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    It’s Official — Winter’s over

    Yup, you heard it here first. Winter in New Jersey officially ended today when I made my first batch of pita for the year. Let the Picnics Begin!!

    I tried something I had been wondering about all winter. Why haven’t I been able to get 100% of my pitas to puff up? I’ve solved it.

    I lowered the rack to the lowest point in the oven, let the oven get good and hot and baked at 500F / 260C for 3-4 minutes.

    Results? 100% puffed pitas.

    I’ve modified the pita site to change the position of the rack.

    New Feature — A Forum

    We took a cue from ancient Rome and decided to add a forum to the site.

    This is in the test stages for the next few days, so take a look, sign up and post something.

    As the forum develops, we’ll add categories for just about anything that pops up and has some interest beyond a single post or comment. So let’s see what happens and where this thing goes.

    Barry Harmon

    New Post on Wheat Flour

    I just added a short note on wheat flour — what it is, where it comes from and some information about the different ways wheat flour is measured. I’ll be adding to this from time to time.


    I just posted a series of making a Challah from George Greenstein’s “Secrets of a Jewish Baker.” I made the dough, then used Maggie Glezer’s technique to do a four-bread wreath Challah. Her book, “A Blessing of Bread,” made it all pretty clear.

    This is a wonderful bread, worth every bit of the trouble of braiding.

    And the companion series on braiding.

    A Tale of Two Measurements

    I recently had the importance of measurements brought home to me in two unrelated events.

    The first was a poster on a discussion board I frequent. He had made a bread and it had turned out to have a thick, whitish crust and to be really icky. I posted a few comments and asked some questions and it turned out that the recipe was in cups of flour and he had used the “scoop and dump” method of measuring. He had too much flour by, probably, a lot. Compounding the problem was the fact that he used all purpose flour in a French baguette recipe that was written for bread flour. Now you can make good baguettes with all purpose flour, but it requires a bit of extra care and some adjustments to the recipes.

    The other instance was an email I received from a reader of the blog who described his travails making Pani di Como Antico. In fact, he titled his email Pain di Como Antico, as pain in the you-know-what.

    He described two trials of the bread, one turned out a good crust and a dense, soggy interior, while the dough was dry and easy to handle. His second attempt had no oomph at all, the dough just spread out and did nothing.

    After a bit of back and forth, it turned out that his scale was out of whack by 10-20% and that he was making a dough at 60% that should have been in the mid 60s.

    Two instances where inaccurate measurements led to problems.

    Bottom line is that for most of us, it pays to use accurate measurements.

    New Post, Cupid’s Coffee Cake

    Just posted a new series, this one showing me making Cupid’s Coffee Cake.

    Take a look. It’s easy to make, tastes great and looks very good.

    Pita Rising in Oven — Grass Growing?

    Maybe you’ve heard the old expression “Watching grass grow.” It’s an allusion to something that takes a long time to develop and that is probably boring to boot.

    Here’s something you may not have thought of — a short video clip of pita rising in the oven. It doesn’t take long and it’s interesting to see how the pita develops.

    Pita Rising in Oven

    Two New Recipes

    Just added two whole grain type breads to the site.

    Khoriatiko, Greek 100% whole wheat bread.  It’s surprisingly light and very easy to make.  The recipe is from Rosemary Barron, “The Foods of Greece.”

    Four Grain bread from the “Frog Commissary Cookbook,” by Steven Poses, Anne Clark and Becky Roller.  This is a very nice multi-grain bread, much lighter than the ones I’ve had in the past.   I’ll be doing a couple of others from this book.

    What is an Autolyse? Is It An Improvement Over a Manual Lyse?

    Raymond Calvel has been called the teacher of bread teachers and is widely considered to the expert on French breads. His book “The Taste of Bread,” available in a mediocre translation for about $90, is a classic textbook on how to bake many different French breads. During his long and productive career, he has literally created French bread as we know it today.

    One of his innovations is the autolyse, a resting period between the early mixing and kneading phases.

    It’s a simple procedure: You take some of the ingredients, usually the flour and the water, mix them up for a minute or two, then let them stand, covered, for 20-30 minutes. The flour and water begin the interaction that breaks down the starch and leads to better bread. In effect, it gives the process a head start on dough development without all the other stuff around to get in the way.

    However, things aren’t as simple as they may seem. There seems to be a bit of confusion about what gets added when in an autolysis. In the book, there are several different mentions of autolysis: pages 31, 34, 40, 91, 93, 94, 99, 103, 105, 143 and 152. Let’s examine them and see what’s going on. I’ll paraphrase the sections to save a lot of typing.

    Let’s start, however, with a look at the section on page 19, “The Influence of Salt.” “… many bakers since the 1960s have adopted the practice of delaying the addition of fine table salt — which dissolves quickly — until 5 minutes before the end of mixing … However, there is also such a great decline in the quality of bread produced by this method that is might be considered a general disaster.” “It would be wise, whatever the length and intensity of the mixing method used, to add the salt at the start of the mixing stage, or at the latest, 3 minutes after beginning the operation, just as was done up until the 1960s.” In footnote 10, “A cursory reading fo the paragraph might lead the reader to think that Professor Calvel favors the delayed salt method, whereas in actual fact he is adamantly opposed to it.”

    Page 31. In experiments in 1974, Professor Calvel discovered that mixing the flour and water together, letting them rest for a short time, then adding the rest of the ingredients, improves the links between starch, gluten and water and improves the extensibility of the dough. This reduces the total mixing time. It also leads to bread with more volume, better cell structure and better crumb. So here the salt gets added after the autolysis.

