Monday Mix 9/12/22
A sorta kinda new thing
If you’ve been here awhile, you’ll know that the Monday emails at Wordloaf have been something of a moving target. The most recent iteration of it has been something called the Monday Open Thread, a prompted encouragement to generate dialogue and foster community here.
While there is much I want to improve upon here, one of my top priorities is to continue to find ways to make Wordloaf into the active community of like-minded bread heads and grainiacs that I know it can be. Engagement in comment threads ebbs and flows here, which is a natural thing—all of us, hopefully, have been off doing other fun things recently—but sometimes when it wanes, I know it is because I haven’t done enough on my part to encourage it.
Wordloaf is as much your bread-centric newsletter as it is mine, and I really hope you’ll come to think of it that way. Though the Monday Open Thread is going away as such, you should really think of every email as an open thread. While I’d prefer that most comments under a topical post at least start with the subject at hand, that doesn’t mean you cannot take the conversation elsewhere if it wants to roam. I really do want people to feel comfortable hanging out here, and I’d like to figure out how to make that happen more regularly. (If you have thoughts, send them my way or even leave them as a comment below.)
Toward that end, I’m re-launching the Monday email as the Monday Mix, a more off-the-cuff/behind-the-scenes look at what I have been up to recently, bread-wise and beyond. It’ll be an opportunity for me to give you a sneak preview of things I am working on for the newsletter (and elsewhere, since many of the projects I do for others eventually make their way here in one form or another). And also a chance to share items that have caught my interest from others that you might want to know about too (making it a sort of less structured Friday Bread Basket). I hope that a looser sharing of news and info on my end will encourage you all to do the same in the comment threads, but either way it’ll be another opportunity for me to get the word out.
So: Away we go with the first-ever Monday Mix.
I’m currently working on three main recipe projects for the newsletter, two of which are seasonal and thus things you might want to start preparing for soon, lest the ingredients you will need go away for the year. (The good news is I’ve sorted out ways to preserve them for later use.)
The first is the banh mi roll pictured at the top of the email, which I’ve only just started working on. After nearly ten years of experimentation, I finally feel as though I have sorted out a solid approach to making a respectable French baguette at home, and I’ve used the success as motivation to tackle a Vietnamese version too. The one in the photo looks nice, which is a good start (those crackles are one hallmark of a good banh mi roll). Texture-wise they have a ways to go, so this isn’t one to expect anytime soon. If and when I get there, the plan is for my friend Andrea Nguyen to drop by and talk banh mi sandwiches with us all and to possibly collaborate on a recipe. (I have some ideas on how to vegetarianize some of my favorite banh mi fillings too.)
The second is the corn sourdough pictured above. I don’t want to spoil too much of the surprise, but the recipe is my attempt to pack as many forms of corn as possible into one loaf: fresh corn, corn grits, and sweet corn butter, both in and on the bread.
If you are not familiar with corn butter, it’s a spread that is made by “juicing” fresh corn and gently cooking the juice until the corn starch it contains gels to thicken it. It’s easy to make, and this Food 52 recipe from Whitney Wright will give you all the intel you need. Best of all—as I’ve figured out—corn butter can be frozen for later use, so we can all make this bread even after peak corn season has ended. The plan is to share the recipe on Wednesday, so you don’t really need to get a head start on this one unless you really want to. Should you do so, here’s one key detail: Save the corn bits that are leftover after juicing the corn, because those get folded into the dough too. You can make as much corn butter as you like, but I made mine from six hefty ears, which yielded two pints and enough corn bits for two 900g loaves.
Finally, there’s the peach jam pictured above, which is for a future pastry project, most likely a kolache or brioche bun filled with it. (My idea was to bottle a little bit of summer sunshine for the dark, cold, and dreary days of February.) It’s nothing more than peaches and sugar macerated in the fridge for a week or so, then spiked with a little lemon juice and cooked down just long enough for it to turn translucent and thicken slightly. After that, it gets packed into jars for later use. I’ll share the details soon, but again, if you want to get a head start on it, here’s how to begin:
Peel, pit, and cube as many peaches (or nectarines) as you want to hang onto (my first batch was 1400g, prepped, which yielded 3 pints of jam). Weigh the pieces and combine them with 40% their weight in sugar or honey (honey pairs wonderfully with peaches, but it is noticeably sweeter-tasting, so keep that in mind) in a covered container, and transfer it to the fridge for at least a day and up to a week. (This, by the way, is an excellent way to capture ripe/over-ripe peaches that you cannot eat right away, or even those recalcitrant ones that refuse to ripen. As long as you keep track of the weight and add enough sugar to maintain the necessary 60:40 ratio, you can just add new ones to the container whenever you want.)
The above intel came via my friend Camilla Wynne, whose book Jam Bake I featured last year, and from other members of her excellent Preservation Society DEMI community, which
does not seem currently open to new members, alas you can still sign up for here, as I just learned! DEMI as a platform is mutating into something else, so my hope is that if and when the community forums go away, Camilla will find a new home for hers, since it seems so lively. You can be sure I’ll let you know if & when it is open again to new members, wherever it lands. The long-term fate of DEMI is a question mark, but I’m positive that Camilla will migrate the group to another platform if it comes to an end, so it’s worth signing up now either way if you want in.
Finally, a couple of other newsletter post recommendations. The first was this wonderful one from Kara Elder, digging into what "recipe testing” even means:
Before I started working at America’s Test Kitchen, I had no idea what a recipe tester did all day, and I’m guessing the role is a mystery to most others too. Kara’s post should give you a better sense of all the things that term might entail.
And then there was Alicia Kennedy’s related post today, on the confusing and ever-mutating “job” of being a food writer right now, which made me feel very seen, and which I need to spend more time with:
Okay, that’s enough for one Monday Mix. Please jump in to the comments below if and when you are inspired, whether it is to weigh in on anything I mentioned above, or to let us know what you’ve been up to lately, bread or otherwise.
To get the skins to loosen, either cut an X into the bottoms of the peaches and drop them in a pot of boiling water or halve them and roast for 20 minutes at 375F, cut side down on a baking sheet. Or you can just peel them by hand.
I love all this extra info. Thanks!
Super excited for the banh mi recipes! I've looked at banh mi bread recipes before and always found them quite intimidating.
I love Andrea's work, so I'd love to see what she'd say in a guest column. For other vegetarians, I've made her mushroom pate (https://www.vietworldkitchen.com/blog/2017/08/mushroom-pate-recipe.html), which paired with some pan fried tofu to make an excellent a veggie banh mi!