Friday, February 15, 2019

One Pound Boule

After more than a decade of baking innumerable loaves, reading articles like Mark Bittman's No-Knead Bread, books like Ken Forkish' Flour Water Salt Yeast and Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg's Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, and talking shop with every baker I come across, I've developed a solid and reliable boule recipe that's easy to make and always a crowd pleaser. My friends alternate between telling me I should start my own bakery and demanding the recipe. Finally, after years of putting it off, here's how I do it:

Active: ~1 hour
Time in oven: ~1 hour
Total time:18-24 hours

The Ingredients
1# All-purpose flour (weighed directly in your KOMAX 5.2 liter container)
.5 T kosher salt
.75 t active dry yeast
1.5 C warm water

The Tools
Food scale
A large mixing bowl or tupperware container (I love this KOMAX 5.2 liter container)
Bowl scraper
Dutch Oven (I have an old fashioned, 'stick handle' Le Creuset 20 (2.75 QT/2.5 L) that is perfect. The updated version should be just as good. I've used other dutch ovens, but I've found the Le Creuset to be the perfect size and shape.
Flour sack towel

The Process
  1. Combine first three ingredients. Add water and stir. Dough will be much wetter than any bread dough you've ever worked with. Some people describe it a shaggy. Everything is fine.
  2. Loosely cover KOMAX container and set someplace warm (in my old kitchen, I had a farm table that sat on top of a heat vent - in my current kitchen, I just put it on top of the coffee maker. Now it's time to wait.
  3. 10-14 hours later, the dough will have increased about 3 times and be full of beautiful air bubbles. Now it's time toe develop the gluten. With a wet hand, grab one corner of the dough and stretch it up, without letting it break. Rotate the container one quarter turn, and stretch the dough again. Repeat until you've stretched all four corners. This is part of why I like the square KOMAX container. Now it's time to wait.
  4. After an hour, put your dutch oven in the oven and preheat to 450 fahrenheit (232 centigrade).
  5. Turn out the dough onto a well floured surface (I just use a cutting board). It'll be sticky, so use plenty of flour.
  6. Now it's time to develop the gluten cloak. Fold the dough onto itself, making a dough ball with flour on the outside. With well floured hands, draw the dough ball across your cutting board, tightening the outsides of the ball and making a seam on the bottom. Turn the ball 90 degrees and draw it across the surface again. Repeat until the outside of the ball is nice and stretched, but has not broken.
  7. Place the dough ball, seam side down, on a well floured towel. Cradle the towel and dough ball in a small mixing bowl (mine is 1.2 liters). Allow to rise for at least 10 minutes, but no more than an hour and a half (less, if it's especially warm). Don't worry if the ball seems small - it'll expand in the heat of the oven.
  8. When the dutch oven is nice and hot, invert the dough ball from the towel into the dutch oven, so the seam will be on top. Cover the dutch oven and return it to the hot oven. 
  9. After half an hour, remove the lid from the dutch oven and rotate it 180 degrees to even out the heat.
  10. After 15 minutes, rotate the dutch oven again 180 degrees, bringing it back to its original orientation.
  11. After 15 minutes, turn out the boule and thump it on the bottom to see if it's ready. If not, return it to the oven for another few minutes.
  12. Put on a cooling rack and let cool for at least an hour before slicing. Enjoy the sound of the crust crackling as it cools.
  • Add 1/3 cup of spent grains from whole grain beer brewing - reduce water by 1-2 T
  • Add 1/2 cup of chopped kalamata olive - replace 1/4 cup of water with olive brine
  • Add 1/2 cup of chopped goat cheese and some chopped rosemary
Why is this dough so wet?
  • A good hard crust develops in the presence of steam. A commercial oven (costing 10s of thousands of dollars) will allow you to add steam, but that's unrealistic for the home baker. Instead of injecting steam into the oven environment, we're adding extra moisture into the dough, and then capturing the steam inside the dutch oven.
Why does the dough sit overnight? Why do we use so little yeast?
  • The small amount of yeast in the very wet dough will chew it's way through the sugars and starches in the flour, developing a good flavor profile. If you're in a hurry, you can use 1 T of yeast, and it'll be ready to stretch in 2 hours or so, but the bread won't be as tasty.
Why do we stretch the dough in step 3?
  • Stretching the dough helps develop the strands of gluten. This leads to a more chewy crumb and a crunchier crust.
Why do we draw the dough ball in step 6?
  • Stretching the outside of the ball further develops the gluten in the dough and helps you develop a better crust. The crust would be much less crispy if you didn't do this.
Isn't an hour of baking at 450 degrees a whole lot?
  • Most bread is undercooked. This boule is all about making a nice, crunchy and flavorful crust. If you only baked this bread for half an hour, it would probably be edible, but you wouldn't get all the rich caramel flavors in the crust that come from the Maillard reaction. I've never burned this recipe. I imagine that it could bake for quite a bit longer, without any ill effects. I'll try that next.
Isn't a 450 degree oven too hot for my Le Creuset?
  • Yes. It's hotter than the manufacturer recommends. The outside of the pot will discolor. If the handle on the lid is made of bakelite, it may eventually crack (mine did, just recently, after baking this bread at least once a week for YEARS, and now I need to find a metal handle). The Le Creuset is the perfect size and shape for this recipe and it's a tool that's meant to be used. I'm more interested in feeding people good bread, than I am in owning immaculate bakeware. You may assess that differently. If I had a cast iron dutch oven that was the right size and shape, I'd use that, but all the ones I've seen are too wide. 

