Bakers or Mad Scientists?

The current breads section of the professional Baking and Pastry program is coming to a close at the end of next week.  If you've been keeping up (and shame on you if you fess up to the contrary), you know that it's been a German bread bonanza.  Rye, rye and more rye until the loaves are so dense, one could conceivably build a house out of the heavy as concrete rectangular masses.

We started with rye breads by dipping our toes in those German waters with just a smidge of rye flour in the mixes.  Just enough to carry the rye flavor through, but not enough to affect the crumb.  As we have progressed, we have very clearly seen the different characteristics that rye flour will bring to the dough as it's percentage of the flour weight increases.  The more rye, the more alien-like the dough becomes.  High percentage and 100% rye doughs are, to be honest, a nasty, pasty mess.  If your patience level allows you to actually work with the dough without losing your cool and flinging the mortar-like goo onto the window in a fit of rage, you actually end up with some seriously tasty treats.  As always, some of the breads really blew my skirt up, others were like a lead balloon.  Different strokes for different folks.

Smack dab in the middle of rye land or BFR if you get the reference, last Friday began like any other day. Getting up at 5:15 AM, heading straight for the coffee maker and getting ready for school.  At 6:45 AM, I walked through the doors to see something that made the angels sing - Frank scaling out 12.5 kilos of beer for our beer bread.  I could not pass this photo opportunity up.


Yes, beer is great, beer is fun, rah, rah, rah.  However, we discovered that the beer of Superbowl fans and bread do not a compatible couple make.  Ah well, we tried.  At least the loaves looked like footballs.

Top photo from front to back and bottom photo from right to left (because I was clearly raised in some other country and/or am dyslexic): oat rye, beer bread, heidebrot and mountain bread.  The oat rye was to say the least - awesome.  The beer bread, not so much.  To quote our instructor, Frank "lesson learned, don't use MGD".  The Heidebrot was so good, it was served along with lunch this day.  So many breads in so little time, I don't know what the mountain bread even tasted like.  It must not have been too memorable or perhaps I chose to black this out of my memory for some particular reason.

Volkornbrot. Tasty rye bread or a brick coated in bran?  You decide.

We have one more super duper MC party pooper rye bread to bake, or at least taste.  It's the pinnacle of dense, German rye breads which is sludge in a pan traditionally baked for 24 hours or more.  What the hell is this insane creation?  Pumpernickel.  Frank baked this up last night and today it was still in need of some red-hot oven time, so back in the belly of the beast it went.  Tawdry updates in pumpernickel adventures to come.

The tail end of the breads section is essentially a catch-all for the breads that just didn't fit with what we have been working on up until now.  To everyone's delight, we got to bake some ridiculously good breads and learn some new shaping skills.  I'm talking about chocolate bread, challah, bagels and pretzels, baby.  Oh yeah.  The bagels, we boiled before baking and these turned out just like the Brackman Brother's bagels I remember when the foodie fad of the moment in the 90's were bagelries.  I remember walking past the kitchen on the way to order at the registers, watching the bakers dump trays and trays of bagels into giant vats of boiling water, not quite understanding what was going on in the bagel process.  The boilers we used were large kitchen pans atop burners, but I'll admit I had a bit of a nostalgic moment while dunking the bread rings into the water and dredging them in sesame and poppy seeds.

Pretzel making made me feel like a certified bad-ass and mad scientist combined into one.  We learned how to roll out the perfect strip of dough and toss it into the air to create that pretzel-rific shape.  When it came time to bake, we dipped the pretzels in a caustic solution of lye and water (yep, this is traditional and safe once it bakes, just don't go dipping your head into the lye water bobbing for apples) before dredging with salt and baking up some of the best goddamn pretzels I have ever tasted.  Yes, that is a fact. This semi-dangerous process required us to wear two layers of latex gloves and goggles.  We were nefarious bakers for a total of 10 minutes.  Once the goggles came off, we were our normal selves once again.

A very studious class rolling out pretzel pre shapes.

My girl Linh doing her best Victor Frankenstein at the communal pretzel bath station as Frank oversees.

We made so many breads this day, it is still hard to comprehend.  I brought home 3 bags of bread and gave away two.  The third, I am currently avoiding as it sits on my kitchen counter calling to me with it's tasty treats hidden just from view.

