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Saturday, January 26, 2002


howdy campers: the yeasties beat the mold, and now the loaf is resting quietly in the fridge, developing its complex and tangy flavor, until it's ready to be baked tomorrow morning. . .

while the bread was going through its first and second risings this afternoon, neighbor and fellow coffee fanatic alan r. dropped by to discuss his forthcoming espresso grinder purchase. he's struggling to decide between the new innova and the heavy-duty mazzer mini. (ohio dealer white eagle is said to have the best price on the mini.) he also dropped off 1/2-lb of david schomer's espresso vivace coffee. i'll be trying that out first thing tomorrow morning.

we also had a quick cup of gillie's coffee, created by renowned brooklyn roaster don schoenholt (click segment c; requires real audio). alan r. had bought it; he likes it roasted very dark, scilian style; i prefer a lighter, northern italian roast. still, the gillies was interesting, if not to my personal taste. he and i wasted quite some time in the kitchen, attempting to find the right grinder setting that would give us the desired 1-1/2 oz. of coffee in 25 seconds. you can go through a lot of coffee in this way. . .

posted by fortune elkins | 6:58 PM | top | link to this |


Friday, January 25, 2002


one of the most intriguing things about making bread is when you realize the power of the obvious: it's alive!

that charming lump of dough, rising sweetly in its towel-lined wicker basket, is actually a stew of harsh darwinism. naturally leavened dough, such as i make in the pain de campagne rustique, captures wild yeast from the air, the flour itself, and obviously me, as i knead it. this wild yeast lives happily in the dough, leaving space for a symbiotic relationship with lactobacilli. unlike commercial baker's yeast, which has been scientifically created to dominate the dough environment and leave no space for other organisms. this is why commerical-yeast breads lack that depth of flavor you see in many naturally leavened breads: there are no lactobacillus friends to add their deliciousness to the dough.

to achieve the light, tasty french bread of our dreams we need to encourage the wild yeasts and their lactobacillus friends. however, the dough environment these enjoy is also sought after by other beasties -- nasty bugs like salmonella, entero bacteria, mold. we have to create an environment in which the good wild yeast and lactobacilli crowd out the nasty beasties, killing them, and preventing them from growing in our bread.

usually, the bread takes care of itself, and the good yeasties flourish. however, sometimes the nasty beasties seem to get the upper hand. this happened to me last night.

i took a look at my starter and saw it was lightly spotted with white, feathery mold. at this point, many people would have thrown the starter away. however, it is often possible to rescue your starter (part nine) if the mold is only sprouting here and there on the surface skin of the starter. whether you want to do this is your own choice. do you want to start again or do you want to invest another 24 hours in a starter you may yet have to abandon?

what i did was to take a thin knife and shave/pour off the moldy skin that floated on the surface of the starter. i then tossed everything except 1 or 2 tablespoons of starter from the very bottom, an area completely untouched by the mold. i put this in a new, very clean glass bowl. the previous bowl i wash well and rinse twice with boiling water. to the new bowl i add 5 oz. water and 5 oz. flour, mixing well. i cover this with plastic wrap and set over my oven's pilot light for another 24 hours.

if after that time, i see bubbles, rising, etc. smell the good wet-dog smell -- then the starter's saved. the good yeasties have triumped over the bad beasties. however, if i see more mold, get a sour, nose-curling scent. . . then it's over. time to start from scratch. so tonite we'll see what happens. . . in the race to colonize my starter who will win? can the yeasts and their lactobacillus create enough alcohol and tangy lactic acid to make the dough unhospitable to mold? or will the molds entwine the starter in their feathery embrace?

posted by fortune elkins | 10:20 AM | top | link to this |


Thursday, January 24, 2002


it's coming to the end of the first 48 hours for the bread starter. . .

tonite after yoga i'll go home and check it out. it's at the point where it should have that wet-dog/ocean-breeze smell -- but in a good way. like the last batch, i am starting it on rye and farro.

