Hearth Breads



I’ve been meaning to try out the combination of banneton + baking stone when making a “hearth” bread. Hamelman recommends a 73% hydration dough for his Ciabatta, but I knew if I went that high the odds of “disaster” would be pretty high too. I settled on a more moderate 65% hydration for this first pass, something along the lines of a French Bread, though it’s really a “65% hydration boule” (ball).

The recipe involves light mixing followed by three folds at one hour intervals, then a two hour rise in a banneton.

The first picture was taken right after the light mixing:


Notice how the dough is somewhat shaggy. It’s fairly sticky too. Over the next few hours it’s going to shape up.

Here it is after fold number one:


The “folding process” involves taking one edge of the dough, stretching it out, then folding it back on the mass. Then the stretch is done to the opposite side — repeat until all four sides have been stretched and folded back onto the mass. If you look closely you can see the last fold sitting on top with a slight seam running left to right.

Here it is after fold number two:


Not much evidence of the seams this time. The dough has gained a lot of structure, and it’s not nearly as sticky as it was — now it’s just sort of tacky.

An hour later was the third fold, and the dough placed placed into a well-floured banneton:


I should mention because it isn’t pictured:  During every rise the bowl/banneton was covered with plastic wrap.

The dough was allowed to rise for two hours. An hour prior to baking the stone was placed in the oven and the oven was preheated to 460F.

The dough ready to be flipped onto the pizza peel:


And out of the oven (I baked one at a time):


The appearance is due to the floured rings of the banneton, combined with slashing the dough prior to baking. It looks involved, but it’s really pretty simple.

Overall the structure was a little tighter than I would have preferred — the “right” answer to that is probably more steam and higher hydration. The first dough stuck to the pizza peel, which was the “disaster” I was trying to avoid, and it’s why I used a moderate hydration in the first place. (And it degassed the dough somewhat, which is not what I wanted.) I used ample flour for the second dough and that one released fine.

There’s definitely a “wow” factor with this approach. I’m sure I’ll do it at least once again during the holidays.


The recipe is based around Hamelman’s “Ciabatta with Poolish” (Bread:  A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes)

The day before — make the Poolish  (120g bread flour, 120g water, a few grains of yeast. I added 2% salt to the Poolish, which is not classically correct — I wanted the Poolish to not go totally crazy and overproof.)

Baking day:

  1.  Combine the Poolish with 280g bread flour, 140g water, 1/2 tsp yeast (up to 1 tsp might work better next time), 6g kosher salt. Total recipe is 400g bread flour, 260g water (65%), yeast, 8g salt (2%)
  2.  Mix for 3 minutes on low speed, then 3 minutes on 2nd speed.
  3.  Fold the dough, move to a lightly oiled bowl cover with plastic wrap and let rise 1 hour.
  4.  Fold the dough. Cover and let rise another hour.
  5.  Fold the dough. Cover and let rise a third hour.
  6.  Fold the dough, place into a well-floured banneton or bowl. Cover and let rise two hours until doubled. With one hour to go preheat the oven and stone to 460F.
  7.  Gently dump the dough onto a pizza peel. Slash the dough.
  8.  Bake for 40 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack and let cool.

Again, it looks like a lot of steps, but it’s really pretty easy. Just set the timer and forget it for a while.

Happy Thanksgiving


Grainy cell phone pic of No Knead breads and parmesan breadsticks.

Grainy cell phone pic of No Knead breads and parmesan breadsticks.



Pigs In A Blanket


I recently received Anthony Bourdain’s  –  Appetites:  A Cookbook.

There are some funny bits and some smart bits. And some stuff about his kid. In the “Party 101” chapter Bourdain shares some ideas from his catering background. What caught me was this:

…All that being said, the single most important lesson I learned over the course of many years, and many, many parties, is this humbling but inescapable fact:  that no matter what you serve, no matter how beautifully presented, strikingly garnished, exotic in flavor, or expensive …  what everybody wants, what they will be all over like a swarm, every time, is commerically made freezer-case-sourced pigs in fucking blankets. It doesn’t matter who your guests are. They will eat them, and they will love them. Whether this involves post-ironic posturing or just straightforward enthusiasm, they will love them just the same.

