Saturday, December 8, 2007

Late Night at the Table with Eric of Breadtopia.com

Welcome everyone back to another edition of Late Night at the Table! This week I had the fortunate ability to interview someone that I feel is really making a contribution to the world of bread and bread baking. Eric of Breadtopia.com creates unique videos of bread baking and demonstrates several techniques to help the homebaker. Eric is a huge supporter of the "no-knead" bread baking process and also demonstrates several creative ways to bake bread. Well, enough introduction! Here is an exclusive interview with Eric:


TableBread: Thank you Eric for joining us here at the Table. First off why don’t you fill us all in on how long you have been baking bread and also, how long you’ve been blogging about various bread topics.

Eric: My pleasure, Lewis.

My interest in bread baking goes back about 30 years when I acquired a sourdough starter from a friend’s grandmother. I think it’s kind of funny that I’m not really into cooking that much, but I’ve always loved bread baking.

Breadtopia.com is celebrating its first birthday this month.

TB: Wonderful, congratulations on your first year! What gave you the inspiration to start making videos about baking bread? Why not just write about the process?

Eric: I don’t remember really. It just seemed like a good idea. A way to add value to the site. I’m really glad I’ve gone that route, a lot of people have expressed their appreciation.

TB: Since starting your site what has been your most memorable moment?

Eric: It’s really the sum total of all the wonderful feedback and encouragement I’ve received from a lot of great people. It must be that bread bakers are just the upper crust of humanity. Sorry. [That’s ok, we laughed :)]

An amazing thing happened just a couple days ago. I received an order from someone in Maine who’s somewhat uncommon family name was the same as a husband and wife couple I knew growing up in California. These were really special people. It turns out the fellow in Maine is their great grandson. Yesterday I ordered the lady’s autobiography from Amazon. It’s entitled Life on Two Levels, by Josephine Duveneck.

TB: Wow, that is amazing!

Recently there has been a real explosion of foodie sites in the blogosphere, especially with bread. How do you think this is helping/hurting the bread industry or the “breadosphere” as you have put it?

Eric: One of the things I was hoping to contribute to, in however a small way, is the growing trend towards home cooking and do-it-yourself projects. The commercial bread industry is very aware of demand for more healthy and wholesome breads. Wonder Bread production has folded in some major US markets and now you see the words “whole grain” on just about every bread wrapper. With the passing of the anti carb diet fad and the growing awareness of the benefits of whole grains, I think the entire bread industry is thriving. I would think that the small artisan bakeries are really doing particularly well.

TB: As a small independent baker, are you happy to see large chain retailers and grocers baking their own versions of artisan bread or do you feel this hurts the ability of the independent baker to survive an already small niche market?

Eric: There’s always going to be enough people with discerning taste buds and an appreciation for the craft of truly hand made bread to keep a skilled baker busy. Panera bread is an enormously popular and successful franchise but at the same time we see quality artisan bakeries thriving like never before. I guess the whole pie is just getting larger. Plenty of room for everyone in the brick and mortar world and breadosphere too.

TB: We noticed that your wife, Denyce, has done some baking herself. Do you guys ever have family “Bake-Offs” or do you specialize in making the breads and she specializes in pies?

Eric: I guess you saw the reference to Denyce owning her own bakery. She can do it all. Between my bread baking and her awesome pies, cakes, cookies and pastries, we don’t suffer. I love it when “the kids” come to visit as they will this holiday season, she really cranks it out.

TB: Ok, enough about the technical stuff let’s get onto the bread!

I’ve noticed that you really enjoy a no-knead process. Do you personally prefer this method for its ease or because you feel it will appeal to readers who may be a little skittish still about jumping into the world of bread?

Eric: Both. It’s a great way to get started (get hooked is more like it), but you can create some amazingly good bread with it.

TB: The no-knead process is definitely ideal for a busy work week! In your opinion does a no-knead process produce superior bread in comparison to a more “labor intensive” kneading process?

Eric: My absolute favorite breads are the more labor intensive ones but I love the fact that no matter how busy things get, I can always take a few minutes to whip together a no knead bread for the next day. I think I’ve baked about four no knead loaves in the past week around a kind of hectic schedule. Four no kneads and one Peter Reinhart whole grain from his latest book. I’m sold on his whole wheat “broom” bread. It’s a regular now for me.

TB: You’ve mentioned several times on your site and you also did a complete episode on the topic of how difficult it is to kill a sourdough starter. You have made us believers after watching your video; however, we would simply enjoy getting to the step of actually having a starter to kill!

What advice do you have for people out there still struggling to create their first starter?

Eric: If one is really struggling with it, I would suggest getting some from somebody else.

TB: One of the techniques that you introduce on your site is using an outdoor grill to make bread as an option to heating up the house during the summer. I personally bake less because of that very problem. Could you talk about some of the successes or failures that you have had with this technique?