Smitten with my creations.

Bagels! Bagels! Bagels!  Done proper.

Clockwise left to right: bagels, finnish rye, pretzels, challah, chocolate bread.

As I understand it, next week is a review and a chance for us to go buck wild in the bakery making more random goodies before we step out of the bread arena and into Vennoiserie.  Clif notes soon to follow.

A rainbow of breads

We've got 2 weeks left of breads before we move onto Viennoisserie, also known as laminated dough (ie: Croissants, Danishes, etc...) for 4 full weeks. Before departing our fantastic instructor Frank, we will visit specialty breads, bagels, pretzels and flat breads.   I have become accustomed to waking up before the roosters crow and mixing, scaling and baking bread first thing 5 days a week.  It will admittedly be a bit strange to change direction, yet a welcome change to keep us on our toes and continue our education in the finer points of breads and pastries.

In the interest of time, this post will be more pictorial than verbose to catch you all up on my adventures in bread land.  Can I get a few cheers from the kid's section who would rather look at picture books than read a novel?

Mixing away.  Note to self: NOT a good idea to stare into the mixer early in the morning after a boozy night out.  Yeowch!

This was a fun day of really tasty breads.  From front to back: Prarie bread, Millet bread, Sesame Semolina Sourdough, Wheat Germ Baguettes.

Wheat Germ Baguettes.  I kid you not, these were the best baguettes in the class this day.  I've been really struggling with certain aspects of these little bastards, this was a glorious day indeed!

Wheat Levain Miche.  These are some BIG ASS loaves of bread, 1.5 kilos.  Check out my fancy stencling, ooh lala!

Corn bread.  This is nothing like what most people make at home, which is more like a cake preparation which is sweetened and poured into a pan.  This contains corn meal and corn flour and is fermented like a 'normal' batch of bread dough.  I like the bicycle seat-esque looking loaves and flouring, but the taste did little for me.

Ever wondered what sprouted wheat looks like before it ends up in your bread?  Wheat we started to sprout Monday in a meat grinder for Friday's breads.

Left to right: Corn bread, Wheat Levain Miche, Candied Hazelnut Bread prepared like ciabatta, Power Bread (where the sprouted wheat ended up).
Wine Friday!  And you thought I was lying...

Safa loading bread into the woodfired oven.  This bad boy needs to be brought up to temp slowly over the course of a few days before baking.

Wood fired Francese - an italian 'poor man's baguette'

Wood fired ciabatta versus oven baked ciabatta.

Today's production of German breads from front to back: Honey Rye, Rye with Sunflower, Wolfgang Rye, Black Forest Rye.  Our instructor Frank is in the background unloading one of the deck ovens.

Rye with Sunflower Seeds and Honey Rye.

Black Forest Rye and Wolfgang Rye.

Clearly I have been a busy baking bee!  More pics to come as the weeks progress.


I'm in love with a girl


Just on the other side of the Treasure Island Music Festival, I am still basking in the afterglow.  It was a 2 day festival which effectively sucked the majority of the hipster population from San Francisco and surrounding areas across the bridge and onto tiny Treasure Island, a former naval base.  I recall looking over the lineup last year and contemplating making a pilgrimage to the East Bay for the occasion.  Funny how things work out, as I had no idea at the time I'd end up here. 

If you know anything about me, you know that I'm a huge music fan.  I tend to get rather enthusiastic about music, specifically the music I love.  Case in point, the festival's indie lineup was nothing short of a musical wet dream.  So, about a month ago, I purchased my tickets to the festival and $140 later, I was ready to effectively camp out for 2 days in between stages, insanely priced beer and food vendors one step up from the concession stand at the Saturday swap meet.

While severely underestimating just how much of a pain in the ass getting from the AT&T stadium parking lot to the festival would be, my friend David and I were shocked into the reality of a line of people almost encircling the entire parking lot and doubling back on itself.  Our goal of Saturday was to see Passion Pit and tolerate the rest of the day having at least one good performance under our belts.  Oh contraire!  Once we saw the most hideous line of concert goers, we quickly bid adieu to our hopes of seeing Passion Pit and any other act within a 2 hour window as we shuffled inch by inch, ever slowly, towards the tour busses which had been chartered to transport thousands of screaming, costumed, music enthusiasts to the middle of the bay.

