Sourdough Blackberry Lemon Muffins

I have a bit of a reputation. Some people call me a seed stealer.  I prefer the term  “forager”.

It all began in my tender years of five or six when I trailed alongside my Mom and brother walking along Muskoka roads lined with raspberry bushes. We held cardboard pint boxes in our little hands and were encouraged to pluck the red, ripe ones that slipped off the white core easily. There were thorns to avoid and lots of scratches to our bare legs and arms. The sun was beating down and sweat covered our brows. But boy oh boy, did those berries taste sweet. I ate nine out of every ten berries I picked, filling my box at a snail’s pace, but without a care. This was a hunt and I was hooked.  

My mom had to tear me away from the berry thicket and throw all my berry stained clothes into the wash. We never picked enough for the pies or jams we talked and dreamed of. In fact, my berries barely covered the bottom of my box but were  just enough for tomorrow’s breakfast bowl of Rice Krispies and cream. 

Decades later, I found myself walking down a road in Grass Valley, California with my sister-in-law, Nora until I stopped dead in my tracks. I was receiving heavy signals from my personal berry radar.  

“Are those blackberries?!” 

Nora couldn’t feign an ounce of interest. It was devilishly hot in the dry August sun and she was parched, needing a cool glass of water back home– which was not in the direction I was pointing. 

“You can’t do that!” she screamed as I hopped down into the ditch, climbing towards a flimsy fence separating me from my bounty.  It was easy to climb under and I did, rewarded by a thick cluster of fat, juicy berries.

“Stop Mado, it’s private property,” she yelled as I dove into her neighbour’s field. I pulled my black shirt out like a hamper and dropped the berries in by the handful. They were three times the size of an Ontario blackberry and as sweet as can be. The proliferation stunned me.  I’d never seen so many ripe, blackberries in my fruit-loving life.  

To keep the family peace, I crawled back under the fence obeying my sister-in-law’s admonishments while offering her a handful of the stolen goods. 

“Huh, what are these?” She held one berry in her fingers, brought it before her nose, inhaled,    opened her mouth, popped the berry in and started to moan, loudly. 

I’d found an accomplice. 

The following day we returned to the field armed with empty yogurt containers, filling two each in no time. That evening we dined on my first and most memorable pie. Pure blackberry pie.  I’d never made pie pastry before and somehow fashioned a semblance  with flour and shortening found in the back corners of her cupboards. I filled it with our black bounty, fresh from the pick but already leaking juice, crushing the bottom berries with its weight.  

I had set the oven at 425 F and in 10 minutes it had not only preheated but was rumbling like a coal fire.  I opened the oven door and felt a blast of heat so outrageously hot, I trembled in fear, offering my sweet berry pie to this monster. I waited five minutes and wisely turned off the oven, realizing the oven thermometer was broken, fearing my pie would explode in a ball of lava if I didn’t stop the oven’s frenzy. 

Remarkably, those free California blackberries and a broken oven thermometer was all I needed to make the most flaky, golden, berry-filled perfect pie of my life. Many have followed but none, thankfully,  with as much drama. 

I’m still a forager and a seed stealer dividing my time between downtown Toronto and rural BC. I am apt to walk down Logan Ave with a small set of scissors and surreptitiously snip off some morning glory seeds I have been watching dry throughout the fall.  Recently I filled my pockets with sweet pea pods at a Duncan community garden, knowing the owner would consider me a seed-saver, not a thief.  I expect the folks in the cars lined up at our Starbucks drive-through think the same when they see me roll down my window and pull a handful of brown and dry Cosmos flowers into the car as I wait for my latte order. 

It’s all Ling’s fault.  She asked me what those purple and white Cosmos flowers were growing in Riverdale gardens in the 1990s.  I didn’t know their name, then.  I asked her why she cared and she slipped a hand into her jeans’ pocket and revealed a mess of crumbled brown seed heads. Next, she scribbled “Purple Flowers” in Chinese on a piece of paper, put the seed heads in the middle and folded an instant, origami paper envelope. 

