Sourdough Borodinski Rye/ Borodinskiye Chleb

BorodinskiYield: Two 25 oz. (700g.) loaves

Borodinski, with its moist, open crumb and assertive coriander flavor, is arguably Russia’s best-known and best-loved rye bread. This wasn’t always so, however: in the 1920s and 1930s, Borodinski could only be had in Moscow, and those who had the choice preferred those made by Latvian bakers. With the great push toward industrialization in the 1930s, Soviet factory bakeries opened across Russia and introduced the bread nationwide.

Numerous recipes exist, some yeast-leavened, others built on a sponge. Some specify pan loaves, others hearth loaves. All, however, preserve the 80%-20% rye-wheat ratio and all use a scald containing roasted rye malt.

This recipe emphasizes the interplay between sour and coriander-infused sweetness. It takes time – nearly a full 24 hours – to bring together, but the results are well worth it.







⅓ cup Rye sour 2.10 60 8%
2 cups Medium rye flour 8.80 250 35%
1¾ cups Water 14.65 415 58%


¼ cup Malted rye (available at home brewing supply stores) 1.25 35 5%
1 Tbs. Coriander seed 0.15 4 1%
¾ cup Coarse rye meal 4.05 115 16%
1¼ cups Boiling water 10.60 300 42%


1⅔ cups Medium rye flour 7.40 210 29%
1 cup First clear or high-gluten flour, unsifted 4.95 140 20%
2 Tbs Unsulphured molasses 1.40 40 6%
1 Tbs Red rye malt (see Step 2.) 0.35 10 1%
1⅔ tsp Table salt 0.35 10 1%
1-2 tsp Coriander seed for garnish 0.05 2


  1. Mix together the sponge ingredients until well blended, cover loosely and let stand overnight.
  2. In a frying pan, roast the malted rye over medium heat until it turns a deep rose pink, about 3 minutes, and pulverize the red malt and coriander seed in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Add to the rye meal and boiling water, mix until smooth, cover with plastic wrap and let stand overnight.
  3. The next day, combine the sponge and scald in the bowl of a stand mixer, cover with plastic wrap and set aside to ferment for 5-6 hours, until the mass has roughly doubled in bulk. Add the dough ingredients, use the flat beater  to mix at low-medium (KA 3-4) speed until you have a soft, smooth dough the color of dark coffee. Cover and let stand 1 hour.
  4. Carefully spoon the dough into two well-greased 8½” x 4½” (21 cm x 11 cm) loaf pans. Use wet hands to distribute the dough evenly and smooth the tops. Add 1 Tbs/15 ml. of water to each pan to keep the dough moist, cover with plastic wrap and proof in a warm place until the tops of the loaves show holes, about 2 hours. Garnish with whole or coarsely crushed coriander seeds.
  5. Preheat your oven to 550°F/290°C, with the baking surface in the middle and a steam pan on a lower shelf. About 10 minutes before bake time, add 1 cup/225 ml. of boiling water to the steam pan, using a silicon oven mitt to avoid burns.
  6. Place the loaves in the oven and replenish the steam pan with another 1 cup/225 ml. of boiling water. After 10 minutes, reduce temp to 350°F/175°C and cover the loaves with aluminum foil. Bake an additional 50-60 minutes, remove the steam pan and unpan the loaves. Return them to the oven for 10-15 minutes to firm the crust. Let cool thoroughly before slicing.

Dresden-Style Christmas Stollen/Weihnachtsstollen Dresdner Art

stollen-crumbEurope has a long tradition of sweet breads fortified with whatever sweeteners and enrichments were on hand — usually honey or sugar, butter, eggs, nuts and/or dried fruit. These sweet breads represented both a change from the stultifying routine of a diet that, for most people, consisted of more than 80% bread and gruel, and a special treat honoring the observance of religious occasions.

In Germany, stollen is a longstanding Christmas tradition. And while each region has its own variations, Dresden stollen has emerged as the de facto standard. So herewith, a recipe that produces a traditional German stollen that’s impossible to stop nibbling.

