Don’t Ask, Don’t Get

Yesterday I wrote about the new Bread tome called Modernist Bread and asked if anyone had any pull at the public library.  (Well, or with Santa Claus too.)

I sent a similar question to my Backyard Bakery buddies and it turns out that one of the Bread Buddies does in fact work at the library and close to the circulation department no less!

So the RPL is ordering a set of books for their collection.  Yippee!

No doubt they’ll be reference material, for in library use only, but I’ll gladly spend a few afternoons checking them out.  And with their excellent province wide circulation system, my baking friends in Saskatoon will be able to use them too.

So the moral of the story is to actually ask for what you want, out loud.  Good things can happen.

And if you bake, make sure your librarians have access to your bread.

Now, if I could only do that with my podcast!



My Christmas List

According to my mailbox and the 25 pounds of flyers I received last week, it is officially Christmas Season.  Time to string up the lights (we string ours indoors because I’m scared of heights) and go hunting for a tree (conifer preferred.)

So I guess it’s not too early to publish my Christmas List.

This year is easy.  A book.  A Bread Book.

OK, it’s a 6 volume, 2600 page, $550 bread book, but still…

It’s called Modernist Bread: Art and Science.  It’s also legitimately a tome.

I don’t know too much about the author, other than he’s a former Microsoft employee who is more than rich enough to nerd out on food.  Or in the case of this book, bread.

I read an article on the author / book today and the books seem really interesting.  One entire volume is about the farmer-miller-baker supply chain, which I find fascinating.

So if you have any pull with the Big Guy – either Mr. Claus or the Head of Circulation at Regina Public Library – please put in a good word for me.

Photo via


I’ve been trying really hard to be generous with the backyard bakery.  Making extra large loaves, being accommodating around special requests and the like.

But sometimes I’m my own worst enemy.   Take this week for example.

I opted out of baking on Saturday because that’s Remembrance Day.  I don’t want to be working that day – it’s a day for veterans and for peace.  So I moved the second bake day to Sunday instead.

The only thing is, nobody was ordering for Sunday.  Maybe 20 loaves total, spread across 5 kinds.  4 Seeded Rye.  2 Pain de Campagne.  1 demi baguette.

It’s crazy.  It’s a waste of wood to get the brick oven hot for 3 half bakes.  And how do I even mix a single 300g baguette?

So I cancelled Sunday’s bake, but offered to bake the bread on Friday along with the Friday orders.  Friday wasn’t so big; one extra bake will cover it.

But I forgot about the varieties.

I’m off to bed early tonight, because tomorrow I have 10 mixes to do.  Granted, some are quite small (those 10 mixes will cover 5 bakes) but it’s going to be a pretty hairy day to keep everything straight and hopefully have everything proof at a predictable rate.

But you know what?  That’s the point of the whole project.  To be generous.  To go the extra mile for people.  So I’m not complaining, even a little bit.

I don’t want to waste wood (hence cancelling Sunday) but I also won’t disappoint my bread buddies.  So I’ve made good notes, double checked all the labels on my little preferment containers and will give it an honest go in the morning.

I’ll keep you posted…


What Are You Up To?

Saturday Farmer’s Market, Estremoz, Portugal

Cindy and I walked down to the Farmer’s Market today. It was fun to see the vendors again and catch up on things. It’s been two years since I baked for the Market but lots of people still want to see our bread there.

There was lots of interest in our trip and what we saw. There was even more interest in what we were doing next. Sadly, I think my response was a poor one.

I have this habit of telling people I need to figure something out, because I can’t be “unemployed” for much longer. But that’s the wrong answer.

  • I’m already talking to several places in town about starting or improving their bread production
  • There are people signed up to The Baker’s Bench who are ready for another baking course
  • I’m running into people on the street who say they enjoy our travel blog and want me to keep writing

So whether I say it or not, I’m already a baker, a teacher and a writer. And I’m doing all those things. I just didn’t get paid today.

It’s too easy to describe ourselves only in terms of what we do for money. That’s a trap. There’s a lot more going on in all of us.

Figuring Out Flour

June 30 (flour)

Originally uploaded by romanlily

Since I got back from SFBI I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with my flour. Around the time I switched to organic unbleached flour back in November I’ve been struggling with pale loaves. We talked about this at school and I suspect that the organic flour might be the culprit. It all comes down to enzyme activity:

* enzymes (specifically, amalyse) breaks down the starch in flour into simple sugars.
* the simple sugars are needed for yeast food, but left over sugars are what causes nice browning. That is, browning is caramelized sugars

So, you need sufficient enzyme activity to create enough simple sugars to both feed the yeast and have enough left over for a brown crust. How do I know how much enzyme activity is in my flour?

* Millers use a measurement called the Falling Number to determine enzyme activity.
* Basically, they make a flour and water slurry, put it in a tube, put a weight on the slurry, and wait for the weight to fall. Enzyme activity breaks down the flour which allows the weight to fall.
* Bakers want a falling number between 250 and 300 seconds.
* Conventional (non-organic) bread flour typically meets this falling number requirement, but my organic flour has a higher falling number — closer to 350 seconds.

Still with me? So my organic flour has a falling number that’s too high, which means I don’t have enough enzyme activity to create simple sugars for yeast food and also for browning. Well, why not? And why does my Robin Hood flour not have this issue? It comes down to grain storage:

* Enzyme activity increases as the wheat berries get close to sprouting. ie. moisture is introduced.
* However, any grain farmer will tell you he wants dry grain in the bin so it doesn’t spoil.
* Millers are no different. They want nice dry, stable grain in the bin to grind flour from.
* Conventional flour millers add a product called fungal amalyse to their flour after they grind it in order to introduce additional enzyme activity to the flour, while preserving nice dry stable grain in the bin.
* Organic millers don’t have this option, so it’s up to the baker to do the correcting on his own. Usually this is accomplished by adding 0.5% – 1% malted barley flour to the white flour. Malted = sprouted = lots of enzymes.

So armed with this information, all I have to do is find me some malted barley flour and I can fix my pale loaf problem. BUT, do you think I can find malted barley flour locally? Not yet! I’m afraid I will have to go back to conventional flour (and incur the wrath of my local organic miller) until I can find some malted barley flour in the city. sigh…