Bread Abroad: Farmer’s Market Finds in Seoul and Egg Salad in Tokyo

Back after a hiatus on the blog here after having spent some time between jobs overseas. Something I thought might be fun in my adventures abroad is seeking out unique bread finds from the various cities and countries that I visit! Not that I get away once a month (one can dream), but when I do I’ll try to sneak in a unique find from the trip.

I was lucky to get an opportunity to spend some time in both Seoul, South Korea and Tokyo, Japan in recent weeks with many food adventures to be had. Given the variety of amazing foods to eat it was honestly difficult to find time to focus on bread (ramen! fried chicken! barbecue!), but as I toured the cities there were fortunately no lack of opportunities to do so.

In Seoul, while venturing towards Gyeongbokgung Palace, I came across a local farmer’s/flea market with many interesting knick knacks and a variety of foods…tons of kimchi. I was both a little shocked and excited to come across a stand featuring this beauty below, excitedly trying to determine how much it would cost through the inevitable language barrier (hello in Korean can only get you so far) A cute little batard with both a chewy crust and a light, airy crumb. Awesome find!

Pardon the thumb!

My time in Tokyo was mostly spent exploring the various ramen joints and izakayas, but on the advice of both David Chang and Anthony Bourdain I made sure to sample at the very least an egg salad sandwich from Lawson’s (a convenience store chain) and 7-Eleven. I have to admit, I was somewhat skeptical of having my mind blown by an egg salad sandwich given that I’m not much of a fan in general, but it was surprisingly good! The bread was incredibly light and fluffy. They even cut the crusts off for you, if you were one of those growing up.

I was quite sad to leave as the food and drink in both countries was amazing, but I will most definitely be back at some point in the future. Looking forward to more beauties like the green tea eclair below upon my return!

Green tea eclair… the things dreams are made of.

Proving Up the Proofing Window

In an attempt to improve upon last weekend’s sad loaf, I kept things simple this past weekend by sticking to my usual 70% bread flour 30% whole wheat, using the same organic sprouted red fife I’d used last weekend to keep things consistent. My goal with this bake was to try to prove up and highlight the difference in results from just a few hours difference in the overnight proof, going from overproofed to … more reasonably proofed. While my results were not perfect – I’m certain oven spring can be even better – they do still highlight the impact of just a couple of hours on a lengthy proofing window.

As I said, I kept things simple by sticking to the same recipe as last weekend with the exception that my schedule shifted slightly in an attempt to reduce the overnight proof by two to three hours. So instead of the usual proofing time, which has without my notice increased to almost 20 hours (!) in recent bakes, I trimmed the proofing time to 17 hours on the dot. As you can see, there was without a doubt an improvement with pronounced cragginess along the scored line.

Many recipes that I’ve followed recommend more of a 14-16 hour kind of timeline so my guess is that I can reduce this even further for an even greater improvement in oven spring. Even on this loaf the finger dent test showed a fairly quick spring-back which hints at a somewhat advanced proof – it should spring back slowly and not completely. As ever, the process is about incremental improvements. One of the things that is both nice and frustrating about bread baking is how minor changes can produce dramatically different results.

Have a good week!


This past weekend I began my adventures in experimenting with new flours. A fun trip to the fancy natural foods store yielded more types of flour than I should probably have in my cupboard. One carton of (chocolate flavoured…) almond milk later, my basket was full with kamut flour, whole spelt flour, and organic sprouted whole grain red fife flour. A heritage wheat variety, mind you. Thus began my foray into baking with different wheat varieties; unfortunately, it was a somewhat inauspicious beginning which I thought I would detail today.

To start out, I thought I would go with the sprouted whole wheat as a follow-up to my recent post. Everything went largely as planned through shaping and into the fridge, in fact the boule that came out of the proofing basket from the fridge had a nice, tight shape and looked primed for success like a young, not yet cynical college freshman. Unfortunately, that tight loaf began to relax a little too much almost as soon as I placed it into my cooker. As you can see below, the loaf had little to no oven spring with it relaxing to fill almost the entire bottom of my makeshift dutch oven. Further evidence can be seen in the scoring: the lines are clean with little bursting to be seen along the edges. This loaf fell victim to being overproofed I’m afraid after having sat in the fridge proofing overnight for a tad too long. My recent loaves have likely pushed the envelope in total time at around 16 hours in the fridge, with this one slightly over and just a little (maybe a lot) too much time.

Topshot. Little to no oven spring.

The topshot highlights some evidence of the loaf having proofed for too long, but the real show is in the below. On the left is this loaf, on the right a recent success. Quite a difference in volume! As is typically the case, the bread itself still tasted quite alright and did its job reasonably well for breakfast. I’ll save the juicy details of how the flavour differed from my usual recipe for a future post. The nice thing about attempting to correct for this problem is that I should simply be able to reduce the time variable by an hour or so and test from there. Considering I’ve been beginning the process Saturday mornings at 7AM to bake at 7:30AM on Sunday morning, it would actually be welcome to shave some time off and shift the Saturday start back by an hour.