Faced with an incredibly long wait to actually step foot on these vehicles (I dare say we waited in line for an hour and a half), we were forced to somehow kill the time.  The most brilliant and genius of ideas struck me, let's play hipster bingo!  This could be no ordinary hipster bingo with the ill-fitting hooded sweatshirt or trucker's hat.  We had to up the ante to a level one rarely dared go.  We were on the timeline smack dab between Burning Man and Halloween.  We had to reach heights that the average Dick and Jane would never dare aspire to.  Uberhipsterdom.  We created a running list of the most ridiculous yet possibly attainable clothing items and combinations with intentions of crossing each and every offending item on our list off by the end of the weekend.  We came damn close, finding a lofty 22 of 36 total items.  Among the list of nonsensical items found were metallic spandex a'la Jane Fonda complete with leg warmers, fanny pack, "old woman" square pink glasses on a man and a hipster child.

The full festival lineup can be found here, but allow me to fill you in on a few performances.

The first day's lineup was nothing to shake a stick at.  Consisting of mostly of music regurgitated by those machines they call laptops, it was not what I would call a 'performance day'.  There were a few acts I was lukewarm as milk to see, none of which ended up thrilling me in the least. 

Beyond Passion Pit, the next performance I had any stake in was The Streets.  Once on stage for a full 30 seconds, my hopes had been dashed and the combination of terrible stage presence and 'let's get naked' banter coupled with a thick British accent and horrible sound engineering made the performance of Mike Skinner an incredibly disappointing and obtusely confusing one.  The crowd was not moving, yet he took this as an opportunity to demand that the crowd jump up and down like programmed monkeys as he screamed into the mic.  British Hip Hop fail.

Brazilian Girls were a nice, cheeky break between garbled Brit slang and the DJs to follow.  They sounded great live, but were not memorable.

MSTRKRFT.  Um....hmm.... In one word - horrible.  Perhaps I'm getting old and don't particularly feel the need to transform a music festival into a rave in broad daylight.  Does that mean I'm crazy?!  A perfect example of two guys banging away at a sound board looking stoned out of their minds.  The best description I can come up with is Frank Zappa's bastard son thrashing his head to synthesized pseudo sounds in a cocaine induced haze.  This was so horrible, that we had concluded the on-screen visuals were strictly there to distract and mesmerize concertgoers into thinking this was a virtuosic performance. After witnessing 2 songs from these geniuses in motion, we were convinced to pack up for the night and try again the next day.

Sunday brought with it a lineup which sung in the breeze and made my heart go pitter patter.

We arrived just in time to see Thao & The Get Down Stay Down perform.  This performance rocked the house and set the tone for what promised to be a magical day.  With Thao, we were not disappointed.  This tiny little firecracker was amazing live.  Great stage presence, talent and musical chops all rolled up into the most adorable little package.  A mix of banjo-like acoustic guitars reminiscent of bluegrass festivals and soulful vocals was spot on.

Next up was Spiral Stairs.  I had no idea who this was, nor did I really care.  We were merely wasting some time at this stage while waiting for the next act to come on, expecting your average indie 'filler band' - until Spiral Stairs started to play their first song.  Turns out, this is the Pavement member Scott Kannberg's side project.  The band played incredibly tight as a group, each musician contributing to a sharp sound that literally drew most of the festival crowd to the stage, curious to see what Spiral Stairs was really about.  Perusing the music available online simply does not carry the same impact as their performance at the festival.  If they tour near you, they're worth checking out.

One of the bands I was dying to see and where some of my hard earned cash was vested was Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. HOLY SCHNIKES this was my favorite performance of the entire festival!  A rag tag group of barefoot hippies fresh off the bus from what seemed to be their religious compound, this group was absolutely amazing.  First off, if you haven't heard their album Up From Below, you must run out and listen to it.  Immediately.  Next, if they tour near you, purchase tickets and go!  There is no Edward Sharpe to be had, it's simply a name.  The lead vocals are courtesy of Alex Ebert who wandered around onstage as if he had eaten an entire pan of special brownies an hour before going on stage.  This guy was so high, he should have defied gravity.  After repeated shots of him on the video screen red eyed and clearly in another world, my friend David cried "someone find that man some visine!".  Let's be honest, the entire band was insanely high.  Alex reminded me of a religious cult leader, under the influence of some shamanic, natural substance, randomly removing clothing from his

lanky frame, wanting to make love to the audience and carrying a damn fine tune the entire time.  The highlight of the performance was 'Home' which highlighted the band's female vocalist Jade Castrinos.  This woman was meant for the spotlight, her voice is amazing, her persona much like a newly spiritually awakened child, awkward and shy, she was a mix of Winona Ryder and Bjork and was absolutely captivating.  Even the cameraman was completely in love with her, as the rest of the band garnered little to no screen time during her performance.  This was the best performance of the entire festival.

