Hearth breads made with poolish. Say, what?

Why is it that the hearth breads taste so good? Why do they have those wonderful brown crusts that crunch and shatter when you bite into them? And those holes! When you slice or tear them, their interiors are filled with large glossy holes perfect for holding butter and olive oil and tapenades. Why can’t you make them at home? Do you really need a wood-fired oven?

Hold on…let’s get rid of the myth first. You can bake hearth breads in your home oven. It’s not rocket science, but like anything worthwhile, hearth baking takes a bit of planning and time. Fortunately, however, you’re not chained to your kitchen. On the contrary; you use time, temperature and wet doughs to bend the bread-making process to fit into your schedule.
One strategy is using a pre-ferment – a portion of the total dough that’s mixed hours ahead of the bake. Why? Because a long contact between the water and flour helps free up more of the starches, sugars and proteins that help create great flavor. A pre-ferment also gives the loaf a longer shelf life.
One type of pre-ferment is called a poolish. (Some bread experts believe the term is of Polish origin, hence the name.)

Easy to make poolish starter (pre-ferment)

Easy to make poolish starter (pre-ferment)

It’s an easy-to-make batter made with flour, water and a tiny bit of yeast. You make it 4-16 hours before making the final dough. During those hours, it ferments on your kitchen counter or in your frig, a cold closet or in a chilly root cellar. The colder you keep it, the longer you can extend this process. You can tell it’s ready to use when the thick batter’s filled with bubbles and smells sweet.
When you’re ready to bake, you combine the poolish with the rest of your flour, additional water, sometimes a smidge of yeast, and salt to make up the final dough.
Focaccia with herb oil and freshly cracked salt

Focaccia with herb oil and freshly cracked salt

Loaves made with poolish include ciabatta, pizza, focaccia and other rustic breads.

Learn to make hearth breads using poolish at my hands-on class Tuesday, February 16 at Bull Brook Keep. I’m also holding a class on sourdough breads February 20. Classes are limited to 5 students. For details and to sign up, click here.

Of snow plowing and sourdough baking

Feb. 3, 7:00AM
Last night, before shuffling off to bed, put two baskets of raw dough into the very chilly root cellar for a slow rise. (Could’ve used the frig, but it’s packed right now.) I also set the oven to pre-heat to 500 degrees by sun up this morning.

The snow was still falling horizontally at 11PM, driven by a strong and nasty north wind. A quick flick of the deck light told the tale: sloping drifts packed hard as cement.
The snow fall had started benignly enough yesterday at about noon – big, beautiful flakes swirling over the fields. And although it was falling heavily, I could still see the cows munching on bales of hay on a distant pasture. No more. Over the course of the afternoon and evening, 20+ mph winds built drifts 2 1/2 feet high in some spots, and left bare ice patches here and there. February.

I went to bed knowing I’d have to spend lots of time in the tractor today; first plowing the long driveway, and then clearing pathways across fields and ditches to get hay to the herd. I’d have to fit my bread baking into the needs of the day. It’s why I set the oven to pre-heat. The first loaf is nearly done.

Fortunately, bending the bread-baking process is something I – and you – can do by baking with very wet doughs, and using temperature and time to determine how quickly we want the the dough to rise. We can use these factors – water content, temp and time – to create loaves with crispy crusts and tender crumb (the insides) that are open, airy and delicious. In fact, a goal is big, glossy holes – a sign that the bread had a good, long rise that took full advantage of all the proteins and sugars in the flour.

The second loaf, a nice round boule, is in the oven. 15 minutes to go.

French sourdough boules

French sourdough boules

A fresh batch of thick and frothy sourdough starter sits on the counter nearly ready to combine with bread flour, semolina flour and water for loaves I’ll make later today. And then there’s the big bowl of bubbling poolish – another type of yeast mixture – I’ll use to make either ciabatta, focaccia, pizza or some other type of rustic loaves. I’ll slip these starters into the 45-degree root cellar to slow their activity and keep them strong and fresh for baking later today, after I’ve moved some snow.

Baking great hearth breads in your home oven to fit your busy schedule. You can do it, too Sign up and learn how. Hands-on classes Feb. 13 and 20.

8:09AM and the first two loaves are out of the oven. If you listen closely, you can hear the crusts crackling as they cool – it’s called the “bread song.”

Now, to plow.