Well, I had to try that out.. didn’t I?

Grainy cell phone pic taken at a friend's house.

Grainy cell phone pic taken at a friend’s house.

[A few minutes out of the oven and about 25% have been eaten.]

The was a lot more food than there were people, but most of the pigs in a blanket were consumed anyway. Bourdain is probably 100% right, even adjusting for a home environment.

I’ll need to try this “test” again on a bigger, unsuspecting crowd and see how it shakes out.


Thanks to SeattleAuthor and spouse for the book.

Amazon link here.

Some Assorted Baking Output


The weather has cooled and that means the kitchen is cooler too. I’m way more inclined to bake stuff when it’s not a million degrees in the kitchen.

Recent Stuff:

Epi breads on October 28:


To the left is a potato foccacia, similar to this 2011 recipe. What’s interesting to me is that recipe uses volume, not weight. I don’t bake using volume anymore. At some point I need to go back and figure out when the approach changed, and whether it was an overnight thing or if using weights was gradually phased in.  [Late edit:  The answer is further down this post.]

The epi breads used 150 grams of flour each. (This recipe, raising the oven temperature to 450F.) They really had a lot of oven spring this time. I’m guessing that the epi were allowed to rest a little longer after shaping, increasing the existing holes for steam to push up and out. I’d still like more contrast in color, other than that I’m pretty happy with them.

Next up, bread sticks on November 2:


There are two or three recipes here-

The sticks on the left use bread flour and 57% hydration. I rolled the 200 gram dough mass out to about 1/4″ thick, sliced it into ~1/3″ wide strips, twisted the strips, placed them on a Silpat, and baked at 450F for 22 minutes. They came out nice and crispy.

The sticks on the right were treated identically, except that I lightly dusted the dough mass with semolina flour for extra crunch. They didn’t need the extra crunch, but the semolina did offer a little bit different taste and texture.

I added about four tablespoons of butter to the sticks in the center. The 400 gram bulk dough was divided into about eight pieces and rolled out. These were intended for sopping up the sauce Iron Chef Leftovers had included with dinner. (Many Iron Chef Leftover dinners involve something awesome that needs sopping at the end of the meal.)

This batch comes at about the 5 year mark of messing with breadsticks. I was fairly happy with how they all came out, so that’s progress.

[Late edit:  On the linked post it says:  “This is the first time I’ve done a recipe using weights instead of volumes.”  Mystery Solved!]

I think I’ve gone through some broad baking trends since 2011:   increasing temperatures, decreasing hydration, decreasing oil, slightly increasing salt, more preference for a room temperature rise vs a refrigerator rise. Total abandonment of using volume and English measurements. (Thankfully, look at the tortured math in the link.) In other words, the baking is moving from a Reinhardt influence to a Hamelman influence, but that’s a long blog post in itself.

Finally, a big, goofy, pretzel necklace on November 8:


The pretzels would have looked better if I would have rolled them out thinner. The flipside is that they had enough durability to tolerate being worn on a string. It’s basically this recipe, except that the egg wash was only yolks thinned with a little water. That, and they were baked at 460F, which is the temperature that Hamelman uses for many of the doughs in his book. Each change was intended to produce a darker end result. A little more color would have been nice, but they tasted good, which is the main point of the thing anyway.

As Iron Chef Leftovers said:  “It’s a Flavor Flav pretzel necklace!”


Final Summer EarthBox 2016 Recap — The Tomatoes, Tomatillos, and Basil


The final “summer garden 2016” recap — Tomatoes, Tomatillos, and Basil

The 2013 recap is here. 2014 here. 2015 here.