Beyond Yo La Tengo and The Flaming Lips, both of which I shockingly chose to forego due to the early Monday morning alarm, the big chops of the festival was Beirut.  23 year old Zach Condon and crew bring Eastern European Folk to the masses.  I consider The Flying Club Cup, March of the Zapotec & Realpeople Holland and Gulag Orkestar to be 3 of my favorite albums in my not so humble and expansive iTunes collection.  Their performance certainly did each album justice.  His voice was as operatic and soaring as expected, yet I found myself coming away from the performance being less than blown away.  After Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, I wanted Beirut to match and even surpass their performance.  Beirut were certainly a good live band, but they were simply not captivating.  This pains me so, as Beirut's music has such magical qualities to change my mood and set the stage for something both humble and unique.

All in all, it was a great festival and a hell of a good time.  I look forward to future musical outings and adventures in the Bay.


OMG, looks like heaven!!! (if heaven were bread)

After sending out some pics of some fruits of my labors, I quickly received a reply from my friend Judy, a fellow bread lover "OMG, looks like heaven!!! (if heaven were bread)"

Ladies and Gentlemen, I beleive the truth has been spoken.  And yes, heaven just so happens to be filled with bread...and booze...lots of booze...

Not sure if I'll have time for another blog post this week, as I've been working like an impoverished orphan in a dingy labor camp these last few weeks.  In addition to having little time to update during the week, I'll be attending the Treasure Island Music Festival this weekend.  Um...hell to the YES!  I shall of course be taking plenty of pics strictly for evidence as well as checking out many, many bands for reporting purposes only.  Oh, the things I do for y'all, I have such love in my heart.

So, short and sweet, here are some pics of what I've been slaving away at in the lab at school.  Keep in mind that both of the deck ovens baking all day paired with running around like cogs in a well oiled machine makes for one HOT bakery, there are days I've seen the thermometer rise above 80 degrees.  Lunch is always a welcome break at the end of each day.  It's always something tasty, followed by an equally evil dessert item or two.  On Fridays, wine makes it's appearance and let's just say that I'm never one to let good wine go to waste!  Thank God Friday is almost here.

Enjoy the pics and I'll update you all after the festival  Whew!

100% Whole Grain with a whole wheat sourdough starter.  Dense as a hockey puck and if thrown with a little spin, just as deadly.  I'm going to go ahead and use my teammate David's quote of "a digestive roto-rooter".

100% Whole Grain and 100% Whole Wheat pan bread on the cooling racks. Note: bread MUST be properly cooled, especially before tasting.  As tempting as it is to gnaw on that steaming loaf fresh out of the oven after being tortured with that oven fresh smell for the last 20-30 minutes, you are going to be letting your little tastebud army down if you taste while it's still hot.  The flavor needs to mellow out between the crust and crumb as well as allowing the starches to stabilize at room temperature to achieve a better texture.  For future reference you hot bread eaters, you are cheating yourselves!

Day of fancy-pants breads.  Crown of the valley (with sunflower meal, flax meal and flax seeds - DELICIOUS), 100% whole grain and 100% whole wheat.

Rach geeking out over loaves of 100% whole wheat pan bread.  Yeah, that just happened... The flavor and texture did absolutely nothing for me, but goddamn, that's some good looking bread!

Spelt bread.  Prepared like a ciabatta, yet more like a giant, hollow cracker.  The flavor reminds me of large, circular crackers my hippie parents used to buy when I was a kid.  Nobody in class knows what on earth I'm talking about and chalk this cracker up to a 'Utah' thing.  If you're in the market for a giant, hollow cracka, hit me up.