“I brought seeds from Shanghai,” she said proudly. I knew then that any refugee fleeing their homeland who cares enough to pack seeds for the escape was exactly the kind of garden guru I wanted to learn from.  Ling taught me not only seed saving, but how to root cuttings and separate clusters of African violets. 

So are we thieves or stewards of the earth?  I like to think the latter.

That’s why I came up with this muffin recipe.  It combines the best of The BC Forageables – blackberries —  and uses up sourdough that is normally discarded. A double save!  

Sourdough Blackberry Lemon Muffins

 

1 1/4 cup            all purpose, organic

½ cup                            whole spelt

1 tsp                    baking powder

1 tsp                    baking soda

1 tsp                    salt

 

 

1 stick                           unsalted butter, room temp

2/3 cup               refined sugar

2                          eggs

Zest                     of one lemon

100 gm/3.5 oz              sourdough discard

 

2 cups                           frozen blackberries

3/4 cup                sour cream/yogurt

 

 

 

Preheat oven to  400F. 

 

In a medium bowl combine or sift all purpose, spelt, baking powder, baking soda and  salt. 

 

In a mixer, cream butter with sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in eggs, one at a time. Combine lemon zest and gently fold in sourdough discard.

 

In medium bowl, toss frozen berries with 1 tbsp of flour mixture

 

Fold in half of the flour mixture and half of sour cream, then repeat.  Gently add blackberries in flour. 

 

Divide mixture using an ice cream scoop or 1/4 cup dry measure into 12 muffin cups.  

 

Bake 20-25 min or until golden and  tester comes out clean.

Savoury Beet Tartlets

Nothing like plunking a few dice of freshly cooked beets and a crumble of goat cheese into a pastry tart to watch the colour slide and ebb through an egg custard creating these beautiful little appetizers that are almost too pretty to eat.

But you will gobble them up for they pop on the palate even louder than their good looks show off on the platter. 

This is super easy to prepare if you use frozen pie tartlets.

It’s also easy to make your own dough in a food processor.  I like to keep a chunk or two of dough on standby in the freezer, ready to defrost and be at the ready.

David is our in-house pastry chef.  He has the light touch and uber patience needed to create a flaky pretty crust. He also gets the mechanics of lattice work for our Thanksgiving apple pies and stencils actual maple leaves on top.

Wrong season.  We are celebrating summer now and these tartlets require different pastry skills.  David rolled out the dough to 1/8thinch thinness, then cut circles using a small bowl. Each circle is dropped gently into the muffin cup then folded into a rustic round. No crimping. No braids. It helps if each tart has a little ledge, climbing up and over the muffin cup’s edge to hold in all the contents.  

Once you have the pastry ready to fill the tartlets, this project’s flavour is all about the beets and fresh herbs.  Beets are best if you can yank them out of your garden, clean under the garden hose then submerge in hot boiling, salted water. Unlike a stored beet, garden fresh will cook up in half the time. 

Please remember, basil is a beet’s best friend. I like to tuck a chiffonade into every beet salad I compose and was pleased with how complimentary it is as both an ingredient and garnish for these tartlets. 

Beet, Basil and Goat Cheese Tartlets

If making pastry is not your “jam”, use frozen pastry tart shells instead. These pretty little things are perfect for summer appetizers al fresco or weekend brunch.  

 

All Purpose Food Processor Pastry

2 cups        all purpose flour

¼ tspsalt

¾ cup         unsalted butter, cold, cut into pieces

½ cup         ice water, approx.

 

Filling

3 small beets, boiled until tender, cubed

150 g goat cheese, crumbled

3 eggs

1 cup homogenized milk

2 TBS chopped fresh chives

2 TBS chopped fresh basil 

Salt and pepper

 

Combine flour with salt in food processor and pulse to mix. Add butter and whirl on high for 15 seconds or until butter is the size of peas. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add water. Whirl on high until dough clumps. Transfer to a large piece of waxed paper. Form the crumbly dough into a firm mound, about 8 in diameter. Wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hrs before use. 

 

Preheat oven 425 F

 

Whisk together eggs, milk, chives, basil, salt and pepper in a 4 cup liquid measure. 

 

Divide the chilled dough in half and return remaining half to fridge, wrapped well. 