160905 tomatoes

The Tomatoes:

Black Krim – 10.9 pounds. [75 day indeterminate heirloom.]  Relatively poor yield in 2016, which was true of everything else too. In the two previous years the yield was around 23 pounds each year. Keep that in mind as we go down the list. Always a favorite at the tomato tastings with its rich, earthy flavor. Black Krim also makes a great sauce. Keeper.

(Purple) Cherokee – 14.1 pounds. [80 day indeterminate heirloom.]  Produced earlier than 80 days and continued late — it wound up with the 2nd highest yield of the eight tomato plants. Cherokee did well in the tastings. Definite winner that we’ll grow again assuming we have the space. (Pictured above on the back sheet tray, right side. Probably.)

Oregon Spring – 10.5 pounds. [60 day determinate.]  An early and abundant producer that tastes good and makes good sauce. It’s a small determinate, which is another point in its favor. (Smaller determinates don’t require some of the pruning and maintenance that the indeterminate varieties do. And they take less space. And everything else gets more sun by association. I can see us trying for a higher ratio of determinate tomatoes going forward.)

Valencia – 10.6 pounds. [55-60 day indeterminate.]  New to us, these were supposed to taste of pineapple, which no-one could detect in the tastings. Still, the plant did well, the fruits had a “full” tomato taste and ripened to a cheery bright orange.

Sun Gold – 6.6 pounds. [65 day indeterminate]  Very poor yield from a very sweet tasting and popular tomato. Most years we’d see around 16 pounds from this variety. We’ll get ’em next year.

Yellow Pear – 8.5 pounds. [78 day indeterminate.]  I thought it would be a good idea to put another indeterminate cherry tomato with the Sun Golds. We weren’t impressed. The Yellow Pears didn’t really taste of anything, the skins were thick, the yield was “meh”… Last year we didn’t love the Sweet Millions, this year it was the Yellow Pear. Not a keeper. We’re still searching for a complimentary cherry tomato and are open to recommendations.

Roma – 3.0 pounds. [75 determinate.]   Terrible. We’d averaged 22 pounds per year over the last three years. Smothered by indeterminates, the Romas need a better location in 2017. Most likely the “correct” answer is a dedicated box (two plants) of Romas.

Paul Robeson – 8.5 pounds. [85 day indeterminate.] Another purple/black variety. Late, but tasty. We may not have room for three purple/black varieties next year. Keeper if we have room.

Taxi – 22.7 pounds. [65 day determinate.] Taxi is a top producer- Every. Single. Year.  25.9 pounds in 2014.  24.6 pounds in 2015.  The marginal weather didn’t effect the Taxi plant in the least. We have a lot of yellow tomato sauce.

Tigerella – 12.1 pounds. [65 indeterminate heirloom.] The Tigerella got a little squished in the middle of the garden. Still, the yield was good (relatively), and the plant was one of the last hangers-on of the season.


The Tomatillos:

“Verde” – 19.7 pounds from two plants. This was a new variety to us, and it’s my new favorite. The yield was good, and the fruits grew to be larger than the other two varieties we’ve previously done. (“De Mipa” and “Mexican Strain”.) That means less work and less processing. Winner.

160724 tomatillo


The Basil:

We’re done weighing basil because I find it too tedious. We’ll get around 3 pounds of leaves per box per year. Good enough. We waited too long to harvest this year — the plants sort of yellowed before we got to them and a lot got wasted. The plan next year is to harvest 1/2 of the basil on August 1 and half of what’s left each successive week until the plants yellow. (Or something like that.)


2016 Summary:

The total yield was 194.3 pounds, though we didn’t count the garlic, scallions, or other cool-season greens that we’ve counted in other years. Not including the basil it comes to 17.7 pounds per box, or about 6.0 pounds per square foot of growing medium. It could have gone better but nature had other ideas. I’m not going to argue.



Visit Dave at Ourhappyacres, host of Harvest Monday.