Eric: What’s that saying about desperate times require desperate measures? That’s sort of where the motivation came from. It took a few tries to get familiar with the baking characteristics of my grill. I charred the bottom of the first loaf because it was too close to the heat. The thermometer on the grill can only be used as a rough gauge so I just had to keep close tabs on the bread with an instant read thermometer until I had a decent feel for what worked. The learning curve wasn’t that long, and it was worth the effort. I grill pizzas a lot in the summer so it’s not much extra time or effort to turn out a loaf of bread while I’m at it. One weekend I baked some focaccia on the pizza stone after it had cooled some. It was a hit.

TB: What is your favorite bread not just to make but to eat?

Eric: It changes all the time. But the first bread that comes to mind is a recipe from Nancy Silverton’s book, La Brea Bakery. It’s called George’s Seeded Sour. I adapted the recipe to a no-knead method for my site which I think is almost as good and way easier. I still don’t think many have tried it because it requires a lot of ingredients.

TB: So is there anyway we can entice you to reveal a new recipe? Perhaps a debut of something you haven’t let out of your kitchen yet?

Eric: Here’s an awesome no knead recipe created by a Breadtopia reader Ed Pillitteri who lives in the Seattle area. It’s on the top of my list to add to my site and do a video on. It’s simple but excellent and unique. The only challenge is finding Durum flour. It’s not even that common in health food grocers. I milled my own out of its courser cousin, semolina flour. Then I tried chapatti flour which is made from Durum flour and that worked just as well.

No Knead Sicilian Style Bread

300gr. Durum flour (not semolina for pasta)

120gr. White bread flour

1 1/2 tsp. Salt

¼ tsp Instant Yeast

1 ½ cup Purified Water

1 tblsp. Barley Malt Syrup

1 tblsp. EV Olive Oil

¼ cup Sesame Seeds

Mix the two flours, salt and yeast in a bowl. In a separate container (2 cup measuring cup works well) measure out the water then add the malt and stir until combined. Add the olive oil and pour it all into the flour mixture. The mixture may seem too dry but don’t add more water. The Durum flour takes a bit longer to absorb the water so cover for 10 minutes after mixing then mix again, briefly.

Place the bowl in plastic bag or cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 18 hours.

On a well floured surface, flatten dough and fold into three (like a letter) then in half. Cover with plastic or a towel and let rest for 15 minutes.

Preparing the proofing basket. No oil spray or bran this time. Instead, brush the inside of the basket liberally with good olive oil. While standing over the sink (to avoid a mess), sprinkle the sesame seeds evenly inside the bowl, pressing them in the grooves with you fingers.

Depending on the container (proofing basket) to be used, shape the dough into a ball or log, Place dough in the basket, cover with a kitchen towel and let rise for 1 ½ hours.

At least 30 minutes before baking, heat a large Dutch oven, including lid, or La Cloche Baker ( highly recommended) in the oven at 475 degrees. Remove the lid, invert the loaf into the La Cloche, replace lid and bake for 30 minutes. Remove lid and bake for 5 to 10 minutes more – be careful not to burn. Finished loaf should be a deep golden color.

Cool to room temperature on a rack before eating – no cheating. Buon Appetito .

TB: Well, Eric thank you so much for joining us tonight and sharing with us your passion for bread and for the wonderful No-Knead Sicilian Style Bread! We really enjoyed having you and I welcome all of my readers to take advantage of the high quality baking videos that Eric has to offer over at Breadtopia.com.

We will see you next week for another session of Late Night at the Table!

Good Baking and Good Night.

8 comments:

Cakespy said...

Thank you for your kind comment on our site! :-)

I loved reading this interview with Eric of Breadtopia. I especially enjoyed that you touched upon what his thoughts are on commercial, larger bakeries--that is something I have always been curious about. And what could be more wonderful, basic but wonderful, than bread?

Lewis said...

Thanks for stopping by! I was especially curious what Eric's thoughts were on the more commercial bakeries and what their impacts were on the artisan baker.

Thanks for the comments!

Julie said...

Holy gosh, that bread looks delicious! So many blogs, so little time! I'd never seen the Breadtopia blog before I read about it here.

I often waffle on bread (haha). I love to bake it, but being on a healthy carb diet and having so many pretty breads available, it's sometimes the last thing I consider. I need to change that attitude, since it's so easy to start early and keep on hold for a day or two until I need it. If I'd read this article last night, I would've started Eric's no-knead recipe this morning before work for a party I'm having Saturday. Next time!!! =)

TNelson said...

Hi - This is my first time checking out your blog. I got the link through the Fresh Loaf. I have now added you to my blog lines subscriptions. Good luck finding a Steam Baker - if you get the chance get the set of two.

Oh, and also, Eric from Breadtopia is awsome! I got my LaCloches from him and his response times on e-mail are amazing!

Trish in Omaha

Lewis said...

TNelson - Thanks for stopping by! Glad you enjoyed the interview and I am crossing my fingers for Santa and a steam baker :)

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deborah said...

Hi Eric, the sourdough starter I ordered never came 'alive', help!! deborah patterson
thequeen@pacbell.net

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