Get Your Malt On

These baguettes were made with a small amount of diastatic malt powder. Perfectly good bread is possible without malt, but in some cases it can help your bread be just that much more lovely.

Malt contains several enzymes; the most significant to bread bakers is amylase, which breaks down the starch in flour into simple sugar. Sugar is important for two primary reasons: it is what yeast eats (so fermentation would not be possible without it) and caramelization of sugar contributes greatly to a rich crust color. Most white flours have malt added at the mill, and even when they do not, both amylase and simple sugars are present naturally in wheat flour, so you can get fine results without adding more malt to the dough at mixing time.

However, when dough has a long fermentation, the yeast consumes a lot of sugar, since it grazes pretty much constantly. This means there is less sugar left over for caramelization of the crust, so the crust color might be paler than you’d like. For doughs with preferments (such as the poolish used in these baguettes), where a portion of the flour is fermented over several hours, the addition of amylase in the form of malt can make the crust a bit nicer. You might also add some to your dough if you are baking with unmalted flour.

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Sourdough for Health

In 2009, Dan Buettner’s invesitgation of “blue zones” — regions whose inhabitants have much-longer-than-average lifespans — took him to the Greek island of Ikaria, where one in three people lives past the age of 90. Buettner identified 13 lifestyle factors that may contribute to the Ikarians’ longevity. Not surprisingly, more than half of these relate to diet. What may surprise you is that one of the dietary elements Buettner claims can contribute to a long and healthy life is sourdough bread.

This is a sound assertion; scientific research on sourdough offers several reasons why sourdough can be health-enhancing. These benefits are probably primarily derived from the acids produced by the lactobacillus bacteria that are an integral component of a sourdough starter and give the bread its sour flavor:

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We Will Be Amused

Image courtesy of SF Food Wars

Hey, guess what? I am honored and excited to have been selected to compete in the next SF Food Wars smackdown: “Amuse Brunch (brunch in a bite).”

As with Yeast Affliction, my previous foray onto the culinary battlefield, 20 cooks and bakers will attempt to dazzle three judges and 200 brunchists-at-large and capture the title of most amazing/amusing brunch bite. The roster of competitors and their dishes will be announced soon and will undoubtedly promise a brunch spread that will amuse even the most astute bouches.

All this amusement will transpire at noon on Sunday, May 16, at Thirsty Bear in San Francisco. Tickets, which are $15 and include a beer, mimosa, or Bloody Mary, go on sale on May 4 at noon sharp, on the SF Food Wars website. If you want one, plan to have your clicking finger poised on the mouse at 11:59 a.m.; these gems sell out fast!

DHMO Alert

It has come to my attention that dihydrogen monoxide (DHMO) — a powerful solvent linked to thousands of deaths each year — is a common additive in many foods, including breads and other baked goods. It seems I may have even unwittingly added it to my own breads on occasion — yikes!

I urge you to inform yourselves about this potentially lethal chemical, and decide for yourselves whether it is a risk you’re willing to take.

Coalition to Ban DHMO

DHMO: Your All-Natural Friend

Use It or Lose It

One of the questions people ask me most often is why you need to discard a portion of your starter every time you feed it. The answer is — you don’t; you can bake with it instead, if you’re in a baking frame of mind. However, as far as perpetuation of the starter is concerned, you’d better be taking some of it out regularly, or you’re going to be in trouble fast.

Think about what happens when you deliver a meal to those microorganisms — yeast and bacteria — that live in your starter. They gorge themselves on flour and then go about the business of procreation. Now they’re out of food, but there are even more mouths to feed. Unless you expeditiously dispose of some of those little mouths — into a bread dough, the compost pile, the trash can, whatever — you will need to bring in exponentially larger and larger meals for them, and your little dinner party party will become seriously out of control within a matter of days.

To illustrate: say you have a rather small amount of starter, 60 grams. At each feeding, you need to feed in proportion to the amount of starter you start with, around three times the flour and with an equal amount of water. If you kept feeding without taking any out, after one feeding you would have 60 g starter + 180 g flour + 180 g water = 420 g of fed starter. After the second feeding you would have 420 g starter + 1260 g flour + 1260 g water = 2940 g of fed starter. After three feedings, 20,580 g.

After just three days (six feedings), you would have 7,058,940 g of starter. You’re going to need a pretty big jar, not to mention a pretty big budget to afford all that flour.

This is not to say you must always take some out. If I have 60 grams of starter at night and plan to bake bread the next morning, I would keep and feed the entire 60 grams, giving me 420 grams. This is enough to bake a few loaves (in a few hours, once it has a chance to become hungry again) and still have 10 grams left over to keep the starter going.

Let the Bread Wars Begin

Image courtesy of SF Food Wars

Attention Bay Area bakers, eaters, and drinkers — mark your calendars and start your ovens, SF Food Wars is going yeast!

On January 31, SF Food Wars and the San Francisco Baking Institute will sponsor Yeast Affliction! All-out Artisan Bread Bakedown & Craft Beer Tastiness. Twenty of the Bay Area’s most fearless bakers (including yours truly) will go head to head at Thirsty Bear in San Francisco to see whose loaf will win over the judges and capture the imaginations and the taste buds of the attendees.

Bakers: If you want to do battle, get your application in now. But consider yourself warned — you (and I) will face some seriously formidable competition from several of my SFBI classmates. Not only are they very talented, but they’re very competitive. (Did I say I was fearless? I lied. I’m scared, and you should be too. These people make good bread.)

Eaters: Tickets go on sale on Wednesday, January 13 on the SF Food Wars website. A ticket means you get to come and taste all the bread. Of course, you are free to vote for whichever bread you think is well and truly the best. (If you are in my family, however, you might do well to remember which side your bread is buttered on.)

Drinkers: A ticket also gets you a free beer to go with the bread.

So, see you there?