Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Bird Seed Bread

Growing up, my family cared for a menagerie of odd animals - rodents, snakes, newts, anoles, aggressive bullfrogs - but we also had dogs and, my favorite, parakeets. My mother would teach them to curse when she cleaned out the cage. There is nothing quite like entering a room lain with a carpet of swear words and whistles.

When it came to feeding time, this was my business. I always wanted to feed them three-times what my mother would allow. It just seemed like such a teensy amount. I would myself nibble on the shiny little beads of seed, the little birds cooing 'F-you, F-you' in my ear. Of course, the little yellow pellets were the best. Millet. Crunchy and mealy and strange.

Millet is one of those things that people approach with apprehension. It is a seed, yeah, not a grain. In America it was only ever used as bird fodder, though we have all read in our Encyclopedias that it is an important staple in Africa. It would take the hippies decades to sing of its virtues before successfully raising it from exoticism and ignobility alike.

I've been eating millet for as long as the hippies have been extolling it. For me, it's the same as reaching for brown rice or the more highly-esteemed quinoa. Here's a tidbit: millet is said to reduce cellulite (most important), and it is also proven to reduce the risk of heart attack, migraines and the severity of asthma. This ought to get you all cracking then on this loaf of bread whether for health or vanity.

This loaf was an experiment. I had some millet, I wanted to use it up, and this is a bread that I have neither read about nor experimented with. Here's some helpful advice: I actually use millet to clean out the Komo between millings because it's cheap. After milling your flours, run a cup or two of millet through the machine on a coarsish grind and it will gather up the collecting flour and dash it out of the machine. This is especially helpful if you are making durum rimacinato regularly, since the very fine flour has a tendency to cake up in there and shoot out in nasty little sheets the next time you move to make flour.

I have to say. Wow. This bread turned out amazingly. I first toasted up a measure of millet, ground some of it up into flour (52g) and added the whole toasted and soaked seeds to the dough (75g). The resulting loaf turned out nutty and toasty and delicious. The little seeds tenderized during baking, so, no crunchy little bits here. I also added some freshly milled Bob's Red Mill hard white wheat flour to the dough (107g), and the remainder of the flour was, of course, my beloved Giusto's Artisan. The shattery crust was beautifully festooned with little golden beads, making the loaf not only heavenly to taste, but glorious to behold.

It's impossible to keep from eating slice upon slice of this bread. So the next time someone accuses you of eating like a bird, you might think of this loaf, smile knowingly and say, 'Yes, yes I do.'

I give you this week's bird seed bread.

This formula makes one loaf


3 or 4 days before you make your levain, kick it into high-gear by feeding it 3-4x a day. On levain day, you will need:

11g 100% hydration dark rye starter (mine is made with BRM home-milled dark rye flour)
75g freshly milled BRM hard white winter wheat flour
75g h2o

Mix the levain ingredients together until you reach a paste. Mine fermented for about 8 hours.


You will need:

345g h2o
341g Giusto's Artisan flour
107g Bob's Red Mill hard white wheat
52g toasted* millet flour*
75g toasted* millet, soaked overnight (on the counter is fine) and drained well
13g kosher salt, I used Diamond
All of the levain

*To toast millet, just pour the total amount of millet needed for your formula into a cast iron pan, and over high heat, toss the millet ceaselessly in the hot pan until it turns golden brown. For this formula, toast the total amount of millet needed, then grind 52g of it into flour and soak 75g overnight on the counter. I just poured this amount into a glass measure, filled it with water and let it be.

Back to the formula.

When your levain is properly fermented, mix together the levain, the flours, the soaked and drained millet and the h2o until you reach a shaggy mass. Autolyse for 1 hour.

After the autolyse, the dough should have expanded a bit. Squish the salt into the dough until it's fully incorporated work the dough into a smooth mass. Now it's time for the 4-hour bulk fermentation.

Every half hour, perform a series of turns, taking care not to deflate the dough as you near the end of bulk. You will likely stop your turns somewhere around 2 hours into the bulk. For the remaining bulk, leave it untouched. I did two hours of turns, left it untouched at room temp for an hour, then popped it in the fridge for the final hour because it has been really warm here.

