Friday Bread Basket 12/22/23
Last basket of 2023
Hello from the Wordloaf Friday Bread Basket, a weekly roundup of links and items relating to bread, baking, and grain.
This is the last official post of 2023, and my last until mid-January. I’m taking a break for the holidays and after that to start a major push to complete a draft of Breaducation by early March. I’ve made good progress with the book, but until I get the whole thing down (at least in draft form), I won’t be able to shed the anxiety I have around it. I’ll be posting throughout the winter, but my output is likely to be a little disjointed while my focus is squarely on the book. (I will be sharing excerpts from it with everyone, and recipes for paid subscribers, not to fear.) I may take a break from Friday Bread Baskets until then too, though I’m not sure yet. I do have some very cool interviews to share, and a guest post or two, so Wordloaf will still be open for business, but it’s going to be something of an “under construction” operation until the bulk of the book is out of my head and on paper. I usually do an end-of-year wrap up in December, but I ran out of time this year, so expect that in January, along with an updated index (something that I have neglected, I know).
Thank you all for being here with me this past year, I really do appreciate you all, immensely. In many ways, Breaducation is the culmination of everything I have been up to since I went solo in 2020, and once it is done, I can’t wait to make Wordloaf everything I’ve wanted it to be. I can’t do it without you all, and for that I am extremely grateful.
Before I jump into the basket, I wanted to direct you to this excellent post by:
I think this is the clearest and best-articulated explanation of the motivations behind the Substackers Against Nazis campaign that I shared with you last week.
Mel the Bakery, 2.0
Up at the Kneading Conference last summer, I got to meet Nora Allen, of NYC’s Mel the Bakery, someone whose breads I’d been admiring from afar for ages. Fans of Mel will know that they lost their space on Ludlow St awhile back, a big loss for the city. Now, as Emma Orlow reports over at Eater, Mel has reopened a few hours upstate in Hudson:
On a recent visit at the new Mel in Hudson, Allen was teetering with the idea of 11 breads on an opening menu. “I know it’s way too much,” she says. Since then, she’s “reigned it in.” Expect breads like einkorn poppyseed miche, Max’s buckwheat porridge loaf (referring to Max Blachman-Gentile, whom she worked with at the Standard), tomato pie, and rugbrød. The black sesame seed striped loaf, inspired by Beetlejuice, will occasionally make an appearance.
For pastries, there’s a ham-and-cheese croissant (“with a whisper of grainy Dijon”), cinnamon rolls, savory and sweet danish, the poppy seeded tebirkes, pistachio almond twice-baked pastry, rye chocolate chip cookies, and more.
She has tinkered a bit with her croissant recipes but for the most part, everything has remained the same.
“To start, I’m really throwing a lot out there to see what people are responding to,” she says.
I could not be more excited for Nora. I got to sample some of her amazing rye breads at the KC, and I can’t wait to get up there to try everything else. And I’m honored that she’s got my Bread Bakers Pocket Companion on her shelves, along with some of my starter whisks (making Mel the one and only place so far you can buy them from someone other than me directly). If you live anywhere near Hudson, get over there stat.
As a fan of both gingerbread cookies and analog photography, I loved this story from the photography blog 35mmc about a working instant camera made from gingerbread. It even includes a “glass” lens made from sugar:
Pinhole photography is one of the most accessible forms of film photography because anyone can create a simple DIY camera with a variety of materials found around the house. The essentials are a box of some form, tape, and a sharp tool to make a tiny pinhole. Creative possibilities for creating your own optics are endless. Dmitri’s version of creating the optics with sugar glass brings the DIY pinhole camera to the next level.
“Many DIY film and digital cameras use a pinhole to project the image; however, I have wondered if sugar glass could be used to create a lens since I saw light flicker inside my last year’s gingerbread camera. My research showed that it could be possible and that the results would be poor. Nevertheless, this was an opportunity to design my own optical system out of candy, which I couldn’t pass by.” – Dmitri Tcherbadji, Analog Cafe Founder
Yeast, is there anything it can’t do?
Jeremy Umansky, owner of Cleveland’s Larder and co-author of the excellent book Koji Alchemy (from which I am borrowing a recipe for my own book), shared a post on Instagram this week about how he uses baked instant yeast as an umami-laden flavor booster, which, as he mentions, has none of the “cheesy” flavor you get when using nutritional yeast in a similar way:
Toasted yeast is one of the foundations of our flavor building at @larderdb. When I say toasted yeast I do NOT mean nutritional yeast, I mean toasted baking yeast(s).
Toast it for 1 hr at 350˚F, shaking and stirring every 15 minutes. Once cool use it as a spice! It’s way more versatile than nutritional yeast as it contains no strong cheesy notes, just umami toasted flavor.
This has been the base of the spice mix that we season our koji fried chicken with since Larder opened. It’s fantastic with nearly any protein or veggies or starch. If you’re producing lackluster bread that needs a flavor boost this will be your best friend; we use it in Larder’s rye bread.
I’m on the fence about umami flavors in (rather than on) most breads, but I can see how in rye, which already skews savory, it would be great, and I’m definitely going to try this soon.
Ferme ta bûche!
I recently reached out to my friend, of , to ask whether she had any intel on how to make hydration adjustments when flour-containing recipes also include cocoa powder, which is notoriously thirsty. (I was in the midst of working on a new version of my sourdough dark rye formula for the book.) It turns out she hadn’t yet addressed this question, but just happened to be thinking about it herself, since she was working on her new recipe for bûche de Noël. As she mentions in the post, she and I landed on similar numbers for hydrating cocoa, but what’s far more important is that she added a tangzhong to her cake, for extra smoosh and bendiness:
This week, as I was making my way through the airy cakes, I thought: What would a tangzhong do in a cake? I’ve long loved the effects of the tangzhong in bread, the technique of pre-cooking some of the flour so it gelatinises. It allows you to introduce a higher proportion of hydration into bakes, improving oven spring and texture. But in a cake? What happens then? Would this help with the issue of cocoa powder being so drying and difficult to incorporate? I didn’t have much hope, but let me tell you: It’s fantastic. The cakes using a bit of pre-cooked cocoa and flour were so incredibly cottony, like a set mousse, and so gloriously puffy.
…The clear winner was the cake made with the tangzhong. Though the chocolate flavour was comparatively lacking, the cake gets so much richness from the filling/coating that the primary responsibility of the sponge is to be soft, soft, soft! I looked a bit further into the subject, and this technique is similar to ‘tang mian’, where the fat is melted and flour added to it, like a roux you’d make for bechamel sauce. This cooked flour is then let down with the liquid. The result is a super squishy cake - it tracks! In the recipe I’m sharing below, we cook the cocoa powder with the liquid and fat and just a little of the flour until thick.
Yet another bit of evidence that there are few things that don’t benefit from the inclusion of scalded starches. Scald everything!
That’s it for this week’s bread basket, see you all in 2024! Happy holidays to those who celebrate them, and here’s wishing you all a peaceful New Year.