Yield: Two 2½ lb. (1.15 kg.) loaves


Ingredient Ounces Grams


1 cup Milk 9.00 250 25%
2 Tbs Instant yeast 0.80 24 2%
1 Tbs Granulated sugar 0.35 10 1%
2 cups AP flour, unsifted 9.00 250 25%


6 cups AP flour, unsifted 26.50 750 75%
⅔ cup Milk 5.30 150 15%
½ cup Granulated sugar 4.10 115 12%
2⅔ sticks Unsalted butter, room temp 10.60 300 30%
2 Large eggs, beaten 4.05 115 12%
½ tsp Table salt 0.10 3 0%
1 Tbs Rum 0.50 15 2%
1¼ cups Golden raisins 7.00 200 20%
½ cup Candied citron, diced 3.50 100 10%
½ cup Candied orange peel, diced 3.50 100 10%
1 cup Chopped blanched almonds 5.30 150 15%
1½ stick Melted butter, for topping 5.30 150 15%
2½ cups Powdered sugar for topping 10.50 300 30%
  1.  Heat the milk until warm to the touch, dissolve the yeast and sugar and add to the flour, hand mixing until smooth. Cover and let stand about 20 minutes, until very bubbly.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the sponge and all the dough ingredients, mix 6-8 minutes at low (KA 2) speed, using the dough hook. Turn the dough onto a well-floured work surface and knead in the fruit and nuts until evenly distributed throughout the dough.
  3. Form the dough into a ball and transfer it to an oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.stollen-dough
  4. Preheat your oven to 400°F. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface, punch it down and divide it in two equal sized pieces. Form each piece into a long flat loaf and place on a parchment lined sheet pan. Let the stollen rest for 20-30 minutes.
  5. Put the stollen in the oven and bake for 12 minutes at 400°F, then lower the temperature to 350°F and continue baking for another 30-40 minutes, taking care not to let them get too brown.
  6. Remove the stollen from the oven and immediately brush them generously with melted butter, then use a sieve to give them a thick coating of powdered sugar. Repeat twice more and let the stollen cool in the pan.
  7. When cool, wrap them in aluminum foil or place them in an airtight container and let them rest, unrefrigerated, for 1-2 weeks before serving.

Stollen-finishedNOTE: Feel free to substitute various fruits and nuts for those called for in the recipe.  Prominent German baker-blogger Wolfgang Suepke, for example, recently posted a recipe for Cranberry-Walnut stollen, and is a huge booster of Thuringia-style stollen (he’s from Erfurt, in the heart of Thuringia). So enjoy and Season’s Greetings!


Jelly Doughnuts for Chanukah

The perfect Chanukah jelly doughnut.

The perfect Chanukah jelly doughnut.

Back when I was a kid, we called Chanukah the Festival of Light, in commemoration of the eight days that the candelabra (hanukkiya) in the Temple burned on one day’s supply of oil.

As I got older, however, I began to think of it more as the Festival of Frying, since oil plays such a central role in the holiday. We eat latkes (potato pancakes), fried chicken and/or fish, french fries (a non-traditional favorite), and anything else one can imagine that’s both kosher and deep-fried.

Jelly doughnuts (sufganiyot in Hebrew), were never part of my grandparents’ Chanukah traditions (we ate latkes), but for many Jews are an integral part of the holiday. So herewith, Norm Berg’s recipe for sufganiyot, straight out of Inside the Jewish Bakery .

Makes: about three dozen





Baker’s Percentage

½ cup Shortening




2/3 cup Granulated sugar




2¾ tsp Table salt




½ cup Nonfat dry milk (optional)




2 Large eggs, beaten




2¼ cups Water




1¼ tsp Vanilla extract




Zest of 1 lemon




6 2/3 cups Bread flour, unsifted




2 tbs + 2¼ tsp Instant yeast





  1. Put the shortening, sugar, salt and dry milk into a mixing bowl and blend until smooth, about 8-10 minutes, if by hand and about 4-5 minutes using the flat (paddle) beater at medium (KA 4) speed if by machine.
  2. Beat the egg lightly and incorporate into the shortening mixture and continue blending until smooth, 2-3 minutes, then add the water and flavorings, mixing to form a slurry.
  3. Reduce the speed to low (KA 2) and slowly incorporate the flours and instant yeast, forming a smooth dough.
  4. Switch to the dough hook and knead for another 8-10 minutes, until the dough forms a ball around the hook and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
  5. Knead the dough on a lightly floured board until it’s no longer sticky, then form it into a ball, place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic and ferment until doubled, about 45 minutes.
  6. Turn the dough out onto a moderately floured board, flour the top surface lightly but evenly to prevent sticking and punch down.  scale the dough to 1.0-2.0oz/30-55g pieces, roll into balls and flatten to ¼”-3/8”/0.6-1.0cm thick.
  7. Preheat your frying oil to 350°-375°F/175°-190°C.
  8. Place the dough pieces on a frying screen (I use 10″ pizza screens, available at kitchen supply vendors). Proof until slightly less than doubled in size and a finger gently pressed into the dough leaves an indentation that doesn’t spring back, 45 – 60 minutes.  Be very careful when you handle the doughnuts, as too much touching will result in a collapsed product.  Don’t under any circumstances transfer the doughnuts to the oil by hand.
  9. Lower the frying screen with the doughnuts into the oil and fry until golden brown on the bottom.  Turn the doughnuts using the handle of a wooden spoon or a pair of bamboo chopsticks and fry for another minute.
  10. Lift the frying screen and the doughnuts out of the oil, let any excess oil run off and transfer to paper towels to drain.  When they’re cool, use a pastry bag and plain tip to inject them with jelly, custard, pudding or other smooth filling. Finish the with honey glaze, simple icing or powdered sugar.