Winter Container Mini Update — November 4, 2016


Last night was cool and clear, so it’s time to shoehorn in a quick “Winter Garden” update before the cold really sets in:

The salad table, which sees sun until about 2pm:


[The top tier is mostly romaine (Winter Density(?)), arugula, cilantro, Mache, and spinach. Middle tier is Miner’s Lettuce and New Zealand Spinach in the front with parsley in the back and poking out the sides. The bottom tier is mostly arugula with a few interspersed cilantro.]

I’ve found the biggest challenge with this salad table arrangement is that the top tier dries out in the August sun, which makes it hard to direct seed and have the little things survive. Going forward, I’m guessing we’ll want to start in July/August with seedlings in pots, placing those in the partially shaded and cooler back yard. Then in early September move some of those plants to the salad table and spread the rest around the summer EarthBoxes as they’re emptied of tomatoes and such.

The previous paragraph was a mouthful, though it’s way better than the pile of sand I started with.

The backyard EarthBoxes have a collection of garlic, shallots, bunch onions, radishes, chard, mache, and carrots. All the greens will need to be harvested in March or April before they bolt. I’ve learned that one. Everything else will need to make room in May for the summer vegetables.

This whiskey barrel was available in mid-late summer after the bugs decimated the nasturtiums. We planted a mix of Mache, spinach, and scallions:


The neat thing about this barrel is that it doesn’t get much direct hot summer sun, but as the sun moves lower on the horizon it gets more sunlight. It’s perfect for stuff that might bolt in August. We’ve been harvesting salads for the last couple of months — it’s been a continuous supply of micro-greens.

That’s it for this update, and now that I look at the weather report it calls for mild temperatures and rain in the coming days..

EarthBox 2016 Recap — The Cucumbers And Zucchini


2013 Cucumbers and Zucchini recap here. 2014 here. 2015 here.

The single Tromboncino plant produced 10.9 pounds this year. That’s basically the same (per plant) as in 2014. 2015 was better, but then 2015 was better for everything. Either way, we now have lots of frozen shredded zucchini.

160814 tromboncino

I think we’ve gotten better at “tending” for the Tromboncino:  We’re quicker to remove “loser” fruits. We also harvested a lot of smaller/shorter fruits this year due to the less than ideal weather.

The Tromboncino shared a box with a Lemon cucumber, due to the lack of availability of a 2nd Tromboncino plant. The spreadsheet says that we only harvested 1.6 pounds of Lemon cucumbers. I can believe that weight, as they were out-competed by the Tromboncino. This will be another argument for not mixing different plants in the same box.

The Marketmore cucumbers yielded 28.0 pounds — almost identical to last year’s output. Last year was sort of too hot for the cucumbers. 2016 was sort of too cool. Overall the fruits were much more attractive in 2016, and I think the actual harvest was of better quality.

160724 cucumber

Even as late as August 21 the cucumber plants still looked presentable:

Basil foreground left. Peppers background left. Cucucmbers center. Tomatillos background right.

Basil foreground left. Peppers background left. Cucumbers center. Tomatillos background right.

Next up:  The Tomatoes, Tomatillos, and Basil recap.

GNOIF: Run For Your Life GNOIF!

by A.J. Coltrane

GNOIF #24 recap — GNOIF:  Run For Your Life GNOIF! (Horror/zombie/vampire themes.)

Games That Got Played:  Dark Gothic, Exploding Kittens, King Of Tokyo, Mysterium, Pirates Ninjas Robots And Zombies.

Games That Didn’t Get Played:  Betrayal At The House On The Hill, Blood Rage, Dead Fellas, The Doom That Came To Atlantic City, Dracula, Zombie Fluxx, Get Dr. Lucky, Guillotine, Last Night On Earth, Mr. Jack Pocket, Munchkin Zombies, Mystery Of The Abbey, Ultimate Werewolf.

