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Friday Bread Basket 7/7/23
Welcome to the Wordloaf Friday Bread Basket, a weekly roundup of links and items relating to bread, baking, and grain. Tomorrow is my pretzel workshop, which means time is running out to join us live (not to worry, though: the videos & handout will be available to purchase after the fact, and if you cannot make the class tomorrow, you’ll automatically get them a few days later if you sign up):
Last week I was searching online for something related to starch content of specific grains, and I stumbled on a post from a blog called The Well Floured Kitchen, The Different Types Of Flour And Their Starch Content. Something looked off from the get-go, but then I hit this paragraph (emphases mine):
Wheat flour is the most commonly used ingredient in cookie formulation, but it has little flavor, and it makes a significant contribution to the baked texture, hardness, and shape of cookies. Wheat flour contains starch (ca. Water (ca. 70 to 75%), in contrast to natural resources, such as gold and oil. Gluten (ca. 55%), in addition to gluten (ca. 55%). Gluten is made up of a variety of different proteins that contribute to the dough’s elasticity and structure. In the endosperm or flour portion of the kernel, a starch molecule is present, whereas in the outer layer of the grain (bran), there is a starch molecule. The majority of gluten flour is made up of starch, with 75% of the average plain flour made of starch. Starch molecules absorb water, then when heated sufficiently, swell up and burst, releasing a gel-like substance.
In case you were confused, no, the writer here was not drunk, they simply posed a question to ChatGPT, cut-and-pasted it into the CMS without reading it, and hit post. I spent some time browsing other posts on the site and found more such gobbledygook before throwing my laptop out of a second floor window.
This post is a view into the future of the internet now that AI tools are available to everyone. Anyone can “write” about any topic they like with the push of a button in seconds now and post the gibberish as content on their sites just as easily. Search-engine scrapers are incapable of distinguishing facts from nonsense, so the stuff will simply proliferate until the entire web will be mostly nonsense. (In contrast to natural resources, such as gold and oil.)
It’s not going to be good, and I’m skeptical that we can avoid it at this point.
It’s not quite tomato season here yet, but it won’t be long, which means it is also nearly panzanella season. Thankfully, Mess Hall’s Marion Bull is here with a guide and a recipe to making the bread salad, one with a twist I am totally down for:
Each summer I dream of being the person who shows up gaily at the farmers market every Saturday morning, and each summer that happens at best once a month. I don’t live close enough; I love an indulgent Saturday morning at home; and anyways, I have a CSA now, which does much of that work for me. Even so, I try to get to the market once a month, for tomatoes and basil and She Wolf bread, and then stone fruit once it appears. Perhaps the best part of the trip to the market is the coming home, the making lunch, the allowing myself to make a big mess before I put everything away. Toasting up the first slice of bread, slicing the first tomato. Making a meal only for myself, with my own private bounty.
In the spirit of these just-for-me weekend lunches, I came up with what I’m calling Personal Pan Panzanella, a single-serving tomato-and-bread salad that requires no staling, no waiting, no marinating, no hot oven. And it tastes, just a little bit, like a pizza: mostly from a big pinch of oregano in the dressing, and a few slices of pickled peppers. A flavor profile that leans a little more Pizza Hut Birthday Party than Roman Trattoria, and proudly so.
Marion’s panzanella is kind of the summer version of my Pizza Panade.
By now you may have read about the “pizza” that was discovered in a recently-excavated fresco in Pompeii:
The fresco, which dates back 2,000 years, emerged during excavations in the Regio IX area of Pompeii’s archaeological park, which is close to Naples, the birthplace of pizza. The painting was on a wall in what is believed to have been the hallway of a home that had a bakery in its annex.
There’s some controversy about whether or not it depicts an “actual” pizza (never mind that pizza as we know it is only about 150 years old), but either way it appears to be a topped flatbread of some kind.
Pizza or not, the discovery inspired Italian food maven Rachel Roddy to recreate the recipe in her kitchen, a project she wrote about for The Guardian:
We didn’t have sourdough starter, sadly, as the Romans would have had. They were also keen on yeast developed from grapes, though we didn’t have any of those either. We found a solution in Francesco Maria Amato’s book on cooking in ancient Rome, and a first-century recipe called artelaganus, which we turned into 300g flour, six tbsp sparkling wine, six tbsp milk, three tbsp olive oil.
It made a good-smelling dough, the colour of toffee. We rested it for three hours. Given that it was the hottest day of the year, I hoped it would miraculously rise, but it didn’t. Undefeated, my friend shaped it into a fat cake and pressed down the middle in order to create a raised edge. Having no wood oven or baking stone, we baked it in a round terracotta pot on the floor of my gas oven, set as hot as it could go, 260C maybe. The smell was like distant toffee apples.
As for the pesto, we took the professor’s advice and phoned a friend who consulted Columella, a prolific first-century writer on agriculture, incorporating recipes, including several for moretum, with combinations of sheep’s cheese, parsley, mint and spring onion, pepper, vinegar, oil, sesame seeds, pine nuts, hazelnuts, almond, honey, coriander seeds, anchovy and celery. I pounded 100g of cheese with a tbsp of pine nuts, a small handful of parsley and mint, garlic and enough oil to keep it soft – like pesto mixed with cacio e pepe and extremely good.
I’m not exactly sure how you eat a pizza with a hunk of a pomegranate sitting on it, but I’m game to try it.
That’s it for this week’s bread basket. I hope you all have a peaceful weekend, see you all on Monday (or tomorrow! 🥨)