I’ve had Daniel Leader’s Local Breads: Sourdough and whole-grain recipes from Europe’s best artisan bakers long enough to read most of the text in the book and bake three of the more than fifty bread recipes inside. The book begins with a few introductory chapters discussing the methods, ingredients and equipment you’ll need to bake the breads in the book. Subsequent chapters begin with a long section describing Leader’s experiences in a particular region of Europe, discussing the bakers, ingredients and bakeries he came across in his travels. After that, there are several recipes based on what he learned. The recipes are all scaled down for home ovens and equipment, have ingredients measured in volumetric units, U.S. and metric weights, as well as baker’s percentages. He says that he tested all the recipes using a small KitchenAid mixer, and the mixing instructions include specific details on speed and time for that mixer (as well as hand kneading instructions for most doughs). The majority of the recipes use sourdough for the fermentation, but including whole-grain in the title is a bit of a stretch since very few recipes are more than ten or twenty percent whole-grain (not a complaint, just a warning). At the end of the regional chapters is a list of frequently asked questions and answers that are tailored to the recipes. This is a nice Book 2.0 addition that would be welcome in most sophisticated baking books.
The three breads I’ve baked so far are his Old World Baguette (Paris), Buckwheat Batard (also Paris), and Whole Wheat Genzano Country Bread (Genzano, Italy). All of them were excellent, and the techniques involved were different from the recipes I’ve tried from Hamelman, Reinhart, or Beranbaum mostly because the doughs were so wet that they were difficult to shape using the techniques I’ve used in the past. If you’re going to be baking the breads from this book, you’ll probably need a good peel or a lot of parchment paper and a stand mixer.
Because the recipes are taken from different regions with their own baking traditions, there is less unity in technique than in the other books mentioned. Hamelman focuses on developing gluten with as little mixing and kneading as possible to maximize flavor and longevity, and the Reinhart whole grain book I recently reviewed revolves around pre-ferments and soakers or mashes. In Leader’s book you’ll find recipes using liquid levian, dough-like starters and starters raised on different grains; long-fermenting recipes with retarted proofing and recipes that are ready to bake a few hours after you start; recipes with a lot of kneading and recipes with much less. It’s a nice variety, and I’ve enjoyed seeing the results of variations in ingredients and technique in the final bread.
My only complaint with the book is that it’s not a sewn binding, which means that the book will eventually fall apart with the hard use it experiences in the kitchen. Hamelman’s bread book suffers from the same poor quality binding, and my copy recently split after three years of use. Contrast that with Whole Grain Breads, which has a sewn binding: it lays flat on the counter and will last a lifetime. Considering that both books list for $35, it’s a shame that Norton couldn’t produce a book up to the standards set by Ten Speed Press.
One other note: I’ve used my new SuperPeel (it’s the peel in the top photo) four or five times and I’m very happy with it. Thus far I haven’t used it to pick anything up, but it’s very good at smoothly laying dough down onto my baking stone in the oven, and when the belt is properly floured, the dough doesn’t stick to it. The only issue so far is that I haven’t found the optimum belt length yet such that the belt is tight to the peel but still allows it to move easily. My previous method for handling dough was to proof the loaves on a Silpat, which is a sort of reusable silicone parchment paper. It is very durable and works, but because the bread isn’t being place directly onto the heated stone, I wasn’t getting as much oven spring as I do now with the SuperPeel. Later this week I’m planning to make pizza, and we’ll see how easy it is to pick up and put down a big pizza. That’s the true test.
We finally started getting some of our winter snow. It started yesterday morning, and it’s been snowing pretty hard ever since then. By midnight yesterday we’d gotten an inch and a half, according to the Weather Service, and I’d guess we now have four to five inches on the ground.