Why are you so excited about the KOMAX box, instead of a mixing bowl?
  •  If you bake this recipe regularly (around once a week or so), you can keep your KOMAX box in the fridge, without scrubbing the box clean between batches. The small amount of yeast and dough left in the box will develop a much more rich, almost sourdough flavor. Of course, if any mold begins to grow in the dough, you should scrub out and sterilize the box thoroughly.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Time for the Boy Scouts to break up with the NRA

 An open letter to Chief Executive of the Boy Scouts of America, Mr. Michael B. Surbaugh

Dear Mr. Surbaugh,

I am an Eagle Scout and a Cub Scout Leader. I credit the Boy Scouts of America with helping set my moral compass and I'm an enthusiastic participant, helping mentor my son and other young people through Scouting.

As a youth member, I enthusiastically participated in the BSA's shooting sports program, earning my Rifle Shooting and Archery merit badges. While an active youth member of the Order of the Arrow, I helped our Lodge Chief run a black powder range at our Council's annual Mountain Man Rendevouz. I enjoyed working with the Shooting Sports staff when I worked as a teenager at Camp Oljato in Northern California. The BSA did an excellent job of teaching me about firearm safety and proficiency. I look forward to helping my son learn how to safely use firearms in his Scouting career.

I understand that the Boy Scouts of America has long partnered with the National Rifle Association as part of BSA's shooting sports program. This was likely a fruitful partnership when the NRA was merely a firearm safety organization. This partnership is no longer in the interest of the Boy Scouts of America nor the youth we serve. In recent years, the National Rifle Association has become a political advocacy group, lobbying for radical political change that is putting the lives of children at tremendous risk.

I do not want the Scouting organization that I love so much to become tarnished by an unfortunate association with the NRA. Likewise, I don't want the NRA to benefit from the BSA's good reputation.

When I was a Scout, I learned that the right choice was often the hard choice. I know that it will not be easy to disentangle the BSA from the NRA, but the time has come. Please take immediate steps to separate the BSA from the NRA and create new programs for the shooting sports program.

Yours in Service,
Mike Ryan Simonovich
Eagle Scout '96
Order of the Arrow Vigil Honor '96

#####UPDATE 3/1/2018 13:30#####
 If you agree with my sentiment, please sign this petition:

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

I refuse to give in to fear

In the name of my friends and family who are LGBTQ;
In the name of my friends and family who are immigrants;
In the name of my friends and family who are women;
In the name of my friends and family who are disabled;
In the name of my friends and family who are minorities;
In the name of my grandparents who came to these shores as refugees, fleeing the horrors of war, nationalism, and hatred;
In the name of my son who deserves a better world;

I refuse to give in to anger. I refuse to give in to hatred. I refuse to give in to fear.

I resist.

I choose love. I choose community. I choose camaraderie.

To all of my LGBTQ friends and family;
To all of my immigrant friends and family;
To all of my female friends and family;
To all of my disabled friends and family;
To all of my minority friends and family;
To all people, everywhere, who are suffering;

If you need food, I will feed you. If you have fallen, I will give you my hand. If you are bullied, I will stand by your side.

Love makes us strong. Openness makes us strong.

We will all make it through this together.

Remember that our politics swings like a pendulum, but it inclines toward progress. Like an inchworm, it must draw back before it can stretch forward.

