ChewsWise Blog

ChewsWise Blog

Gratified at IACP award

For those who don't follow my Facebook page, you might have missed that In Search of the Perfect Loaf won the Literary Food Writing from the IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals). The award was especially gratifying after being shortlisted for the Art of Eating award in February.

The book continues to get notice, including among home bakers who have written me emails about their grandmother's sourdough starter, breads from their local bakers, their favorite rye and questions and tips. I try and answer each one when I can so keep them coming. Or post a question, comment, or tip on the Facebook page.


A few recent #bread pics plus home smoked salmon

In Search of the Perfect Loaf Gets Early Notice

Just under two months away from launch of In Search of the Perfect Loaf, reviews are starting to trickle in. Here's what Library Journal had to say in a starred review (July 1, 2014):

This impressive work falls somewhere between a cookbook, an exploration of bread-baking techniques, and a history of bread. It’s thoroughly researched and engagingly written, and his dedication is inspiring.

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Baking baguettes - the Afar article

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For those who missed it when it came out in the premier issue of Afar, the magazine has now posted my article on baking baguettes with the winner of the Grand Prix de la Baguette de la Ville de Paris. (This then led to a baguette competition back home and my winning recipe -- which can be demanding). Here's how the article, Time to Rise, opens:

In Paris, the 9th arrondissement is popular, hip even, dotted with wine shops, boutiques, and boulangeries, but still has the close-knit feel of a residential neighborhood. The streets are lined with old apartment buildings that seem to lean onto the sidewalks. Inside intimate bistros on these quiet, narrow lanes, maître d’s chat with locals as they arrive. One Sunday afternoon last winter, when I visited, the streets were crowded with couples and families out for a leisurely stroll. By 3 a.m. the next day, however, Rue des Martyrs, a main artery in the district, was empty, the stores dark except for a slit of light coming out of the side entrance of the Boulangerie Arnaud Delmontel. Everyone was still asleep. Everyone, that is, except for the bakers—whose ranks I was about to join.

Over the centuries, how many bakers have walked Paris’s dark avenues at night, heading to the fournils—baking rooms—to provide the city’s daily bread? In the 18th and 19th centuries, les geindres (the groaners) began before midnight, each laboring over hundreds of pounds of dough that they kneaded by hand and baked in basement wood-fired ovens. The poorest slept by the hearth, inhaling flour and often suffering from tuberculosis. Yet many did their jobs superbly, faithful to the demanding task of coaxing bread out of levain, or sourdough—a process that took days. As I walked toward the bakery that morning, I felt as if I were following in the footsteps of ghosts.... (read the rest)

- Samuel Fromartz

Thoughts on baking emmer wheat bread

Recently, writing about ancient grains, I serendipitously got an email from Mary-Howell Martens offering to hook me up with some of the grains she and her husband Klaas grow in New York for Lakeview Organic Grain. Rather than shipping the wheat, they brought it to the winter meeting of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture in State College, where my friend Bernie Prince (the now celebrated co-founder of FreshFarm Market) put it in her trunk and brought it to Capitol Hill. Now that's what I call networking.

There were bags of whole oats, spelt, a red winter wheat and a beautiful white wheat, some heritage corn, toasted green spelt, known as frikeh, used in savory dishes from the Middle East (great post on it here by Anissa Helou), and then the ancient grain closely associated with the dawn of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent, emmer wheat.

Now emmer is genetically distinct from bread wheat and was the ancient forerunner of durum, used to make pasta and semolina flour. It's more commonly called farro and makes a wonderful risotto, as do many whole grains.

Flatbread with chickpea stew

Flatbread with chickpea stew

The grains sat around in a big mason jar for awhile, a bit intimidating, since I had to grind it, but then I went to work with a stone mill I recently bought. I made a simple flat bread, using this recipe (I mean, it can hardly be called a recipe since it is simply flour, oil, water and salt) and then a method where you cook it on a cast iron griddle (about 30 seconds a side), then put it directly, and I mean directly, on the flame. Wheat may puff up into a ball when you do so, but emmer is weaker in terms of its gluten structure, so it only puffed up in places. Now charring here and there, because you keep turning and flipping it on the flame, I spread a bit of butter over it -- and that was lunch with somes beans and salad.

Then, inspired by the work of another baker over at the blog Stir the Pots, I tried making the bread. (His emmer came from Cayuga Pure Organics but is probably the same as mine). This was a difficult enterprise for the dough lacked what bakers call "tolerance," which is a very different concept from the even-handed and thoughtful qualities we associate with the word. For bakers, tolerance means the ability of the dough to rise and hold its shape, which in turn reflects the quality of gluten proteins in the flour. When gluten is weak, the acids in sourdough sometimes help the loaf to strengthen and hold its shape, but no such luck this time. The dough, which was also too moist (frankly, I was winging it), kept spreading out. Not wanting to make another flat bread, I instead loosely shaped the dough and plopped it in a loaf pan. The second piece of dough was even less amenable to shaping, so I simply mixed in an equal amount of white flour and water, so that I had a dough that was half emmer, half white. That worked out and resulted in the loaf pictured above.

Though the 100% emmer loaf (not pictured) was a bit tight in the crumb, it was also quite soft. Both loaves also had a remarkable taste, which as I thought about it, reminded me of smoldering oak bark, or roasting acorns, but without the bitter overtones you sometimes find in whole wheat. The flavor stuck on the tongue long after I had eaten the bread and was also much more pronounced than in the flat bread I made, which I'd attribute to the emmer sourdough leaven I used. The lactobacillus culture brought out the flavor of the grain, which was delicious. No wonder if was so popular 10,000 years ago.

- Samuel Fromartz

Let the Games Begin: A Baker in Sonoma ... and Paris

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I spent a wonderful couple of days last May with Mike Zakowski, a baker in Sonoma who graciously took me into his backyard bakery where he was making loaves. I was curious about him, because he worked entirely by hand and was also in training to compete in the world cup of baking. These seemed like polar opposite pursuits.

I will see him again next week when he's competing in Paris, where he's baking with Team USA in the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie. Here's the opening of the story I wrote about him on Gilt Taste, which begins:

The world of baking seems to attract free spirits, but Mike Zakowski—who calls himself The Bejkr—stands out even among them. Few bakers, even the most committed artisans, mix their dough by hand, because of the demands of production. Nor do they work in a converted shipping container plopped in their backyard. Nor do they often bake with a wood fire, because the heat and oven can be as fickle to master as the bread itself. Zakowski does all of this. And then he drives to the farmers’ market in Sonoma, smoke billowing out of an oven hitched on the back of his vintage delivery truck with bright green hub caps.

If I left the image there—stellar artisan baker in California wine country, selling loaves that feature local ingredients, ancient grains, organic flours and hemp seeds—you would nod. You would get it. But it’s not the whole story, because Zakowski has been attempting another feat:  representing the United States in Paris next week at the world cup of baking – the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie. In short, the Bejkr is also an Olympian. the rest

- Samuel Fromartz