 

On a lightly floured counter roll out the dough. Use an empty bowl with a 4 ½ inch diameter to cut rounds. Gently nestle each round into a muffin cup. Divide beets and goat cheese equally among the tarts. Pour in egg mixture. 

 

Bake in middle of the oven for 20-25 min or until interiors have puffed and pastry is lightly golden. 

 

Serve warm, garnished with fresh basil and edible flowers like nasturtium, chive or borage.

Red Fife Ginger Molasses Cookies

My ode to Red Fife comes in the form of a cookie.

This recipe starts like so many of its cookie counterparts with sugar and butter. (Sorry vegans.)  Butter not only makes cookies exceptionally rich in flavour but it creates a luxurious mouthfeel, too.

Recipes ask bakers to cream these two foundational pillars of Cookiedom.  That won’t happen if your butter is cold. Pull out an unsalted stick or two at least two hours before you plan to bake.

A KitchenAid mixer is a must if you bake as regularly as I do.  Drop butter and sugar into the mixing bowl, attach the whisk, press “Go” and watch these two ingredients intermingle and transform into a light, magical creamy mass.

IMG_5049Next, crack an egg into the mix and lightly oil a measuring cup to ensure easy lift-off for the half cup of molasses needed.

That’s a little trick I share with my daughter Krystal as we bake up a batch.  She has never baked with molasses before and feels less than patient as it endlessly pours in a feathery  stream out of our almost empty Crosby’s Fancy Molasses container. Likewise, she’s wholly unimpressed with this sweetener’s slightly metallic, smoky taste.

But she complies with my teaching suggestions today, knowing I insist on constant tasting, sniffing and touching to learn baking’s alchemy.

She also knows there are white chocolate chips in the mix.

Ah, white chocolate chips. These are forefront on Krystal’s mind as we search the kitchen cupboards and drawers for this cookie’s ingredients. Unlike cloves, which we grind, sniff and sift fresh, or candied ginger, instantly proclaimed “yuck” when sampled, Krystal needs little encouragement to gobble a handful of chips after she measures a very generous half-cup.

It’s the Red Fife that excites this baker. Canada’s heirloom wheat varietal adds incredible flavour to these cookies, especially if it’s locally sourced and freshly milled.

Luckily, that’s what 1847 Stone Milled Flour is all about. They’re very busy filling orders in the midst of this pandemic, but if ever there was an essential ingredient needed for baking security, it’s flour. Check it out.IMG_5056

 

Red Fife Ginger Molasses Cookies

Red Fife Ginger Molasses Cookies

These are thin, saucer shaped cookies with gingery buttery goodness. Makes 30

3 cups             Red Fife

1 ½ tsp            baking soda

3/4 tsp             baking powder

½ tsp                salt

1 tbsp              ground ginger

¼ tsp                cloves (freshly ground if possible)

¾ cup              room temp butter (1½ sticks)

½ cup               brown sugar

¼  cup              organic white sugar

½ cup              molasses

1                      large egg

1 cup           white chocolate chips

Rolling Mixture

1/3 cup            granulated sugar

¼ cup               finely chopped candied ginger

Preheat oven to 350 F

In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, baking soda, salt, ginger and cloves.

In mixing bowl cream butter, brown sugar and  ¼ cup granulated organic sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in molasses and egg.

In thirds, add in flour mixture and continue mixing until just combined. Sprinkle over with white chocolate chips. It’s a heavy dough that’s not easy to mix.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Scoop tablespoons of dough arranging 2 inches apart on baking sheet. Put sugar in small bowl. Form each cookie into a ball and lightly roll in sugar to coat. IMG_5046Place a chopped piece of candied ginger on each sugared ball.  Using the bottom of a glass, flatten into 3 inch rounds.

Bake until golden brown 12-14 min

Cool on a wire rack 

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The Power of Challah

I bake and give away a lot of freshly baked bread. I’ve been baking bread weekly, sometimes daily, for many moons and my floury perspective has offered insight on what Joe Eater likes best in the bread department. And it’s challah, hands down.