No Honey Cake This Year

strudelThis year, for the first time in a long time, I didn’t bake honey cake for Rosh Hashanah. Not because I don’t love it; I do. I love the sweet-sour spiciness of the fruity-sweet, slightly sour honey; the fragrant bite of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves. I love the firm consistency that reminds me of a fruit cake, but without the fruit. I love the way the top crust of my rye-flour honey cake softens after a few days and turns into a caramel-like self-frosting that melts in my mouth and carries with it the concentrated essence of sugar and spice. And I love the idea that by baking a honey cake, I’m carrying on a tradition that has bound Jews together, across centuries and generations.

But no, I didn’t bake honey cake this year. Why? Because my wife and I wanted something different for Rosh Hashanah; something equally sweet and equally special, something equally evocative of the holiday and of our European roots. I baked an apple strudel.

We chose apple strudel for many reasons, some practical, some symbolic. On the practical side, stretching the strudel wrapper is an adventure akin to magic. I’m enthralled by the idea – and the reality – of transforming a few ounces of dough into a nearly transparent membrane the size of a kitchen table and filling it with fresh apples, sugar, raisins, walnuts and spices that have macerated for hours.

stretchstrudelThen there’s the wonder of rolling the strudel. Few baking experiences can compare to rolling a strudel, starting with the first fold over the filling, and then gently pulling and lifting the tablecloth on which I’ve stretched the dough so that the strudel rolls itself, like the body of a snowman, without the damaging interference of hands and fingers. The aroma of baking strudel  – the same honey-cake perfume of cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg, but with the added fruit-sweetness and subtle tang of cooking apples, brings its own aura of sweetness in the coming year.

On the symbolic side, this year’s baking united us with generations and traditions past. It brought me closer to my late grandmother, my bubbe, who came from a shtetl southeast of Warsaw and who, as my father recalled to me many years ago, rolled her strudel on a tablecloth in the kitchen I remember so well.

rollstrudelFor my wife, Sylvia, it brought back memories of her mother, Gertrude, who grew up in a town called Judendorf (Jew-town) just outside of Graz, in eastern Austria. My late father-in-law fled the Holocaust in 1938 and returned to his native Austria with the U.S. Army. There, he met and married Gertrude and brought her back to Philadelphia right after the war. She, too, baked strudel, stretching her dough thinner than paper, filling it, rolling it with a tablecloth.

I made the strudel for a family of close friends who came to celebrate the New Year us, and especially for the patriarch, Laszlo, whose family survived the Holocaust in Budapest and escaped to Canada following the Hungarian Uprising of 1956.

When it came time for dessert, we served the strudel warm, dusted with powdered sugar. We ate, our stomachs full and our eyelids heavy with wine and food. The dining room was filled with contented laughter and the sweet smell of apples and spices. Around us, as if borne on that fragrance, hovered the spirits of those we loved and had lost, enfolding us with their warmth and bestowing their blessings for a sweet and prosperous year.

“It’s the Water” and Other Bagel Fictions

bagelbasketOver the past year, while I was doing personal appearances to promote my IACP award winning book, Inside the Jewish Bakery – a great read, by the way, and worth every penny – I learned that I could count on being asked two questions: “What ever happened to corn bread, aka corn rye?” and “Is it true that New York bagels are better because of the water?”

Of corn rye, more in a future post, perhaps (my list of to-do topics is growing larger). As for the water, the first time I answered it, I did so with a vehemence that surprised even me, and I can be a pretty vehement guy. But here it is, vehemence and all.

