Measure For Measure

I never baked very often. The precision was always a bit of a turn off. I like guessing and eyeballing and just knowing how it all works together. In deciding to take up bread making I knew it was time to get out the scale and get some accuracy in place.

Flour can be pretty erratic, how it’s scooped or sifted or compacted in its container can have a big effect on weight. I knew to expect that. I was pretty damned surprised by the salt, though. Everyone who cooks has a salt loyalty. You pick your salt, you learn it. You know exactly how salty a pinch of your salt is. I’m a Diamond Crystal person. I’ve used it for 2 decades, I know it. But what I know is how it works in small quantities, in applications where precision isn’t all that necessary. Pinch and toss it into a sauce or whatever. When I started weighing out my ingredients for the bread dough I found a huge discrepancy between volume and weight. To reach the correct weight I was hitting almost half again what was called for by volume.

I was suspicious but I followed the directions. The difference was crazy. There was an immediate difference in flavor and texture in the breads I was making. I had a chewier crust and a tighter crumb and the flavor… so much better. Years of bland loaves of bread and batches of buns rolled through my mind. I really should have started weighing ingredients years ago.

And if is important in bread then it’s doubly so with curing meats or making sausage. I got me a brisket and made up some corning brine and the difference between volume and weight for the salt was huge. Lesson learned, weigh your ingredients.

But that’s not the only thing to be measured and calibrated. My loaves have been coming out of the oven dark and with a bit of a hard, plank like bottom. Tried to adjust things a few times but not making much of a difference. Finally decided to get a damned oven thermometer. My oven regularly bakes between 15 and 25 degrees hotter than it’s set for. Dang.

My challah had a tough time of it.
Tangerine challah in a 4 strand braid

It was still delicious, tangerine and vanilla braid. Nice soft crumb but it was underproofed.
Tangerine challah crumb

The high temps are not completely consistent, I’m doing a lot of fudging and guessing. I’m hoping to reach a compromise with the oven without having to draw an ass on it so I have something to kick the next time it burns my bread.

Up next:
The corned beef begins

Brisket was on sale so I got me a 6 pound slab of ornery deliciousness. Brining it up for 6 days and planning on making corned beef next weekend. Homemade reuben deliciousness. I’ve never made rye bread before so I’ve got a sponge started for a practice loaf. I know it can be tricky. I won’t be making homemade sauerkraut, I didn’t plan ahead for that, but I’ll make the russian dressing and it’s about time to make more mustard so I might make up a horseradish mustard as well.

Reuben goodness.

The Triumphs At Our Sides

I have loved many people and objects in my life. I’m full of love (but don’t worry, also I am an asshole, so it all evens out) but I have to just give a shout out to Stan. Stan is my stand mixer, he’s been with me for nigh on 20 years now. He’s a work horse, he’s strong and faithful and he gets all the shit done.


He mixes dough, makes meringues, and beats cookie dough into submission. Also also also, he can roll and cut my pasta and grinds meat for sausages and burgers and soon will stuff said sausages into casings for me. I love him.

In conjunction with his fraternal twin, the food processor, shit in my kitchen gets done.

But back to bread! I’ve been steadily moving forward. I’ve taken some classes on Craftsy in the past, mostly yarn related things but I went over to see what they had for baking classes. Boom! The King Arthur Flour Essentials of Baking Bread! I was just about to sign up for the in-person class at the King Arthur facility, but this is cheaper AND I don’t have to put on pants or use my words with people. I managed to catch it on sale for $19.99. It’s definitely basic bread baking but I learned some new techniques and I found that mostly I’ve been doing things correctly.

Basic Hearth Bread

The Basic Hearth Bread again (pg 305 The Bread Bible). I keep working on it, not just to make it better but to use it to really understand the dough. I experiment with proofing times, kneading and folding, shaping, and baking methods.

Basic Hearth Bread

I discovered one baking method that I am going to keep forever. Basically stick the dough boule in the dutch oven on parchment paper, score, spritz well with water, cover and put in a COLD oven. Turn on the oven and only when it hits pre-heated temps do you start the timer.

Basic Hearth Bread

It has worked perfectly. I’ve found it works best if you leave the cover on the whole time. It produces and good shiny crust with lots of chew. The crumb is still a bit tight but it’s no longer super dense or doughy. Good, substantial bread that you just shove in your face!

The next experiment we do the same thing but without the dutch oven. Just straight up on the baking sheet.

The Raisin Pecan bread (pg 405) is pretty delicious. I used maybe 2/3 the raisins and pecans it called for and still I felt it was ‘overstuffed’.

The other bread I keep working on is the Basic Soft White Sandwich Loaf (pg 244). The recipe produces 2 loaves so this last time I decided on one loaf and 8 burger buns.

Cute little buns

I have cute little buns! Working on better shaping techniques. Made my spicy fried chicken sandwiches and these buns were perfect for that. Spicy fried chicken sandwiches is something else I am working on perfecting but it’s not bread so I’ll post it separately, some other time.

