What You Need to Bake Bread

As the co-founder of a club for bread nerds, I field a fair number of urgent, sometimes panicked baking queries. While in the past I’ve posted basic bread recipes and lists of equipment, I’ve since taken to simply referring people to Josey’s Baker’s excellent book, Josey Baker Bread.

In the hopes of one final post on the subject let me suggest the following bread related resources and tools:

Bake With Baker

Again, get yourself a copy of Baker’s book. It’s a class in baking organized into recipes in ascending order of difficulty. Work your way thought the book and by the end you’ll be a baking god and the life of every party. Baker is a fan of whole grains and sourdough and if that isn’t enough he has the only decent gluten free bread recipe I’ve ever tasted. At the end of the book you’ll find cookie and scone recipes that will make you the most popular person at the next potluck you attend. If you’re a Los Angeles local, you can also take a whole grain baking class taught by Root Simple pal Roe Sie at his shop, the King’s Roost.

Scale It

A digital scale. The inaccuracies of measuring flour by volume is a path to frustration and misery. The model pictured above has a pull out display which makes it easier to view under a large bowl of flour.

Legal Pot

A 5 quart dutch oven. I like the model pictured above for the reasons I outlined in a previous blog post.

When you encounter problems—and I guarantee you will–I really like this handy visual guide on a Serious Eats blog post. And a note on baking disasters. I recently heard an experienced craftsperson explain that, despite his accomplishments, he never feels like he’s ever reached some kind of final, blissful state of mastery. During a class I took with Josey Baker’s mentor Dave Miller (I know, those last names!), Miller detailed some of the baking disasters he’s been through including the mysterious failure of a sourdough starter that shut down his bakery for several weeks. With this caveat on baking problems, let me assure you that if you go though Baker’s book carefully, you’ll have more wins than losses.

Mill Your Own Damn Flour

Should you want to go deeper down the baking rabbit hole, there’s a nice, inexpensive new mill designed by the legendary German engineer Wolfgang Mock. I have the Mock Mill 100 and will post a review sometime in the future. I’ll just say now that it works great and is a lot cheaper than other mills on the market. But you don’t need a mill to get started.

With those resources you’re pretty much good to go.

I’ve had to take a long break from baking due to the family emergencies of the last year. I’m planning on getting back into baking soon and when I do I’m going to go step by step through Baker’s book starting at the beginning.

A Fennel Drinking Straw

I don’t get the straw thing. Why do all drinks served in restaurants have to come with a plastic straw? Don’t we have enough plastic trash swirling around our oceans?

While the drinking straw dates back to ancient times, the modern straw renaissance arises alongside the 19th century popularity of juleps and cobblers. Nineteenth century gentleman needed a straw to keep the mint out of their beards and they took to using humble stalks of rye grass. As rye breaks down quickly, some enterprising genius figured out how to make straws out of paper. In the 20th century straws evolved into the bendy plastic horror we’re all so familiar with. Ecological guilt led to a glass and stainless steel drinking straw trend during a brief period in the late aughts.

Our front and back yard have what I like to think of as fennel gyres that, just like those ocean plastic votices, just can’t be stopped. Having hollow stems, it occurred to me that fennel stalks might just be the ideal replacement to the ubiquitous plastic straw and could just spark the latest hipster trend. I vowed to give it a try.

As one might expect, a fennel stalk imparts a licorice taste to your beverage. Some might find this objectionable, like drinking toothpaste, but others might sense a cocktail opportunity. Dr. Google informs me that I’m not the first with this fennel stalk cocktail idea. Emily Han, a guest on episode 67 of the Root Simple Podcast, outscooped me back in 2013.

But perhaps, via crowd-sourced knowledge, we might make a vegetative drinking straw breakthrough. What other plant stalks could we replace all those plastic straws with?

How to Avoid “Avocado Hand”


I’d like to think we’re ahead of the news curve, at least on botanical and home economics stories, but sometimes we miss something. I did not know there was such a thing as “avocado hand.”

Living in LA’s Silver Lake district we’ve witnessed, first hand, the nativity of the avocado toast phenomenon but we didn’t know about the bloody consequences. Apparently, knife skill challenged folks are cradling avocados in their hands and stabbing the knife into the pit to remove it. Meryl Streep fell victim to avocado hand back in 2012, though I’m less surprised by her injury than by the fact that she doesn’t have “people” to make avocado toast for her.

Root Simple reader Randi let me know that there’s a song by Swedish singer Jens Lekman about avocado hand:

I was slicing up an avocado
When you came up behind me
With your silent brand-new sneakers
Your reflection I did not see
It was the hottest day in August
And we were heading for the sea
For a second my mind started drifting

You put your arms around me
You put your arms around me
You put your arms around

Blood spraying on the kitchen sink
“What’s this?” I have time to think
I see the tip of my index finger
My mind is slowly creating a link
From your mouth speaks your lovely voice
The softest words ever spoken
“What’s broken can always be fixed
What’s fixed will always be broken”

You put your arms around me
You put your arms around me
You put your arms around me
You put your arms around

I must have passed out on the porch
Dreamt I was carried in a kangaroo’s pouch
When I wake up, I’m in the waiting room
On a dirty hospital couch
My hand is wrapped in toilet paper
And my body’s wrapped in debris
You’re sitting next to me reading a paper
I put your arm around me

For the record, though taste arbiters have long since proclaimed “peak avocado toast,” I’m still a fan. But I suggest keeping your hand out of the path of the blade when rolling your own avocado toast. Note the annoying animated gif at the top of this post for the pit removal method that will keep you out of the emergency room.

The Museum of the American Cocktail

We get a lot of press releases here at Root Simple. I cast most into Gmail’s purgatorial nether regions but when one came in from the Museum of the American Cocktail (MOTAC) I knew that I had to investigate further.

MOTAC operates out of the Southern Food & Beverage Museum in New Orleans. Luckily for us Angelinos, MOTAC sponsors weekly events in our fair city and is rumored to be opening a San Pedro venue next year.

I’ve attended two free events in downtown LA, one a tasting of the spirits made by a Central Coast distillery, Calwise Spirits, and another tasting of the many offerings of the venerable French distillery Combier which still uses a facility designed by Pierre Eiffel. Note to self: remember to spit out the spirits when you do a tasting of 20 bottles or the next day won’t be all that productive.

If you’re interested in MOTAC’s Los Angeles events you can sign up at the bottom of their page here. As a generalist (to a fault) I have really enjoyed meeting MOTAC’s expert cocktail enthusiasts.

Recipes From the Rye Baker

Berlin Rye. Photo: Stanley Ginsberg/The Rye Baker.

A number of you, our dear readers, said you’d have liked to have attended the rye class this past weekend taught by Stanley Ginsberg if only you weren’t thousands of miles away. Short of putting Stanley on tour, the next best thing is to take a look at his detailed rye blog which I neglected to mention in my last post. There are enough recipes there to keep you busy for months. The bread recipe we made on Saturday was the Berlin rye pictured above. You can find that recipe here.

I’ve had to take a break from baking, but when I get back to it I’m going to specialize in rye exclusively. Why? You just can’t find a decent rye loaf for sale even in the big city. You gotta make it yourself!