A year ago I used Sharpies to “paint” the Heroes from Last Night On Earth. This week I got around to the Zombies, and I touched up the Heroes a little bit:


But we didn’t play Last Night On Earth.

SeattleAuthor did an amazing job of painting the miniatures from his copy of Blood Rage.

But then we didn’t play Blood Rage either. I think maybe everyone was afraid of damaging his incredible artwork.

We did play Pirates Ninjas Robots And Zombies. It sucks. The last player can either be the King Maker or win outright. Its best quality is that it doesn’t take a long time to play. (And that’s me being nice.) For what it’s worth, the game is ranked #7,259 on BoardGameGeek. The lowest ranked game is Tic-Tac-Toe at #12,913. The lowest “real” game is Snakes and Ladders at #12,912. Go Fish is #12,902.

Mysterium was a big hit. One player is the “Ghost” who uses “vision” cards with lots of potential “meanings” or “interpretations” to help “Mediums” suss out what happened the night the Ghost was murdered. There was lots and lots of post-mortem after each game, no pun intended.

We played a few games of King Of Tokyo. I enjoy it quite a bit. Players play as big, stompy, city-wrecking monsters, and the object is to dominate Tokyo and beat up everyone else — think Gozilla vs Mothra vs Kong. It’s fast and violent, and there’s an element of “chicken” to it. Good fun.

Thanks to everyone who played!

EarthBox 2016 Recap — The Peppers

by A.J. Coltrane

Chalk one up for maintaining the blog as a gardening journal. I haven’t been able to find the scribbled notes of which peppers we grew, but this post has a list!

2013 Peppers recap here.  2014 Peppers recap here. 2015 Peppers recap here.


The totals:

Variety Count Weight Ave. Weight
Anaheim 3 8.6 2.9
Serrano 3 4.5 1.5
Carmen 2 3.3 1.7
Gypsy 2 1.3 0.7
Orange Bell 1 1.0 0.3
Red Bell 1 1.1 1.1
Melrose 1 0.4 0.4
Red Beauty 1 1.0 1.0
Baron 1 1.0 1.0
Ace 1 0.2 0.2
Orange Sun 1 0.3 0.3
Jalapeno 1 1.5 1.5
2016 Total 18 24.2 1.3
2013 10 22.3 2.2
2014 18 31.0 1.7
2015 18 32.5 1.8

The yield this year wasn’t very good relative to previous years, though the overall decline was in line with the tomatoes and everything else, so no real cause for alarm. It’s likely that if the peppers were allowed a little more space the results could have been better — some of the “interior” plants basically got squished. The cool summer didn’t help either.

On the flip side, we didn’t lose many peppers to bugs. On a couple of different occasions I added two or three grains of Sluggo Plus around the base of the plants and I’d like to think that whacked the earwigs.

160820 pepper2


Really, for all the varieties, it broke out into “Bell Peppers”, “Pointy Peppers”, and “Hot Peppers”. No surprises, despite the “excitement” involved in obtaining the plants. The Anaheims in particular did very well (again). The Serranos are hotter than I’d visualized, but we’ll throw them into everything that might benefit from some heat over the next few months.

As an added bonus:  The pepper plants were essentially zero work — No trellising. No pruning. Gotta love it.


Visit Dave at Ourhappyacres, host of Harvest Monday.

Epi de Blé, Take Two. Closer To The Truth.

by A.J. Coltrane

Attempt #2 at Epi bread:


It’s basically just a baguette recipe:  400g Bread Flour, 240g water (60%), 9g kosher salt (2.25%) 3/4 tsp instant yeast. 425F oven for 22 minutes.

The shape is better this time around. Each Epi contains less flour — 200 grams (1/2 lb) of flour per epi. (Instead of 300 grams of flour as in Take One.)

I think maybe the “right” answer is 150 grams of flour per 18″ Epi. Baking at 450F and adding malt might help the appearance as well.

Still. Better this time. “Better” is good.