Sunday, October 29, 2017

“Wheat is life, boy. Don’t let no silly bugger tell you different.”

- Christopher Ketteridge and Spike Mays, Five Miles From Bunkum, 1972

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Manifest Three: Pastrami and Ale

Mark Solomon, wine aficionado, addresses the group

Chris May, Adam Sobsey, and I have been curating a monthly dinner titled Manifest, which could also be titled Manifest(o), where we perform dinner and then perform a short reading spurred as a reaction to the food and restaurant economy.  The 10 Commandments of Manifest printed below should give you more of a feel for it.  Mark Solomon (pictured above), Fine Wine and Whisky Director at Leland Little Auctions, brought some vintage deadstock, about 15 wines.  Some were remarkable, others went down the drain.  Thanks Mark!  Also a big thanks to Dave and the crew at Red's Quality Acre and George and Lily at Lil' Farm for supplying the veggies and flowers.  Thanks to Alex Ruch for providing fragrant loaves of caraway-perfumed rye bread.  And Chris May put together an absolutely superlative New England IPA.  I can't wait for more brews from this aspiring brewer!  Email me at info at ninthstbakery dot com if you would like an invite to our next dinner.  Our menu:


Menu 22 October 2017

Monday, October 23, 2017

Loose Perfectionism

I have something I like to use with my managers and staff called "loose perfectionism".  Loose perfectionism is defined as while not judging too harshly any one given outcome, nudging the product and the process towards a goal of 95% complete satisfaction that is eventually consistent each time.  What this means to be is to not take it as such a moral blow or huge value judgement if you make a mistake.  Everyone makes mistakes.  The key is learning from them and correcting them with the end goal in mind.  So long as you have the end goal in mind, both in the palate's mind and in the aesthetic experience, you can drive this cyclical process forward to your goal.  Once achieved, the other key aspect is achieving consistency time and again through proper training, recipes, and protocols.  Iterative creative processes can be frustrating, so it is important to use the spirit of what Gilles Deleuze call the "rigourous and inexact" to guide you toward a superlative outcome.

On Yeast

Bubbly, natural yeast used for rising bread dough, is fickle.  I've spent years of daily feedings learning its ways.  If you decide to make a natural yeast starter from scratch, a typical feeding regimen from water and flour to yeast takes about three weeks.

There are many different starter concentrations and hydrations ("wetness" of the starter) to be used in your final dough. To name a few, there are "young" levains, sour starter, liquid levain, and salted bigas.

Looking back at my experimentation, I have found the following factors to be the key decision points in determining the final outcome:
  • Starter concentration by hydratation.
  • Usage of commercial yeast in place of or in addition to natural starters in rising.
  • Feeding times.  How many times per day?
  • Resulting cell concentration and cell "hunger" from feeding schedule.
  • How much starter to use by total dough weight.
  • Overnight retarding in bulk rise vs. rising in shaped form vs. using a same-day bulk rise formula

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Ms Jacqueline

As many of our regulars know, Ms Jacqueline Wilkins has been out on extended medical leave.  Jacqueline is in many ways is the heart and soul of the Bakery.  When I think of generosity and love, I think of Ms Jacqueline.  Having worked at the Bakery for over twenty years, many of our regulars come in simply to see her and kibbitz with her. She has been saying every month that she will be coming back the next month, and now we are hoping for November for her return to the Bakery in a part-time capacity.  The Bakery wishes her the best for a speedy recovery and can't wait for her return.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Pathological Progress

"If you do something nice for somebody in secret, anonymously, without letting the person you did it for know it was you or anybody else know what it was you did or in any way shape or form trying to get credit for it, it’s almost its own form of intoxicating buzz."  - David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

A lot of people don't understand me, and they tell me as much.  I often give away bread, pastries, tee shirts, hats, and cookies to our regulars and friends of the Bakery.  And it is not like the Bakery is so rich!  Before I owned the Bakery, I ran a sliding scale Farmer's Market stand on Hunt Street where we sold baked goods regardless of the customer's means.

The closest person to I have met who is like this is George O'Neal, owner of Lil' Farm in Timberlake.  He routinely gives away veggies to me and other friends, sometimes bartering, sometimes just to bless you with a bunch of mizuna or a bagful of new potatoes.

