Friday Bread Basket 3/24/23
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Welcome to the Wordloaf Friday Bread Basket, a weekly roundup of links and items relating to bread, baking, and grain. My Sofra Armenian breads workshop was a dream last night, though that’s the only photo I had the wherewithal to take. If you were in it and a new subscriber since then, welcome! Thank you for coming.
I loved seeing Eric Kim’s tribute to Brianna Holt’s iconic Tandem Coffee biscuits in the Times this week. I’ve been a fan of the biscuits and the bakery for ages, and have had her recipe in my collection for a few years now (she sold it at the start of the pandemic as a way to raise funds for Tandem), but now it’s available for everyone to enjoy:
These buttermilk biscuits aren’t like other buttermilk biscuits. They deliver the kind of hefty absolution that only a specific ratio of butter, flour and sugar can provide. But where Southern-style biscuits are traditionally fluffy and airy, Holt’s are sturdy, salty-sweet Tempur-Pedic pillows that bounce back when you press into them. It turns out all you have to do is add a little more sweetness than you would think — about 100 grams of sugar — to achieve a burnished crust, an almost caramelized crackliness on the outside and steamy tenderness on the inside. It’s that texture that makes these biscuits so idiosyncratic. You can’t stop thinking about them. They stick to your ribs, to your mind. When you eat them, you feel swathed in a weighted blanket of carbohydrates. And if you’re eating them right, in the best way, they make you want a nap.
Last week my friend Paula ofdecided to wade into the bay leaf discourse on Twitter, and naturally I couldn't resist joining in. To me, the number one indicator of someone who is clueless about cooking is the opinion that bay leaves have no flavor:
A few days later, Paula wrote up something about bay for her newsletter and quoted me too:
…I have seen all manner of “bay leaves are bullshit” discourse on the internet, ranging from the “white people food” variety to claims that they have no flavor, that only fresh bay leaves (ie straight from the tree, not dried) have flavor, that everyone has a bag of stale tasteless bay leaves in their cabinet (that last one might be true).
This has not been my experience with bay leaves.
Well, I’ve definitely opened a bag from my cabinet only to find ancient bay leaves that have gone stale. (I now buy fresh leaves and put them in a ziplock in the bottom of my produce drawer, they eventually dry out and, generally speaking, taste like something until I’ve finished the bags.) But I think we are being a little unfair to the leaves of the poor laurel tree! Many have tried to describe the flavor of bay leaves, which I think of as sort of a cross between green tea and thyme? Whatever the flavor, it is definitely all about the aroma: as Andrew Janjigian of Wordloaf points out, most of their flavor is comprised of "volatile aromatics" that can dissipate if not deployed correctly.
The discussion made me wonder if there were any bread recipes containing bay leaves, and I actually found a few, so expect to see a recipe here eventually.
This FT profile of Alberto Grandi, the Marxist academic who’s spent his career poking holes in the myths that have built up around Italian food, is definitely worth a read. According to Grandi, much of what we (and Italians themselves) think of about Italian food is wrong, including the stories behind some of their iconic breads:
Panettone is a case in point. Before the 20th century, panettone was a thin, hard flatbread filled with a handful of raisins. It was only eaten by the poor and had no links to Christmas. Panettone as we know it today is an industrial invention. In the 1920s, Angelo Motta of the Motta food brand introduced a new dough recipe and started the “tradition” of a dome-shaped panettone. Then in the 1970s, faced with growing competition from supermarkets, independent bakeries began making dome-shaped panettone themselves. As Grandi writes in his book, “After a bizarre backwards journey, panettone finally came to be what it had never previously been: an artisanal product.”
…Pizza is a prime example. “Discs of dough topped with ingredients,” as Grandi calls them, were pervasive all over the Mediterranean for centuries: piada, pida, pita, pitta, pizza. But in 1943, when Italian-American soldiers were sent to Sicily and travelled up the Italian peninsula, they wrote home in disbelief: there were no pizzerias. Before the war, Grandi tells me, pizza was only found in a few southern Italian cities, where it was made and eaten in the streets by the lower classes. His research suggests that the first fully fledged restaurant exclusively serving pizza opened not in Italy but in New York in 1911. “For my father in the 1970s, pizza was just as exotic as sushi is for us today,” he adds.
That’s it for this week’s bread basket. I hope you all have a peaceful weekend, see you on Monday.