To my mind, chocolate and its source material cocoa, is one of those miraculous flavor right up there with vanilla (How does an epiphyte produce such an amazing, subtle aroma?) and saffron (A little earthy, metallic, full, fragrant but not sweet.) Well, coffee gets in there too. And chocolate is one that our friendly biome helps make more tasty.
Seeds from the Cacao tree (Theobroma cacao) are hulled, fermented - using naturally occurring yeast and bacteria - and roasted and then ground, with the cocoa being separated from the cocoa butter (oils.) If the powder is treated to neutralize its acidity, it is known as "Dutch" cocoa.
The Mayans and Aztecs drank chocolate - xocolātl - as early as 1750 BC and the crop is still produced in Mexico and Central and South America. Most of the world's chocolate today comes from West Africa where, sadly child labor continues to be used to harvest and process the crop. A good article here in a recent issue of Fortune magazine, details the intractability of the child labor problem.
This Week's Bake
This is one of my experimental weeks: I am going to make you a chocolate brioche. Brioche is a dough made with flour, sugar, salt, eggs and butter and is the base for breads like Challah and Panettone. It can be, but isn't necessarily sweet (I have been experimenting with a savory brioche that uses olive oil in place of the butter.) This recipe includes cocoa powder and dark chocolate chips and a little chili powder. As always with my breads, is uses sourdough as the leavening agent.
“A remarkable thing about microbes—and it is only remarkable from our anthropocentric point of view—is the coöperation among them,” he told me. “We in the macroscopic world need organic material as food, and oxygen to oxidize it, to get energy. You, a cow, a giraffe—we’re all the same. We may not be in each other’s way if one eats fish and the other grass, but little coöperation is possible, considering our metabolic needs.” Bacterial metabolism, on the other hand, is staggeringly diverse: some microbes eat ammonium, some eat hydrogen; some breathe sulfates, some breathe iron. Often, microbes are interdependent: what is waste for one is essential for another.
If antibiotics are indeed weapons, then humans are latecomers to an aeons-old arms race, whose rules remain opaque to us. “It is absurd to believe that we could ever claim victory in a war against organisms that outnumber us by a factor of 10 to the 22nd power, that outweigh us by a factor of 10 to the 8th power, that have existed for a thousand times longer than our species, and that can undergo as many as five hundred thousand generations during one of our generations,” several scientists argued in a recent paper. The arsenals in question took bacteria billions of years to develop. “In contrast, antibiotics were not discovered by humans until the first half of the twentieth century.”
From The Unseen in this week's New Yorker
Talal, who lives in Kuwait and works as an architect, and I share an obsession with baking sourdough bread. He and I met at a baking class a couple of years ago and have stayed in touch ever since. He travels a fair bit for his job and his Instagram feed is stuffed with exquisite photos of breads in Japan, Norway, Eastern Europe and North America. He is a fine source of ideas for new recipes, one of which I am going to try this week.
Talal runs a microbakery and sells exclusively through Instagram - @33breadlane (no website - how efficient!), using an "On demand" delivery service that handles payments and logistics for his customers around Kuwait City.
Smoked Spelt and Rye
Talal mentioned that he had purchased some oak-smoked rye berries from a mill in the UK and that got me thinking about trying this ingredient out in a sourdough loaf. Michael Pollan writes extensively about the grip that cooking with smoke has on folks in Cooked. Incidentally, the book has been turned into a Netflix documentary series and has a good chapter on bread. Many of you no doubt enjoy BBQ (Not grilling) and some of you may slow cook yourself. I guess if we cannot get our carcinogens the old fashioned way, we should at least be able to consume them in a way that tastes fine.
it took a few rounds to figure out how best to smoke grains: I now soak the berries for 24 hours to soften them and then spread them on a screen in my Weber grill. I build a small fire (5 - 10 briquettes) off the side and feed with hardwood sawdust, leaving the berries to smoke for 6 - 8 hours. The berries pick up a fair bit of the smoke and the kettle is running hot enough that they end up somewhat toasted.
This Saturday's Bake
I will bake a bread made with 20% fresh ground smoked spelt and rye, with white flour and some high extraction for umph.
Let's see what you think of the resulting bread.
I have been working on a couple of brioche recipes and it is time to have you try some.
Brioche is made with bread flour (higher gluten), eggs, milk, sugar and butter - Challah is a brioche variant. It is much softer than regular sourdough and is excellent for sandwiches or making French toast. It rises overnight and bakes in a cooler oven that regular bread.
The recipe I will make for you this weekend will use olive oil instead of butter, which provides a slight tang to the flavor profile of the loaf; all the ingredients are organic (Thanks to Costco, which has affordable organic ingredients in bulk) Please note that I will bake the loaves in double sized Panettone papers so you will receive a half loaf for each regular full loaf you order.
I have a couple of other brioche recipes up my sleeve, including one with cocoa, chili and chocolate.
I hope you enjoy it!
I like to bake rye bread for you regularly for three reasons:
This Saturday's Bake
I will bake a whole grain rye bread for you, with 30% organic fresh ground whole grain, 30% organic rye flour and 40% organic white (this helps keep the dough workable and crumb somewhat open.)
