Bakebook Chronicles II and Some Recent Baking (1/7/2011)

thought you might be interested in what i’ve been up to lately, so here are some recent pics.

The book is moving along.  The editing is done and I’m going over the corrected manuscript and getting some more photos together.  Our publisher has a designer working on the internal design, and I gather that the finished book is going to run somewhere around 320-360 pages.  We’re moving toward the prepublication home stretch and I can’t believe it’s actually happening.

Besides all that, some of you have probably noticed that we did a radical redesign of the website.  After over two years in business, we decided it was time for a more polished look … the idea being that we’re pretty sure we’ll be in business for a while.  thanks to everyone for your support and encouragement.

A great story:

We had to re-shoot a bunch of the photos, including the rainbow slices and French cookies, and Norm was having some health issues (all resolved now), so it was up to me to do the baking. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find glace cherries, needed for the French cookies, in quantities less than 30#, so I went to a local bakery and asked if I could buy some. The woman at the counter went in the back and came back out, telling me there was no problem with that. The baker himself followed, with 1/2 a pound of the cherries and told me “no charge.”

I thanked him, introduced myself and told him what I was doing and we talked shop for a bit, then his wife came out. “Ooooh, rainbow slices, I love them. He made me a tray for my birthday!” Jerry, the baker, smiled. “A lot of work,” he said. So cherries in hand, I went home and baked.

After the cookies were finished and photographed, I took a plate over to the bakery and got huge smiles and thank you’s from both Jerry and his wife — talk about positive reinforcement: I floated on air for days!




Bakebook Chronicles I (9/23/2010)

Baker Ben suggested that since the testing is over and we had such a great group come together, that I continue to blog about the actual process we’ll be going through to actually get the book into print.  I think it’s a great idea, so, with thanks to Ben, here goes:

July and August were simply insane.  I was putting out a couple of dozen recipes each month, keeping track of all the testing and feedback and trying to get all of the other stuff written.  It was madness, to the point where everything else on my to-do lists (several) simply had to be pushed aside so that I could get the manuscript done by the 9/1 deadline.

Norm and I were on the phone at least weekly — usually more often than that — going over recipes, fine points and all of the background stuff that needed to be included in the book we wanted to write.  If I tell you all that I got very little sleep over the last couple of weeks, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration.

Those last 2-3 weeks are a blur now, writing, researching, fine-tuning, making sure all of the measurements and conversions were right, all of the steps and procedures consistent and all of the narrative smooth and where it was supposed to be.

9/1 came around and I had about 99% done … everything except for the Acknowledgements, Picture Credits (since we hadn’t yet made final picture choices), and a couple of last-minute recipe tweaks.  Nonetheless, I assembled what we had — about 280 pages, including somewhere around 130 recipes — and emailed it off to our publisher and our agent.

So of course the publisher said, “Well, no rush.  Just put everything together, print it all out, burn the files into a CD and send it off to me when you can.”  When I met with him back East the beginning of July, he didn’t seem like he was terribly concerned about deadlines, but I like to honor my commitments.

So Norm and I went back at it, doing illustrations of the challah braiding, strudel dough stretching, and a couple of other recipes, including the rye flour honey cake (lekach) and revised plum cake (flomenkuchen). I figured I’d take a couple of weeks to make sure we got it all in shape. So naturally, less than a week later, I get an email from Edward (the publisher) asking, “When will we get the package?” Shift into high gear, put the final touches on it.

At that point, my laptop died.  I mean really died: motherboard, display, keypad, who knows what else?  Of course, I’d been backing up to spare hard drives, pen drives and whatever, so I had three or four backups and didn’t lose a thing.  Switched to an old Dell that we had lying around … slow as honey on a cold day … got the manuscript all put together and start printing …. now at 260 pages, after some cuts and consolidations.

Print, print, print.  At page 243, my printer dies <sigh>, so I load the finished file into a pen drive, take it downstairs and finish on my wife’s printer.  That’s Monday morning a week ago (9/12).  Then I discover that the old Dell’s CD drive can only read; it doesn’t burn.  Back downstairs to burn the CD on Syl’s puter.  Pack it all up into a FedEx box and drive it down to the local Kinko’s/FedEx office.

A week earlier, I had asked our agent, Stephany, about typical production schedules and she said, “Be patient.  It usually takes a publisher 9-12 months to get a book into print.” Nine months to a year … feels like an eternity.

At that point, I had such mixed feelings … so much intense work, suddenly ground to a halt, all this energy with no place to go and exhaustion suddenly setting in.  For two days, I could barely think.  But at the same time, I felt the same way I did when I took my kids to their first day of kindergarten:  proud, full of anticipation, a little bit afraid that they wouldn’t do well and also sad that in an instant I was no longer as needed as I’d been the day before.  Norm and I spent a lot of time on the phone, talking about the closure of that part of the process, which he said was less real for him, since he wasn’t involved in any of the writing.

It was strange, the sense of loss finishing the book created — first the dissolution of our tester group, which had brought together well over 100 people and created a very intimate bond of shared experience, and then the departure of my youngest child (the book).