As for my loaf…

Misshapen loaf

Yeah, I need to be more mindful of the dough. I did my stretch and fold halfway through and it felt uneven but I figured it would work itself out. It still felt uneven when I went to shape it, but I had faith in the dough. The thing about dough is that it doesn’t need your faith, it’s just going to do its own thing. And it did. Lesson learned, be more mindful.

Heading down to Louisiana for a couple of weeks, I’m trying to figure out if I can fit the Instant Pot, the stand mixer and the food processor in the road brick. Maybe if I hold all the luggage on my lap I can get it all in. Also bringing my knives, half my spice drawer, the espresso machine and my coffee mug. When I return home I will start sausage making in earnest.

This One Time I Heard A Superman Trumpet Play The National Anthem

On and on we bake! We bake and bake and bake.

So, first of all, english muffins aren’t really worth it. I mean, maybe they could be, but, honestly it’s a lot of work and time and Thomas english muffins taste better. I think sourdough english muffins might be better and worth the effort but I’m not there yet.

Secondly, scones! Holy shit, I’m rocking the scones. I took a scone recipe from The Bread Bible, slapped it around a bit, took out the cream, added sour scream, showed it pictures of naked ladies and went from there. I make them with crystallized ginger, with Heath Bits, with pecans, with candied tangelo peel, with anything really. They are rich and layered and puffy and delicious. So, english muffins are meh, but the scones are in the regular rotation. The real exercise is keeping everything, especially the butter, as cold as possible (this is the same thing with the biscuits, keep it all so cold!). I can see a definite difference in the bake when I pull them out of the oven.

When I pull them out of the oven Mary Berry tells me they are ‘ab-so-lutely lovely’. Paul Hollywood thinks they’re a bit of a mess but I don’t care.

Speaking of candied tangelo peel… all the bread baking reminded me of jam making. It’s been years since I made jam. Made a large batch of strawberry smartass (strawberry with candied ginger). It didn’t set as well as I would have liked but my pectin was a bit old. As I pull a jar from the pantry I’ll cook it down a bit to thicken it up. Next week I’ll thicken some up with ClearJel and fill some doughnuts and live the happy life. And also also! Tangelos were on sale so I made up a few jars of tangelo marmalade. I did cook it a bit too long and it’s caramelized, Tangelo Caramalade!

Brioche. I am doing the brioche. The brioche and I are friends. If I could die drowning in brioche dough I would. If I could, I would. Made a loaf of brioche and then I made some baked french toast (I like this recipe because it’s a bit sparse, not overdone, but also I threw a mix of apples, walnuts, raisins and brown sugar on top before baking). While it was baking I made an apple buerre monte to drizzle on top (2 cups apple juice to 1 stick of butter). EDIT: cook the apple juice down to about half a cup. Should have mentioned that. If you don’t cook it down you’ll just have a pan of buttery garbage.

One of my big issues with baking is timing. Mostly, everything takes longer than I expect it to. There are a couple reasons for this. First and foremost, the temp in my kitchen isn’t consistent, things just take a long time to rise. Except when they don’t. I can remedy this by MacGyvering a proofing box with an old cooler, a lightbulb and a thermostat. Since summer is coming up I’m hoping the problem will alleviate itself for a few months. I get impatient. I know I should wait until it’s risen properly to bake it, but damn, it’s already been like 5 hours longer than I thought!

Timing is also hard because the recipe will say at the beginning that it’s 5 or 6 hours rising time, but that’s the bare minimum. And, this is weird, so you know how I can’t tell time on a digital clock? I have to make a round clock in my head and put the hands on it? Figuring out how long something will take is made ten times more difficult because I can’t just add or subtract minutes. I have to keep making these clocks in my head and moving the hands all over the place and then I have to account for variables! Do you know how hard it is to account for variables when you need a method of time keeping that is pretty damned concrete? I’m working out some sort of worksheet that I can use every time I make bread.

So, timing and brioche? Brioche takes forever. For. Ever.

Speaking of cooking and canning. I canned up 11 quarts of chicken stock. This left me with a goodly pile of chicken meat. Made chicken stew and the butter biscuits from TBB. Later this week I am going to try the Angel Light biscuits for biscuits and gravy. The Angel Light biscuits are yeast leavened, I don’t think I have had yeast leavened biscuits before. I’ll tell you how it goes.

Basic hearth bread

Basic hearth bread plus sourdough cheese crackers

This is my basic hearth bread. I got a pretty good crust on it, crisp but with a definite chew. I found the crumb to be a bit too dense for my taste but David actually liked it a lot. Next time I’m going to try a few things to lighten it up just a bit while still keeping some of that denseness that David likes.

Next to the bread are my sourdough cheese crackers. I make them with the sourdough starter discard and they’re definitely a work in progress. I do them with spicy red pepper flakes or caraway seeds and the sharper the cheese the better.

But what is the big new project? 2018-2020 is all about Big Projects!

