Give Us, This Day…


Ok, so it is last week’s Sunday bread, but you get the idea. This week’s is actually in the oven this very minute. I feel that all is more or less ticking away alright in my life’s day to day scheduling if I am getting bread made each week.

I set myself simple (and tasty) goals to achieve, you see.

(Thumbnail to the right is of the dough phase.) In a related thought, earlier this week I was at lunch with some of my doughcolleagues and a visitor and the conversation drifted away from physics to food, as it does. There was a link – we were speculating about the fun science one can do experimenting on everyday materials, and how unexplored and underdeveloped the theoretical work on several of the basic questions are. I should note here that it is very hard to make progress on some of the seemingly simple things, generally. So we got talking about various suspensions and so forth that form a lot of foods we eat. The issue of what sorts of labs one might have (it started from a biology discussion) came up and so I mentioned that I’d love a food component. And one can eat the experiments when one is done, so it’s largely a win-win situation. One of my colleagues started asking about whether or not there was much research on some of the cooking that goes into making our food, especially with a physics focus. I mentioned that there are several celebrated books by Hervé This (I was not sure I got the name right), none of which I’ve read, but several of which I find myself browsing through in bookstores, but never actually buying. I also mentioned the whole molecular gastronomy movement, which might be of interest to him. Our visitor mentioned Howard McGhee, another notable writer on the topic.

Later, I checked and had indeed got the name right, and actually I’d forgotten that This, a physical chemist, is regarded as the father of molecular gastronomy. Seems he’s also worked a lot with chef Pierre Gagnaire. At this point, my eyes glazed over for a minute or two at the memory of a meal at Pierre Gagnaire’s 3-Michelin starred Paris restaurant, in 2004 when I was there for Strings 2004. The meal was amazing, as was the restaurant. (It remains the only three-star I’ve been to. I spend my time noodling around in the mere two’s I’m afraid – don’t hold that against me. (Le Manoir aux Quat’Sainsons in Oxfordshire remains a favourite. …Eye-glazing again.)) It was a notable evening for a number of reasons. Oddly enough, one table away was Oprah Winfrey and her entourage, a group that, even in Paris, caused a collective intake of breath when they entered the room. Then, on leaving the restaurant, the city streets erupted in excitement and celebration because some football team or other had beaten some other team (also, football, I imagine) in some important international tournament or other. I forget the details. But that’s another time, and another story.

Anyway when I got home the day of the lunch, I discovered that I’d managed to get further than the regular This-browsing. I actually have one of This’ books on a shelf in the study (“The science of the oven”). I must get around to reading it one day.


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5 Responses to Give Us, This Day…

  1. Ele Munjeli says:

    Your loaves are very high. Is this because it’s a dry dough, because there’s a lot of gluten (kneading with a hook? not you!), because there’s a lot of yeast, and a cool rise? I’ve taken to baking in a loaf pan because my bread tends to be flattish. Lend us hand will you, and publish a recipe or some tips for those lively loaves.

  2. robert says:

    Did you ever see Nicholas Kurti in action on the physics and food front? His lectures to undergraduate physics societies (and more august gatherings) were something to behold. When he was nearly ninety he made a TV series with Raymond Blanc – very impressive. And anyone wanting to learn how to make bread (in the UK at least) should check out the lovely Lorraine Pascale – currently on the box courtesy of the Beeb

  3. I’ve started playing around with soda bread recipes, which are dead convenient for me because they don’t need to rise or be kneeded, so they are much easier for me to do than most other breads. I love hearing about your cooking exploits.


  4. Clifford says:

    >>Your loaves are very high.

    Ele, you say the nicest things! 😀

    Ack! I thought I’d mentioned my simple recipe before. This is what I do. Dissolve a teaspoonful of brown sugar in two cups of warm water, and pour in two standard sachets (1/4 oz. each) of standard dried yeast. I use, roughly, a little over a third of a cup of vegetable shortening, and blend it into two cups of flour, one of whole wheat and one of all purpose, perhaps using a fork. At this stage I put in the salt I want…how much is a personal taste thing… I use maybe a tablespoonful of rough Malden sea salt. By now the yeast has all puffed up and got excited by its ten minutes or more in the sugared water. Stir this all into the bowl where you’ve got your blended in shortening, salt, and flour. Gooey mess. Mix it all up. Optional at this stage is a cup or so of wheat germ. Mix that in. a few minutes, we’re talking about here.

    Now chuck the spoon, and the rest is all in the hands, so make sure they are thoroughly washed, certainly by now. (No bread machine, etc., needed. Why spoil the fun?) Ultimately, you will fold in another four or five cups of flour into this, making the dough. I tend to have a mix of 2/3 wholewheat to 1/3 plain, maybe more of wholewheat sometimes. If less, then you can more or less halve the yeast. Just keep adding the flour a cup at a time and fold it in by kneading with your hands. Keep doing it in the bowl until all or most of the flour is in place and the thing is sticking together in a more or less uniform mass. This is maybe five or six minutes work. No big deal. If it is too dry and not taking the last of the flour, just add a bit of warm water as needed to help it all stick together. Then flour a flat surface, and turn the whole thing out onto that. Roll up your sleeves, and just start kneading the whole thing, folding it into itself and using the weight of your upper body to assist in pushing into it whith the heels of your palms. Don’t be shy here. This should be the most fun part. Be hands on and intimate with the dough, for best results. Get a rhythm going, and if it helps to figure out what you should be doing, imagine you’re giving a very deep massage to the back of a lover, and you’re on the right track. Keep putting a thin layer of extra flour on the base to stop it sticking, as you go along. You should absorb all the flour, and have a nice dough that is slightly tacky to the touch, but not dry, or wet. If you cut it open it should be moist… Depending upon how much shortening you used at the start, you could also work in a tablespoonful of olive oil in the late kneading stages (just cut open the thing and put it in and then fold it in), but that it optional. It can help with the texture, depending upon what you are going for. Then cut into two blobs, shape them, put them on a floured surface and let them rise, somewhere warm. If in a cold place, the oven is as good a place as any. Blast some heat in it for a minute or two and then turn it off, and then it is a nice warm place for rising the bread, door slightly open. After 30 minutes, or so, you’ve got two risen blobs. Now, wash hands and smack those puppies down with your fists, pick em up and roll em a few times (I dampen my hands with water to handle them, so that they stick nicely when reshaping-their surfaces will have dried a bit during the rise) and shape them into the boules or other desired shapes. Flour a pizza stone (I also use some coarse cornmeal) and put them on… Let them rise for 30 to 40 minutes in warm again while you preheat oven to 400F. Don’t have bread in there when reheating. On top might be good. Then bake. 40 minutes should do it… Maybe turn it down to 350 for the last 25… Knock the bottoms and they should sound hollow if done. If browned nicely and bottom not hollow yet, cover over with foil to stop burning while doing that last five or six minutes to completion. Three and a half hours from start to finish is a comfortable time, with plenty of time for doing other things (reading, blogging, gardening, writing, drawing, calculating) while waiting for risings, baking, etc.

    Slice, and eat with previously made whisky-Ginger-marmalade.

    Your mileage may vary.


  5. Ele Munjeli says:

    You’re using twice the yeast I am, and a considerably higher temp, especially with the stone. Thanks for all the details. If I have some success, I’ll send you a photo! One of my favorite breads is Anadama with frozen corn pureed in a processor instead of cornmeal, and molasses!