Six : Re:First?

As soon as Amanda’s guest post hit my email inbox I was asking myself, which really did come first? So, on a hunt for the answer, referenced two of my culinary school books for answers:

According to “The Bar & Beverage Book” by Costas Katsigris and Chris Thomas, beer is said to have been discovered by the Sumerian’s. Though they go on to state that twenty different types of beers, along with their recipes, were recorded by Babylonian scribes as early as 6,000 BC.

Now over to “Professional Baking, fifth edition” by Wayne Gisslen. Gisslen’s texts state that the seeds of wild grasses were gathered after their husks had been toasted, most likely on hot, flat rocks, and beaten with wooden or stone tools. It is also theorized that grain foods, such as bread, were most likelyto have been developed in the eastern Mediterranean regions because there was an abundance of wild grains there. Early man would then take these crushed grains, pound them into a meal, and mix them with water (oat meal?), and from there was found that the paste turned into what could best be described as a “flat bread” when left next to, or spread on a hot rock, over a fire.

Lets think about this for a second… ancient people making grain pastes for flat breads… thats unleavened – no yeast except for whats ambient in the air, and most likely without any time to ferment, whereas beer is, essentially, a grain paste thats been left to ferment to create alcohol. My opinion on the matter? Bread before beer. But honestly, the question is, which came first? Bread or Wine?

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Five : First?

A lovely issue brought up by Amanda over at http://stellarwordsofmind.wordpress.com/

In researching the history of bread, I stumbled upon what appears to be a debate similar to the “chicken or egg”.  Which came first, beer or bread?  After reading many articles there I still don’t have a definitive answer.  According to a few sources, over a thousand years ago when our migrant ancestors began to settle into civilizations, they started make beer.  This is where the debate gets heated.  For some the story begins with these newly found civilizations settling for the goal of brewing beer with their spoiling grain.  As if these newly settled nomads knew that their grains would produce beer.  On the other side of the debate are those who believe that the beer brew was a mishap of spoiling bread.  Can you see why this is a cyclical debate.  A thousand years ago, nomads would not have had very effective storage for their grains, so the chance that some water leaked into their earthenware containers then became heated in the beating sun, this could have been the first discovery of beer.  Yet, who’s to say that a mishap with spoiling bread wasn’t the first brew.  No one may ever know.  But if you are still interested check out these links:

http://beeradvocate.com/articles/595

http://www.lewrockwell.com/featherstone/featherstone52.html

http://www.farmgirlfare.com/2005/11/beyond-easy-beer-bread.html  (Beer Bread Recipe)

Thanks Amanda!

Four : Decorative

I’ve been thinking there must be more to this bread baking “thing”, aside from scaling, mixing, proofing, portioning, shaping, shaping again, and baking; was I ever right. If you think cake decorating is intense, check out some of these amazing decorative bread pieces. This is something I’m trying really hard to get into now and should have a post up in the next few days, photos included.
But for now, feed your eyes.

http://www.breadartproject.com/#/home – The Bread Art Project

http://www.breadhitz.com/ – Bread Hitz

http://shapeandcolour.wordpress.com/2008/05/15/kittiwat-unarrom-body-bakery/ – Shape + Colour (article on Kittiwat Unarrom – warning, graphic bread)

http://sourdough.com/video/queen-victoria-bread-sculptures – Sourdough Companion

http://www.breadandpastrychampionship.com/Showpieces.html – Bread and Pastry Championship

Three : Porque?

The Start

Having just moved from a smallish Oregon town, McMinnville, to the largest city in the state, Portland, I’ve found that I spend entirely too much time hiding myself from the hustle and bustle chaos of the city, watching bad movies or playing too many video games when I’m not finishing classes or working.

Today I went on an adventure. My destination maybe a mile away, I set out, on foot, to Porque No? on Mississippi. I know what you’re thinking – isn’t this another baking blog? Well, technically, yes, but being new to Portland, and attending culinary school, I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews about Porque No? and was dying to try it out.

The Menu

Its not a lot to look at, but a lot of Porque No?’s menu consists of your choice of “meat” or “veggie”, is heavy in beans, and usually comes with guacamole; a good example of low food cost. But deep down inside, Porque No? is an eatery/bar at its finest, where you don’t have to feel bad for getting a few drinks in during your lunch break, snacking on well priced tacos or some great rice and bean style bowls.

Nothing really stood out at me, so I went for something that seemed safe – Bryan’s Bowl.
Your choice of meat or veggies in a bowl with beans, rice, guacamole, salsas, queso fresco, crema, cilantro & a side of chips or 3 tortilla
Not knowing what “meat” meant, and feeling too shy to ask, I went for the veggies and chips (though I’ll more than likely get the tortilla option if asked again), and a small margarita, salted. Total? $12.75

The Wait

I suppose the wait wouldn’t have been that bad if I hadn’t gone alone, but it gave me a chance to take in the sights and sounds of Porque No?. The employees easily fall into the Portland hipster crowd, who would probably feel just as comfortable in the front of the house as they would at a peace rally or Arcade Fire concert. They were casual, calm, easy to approach, and to be honest, quite indifferent, which is far less obnoxious than your typical Starbucks employee and far better than a bitter diner waitress.
The customers I saw around me, on the other hand, was what caught me off guard. I had gone with the expectation of finding twenty something artists and musicians, young upcoming professionals, more hipsters; what I found was a collection of mainly late twenty somethings to thirty somethings with a dash of forty and up, all of which didn’t seem to mind the constantly changing styles of music, 60’s to current chart toppers, back to 80’s, progressive rock, Nirvana, back to the Beatles, so on and so forth. Nor did they seem to mind the eclectic figurines, statuettes, and other assorted pictures hanging around the place.

