Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The BB visits NY

Well I had another successful bake with the Wheat Montana product. I backed off the hydration of the dough and did not proof it for as long and the end result was better. The crumb was a little tighter (which it really needed) and the exterior a little darker (which it did not need).

Anyway... I spent Monday and Tuesday in NY and had the good fortune to be taken to Nobu Fifty Seven, which is the product of innovative Japanese Chef Nobu Matsuhisa's partnership with Drew Nieporent and Robert De Niro. After some nice Edamame and some brightly flavored green tea we opted for the hundred-dollar-a-person tasting menu (which is the less expensive option -- the other is $150). Probably the combination of the fact that I wasn't paying and the truly awe-inspiring fare made this a stand out culinary experience for me. We must have had about seven courses, the majority of which seemed to include bizarre Asian fruits or exotic wild species of fish. Some of the combinations were unique and yet so perfect that although I would never have dreamt of them, they seemed almost obvious as soon as I tasted them (e.g. wild yellow tail (kampachi) with raw jalapeno and thinly sliced garlic).

The next day we hit the Carnegie Deli for some much less sophisticated but nevertheless time-honored fare. I have to say, the pastrami is incredible but why does the bread have to be such an after thought? Wouldn't real bread and not some bagged rye be that much better. Is there a Jewish deli tradition that builds on good bread? Can my readership of two address this question please.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

New Flour

I've begun to experiment with a new flour called Wheat Montana, which is available mail order and also at a local grocery store near my home. I purchased a 10 pound bag of Natural White Premium Flour, which is a high protein flour designed for "superior" bread baking. One thing that interests me about this flour is the additionn of a small amount of malted barley. This is something recommended by the inestimable Peter Reinhart in Crust & Crumb. According to Simon Quellen Field's web page on ingredients:
Malted barley flour is often added to bread because it gives the yeast more nutrients (primarily sugars), and gives the bread a different taste. Malting a grain is the process of letting the grain soak in water until it starts to sprout. The young sprouting barley plant converts some of the starch in the barley endosperm into sugars. The barley is then cooked or ground into flour, which stops the sprout from eating the sugars, leaving them available to the yeast.

I paid about $6.00 for ten pounds but it sells for $3.97 by mail. The shipping cost might kill the discount, although I expect the 50 pound bag at $17.50 -- even with shipping -- would result in some savings. Of course, this all assumes that the product warrants it.

To date, I have been a pretty strict advocate of King Arthur unbleached bread flour. It runs around $2.70 for 5 pounds locally and is consistently excellent to work with. I am not exactly eager to abandon King Arthur but would like to experiment some to see how other flours effect texture and taste. If I can get a cheaper product that is equal to or better than King Arthur, I'll probably make the substitution permanent.

I made a batch of Peter Reinhart's neo-neopolitain pizza dough, my standard, out of the Wheat Montana. It turned out very nicely. Of course, its hard to know how much is attributable to the flour and how much might be attributable to the stars aligning -- i.e. just the right mix of retained heat and refractive heat from the fire. I also made a batch of sour dough bread using my starter. It was a wet dough -- high hydration -- and the end result was a little curious. Very large air bubbles and a somewhat translucent chewy crumb. Very tasty but a little on the eccentric side as far as texture goes. Still too early to say whether the malted barley did anything.

Experimentation to continue.

Monday, March 06, 2006


Two summers ago, I built an adobe wood-fired oven in my very suburban Virginia backyard. The oven is the fruit of a seed planted a long, long time ago in a far away place, before bar exams, grey suits and ankle biters. There, in that seemingly distant world, I toiled in the sweaty kitchens of Charlottesville's short lived eateries. Under the tutelage of one Laura Brennan, now chef owner of Cafe Umbria, and a string of surly chefs that came and went thereafter, I got my first taste of coaxing food from a wood-fired oven. After a handful of years, I tossed my last soiled chef coat into the restaurant laundry bin, cleaned up a bit and wandered off to law school, whereupon the seed -- among other things -- promptly went dormant.

Then, I got married.

George Schenk of American Flatbread in Waitsfield Vermont, catered my rehearsal dinner. I watched in somewhat distracted amazement, as George and his crew constructed what he calls a "festival oven" in the meadow in front of my folk's house. Watching the process and sampling the end-product provided enough inspiration for the seed to germinate.

American Flatbread

But the germination was slow and years went by. Finally, I stumbled across a yahoo group dedicated to brick ovens. There, I was introduced to Kiko Denzer and his book Build Your Own Earth Oven. That year, Santa brought me Kiko's Book and Alan Scott's Ovencrafter's book, and that was it. Well ... almost. I am incapable of initiating any project without months of agonizing and this was no different. Anyway, I finally built the thing.

The purpose of this blog is largely selfish (as if that distinguishes this blog from most). I hope to keep a record of my baking pursuits for my own benefit and for any others that are interested.