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I tried it again – this time it seems even better. Have to try it, though.

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It has been a while since I have been experimenting with bread making. It is interesting process and I like it.

The funny part is that it teaches me patience. (ask the people around me and they will tell you that I am the real implementation of the opposite of patience).

But when it comes to making bread, I find it relaxing and rewarding in a way that it makes me patiently work on a loaf of bread for 6 days (like any creator, on the seventh day I take a break – lol).

So, here is how it goes:

Day 1: take a spoon of the sourdough starter, mix 50g flour and 50g water, mix and wait. Do the same in the evening.

Day 2: mix 50g flour and 50g water, mix and wait. Do the same in the evening.

Day 3: mix 50g flour and 50g water, mix and wait. In the evening, mix 100g flour and 100g water.

Day 4: mix the flour, water and salt together with the starter. Wait a bit. Then knead. Put in the fridge.

Day 5: Take out of the fridge, if it has not doubled, leave at a room temperature for a few hours. Put back in the fridge.

Day 6. Take out of the fridge, shape carefully and leave at room temperature for a while. Warm up the oven to 260C, then put the bread in and bake at 240C.

 

Here are some pictures of my Pave. It was quite good, even though I did not bake it enough. Next time I will know to bake it a bit longer…

MyFirstPave_readyforbaking

MyFirstPave_baked

 

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I met a guy once who told me a story from the times when he was newcomer to the country and his first job was a driver of a bus.

I know for a fact that here the bus drivers are not assigned to a particular bus, and they rotate. Sometimes they get to drive several different buses per day and sometimes even several different routes. This is understandable – it helps keep the buses clean, it helps the drivers keep up with the schedule; it is one of those psychological tricks where the only penalty is the sense of judgement one gets when non-compliance with socially established values occurs. (in most cases the sense of judgement is self-induced, but this is a whole different topic.)

Anyhow, the guy told me a story how one day he had to drive a new route and he was somewhat familiar with it, but not quite. And he though he had gotten lost.

What do you do when you get lost driving a public transportation bus? I guess the best thing that comes to mind is to ask one of the regular passengers on the line to give you some directions.

And so he did.

Some old lady started giving him turn-by-turn directions and after some turns she had said “… and here I get off…”.

The driver thanks her, opens the door and she gets off.

Then another passenger says: “She just wanted a ride home. This bus never comes this way. ”

Haha.

What do you do in a situation like this.

Who knows. :) :) :)

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Funny enough, I am writing this at a Starbucks cafe. Some 7-8 years back I would have not even considered going in a Starbucks.

Many years back, as a broke student I was walking around a shopping plaza somewhere in SoCal, trying to solve permanently the immediate income problem I had at the time – by finding a job.
As I was walking between Target, Albertsons, Subway and Haircuts (a progressive haircut salon) I knew I wouldn’t work for most of the above but I also knew that I would if I had to.
Then I walked into a coffee shop. I had some experience of coffee making, I liked coffee.

So I got in and asked for a job application.
The manager at the time, Chris, seemed a bit puzzled, but asked me to sit at a table and came with a paper pad in a few minutes.
He gave me a job application form and asked ‘when can you start?’ I didn’t know what to say, but rolled ‘umm, right now?’ .

He smiled and said ‘how about tomorrow morning? Do you have some polo t-shirt and  black pants?’

‘no,’ I mumbled.

‘Then buy some and come tomorrow.’

I frowned a bit to myself – it was yet another catch 22 – I needed to find the money to buy these and I needed to buy these so I could have the money.

Chris sensed that and said ‘you can’t afford them?’

Then he opened his wallet, gave me a $20 bill and said ‘8 am tomorrow. You should shave.’

I got out quickly – it was one of those blurry feelings when you feel happy that things worked out and at the same time your ego feels a bit tarnished, but the former feeling prevails (poor people can’t afford too big of an ego anyway, so in the end it’s just a small tarnished dot).

As I got out, I read the sign “Diedrich’s coffee”. Hm. I knew NOTHING about it.

I did start work the next morning. At a minimum wage. But as a bonus I got to take the leftover pastries at the end of the day – mostly bagels and some scones, which as it turns out later on, contributed to my extra 10 kg I gained over some years.

