Another New Craftsy Bread Course!

I've barely finished one bread course and this morning another new one is announced! Of course I will take it, when it goes on sale at 50% off.

It's called "Secrets to Whole Grain Bread Baking". The instructor is Michael Kalanty.

Screen Shot from Craftsy Video
I won't be able to resist signing up for it because even though I've been making whole grain and multigrain breads regularly for several years, I'm always on the lookout for a new tip or professional trick or recipe.

Sometimes I think all the money I've invested in bread books and courses kind of cancels the savings of making my own bread--but then I remember that good bread is just not available around here, so the cost is not even a consideration!

What's nice about the Craftsy classes is you can take them when you want, and then they're yours "forever". The other thing I like is that the course notes, which include all the recipes, are very well done; to me they're worth at least half the cost.

Meanwhile, if you're one of those people who have access to decent bread made by real people in a good local bakery, enjoy your luck!


Is It A Baguette Or A Ficelle?

This was my first "baguette" using the batch of dough I made from the basic recipe in my new "Artisan Bread in Minutes" Craftsy course. (See previous post).

I think that, technically, to be called a ficelle it should be longer, but it's really too thin to be a baguette. A baguettine, maybe?

It was really delicious, and crunchy, and the crumb was both creamy and full of gorgeous holes.

My only complaint is -- and I can't believe I'm writing this -- it was a too salty. At one point during a demonstration, Zoë François does say she likes a lot of salt. I like salt too, but next time I'll cut back a bit.

The recipe is exactly the same as the original Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day:

  • 2 lbs flour 
  • 3 cups lukewarm water 
  • 1.5 TB instant yeast
  • 1.5 TB kosher salt
You mix it roughly, then leave it for two hours at room temperature. When it looks like this

you cover it loosely, put it in the fridge, and leave it at least overnight, and up to two weeks.


I used the local Co-Op Store unbleached all-purpose flour that I buy in 25-lb bags for less than $10 when it's on sale (which is often). I buy the yeast at the bulk store, in a 1-lb vacuum pack, for $5. So the cost for this 6-oz loaf was about 50 cents. The surprise is that the yeast costs more than the flour, and that's for a bulk purchase. Worth thinking twice before buying yeast in those individual envelopes, isn't it.

I had the whole thing for lunch with some homemade cultured butter, some old cheddar and a salad. Life is good.


Bread Update

I love the Craftsy platform and have taken two of their breadmaking courses, but when this new Artisan Bread in Minutes was announced I couldn't resist.

Screen Shot from Artisan Bread in Minutes
You may recognize the instructor, Zoe François. She is half of the partnership that promoted the "no-knead" method a few years ago, with their book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, which I bought, of course.

I tried it and though it is marvellously easy to get decent French bread in literally five minutes a day, I found the resulting bread lacking in depth--and besides what I really wanted was healthy bread, so I put it aside.

But this new course was on sale at 50% off, so I thought what the heck. The list of recipes was tempting. New bread recipes: how to resist?

Actually, the recipes are nice, but what particularly struck me were some of the techniques. Because the dough is mixed in advance, they have had to devise new ways of incorporating ingredients like cheese or olives, for instance. Also, I never thought of making a "couronne" before (that's French for "crown") and seeing Zoë demonstrating it you realize it's child's play. There are several pizzas, a focaccia, and a couple of sweet breads too.

Revisiting the no-knead method has made me realize that I can probably use it with my current multigrain bread recipe. It's the bread I eat every day and I consume one small loaf per week, so I need to keep a supply on hand at all times, and this means preparing a new batch every couple of weeks or so. 

To have a bucket of dough at the ready in the fridge at all times sounds like the best thing since... well, sliced bread. Since I don't have to worry about mixer capacity, I can make a double batch of dough, then take out what I need for a loaf, or a single pita bread, or a bun or two--instead of baking the whole batch and freezing most of it. I will still have to make a batch every fortnight, but it will take five minutes instead of half a day.

Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Pita Bread

Did I say "pita bread"? Yes, because just before this course (and since my previous post about the subject) I had discovered that you can make pita with any kind of dough! Here are a couple of multigrain ones I made the other day, using my regular multigrain bread dough. 

Multigrain bun-sized pitas
That was a particularly successful discovery, because I like my hamburger or sandwich buns thin and a bun filled with air instead of dough is perfect for me. You can't see it here, but these are hamburger sized.

Before that, I had made these whole wheat ones, in two sizes.

Whole wheat pitas in two sizes, baked by the James Beard method.
 I tried Zoë's recipe and it worked very well.

And not only can you use any dough, you can cook them on top of the stove! See?

Pita bread cooked on top of the stove.
You need a heavy pan that is not coated with a no-stick finish because of the high, dry heat.

By the way, if you'd rather bake them in the oven--practical if you're making more than one at a time--the absolutely best method is James Beard's, which is found in his Beard on Bread. You start them (on a baking sheet) on the oven's bottom shelf at 500 degrees, for five minutes, for the puffing part, and them move them to the upper shelf for another few minutes, for the browning part. The whole wheat pitas above were baked that way. 

Another thing I like about Zoë is that she's not a perfectionist. Her breads don't look perfect. Like mine. She uses a serrated knife for slashing (not a fancy razor-blade instrument). And so on. 

That basic French dough is not the best for cinnamon buns and some of the other variations, but that would be my only caveat.