Essentially, we bread lovers eat with our eyes first. Appearances matter.  Just the sight of one of my golden, glossy braids is enough to bring most of my beneficiaries to their knees. Sprinkle on some sesame or poppy seeds (or both) and you’ve got a bagel hybrid that screams for a slathering of cream cheese,  followed by an unabashed crescendo of jam.

“What’s not to love?” my Long Island New York mother-in-law used to ask.

Ethel, of course, would only take a sliver of a slice, knowing full well that the honey, milk, butter and eggs that enrich and enliven challah were the kiss of dietary death for a diabetic like her.  But that wouldn’t stop her from kveln about my challah.

My friend Danny, on the other hand, used to scrunch and contort her mien whenever she came face to face with one of my challahs.

“No! No, you can’t do this to me!” she’d wail, tossing the gift loaf back into my hands like a hot tamale.

Turns out she was an addict.

Then there was Don. He ignited my baking passion and passed the challah gene down to our offspring.

I’d find him drooling and star struck, gazing with deep longing at my just-out-of-the-oven golden, glossy loaves.  I’d start wielding my bread knife, slashing it through the air, marking the end of each word with a vicious swipe   “Don’t you dare” Slash, slash, slash!  “devour it all!”  He’d feign to cower then leave only crumbs in his wake.    

Oh, the allure, the gloss and glimmer of a challah’s golden crust, twisting and turning seductively before our hungry eyes. Blessedly for us bakers, it is a no-brainer of a baking feat. Sure, you need to have the larder well stocked with milk, honey, eggs and butter, but you’ll find the braid an easier dough trick than your average high hydration, Tartine-style boule.

What’s more, this is a bread recipe that will make you a baking icon among friends and family. You don’t have to capture wild yeast for 10 days to make this baby rise and if you practice this just once, you’ll soon be a baking pro worthy of  Zoom coverage at the socially-distanced table.

But before you plunge into this bake, let’s talk flour:  Seriously good flour, that’s local, freshly ground and can be delivered to your door. 1847 Stone Milled Flour https://1847.ca  produces a variety of organic stone milled flours in Fergus, Ontario that bring this challah out of the land of white bread and into a world of healthy, rich flavour.

1847 Challah, Sponge Technique

Despite the name, this challah recipe doesn’t date back to 1847. I created it  recently to feature 1847’s Red Fife and Daily Grind, but both of these whole grain flours can be substituted with other brands.

Sponge

2 cups warm milk

4 eggs  lightly beaten

¼ cup   honey

9 oz/2 cups     1847 Red Fife

4.8 oz/ 1 cup   PC Organic All purpose, unbleached flour

1 tsp                instant yeast

Final Dough

¼ cup               melted unsalted butter

.6 oz/1 TBS      salt

10 oz               1847 Daily Grind (whole grain multi-purpose flour)

12 oz               PC Organic All purpose, unbleached flour

1                      egg, beaten

¼ cup               sesame seeds

Combine all the Sponge ingredients in the bowl of a KitchenAid mixer using the paddle attachment until just mixed. Cover and leave at room temperature for 2 hrs or until the surface is covered with small holes, just like a sponge.

Add butter, salt, Daily Grind and all-purpose flour to the sponge.  Using a dough hook, mix for 8 min or until the dough balls up around the hook. Add a tablespoon or two of flour during the last 2 min of the mix if the dough is not pulling away from the sides of the bowl.

Transfer to an oiled plastic bin with cover for a bulk ferment (or proof) of 2hrs. (Alternately, slow down the ferment and put it in the fridge overnight for 8-12 hrs)

Line two baking sheets with parchment. Place the room temperature or refrigerated dough on a lightly floured surface. Use a dough scraper to cut in half.  Cut each half into thirds. Roll out each piece to create six long ropes. Make two simple braids with three strands each and place on baking sheets. Cover with a clean dish towel or oiled plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

Bake in a preheated 350 F oven for 25-30 min or until internal temperature reaches 190 F 

Experiments in Einkorn

When the curious around me ask, “What have you been baking these days?” and I reply “Einkorn” I might as well kill that conversation. Enunciating these two simple consonants, Ein then Korn, is an instant entrée to “Huh?” and glazed-over eyes.