My charcuterie adventure begins

Oh yes, we’re stepping into charcuterie. Sausages and hams and bacons. Looking into buying a piglet when Kristen does hers and paying in for the feed and going up to help raise it and ‘harvest’ it. The pigs are slaughtered relatively young and they don’t have a chance to accumulate too much lard, so I’ll probably still be buying fatback separately. I am also eyeing this season’s new lambs, merguez is delicious. As it stands, I’ve got the entire rear leg of a pig, some shoulder cuts and a slab of pork belly all waiting for me to molest them up with some curing salt and bad intentions.

I won’t be able to make cured sausages or salamis in this place. BUT! But, salami curing calls for the same environment as cheese aging. So once we get in the new place I can set up a cheese and salami cave.

Tomorrow I am back to working on my hearth breads. Also, it is goat milk season and I think it is time to make a batch of chevre.

The future is now

Eating the last ginger scone for breakfast and thinking it was pretty damned good. I cut them open, put a bit of butter on each side and spread on the mango curd. They’d better be good, a stick and a half of butter went into the scones and half a stick of butter went into the curd and still I am slathering butter on them. It’s a heart attack on a plate.

Talking on the phone the other day with my grandfather. He gave me some advice, told me to not grow old. Said it wasn’t worth it. So, there it is, I’m taking his advice to my little clogged up heart.

Later today I will make the heath chip scones and hopefully some cheddar sourdough crackers.

It’s about doing the thing that is made up of lots of things.

I like projects, I especially like projects that have me learn something new. But ‘projects’ is vague and could mean climbing all the way to the top of Windley Key (I drove by it once) or finding trash bags that fit in my kitchen garbage can (I’ve tried, I can’t). I’ve had projects where I dye up wool, spin it into yarn and crochet it into sweaters. That’s a good, solid project that lasts many months. I actually have a couple more of those projects in the queue, but the flyer on my spinning wheel is shot and needs to be replaced. Also, I will do a thing where I make every single part of dinner from scratch. Like making a falafel dinner where I grind the chick peas and make the falafel, make the pitas, the yogurt, the feta, the tabbouleh, the hummus and everything else from beginning to end. But those only take up a day or two of my time. After I pull my food coma’ed ass out of bed the only project I face is cleaning the kitchen and then I’m as directionless as a high school student who thinks he understands Camus (but Sarte is smartre).

Well, my next big project is bread. I’ve never particularly cared for baking. There’s a sort of precision that makes me shy away from it. But I love bread and I do really need to have a project, so what the hell. Did a little noodling, asked my friends for advice, got a hell of a lot of advice! I also got some sourdough starter from a friend. I think that’s my favorite part, using a starter from a friend who get hers from another mutual friend.

New Mega Project

I want to learn about bread in general and sourdough specifically, so that’s what I got. I literally read The Bread Bible from cover to cover. It sounds a bit tedious but all that repetition smashed all kinds of techniques right into my brain. This is a good project because I’m thinking it will be a solid 3 years from now until croissants. That’s the goal, croissants and I want to get there the long way around. I want to understand every damned aspect of what I’m doing.

How am I doing now after about 8 weeks? I am a bread weenus.

First sourdough

First sourdough

Well, there’s my first sourdough. I was so proud. And oh holy shit did it suck. It was terrible. It had a nice crust and the inside was a bit tight but mostly okay. But it was so sour. It was inedibly sour. It was as sour as your mom when your dad tries to use fart jokes to flirt with the waitress. My guess? I think at some point between making the starter sponge and one of the rises I ended up killing the yeast and the lactobacillis took over. It wasn’t even good for croutons. It sucked and it had to be tossed.

Soft white sandwich bread

Soft white sandwich bread

That’s the soft white sandwich loaf from The Bread Bible and it was awesome. It was so damned perfect and we made sandwiches on it. It was soft without being mushy, the crust to crumb was balanced just right. I loved it, David loved it, Ted, the guy that lives in my attic and spies on us, liked it! I think even Paul and Mary would have liked it.

Sour cream and ginger scones

Tonight it was sour cream and ginger scones with mango curd (seriously, make this. I make it all the time and use the leftover egg whites to make meringues but this time I didn’t feel like futzing with meringues so I gave the egg whites to Chester and made scones instead). They’re a tad dense but not too much and I could just keep eating them. To be fair, there’s a lot of stuff I could just keep eating including off brand cheesy poofs and Necco Canada wintergreen lozenges. I’m not picky.

A friend told me that my flour budget is going to go through the roof and she was right. I need a few different flours for different things and they get used up so damned quickly. But also my butter budget is creeping up there. Our new grocery store is 47 miles round trip (it’s a short, stupid story that isn’t at all interesting) so I end up having to buy a lot at once.

Next up, sourdough cheese crackers made with discard starter, popovers, brioche and another sourdough loaf. I will make a good sourdough loaf or die trying.

It’s good, I’m there. I’m making bread.

And a shout out to David. He made a new dog bed for Chester and it also doubles as a good backdrop for my pictures. Thanks David.


Other big projects on the horizon…..