Clockwise right to left: Pear Buckwheat Bread (dried pears, apples and raisins soaked in wine along with toasted walnuts and pecans.  If it weren't for the pear stencil, these would NOT look like pears.  That's all I'll say for now on this matter.  Over and out...), Sourdough hand mix miche (miche is apparently french for 'big ass piece of bread'), spelt bread, raisin walnut (holy holy holy, this bread was amazing.  I sliced up a few loaves and threw them into my freezer for those cold, rainy mornings to toast up and accompany my coffee.  Yum!), olive bread (not aesthetically pleasing, but shiver me timbers, pair a slice of this with some minestrone soup and I'd be in heaven!).

Some of that red headed stepchild olive loaf up close and personal.  It's a diamond in the rough.

My 'big ass piece of bread'.  Saving the biggest and baddest for last and showing off my 'scoring 'skills!  Oh baby!

A lot of bread and little time

Yowza!  This past Friday marked exactly 4 weeks of gettin' schooled in the art of bread baking.  I am absolutely amazed at how much information I have absorbed and processed in what amounts to approximately 130 hours of mostly hands-on learning over this past month.  The first 3 weeks were nothing but versions of the baguette, so much so that I now find myself silently judging baguettes when I see them in stores and bakeries, secretly knowing what went wrong during what step of the process to produce a less than aesthetically pleasing loaf.  These are the things the average customer would just glaze over.  I admit it - I've become a bread snob.  When one inspects a loaf of bread for scoring, crumb, weight for its size etc... it's safe to say one has crossed to the other side of snobbery.

Once our baguette quota was filled (at least for now...), the dial was turned to 11 and we were thrown to the wolves.  This past week, we quickly went from knowing and predicting each step of the day to running around like a pack of overstuffed, headless chickens on fast forward in the likes of Robot Chicken.  Thank God for our incredibly patient instructor, Frank for actually knowing what the hell was going on, as we, in the trenches, were relatively blind.  So, one month down, one to go for breads and this is where it gets fun.  With the foundation set, we are ready to step foot into new ingredients and techniques, a veritable bread wonderland.  Without actually tracking down my daily and weekly agenda, I will try my best to recap what we have made beyond the baguette:

-Sourdough (this is in and of itself an entirely different beast than commercially yeasted breads.  I'll just say we created many different types of sourdough, from very mild to very sour and have become privy to the bevy of techniques resulting in any product which would make its appearance on the mild to sour scale.)
-Whole Wheat
-Egg Bread (a non-kosher 'cousin' to Challah)
-Portuguese Sweet Bread
-Pan Bread

I guarantee there are more breads that we have made beyond this list, but for the average bread nosher, 10 different varieties of the 'same' recipe would essentially seem like me naming 10 different varieties of apples.  Interesting to some folks indeed, but I will save the foodie geek-outs for the peeps in class.  Trust me, you'll thank me for this.

After a long week and very busy and very good weekend, it's high time for me to enjoy a green Thai curry with baby squash, broccolini, Japanese eggplant and multicolored carrots which is simmering on the stovetop.  I bid you adieu and will leave you with some evidence of my blood, sweat and tears.


The day of non-stop sourdough awesomeness.  Each score/loaf shape denotes a different type of sourdough preparation and percentage.

Egg Bread.  ABSOLUTELY delicious, by far my favorite ultra-processed dough (in the likes of sugar and butter).  May I add that EVERY time I see these phallic loaves, my mind runs wild with liberties.  The humor which runs rampant in the baking lab makes every single day of 5:15 alarms worth it.  Here we have a 3 strand braid and a 6 strand braid.  Can I get a 'holla!'?!  Not 'Challah'...

Pan Bread.  Yeeeeeuuup.  Not much to say 'bout this one.  It's a loaf...of bread...baked in a pan.

No more pics of the week really.  It's amazing how busy we've been.  At the end of the day, I haven't had much time to remember to grab the camera and snap a pic or two.  This upcoming week, I shall remedy this situation stat!  I will leave you with the worst/best knock-off of Popeye's bicep I've seen in a while.

Whole grains and food porn

Contrary to popular belief, I have not fallen off the edge of a giant dough mixer, into the behemoth bowl and suffocated in it's glutinous web.  I am in fact alive and well, albeit incredibly busy with school, work and adventures whenever I can fit a few of them in.  This past week and weekend are of no exception.