As I mentioned in a recent email, I have begun to experiment with some new ingredients, including chocolate, Matcha (Ground green tea) and and Smoked Spelt, whose use I have learned about from my network of obsessed bakers from around the globe.
However, there is no getting away from the excellence of working with and eating an organic white sourdough loaf. I haven't made one for you a while so it's high time that I delivered.
This Saturday's Bake
I will bake an organic white sourdough bread using a dough made with 70% stiff levain. A stiffer levain (One that has the consistency of a very stiff pie dough due to a low water content) ferments more slowly and imparts a deeper flavor to the loaf.
The 70% refers to the percentage of the final flour amount that that the levain is a proportion of; this is a very high percentage. In a stiff levain, the yeast and bacteria propagate more slowly through the water-flour mixture so you need more of it in the final dough mixture to get the same total organism count as you would in other recipes.
Some doughs have as little as 15% levain, typically one with a lot more water. The yeast and bacteria in this kind of levain develop much more quickly that what I will be using this weekend, so the recipe doesn't need a high percentage of levain to proof properly.
More than you ever wanted to know about how your bread is made.
I have written elsewhere about what amazing things seeds are. Little space capsules with everything a plant needs to reproduce itself, all the nutrients and genetic material to propagate and a program (in the seed's DNA) on what do when. Makes our Mars Rovers look pretty simple.
This Saturday's Bake
I will bake a Multi grain Sour loaf for you, which has a mix of berries (e.g. Wheat, rye) and seeds (e.g. Sunflower, flax, fennel) soaked before hand to soften and then mixed in the final dough. The resulting bread has a moderately dense crumb and a nutty taste.
These days I seem to be running a little behind.
A quick note about the bread I will bake for your Saturday. I am going make fresh ground Spelt bread (40%) with some High Extraction and Organic White flour. The latter adds some gluten (Spelt is low in gluten) and an so helps the bread rise a bit more than it would otherwise.
Spelt is one of the ancient grains that has had a resurgence in popularity recently - it is high in protein and fiber and was used extensively from the Bronze Age through to the Middle Ages, with references to it in literature here and there (the bible, Dante's Divine Comedy). It is considered a subspecies of regular wheat and has its origins, like many of our bread grains from Northeast of the Black Sea in the Caucasus, in present day Georgia.
I test baked this recipe last week and its result is a hearty, but not heavy loaf. Excellent with cheese and a glass of red wine.
I hope you enjoy it.
I returned home yesterday from two weeks overseas, taking a 16 hour flight from Dubai. One of my business contacts there took us to a Syrian restaurant for an amazing lunch. Super fresh, lemony, tabbouleh and a hummus garnished with pine nuts and pistachios served with piping hot pitas, folks at tables around us smoking bubble pipes and the meal finished with cups of strong, hot, sweet chai.
We stayed in an older part of the city, populated by the large migrant Indian community and had dinner one evening at an outdoor cafe that served fine Dosa (The papery thin, crisp, savory crepe stuffed with curried vegetables and served with sambar and chutney) and Uttapam (a thicker savory pancake that often includes onions and tomatoes). Both of these are made with wheat flour, with rice flour often added to the Dosa recipe to ensure a crispy product. Both served in the hustle and bustle of sari and jewelry shops and to the competing sounds of multiple calls to prayer from several nearby mosques.
Breakfasts in Yerevan (Armenia) where I spent five days included cucumbers, tomatoes, feta cheese and yogurt and preserved whole walnuts - sweet and lightly spiced and with lavash, a thin flat bread baked in a tandoor-like oven. Armenia - an island of Christendom is a sea of Islam, one of the oldest Christian countries in the world - feels at once Middle Eastern, Slavic (The Russian presence is strong) and Central Asian.
This Saturday's Bake
I want to get back to basics this weekend and so will make organic white sourdough this Saturday.
I baked with White Sonora flour back in September - those of you who were subscribing then. White Sonoro is a Landrace variety wheat that was brought to America by the Jesuits in the 1600s. It grows well in low water conditions and, by the late 1800s dominated wheat production in the Central Valley. I found a family run mill in Arizona that sources and grinds White Sonora and purchased a couple of bags of flour and berries from them.
The sonora white berries (seeds) are small and round - almost like pearl barley - and, sitting next to a kamut berry (long and large), look like they are from a different species altogether.
White Sonora has a lower protein content than most baking flours so cannot be used on its own to make bread (it's gluten content is too low.) It can be used at a 100% for cakes (Cake flour has a lower gluten content than all purpose flour.)
A Note on Germination
I am germinating the White Sonora berries (Sprouting them) for Saturday's bake as we speak and it is a marvelous, mysterious process. Seeds need the right combination of water, oxygen and light (or lack thereof) for their metabolic machinery to be switched on. And when it is, things take off.
This Saturday's Bake
This Saturday I will bake loaves made with organic white flour, whole grain white sonora, sprouted white sonora berries and some high extraction flour.
Your Canadian Baker