Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Making Bread in UFOs

Dear Reader. LORD! Have I a discovery for you! I've been avoiding using a clay bread maker for, like, ever. I was always under the impression that you can't heat them over 400 or something like that. Well, that doesn't do us a lot of good, we, the bread bad asses with our cast iron implements and renegade ways. Clay is for bowls, not for bread baking. Pshaw on those bakers then!

Well, I happened upon a nice one from Emerson Creek Pottery, like a reeeeeeaaaalllly REALLY nice one. And the best thing about it is that it's totally lead free, eco-friendly and locally made (well, United States local). My giant cloche arrived a month ago on my birthday. I remember that much because I was shocked that UPS was working on a holiday. No, I'm not kidding. It took me a minute to realize that the whole universe didn't take the day off for my birthday. When I yanked it out of the box, I was immediately impressed by its weight, this thing has some serious heft, and the fact that it looked like a flying saucer. It is absolutely big enough for our standard loaves, as you can see from the photo above...

And it's so, I don't know, smooth, yeah? With its high dome like an old man in want of youth. The shallow part of it is gorgeous, thick and round with tall sides. I figured if it cracked I could Crazy Glue it back together and use it as a cheese plate. Or a plate to deposit wallet and keys and crap upon entering the house. Or a hub cap, should my life continue down this path of destitution.

All of that was very fine indeed, alas, all that I had read about clay.... thus, it sat on my table and I would eye it suspiciously when I passed, shoving it back further and further into the corner with the shriveling pomegranate and cobwebby lamp, maybe I even said some mean things to it. But forget about that. This weekend I decided to just do it. F it. If it cracks, SO.WHAT. Life is short. Crack some stuff without apology.


I set about some dough. For good measure, on bake day, I soaked the contraption for a couple few hours, though I don't know if you need to do that. I lost the pamphlet it came with, and I didn't want to log onto the net to see if that was an appropriate thing to do. I just thought: naked clay, water absorption, instant steam oven, and went with my hunch. I also put another combo cooker in the oven just in case the bald man's flying saucer head exploded or disintegrated.

What happened next is a clay miracle. Wait, what's better than a miracle? There has to be something. This thing, this flying saucer made the best bread. Ever. The crust was thin and shattery as Christmas ornament glass, the crumb lofty and light and it tasted exquisite. Some of the best tasting bread I've made all year. And, drumroll, the thing did not crack nor turn to ash when I slid it into the oven and preheated it to 500 degrees.

I'm hooked. I've graduated from bad ass iron pan girl to smooth bald head baker girl and I'm thrilled that I put aside my prejudice and tried something new.

Never mind the bread that I baked. It was just the standard weekly loaf that we all make. The most important things for you to know are that, as I mentioned, I did soak the thing, and even if it doesn't need it, how in the world can extra steam hurt our bread? I slid it into the cold oven, as we do our combos, and heated it for an hour at 500 degrees. When I overturned the dough onto the hot plate, I did so with several layers of parchment paper, instead of only one layer as per usual, just to safeguard against possible shock of cold dough on the hot plate. I did the steam for 15 at 500, turned the oven down to 475 and steamed for another 15, then took off the dome for the remainder of the bake at 475.

I must also note that the bottom stayed golden as well. No burning. As you will agree, there is nothing better than a golden bottom to our perfectly baked loaves.

This thing is about to get some serious mileage. You can pick up yours here. I think they're around $65. Yay! A fun new bread toy! Lemme know if you get one and what you think of it. If you've ever had any doubts about using clay, banish them. I can't speak for the other brands, but Emerson Creek Pottery is the serious hookup for bread cloches that won't crack at 500 degrees. Their website says 425 is the max, but losing the pamphlet/not going to their website to look up how to operate this contraption were the best moments of laziness and disorganization I've ever had.

Here's hoping for many more cosmic bakes with my new baker 🛸. I couldn't be more thrilled! (p.s., I've eaten a half a bar of chocolate writing this post. Note to self: write more blog posts).

To the staff of life!


