So Much To Learn – Bread Baking Experiment #1

Woven baskets for the proofing step and a couple of my favorite books so far.

Back in the late 60’s and 70’s when I was a young woman and tackled the task of bread making, things were simplified. Find a recipe in a book, follow it, bake it, and enjoy the results of your labor. So when I decided to begin again my bread baking adventures in these winter years of my life, I began reading several books to refresh my memory on the whole process. Little did I realize how very different 40-50 years can make in the simple process of baking bread.

I was overwhelmed with new terminology that I either never knew when I was young or has come into popular use in the years since. Words like couche (French for couch or resting place), or baskets in which the dough can rest and ultimately take on the shape of the basket before being popped into the oven, pizza peel, brioche pans, panettone molds, dough scraper, poolish, oven spring, the crumb (inner portion of the loaf), crust (outer portion of the loaf) and a plethora of equipment like dough hooks, electric mixers, metal measuring cups, scales, oven thermometer, baking stone, loaf pans, bread knifes, cooling racks, silicone mats, measuring spoons and pastry brushes. And I am sure there are probably dozens more. All of this “new” knowledge for me made me glad that as a young woman I just blithely “made bread” without any special equipment and put homemade bread on the table for many years.

So today I purchased a few items at a restaurant supply store and with a trip to the grocery store I was ready to make my first batch of 21st century dough after a 40 year drought. I carefully checked the temperature of the water to make sure it wasn’t too hot for fear of killing the yeast. I measured my flour with dip, level pour precision. I carefully measured the salt and yeast. I followed the recipe for an artisan free-form Boule exactly (well almost!). Recipe used from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day:

  • 6 1/2 cups flour (4 1/2 cups King Arthur 100% Whole Grain Whole Wheat Flour and 2 cups of King Arthur Stone Ground White Whole Wheat Flour
  • 2 pkgs of yeast,
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons Kosher Salt
  • 3 cups of water, a quick mix and my dough was ready to begin brewing, growing…the yeast seeking, searching and gobbling up the sugar within the flour.

Two hours later, the dough has approximately doubled in size and there is a decisive yeast smell when I lift the lid. The recipe I am following tells me to refrigerator the dough overnight and whenever I am ready, to cut off a grapefruit size chunk to bake. It makes four one-pound loaves and I plan to continue the baking process manana. So now I wait….

Batch #1 – Lots of bubbles approximately 2 hours after mixing

Up late and putting my first loaf into the oven. Smells good, but when I removed it from the oven, it was heavy and definitely not my idea of success. I let it cool for about 15 minutes and sliced it for a taste. Very disappointed…flat taste, texture too dense which I attributed to the whole wheat flour.

80% whole grain, whole wheat with 20% stone ground white whole wheat -Little rise, coarse dense texture

Tomorrow I’ll try again!!

Flour, Water and Yeast

Bread..the staff of life…Perhaps one of my biggest weaknesses is my love of bread! I would have made an excellent French or Italian woman for I think I could live happily ever after with just bread, cheese and fruit.

Lately I have been toying with an idea, stolen from one of my favorite movies Julie & Julia, where two timelines tell a superior story about the joy of cooking.  Julie decides to cook her way, in one year’s time, through Julia Child’s famous cookbook and blog her progress, trials, errors, travails, successes, disappointments. I am thinking I may try to bake my way through the Tassajara Bread Book by Edward Espe Brown and document my adventure through my blog. Other helpful books I have acquired are Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg, MD and Zoe Francois and Bread Alone by Daniel Leader and Judith Blahnik.

I think this endeavor was meant to be for various reasons…this past weekend I made a quick visit to my sister’s home in Burton. While I was there, an old friend of hers dropped by to visit. During our conversation we somehow started talking about bread and her friend mentioned the name of a bread book that was popular in the 70’s and that she had used as a young home cook. And then a friend of my sister’s son who was visiting on his way home to San Diego walked in and gave my sister a loaf of bread…bread that we would later enjoy as part of french dip sandwiches for our evening meal. Or perhaps I am being spurred on due to my recent failure in biscuit making (see previous post).

My sister immediately went to her bookcase and extracted two books on bread baking for me to peruse. We left her home and went to a delightful local bookshop to see if we could find other bread baking books. The quest had begun. With the bookstore stop behind us, we visited another local shop and did find a nice copy of the Great Big Cookie Cookbook. Should my adventure be baking my way through a book of cookie recipes? I knew my fellow workers would love the cookie option, but my heart was set on bread. I think my desire harkened back to when I was a young hippie-like Mother of two beautiful daughters and was following my desire to be a good steward of our planet, feed wholesome food to my children and baking bread was part of my twice weekly routine. The pushing, pulling, punching of the dough was a highly therapeutic and rewarding activity.  And the smell of baking bread titillated my senses as I awaited the hollow thump that verified it was ready. Slathering fresh butter on a slice of homemade bread fresh out of the oven is second to no culinary experience.

So my bread baking adventure is on. I will try to describe my adventures as they progress and document the finished product with my camera even if the end result is disastrous. As Julia would say….Bon Appetit!!!