as of this very minute i am saving my pennies to buy the just-released english translation of dr. raymond clavel's 1990 french classic the taste of bread. this is a great addition to the set of videotapes he made.

dr. clavel is the world's leading authority on bread. its chemistry, its history, its technique. there is nothing he does not know, and he has over the last 40 years pretty much single-handedly maintained and revived the world's interest in real bread. definitely use your favorite comparison search engine (i like bookpricer, which seems to have vanished recently, or addall) to find the best price for this expensive book. it will be filled with an endless amount of detailed scientific information on bread chemistry that will probably go completely over my head. but it will also have the techniques you need to create real french breads.

with this book in my hands and a month of reading, i expect to ditch all current recipes and be transformed. real bread, made the real way, at home. here we go. . . .

posted by fortune elkins | 10:24 AM | top | link to this |


Wednesday, January 23, 2002


on a whim, i decided to start another loaf of pain de campagne rustique. . .

but today i'm thinking a little bit about music for yoga. long-time readers know that i have some albums already by jesse anant, krishna das, etc.

i've also been wanting to find the time to mention other favorites:



if you have any great yoga music to recommend, please don't hesitate to tell me! i'd like to hear about it.

posted by fortune elkins | 10:09 AM | top | link to this |


Tuesday, January 22, 2002


the final home roast taste test today. . .

i was given some whole-bean home-roast kona, which i ground up for press pot and then made this morning for my office colleagues. as long-time readers know, they love illy in the morning. but today i tried my acquaintance's coffee. his kona makes a very nice press pot. and my colleagues noticed. this morning they took pains to remark how good this was.

so let's count this as a home-roast coffee success story. to repay the favor, i had green-bean supplier sweet maria's send him some rare puerto rican yauco and an aged sumatran, along with a surprise. this was great for me, as i knew almost nothing about the yauco and so got some education myself! thanks, maria of sweet maria's!

posted by fortune elkins | 10:43 AM | top | link to this |


Monday, January 21, 2002


baked the bread at 10am today. . .it wasn't as tangy as i had hoped, nor quite as thickly crusty. however, mr. right actually prefers a less-tangy bread with a thinner but still crackly crust. so it was perfect for him! hey, coulda been worse. making mr. right happy isn't a bad thing. . .

due to the farro in the starter, the bread did have a delicious, nutty taste. so i'm calling it a winner. as for the daily latte, however, that was more complex.

generally, with home espresso machines, the problem is to make sure that they are hot enough, that you'll be making coffee in that 200-203 degree zone for sweetest extraction. so people employ all kinds of crazy techniques -- adding electronic thermometers, or fancy rituals of letting the machine heat, drawing off some water, letting it heat again, known as temperature surfing.

this morning, due to baking activities, i let the silvia heat for longer than usual, about 40 minutes. then i went through the whole temperature surfing thing. only to get coffee with a too-dark, mud-colored crema! the machine was too hot, and i had burnt the coffee. it was a first -- like most people, i usually struggle to get the machine hot enough. i had to toss my first shot and make another, after drawing some water to cool the machine.

note to self: if you heat the machine for 40 minutes instead of the usual 20 -- it's hot enough! don't try to heat it any more! while i know many people pre-heat the silvia for as much as an hour, in my experience: it's not necessary. another case of less is more. . .

posted by fortune elkins | 10:23 AM | top | link to this |


Sunday, January 20, 2002


bread is coming along nicely. . .i've popped it in the fridge for an final slow rise or proof overnight.

"retarding" the bread like this helps it develop a lot of flavor and a crumb with a more interesting texture (read: nice irregular holes). but you can't let it rise too long this way, or it will slump when you bake it. you want these kinds of hearth loaves, baked on the pizza stone and not in a pan with supporting sides, to spring up by at least 30%. so over-proofing them is a danger. slumped bread isn't pretty. . .

we'll find it all out tomorrow, won't we! i'm baking in the morning, just after i make my daily latte. . .

posted by fortune elkins | 7:35 PM | top | link to this |

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