When bulk fermentation is accomplished, turn the dough out onto a workspace dusted with brown rice flour, and shape into a loose round. Let it rest. Mine rested for 10 minutes. 

After the bench, shape the dough into a taut boule. I am a huge fan of the 'Forkish fold', so, I shaped the boule and popped it into a bowl lined with linen that I have first dusted with brown rice flour (you may use a banneton), seam-side down.

The next day when you unearth the dough, the seam-side lands upward, and it is at these fissures that the steam is released, thus the dough will open erratically and beautifully.

Alternatively, you may shape your boule placing it seam-side up in the banneton or linen-lined bowl, then on bake day, you can unearth the dough and score as desired with a blade.

Pop in the fridge and ferment. Mine fermented for 19 hours.


Preheat the oven to 500 degrees with a dutch oven and baking stone inside.

Pull the dough of of the fridge. Pop a piece of parchment over the mouth of the bowl, then place a peel over this. Quickly invert the bowl so that the dough ends up sitting on the paper and the peel, seam-side up for the Forkish fold method, seam-side down if you plan to slash.

The 'Forkish fold', dough lands seam-side up

If you plan to slash, then do so in some divine manner first before getting the dough into the oven. For the Forkish fold, just slide the dough immediately into the shallow half of the hot dutchie. With both methods, after the dough has been slid into the pan, cover with the fat half of the dutchie, slide the contraption into the oven, and steam for 15 minutes at this temp, then turn the oven down to 475 and steam for another 15 minutes.

After the steam, remove the fat end of the dutchie, then stack the pan over its mouth to create a buffer between the hot stone and the bread. This will help keep the bottom of your bread from blackening.

Toggle the oven between 460 and 475 until the boule is baked to chestnut brown. Cool on a wire rack for at least an hour before slicing.

This post has been shared on Susan's Wild Yeast Blog.

To the staff of life!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Focaccia: A Continuation

Well, one new dough, two new ideas. But I'll get to that in a minute.

So, I have never been one of those people who nurture themselves when sick. I do the opposite of what I'm supposed to do. Instead of resting, I run around like crazy and do as much stuff as possible. It's like I'm thumbing my nose at being sick. And who has ever heard of getting sick in the middle of summer during a heatwave?

It all began Friday. The start of my weekend, right. I was grinding rye berries for my starter, and I spilled the bag. Of course the little silver berries scattered behind and beneath every conceivable piece of furniture (I have to grind my flour in my atelier because the walls are so thin in my apartment that the neighbors next door bang about if I grind in my kitchen, which shares a wall with their bedroom), so I began collecting the berries, moving furniture, sweeping under here and there, aghast at how much dust was taking up residence. Of course that prompted me to really start moving things about, getting nitty gritty about taking up all that dust. I started thinking about all of the cabinets and closets and clutter that needed to be dealt with too. May as well, I'm already married to this cleaning frenzy, and it's my birthday in 12 days, so I want my life to be spotless before I enter my new year. Well, all that led to so much deep cleaning that I filled a quarter of a dumpster, hauled a bunch of crap out to the curb, gave stuff away to a friend. All because of that damned bag of rye berries gone mad. Of course, all the while I am feeling ill, right, and the dust is not making things better. During this (three-day) stint of madness, having autoclaved every piece of furniture, scrubbed every cabinet raw. I also start a round of bread. Not one, but two different kinds. Right after the farmer's market, of course.

As you can see I'm still on this focaccia kick. I think it's because the onion focaccia from the last post was so pretty that my wheels have been spinning ever since. I also wanted to perfect the final fermentation time for our focaccia (10 hours). The onion focaccia eased the fennel image into my brain, and since I wanted a thinner loaf this time around, I decided to snip off a bit of the dough giving me another opportunity to fancy things up. Eggplant. Of course! It would fit perfectly into this little slip of dough, and they're so gorgeous when you roast them, I figured slices of the purple beauties would be fantastic on today's focaccia.