This past Friday marked 3 weeks of SFBI and it's hard to believe I've only been in school for this short span of time.  To be quite honest, it feels more like 2 months!  The first 3 weeks of class have consisted of baguettes, baguettes and baguettes.  As I'd mentioned in a previous post, we've spent so much time on this particular bread shape as it is the hardest shape to master.  If only we could have cryogenically frozen our first batch to compare them to what we have been producing over this past week (ok, I suppose the walk in freezer would have been sufficient...) .  The progress would be undeniable.  The class as a whole has settled into it's own rhythm and has become a baguette baking machine.  Last week,  each of us had an 'individual day' during which we were solely responsible for mixing, fermenting, shaping and baking 2 separate batches of dough which amounted to approximately 30 loaves a person.  Give or take a few mistake loaves, we must have ended up with around 400-425 separate loaves produced strictly on our individual days.  This should give you a pretty clear idea of how much 'practice makes perfect' is repeatedly applied here as well as how lackluster our comments had become after seeing essentially the same baguette day after day.  Our once enthusiastic critiques of 'great, crunchy crust and creamy, buttery crumb' had become 'yeah.....that's a baguette...' and more often than not, members of the class begrudgingly tasting another piece of bread with blank expressions and no comments whatsoever.

Just when our taste buds had been acclimated to yet another version of the straight white baguette dough, whole grains came to the rescue!  Whole wheat, rye and multigrain never sounded so sweet.  It was at once a lullaby and a sonnet to our ears.  Scaling and mixing with different flours and additives had set the class buzzing once again, speculating just what would happen during each step of the baking process.  The end result was a critique session which I dare say rivaled the first of bread tasting.  We tasted our whole wheat and rye loaves and the grand finale was the whole grain.  Consisting of wheat, whole wheat and rye flours peppered with flax, sunflower, sesame seeds and oats had every single of one of us weak at the knees.  Each time someone's back was turned, more of this whole grain goodness had disappeared heralding a breath of fresh air into the collective baguette machine.  So, what I have for you in pictorial evidence is anything but a plain, white baguette.  Instead, allow me to present you with the trio of whole grain breads...

The only dough I cared enough to take a picture of before it hit the 450 degree oven was the rye.  It's rather difficult to make a lump of unbaked dough look exciting.  No amount of editing will save a brown, lumpy mass.  As much of a lump of dough the rye was, I could not resist snapping a pic of the raw loaves.  Every time I looked at these on my proofing board, they reminded me of alien cocoons.  Add a little flour and scoring and JFC, this had me wondering if this armadillo looking lump would ever be edible.

Before and after...

Next up, the whole wheat and multigrain...

The trifecta of gluten-y, fresh baked goodness.  I will admit I was not clever enough to put my loaves in a cute little bag, but was certainly clever enough to take a picture of a classmate's loaves...

So what does a baking student do after a full week of thinking about food?  Look at more food!

This past Saturday, I got my tush onto the muni line and up to the Ferry Building to hit what is affectionately called the 'Rich People's Farmer's Market'.  Once I walked from the muni stop, up Market Street and closer to the Ferry Building, I could see tents and tents of vendors selling fresh, organic produce and the like.  This was no ordinary farmer's market with tomatoes, corn and pumpkins.  This farmer's market had produce I had never even seen!  I was ecstatic, running around, snapping pics with my camera like a giggly school girl.  Who knew exponential varieties of colorful produce would have such an effect on me?!  Along with the produce filled tent perimeter, the inner workings of the building presented us with some magical and tasty gifts indeed.  Allow me to take you on a pic by pic tour...

"Baccalone" - a vendor with the catch phrase "Tasty Salted Pig Parts"

"Cowgirl Creamery"

"Miette"- we tried Chocolate Lavender, Hazelnut and Rose Geranium Parisian macarons.

Taking a moment to indulge in a super geeky touristy pic of the bridge and Treasure Island

More produce than you can shake a stick at!

All in all, it was a fantastic Saturday at the market.  I already have plans to visit again for the ever-elusive canneles which were sold out by the time we had arrived.  Turns out the bakery who's name eludes me only bakes 12 of them.  This limited number may very well be limited to the Saturday market.  Each cannele is baked in individual molds which my classmate Linh tells me run upwards of $20 per mold.  Next Saturday at the market, must arrive early and in line for the canneles!