Tuesday, October 2, 2018

12 grams

12g bread

Hey everyone. So, first I want to say thank you to all of the people who took the time to send me sweet notes of sympathy. Losing my baby girl has been the single hardest thing I have ever had to endure (and I have endured plenty). Thumbelina was my partner for 16.5 years, and losing her has changed my life profoundly. Rather than simply feel shattered for her loss, I've gone inward to look at our time together and extend my absolute gratitude to her for being a teacher, a guide, a best friend and the love of my life. It has been an honor to be her custodian, and frankly, now that she's no longer here, I wonder if, rather, she has been mine. I have needed her as much as she has needed me, make no mistake. She was a beautiful ray of light, my little bean, and I wish for one more day, just one more, to tell her what she has meant to me, because 16.5 years just didn't seem like enough time.

These days I'm a zombie half the time. I went to the farmer's market Sunday and I swear I couldn't tell the difference between a zucchini and a cucumber, my mind was so occupied with thoughts of Thumbelina. I have been keeping myself busy with my clothing line, which has helped keep me from descending into total despair. A few days ago, I decided to bake bread. This is where you come in, dear reader, and in a moment you will see why I needed to share this post tout de suite.

How many of you, in a slumber, have gone to mix up your levain, only to realize that you've actually mixed up the dough instead with your 12g nugget of starter? Show of hands. I can't lie. I have done this on more than one occasion, and in the past, I have just scraped the dough mistake into the trash. But this time I decided to see what would happen if I just went ahead. Let me clarify: on levain day, I plopped 12g of starter into my bowl, with 360g of water and 500g of flour (50g of spelt + 450g BRM all purpose). As soon as I started squishing up the mass, I caught myself. Seriously, Francis-Olive!? Wake up girl! I was about to toss it in the bin and just mix up a batch of levain, but instead, I decided to let it ride. Why not? I just lost my best friend. I'm floating on fumes, what have I to lose? A few grams of flour and smidge of time?

Here's what happened next: bread. Honest to god, BREAD, and a damn fine loaf at that. This loaf, from 12g of starter. That brings me to the power of your starter. Love it well, friends, I know you do. This loaf is a testament that it can do amazing things if you love it and take care of it.

Here's what I did:

I erroneously mixed up 12g of starter with the flour and water as mentioned. I let the dough go for 7 hours, room temp, untouched. After 7 hours, I added my salt -- oh, and here's what it looked like before I added the salt (10g):

As you can see, this showed serious promise. I thought, with a very big smile, a rare sight these days, I must forge on!

Then I did a 5 hour bulk with turns, lets say, every half hour for the first 3 hours, and refrigerated for the last hour and a half or so because it was warm here.

Man alive. Bread. From a bit of starter the size of a brazil nut. Incidentally, the final fermentation was 18 hours, and the bake as usual, 500 deg. lidded for 15, 475 deg. lidded for 15, and without the lid for the final 30, also at 475 deg. This cuts out 7 or 8 hours of levain time, and makes a mild loaf with a shattery crust. I actually baked two loaves so we could do a side-by-side taste test, the second loaf I did up the usual way with a proper levain and the same weights of flour and water as our 12g bread. The proof, we all know, is in the flavor and texture, and honestly, we could not tell the difference between the two, and my BF actually said he liked the 12g best. Both had super tender crumbs, shattery crust and gorgeous flavor. Neither sour. And no one would ever be the wiser if I presented them with this 12g loaf.

I have to admit, Thumbelina ate half of the bread I've baked this past 9 years, probably more. I never bought store-bought dog treats. Ever. She got bread and peanut butter or just plain bread for her snacks, and she loved it. Feeding her was a joy. The bread would come out of the oven, I would slice it, you know, the sound of that first crunchy slice, and she would come charging from the deepest slumber and stand at my knee in satisfied anticipation. She always got the first slice. Always. A huge slice. The best slice. The heel. And she would go tearing off with it, devouring it in moments. In less than an hour, she and I would have absolutely gone through half the loaf. These are memories of her. My Thumbelina Bean. My precious girl who had cancer for 8 long years and never knew a moment of pain despite. She died in my arms naturally, and she rests on a gorgeous ranch in Santa Barbara with wonderful friends and their dogs and horses and chickens running amok. She lived in heaven on earth here with me, and she is living the dream of all dog dreams for the rest of her wiggly little eternity. I miss her so. I love her more than I could ever describe. Make this bread. She made this accident happen. If I had not been so tired, so overwhelmed by grief for losing her, I would not have this to share.

Be well, friends, and love those in your life more than you think you can bear. I hope you have the same happy accidents with your 12g breads.


To the staff of life, and to Thumbelina Bean, who made mine a life worth living for as long as she could.