Let’s talk about water. Admittedly, there are wide swings in the taste and quality of municipal water supplies. New York City, for example, where I grew up, has water that’s sweet and drinkable right from the tap, with no off-tastes or chlorine.  Nor does it scale the teakettle. Madison, Wisconsin, on the other hand, where I spent many years earning a PhD and avoiding an involuntary trip to Vietnam, had (and presumably still has), hard-as-nails water that tasted of limestone and sulfur, and which instantly coated the bottom of every pot I owned with a hard white crust. Southern California, where I live now, is somewhere in the middle: the water isn’t nearly as sweet as New York water,  and the scale it deposits is negligible compared to what I contended with in the Upper Midwest.

DSC02562That being said – and all else equal – water, as a primary ingredient in bagels, is going to contribute to a bagel’s taste, while the mineral content may also affect the baking characteristics of the dough. On the other hand, the question then becomes, “If all else isn’t equal, what else can contribute to the wretched quality of those Wonder Bread doughnuts that continue to besmirch the bagel’s name?”

In a word (actually three) lots of things. So let’s start by deconstructing the New York water bagel. At its core, the traditional bagel recipe consists of five ingredients: high-gluten flour (100%), water (50%), salt (2%), malt (2%) and yeast (0.5% for fresh, half that for dry).  Mix it up, let the dough sit for 20-30 minutes, shape the bagels and then chill them for at least 12 hours. When you’re ready to bake, boil them in water, plus a tablespoon or so of malt, right out of the fridge, and bake them at 460°F (238°C) for about 15 minutes, flipping them after 3 minutes if you’re into that sort of thing.

Those are the basics and those were the bagels I and others of a certain vintage grew up with and remember so fondly.

DSC02563The compromises started when Daniel Thompson began marketing his father, Meyer’s, bagel-forming machine (first customer: Murray Lender), which, like the steam drill and John Henry, put the hand-rollers of New York’s Local 338 out of business. But to make the machine work properly, the water had to be increased from around 50% to more like 65%, so that the dense crumb became softer and more bread-like. Then, of course, the softer, stickier dough began to gum things up, so the steam drill guys added oil, which softened the crumb even further. So now, what once was a bagel now was becoming more like circular white bread. But the machines made mass production not only possible, but financially desirable. Enter the corporations.

BagelBoilAt that point, of course, the finance guys took over. Chilling takes time and costs money, in the form of energy and cooling equipment. Why not just add dough conditioners to speed gluten formation and some sugar (another crumb-softener) to give the yeast an added kick? And what about boiling, which gelatinizes the bagel’s surface starch and forms that shiny skin? Well, let’s bake them in steam-injected ovens, said the bean-counters. That way, we can save even more on the labor and equipment needed to dump the bagels into giant vats of malt-water, scoop them out, and rearrange them on boards or pans or whatever. Flipping? Nah, those schmucks out there won’t know the difference, but our shareholders will love us for cutting costs (at the price of quality, but when did that ever matter?) and giving profits a nice bump.

Which brings me back to the idea of “all else equal,” because in the bagel world, all else is not equal.  Dunkin’ Donuts, the world’s largest bagel manufacturer, Einstein Bros./Noah’s, Bruegger, and all those Korean-owned mom-and-pop bagelries have gone over to the dark side, substituting size for quality and factory flavors like strawberry, cinnamon, blueberry and jalapeño for time, labor, and the natural action of enzymes on complex carbs.

BagelBoards1When I make bagels, I do it the same way the Local 338 guys did, hand-rolling, chilling, boiling and flipping on burlap-covered cedar boards. Even with that so-so Southern California water, I’ll put my bagels up against anyone’s, anywhere in the world. And I guarantee you, I’ll prevail 99.999% of the time – that 0.001% being when I go up against a properly made bagel using New York water.

So does the water make a difference? Of course — if you’re eating one of those 0.001% New York bagels and one of mine. But most of the time, it’s just an excuse for incompetence.


Guest Blog: Temps Gone Wild

Paul McCool is a baker and teacher from Lawrence, Kansas, who’s been a long-time voice of reason on my favorite (well, second-favorite) bread site, Recently, he sent me this tale of what can happen (and indeed, has happened to me more than once) when one loses their focus during bake time. Fortunately, this cautionary tale also contains its own redemption. Lemonade, anyone? And many thanks, Paul.

You’ll probably enjoy this.  I have been preparing for another rye breads class this Friday which includes the Rustic Pumpernickel from Inside the Jewish Bakery.  Since the class runs from 10:00-3:30, lunch is provided for the students.  What I do is bake a batch of each of the breads being taught (this class also includes a Vort Limpa and Eric’s Fave Rye) in advance.  This lets me give the students a visual of the finished breads and plenty of material for lunch-time sandwiches.

