. Robertson’s technique involves moist doughs, no kneading and a long secondary fermentation in a refrigerator. Best of all, Robertson has adapted his methods for the home kitchen in a lavishly illustrated book Tartine Bread. Like the popular no-knead bread recipes circulating the interwebs, you bake your bread in a dutch oven, which simulates the steam injection of commercial ovens–the secret to a thick crust. But with naturally leavened breads such as the recipes in Tartine Bread, you get a much deeper flavor. Natural leavened breads, due to the higher acidity of natural leavens, also last a lot longer before going stale.

I agree with what Robertson says in the introduction to his book, that naturally leavened breads take only a little more effort than yeasted breads and yield much better results. When I return from our book tour I’ll share some other tips I’ve learned about how to bake naturally leavened bread.

Can you folks in Seattle and Portland suggest some good bakeries to visit? Leave a comment . . .

No Need to Knead

The Los Angeles Bread Bakers held their debut demonstration today thanks to the folks at Good. As you can see from the picture above some serious bakers showed up.

Teresa Sitz and Mark Stambler

Teresa Sitz demonstrated her wild yeast no-knead bread. You can read her recipe over on the LABB Facebook page.

Wild yeast breads have a number of advantages over breads made with commercial yeast. Due to higher acidity they keep longer and have a tangy, more complex flavor. Some say they are better for you. I love the magic of creating bread with just flour, water and salt.

Thanks again to Teresa and Mark Stambler for sharing their expertise.

Happy Fornicalia!

Oven at Pompeii. Image: Wikipedia.

Oven at Pompeii. Image: Wikipedia.

Today (or roundabouts) the ancient Romans celebrated the festival of Fornicalia in tribute to Fornax, the goddess of the hearth and baking. And, yes indeed, it’s where we get the word “fornicate” — for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. It’s either because prostitutes used to operate out of bread oven-shaped basements in Rome, or because the “bun in the oven” euphemism is a very old one.

I’m celebrating Fornicalia by reading a book by Jeffrey Hamelman Bread:A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes that Mark Stambler, a gifted baker in my neighborhood, introduced me to recently. I’ll review the book in length later once I master the recipes. Until that time, Kelly will be hearing the good old fashioned Anglo-Saxon euphemism for “fornicate” coming out of the kitchen as I  battle with my proofing issues.So, happy Fornicalia! Go warm up your oven and bake something.

Zhengyalov Hats

A Zhengyalov hat (sometimes transliterated as “Jengyalov hat” is an Armenian flat bread stuffed with a surprising set of mostly foraged fillings which, according to this website, include, “spring onions, green garlic, coriander (lat. coriandrum), nettle (lat. urtica), chickweed (lat. cerastium), sorrel, capsella, mint and a special herb called either [sic] carmantyuc (kndzmdzuk).” It’s apparently a popular dish during lent and originates from the Karabakh region.

Our neighbors at Tularosa Farms dropped off two Zhengyalov hats that they found at a local Armenian market. They were quite delicious, though to eat one straight off the fire, as in the video above, must be a real treat.

I wish I could find a recipe in English. Leave a comment if you find one on the interwebs or in a cookbook. In the meantime, I’m just going to watch that video over and over.

More information on Zhengyalov hats and the cuisine of the Karabakh region here.

Bread and Transformation

I’ve not tried Reinhart’s baking method (even though I once had one of his books out of the library), but I like this 2008 Ted talk on the alchemical symbolism of bread. If you’re either a baking or brewing geek like me it’s worth a view.

The baking method I’ve used for over a decade is from Nancy Silverton’s book Breads from the La Brea Bakery. You use a sourdough starter and at least half the flour must be white to get it to leaven properly. I’ve had great results, but would like to someday make a loaf entirely from whole wheat with a sourdough starter. Reinhart, in his book Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor claims to be able to do just that and not end up with a hockey puck. If you’ve tried his method (and gone through his very lengthy directions) leave a comment!

Home Baked Bread in Five Minutes

If you’ve bought our book, followed this blog, or gone to one our workshops you’ll know that we tout a wild yeast bread recipe adapted from Nancy Silverton’s La Brea Bakery method. We contend that our delicious recipe can be worked into all but the most crazed work schedule. But our recipe does rely on equipment and tools, specifically a heavy duty mixer and a wooden bread form. This month’s issue of Mother Earth News has a bread making solution for those of you unwilling to make the investment in the mixer or unable to fit the long rise times of wild yeast bread into your work schedule.