We must accept the legitimacy of the recent election. We must have faith in the strength of our institutions and our shared values. We must have faith in the good will of our fellow humans.

Now, it is our work to turn toward our communities and see how we can help each other. It is time to stand together and help each other. It is time to plan for the next four years and the long future beyond that. It is time to build a future that is warmer, more loving, and more inclusive than the past.

Will you reject fear? Will you stand with me in this long struggle?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

My Refugee Story

My father was born in a DP (displaced person=refugee) camp in postwar Germany. He had no nationality, until he became a naturalized citizen of the US as a teenager.

His parents had survived World War 1, the Russian Revolution, and World War 2. They had strange accents, strange names, and strange customs. They weren't English speakers. They weren't Protestants. They were outsiders, desperately fleeing the misery of postwar Europe, trying to find safety and security.

Despite their differences, the United States welcomed them. Despite their differences, they became Americans. My grandfather went on to become a civilian intelligence analyst for the United States Air Force, helping protect this country at the height of the Cold War. My father, a refugee until he was 4 years old, has worked for Fortune 500 technology companies, helping to secure our financial and medical records. My siblings include an entrepreneur, a psychologist and teacher, an engineer, and a college student.

Our family is part of the tapestry of this great nation. We came here as strangers, we were welcomed, and now we are Americans.

I say fling open the doors. Let them come. They will only make us stronger and richer as a society, and will help us best embody our national values and virtues.

By all means, let them come.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Robot Curve

Kevin Kelly's Robot Curve, as rendered by Cory Doctorow

No robot could do my job.
No robot can do my job as well as I can.
This robot can do my job as well as I can, but i need to catch all the exceptions that it's not smart enough to deal with.
This robot can do my job as well as I can but it needs me around to fix it when it breaks.
This robot can do my job as well as I can.
Why would anyone want to do that job? It's a robot job.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Information Doesn't Want to Be Free (it wants to not be anthropomorphized)

Computers and the Internet are essential to the well being of the vast majority of humanity. People with access to the Internet score higher on any measure of quality of life you care to measure - health, education, income, life expectancy, etc. The global network of computers helps artists find fans, small farmers find markets, abused women find legal advice, and LGBTQ teens in small towns find acceptance and moral support. It helps the disenfranchised tell their stories and it helps political activists get their message out.

Computers and the Internet are here to stay. They occupy our vehicles, our workplaces, our homes, our pockets, and in some cases our bodies. They are incredibly powerful tools. Like other powerful tools they can be a great boon. They can also do great harm. 

The rules and regulations that we put in place surrounding computers and the Internet are byzantine and may at first glance appear to be dry and boring. In fact, they are critically important to promoting a free and prosperous society. Luckily, we have Cory Doctorow to help us contextualize and understand the incredibly complex issues surrounding computers, the Internet, and intellectual property.

In his latest book, Information Doesn't Want to Be Free, Doctorow unpacks the complex issues surrounding Internet policy, surveillance, security, privacy, digital rights management (DRM), and how artists can make a living in the digital age. Doctorow does all this in his characteristic breezy, conversational style, making the minutae of International copyright agreements interesting, engaging, and shows how they are relevant to all of us.

If you are someone who uses computers or the Internet (that means you!), this book is essential reading.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Protopia - Envisioning an Improving Future

As part of the movement to return to optimistic science fiction, Kevin Kelly proposed a writing project on the web magazine The prompt was to write in 100 words or less, a description of a compelling future 100 years hence that is neither horrible dystopia (machines harvesting our energy, vast squatter cities picking through the garbage of the rich) or boring utopia (free food, no work, sybaritic decadence).

By promoting optimistic and appealing future scenarios, we may be able to inspire young people to become technologists and scientists that work to create such a future. (More on the Optimistic SciFi movement at Neal Stephenson's Project Hieroglyph page

Below is my humble submission:

Small scale fusion and distributed solar cells make energy cheap enough to ignore.

Radical transparency reduces inequality to tolerable background levels. Prediction markets and algorithms inform policy making.

New perennial food crops, restore tilth and sequester carbon in healthy, biodiverse soils. Small scale attempts at deextinction lead to increasingly ambitious rewilding projects.

Human population voluntarily split between dense cities and distributed villages. All are connected by high speed networks. There are no hinterlands.

Automation renders most human work unnecessary, liberating people to engage in creative and analytic pursuits. Code and algorithm auditing are major sources of employment.