Donate for Vermont

This is Norwich Sourdough. It was the first sourdough recipe I posted on this blog, and is still one of my most popular recipes. Many people have written to tell me that it was the first sourdough recipe they had success with. This feedback has been wonderfully rewarding for me, but now I am asking for a little bit more in return.

Norwich Sourdough was named in honor of Norwich, Vermont, a lovely small town I had the pleasure of calling home for several years before settling in California. Norwich is also the home of King Arthur Flour, whose Vermont Sourdough bread was the inspiration for Norwich Sourdough.

Now my heart is aching for the people of Vermont, where the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Irene has left thousands of people without their homes and/or their livelihoods. Although the town of Norwich seems to have come through without devastating damage, it will take years for much of the rest of the state to recover, and it makes me cry.

If you have enjoyed Norwich Sourdough, or have learned from or been inspired by anything you have found here on Wild Yeast, I ask you to consider thanking me by making a donation to one of the following organizations assisting in the relief effort in this beautiful state:

Vermont Disaster Relief Fund

Vermont Red Cross

Vermont Foodbank

Tools: Baking Bang for Your Buck

People often ask me what I recommend as the most important tools to get first, if you have a limited budget for baking equipment. These items are listed in roughly the reverse order in which you could pry them from my hands. It’s also not a bad list of gift ideas for any bread baker in your life.*

  • Baking stone. It’s hard to get good crusty hearth loaves without one (and here’s why). High-end is the Fibrament, but a less expensive stone, or even unglazed terra cotta tiles, will do the job, although they’re more prone to breakage. $10 – $100.
  • Steam set-up for your oven. This is not an item you can buy; it’s rigged from inexpensive components. Steam is essential for most crusty breads. Read more about the why and how of steam here. $15 – $25.
  • Bench scraper (aka bench knife, dough scraper, or dough cutter), like this one. Cuts ciabatta dough into pieces, lifts sticky pieces of dough off the counter, and cleans your counter of tenacious dough bits and loose flour. About $12.
  • Digital scale. It is my personal mission in life to see that everyone measures their baking ingredients by weight, not volume. More about that here. I like the My Weigh i5000 and the Escali Primo. $25 – $50.
  • Instant-read thermometer. Dough temperature is important for proper fermentation. Read more about temperature here. A thermometer is also useful if you don’t know whether your loaf is fully baked yet. The Thermapen is wonderfully fast but pricey; this Taylor Digital Thermometer works fine for much less money. $15 – $90.
  • Small ingredients scale. Ingredients like yeast and salt that are usually called for in amounts of 10 grams or less are best weighed on a scale that has precision to a tenth of a gram. However, these  ingredients also measure fairly well by volume, so this is not an essential tool. It’s nice to have, though. $20 – $40.
  • Stand mixer. Although nice to have, especially for certain doughs like bagels and brioche, most breads can be mixed just fine by hand, so a mixer is a lower priority. Mine is a KitchenAid 6-qt. and I recommend it. About $400.

*Note to my male friends on the appropriateness of these things as gifts to wives/girlfriends: For birthdays and other occasions, it might depend on the woman in question, and on the gift — mixer, probably; scale, perhaps; lava rocks, doubtful — but for anniversaries, just don’t do it! Trust me on this one.

“A Good Crust” Syndicated on BlogHer

I’m pleased and honored that my post “A Good Crust” has been syndicated on BlogHer. Please check it out there, where you’ll also find more terrific posts about food, family, politics, work, entertainment, and everything else!

Bake Sale for Japan

Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world. — Howard Zinn

When: Saturday, April 2, 2011; 10 a.m. – 2 p. m.

Where: Dozens of locations in the Bay Area and nationwide. I will bake for the San Jose event at Roy’s Station (197 Jackson Street).

Who: Professional and amateur bakers, cooks, artists, artisans, and musicians coming together around food to make something BIG happen.

How: Want to help? We’ll need bakers, artists, volunteers, and lots and lots of customers. If you live in the South Bay, please send offers of help to Paige Bayer at sanjosebakesale@gmail.com . If you live somewhere else, check out the national event page to learn more about a bake sale in your area.

Why: So we can donate BIG BUCKS to Peace Winds Japan.

Worth Its Salt

A recent commenter on one of my recipe posts remarked: “… my dough was very sticky not coming together. … Thinking it must be too wet, I added a little more flour to no avail. Then I realized I had forgotten to add the salt. Shortly after adding the salt the dough came together well. Is this coincidental, or does salt play more than a flavor enhancing role? ”

This was absolutely not coincidental. Considered to be one of the four essential bread ingredients (along with flour, water, and yeast), salt does indeed do something more than loafing around and tasting good.

  • Salt affects dough texture, making it stronger and less sticky, as the commenter noticed.
  • Salt reduces oxidation of the dough during mixing. Oxidation causes the degradation of carotenoid pigments in the flour that contribute to flavor and crumb color.
  • Salt regulates yeast activity, causing fermentation to progress at a more consistent rate.
  • Salt affects shelf life. Because it attracts water, it can help keep bread from staling too quickly in a dry environment. However, in a humid environment, it can make the crust soggier.

[Read more...]

Come Bake With Me!

I am excited to announce that I will hold a bread baking workshop here in my Mountain View kitchen on Saturday, March 5.

– Update: The workshop is now sold out. Please contact me if you would like to be added to the waiting list, or to my mailing list for announcements of future workshops! –

What:   Home bread baking workshop

When:   Saturday, March 5, 2011; 9 a.m. to approximately 5 p.m.

Where:   My kitchen in Mountain View, California

Why:   Bread, learning, fun

I have already shared a lot of what I know about baking bread on this blog. But there are some things you just can’t convey with words and photos — you have to get your hands in the dough!

In this day-long workshop, we will bake two breads, one mixed by hand and one in a stand mixer. I will show you how I gauge dough consistency and gluten development, and shape boules and batards, with plenty of extra dough on hand for shaping practice. We will also talk about selection of ingredients, basic bread science, and setting up a home oven for hearth baking.

I will even feed you lunch!

If you’re interested, please contact me for pricing and details on how to sign up.

I hope to be baking with you soon!

– Update: The workshop is now sold out. Please contact me if you would like to be added to the waiting list, or to my mailing list for announcements of future workshops! –