I waited until today (9/23) to phone Edward to find out how things were going with the book and whether he could give me more information on the production schedule, other next steps and how much more work would be needed.  Instead I got Brad, the head editor, a very kindly man who clearly loves books.  “It looks very good,” he said.  “We just need to get it to copy editing and then we’ll have a better idea of what else needs to be done, but I don’t think it will be very much.”

Then I asked the question I really wanted answered:  “Any idea of the publication date?”

“We want to get it out before summer … probably in the March-April timeframe.  We want this book to look terrific, so we’re choosing our designer carefully.”

March-April! Six or seven months!  Wow!  …. Other things to think about now … promotion and finishing up all the remaining tweaks and revisions (there are still a few), getting all of the photo permissions in place …

We’ve entered a new level of reality.

Polish 100% Rye Bread with Prunes (Chleb zytni ze sliwka)

As many of you know, I’ve been fascinated with rye for years (am working on a book about it). Here’s one of my faves, a wonderfully flavored, wonderfully simple Polish rye made with prunes.

Yield: Two 21.5 oz./610 g loaves


Ingredient Volume Oz Gr Pct
Sponge Rye sour 1 cup




Water ½ cup




Medium rye flour 1¾ 2 cups




Dough Coarse rye meal ½ cup




Medium rye flour 2 cups




Water 1 cup




Granulated sugar 2 Tbs

0. 80



Table salt 2 tsp




Pitted prunes ½ cup




1. Combine the sponge ingredients and let stand at room temp overnight.

2. Combine the sponge and the dough ingredients, except for the prunes, and mix until smooth and evenly hydrated. Ferment at room temp for 5-6 hours.  The dough will be very bubbly.

3. Soak the prunes in warm water for about 30 minutes, dry them on paper towels and chop coarsely. Fold the prunes into the dough, divide into well-greased loaf pans and let proof about 2 hours at room temp, until the top of the dough shows bubbles on top.

4. Preheat your oven to 45oF/230C with the baking surface in the center. Brush the loaves with water and bake with lots of steam for 10 minutes, then reduce the temp to 400F/200C and bake for another 40-50 minutes, until the loaves are nice and brown.

5. Brush the top crusts with boiling water as soon as you remove them from the oven and let cool for at least 12 hours before cutting.


Posted in Rye

Cousin Helmut’s Styrian Pumpkinseed Cake (Kurbiskernoel Gugelhupf – 9/27/2012)

Last week, my wife’s cousins from Styria, in eastern Austria, came to stay with us and brought us some dark green pumpkinseed oil, which is a regional specialty. They also brought a recipe for a chiffon cake made with the oil. The recipe couldn’t be simpler (and it’s also an amazing accompaniment to a good lager, such as a hefeweizen or witbier):

1. Grease and flour a bundt or gugelhupf pan and sprinkle the bottom with toasted pumpkinseeds.
2. In a bowl combine 4 egg yolks, 10kernoel_gugelhupf0ml of water, 100ml of pumpkinseed oil, 100g of vanilla sugar, 150g of powdered sugar and beat for at least one minute until fully emulsified.
3. Combine 100g of granulated sugar with the 4 egg whites and whip to soft peaks. Add about 1/3 of the eggwhites to the oil mixture and stir gently until blended.
4. Sift together 250g of all-purpose flour and 5g of baking powder and add slowly to the oil mixture, stirring gently until smooth, then fold in the remaining eggwhites.
5. Bake at 350F/170C for 55-60 minutes, until a tester comes out clean.

The oil isn’t easy to come by, but it’s absolutely a great find when you do. It’s also fantastic believe it or not) on vanilla ice cream!

At Last, the Baguette Crumb I’ve Been Chasing (1/5/2012)

Finally, I got the crumb I’ve been looking for, and it came about by accident.

To enlarge the crumb, I’ve been gradually reducing the kneading time, lowering the flour strength and increasing the hydration of my baguette doughs. Finally, I got it right on New Year’s Eve, when we were having some friends over and decided that crostini would be on the menu. My wife and I were both very busy that day and I was in a rush to get the bread done, since one of our ovens went on the fritz the day before (naturally!) and so we only had one oven to work with and lots of baking.

baguette-crumbTo make a long story even longer, I mixed the dough (Giusto’s Artisan Flour, 75% hydration, 2% salt, 1% IDY) in my KA and worked it under the paddle for about a minute, when the dough started coming together and the gluten clearly was forming. Without thinking, I put it onto my kneading board, and only when it was there did i realize that I’d intended to work it under the dough hook for another couple of minutes.  “Oh, well,” I thought, “No time like New Year’s Eve for an experiment.” So I let the dough sit on the board and gave it four stretch-and-folds about 20-25 minutes apart.  The dough came up beautifully.

Handling it very gently, I scaled it to 225 g/8oz and let it rest for another 20 minutes or so before rolling it out and arranging the six loaves en couche for about 75 minutes of proofing. Oven preheated t0 500F/260C. I steamed the oven, slashed and loaded the loaves, then steamed again at 3 minutes, reducing the temp at that time to 450F/230C. Baked for about 10 minutes longer and got terrific oven spring, as the photo shows. What the  photo doesn’t do justice to is the gorgeous yellow color of the crumb.

All in all, a very satisfying bake.

Next batch will be at 80% hydration, and I’ll also see how other flours (i.e., Sir Galahad, Harvest King, La Parisienne) behave under these same conditions. Will keep you all posted.