2020 was a unique year on many different fronts. We had a lot of stress, with the pandemic, and a lot of time sheltering in place at home. One area where I did find some relief from this difficult situation was bread making.
Spending all this time at home, as opposed to being in the office, let me explore and experiment and improve on various bread making techniques. I also discovered and tested my ability to share this knowledge with others to achieve great results.
Some of the experiments I ran during the course of the year:
- Spelt flour (3 attempts): spelt can be difficult to work with due to its low gluten content. However its great taste and nutritional benefits more than make up for it. It took me 3 attempts to get it right.
- Cranberry walnut: great winter treat, high in calories.
- Whole wheat : challenging as well, with different techniques to get to highly nutritious and healthy bread. High hydration dough, long autolyze and lower fermentation temperature.
- whole wheat fresh milled: sifting the flour after you mill it will remove some of the bran and help with better oven spring.
- Summer vs. winter schedule adjustments: high temperature in the summer accelerates fermentation, while low temperature in the winter makes an overnight levain build the better option.
I must say that not two loaves were the same, and with a cadence of 2-3 loaves every 5 days, that meant a lot of variations.
Not all were successful either. I had some trouble for a period of time with a poorly performing starter. Then some more issues with a stale flour, and even a bag I had to throw away due to mite infestation. Spelt flour took me 3 attempts to get to an acceptable state.
I also acquired a few tools that have made my life as a baker somewhat easier.
One of them was a proofer that revealed useful during the cooler winter months. It provided me predictable results during bulk fermentation. I also used it to try yogurt, another type of fermented food, which turned out delicious.
Another tool I purchased late in the year, after delivering a presentation on flour to my students, was a grain mill. I just had a chance to try it out once, so that experiment will continue next year. It opens up a new realm of taste, nutritional benefits and challenges that will keep me on my toes.
One of the great satisfactions of 2020 was the amazing loaves that the ParisLevain students were able to bake, after just a short time of coaching. Several of them are now baking sourdough on a regular basis, and they are not going back to commercial yeast. I am looking forward to more successes in 2021!