Perhaps the most ancient among ancient grains, Einkorn is grown here in BC and is in desperate need of a makeover. Few seem to know how tasty it is.  Or the delight a baker such as me has when poking my schnoz into a freshly milled bag and inhaling the sweet wonder that is Einkorn.

I bought my first bag from Flourist.com who shipped my flour over the Georgia Strait from their Vancouver bakery and mill. I liked buying an organic, traceable grain that is freshly milled right before packaging. I also liked seeing a line drawing of all their producers, including Einkorn grower Lorne Muller of Swan River Valley, Manitoba.

When I read the flowery descriptor under the 2 kg bag of Einkorn priced at $24.95 (compared to $15.95 for whole spelt) I was not a believer.  It said, “This flour showcases the taste of ancient Einkorn wheat, with a flavour that shines in everything from pastry crust to sourdough bread”

Them’s fighting words, I thought. How could this unknown, nobody grain be so tasty in so many baking applications?

It was time to test.

 

 

First, I made pancakes, sourdough einkorn pancakes with frozen wild blackberries. They were good but, in my mind, just ol’ pancakes.

 

Second try was stupendous: Einkorn Banana Bread. I found a recipe posted at The Perfect Loaf under “my top three leftover sourdough recipes”.

Like pancakes, I’ve made banana bread a million times but never has it domed so high (and not fallen) with a porous, sourdough bread texture. img_4124.jpg Einkorn offered up a nutty, sweetness. This quick bread was addictive and thanks to einkorn, high in protein, fibre and eye-healthy carotenoids and lutein.

My next try, 50% Einkorn sourdough levain (recipe below) was fated for success the moment I watched the dough twirl around my KitchenAid dough hook in a remarkable creamy softness, as if whipping cream.  Yet, this was a whole grain.

Things got einkorn crazy when my friend Wilma and I scarfed down several helpings each of my next test: Pear Tarte Tatin.  This gluttony, after a particularly filling sushi-making party, had never been witnessed before by her partner or mine.

All we girls could say is “The einkorn made me do it.”

It may not have hurt that the pears were so sexy and that this tart oozed with butter and sugar, yet never have I received such personal affirmation for a whole grain dessert.

If Einkorn could dance on the tongue for dessert, could it go solo soaked and sprouted in a jar? I measured out one quarter cup of BC-grown kernels purchased at Cowichan Bay’s True Grain bakery. After a 12 hr soak, the kernels had plumped up. Some had split. After another 24 hours, little white tails emerged on most of the kernels.  I topped that evening’s salad with a couple of spoonful’s adding a sweet, crunchy nuttiness to simple microgreens and grape tomatoes.

The finale of my Einkorn tests hit a crescendo with risotto. My top recipe taster and ardent Arborio rice fan was aghast at the suggestion.  But when faced with my creation at the dining table, he quickly returned to the pot for seconds.

I would never have tried this had I not tasted and devoured friend Randy’s superb farro risotto.  If Randy could do it, so could I, especially knowing that farro is Italian for spelt and einkorn’s Italian appellation is piccolo farro or little spelt.

Listening to my inner Marcella Hazan, I went to the stove, pulled out a medium saucepan and heated up some olive oil and a knob of butter. I tossed in sliced leeks, diced cremini mushrooms and fresh rosemary stirring and sautéing until the  juices emerged. In went a cup of einkorn kernels, which I sautéed for 2-3 minutes getting the pan adequately dry and toasty before adding sliced, reconstituted porcini mushrooms and a big splash (3/4 cup) white wine that filled the kitchen with an intoxicating aroma. Over the course of 30 minutes, I slowly added mushroom stock by the half-cup-full stirring and cooking the kernels in their uncovered pot until they were soft, tender and truly nutty.

True confessions: Einkorn kernels will not melt into the same creamy luxuriousness that an Arborio or Navarro rice can but Parmigiana Reggiano is always at the rescue.  Freshly ground black pepper is another must.