Chris was extremely nice to me, and to all other people who worked there. Here is how the staff looked over the years: me – a very skinny eastern-European with a thick accent, 2 Mexican ladies, one very sour and almost growling Chinese guy, but he was the fastest guy working the espresso machine I have ever seen, and there were whole bunch of people who were coming and going every week or two. (people didn’t like working at coffee houses because you have to walk a lot, your hands get dirty and there are some really annoying customers, so most of the short-term employees were either some people in transition, trying to figure out their next job or some teenagers sent by their parents to get a first job)

The permanent staff, though, were mostly foreigners – whether legal or illegal and some of them had been there for years.

The Mexican ladies were nice – always chatty, always smiling, no matter what time it was – and yes they were coming to open the store every morning at 5.30.

One of them, the older one – she was in her 40’s and was raising a daughter as a single parent – had been faithful to the company for almost 10 years, until one day the INS decided to raid the coffee shop. At that time she was making a bit above minimum wage – about $5.30 or so per hour. One day, the manager called her in the back room and then she came out crying, picked up her bag and left. We didn’t know what happened until couple weeks later when she came to the coffee shop as a customer, sat at the side, smiled and said: “I got fired for not having legal documents, but now I am quite happy because I make $8 per hour and the restaurant down the street, without paying taxes.”

The people kept coming and going. Even the managers kept coming and going. The corporate office had this management bonus program, which stated that the managers get a big bonus only if the coffee shop was 10 or more percent more profitable compared to the year before. A lot of managers tried, and as a result, Diedrich’s coffee was hiring for new managers every year. I learned a valuable business lesson: if you set impossible goals you will annoy people.

It only got worse. The corporate was trying to test new drinks all day and to come up with 4 colorful adjectives describing each kind of coffee: nutty, berry, mellow, robust… Just get the dictionary and pick all nice sounding words, damn it – the customers could not care less about the adjectives. The customers wanted a quality, consistent product.

The corporate, in the end, needed a happy paying customer. As simple as that.

And the biggest profit margin possible, of course. But no, not so easy to do.

The company had some history – the Diedrich family owned their own coffee plantations since  1920s, Carl Diedrich was running around with his VW to South America and back and roasting coffee since the 60s, in the 80s the business picked up, in the 90s it went public… The roasting of the beans was great, the product was great, just the marketing and the business decisions were poor.

Starbucks, on the other hand, had terrible product, had no who knows what history and did not become popular until early 90s. And then it really persistently picked up. And eventually bought out the corporate owned Diedrich stores.

So, today I really had a classy experience at Starbucks. It is not about the product only. Their coffee was mediocre. But the service, the atmosphere, the cleanliness, the organization were top of the line.

So where did Diedrich’s go wrong? Was it the purchasing of the extremely expensive coffee grinders from the company which was owned by the owner’s brother? Was it the flow of new managers all the time? Was it the poor training of the staff and lack of coordination between the corporate and the poor workers?

I am sure that Starbucks must have faced the exact same problems. But they somehow managed to go through, even with a way worse product.

So, it is not about the product only. It is about the presentation.

 

 

 

 

 

After living for so long in the US, it only comes natural to me to dream about banana bread once in a while.

It is delicious, it always smells good, even if it is not to tasty at times.

Outside the US, however, it is not so popular.

A few weeks ago, during lunch I mentioned banana bread to my colleagues, and many questions popped up:

  • but is is like a bread?
  • is it sweet?
  • can you put cheese and ham on top, since it is a bread?
  • and so on

Not so sure about the cheese and ham. Maybe. Maybe not.

I baked some and took it to my colleagues. They enjoyed it, I think.

Here is a recipe of banana bread:

Ingredients

  • 2 or 3 ripe bananas, smashed
  • 75 g / 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 200 g / 1 cup sugar (can easily reduce to 3/4 cup)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 192 g / 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour

As you can see, I have the measures in weight, not volume; or at least most of them. (my precision scale is on the way, so i could not really measure the baking soda)

Here are some instructions:

Preheat the oven to 170 C, but if you have an oven with a fan, you should use 160 C.