Earlier in the year we went to a garage sale and scored a snow thrower for cheap. Today was my first opportunity to see if it actually worked. As promised, it started right up, and did a great job moving snow around. Unfortunately, the snow isn’t packed down much at all, and so it was perfectly happy to pick up and fling frozen dirt and gravel from the driveway. I think it might be a good idea to drive on top of the snow for awhile, and start using the snow thrower once there’s a better base underneath it.
The water delivery guy said that he used to “plow” his two mile long driveway by running his snow thrower out on one tire track, and then back on the other track. Driving over the cleared areas caused the berm in the middle to get spread out evenly over the driveway, resulting in a nice flat surface. I doubt if I’m going to go the 1.2 miles from our house to the nearest plowed road, but I might try this on the worst section of it. Or the worst section of it that’s close to our house, since there are so many bad areas…
Nika enjoys hanging out in the snow, and since she’s black, she’s really good at demonstrating how hard it’s snowing outside. This isn’t the greatest photograph, since I took it through the sliding glass door, but after I let her in, I was just about to snap a photo when she shook all the snow off on my slippers. Thanks Nika!
Earlier Nika was out in the dog yard with Deuce, barking up a storm near the dog shed. It was starting to get dark, so I couldn’t really see what she was barking at. I wanted a beer anyway, so I got my boots on for a walk out to the red cabin. About a quarter of the way out there I heard a strange screeching noise. At first I thought maybe it was moose antlers rubbing on metal behind the dog shed, but when I looked where the sound came from I saw a great big bird in the birch tree behind the sheds. Raven? Then it turned it’s head, looked at me and started moving it’s head up and down, back and forth, probably trying to figure out what I was.
The photo is pretty bad, but it’s a great horned owl. Honest! The camera has an ISO adjustment feature, which might have helped a bit, but I didn’t want to mess around with the settings too much in case it flew away. I snapped a couple photos and then watched it through my binoculars. After a couple minutes of looking around, it saw something over by the red cabin and flew over there.
I’d heard great horned owls calling at our old house, and thought I heard one here a week ago, but seeing one so close to the house was a real treat.
Meanwhile, Piper wanted out to see what Nika had been barking at. When I came back in to listen to the Rockies game (the wheels seem to be coming off for the Diamondbacks), you can see her petition to go outside in the photo. She can be very cute.
Not getting tired of cooking food on the wood stove yet, and I’m not tired of showing you how cool it is either…
In addition to baking some bread from Reinhart’s whole grain bread book (see my review here), I finally got around to dealing with the cabbage we grew in our garden at the old house. We planted ten plants and all of them produced, but the cabbages weren’t all that large (“bigger than a softball, smaller than a bowling ball”). Today I chopped them up, salted and pressed them into what will become sauerkraut in a couple months. Last year’s sauerkraut was a little mild, so I’ll let it go longer this year. The glass container holds a gallon, and it’s about 80% full with this year’s production. Not bad, and probably as much sauerkraut as I’ll be able to eat this year. If it comes out OK, I may need to investigate corning the brisket from our side of Delta beef.
Thinking of Reuben sandwiches on homemade whole grain rye bread. Mmm…
For the past couple weekends I’ve been taking Nika out on the trails around our house. We did this a lot when she was a puppy, but our previous house was in too much of a neighborhood and there weren’t any trails to speak of for us to walk on. But now that we’re in the middle of nowhere, she can run around like a crazy dog again. Concerns include her running off (obviously), but also the possibility that she’d encounter a trapline and get herself stuck in a trap. But she’s always been very good, staying close by, and coming when she’s called. Unless there’s a moose to chase…
Today I tried taking Piper out with us to see how she did. Nika was her usual good self, and I was pleasantly surprised at how close Piper stuck to me. There was one point when she disappeared for longer than I would have liked, but she came back and stayed close since. There were snowshoe hare and red fox tracks all over the place, so she probably got caught up following a scent or chasing one of the around. Next trip out I’ll probably keep a pocketful of treats and try to reinforce the idea that being near me is a good thing.
All that running around did Piper some good too, as you can see from the second, after photo: