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.

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!

The Rye Revolution

At last the rye revolution has arrived! We have nothing to lose but our fake supermarket rye loaves. I’m happy to say that the Los Angeles Bread Bakers is hosting a class with the rye expert, Stanley Ginsberg tomorrow, Saturday the 7th of October. There’s still space in the class if you’re interested. Head here to sign up. If you live elsewhere or can’t make it, Ginsberg has penned what I believe to be the definitive book on rye baking, The Rye Baker: Classic Breads from Europe and America. In the book Ginsberg covers every imaginable rye recipe from around the world, from loaves to crackers to scones.

Since it’s hard to find good rye loaf even in a big city, learning to bake your own rye really pays off. The unique chemistry of rye, especially when leavened with a sourdough starter, also means that a rye loaf stays fresh longer. Due to all that’s happened in the past year I’ve had to put baking on hold. When I get back into it I’m going to focus exclusively on rye.

A Celebration of Craft

Dave Miller at work. Photo by Josey Baker.

Dave Miller at work. Photo by Josey Baker.

The highlight of the National Heirloom Expo, for me, was running into three people who epitomize the value of dedication to a craft.

I’ve found that such craftspersons keep no secrets and are more than happy talk about techniques and tips. They are also, according to Matthew Crawford, an antidote to our culture’s narcissism. Crawford says, in his book Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work,

The moral significance of work that grapples with material things may lie in the simple fact that such things lie outside the self. A washing machine, for example, surely exists to serve our needs, but in contending with one that is broken, you have to ask what it needs. At such a moment, technology is no longer a means by which our mastery of the world is extended, but an affront to our usual self-absorption. Constantly seeking self-affirmation, the narcissist views everything as an extension of his will, and therefore has only a tenuous grasp on the world of objects as something independent. He is prone to magical thinking and delusions of omnipotence. A repairman, on the other hand, puts himself in the service of others, and fixes the things they depend on. His relationship to objects enacts a more solid sort of command, based on real understanding. For this very reason, his work also chastens the easy fantasy of mastery that permeates modern culture. The repairman has to begin each job by getting outside his own head and noticing things; he has to look carefully and listen to the ailing machine.

The trio of craftspersons I ran into at the expo included a baker, a tomato farmer and a nursery owner. They share common qualities: humility, openness and an attention to detail.

The baker is Dave Miller who I helped bring to LA to teach a series of classes. Miller specializes in whole grain breads made from freshly milled local grain. Most “whole grain” loaves baked in this country are actually white flour with food coloring, sugar and a small amount of stale whole grain flour. Miller can turn wet, sticky whole grain lumps into perfectly formed, airy loaves with one deft flick of the wrist. He has the skill to build an empire the size of La Brea Bakery but is happy working at a smaller scale selling loaves at the Chico farmer’s market once a week. I think he’s the most talented baker in the U.S.

I also ran into tomato farmer and breeder Fred Hempel who was a guest on episode 79 of our podcast. Like Miller, Hempel has a humility that goes along with a sincere engagement with the natural world. Like Miller he’s more than happy to discuss his craft.

A third person I met at the festival is Alice Doyle, owner of Log House Plants a wholesale nursery in Eugene Oregon. In her lecture she went alphabetically through a list of edible plants she thought were interesting. By the end of the hour, I think she reached the letter “J.” I wished we could have had a few more hours to get to “Z.” And this is another quality of the craftsperson, a selfless enthusiasm that can turn a list of vegetables into something way more interesting than what passes for entertainment in our culture. I’ll see if I can get Doyle on the podcast.

We are, I think, entering a dangerous new age of extreme narcissism fueled, in part, by Silicon Valley tech bros who have figured out a business model based on self-affirmation. We need more people like Miller, Hempel and Doyle.

099 The Amazing Sourdough Breads of Guy Frenkel


Listen to “099 The Amazing Sourdough Breads of Guy Frenkel” on Spreaker.

Guy Frenkel is one of the most talented bakers I’ve met. If you’ve seen his whole grain, sourdough breads in Instagram (@Ceorbread) and Facebook you’ll know why I had to interview him. During the podcast we talk about his unique baking techniques such as yeast water, stencils and colored doughs. Even if you’re not a baker you’ll be inspired by Guy’s enthusiasm, persistence and creativity. Here are the links Guy mentions:

Guy’s social media: @Ceorbread in Instgram, Ceor Bread Facebook, Guy Frenkel in Facebook.

If you’d like 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. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.