Have a good week!

Sprouted Grains and Phytic Acid

A few years ago, there began a trend in baking in keeping with the broader social trend of eating more healthfully: sprouted grain baking. Much has been said about the tangible benefits of sprouted grains, but, when it comes to actually incorporating this into baking, there seems to be a few ways to go about things.

When I first considered incorporating sprouted grains into my baking I looked at sprouted flours: milling sprouted grains into flour for baking, as you would. My intuition is that through the milling process a portion of the healthful benefits are lost via degradation, much in the same way benefits are lost in the milling of traditional flour. That said, assuming the flour is used in a reasonable time frame, I’m certain that some of the benefits will make it through to our guts.

How else might a “healthful” individual bake tasty sprouts? Sprouted grains, whether wheat or others such as spelt or kamut, can be added during the bulk fermentation phase in a standard baking cycle. I have not yet tested this for myself, but plan to do a post on this in the future – stay tuned!

Okay, there’s the how. Here’s the why.

There are a few reasons why sprouted grains appear to improve the overall nutrition of a loaf of bread. Specifically, sprouting grains increases key nutrients including the antioxidants tecopheral, riboflavin, vitamins B3, B7, B9, and fiber by up to 1.5-3.8x. Now, I’m no nutrition expert so I can’t point to specific benefits from these antioxidants, but from what I understand they can… help out… some. Additionally, sprouting grains reduces anti-nutrients such as phytic acid by increasing native phytase activities – an enzyme that attacks phytic acid much in the same way that the lactase enzyme (the enzyme lacking in lactose intolerant or sensitive folk) attacks lactose (the sugar that lactose intolerant or sensitive folk struggle with).

Phytic acid itself is found in the bran coating of grains and interferes with the body’s ability to absorb various minerals and nutrients such as calcium or zinc. Phytase is said to be at its most active as dough pH is reduced – think sourdough breads, an acidic environment. So, when dough is ‘acidified’ when fermenting in a sourdough loaf, phytase reduces or eliminates the effects of phytic acid, making the blocked nutrients available to the eater and improving the overall nutritional profile of the bread.

Lastly, a few numbers to associate with the reduction of phytic acid in bread. I’m a bit annoyed that I managed to lose the source for these numbers (promise I’m not just pulling these out of thin air), but bear with me. In terms of milligrams per 100 grams of dry matter, the starting point for phytic acid in wheat bran is 4,873. Okay, maybe that’s a lot or maybe it’s not, we have no context at this point. Whole wheat flour itself is 942, while a baked whole wheat loaf of bread is 493. A sourdough loaf of whole wheat bread? 79! Unfortunately the reference material did not provide an estimate for a sourdough containing sprouted grains, but I’m willing to bet that it is lower still.

I know what you may be thinking: number, number, number, snore. The takeaway? Sprouted grains can improve or boost the benefits provided by sourdough. Now, by no means am I suggesting that you sub in this for this (I would not eat that…), but some of the benefits of sprouted grains can be incorporated in small amounts much in the same way we mix in a portion of whole wheat flour for flavour and nutritional value.


Super Sour: Varying the Variables

I thought it might be interesting this past weekend to try something a little different. I haven’t quite built up to working on different flours yet (on the list… so many things on the list), but there are still variables with which I can play. First up was a slight modification to the usual levain percentage in the dough.

My typical formula for a Tartine-style loaf has been approximately 25%, or 250g of levain per 1,000 g of a mix of whole wheat, rye, and white bread flours. I’ve gotten quite comfortable with the process and this recipe such that my results are fairly consistent, and pretty tasty if I may say so. However, one of the things that has always surprised people is how little sour is actually evident in my sourdough. The truth is, the San Francisco-style sourdough that has become so commonplace is generally tangier or more sour on the spectrum than, say, a traditional French pure levain (sourdough) loaf. Sourdough itself does not necessarily need to be sour! The name, title, what have you, simply refers to the fact that the bread has been produced without commercial yeast, rather utilizing a wild yeast culture or starter developed over time. The result is a somewhat surprised face when I share my bread with people or make them Sunday breakfast. Though they do not typically say, “Well, this doesn’t really taste sour… are you lying to me?” it is evident on their faces that there is some flavour that they’d expected or become used to that is missing.

So without much research into percentages here or percentages there, I thought I might go the old fashioned route, just toss some extra levain into the mix and see what happens! What I found was that only a minor increase in levain percentage of the final build, 30% in this case as compared to my usual 25%, made a notable change in sourness. My first bite yielded the expected tang that lingers on the back of the tongue. It turns out, it wasn’t just me that thought so, thankfully, so I had support in my findings. The sour flavour came through well, but was not quite at the point of cloying. I’m certain too much more would not be that appetizing.