Everything was going spectacularly well with the Rustic Pumpernickel this weekend.  Fermentation, shaping, final rise, docking, steaming; I had it all together.  Everything, that is, until I opened the oven to check the loaf’s temperature before calling it done.  At that point I realized that I had missed the step which says to turn the oven temperature down from 470 to 300 after the final steaming.  Oops!  It spent the entire bake at 470!  The loaf is a deep mahogany brown, with just the tiniest bit of charring along the edge of a natural ear where the top of the loaf fissured from oven spring.

Instead of panicking, I brushed the loaf with a generous amount of boiling water, let it cool, then wrapped it in a towel for the next 30 hours or so, then bagged it in plastic.  All the while I was kicking myself for having made such a bonehead mistake.  Finally, I resolved to bake another but take this one along as an object lesson.

Just for grins, I cut into the loaf last evening.  The crust had softened from being in the plastic bag.  The interior was moist and cool.  The flavor!  Oh, the flavor!  It’s as good a rye as I have made in a long time.  Lots of that weirdly good earthy/spicy combination inherent in the rye, a gently assertive tang (mostly lactic but some suggestion of acetic, too), hints of citrus.  This is seriously good bread, in spite of my screw-up.  Norm would probably give me a whack for messing up the bake but I think that he would love it, too.  So, in case you or your students ever make the same mistake, know that all is not lost.

Sour Notes

Wheat sour at 8 hours

Wheat sour at 8 hours

It never fails to amaze me how a lot of home bakers, especially newbies, turn their sourdough starters into objects of obsessive-compulsive desire. Recently, in fact, I was bemused to read a sourdough neophyte’s post in which he mentioned, with as dead a pan as Grant Wood ever painted, that he was feeding his established sour twice a day. Twice a day!!! And people wonder why their breads don’t get sour enough.

Or how about the endless debates on which flour is best for feeding a yeast culture – as if those cute little eternally hungry fungi care where their next meal is coming from, or whether it’s the carb equivalent of filet mignon or pâte de Dumpster.

And another thing: sours localize. After about the fifth or sixth feeding, that authentic SanFran culture – Saccharomyces sanfransiscensis, for all you yeast nerds out there – that you shelled out big bucks for has been completely replaced by your local wild yeast, which you could have gotten for nothing simply by building a starter from scratch (of which more in another post).

Wheat (top) and Rye (bottom) at 5 weeks. Note the absence of hooch.

Wheat (top) and Rye (bottom) unfed for 5 weeks. Note the absence of hooch.

I’ve always been of the opinion, and the facts bear me out (as you shall soon see) that those splendid wild yeasts and their lactobacillius symbiotes can take far rougher treatment than a lot of us give them credit for and still remain robust and ready to leaven at a moment’s – well, several hours’, actually – notice. After all, the airborne yeasts and bacteria in which we respirants swim have to survive not only warm weather, when naturally occurring carbs abound, but also the carb-famine cold months. Their survival is a testament to evolution and the vitality of the meanest and sourest.

As a case in point, take my sours (please!), one rye and one wheat, which I haven’t coddled, overfed, or even given cute names, as have some hardcore breadies. To me, they’re simply fungal-bacterial-enzymal ménages à trois, teeming with ever-ravenous microbes, that have found a home in my fridge. I feed them when I (a) want to bake sourdough, (b) remember to do so, or (c) when my conscience gets the best of me.

Rye (left) and Wheat (right) after feeding and ready for their nap.

Rye (left) and Wheat (right) after feeding and ready for their nap.

Nor do I agonize over their next meal. While I confess that my love of Jewish rye compels me to feed my rye sour with white rye flour only, I give my wheat sour whatever I have on hand, whether it’s first clear flour, bread flour, AP, or even (gasp!!!) cake flour. In fact, cake flour makes a pretty good nutrient for established sours, since it’s so rich in complex carbs (read = starches), which all those enzymes – maltase, amylase, diastase – will happily break down into the simple sugars that their yeasty roommates crave. The yeasts, in turn, throw off CO2 and alcohol, on which the lacto get high and return to the mix as lactic and acetic acid. The one thing I do pay attention to, though, is hydration, which I scrupulously maintain at 60% for the wheat and 80% for the rye.

After 3 hours.

After 3 hours.