Beth Dooley, live, Sat. Jan. 30 – local winter recipes in the land of ice and snow

In last Saturday’s (Jan 13, 2016) Deep Roots Radio interview, chef/author/journalist Beth Dooley described how she came to live in the chilly Upper Midwest, and how it’s not only possible, but delicious to cook with local ingredients in snow-covered Minnesota. This history and grounding is at the heart of her new book, In Winter’s Kitchen.

This Saturday, Jan. 30, Beth will take us to the next step and describe actual recipes – ingredients and spices – for winter cooking. Join us!
What: Deep Roots Radio conversation with Beth Dooley on winter cooking in the land of ice and snow
When: Saturday, January 30, 9:00-9:30AM CT
Where: Broadcast and streamed live from the studios of WPCA Radio 93.1FM, www.wpcaradio.org

Here’s a sample recipe for Curry Potato Salad from Beth’s website, Beth Dooley’s Kitchen,Curry Potato Salad Beth Dooley So many others can be found in her cookbook, The Northern Heartland Kitchen.
Beth’s other cookbooks include: Minnesota’s Bounty: The Farmer’s Market Cookbook; Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland (with Lucia Watson); with Tracy Singleton and Marshall Paulsen, The Birchwood Cafe Cookbook); Meat and Potatoes; and, The Heartland: New American Cooking.

2 Bread Baking Classes: Sourdough and Poolish breads to fit your busy life. Space limited.

NOTICE – February 13 class moved to Tuesday, February 16. The “buy now” button will still indicate Feb. 13. The class is, however, being held Feb. 16.

Thank goodness! Artisan bakeries are stepping up to meet the public’s growing demand for delicious, healthful bread. But you don’t have to step outside for tasty, crusty sourdough, ciabatta, pizza or foccacia. You – yes, busy you, can bake better-than-bakery hearth breads in your home oven. No brick, wood-fired ovens needed!
These breads are based on pre-ferments – starters that provide the leaven to make the dough rise, and which provide the depth of flavor only found in these types of bread. These breads take time – think planning – but it doesn’t mean you’ll be chained to your kitchen. You won’t be standing around in the kitchen. In these classes you’ll get hands-on lessons in how to use time, temperature and water (wet dough) to bend bread baking to fit your busy schedule.

Poolish vs. sourdough
I love using a poolish because it gives me depth of flavor in a variety of rustic breads. Think pizza, focaccia and ciabatta, to name just a few. What’s a “poolish,” you ask? Good question. It’s a yeast mixture you make at least 4 hours (and up to three days) before you intend to bake the bread. It contains a small volume of flour, most of the dough water and a tiny bit of yeast. Over the initial few hours, the poolish begins to bubble and rise, and gain the strength it needs to raise, or ferment, the rest of the dough that’ll be used to make two full loaves of bread. A poolish (sometimes referred to as a sponge) differs from a sourdough in that the poolish is made up fresh just hours before you plan to bake. A sourdough starter, on the other hand, takes up to two weeks to create from scratch. After that it has to be maintained – refreshed with water and flour every few days – in order to remain strong.

These classes are independent of one another, and each hands-on class is limited to 5 students. You’ll leave with:
– First-hand experience of how the starter and dough should look, feel and smell
– Recipes
– A yeast starter you can take home. Use it right away, and replenish for future baking.
– Home-brewed coffee and tea, and delicious samples
– Fun conversation

A. Poolish Hearth Breads

Ciabatta, pizza and focaccia made with poolish

Ciabatta, pizza and focaccia made with poolish

What: Baking breads based on a poolish preferment (Interesting name, isn’t it!)
When: Tuesday,February 16, 2016. 9:30AM-1:00PM.
Where: Bull Brook Keep, 765 50th Avenue, Clear Lake, WI 54005. Here’s the map.
Overview: We’ll mix up a preferment and use it for ciabatta, foccacia and pizza (that can be frozen for future dinners).
What you’ll need: Your favorite apron, and an empty glass jar with lid (to hold the starter you’ll get).
Cost: $45 per student.To register

B. Sourdough Breads

Crispy crust, large glossy holes, great flavor in sourdough

Crispy crust, large glossy holes, great flavor in sourdough

What: Baking sourdough bread
When: February 20, 2016. 9:00AM-Noon.
Where: Bull Brook Keep, 765 50th Avenue, Clear Lake, Wisconsin. Here’s the map.
Overview: We’ll learn about and use a home-grown sourdough starter and use it in three different version: Basic Country, Semolina and 70% whole wheat. I’ll describe and demonstrate hydration and temperature strategies to bend the bread-making process to suit your schedule.
What you’ll need: Your favorite apron, and an empty glass jar with lid (to hold the starter I’ll give you).
Cost: $45 per student. To register

Where to get garden seeds not owned by Monsanto

This is a quick dash, but here are a couple of sources to start: – Mother Earth News has a few posts that list sustainable seed companies. This is just one of them. – The Seed Savers Exchange is a national network devoted to growing out and sharing (for a … Continue reading

Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin: Taking local, sustainable food to scale. It’s about the chicken crossing the road.