Stumbling Upon Improvements

In thinking back on factors that have had an impact on past loaves, such as the flat loaves I mentioned in my last post, I had a minor epiphany on the importance of shaping. After all, I think that in almost every attempt and post that I’ve made I have mentioned the need for better shaping or a failure associated with poor shaping. My goal then for this post was to create an experiment, sacrificing one loaf (the things I do in the pursuit of amazing bread) as the test, while maintaining my usual process for a “control” loaf.

As luck would have it, I stumbled across another factor that has likely been impacting the end result of the height of my loaves. That being the step in which I remove the boule from the proofing basket after having sat over night, followed by placing it into the dutch oven for baking. I intend to revisit the aforementioned experiment in a separate post, but, as I will show in the pictures below, my misstep in this step most definitely has an impact on the final shape of the baked loaf and so warrants its own elaboration. Besides, I realized only after having baked my first loaf that I need to correct this (and so corrected it for the second loaf), so my control did not end up reliably so.

In the build-up to my experiment, as I said, I opted to proceed as usual with what we’ll affectionately call Boule #1 (left above), shaping into a tight ball for optimal surface tension, and good oven spring. The second, Boule #2 (right above), I shaped less tightly for less-than-optimal surface tension, hoping to show the power of shaping in the final result.

Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your viewpoint, after having baked Boule #1, I realized how much the loaf slackened upon placing it into the dutch oven in the second movement; first, the loaf was removed from its basket onto the counter (in a lovely tight shape); second, the loaf was picked up and placed into the dutch oven. I mentioned in my last post that I was surprised to see how much the dough had slackened upon placing it into the dutch oven, and perhaps that was beginning of my line of thinking here. While I was baking Boule #1, I realized that the tight ball which landed on the table prior to being placed into the dutch oven was likely a better candidate for my desired shape than the slightly relaxed loaf with which I ended up.

With that, I decided that Boule #2 would get the royal treatment of simply being dropped right into the pot (fears of burning my hands aside). The beautiful thing about using rice flour in proofing baskets is especially useful here: the loaf falls slowly out of the proofing basket into the dutch oven, holding its shape much better than if I’d taken two motions instead of one.

As the pictures show below, this is where my initial experiment fell apart. My original plan was to show how much tighter in shape Boule #1 was as compared to #2, but, well…

Boule #1: left. Boule #2: right. 

In the end, while my test did not quite work out as planned, I stumbled upon a separate change to process that I believe will improve my final results going forward. The crumb of Boule #1 was still reasonably good, but as it was slightly more flat than tall it did not end up quite as aesthetically pleasing as Boule #2.

Just for fun, crumbshot Boule #1 below. Have a good week!


Breakfast Should be Ready Around 9

It would figure that the week after I write about doing a better job in managing my baking in varied environments that I end up baking in a different environment with … poor results. As is often the case, the resulting bread still tasted good, had a nice crust, and a fairly airy crumb, but oven spring was lacking in the first loaf and next to non-existent in the second.

I was at my parent’s “cottage” this weekend with plans for a post expounding the glories of baking with a gas-fired oven, propane in this case. In the past, I’ve baked bread in this particular oven resulting in an amazing crust leaving me with the impression that there was a certain “je ne sais quoi” about the heat from the gas-fired oven as compared to my standard conventional convection or electric oven. Just for fun, here is a past loaf baked in the oven using the Flour Water Salt Yeast method of baking seam side up without scoring for a more “natural” look.

Past bake results in the gas-fired oven. Love the colour of the crust.

While the above loaf is worthy of sharing, my resulting loaves from this weekend were assuredly not of being the focus of a post with poor oven spring resulting in fairly flat loaves. Despite making do with a napkin holder in place of a bench knife (the perils of traveling with equipment), I believe the environmental culprit to be the ambient fridge temperature in which my loaves spent 17-18 hours. That said, it’s possible that I did not achieve the required surface tension in shaping in utilizing my napkin holder-bench knife; after having placed the loaves into my dutch oven, both relaxed noticeably more than I’d expect. Ignoring the bench knife, part of the challenge, I suppose, is in not getting too accustomed to the environment in which I typically bake: bulk fermentation temperature  around 80°F and overnight proofing temperature around 38°F. I spot checked the setting in my parent’s fridge to see that it was reasonable (close to the midpoint, same as in my fridge), but did not go so far as to leave my ambient thermometer in there for a proper test.

Had I done the finger dent test in the morning (I feel like I never follow my own advice on this), I’m sure I would have found the loaves to be unprepared for baking. The second challenge, I suppose, is in managing expectations for would be eaters when the process itself can be (should be?) variable.

“Breakfast should be ready around 9.” Famous last words?