It’s Like Shakespeare for the Breadmaker

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“A baker’s true skill lies in the way he or she manages fermentation.  This is the soul of bread making.”

Oh, how I read these words with such delight! Yes! Someone else feels the same way as I do.  They really get me.  What a magnificent feeling that is for a newly passionate baker.  I don’t know where I would be right now if it weren’t for my starter.  I feed it everyday, it’s like a little refrigerated pet, and it soothes my spirit to know that it is booming with nutrients and will make a pretty awesome loaf of bread everyday, if I want it to!

Any human being who writes words like that will grab my attention…Let’s just say, I am an instant fan.  It feels like Shakespeare to me. Shakespeare for the Breadmaker. And now I cannot put his book down. Whom is this person, you ask?  Well, it is no one other than Mr. Chad Robertson of Tartine bakery in San Francisco. Mmmmmm. If you haven’t been to this bakery and live within a hundred miles of the Bay Area, you are missing out. Get your tail on that BART and get some bread already! Don’t worry — if you are gluten free, they have some options for you that are super delicious too. And for those of you who don’t live closeby, his new book is a must-read for all of you out there who are uber passionate about fresh bread. His recipes are simple and thorough and his constant drive to create wholesome bread with just the four main ingredients is so refreshing and inspiring. The entire first chapter is devoted to his time in France when he was first starting out. Talk about taste nostalgia. It is a cookbook, but not in the formulaic sense. It feels more like a narrative and it helps teach you to dig into your intuition when it comes to making a better loaf of bread.  Amazing, if you ask me! I took a class a few weeks back taught by a great guy named Michael O’Malley and he told us all about Chad Robertson and how his book, Tartine Bread, is the hot new book on bread. I cannot put the thing down!

http://www.tartinebakery.com/

And speaking of the class, I must tell you about it…It was pretty much like a Sourdough Starter 101 class.  I heard about it from the wonderful folks over at Grist & Toll. I had a hunch it was going to be great. And it sure was!  Michael was thorough and charming, he was informative, he really helped me understand the importance of keeping a healthy starter and what it would do for my bread in the long-run.  Michael himself is a sculptor, who happens to also be passionate about making bread, so he build a mobile bread oven so that he could drive it to various parts of California and elsewhere in hopes to build enthusiasm for fresh bread in our community.  He refers to his oven as MOMO, or the Michael O’Malley Mobile Oven.  Pretty sweet.  You can read all about him and maybe make a loaf for yourself at one of his community days right here:

http://momalley.org/

Here’s a few tips that I learned in class that day that were spoken by Michael, but I think may have been inspired by Tartine Bread. Some of these things might be common sense for the more advanced baker, but a lot of it was news to me:

1. If you want to be a real bread maker, invest in a scale.  Cups aren’t gonna work anymore, folks.  Grams are much more consistent.  You have to start thinking more like a chemist, if you want to be a pro.

2. Feed that starter everyday, if you can.  If you miss a day, don’t be hard on yourself.  It will survive.  But nurture it, because after all it is a living thing.

3. In the words of Andrew Whitley, “real bread takes time,” but it also makes time too.  I used to say I never had the time to make my own bread, that I was too “busy.” In reality, making more bread has allotted for more things to get accomplished because I have become more patient and conscious of timing…that’s a beautiful thing.  You can do it! Trust me, there is always enough time! Try it for yourself and report back if you think I am crazytown or there is some truth in it!

4. The hotter the oven, the crispier the bread.  Seems like common sense, but wow! The MOMO oven is heated up to nearly 600 degrees, the bread is finished in under 20 minutes or so, and the crust is crispy and the inside moist.  Yum!

5. Mixers are not necessary.  Don’t be afraid to get in there and use your hands.  Less clean up, less oxidation (nutrients don’t fall away) and at the end of the day, there’s more love in it too.

6. If the starter floats in water, it’s healthy.  If it smells like acetone, trust yourself, it is acetone.  Try to revamp it, don’t give up immediately, but if it continues to have a searing smell like your sister’s nail polish remover, throw that stuff away and start fresh.

And the most important lesson in all of this, the Aesop’s Fable of sorts, well, at least for me is that it is of the upmost importance that you are doing what you love in life, folks.  Regardless of time, and money, and stress, or whatever.  Little did I know that having a sudden, crappy gluten allergy was going to lead me on a tailspin of happiness and self-discovery! I hope the same for you all, that you do what you love, no matter what it is that makes you smile!

Whole Grain Farro: What Is It Exactly?

All of this talk about what shenanigans have been added to our bread just becomes the opposite of positive in my mind.  So, I figured I would try out an alternative.  LET’S MAKE OUR OWN! There are four ingredients in bread.  Or at least, there should be only these four:  Flour, Water, Yeast, Salt.  

Today we will focus on FLOUR. 

Those four ingredients can turn goo into a delicious feast.  When I first began making bread, I would make gluten free bread, of course. And I discovered tons of delicious options.  Sorghum flour is yummy.  It makes the bread a bit dense and it great to bake with.  And garbanzo flour is also pretty awesome too.  I have made a killer persimmon bread using garbanzo flour.  There is also almond flour, coconut flour, brown rice flour (I use to thicken stews and bread chicken). The list goes on.

But lately, since my return from France, I have started experimenting with wild-yeasted sourdough (fermented yeast helps break down the gluten content), and grinding my own Farro grain into flour.  Farro is one of the original whole grain, that has not been broken down and therefore, not been oxidized yet.  My friend Jack Bezian, who owns Bezian Breads in Hollywood (a whole post on his suberb bread is to come) suggested I try to grind my own Farro.  He said that is the best way to deter any pesticides or hybrid flours in and that my belly might be able to handle it more.  Also, it has less gluten in it than wheat grain and is more easily digested.  It is super nutritious, since is in it’s full form and hasn’t been tampered with.  I am trying to eat more foods that are in their highest state, so to speak.  Because I believe they have the most life force in them, or “jing” as we call it in Chinese Medicine.  I use the medium size Farro grain, or “emmer,” as it is also referred to.  It is very popular in Italian Cuisine.  They use it to make breads, risotto, soups, and the list goes on…

Here are a couple tid-bits on Farro:

What exactly is it? It is a unhybridized grain used for thousands of years in the Middle East, parts of Europe, and Africa.  It may even have been used as money in the height of the Roman Era.  Believe it not, they say that farro grains have been found in Egyptian Tombs alongside the mummy. SPOOKY!  

How does it taste? Nutty and crisper than your regular flour, with undertones of wheat and barley.  

How does it pack a nutritious punch? It is very rich in fiber, magnesium, and Vit A,B,C, and E.

Where exactly is it grown? Italy.  Specifically in the mountains in Tuscany.  Since it is born and raised in such a rugged, richly nutritious terrain, close to the sky, you know it is going to be healthy.  

But don’t get it confused with? Spelt or Wheat Berries! It is a totally different grain and people often confuse the two because they all look so similar.  

And there you have it.  See, my friends, there are alternatives to wheat! There are soooooooo so many grains that have no gluten or less gluten.  There are more possibilities! ENJOY THEM! Image

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Here is a great article I found as a resource for me in my farro education: http://www.nytimes.com/1997/06/11/garden/farro-italy-s-rustic-staple-the-little-grain-that-could.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm