Friday Bread Basket 12/8/23
Hello from the Wordloaf Friday Bread Basket, a weekly roundup of links and items relating to bread, baking, and grain. Above you can see a sneak preview of some test proofs from Breaducation that I got in the mail the other day. I’m shooting a lot of the book using an iPhone, and the designer and I wanted to be sure they were going to look okay in print. I’m still working out how best to shoot them consistently, but I’m very happy with how these look so far.
Before I jump into this week’s items, I have two quick holiday shopping notes:
It looks like I will have a limited number of “vintage” starter whisks available in time for gift-giving this year. If you were holding out for one of those, check back into the shop early next week, after which I should have the handles in hand.
The discount code I have for Nakano Knives is only available until 12/10, which is this Sunday. A week ago, I got one of their “classic chef knives,” which I like very much, and is a bargain at even its list price. Use this link† and the code WORDLOAF to get 30% off anything from Nakano.
My friend James Bridges (who is an infinite font of bread baking wisdom) has started a website devoted to all things sourdough called Sourdough Geeks, which I highly recommend. He recently shared a very useful post on understanding flour extraction rates and how to decipher the oft-confusing labeling on high-extraction flours:
Now, back to extraction rate. In basic terms, the extraction rate is the amount of whole grain that remains in a flour after sifting. Whole kernel flour has an extraction rate of 100%, and the closer the extraction rate is to 100%, the higher the amount of whole grain in the flour. A flour at 80% extraction means that 20% of the kernel weight has been sifted off, mostly in the form of the bran fraction. Removing some of the bran generally gives lighter texture and more volume to the resulting bread, as the bran interrupts the formation of gluten in dough and is denser than both the germ and endosperm. Now let’s look into how extraction rates are slightly different in roller milled flour. Most flour that you can buy in the supermarket is roller milled, and has actually been refined twice to arrive at a whiter flour. When it goes through the rollers for the first time, it is separated at an extraction rate of 72%. This means that almost all the bran and germ have been removed, and results in a flour known commercially as ‘straight’ flour. But due to milling inefficiency, a small portion of bran and germ remain in straight flour. This flour is then refined again, with 85% of that flour being eventually sold as ‘patent’ flour. This means refined white flour has a true extraction rate of approximately 60%. These are the AP and bread flours that are widely available in the supermarket, with the fiber and essential minerals and fatty acids removed. Because all of the bran and germ have been stripped out, they are essentially shelf stable, and can be treated as a commodity item.
This post will be especially helpful for everyone in my Breaducation testing group working on my recent high-extraction flour sourdoughs.
Flemish baker and food writer Regula Ysewijn, who recently published the book Dark Rye and Honey Cake: Festival Baking from Belgium, the Heart of the Low Countries (one that I need to feature here someday soon), has a Substack of her own called. On it, she just shared a post attempting to clear up the confusion between speculaas and speculoos, two related-but-not-identical Belgian cookies that most people (myself included) have a hard time telling apart:
If you are not Belgian, Dutch or German, you will think of Biscoff biscuits when you read speculaas or speculoos. In fact, on my recent book tour to the USA, I’ve spotted Biscoff speculoos often, there are even Biscoff kiosks at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. Biscoff biscuits are to us Belgians what Walker’s shortbread are to the British: just another biscuit, but one everyone buys and everyone loves. Like Walker’s shortbread, Biscoff speculoos are now almost more famous abroad than in Belgium.
Speculaas and Speculoos are synonymous for my region in the world: Belgium.
It is the biscuit that every family will have in their biscuit tin, a biscuit which is hardly ever made at home because our stores and bakeries are full of fantastic alternatives. While they are eaten all year round in the Low Countries, they remain very much connected to the winter period, the feast of Saint Nicholas, Saint Martin and Christmas. For the children’s feast of Saint Nicholas (Sinterklaas), the speculaas is made into the shape of the bishop Saint Nicholas. He is celebrated the 5th of December if you are from the Netherlands and Belgium the 6th of December.
I’ve been a big fan of speculoos ever since I created a version of them for Cook’s Illustrated, and plan (as usual) to make a bunch of my Edible Boston rye biscoff cookies for the holidays this year.
One of my fave illustrators, Molly Reeder, recently shared a lovely post on her Substack, all about sourdough bread, drawing, and meditation:
A vipassana retreat is a silent meditation retreat, varying in the amount of days, and the one we attended was 10 days. 10 days of no speaking and roughly around 11 hours of meditation a day. To say that it was a transformative experience may be a bit of an understatement. I can still say, 7 years later, that it was one of the most powerful experiences of my life. Rob and I both had had regular meditation practices in our lives for years, but never had done something so immersive. After our time there, we really took the practice home with us and started meditating for 2 hours a day, one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening.
I started drawing this pencil sourdough piece in the time after we got home from that experience, when I felt VERY present in the day to day. I have to say that presence is probably my most powerful tool when creating art. More than any actual pencil, paintbrush, or piece of paper, it is more about what my attention is doing that matters most. I remember during the meditation retreat feeling sensations in a whole new 10x super power kind of way. Water had body and life to it when I touched it with my hands. Wind had shape and texture. Birds had individual feathers I could hear move against the air as they flapped to fly. It was incredible to get to a level of detail of noticing that felt superhuman. Like everything extra and distracting had been stripped away and I was really able to be here now.
Go read the piece, and then consider buying something for your holiday gift list from her online shop, which is open until December 10 for Christmas shipping.
Bakers and Confectioners, Eric Ravilious, Colour Lithograph, 1938
That’s it for this week’s bread basket. Have a peaceful weekend, see you all on Monday.