There is no real reason or logic behind charitable giving.  It's not a sales ploy.  It's not an exercise in morality nor has it a basis in religion.  It just feels good.  It's not something I decided on.  It's a pathology.

Just as you might give your children the last serving of food at the table rather than feed yourself, the pathology of charity is one we can extend to the whole world if we have the right perspective.  The delight of of the gift is unrivaled.  To be the giver can be as rewarding as being the recipient.  Try giving something away today.  See how it feels.


Is the world stable?

In October of 2016, I fell off my roof while cleaning the gutters.  What you realize when you are falling, is that the air is painless.  When you land, you feel nothing for a moment as your vision goes black.  And then the pain and trauma sets in.  I was lucky, I only broke my arm.  If you ever want to know what it's like to be a baker with a cast up to the shoulder, just ask me.  It was one of those situations where you learn to trust and train the people around you because injury has made you virtually useless.

I go back to the roof in my mind often, the moment of distraction, the phone ringing, the car passing by and blinding me momentarily with the sun reflected off the windshield, the thoughts of my girlfriend who I was trying to see later in the day, the podcast I was listening to from my phone, and finally the ladder slipping out from under my feet as I clutched, flailing, at the metal gutter.  The air was painless, and in a moment I went from my usual self to a world of pain as I went into shock and ceased to be able to use my limbs and struggled to breathe.  I was all alone, and though my neighbor saw me fall, no one rushed to my aid.  Nothing prepares you for shock.  I faced it alone, and only through the adrenaline rush and force of will drove myself to the ER, all the while trying not to pass out.

The world is in flux.  The world, like our lives, is more precarious than we think.  One moment you are doing the gutters, and the next you are asking a nurse whether your fist will ever be able to unclench.  Who will be there when you fall?  Is the world robust enough to heal from a shock?  What systems, what safeguards are adequate to traumas of our times?

On Table Bread

In the 80's, you couldn't go out to eat without a basket of bread showing up at the table. Now, it is a rarity as the cost of procuring good table bread has increased and many diners eschew gluten.

More importantly perhaps, what was once a means for prix fixe and fine dining restaurants to fill the bellies of diners before plating small servings, now the  rare presence of free table bread only prevents diners from ordering more plates.  At a local fine dining restaurant, when the bread service was discontinued in the 2000's, diners rebelled for three months, and then acclimated and simply ordered more to the expectant delight of the management.  Now bread has become an appetizer, and if you want the bread basket and the compound butter, you will pay for it, to the tune of up to $8.00.  One of the local restaurants that still gives away table bread (though the last time I was there it was unsalted, which tastes like a punishment) is Gocciolina - decidedly old school.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The $250,000 slice of rye bread

I like rye bread.  Good rye bread, chewy, with hints of caraway.

I would say I would pay, oh, about $250K for a good slice of rye bread.

"Madness?" you say?

But that's exactly what I did.

I bought a down and out regional independent bakery for the small hope of make a good slice of rye bread (and incidentally, it cost a lot more than $250K).

Why would I do such a thing?

Am I insane?

I have asked the same question.

All the turnover I've experienced, the mechanical breakdowns, the ingredient mis-orderings and frantic runs to Compare Foods to buy 25-pound sacks of sugar or a dozen slicing cucumbers, was all in service of baking a half-decent piece of rye bread.

At a certain point, the rye bread isn't the point, it is the ideal of transcendence through food, through reaching through the palate and re-creating something that only exists in your mind, if you could go back to your first Katz' deli experience in the Summer of 2000, and taste that rye bread, that corned beef, that brown mustard.

The rye bread is not at all the point.  The point is the pursuit of the rye bread, and the ability to share it with others, to give something to someone that they will never forget, for all the love and time that has crafted it.

Today, the Rabbi from Temple Beth El came over for a chat and I sent him home with a bag of hot ciabatta rolls.  Earlier, I had shown him how the ciabatta is loaded into the hearth oven, and about the "mother" starter (over three decades old and still kicking!) that rose the dough.  I hope he leaves and the ciabatta makes a little imprint on his mind at his family's table, for that is what bread has done for me.