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Doug Essinger-Hileman

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In its archives, Bon Appétit magazine has a profile of the North Carolina (USA) bakery "Smoke Signals," and its solo baker, Tara Jensen. You won't find recipes or lots of details about making bread (or pies) in it. But I think it does an excellent job of revealing the role bread can play in the life of an individual and the greater community. I think it's worth your time to read.

Smoke Signals
Smoke Signals

Friends all: I have started exploring the use of bamboo poles to build my trellises and other supports in my garden. Not far from me, there are two stands of bamboo alongside the road, and I am sure that I can harvest enough bamboo for my current needs.

However, I am completely unfamiliar with what one needs to do to be able to transform green bamboo cane into poles suitable for use in the garden. Within both of these stands, I see numerous canes (am I even using the correct terminology?) lying on the ground, grey and ugly and -- most importantly -- split. I presume that once cut down, I need to dry them, but will air drying them work? For how long? What else do I need to know?
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Can anyone help me identify this pest?

He, she or it, along with a bunch of its friends and family, have decided in the last several days that the nasturtiums in my vegetable garden are their restaurant of choice. They seem to be wiping out any leaves they congregate on, and some of them are crawling around on the nasturtium flowers.

The good part is that they seem to be leaving most everything else alone. On my inspection this morning, I saw none on my tomato or bell pepper plants, just one or two on my swiss chard plants and none on my cabbage plants.

I have looked at dozens of pictures of ladybugs, and I have not found any with these markings. Any help would be appreciated.
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+joe sotham and anyone else interested:

For a bit more than two years, Joe and I have had a running, though occasional, conversation about baking cannelés (an exquisite treat originating in Bordeaux). The latest episode in our conversation began five days ago, when Joe posted a note to me showing off the results of his long-time practice making these treats.

In our dialogue, I learned that I had not shared with Joe links to articles I had found useful as I learned to bake cannelés at the French bakery. I promised Joe I'd post those links. Thinking there might be others interested, I post these for everyone:

When I began my mini-pilgrimage, the first article I encountered was Anne Zimmerman's post on The Kitchn:

And since I was baking in silicone moulds, two helpful articles to me were one by Mardi Michels and one by Pim (who also posted one of the two "Holy Grails" about cannelés:

Another article was this one filled with tips from Master Baker Celine Legros:

Perhaps the "Holy Grail" of articles on cannelés, however, is this one by Paula Wolfert, which is referenced in the first two articles:

Finally, yesterday Saveur magazine posted an article to its website which is worthy of a thorough read:

And now a few notes to Joe:

For instructions on coating the moulds with beeswax, the Saveur article has some simple instructions, but Paula Wolfert's article has detailed instructions for both seasoning new copper moulds and coating them with beeswax.

Also, in reading through these articles again, I think that my comment about the crust you achieved was wrong. That crust is what you are looking for. My friend, it appears that you have perfected the art of baking cannelés!

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The moderators have just updated the guidelines for joining the community. These are posted in our description of the community found in the About Community information (which you'll find in the sidebar to the left, just under the community search bar). Your thoughts or suggestions can be posted in the comments to this note. Here is the text of those guidelines:

When the moderators consider your request to join, we consider several aspects of your account. First, is there any indication that you have read these instructions and/or our Community Guidelines? For instance, we do not allow postings from pages created to promote businesses, blogs or YouTube accounts. If your request comes from one of those types of accounts, it will be rejected. Second, have you included a picture on your profile? All accounts with a "Blue Head" (the default image Google uses for accounts without a profile image) will be rejected. Third, does your account reflect that you are currently a responsible member of one or more other communities? If your profile does not show your posts to communities, your request will be rejected unless you share several posts directly with one or more of the moderators prior to asking to join the community. Fourth, since we value members who share their own thoughts about the art of bread, if your profile shows only material originally posted by others, your request will be automatically rejected.

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Here are the results of yesterday's experiments. (Explanations of the photos are included in the text of this post.)

Yesterday, I mixed three sponges: a small one (7 grams of barm, 70g each of flour and water) in a 12-ounce glass jar; a large one using Ginsberg's proportions from his book The Rye Baker (20g of barm and 200g each of flour and water) and a large one using a 1:3:3 proportion (60g of barm and 180g each of flour and water). The two larger barms were mixed in my standard 1-quart glass jar. Ambient temp in my kitchen ranged from about 68F at the time of mix to 71F in the evening. All 3 barms began ripening at about ambient temp (68F).

The smaller sponge was mixed to test the hypothesis that the reason the previous attempt showed no signs of life was that the sponge was ripened in a container too large for it. The larger sponge of the same proportions was mixed to explore the effect the overall size of the sponge has on ripening. The larger sponge at 1:3:3 was to compare the results of this proportion to my "standard" (I have a lot of experience at 1:1:1 and 1:1.6:1.6).

Insight into the impetus behind the smaller sponge can be seen in the discussion on my previous post ( Take note of the comments by +Carola Köhntopp and +Daniel Strachan.)

The last time I mixed a sponge at Ginsberg's proportions, I mixed it in my standard 1-quart container, and even after 24 hours, it showed no signs of life. This time I mixed two sponges in those proportions: one using Ginsberg's quantities but mixed in a much smaller jar, and one using his proportions but using larger quantities appropriate to my standard jar.

As these pictures show, both ripened nicely. Summarizing my notes, the smaller sponge was slower to ripen but ripened nicely. It started to collapse (marking its peak ripeness) between 20 and 22 hours after mixing. The larger sponge ripened more quickly, starting to collapse somewhere between 12 and 20 hours after mixing (I decided to sleep, so cannot say when it hit its peak ripeness).