This time around I made parchment collars for them so they popped out of the pans beautifully. The flavor was fantastic. Totally mild with no acidity at all, which is what I aimed for. Good open and chewy crumb, crisp exterior. The whole thing rich with olive oil. Mm.

With all that said, on top of all of my cleaning, my minor illness, my marketing, my bread making and now this post, I am zonked and have to hit the sack to begin a new work week.



Three days before you plan to make your levain, throw your starter into overdrive by feeding it three or four times each day. On the fourth day, build your levain by mixing up the following:

10g 100% hydration starter of your choice
75g h2o
75g freshly ground hard white wheat flour

Mix up the above. Ferment. Mine fermented for 8.5 hours.


You will need:

All of the levain
50g freshly milled white wheat flour
50g freshly milled durum, milled to semolina
400g Giusto's Artisan flour
380g h2o
20g good olive oil, I used California Olive Ranch
12g salt

When the levain is at its peak, mix it with the flour and h2o until you reach a shaggy mass. Autolyse for 1 hour 45 minutes

After the autolyse, squish the salt and olive oil into the dough. Now it's time for your 3 hour, 15 minute bulk fermentation.

You will not perform turns through the entire bulk, instead, you will intuitively know when it is time to stop by the rate of the dough's expansion. I stopped my turns at 2 hours then popped the dough in the fridge for the remaining half our of bulk because it was really warm in L.A.

After the bulk fermentation, scrape the dough onto a worktable that you have smeared with good olive oil, gather it into a loose round and let it rest for about 10 minutes. If you are going to make a baby focaccia whack off about a quarter of the dough, gather and rest the same as the larger dough.

Meanwhile, with a very small amount of olive oil, oil the sides and bottom of a cake pan with a removable bottom (9" wide, measured on the inside x 3" deep); fit with a circle of parchment along the bottom and a ring around the sides. The olive oil will hold it in place. Now, once you've got it installed, oil the face of the parchment as well.

If you are going to make a baby focaccia to experiment with different toppings, prepare a smaller pan in the same way.

Pop the dough into the pan, gently spreading out to the sides of it. Drizzle a small amount of oil over the top and smear it a bit. Cover with a plate and refrigerate for 10 hours. This seems to be the magic number for focaccia, resulting in a non-acidic final bread.


You will need:

1 fennel bulb in good shape
1 or two baby eggplants
A few pinches of good salt, for instance fleur de sel
About 2 teaspoons of your really fine olive oil

One hour before you plan to bake the bread, preheat the oven to 550 degrees, installed with a baking stone and a pot filled with lava rocks (this should be place on the floor of the oven). Remove the dough from the fridge now too.

Now, neatly slice your fennel and eggplants so that you arrive at 1/4" thick cross sections that include some of the green top. Arrange over the top of the dough in some comely fashion, pressing the vegetables down into the dough gingerly, you don't want to deflate it, but if you don't sort of embed them, they will float right off of the dough during oven spring.

Leave the dough rest at room temp during this hour of oven preheat to regain its shape.

When you are ready to bake, add some ice cubes to a 3 cup measure and fill with with water. Set aside.

Sprinkle the face of the dough with the fleur de sel and drizzle with the olive oil, spreading it a bit so that the surface takes on a golden sheen. Slide the focaccia onto the stone, then pull out the pot of lava rocks a bit and pour the ice water over the rocks. Quickly slide the pot back into the oven and steam for 10 minutes at 500 degrees.

After 10 minutes, turn the oven down to 460 degrees and steam for 10 minutes more for a total of 20 minutes steam. After the steam, remove the lava pot from the oven and bake out at around 450 till the loaf has properly browned, spinning it now and again for even heating. Keep the heat low on this one, because it it inclined to burn.

Cool the loaf for about 15 minutes on a wire rack before turning it out of the pan and cooling for a further hour. You should not have an issue with sticking due to the savvy use of parchment. To serve, scatter with fresh green fennel frond and share with a friend.

To the staff of life!