A balanced and robust sour needs time to develop – not a huge amount; maybe a couple or three days. So to me, overfeeding not only is wasteful, it’s actually counterproductive. Rather, I want to give my microbial pals the chance to work their magic and send it around the food chain so that all of us can eat well, live long and prosper.

Refrigerating slows the process down, giving us an enormous amount of control over our sours.  Those little yeasty beasties are busiest at 80°F to 100°F (27°C to 38°C), and go into near-idle mode at refrigerator temps of 38°F (3°C) or so. At those same temperatures, the lactobacilli also doze off, but remain active enough to produce small amounts of acid: the longer my starters sit in the fridge, the sourer they become.

At 6 hours.

At 6 hours.

So there it is: call me a fungus abuser if you will, but I’ve found that those little guys do just fine as long as I keep their environment cool and moist and throw them a carbo-bone every once in a while. In the meantime, they sit patiently by in my fridge, waiting to play their critical role in my next batch of sourdough; and if I take more time between bakes than other bakers, they never complain. A nice feeding, given a day or two before I mix my dough, resuscitates them and keeps them happy as mushrooms on a rotting log.

My sours are loyal retainers who’ve never failed me: perhaps I should give them names after all – something endearing, like Popeye and Olive, or maybe just Wheat and Rye.

Chocolate Porter Bread

PorterBreadAfter 25 years of hobby brewing, a friend of mine opened a brewery of his own. Lightning has since become one of the best in San Diego county, which is known far and wide as a hotbed of world-class craft beer. Jim focuses on European-style beers — everything from crisp, beautiful lagers and German-style wheat beers to French farmhouse ales and the deepest of deep dark porters (some of which he’s barrel-aged for even more texture). I love everything he makes, and we’ve spent hours discussing the finer points of yeast, grain, enzymes and the idiosyncrasies of lacto- and acetobacillus.

A while back, after weeks of thinking about it, I took a stab at using one of his beers, Black Lightning porter, to make bread. The beer itself is very, very rich, with layers of malt, chocolate, hops and toast. The result was a wonderfully sweet and malty loaf with a moist crumb and luscious finish that had a distinctly hoppy edge.

The formula:

16oz of porter (boiled to remove the CO2 and kill the beer yeast, then cooled to room temp)
4oz water
12oz unbleached bread flour
10oz stone ground whole wheat flour
3oz unsulphured molasses
1 oz honey
3/4 oz fresh compressed yeast
1/2 oz salt.

Combine all the ingredients in a mixer, knead 5-6 minutes at low (KA 2) speed.
Ferment 60 min ferment, shape into loaves and proof another 45min
Bake with steam on a stone preheated to 500F for 10 min, steaming again after 3 min, then reduce to 450F for another 12-15 min.
The loaves will be done when they reach an internal temp of 205F and sound hollow when tapped gently.

A Tale of Two Flours – Caputo 00 Pizzeria vs. Pivetti 00 “Mimosa” (4/5/2012)

When I started The New York Bakers ( a little over 2½ years ago, my goal was to offer home bakers the broadest range of non-bleached, non-bromated professional flours I could find.

PizzaTipo00_1I didn’t know what I was in for: there are dozens of professional flours out there. Despite all that apparent clutter, most commercial flours are variations on four main classes– high-gluten (14% protein), bread (12½%), pastry (9½%) and cake flour (8%). I also discovered that the vast majority are produced by a handful of mega-millers – think General Mills, ConAgra (which also produces for marketers like King Arthur, Giusto’s and Capitol) – and an equally small number of mid-tier mills, like Bay State and Pendleton Flour Mills. And then there are the small mills, like Heartland and Central Milling, that produce premium flours for artisan bakers.

One category that I really wanted to carry was imported Italian Tipo 00 pizza flour – and, of course, the flour I wanted was Caputo, which everything I read described as the ultimate pizza flour, straight from Naples, the epicenter of the Vera Pizza Napoletana (VPN) universe. So out I went to locate a distributor.

caputo00-2I found one in LA (despite our name, we’re in San Diego) – actually a bit south of LA proper in Vernon, which is completely industrial: no one actually lives there. So I phoned them and talked to one of their sales folks, who said, “Yeah, no problem. We have the Caputo, so come on over and pick it up.”

So into my car for the 2-hour (optimistically) trek on the SoCal freeways up to Vernon. I have to admit, I was really excited. After all, everything I’d read told me that Caputo was the Holy Grail of pizza flours. So imagine my shock and disappointment when the warehouse guy comes back with several red, white and blue bags that said “Pivetti” where “Caputo” should have been.