Experimenting the gamut of Einkorn, from sweet confections to healthy raw sprouts made me a believer. It turns out Flourist wasn’t being flowery in that description at all.  This grain can do it all.IMG_4144

50 Per Cent Einkorn Levain

This dough is very extensible and stretched a yard when I scraped it from the mixing bowl to a plastic bin. I got the same results during stretch and folds. It baked up high, with a dark mahogany crust with traces of raisin and cinnamon in the air.

Levain:

1.8 oz            liquid starter

5.2 oz            Spring water

8 oz               Unbleached, organic white hard/bread flour

In a medium bowl, dissolve starter in water with a fork. Add bread flour and knead into a ball.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Let stand at room temperature for 12-16 hours.

Final dough:

Levain (minus 1.5 oz)

1lb .6oz         Spring water

2tbsp             honey

1lb                 Whole Einkorn

8 oz               Unbleached, organic white hard/bread flour

Dissolve levain in spring water in stand mixer bowl. Add honey, Einkorn and bread flour. Use the paddle attachment at low speed, mixing until a shaggy mass. Cover and autolyse (let stand) for 20 min.

.6 oz                     sea salt

Sprinkle dough over with sea salt, using dough hook, mix at low for 3 min.  The dough will separate from the sides of the bowl and create a firm ball.

Transfer to a large oiled bowl or covered plastic bin.

Bulk fermentation: 1 hr. 40 min  (Stretch and fold once, after 50 min)

Shape two loaves and place in bannetons dusted with rice flour.  Cover each with a large plastic bag and refrigerate immediately, 12-16hrs

Preheat dutch ovens at 500F for at least 30 min, bake 20 min covered, reduce to 460F and bake 20 min uncovered. Transfer to wire racks to cool.

Things I learned in KAF baking school, Part Two

Side-by-side taste testing is a gift.

On the last day, we taste a flight of varietals: five whole wheat baguettes, side-by-side. Our “control” baguette contains King Arthur White Whole Wheat flour and the others contain Salish Blue (a perennial wheat in development at the Bread Lab), Sprouted Skagit 1109, Cairn Spring Espresso T-185 and Cairn Spring Edison Unsifted. 

Newbie bakers rarely know the difference between all purpose and bread flour, let alone this wide range of locally-grown wheat varietals with alluring names.  We taste them straight-up without butter, observing crumb, inhaling aroma, analyzing crust and interior, making mindful, slow chews, ruminating on each variety. We dub this our “munch and think” session. One is Mr. Moist, the other Crispy Crust, another so very sweet. None of these baguettes has the loft and rise produced by 100% white bread flour, but all five excel in delivering a unique, wheaty flavour.  

Oh, The Baguette. This long, phallic, day-only-fresh loaf is the epitome of French bread baking and never ceases to send me into performance panic. Despite suffering years of bakers’ baguette trauma (BBT), I’m actually able to follow our instructor Jen’s shaping instruction. She demos once, twice, then for the final demo, she asks us to call out command steps for her to follow: “Place the dough good side down. Deflate. Letter fold, folding top then bottom. Observe the dough lip and seam. Use left hand to turn dough from the top of the lip over your thumb and tap closed with right palm. Repeat turn, twist and tap across the length of the dough. Turn the dough 180 degrees and pull the top side of dough to the table, pulling it over your left, lightly floured thumb and close with right palm tap. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Time to roll. Spread your floured fingers out wide and roll from the middle to the tips of your baguette. ”

Big breath. I return to my bench and practice. Four times. 

Two out of four ain’t bad, right? I’m hesitant to attach my initialized label to the underside of these horrendous duds. 

“There is no bread shame,” Jen assures, after a thoughtful examination of the first 20 baguettes that roll out of the oven. She is about to launch into a frank discussion of the flaws and achievements before her promising not to reveal anyone’s label.  

A tiny, terrified “Eeaak” issues forth,  en masse.

“This snake swallowed a mouse,” she says pointing to my first try. “And this one, well…” She says something way less hurtful than my first baguette mentor did years ago when I was apprenticing at a downtown Toronto bakery.  

“Just stop, Madeleine,” he called out to me shaping at the bench, pointing to my disastrous results.“I can’t sell any of those!”  

Croissants are not easy.

In fact, I’d label them advanced with a capital A.

