Before I share this week’s roundup of recommended links, I wanted to let everyone know that—one month into Wordloaf’s new incarnation—I’ve restored the ability to sign up for paid subscriptions, which are currently priced at $5/month and $50/year.
As I mentioned before, most of what I’ll share here will be free to all, though I am going to start sending out occasional “subscriber-only” posts over the next few weeks. Even without these incentives I hope you’ll consider supporting the newsletter if you find it useful and can afford to, since paid subscriptions are my primary source of income these days.
For LRB, scholar Bee Wilson wrote a fascinating and sobering history of our long relationship with wheat, in the form of a review of Catherine Zabinski’s new book Amber Waves: The Extraordinary Biography of Wheat, from Wild Grass to World Megacrop, by Catherine Zabinski. Wilson examines our undeniably unhealthy addiction to those “dusty bags of nondescript white powder”, starting with the shortages we all experienced early on in lockdown, tracing it back to our first discovery of wheat some 15,000 years ago. It’s a wonderful read, and will hopefully send you out in search for more flavorful and nutritionally-rich flours, or at least encourage you to start adding more whole grain flour to your formulas.
In it she also mentions “Cereal”, a six-part audio series from rabble-rousing Scottish baker and “Real Bread” campaigner Andrew Whitley that was featured on the Farmerama Podcast last year, which ventures into the same territory. I haven’t listened yet, but I’ve got it queued up.
-> Amber Waves: The Extraordinary Biography of Wheat, from Wild Grass to World Megacrop, by Catherine Zabinski
-> “Cereal” season of the Farmerama Podcast
This week I received an email from the Spanish baker Ibán Yarza, alerting me to the fact that baking approaches comparable to tangzhong have been around for at least 1000 years:
It is interesting (and mostly ignored) fact that a similar technique was used almost one millenium ago in Al-Andalus (but has unfortunatelly left no trace, at least in Spanish baking). We have written evidence from Ibn-'Al-Awamm who in his Book on Agriculture (Kitāb al-Filāḥa) describes a technique not unlike tangzhong, that he calls "flour water" and which instead [of] using a 1 to 6 ratio uses a 1 to 20 ratio but follow[s] the same principle. He describes the resulting bread as having a certain sweetness and delicate flavour.
As usual, there really is nothing new under the sun. It’s interesting to me that 'Al-Awamm focuses on the flavor rather textural benefits of the technique. Most tangzhong-style breads have so much else going on that it would be difficult to discern the flavor changes that cooking the starches imparts.
I haven’t been able to track down an English translation of the book, though it is available in Spanish and French.
-> Ibn-'Al-Awamm, Book on Agriculture (Kitāb al-Filāḥa)
Speaking of methods that aren’t new, reader Jax Tran turned me onto the “Respectus Panis” technique, much of which might sound familiar (emphases mine):
The process consists of :
adding a very low percentage of levain (between 0.5 to 5% instead of 10 to 30%).
adding less salt than usual (1.2 to 1.6% instead of 1.8 to 2.4%).
using better quality flours.
slower and more gentle kneading, sometimes even by hand.
a long fermentation of 15 to 20 hours at room temperature instead of putting the dough in the fridge.
That’s pretty much the technique I use in my “The Loaf” recipe, with a few refinements/differences: slightly less salt (something I plan to test), no retarding of the shaped loaf (which really is optional in my recipe anyway), and a bulk proof that varies in length based upon ambient temperatures.
While Respectus Panis sounds like something out of Ancient Rome—the name means “with respect to bread”—the method seems to have been conceived around 2017 by the French baking association Les Ambassadeurs du Pain. They have since published several books on the subject, which I just might have to order one of these days.
That’s it for this week’s Friday Bread Basket. See you next week, when I’ll have a post on incorporating sourdough discard into your recipes, along with my own for Diner-Style Pancakes made with it.
I learned about Respectus Panis on Baking History too! I was browsing boulangerienet.fr (the website that I mention in all of my comments) and I was browsing their regional breads and found a 0 shaped baguette from a rural french village and it was only on Baking History and nothing else. Later I found respectus panis and just set it aside in my mind because no one knew about it. I’m glad it’s becoming relavent again!