Video

What comes before focaccia? Before ciabatta and pizza? Quick video tells it.

Ciabatta, pizza and focaccia


It’s just three weeks before this Fall’s first artisan baking class at Bull Brook Keep!

What? You haven’t signed up yet!? Is it because you’re not sure you can bake great flavor, luscious crusts, and tender crumb in your home oven?

Never fear, my classes are designed for success in home ovens and for new, and experienced, bakers with busy schedules.

You can focus on breads built from poolish – a bubbly batter – used to make focaccia, ciabatta and pizza dough. Or you can get up to your elbows in flour to make the crispy crusts and delightful flavor of mild French sourdough. The basic formula can be used for all kinds of variations – with cornmeal, sweet potato, whole wheat, roasted beets, raisins and coriander, and more. In this class we explore two or three of these.

All classes are limited to 4-6 students because they are hands-on, include lunch, bottomless cups of tea or coffee, sampling and lots of conversation and fun.
All classes are held in my teaching kitchen. Our farm is an easy and scenic drive from the Twin Cities. And yes, you’ll see the cows.

Oh, about poolish and focaccia: here’s a 4-minute 50-second video that quickly illustrates the process.

Questions? Just give me a call. Want a private class? No problem. Get 4 to 6 people together and we can schedule it. What better way to warm up the house!
Sylvia
651-238-8525

Sliding seasons

Two days ago, it hit nearly 90 degrees. And the humidity – it was awful. It felt as if I was breathing through a sponge.
This morning, the dogs and I walked to the mailbox in a cool drizzle. It was 58 degrees and I was glad I’d pulled on my old denim barn jacket and cap. Although our driveway’s only 600 feet long, my low boots and the hems of my jeans were drenched before I got to the road.
Our driveway ends at a cattle grate that works to keep the cows inside our property (they balk at the light and dark pattern created by the grate’s heavy horizontal pipes).
I put Siggy (my Corgi) on “stay” at the grate and walked the last few yards across the road and to our weathered mailbox. It’s worst for wear because some vandal decided to use it for a piñata a couple of years ago.
I pulled out a short stack of junk mail, and a magazine I was very glad to fold up under my arm to protect it from the light drizzle. Siggy, Parker (Dave’s English Setter) and I made our way back up to the house. Half way, I made a quick stop at the orchard. One of the several fairly young apple trees was bending under its ripe burden. Note to self – pick, dry, freeze and can apples – yesterday.

Fall = applesauce

The dogs ran and romped around me, clocking a couple of miles as they zig-zagged across the gravel, around the orchard and across the open grasses.
Despite their doggy activity, it was quiet. I like that about drizzle.

Contented BueLingos

The driveway slopes up to the house, and as I neared it, I looked East. Most of the cows were reclined on a near pasture, contentedly chewing their cud. A good sign of health and calm.
As I opened the garage door, I began to mentally tick off today’s to-do’s: notify customers of the summer sausage now available for pickup; write up meeting notes from last week: start a batch of French sourdough, contact prospective students for upcoming artisan bread baking classes, contact potential guests for Deep Roots Radio; and schedule our next beef harvest. Because Dave and I farm in rhythm with the seasons, harvests are a sure sign of the shift from summer to fall.
The window of my small home office opens to a southern slice of the farm. I can see some of this year’s calves. Boy, but it’s a healthy group. It’s amazing how some of those steers have gained hundreds of pounds and nearly a foot of height in just four months.
The sky’s brightening a bit, and I can just make out a pair of sandhill cranes on a ridge. I love their call, and the way they slowly wing just 40 and 50 feet above the ground.
Leaves are turning. And even though we’ve gotten lots of rain and considerable sunshine, the grass just doesn’t grow as quickly or as thickly as it did in early July. Despite this annual slow-down, we’re still able to rotate the cattle to fresh paddocks (grazing areas) even now because the pastures are so much more diverse and healthy than even two years ago. This is important for us because our BueLingo beef cattle are 100% grass-fed and grass-finished. They grow and fatten on grasses, legumes and herbs. No grain. No hormones. No subclinical antibiotics. This means it takes up to a year longer to get our cattle to harvest condition, but again, that’s what it means to raise cattle as nature intended.