The Food

My bright red bowl came on a plastic fry basket, flanked by lightly fried flour tortilla chips. The top of the bowl was divided, one half guacamole, the other half the vegetables, centered was a dollop of crema, a solitary sprig of cilantro laying to one side. Not much to say though, it was beans, rice, and a few vegetables (mainly broccoli, green and yellow zucchini, and tomatoes). Though it wasn’t anything to really rave about, there wasn’t anything to complain about either, which is what I think made the food so good (though my vegetable bowl was a little lacking in the vegetable department). The margarita was strong and had a lot of flavor, most likely due to the “fresh squeezed juice”, and unlike most margaritas I’ve had since turning twenty-one, had just the right amount of salt on the rim.

The End

Porque No? isn’t somewhere I would recommend for a first date or when you’re looking for something different from your day-to-day, but overall Porque No? was a decent experience, somewhere I”m really going to have to go back to with friends. Good prices for good food when all you want to do is sit with people you know, have a few drinks, and not have to worry about keeping yourself chained up in the kitchen.

Two : Artisan

I was at the grocery store today and, against my usual policy, walked past the bakery. As I was, to be honest, judging, the breads I saw on the racks and show cases I noticed a term on the labels that caused me to pause. “Artisan bread”. Suddenly, I gain interest in the lack luster baguettes and multi grain loaves that are stacked haphazardly around the bakery. Mixers, proofers, hardly anything done by hand… Suddenly, my interest drops and I wonder, what does qualify as “artisan bread” anymore?

Personally, I have two deffinitions

 1. A bread that has been mixed, proofed, and shaped without the use of mixers, proofers, or shaping equipment. Or, in other words, by hand. Also, to qualify, it needs to be loaded from a peel into a hearth oven, or even better, a wood or coal burning oven.

2. Underbaked, poorly scored, throw away bread commonly found in grocery store bakeries.

Although I adhere to these definitions not only in polite baking conversation, but also in complaining about the quality of the bread to my friends, family, and employer, the proper definition of “artisan” is as follows, compliments of Dictionary.com

-a person skilled in an applied art; a craftsperson.

Wait… that seems pretty vague, doesn’t it? The kids over at http://www.wisegeek.com have a pretty solid definition.
“Artisan bread is exactly what its name suggests: bread that is crafted, rather than mass produced. Baked in small batches rather than on a vast assembly line, artisan bread differs from prepackaged supermarket loaves in a number of ways. Special attention to ingredients, process, and a return to the fundamentals of the age-old bread-making tradition set artisan bread apart from soft, preservative-laden commercial breads.”
They go on to add…
“store-bought loaf of mass-produced wheat bread might have nearly twenty ingredients, artisan bread will have closer to five.”   “Quality ingredients are mixed, slowly fermented, hand shaped, and baked in small batches in masonry ovens. Often, steam is utilized during the baking process to produce the crispy golden-brown crust characteristic of certain varieties of the artisan loaf.”
They go on to discuss flavor, color, and smell as well. The article itself is well worth the read.
http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-artisan-bread.htm

But what do you think, internet? What constitutes as an artisan bread? Can you get away with using a 20k, or even 40k mixer to mix off larger batches of dough, and still get away with calling it “artisan”?

One : Mise

Brioche is defined, at least according to Wikipedia, as a highly enriched French Bread, whose high egg and butter content give it a rich and tender crumb. A better definition of Brioche is a highly obnoxious, sticky dough that refuses to be worked, for fear of over working, and has a very peculiar habit of burning within seconds of showing signs of doneness. More on brioche later.

But thats besides the point, the point is, let it burn. It’s brioche, scrape off the top and roll with what you’ve got.

Three days ago I burned five loaves of brioche. No one cared, they scraped off the burnt crust with a peeler and used it all for bread pudding. The bread pudding is, actually, pretty good, funny how when you’re baking and something burns, or doesn’t turn out exactly how you want it to you can always use it for something else somehow. Bread and pastry scraps can be used for puddings, as well as cinnamon rolls/snails. You can use cake crumbs for toppings. Utilization is a pretty interesting thing – something we’ll cover more in a bakery setting later.

For now, the back story…

I finished my externship a month ago at a bakery in McMinnville, OR, where I was since hired as morning bread baker, 3am to 9am. The gig is great, the pay is amazing, and bakers hours are exactly what I thought they would be, long, hard, and satisfying. As of last week though, things got a little more… time consuming. Finishing my associates program at my culinary school requires me to take two more english courses, food ethics, and a cultural communications class.
This blog is a product of the first of the two required english courses. The point is to start and maintain, throughout the class period, a food blog about whatever subject we want. I chose baking – formulas, bakeries in Portland, stories from work through the eyes of a new bread baker, and more than likely tie ins to food ethics and its impact on baking culture.

So here we go…