I'm very glad that I invested $20 in this course -- and those were Canadian dollars too!


What We All Need To Know About GMOs

Finally, a rational explanation of why we absolutely must reject GMOs.


The Staff of Life

Loaves made with pâte fermentée from the Craftsy course Artisan Bread Making (Peter Reinhart)

I tried to find the origin of that expression, but I couldn't find it. To me, it just means that it's something so basic that some of us can't live without it.

I am one of those people.

If you're one of us, and if you happen to live in a place with one or several good artisan bakeries, and can afford to pay the price, good for you.

I'm not that lucky. And considering how little bread I eat (an average of two slices a day), I could afford to pay for someone else's labour, but then I would feel terribly frustrated and deprived because I LOVE MAKING BREAD!

And I love discovering new ones. A few months back, I signed up for Peter Reinhart's Artisan Bread Making course on Craftsy.

I was looking for a replacement for the very excellent sourdough loaf that I had been making. Why would you want to replace an excellent bread, you ask? This: at the rate of two slices a day, the probabilities are that only one of those is going to be on the "white" side because I also always keep some multigrain bread around, and I love dark multigrain bread even more than light sourdough bread.

In other words, I only make bread once or twice a month, white this time, brown next time.

After month after month of making that sourdough bread, I got upset at having to keep the sourdough starter fresh by adding some flour to it, then throwing away most of it and adding more flour, etc.  I had to do this every week. All that for a mere loaf or two.

Half of that flour was rye (all-white starters don't work for me), and though I can buy good unbleached flour at the ridiculous price of $9 for 25 lbs, rye flour is way more expensive than that.

I had already heard of bread made with pâte fermentée (the technique--invented by Professeur Calvel, who taught Julia Child how to make French bread--consists of using some "scrap dough", basically some dough leftover from a previous batch) and when I discovered that Reinhart had a recipe for it in the course, I decided to try it.

The loaves above are the result of my second trial with that recipe. I have altered the "country variation" recipe by replacing the small addition of whole wheat flour and rye flour with all rye, and by allowing the first rise to take place in the fridge, overnight. This is known to develop a better flavour, and I must say the combination of pâte fermentée and overnight cold rise is the closest thing I've ever attained to a mild sourdough flavour without having to go through the feeding rituals and wasted flour.

In order to get that shape, I used the linen couche for the second rise.

This is the kind of crumb that I hoped to get.

Oh and here's something that's hardely ever mentioned about bread: it's something I call "toastability"! This bread makes fantastic toast. And terrific grilled cheese sandwiches.

The Craftsy platform has a lot of interesting features, one of which is the possibility of uploading photos of one's projects, and the other to ask questions and get answered by the instructor.  Many beginners have trouble getting their slashing technique right. It took me a long time to find the right combination of tool and wrist action, but I have finally found a satisfactory solution. These are my tools:

This cheap knife that I found at Target has a blade almost as thin as a razor.

In addition, the rounded shape is perfect for the job.

Just before slashing, I give it several passes with my trusty old steel.

I have them here side by side so you can have an idea of the size of the knife. Actually, the blade is only a little over four inches long.

I'm also working on a new multigrain bread recipe, and that will be the subject of my next post.


Sick And Tired Of The Gluten-Free Nonsense

Yesterday, as I added extra gluten flour to my batch of multigrain bread, I couldn't help thinking how sick and tired I am of seeing "gluten-free" everywhere.

I am particularly fed up with the notion that gluten-free equals healthy!

That is simply NOT TRUE! There is nothing unhealthy about gluten, and the ONLY people who have to cut out gluten from their diet are those who suffer from celiac disease. Period.

Do your research, folks.

Some of my recent sourdough bread experiments. Click to enlarge.


A Great Way Of Using Up Buttermilk

Readers of my former blog know that I've been making my own cultured butter. I started several years ago, then I gave up when Costco started carrying the excellent Lactancia Cultured Butter from Québec. It was fresher and cheaper than the same brand anywhere else. (Unsalted butter goes rancid very quickly, a fact that some supermarkets don't seem to realize.)

A while back, my Costco branch switched to a non-cultured unsalted butter. Boring as heck. So I went back to making my own.

It's really easy, but it's far from cheap, and leaves you with a huge quantity of buttermilk, and unless you're into baking, it's hard to get your money's worth out of that lovely liquid--I know, I could drink it, but I don't need the extra calories.

But now I've found a way, and it's really worth it: I make ricotta out of it!

With an additional two quarts of milk, I get to use up all the buttermilk (two cups) from making butter with two quarts of cream. Easy to remember: Two, two, two!

To make the ricotta, I'm using this recipe from Epicurious. That gives you a very decent, milky-tasting ricotta using buttermilk as the acidic component. You can make it in five minutes by following these microwave directions on SeriousEats.

I could stop there, or I could save some of it au naturel for lasagna or ravioli, or even Italian cheesecake. And with the rest I could make what I call "Fake Boursin".

For the latter, after draining the ricotta and cooling it in the fridge, I stir it up with a fork, add a few tablespoons of sour cream (which I have set aside just before churning my cultured cream into butter), some salt, chopped parsley and chopped garlic. Refrigerate for a while to allow the flavours to blend. And voilà!

Next time I'm going to try a lemon-mint version; or maybe a cucumber-dill one, a hot paprika-cayenne version... I will also try plain coffee cream instead of sour cream. The idea is just to make the ricotta a bit creamier.