A truly delicious, flaky croissant requires three consecutive days of attention. It wants butter that contains even more fat than normal, demands lots of finicky measurements, and exponential folding. The goal is flaky, honeycomb layers totalling 54 –  if you get it right.   

I’m thrilled to find “Sprouted Wheat Croissants” in my red KAF folderbecause I came to this course hoping for whole grain solutions to old school deliciousness. To make eight of these crispy morsels, we use 130 gm of sprouted wheat flour and 130 gm of all-purpose (King Arthur’s, of course). 

Croissant Day One, we make a simple yeasted, enriched dough and whack a 100 gram piece of unsalted, 85% fat European-style butter with a rolling pin into a thin, very pummeled five-and-a-half-inch square.  Day Two, we “lock in” our little square of chilled butter, sweetly swaddling it in the dough we made the day before. Then we get violent, methodically whacking, pounding and rolling our dough-butter combo into submission. We chill it, then whack and roll again several times. On Day Three, we roll out our sixth edition of an eight-by-16-inch rectangle, slice it into four equal parts, cutting each in half on the diagonal. Who says bread isn’t a science?

Like kids cut loose in a candy store, we adult learners happily fashion four crescent shapes and four pains au chocolat.  We each sign our name in black Sharpie pen on the parchment paper that holds our creations.  I swell with pride as I watch my croissant offspring enter KAF’s industrial convection oven, so big it can accommodate a six-foot-tall rack on wheels.  Butter aroma engulfs the room and the flaking begins. 

I post my baked beauties on Instagram and a follower asks, “Are these really yours?”

Even flour temperature matters.

“When a recipe says a pinch of yeast, what’s that mean?” instructor Geoffrey asks the class on Day One eliciting a dazed response.  

“I mean, do you want to use two fingers or threeto pinch with?” 

We respond with silence.  Just moments earlier our hallowed baking leader was talking about grams and the scientific accuracy of it all. Now we are pinching, for God’s sake. 

“If your kitchen is hot and humid, you will two finger pinch. But if the room temperature is moderate, go for three. Who can tell me why?” he asks.

One of the brighter lights among us chirps out, “The hotter the room, the faster the ferment.”

“Exactly,” says Geoffrey, “Temperature and time are two big tools for fermentation. Madeleine, I’ve put a thermometer on your bench and would like you to tell me our flour and pre-ferment temperatures.” 

Hands trembling, I insert the probe into the fluffy flour bin then into a silver bowl full of bubbling biga, calling out “66 and 66.5 F” to Geoffrey, who scribbles them on the whiteboard before us.  

At this juncture, my brain fizzles right out. Overloaded with data, my memory stick cannot download another formula or fraction. My screen goes blank during the full 10 minutes we devote to final dough temperature (78F is optimum) and how it can be controlled through a 1,000 – step equation to determine the temperature of water we use to make the initial dough.

Luckily, after days of deliberation, I get it. If we bakers can understand and compute all the variables: temperature, time, flour attributes, leavening strength and the list goes on… we can bake on a timetable producing consistent quality. As a home baker, albeit a serious one, the science of bread can only bolster the magic of my art. 

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KAF Spelt with Honey

Here’s an easy yeasted bread perfect for beginners. This dough is more forgiving if you are just learning to shape a boule or batard. Plus, spelt is an ancient grain with a nice, sweet nuttiness.  

600 g whole spelt flour

200 g unbleached bread flour

580 g water

2 g instant yeast

16 g salt

28 g honey

Scale flours, water and yeast in a mixing bowl, mix until just combined and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rest at room temperature for about 20 min.

Add honey and salt and mix 1-2 min or until the dough begins to develop strength. Cover and ferment for 2 hours, folding every 30 minutes.

On a lightly floured surface, shape into boules or batards an place in floured bannetons. Cover with shower caps and retard in the refrigerator overnight.

Preheat Lodgepan combo cookers in oven at 500 F for 30 min.

Flip each loaf onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet and score.

VERY carefully remove heated combo-cooker from oven, slide loaf on parchment paper into pan, close with lid and return to oven for 20 min. Reduce heat to 460 F, remove lids and bake until golden brown and crusty, 15-20 min.