“No worries,” said the sales guy when I went back to the office to talk to him. “They’re virtually indentical. Besides, we have lots of customers who love the Pivetti.”

What was I to do? I took the Pivetti, drove back down to San Diego and changed my product lineup to read “Pivetti.”

pivettiThen I did some research and learned that the Pivetti mill, which has been owned and operated by the same family for over 130 years, is in Modena, in northern Italy, well away from Bella Napoli, and a city best known for its balsamic vinegar, sausage-stuffed pig feet called zampone (not to be confused with the hockey ice machine), and native son Luciano Pavarotti. “Drat,” I thought to myself, “what do those northern Italians know about pizza?”

Of course, I hadn’t tried the stuff yet – in fact, I’d never used any authentic Tipo 00 flour – so I proceeded to do so. I used the classic formula for VPN, which was 58% water, 2% salt, 0.3% fresh yeast, no bulk fermentation and cold retardation of 12-18 hours.

Well, I was blown away. I had been using high-gluten flour, mainly GM All Trumps at 75% hydration and with 5% olive oil, for my pizza doughs, and constantly found myself struggling with tearing. The Pivetti was pure pleasure, even at that low hydration level. The gluten was well-developed, but the most extensible I’d ever worked with: when I stretched it, it stayed stretched, and I could get a 16-inch pizza out of 10oz/280g of dough. I could literally read a newspaper through that crust. So I was a happy camper.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about the Caputo. One of my customers in Arizona found a distributor there and started using the stuff. She told me that it was more elastic than the Pivetti, and held its shape better. I was tantalized, like the kid at a store window filled with imagined candy.

Finally, a couple of months ago, my supplier told me that he had the real-deal Caputo in stock and would I be interested. I think I broke the speed limit on my way back up to LA, loaded up the car with several bags of the Caputo, plus a couple of Pivettis, and tore back home so I could try out my newfound treasure.

It wasn’t what I expected. Where the Pivetti is white and fine, the Caputo was more yellow and has what felt like a slightly coarser grind. Where I expected the same degree of extensibility, I found instead greater elasticity, comparable to a mild bread flour like GM Harvest King (12% protein) or King Arthur Bread Flour (12.7%). The Caputo formed beautiful round crusts, with a well-defined edge, but the gluten was really evident.

Here’s how they compared in my test bake:

Raw flour: The Pivetti flour is a very pale yellow, nearly white, with a very fine grain. The Caputo has a somewhat coarser grain (although still fine, since 00 refers to the grain size and not protein/ash content), and a definite beige/ light brown color.

Mixing: The Caputo is definitely thirstier than the Pivetti. At 58% hydration, the Caputo formed a much stiffer dough — to the point where my KA Pro was laboring on the dough hook. Not so with the Pivetti, which produced a smooth, fairly slack dough.

Benching:  I rested both doughs for 20 minutes before dividing it into 280g  boules and put each into a lightly oiled plastic sandwich bag.  The dough then went into my wine cooler for 10 hours.  The Pivetti dough increased in size more than the Caputo and was slightly softer to the touch.

Throwing the pizza: Both doughs rested at room temp for 2 hours.  My technique was the same for both doughs: cutting the sandwich bag away so as not to disturb the dough, flouring both sides and using my fingertips to stretch the middle, then shaping the pizza by putting the rim over my knuckles and stretching it to about 16″ in diameter – thin enough to see light through the center.  I then put the dough onto a floured peel, dressed the pizza and baked at 550F for about 6 minutes.

Both doughs were quite extensible, the Pivetti moreso because its protein content is clearly lower than the Caputo, which almost felt rubbery and very firm. That said, both doughs threw very nicely, with a nod in the direction of the Caputo for ease of forming a more uniform circle.

The crust: The Caputo crust was denser, chewier and more flavorful than the Pivetti, which sprang nicely in the oven, leaving big air pockets in the rim.  Both crusts were thin and crisp, and biting off a piece of the Caputo pie took more effort than the Pivetti. At the same time, the Caputo didn’t seem to hold up under the weight of the toppings as well as the Pivetti, so there was more sag when we picked up the slices. That said, both crusts had distinctive personalities and were excellent in their own way,

Verdict: If you like a chewy crust, not unlike good American pizza (emphasis on good), the Caputo wins hands down. My family and I prefer a crisper, less chewy crust, and the unanimous winner in my house was Pivetti.