    Page 34: Discussing the decline in French bread during the period after World War II, he states that part of the reason was the adoption of intensive mixing, oxidizing action of atmospheric oxygen and the practice of delaying the addition of salt until the latter part of the mixing to produce a perversion and lessening of bread taste. So here we read that delaying adding salt is not good, at least if it is part of the nefarious actions mentioned.

    Page 40: Just a mention of reducing mixing time by by the use of an autolysis.

    Page 91: Things get interesting here. In a footnote to the “Steps to Build a Naturally Leavened Sponge,” we read (emphasis added)
    “Dough autolysis refers to a rest period that occurs after 5 min of mixing a fraction of the flour and part of the water, excluding the remaining ingredients.” This is using an autolysis like a sponge.

    page 93: A mention of autolysis, nothing about how it is done.

    Page 94: In the discussion of making Basic French Bread, Table 10-3, we read that the salt is to be added afterthe autolysis. This method will yield “bread that has a creamy crumb, excellent flavor, and very good quality overall.”

    Page 99: Again, the salt is added after the autolysis period.

    Page 103: A mention of using the autolysis in making Pain de Gruau.

    Page 105: The table for Pain de Gruau with Autolysis.

    Page 143: Using an autolysis in the making of yeast-raised sweet doughs. Use a longer period, 30 minutes, and add yeast, salt and ascorbic acid or some other additive, in this order after the autolysis period.

    Page 152: Using autolysis in making brioche. Similar to page 142, above.

    So what we have is a slightly confusing answers to the questions “What gets mixed at the start of an autolyse? and “When do I add the salt?” The answer would seem to be that if you are making a straight dough, add it at the start. If you are using an sutolysis, add it after the autolysis period.

    My personal take is that maybe you should experiment with adding the salt at the beginning and after the autolysis and see which you prefer. I know I”m going to start adding the salt at the start of mixing, before the autolysis; I think it’ll work a bit better. I’ll probably continue to use all the flour and water for most applications.

    Basil and Cheese Bread from Frog Commissary Cookbook

    I’ve been working with the three or four recipes in the Frog Commissary Cookbook. This is the one on page 216, Basil and Parmesan Cheese Bread. I’ve added metric equivalents. These are EXACT conversions, so they may need a little adjustment to be workable amounts in actual metric measure. If you have any problems, email me at and I’ll help you work things out. (And I”ll post any solutions here, also.)

    It’s pretty straightforward, no tricks, except that the recipe is in cups of flour. The recipe lists 6 – 6 1/2 cups. I tried 5 ounces / 142 grams per cup, got 30-32 1/2 ounces / 850-922 grams and rounded to 33 ounces / 936 grams. I still had to add 2 ounces / 57 grams to get a dough that would handle properly. On the other hand, the breads I’ve made from this book have all called for a lot of yeast — maybe as an offset to the oils, etc.

    But, it was worth it. This is a good bread, although I doubt it would make a good peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It probably works well with stews, pasta dishes and the like.


    Makes two loaves.

    Have two buttered 8 X 4 inch pans / 20 cm X 10 cm.
    Heat the oven to 375F / 190 C

    2 packets of yeast (1 1/2 Tablespoons) / 1/2 ounce / 14 grams
    2 1/2 cups warm water (20 ounces) / 568 grams
    6 – 6 1/2 cups flour (I used 35 ounces / 993 grams (Okay, it’s a kilo), you may need a bit more or less)
    1 Tablespoon salt / 15 ml
    2 Tablespoons sugar / 30 ml
    1 teaspoon Tabasco / 5ml
    1/4 cup Olive Oil (2 ounces) / 60 ml or 57 grams

    Add after fermentation
    2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese / 160 ml
    1 1/2 cups shredded Gruyere or Jarlsberg cheese / 360 ml
    1/4 cup minced fresh basil or 1 Tablespoon dried basil — 60 ml fresh or 15 ml dry

    1 egg, lightly beaten, to brush on the loaves before baking.

    Make the dough.

    I used a one hour sponge, all the yeast and water and 20 ounces of flour. Mix up, cover and let sit in a warm place for an hour. Be sure to give it plenty of room, as this thing goes nuts!

    Add the rest of the flour, the salt, sugar, tabasco and olive oil.

    Knead for 5 to 7 minutes. This dough will almost clear the sides of the bowl of a mixer. It will feel sticky and will stick to the counter a bit.

    Place in a large bowl, cover and let sit in a warm place until doubled. This won’t take long, as there is a lot of yeast and the dough is warm. The book says 1 1/2 hours, but check after an hour.

    Place the dough on the counter, flatten it a bit, and work in the cheeses and the basil. Knead for two or three minutes to get the new things incorporated uniformly.

    Place in a large bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place for 10-15 minutes.

    Place the dough on the counter and cut the dough in half. Flatten each piece and fold or roll up to make a loaf to fit the pan.

    Cover and let rise until the loaves mound above the top of the pans, 45 minutes in a warm place.

    Brush with the egg and bake for 30-40 minutes, to an internal temperature of 190-200F / 88-93C.

    Remove from pans, place on a rack and cool.

    Here are shots of the finished loaves and the crumb.

    The two finished loaves of Basil and Parmesean cheese bread.  The cheese that was exposed to the oven got a little dark, but it still tasted good.

    The two loaves all baked. The cheese that was exposed to the oven heat got a little browner that I would have liked, but it still tasted good.

    This shows the crumb with the flecks of dried basil in the bread.  The cheese doesn't show up very well, but it's in there.

    Here’s the crumb. The flecks are the dried basil, one tablepsoon for the two loaves. The cheese doesn’t show up very well, since it’s about the same color as the bread itself, but it’s in there and tastinig good.