The larger sponge at 1:3:3 proportions (at the same size as the larger barm of Ginsberg's proportions -- 420g) ripened the quickest of all. At 11 hours after mixing it was still increasing in volume; at 12 hours after mixing, it had started to collapse.

The pic with showing all 3 sponges was taken twelve hours after mixing. You can see that all three are nicely honeycombed with gas pockets and have approximately doubled. The pic showing just the two larger sponges shows the effects of collapse. Both were taken this morning, about 20 hours after mixing. Both have started to collapse, but the one on the left (with a smaller proportion of barm to flour) has collapsed much less. The one on the right, which is about 12 hours past its peak, has much smaller gas pockets (in some places, the gas pockets have completely collapsed -- look at the lefthand corner). It has lost about 2/3 of its expansion during ripening.

The aroma is another indicator of ripening. As the sponge ripens, it will begin to take on an aroma that I recognize as fermentation. This will continue to increase throughout the ripening. During the middle period of ripening, the smell of acid (think vinegar) will begin to form and get stronger. With these three sponges, I began detecting sweetness in the aroma between 10 and 11 hours after mixing. Finally, as the sponge neared and passed its peak, the smell of alcohol developed.

My conclusions: the size of the sponge makes a difference. Jeffrey Hamelman, in his book Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes, writes, "The culture needs a certain mass in order to attract needed flora and build its strength. Although the weights given below (600-800g total size) can be reduced, it is recommended, even for home use, that the given weights be observed so the culture can get off to a vigorous start.

In my own practice over the last 15 years, I found that I could reduce the size of the culture to between 400g and 450g. Ginsberg's formulas for starting a culture use 210g total size to start (at proportions of 1:1:1) and then about 150g total size (at 1:10:10) to maintain the culture.

I was skeptical of these recommendations. However, these experiments have shown that his formulation works if the size of the container is fitted to the size of the culture.
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Recently, I purchased the book The Rye Baker by Stanley Ginsberg (that won't surprise those who know me!). Last Tuesday I embarked on a series of experiments intended to try out some of the information on sour cultures in Ginsberg's book.

I mixed a leavening sponge using Ginsberg's "Basic One-Stage Sponge," which he describes as "the rye baker's workhorse, providing acidity, leavening power and utility as a seed sour culture. I mixed it in the morning in one of my standard containers -- a 1-quart "cracker jar" by Anchor Hocking.

Yikes! Though about an hour into the fermentation there seemed to be a faint smell of fermentation, after 8 hours the sponge showed no signs of life -- it hadn't expanded at all, there were no air pockets in the sponge, the smell revealed little more than wet flour, and the temperature of the sponge had dropped from 85F at the time of mixing to 68F, ambient temperature.

Had my beloved barm been killed after an effective 15-year run?

Fortunately, I had some stored in the fridge. On Thursday my wife Sandy mixed a new sponge using our standard formulation -- and it was still alive! It took two days of twice-a-day feedings to get the barm back to a robust state; but it was alive!

One possibility was that our current regimen of Sandy baking once a week and storing the barm in the fridge between bake sessions led to a weak barm. This certainly seemed plausible. But there is another possibility -- Ginsberg's formulation is too small. It could be that Ginsberg's proportions are too small under any setup, or that his proportions are too small for the container I used.

This morning I held the first test to help answer that question. The pic below gives a graphic summary of the results.

On the right is a sponge mixed with my standard formulation: (currently) 125g of existing sour culture, and 200g each of new flour and water. As we live on a farm, our water comes from a well and has never been treated with chlorine (and it has always given us great tasting bread!). The water was taken straight from the tap (which comes out of the tap at this time of year at about 67F). The flour and sour culture were at ambient temps, between 67F & 68F.

On the left is the sponge mixed using Ginsberg's formulation: 7g of sour culture and 70g each of new flour and water.

This picture was taken 4 hours later. The sponge using the larger quantities (of everything) has already increased in size by about 50%. The sponge using the lower quantities hasn't moved at all (mirroring my experience one week ago).

My preliminary conclusion is that the smaller size of Ginsberg's sponge is too small to effectively sustain the fermentation necessary to create a mature leavening sponge under these conditions. Tomorrow I'll mix another sponge using Ginsberg's formulation, but in a much smaller container to see how much of an effect that has.

I'll post the results here. I'll post longer musings when the experimentation has finished.

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+Rob Bonewitz: I thought of you as I listened to the narration at the beginning of this video.

It is an interesting view into the process of making enameled cast iron cookware. But if I were the forklift driver towards the beginning, I would be insulted! The narrator describes the driver as having "not a care in the world."

Certainly, there are forklift drivers who drive in that manner (and you've encountered at least one!). But most drivers are skilled and careful, and from the video it seems this driver is one of them.
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Following on +joe sotham's lead, another technical question:

As part of the appetizers my wife and I are making, I am baking a Westphalian Black Bread. The bread, a dense rye, is put into baking pans which are sealed with foil, then put into a cold oven turned to 350F for 40 minutes. At that point, the temp is lowered to 220F and the loaf bakes for another 24 hours.

I am presuming that during the first part of the bake, the crumb is set and baked, and during the long second part of the bake, the sugars are slowly caramelized (this is stated explicitly in the recipe).

The problem: sometime overnight, we had a very short power outage (guessing from the clocks which didn't reset, of about a minute). While most of our clocks reset, the oven did not turn back on. My best guess is that the oven was on for about 12 hours and then was off for about 3.

I have turned the oven back on to 220F -- and my intention is to leave the bread in the oven for another 12.

Can anyone shed light on whether I have chosen a good course on this or not?

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I know there's a good chance +Rob Bonewitz will find this artwork very interesting, and there's likely others so:
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