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Friday Bread Basket 11/3/23
Raised by yeast
Hello from the Wordloaf Friday Bread Basket, a weekly roundup of links and items relating to bread, baking, and grain. I’m working on a story for Maurizo Leo’s The Perfect Loaf on the art and science of hybrid sourdoughs, aka adding very small amounts of commercial yeast to sourdough fermentations to boost yeast activity and/or to alter the texture of the bread. The image above shows the same recipe made with and without yeast (which is which will be revealed in the post itself). Stay tuned for it to drop sometime later this month.
Southern Foodways Alliance recently shared excerpts from their project to create an oral history of Texas kolaches (one of my favorite pastries), The Keepers of Kolaches: The Evolutions of Texas-Czech Baking, and I highly recommend you spend some time with it. Here’s a bit from the introduction:
Home baker and blogger Dawn Orsak has dedicated years to the study of Texas-Czech foodways. This Houston-born Austin resident traces her roots to Moravia and passionately believes that food is a thread that connects to and informs her heritage. She especially feels this when preparing Christmas Eve dinner, or as it’s called in Czech, Štědrý Večer. “I think about my grandmother having made the same dishes, my great grandmother having made the same dishes,” she says. “It just sort of encapsulates those things like history and tradition and being Czech that make me who I am.”
Prague-born chef Denise Mazal says, “Kolaches actually come from a word, kulatý, which means rounds.” She also argues empathically that, “A kolach should be definitely round, not square; dense, not soft like a pillow; and golden brown, not a blonde color like Danish pastry.” Mazal’s ideal kolach differs from most of what is found in Texas today, as baker Lydia Mae Faust posits that a perfect kolach should “melt in your mouth.” The founder of the Caldwell Kolache Festival, Ms. Faust is revered as one of the “Grand Dames” of Texas-Czech baking and worked for decades as the owner of her hometown’s Snook Baking Company. Nearing ninety, she has made it a personal mission to share her knowledge with others as she believes the practice of scratch baking has become “a dying art.”
Death by chocolate
Consumer Reports just published an analysis of the heavy metal content in common chocolate bars and products, and the results are more than a little worrisome, especially given how much chocolate we consume around here:
CR’s experts wanted to see whether other cacao-containing foods posed a risk, so we tested 48 different products in seven categories—cocoa powder, chocolate chips, milk chocolate bars, and mixes for brownies, chocolate cake, and hot chocolate. We also added a few more dark chocolate bars to our test. Products came from big name brands such as Hershey’s, Ghirardelli, and Nestlé; national retailers like Costco, Target, Trader Joe’s, Walmart, and Whole Foods; and specialty makers such as Droste and Navitas.
As expected, dark chocolates tended to have higher levels of heavy metals and milk chocolate lower. “But every product we tested had detectable amounts of lead and cadmium,” says James E. Rogers, PhD, director and acting head of product safety testing at CR. “Sixteen of the 48 products had amounts above CR’s levels of concern for at least one of the heavy metals—in some cases more than twice our limit—but we did find safer options in each category of chocolate products.”
It’s a useful guide to which chocolate products to avoid, but it’s important to keep in mind that the numbers represent not total percentage (I’d hope no product contains 97% lead), but the percentage relative to “California’s standard maximum allowable dose levels for lead and cadmium supplied in one serving of the foods,” so it shows clearly which products exceed those amounts. Either, the amount of heavy metals in chocolate is high, especially when you consider that many of us probably eat far more than the paltry serving sizes represented here.
I very much enjoyed Aimee Levitt’s recent Eater story about the iconic Marion Cunningham and her 1987 The Breakfast Book, of which waffles play an important role:
Breakfast is my favorite meal. This does not make me special in any way. When Marion Cunningham began writing her 1987 cookbook, The Breakfast Book, many people told her that breakfast was their favorite meal, but they couldn’t articulate precisely why.
The answer, of course, is waffles. The waffles in The Breakfast Book, to be precise. But I guess Cunningham’s editors thought a full book should contain more recipes.
You could get philosophical about breakfast and try to parse what makes it different from lunch or dinner. There are historical, psychological, and sociological explanations for why you can walk into almost any diner in America before noon and order a platter of pancakes, bacon, and eggs and it will taste delicious, even if the coffee is burned.
For Cunningham, this is the appeal: “Breakfast has remained pure amid all the food trends with their stylish dishes and chic ingredients,” she wrote in her introduction to The Breakfast Book. “The honest simplicity of breakfast is so captivating. The most delicious breakfasts usually derive from the humblest of ingredients (money alone does not buy good food).”
That’s it for this week’s bread basket. Have a peaceful weekend, see you all on Monday.