Fur Babies – Part 2

Bernie at 10 weeks

Maine Coon cats are regular cats on steroids. Enter my sweet, sweet Bernie. He has stolen my heart and each day fulfills my need for a cat I can pet, hold, cuddle and he apparently shares the enjoyment of these mutual interactions. He was so very small when I got him and the long drive home wasn’t without its own adventures.

An overnight stay in a hotel room that had an adjoining sitting room almost led to a catastrophic accident. There was a sofa bed in that sitting room and somehow this tiny kitten managed to get himself caught inside the sofa bed workings. My sister accompanied me on my kitten mission and between the two of us we managed to extricate him from his potential death trap without any injuries.

Bernie sleeping on top of a bed pillow

His daily antics make me smile and laugh. Our mornings usually begin with him walking and bouncing on and off my body accompanied by some very loud cries in an attempt to get me moving in the direction of the kitchen. He wants food!!  As I open the canned sliced beef, he stands on his hind legs and stretches his front feet up onto the counter top reaching for his food container. He means to hurry the process along. He is a big cat and can polish off a bowl of food faster than any cat I have ever had. After feeding time, he begins the patrol of his cat trees and toys rushing here and there with great speed and purpose attacking real and imaginary movements and shadows. He uses his paws and head to lift a coverlet off of my bed so he can crawl under it and then proceeds to wriggle around for what purpose only he knows. All I see is an undulating rise and fall of the coverlet as he progresses. Eventually he wears himself out and slips into kitty slumberland.

He loves his cat trees and only the highest perch or inside the tight box satisfies him. He has already destroyed one cat tree by aggressively scratching the jute posts to sharpen his big claws. Last week he jumped to the top-level of his new cat tree, stood on his hind legs and reached to the top of a bookcase and with the ease of a gazelle leaped up to explore this even higher perch. Silly me, I worried that he might not be able to get down!

There is no doubt that he has stolen my heart and I am always delighted by his antics. I think he is still growing and I hope that his personality continues to grow along with his beautiful furry self.

Bernie- 1 year

Fur Babies are the BEST!!!!

Best Buds



Fur Babies – Part 1

Buster & Bernie

A little over a year ago, I fulfilled a desire by traveling a ridiculous distance to pick up my new Maine Coon kitten. My heart was set on a “yellow tabby” color and I was driven by the desire to have a cat that would cuddle with me and allow me to be a hands-on pet owner. Let me explain the “hands on” part of that last sentence.

My other cat, a Turkish Van rescue from a shelter, must have suffered terribly at the hands of his previous owner, because it literally took two years before I was allowed to pet him. And forget trying to clip his nails or brush this hairy beast. It just isn’t happening. A trip to the vet is a traumatic event for both of us. This traumatic event consists of 3 parts…the trap, the catch and the delivery.


First the “trap”…This consists of cornering him in my walk-in closet and closing the door before advancing on him. Now this doesn’t sound so difficult, but let me tell you that this cat has superior, supercat ESP skills. Somehow, some way, he “knows” when this event is beginning. Perhaps he senses my anxiety or gets his cue from the appearance of the cat carrier even though it is secreted until the last moment, but when the jig is up and he confirms my intentions, he usually runs to hide in some vastly inaccessible place making it extremely difficult for me to catch him. Under the sofa is a favorite which requires a broom to coax him from beneath its dark recesses only to have him bolt to another place.

Next is the “catch”. Once Buster is cornered in the closet, it requires extreme courage for me to reach out and grab him. I am risking teeth and very sharp nails because if this cat doesn’t like to be touched, he certainly goes ballistic if I try to pick him up. Armed with a towel and oven mitts, I make the grab and stuff him quickly into the pet carrier, zipping the top as quickly as possible.

The “delivery” is next. Buster is not a small cat. Carrying him to my car is no easy feat and once there he assails me with pitiful wails all the way to the vet and back home. Back in the safe confines of our condo, he jumps from his mini prison and gives me the cold shoulder for a length of time that only his cat brain knows is considered adequate for the abuse I have inflicted on him.

Richard (the shelter’s name for him), AKA Mr. Big, AKA Big Dick (my grandchildren unanimously rejected this one which I found to be hilarious) and finally Buster (so hard finding the right name for him) has slowly grown to accept that maybe this human who feeds and shelters him and demands little else may be worthy of a little more affection. Now, 7 years later, he is glued to my side as I settle into my fetal position prior to sleeping. And there he stays the entire night. Slowly over time and moving at a snail’s pace, Buster and I have reached a mutual agreement. His close encounters with me are generally initiated by him. He actually climbs onto my chest for brief moments, allows me to pet him when he wants it and seems to have begun to accept me as a “tolerable” human.

His stand-offish temperament left me lacking the sweet connection that I craved from the many felines that have shared their lives with me over my lifetime. Which brings me back to my ridiculously long trip to bring my sweet Bernie home.

Stay tuned for Fur Babies Part 2 – my Maine Coon delight! To be continued…

A cluster of cats