Our third-crop hay is baled and waiting for me to move it off the field and to the storage area. At this time of year, it’s the very heavy morning dew that presents a challenge. I just don’t like driving a tractor really wet ground. On a typical late September day, I’ll often wait until mid-afternoon before venturing out in my John Deere. Given the last two days of rain, I’m going to hold off until we’ve had a couple of sunny days to dry things out a bit.
Drizzle, drenching dews, cooling days and lengthening nights. Every turn of the clock moves us from the growing to the harvest season. Again.
It’s fall.

Artisan baking classes scheduled for Oct., Nov. and Dec. Get up to your elbows in flour and fun!

Beef, bread and brewed tea. What can I say, I really enjoy all three.

Dave and I raise 100% grass-fed beef using sustainable practices because of the wonderful results: great-tasting beef, happy cows, restored pastures, living soil.
I love baking bread for similar reasons: using healthful ingredients; employing the power of sourdough to raise the dough and to combat many of the anti-nutrients that make breads, seeds and beans difficult to digest; listening to the “yumm’s” when friends and family savor the loaves, pizzas or biscuits; and, sharing the baking experience with students. YOU CAN all bake artisan loaves in your home oven.
Oh, and the tea? Well, I just like milky, sweet tea – English style.

Please click here for the schedule of baking classes in Oct., Nov., and Dec. Classes will focus either on baking with sourdough or baking with poolish (the basis for focaccia, ciabatta and pizza). Classes are hands-on (minimum 4, maximum 6 students, unless otherwise arranged).
Register online, or send me an email and pay with a check.
I’ll soon post the January and February schedules. Email me if you’d like an alert to the schedule.
You can also arrange for private classes with family and friends. Just contact me to schedule, 651-238-8525, sylvia@bullbrookkeep.com

Bring an apron and prepare to eat well, to get your hands covered in flour, and to have fun!
Sylvia

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.
Sylvia

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.

Sylvia

Morning break after a three-dog night

It hit -28 last night at Bull Brook Keep, and that’s without taking windchill into account.
After pulling on my flap-earred hat, long-johns and heavy jacket, I fed and watered the chickens and fully expected to find frozen eggs in the nest boxes. Today’s harvest was small and cold, but not frozen. I’ll check the coop several times this morning to gather up any new contributions before they freeze and crack.

Hot and spicy break after a three-dog night

Hot and spicy break after a three-dog night


Chilly morning chores prompt substantial morning breaks. Today’s includes toasted French sourdough fortified with pastured butter and homemade jalapeño jelly, extra sharp Cheddar, a fresh pear and piping hot organic Welsh Morning tea with plenty of organic half-and-half and vanilla-spiked organic sugar. Thank you God.

How far for that perfect loaf? Dec. 6, 9-9:30AM Central with Sam Fromartz

What: Deep Roots Radio conversation with Sam Fromartz
When: Saturday, Dec. 6, 2014, 9:00-9:30AM Central Time
Where: Broadcast and streamed live from the studios of WPCA Radio, 93.1FM and www.wpcaradio.org

Sam Fromartz

Sam Fromartz

A highly experienced, nationally-recognized and celebrated investigative journalist, Sam Fromartz is Editor in Chief of the Food and Environment Reporting Network (FERN). His interest in food isn’t limited to the academic or mud-raking, however. He’s been a devoted bread baker for decades. His passion for crusty artisan breads collided with his journalistic career several years ago to send him on a four year journey around the world in search of the perfect loaf.

Join Sam and me as we converse about the explorations that resulted in his new book “In Search of the Perfect Loaf: a Home Baker’s Odyssey.”1403903106338

Bonus: Here’s a 2012 Deep Roots Radio interview with Sam about then then new Food and Environment News Network. Enjoy, and tune in tomorrow.