Reginaldo (Regi) Haslett-Marroquin gets the big picture…the very big picture when it comes to understanding what’ll take to re-imagine and re-install a sustainable food system in America. No, not just sustainable; resilient. And, no, he’s not just about an abstract picture of the economics, agricultural theory, social linkages and ideal delivery systems. He’s very much about dirt under the nails: about working with Latino immigrants to develop an integrated set of systems to get and grow chickens, feed them, process and market chickens, package and transport chickens, and get them into the hands of everyday buyers – you and me. And while doing this create a web of capabilities that provide living wages, future growth, and ability to respond to changing markets. He’s fostered a working model in Minnesota. It’s exciting to hear what happening, what’s showing real results for a growing community.

I hope you’ll enjoy this Deep Roots Radio conversation with him.Resilient agriculture

Regi is the chief operating officer of Main Street Project, in Northfield, Minnesota, and designer of MSP’s Sustainable Food and Agriculture program. His work started, however, in much warmer place and very different circumstances. A native of Guatemala, Regi received his agronomy degree from the Central National School of Agriculture and studied at the Universidad de San Carlos in Guatemala. BA in International Business Administration from Augsburg College. He began working with indigenous Guatemalan communities in 1988. He has served as consultant to the United Nations Development Program’s Bureau for Latin America. He also founded the Fair Trade Federation and co-created Peace Coffee company. He has also organized several stewardship-certified cooperative forestry businesses in the Midwest and Guatemala.

About Main Street Project
Mission: To increase access to resources, share knowledge and build power in order to create a socially, economically and ecologically resilient food system.

Its strategy is to: change the current food system, which is dominated by major producers, by deploying an alternative, small-scale sustainable poultry-based system that’s accessible and economically viable for aspiring Latino and other immigrant farmers, and easily scalable to meet market conditions.
MSP focuses on building a sustainable food and ag economy that offers pathways out of poverty for low-way, primarily for the Latino workforce.
They’ve developed new models of sustainable production that provide opportunities for ownership and control – key to building rural family and community prosperity.


Sat., Dec. 5, 9-9:30AM CT, GMO labeling – why the fight

What: Live conversation with Tracy Singleton, owner of the Birchwood Cafe (Minneapolis, MN) and good-food activist about consumer demand for – and Congress resistance to – clear and truthful labeling of GMO (genetically-modified) foods. When: Saturday, Dec. 5, 9:00-9:30AM Central Time Where: Broadcast and streamed live from the studios of … Continue reading

#GrazingItalyUK – B&B breakfast and Slow Food at Casa Visconti

Nov. 19 Not all food is authentic Bolognese
The Casa Visconti B&B in the heart of Bologna is proving to be a find, in great part due to lively proprietress Claudia Visconti. Our room and sitting area are bright and art filled, the bathroom tidy and efficient, and the breakfast lovely and tasty. (What’s not to like about frothy espresso, sliced stawberries and Kiwi, and an assortment of pastries?)
The gem, however, is Ms. Visconti herself: energetic, enthusiastic about her city, and discerning about the origins and preperations of meals.
Not everything is “authentic,” she asserts, and she goes out of her way to point us to bistros and restaurants grounded in sourcing from local farms anchored in sustainable practice and in excellent preparation. I’m hoping I can connect with the Slow Food leaders she recommended.
Dessa and I shared our table with a couple from Luxemburg, owners of a store dedicated to artisinal foods from around the world. Real food devotees, they were in town for a Dillan concert. They shared their outlooks on the slow appreciation of links between agricultural practice, nutrition, taste and the cost of good food.
More on these conversations in a future posts.

#GrazingItalyUK – Bye, bye Cardiff. Hello, Bologna!

Today (Nov. 18), we leave the UK (so eager to return) and head to Italy. First stop, Bologna. Can’t wait to eat!!! Having a great time traveling with my daughter, Dessa.

Flying Cardiff to Bologna

Flying Cardiff to Bologna