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?

038 The Ground Rules with Nance Klehm

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On this week’s episode of the Root Simple podcast we talk with Nance Klehm about The Ground Rules. Nance’s project gathers waste from restaurants and institutions in Chicago, composts that waste and then uses the resulting compost along with mushrooms and plants to bioremediate damaged urban soils. Nance describes The Ground Rules as “re-imagining waste and biological infrastructures.” You can find out more about the project on the Social Ecologies website and on Nance’s personal website. There’s also a video about The Ground Rules. If you’re in Chicago you can visit Nance and Emmanual Pratt’s exhibition, For the Common Good: Meet the Remediators.

Nance’s explanation of The Ground Rules is really inspiring. She’s developing a manual to help people develop similar programs and will be coming out with a book about soil in the fall.

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.

The Jerusalem Cookbook

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We are late to the Jerusalem party–it came out in 2012 to much acclaim. But maybe you are perpetually out of the loop, like we are. If so please know that we are in mad, passionate love with this cookbook. The authors are Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamim, London restauranteurs and the authors of Plenty and Plenty More. In Jerusalem, they explore the dynamic flavors and cross-cultural influences of their home city. Despite our de-cluttering efforts, this one is a keeper. I’m going to buy a copy when the library pries this copy out of my hands.

Our friend, Kazi, introduced us to Jerusalem. She hosted a wonderful dinner party last week and cooked all of the courses from this book. Now, Kazi is an expert cook, so I’m sure she doesn’t really need a book to put on an good spread, but she assured us that she was experimenting on us: she’d never tried any of the recipes before, and was cooking them straight out of the book as written. The meal was astounding. Of course, her beautiful presentation and the excellent company had much to do with it, but the recipes were consistently fresh and bright and complex without being fussy.

I find that I need a good cookbook every once in a while to inspire me in the kitchen–otherwise I fall into a morass of laziness and we end up eating burritos and “stuff on toast” night after night.  This one is doing the trick. I’m currently fantasizing about what I’ll cook next.

My highest compliment to this book is that I can honestly say I trust it 100%. I fiddle around with most recipes, doubling the spice, halving the sugar, questioning the baking time, etc. These I don’t. This book is well thought out and  tested. The recipes work. I’d highly recommend following them exactly as written.

Jerusalem covers all the bases, from appetizers to dessert. It has lots of meat and fish recipes, but it also has plenty of salad, vegetable, bean and grain recipes, so it’s friendly to both vegetarians and meat eaters. We’re mostly vegetarian, and we feel like we’ve only scratched the surface of the meatless offerings so far. Though there are a lot of veg recipes which use eggs, yogurt and cheese, there are also good vegan-friendly offerings.

To give you a feel for the book, these are the recipes we’ve enjoyed so far. All are excellent:

  • Swiss chard fritters (with feta and nutmeg)
  • Roasted cauliflower and hazelnut salad
  • Roasted butternut squash and red onion with tahini and za’atar
  • Acharuli khachapuri (pastry boats filled with soft cheese, topped with a baked egg)
  • Baby spinach salad with dates and almonds (…and fried pita! Erik declares this his new favorite salad ever)
  • Couscous with tomato and onion (cooked to have a crispy bottom)
  • Semolina, coconut and marmalade cake

Enjoy!

Saturday Tweets: Working Dogs and Expensive Raccoon Meat

Will 3D Printing Save Us From Bad Garden Sculpture?

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In the annals of bad taste there’s nothing quite like contemporary garden sculpture. We’ve ranted about this before. Leaf through the infamous and (mercifully) soon to be extinct Skymall catalog and you’ll find statuary, like the example above, that would make Saddam Hussein blush in his grave.

Even the professional landscape community seems to have a sculptural kitsch problem. Our public spaces are plagued with bronze, smiling, hyper-realistic statuary. For me these things evoke a visceral uncanny valley horror response.

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Perhaps 3D printing is the answer. In 2012 artist Oliver Laric approached a museum in the UK and proposed scanning objects from their collection and making the files available for free. You can see those scans, which include Dante, Roman and medieval objects and a few 19th century British mayors here. You can also see what some folks have been doing with those scans.

While the past is no refuge from kitsch, I’ll take the spinning Dante over bronze Children of the Damned any day.

De-Cluttering the Garden

Kelly pruning the Pomegranate

At the risk of becoming a de-cluttering blog, I’ve got to point out that there’s a place for de-cluttering in the garden. I know, because I’m the gardening equivalent of a hoarder.

I cling to plants that need to head to the compost pile. I interfere with Kelly’s much more advanced pruning skills. I resist the periodic and necessary need to swap plants out. Gardens are, by definition, a mediation on impermanence. As Hereclitus says, “Everything changes and nothing remains still . . . you cannot step twice into the same stream.” Heed Hereclitus’ enigmatic saying and you’ve got the essence of gardening and nature: periods of equilibrium punctuated by change, sometimes fast, sometimes slow. De-cluttering our tended gardens is to work in imitation of and in concert with nature.

