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The Frankenstein bread project: creating starter dough

9 Sep

A few weeks ago I was inspired by a recipe for sourdough bread in Modernist Cuisine at Home.  It began with a starter mixture called a poolish which is a simple mixture of flour, water and a little sugar.  Then it’s left to sit uncovered in a warm place.  After several hours, the mixture will start to ferment and bubble.  At this stage a portion of the starter can be used to make bread, but – and here’s where it gets weird – you have to replace what you’ve removed by ‘feeding’ the mixture with more flour and water.  Basically your creating a dough monster that lives in your cupboard.

Starters are used in addition to, or in place of yeast.  (Fact: most artesianal bakeries don’t need to add yeast because there’s enough of it the air!)   The results are supposed to yield an airy, light, and flavourful end product.

I was familiar with this concept, but thought it was a bit weird; what if I forgot to feed it?  Creepiness aside, it was a $0.20 experiment.  So I began my starter and waited to see if it was really worth the effort.


Biga mixture of flour and water

I followed the poolish recipe in Modernist Cuisine at Home.  (FYI for what I think are obvious reasons, I prefer to call my starter a ‘biga’). I diligently feed and divided the bubbly concoction every other day.  Along the way I used the biga on a variety of projects.  The flavour being developed was delicious, however I wasn’t thrilled with the crumb. C asked me why homemade bread is always so dense.  And I mumbling something about having preservatives.  Truth was, I didn’t really know and I wasn’t very happy about it.

Then I discovered Ruhlman’s app: Bread Baking Basics. It has loads of great information for just $1.99.   (See my full review here).

Scale & Biga

Weight versus volume

The app lets you select the type of flour, form, quantity and mode of baking.  It provides solid insight into bread making techniques that I had previously glossed over.  A major one being the importance of weighing the ingredients.  I have always been a fan of recipes that use weight rather than volume to measure ingredients.  And here is where I found my answer to C’s question.  The reason home made bread is so dense is probably due to the fact it’s got too much flour.  The weight/volume ratio can be off up to 50% in either direction depending on the type of flour.


Challah bread was a BIG(a) success

Armed now with this information, I kneaded up a loaf of challah using the starter, app and the scale.  The result was amazing!  Let the home made bread baking revolution begin.


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App review: Bread Baking Basics by Michael Ruhlman

6 Aug

Four years ago Steve Jobs introduced the world to the iPad.  Initially I was skeptical of the practicality (and the name) of this device.  I had an iPhone and a MacBook…why did I need more technology?   Despite my reluctance, I did see a good application for them at work.  The office bought two first generations and I used one from time to time for surveys, presentations and note taking.  It was useful, but it was also a $699 novelty I didn’t think was worth my personal investment.  Lucky for me, in 2012 I randomly entered a contest from ING Direct and won a 2nd generation iPad.  Now that the Kool-Aid was free, I decided it was mighty tasty!

One of the first apps I bought was Bread Baking Basics from Michael Ruhlman.  It provides a great step-by-step method on making a variety of home made breads.  The best feature of this app is that the ingredients can be scaled.  Need to make three baguettes?  Or only have 600grams of bread flour?   Simply dial in your figures and the app calculates the ingredients.  It can be adjusted to a variety of measurements, and is based upon Ruhlamn’s overall ratio methodology.


This is just one example of the usefulness I’ve found for the iPad in the kitchen.  What’re your favorite kitchen apps?


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How to make bread {INTRODUCTION}

14 Apr

If fourteenth century french peasants can do it, so should you.









I’m really going to defend bread for the next while.  It’s getting very poor media profile these days with everyone* jumping on the gluten-free train. [Mental note: find out where that train is going and make sure never to go there].   I’ve decided to take a firm stand and publicly announce that I’m pro-gluten.

Feel free to leave. In fact, you can click on one of my advertisers to the right on your way.

Now then, I’m also going to be making a case for why everyone should try making his or her own bread.  Even if it’s just once.  It’s not going to cost anything except a couple of bucks for good quality bread flour (if you don’t traditionally stock that type of thing).

Before I loose the other 35% of my readership, please don’t stop reading because you have zero inclination to make your own focaccia or baguette.  The only requisite for participation in this bread pilgrimage is that we share one tenant:  bread + butter = happiness.

So, even if your knowledge of bread making consists only of the instructions you once read on a package of Pillsbury Oven Rolls, I promise to provide some of the best instructions on the interweb about bread making.   I even have a fermentation export on retainer (he works for sourdough).

The first step in this journey is getting excited.  So the first assignment is to pour a glass of something and watch this TEDtalk.  It’s in Napa. Then, watch this space.

* I’d like to note that only 1 in 133 persons is predicted to be an actual celiac.  So many fakers. [source]

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