Fortunately, you can find both at

What is a Jewish Bakery? (12/15/2011)

Not too long ago, during a radio interview centered on “Inside the Jewish Bakery,” the host asked me, “What is a Jewish bakery?” I have to confess, I was stunned: no one had ever asked me that question, nor, indeed, had I ever asked it of myself. In my world, everyone knows what a Jewish bakery is – a bakery that sells Jewish baked goods.

BakeryCounter1940sBut here’s where it gets complicated. What exactly are “Jewish baked goods?” The ones that come first to mind – bagels, rugelach, onion rolls, challah – appear to be no-brainers, but in fact all can be traced back through their Yiddish forebears to the gentile Central and Eastern European societies in which the Jews found themselves living at various times.

Take bagels, for instance.  In America, we think of them as a Jewish food that made good, rising to the pinnacle of the American mainstream and assimilating away their “Jewishness”. But boiled/baked ring breads made of double-helix dough strands, called obwarzanki are the signature street food of Kraków, Poland, and have been for centuries.  And lest anyone argue that “Jewish” bagels don’t feature that ropelike twist, I would point out that a 1936 photo in the collection of the New York Public Library shows a Jewish New York City bagel peddler selling what clearly are twisted obwarzanki. At the same time, a 1938 photo in the YIVO collection shows a bagel seller in Lithuania selling the untwisted bagels we’re all familiar with. Go figure.

So how about challah? Nothing more Jewish than that, right? Well, although the term “challah” is derived from the Torah, the bread itself was a loan from 14th and 15th century German Christians, who honored their Sabbath with braided loaves, according to Jewish foodways historian John Cooper. On top of that (and on top of the loaves), the custom of decorating breads with symbols of faith such as birds, hands, keys and ladders – also often thought of as uniquely Jewish – also can be traced back to the Christians of Central Europe. Even the term “koyletch,” an alternative name for challah throughout Yiddish Europe, is of Slavic origin. And to bring things full circle, a braided, egg-glazed sweet bread called chałka is a staple offering in the bakeries of today’s Poland.

Behind the counterThe same is true of knishes, babkas, rolls (bulkes), rye breads – you name it and the gentile host cultures had it before the Jews. Even most modern favorites come from someplace else, most obviously rainbow cookies, whose horizontal layers of red, yellow and green reprise the Italian flag and trumpet their origin.

So if everything in the Jewish bakery came from someplace else, what, after all is a “Jewish bakery?”

In my view, nothing less than the history of a people’s wanderings from place to place – from Eretz Yisrael to the Roman Empire, from Rome northward into the Rhine Valley, then west into France and England and east into Austria, Hungary, Bohemia, Lithuania, Poland and Russia. At every stop, the Jews found the foods of their gentile neighbors and adapted them to the laws of Kashrus. And when it came time to move again, they took those foods with them and added to their repertoire the foods of their next home, again adapted to Kashrus.

And so the Jewish bakery is really a time capsule, a distillation of a thousand years of Diaspora, come to rest in a row of glass-fronted display cases and shelves full of bread and rolls behind the counter. Every bread and roll, every pastry, cake and cookie, reflects a specific time and place in our communal history and connects us tangibly (and edibly) to our shared experience. And you thought it was only a bakery!

Today, the world’s food culture is rapidly homogenizing. You can find U.S. fast-food franchises in Tokyo, Beijing and Moscow;  Japanese ramen-chain outlets in New York, Los Angeles and London. And bagels are everywhere. TV food porn, as my daughter likes to call it, has universalized once-obscure ingredients and globalized technique and plating to the point where cooking has morphed from the deepest, most visceral (pun intended) expression of a culture rooted in time and place to a media-driven vehicle for individual creativity.

And while I do apkroyt_borschtpreciate the pure sensual pleasures of sculpturally composed, artfully conceived and executed coups de table, I’m also very much aware that even the best of them lack the authentic Yiddish tam of my grandmother’s kroyt borscht, a long-simmeredsoup – a stew, really – made from beef flanken and an abundance of winter vegetables – cabbage, beets, turnips, carrots, potatoes and onions.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, the mass-market processed food industry is wreaking its own Holocaust on family-run, made-from-scratch restaurants and bakeries, and in the process, severing the connection between people and their personal and communal histories. And sadly, as those restaurants and bakeries die, so too, dies a piece of our cultural history that most of us barely recognize, let alone miss, until it’s gone.
Photos courtesy of Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, Tamiment Library, New York University