So what would be some de-culuttering steps in the garden that welcome and work with change?

  • First would be getting rid of junk such as construction debris and those failed projects Kelly alluded to in her last post. We’re pretty good about this, but the backyard has accumulated a few items that need to go.
  • Replacing under-performing plants. Particularly in small spaces like ours there is no room for plants that are sickly or just don’t look attractive. Ditto for fruit trees that have never produced. I’m with Piet Ouldolf on this: if possible, plants in our tended spaces need to look good year round (even when dormant) and they need to provide wildlife habitat.
  • Rethinking the garden. Even the best gardener has to rethink and renew a garden periodically. Many perennials become gangly, trees shade out other plants and things just generally change. Sometimes you have to mimic nature’s floods and fires and make a radical shift.
  • Weeding and thinning. We got behind on this and we’re paying the price. This is a matter of poor scheduling, subject matter for an upcoming series of posts (if I can ever schedule time to write those scheduling posts). Let’s just say there was some cursing while pulling out a robust and thorny Opuntia yesterday that would have been much easier to remove two years ago.
  • Pruning. This is a source of considerable marital discord. Kelly is much better at it than I am, and yet I end up micromanaging and mansplaining. The fact is that many fruit trees, particularly peaches, need to be hacked back dramatically when dormant. With the exception of avocados, everything else needs to be kept small for ease of harvest and to fit more trees in a small space.

What gardening de-cluttering steps did I leave out? When do you more northerly gardeners do your garden de-cluttering?

And a note on the photo which shows Kelly pruning our pomegranate tree. To her right is a cardoon and, at the bottom of the slope is a huge prickly pear cactus. Something all these plants have in common? Wicked thorns. This makes deferred de-cluttering even more curse-worthy.

Addendum
Mrs. Homegrown chimes in:

Erik spoke of some topics of marital discord in the garden, and yet none of those hold a candle to our perpetual debate about installing some kind of garden shed or storage system in our back yard. It’s shocking, really, that we don’t have such a thing, but he is very resistant to the idea, for reasons of time, effort, money and aesthetics.

All good objections! But honestly, how can one post about clutter in the garden and point to the poor plants when the real problem with clutter in our garden comes in the form of empty pots, bags of soil and amendments with no home, gloves housing spiders, tools leaning here, there and everywhere, never where you need them. Our climate alone allows us to (mostly) get away with this behavior. Elsewhere it would all rust or rot if left out like this.

I know it’s not the KonMari way to add storage space or devices to deal with clutter, but this is more like having a car with no garage, and then wondering why the driveway is always crowded.

So…um…if any artisanal shack manufacturer would like to send us a small shed for review, we’re open to proposals!

037 Reinventing the Toaster

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When our electric toaster broke, I did a post about my attempt to fix it and my search for non-electric alternatives. This led to my conversation on this week’s episode of the Root Simple Podcast with Ed Dulles, inventor of the DeltaToast, a stove-top alternative to the conventional electric toaster. We discuss Ed’s transition from the financial services industry, from someone who “writes emails” to being a “maker” of tangible objects. In the conversation we also cover how Ed took the DeltaToast from concept to market. I’ll do a review of the DeltaToast soon, but let me just say that it’s esthetically pleasing, fold-able, easy to clean and repair. It’s also made by Italian workers who make a living wage. During the podcast we also discuss:

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.

De-Cluttering for DIYers, Homesteaders, Artists, Preppers, etc.

Interior of a Laboratory with an Alchemist. David Teniers II. Oil on canvas, 17th Century

Interior of a Laboratory with an Alchemist, David Teniers the Younger, 1610-1690, Eddleman Collection, CHF, Philadelphia

We are a special people and we need special exemptions, yes?

Our posts on de-cluttering seem to have hit a nerve, judging by the amount of feedback we’ve had, on the blog, on social media and on the street. We’re really happy if we’ve helped anyone at all streamline their lives a bit. But one protest, or exception, or question which comes up a lot is, “What about my [specialized materials] for my [craft, hobby, preparedness lifestyle]?”

I figure anyone who reads this blog–anyone who is more of a producer than a consumer–will have collected tools and materials for production. These tools and materials don’t fit neatly into the KonMari scheme. The KonMari method, as well as other types of de-cluttering programs, including techno-minimalism, seem to assume our homes are places where we simply relax, surrounded by our well-pruned and curated items.

In a DIY household, there is always something messy going on. For us, relaxation is tinkering and making and cooking and repairing, not reclining on our immaculate sofa, quietly tapping on our iPad.

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