The article, “Five Minutes a Day for Fresh-Baked Bread” by Zöe François and Jeff Hertzberg, explains their simple recipe. Combining just flour, water, salt and yeast, with no kneading, you make up a very wet dough, let it rise for two hours and then either bake it or stick it in the refrigerator. The dough keeps in the fridge for up to two weeks, taking on a sourdough flavor as it ages. When you want a loaf of bread you tear off a softball sized chunk, let it rise for 45 minutes and stick it in the oven. A pan of water in the stove creates steam and gives the bread a nice, hard crust.

We tried the basic white bread recipe in the Mother Earth article and can report that it works quite well. Hertzberg and François have penned a bread cookbook, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, that takes this basic recipe and uses it as the base for variations such as pizza dough, sticky rolls, and whole-wheat bread. While not having as rich a flavor as our wild yeast recipe, Hertzberg and François’ method is an excellent solution for busy households. We look forward to seeing the book.

For more on the five minute a day bread method see:

Hertzberg and François’ website, which has additional recipes and variations.

A youtube demonstration by the authors:

Sourdough Recipe Disaster!

There’s nothing we hate more than a bad recipe, something that the internets have in as great an abundence as porn, penis pills and subprime mortgage ads. And after a visit from the revolutionaries at Weasel Goes Pop yesterday we learned that Homegrown Revolution is guilty of distributing a bad whole wheat sourdough starter recipe. Please pay a visit to our corrected version here.

The Real Injera

Homegrown Revolution was delighted to receive a comment from “Watch Woman“, who is from Ethiopia, reacting to the injera recipe we posted earlier,

From my experience of baking injera, the baking soda/powder, self-rising flour or commercial yeast alters the real taste & texture of teff injera. I say, the restaurants here in the US have the look alike of the injera, but far from the real taste & texture of injera. Sorry but the truth. Just by using one of your starters you can bake good decent injera. No need to add the baking powder/soda.Trust me. See, the reason injera is always sour dough back home is, that it will take some of the bite out of that spicy rather hot stew (doro-wote- spicy, hot chicken & hard boiled egg stew ).

I remember, once I invited a friend of mine (American of course) for lunch. Served this real doro-wote hot, I mean this was the real deal, real hot. Only I forgot to warn him. I remember his face turned pink & his eyes red, bulged out. O my God, what was I thinking? Well my first culture shock. That was some 27 years ago. Now I do not make doro wote that hot myself. I guess —when you live in Rome, —as the Romans,

Best of all, if you go to Watch Woman’s blog she has posted her own recipe for injera and we can’t wait to try it!

Whole Wheat Sourdough Starter Recipe

UPDATE : we have a whole (so to speak) new take on making a starter. See our sourdough starter video for a better way to do this.

Back in March we showed how to make a sourdough starter with white flour. This month we converted a white starter over to whole wheat and have baked many successful loaves of bread with it. The reason that we have to do this conversion rather than starting out with whole wheat flour is that whole wheat tends to get moldy before the beneficial cultures have a chance to take over.

You can use our “Not Very Whole Wheat Loaf” recipe to bake loaves with a whole wheat starter by simply substituting it for the white flour starter. You’ll end up with a loaf that’s about half white, half whole wheat.

To convert a starter from white flour to whole wheat flour do the following:

1. Begin with your white flour starter. Our recipe for creating a white flour starter is in a previous post.

2. Instead of feeding your white flour starter with the usual routine of a half cup of white flour and a half cup of water each day switch to feeding it a half cup of whole wheat flour and a half cup of water.

3. After about a week you will have “converted” your white starter to a wheat starter–hallelujah!

As we emphasized with our recipe for white starter, you must feed the starter every single day or it will begin to rot. This is particularly important with whole wheat flour which will go bad much more quickly. If you can’t keep up with the feeding you can temporarily store the starter in the refrigerator, but for no more than two weeks with whole wheat starter. White starter will last in the fridge for longer.

If this turns your crank, you can sit around your compound watching your sourdough starter bubble while geeking out on Cornell Professor Steven Laurence Kaplan’s book Good Bread is Back, which details the revival of sourdough bread making in France in the early 1990s. Kaplan notes that sourdough,

“rises less than a dough made with baker’s yeast and also more slowly. Its crust is thicker. It keeps significantly longer. It has greater nutritional value, partly because it is richer in certain vitamins and enzymes that are by-products of lactic fermentation, and it contains less phytic acid, which blocks mineral absorption.”

So get that starter going and forget about that crap bread at the supermarket!