It is really simple – mix the butter and the bananas together, after you have melted the butter.

Beat the egg and mix it in, add the sugar and the vanilla. Sprinkle the baking  soda on top, mix it and give it a minute. The soda starts a chemical reaction with the acid in the bananas and this makes the banana bread fluffy.

Mix the sifted flour in without overdoing the mixing.

Pour in a pan and bake until golden brown. Depending on the oven it will take from 45 to 50 minutes.  Test with a toothpick.

Banana Bread

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Here is a simple white bread recipe:

400 g water

2 tsp salt

2 tbsp sugar

700 g white flour

2 tsp dry yeast

Mix all and bake!

Not so fast. As they say, the trick is in the details.

Looking at this recipe, one can ask a thousand questions (and one definitely should!). For example:

  • what kind of water? Temperature, purity, softness?
  • what kind of salt? Iodine, no iodine, sea, rock or what not?
  • what kind of sugar? Is it any kind, or just refined white cane sugar?
  • what kind of flour? How much protein, how much humidity, stone ground or something else, is it sifted or not and so on
  • what to mix first? is it the yeast and the water, is it the water and the salt, is it the flour and then the water…

 

The questions keep coming up, and it seems that the more experience one gets in baking, the more questions come up.

I guess this is the exciting part for me about baking – the different experiments and combinations.

Many people get excited about kneading the dough and they say it relaxes them. Don’t get me wrong – kneading is as important as anything else (in the breads that need kneading) but for me it is boring and my hands get tired.

That’s why I got a kitchen robot and it is called Heston. A cool machine, really.

So, back to the recipe: there are many ways to make this bread and it really depends on where you live and what result you want to get out of it.

First of all, there are a few things that can damage the process of making this bread – the temperature. The yeast is a living creature, so everything above 42 C will damage it.

For this particular recipe I add the water in the bowl, then add the sugar and the salt to it to dissolve. I ad warmer water – around 60 C and then I spin it around while mixing the salt and the sugar in a way that the water will cool off and the bowl will warm up. Then I use a kitchen thermometer to make sure the water is about 40 C.

The salt I use is specifically selected NOT to have iodine and any other chemicals. I use pure sea salt, and I grind it myself. The salt you see in the store that is already ground has chemicals in it which prevent clumping, but they tend to kill the yeast.

After dissolving the sugar and the salt, I add the flour.

The flour is the tricky bit: they have all kinds of flour in the stores, but it is really hard to find a good one without chemicals. I like also to use a high protein flour. The highest protein contents you can get in the stores here is 12%. I would like to get 14 or so, but I guess these are available only for bakeries.

Also, the flour has to be sifted at least once.

Then the flour itself has humidity content, which is hard to tell without some machinery, but with enough baking experience you will be able to make the distinction.

The best way to approach this is to add only 2/3 of the flour the recipe calls for, and then to slowly stir it in the water. Then see how it looks like and then start adding more flour, as needed. It is much easier to add more flour then to add more water later on.

After incorporating the flour in the liquid, start kneading – for me this means increasing the speed of Heston from 1 to 2.

Knead for 15 minutes, then stop the machine.

Wait for an hour (this really depends on the room temperature – at 28C will be about 45 min, at 22C will be about 85 minutes, but this also depends on the temperature you had when you started kneading).

The guideline here is to have the dough double in volume during the kneading process.

Then turn on the machine and mix for a few minutes until the air bubbles are out.

Take out and put in a pan in which it will bake.

Leave it in the oven with the oven light on – this will usually keep about 40 degrees.

After another hour, start baking.

There are several ways to bake – you can use a cold start or you can preheat the oven and then put the dough in.

It really depends on the room temperature and the flour. If you are counting on a bigger oven spring, the use cold start, otherwise you can use the preheated oven.

Bake for 25 min at 180C, then test with a thermometer to see the inner temperature of the bread. Keep in mind that the water boils at different temperatures depending on its content and the altitude, so you will get a different reading of the bread temperature when it is done.

Eat and enjoy.

In later posts I will explain more about some of the variables.

Bread recipe

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I wonder if a pair of these can increase productivity…

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Measure the initial volume with hair elastic…

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