Sunday, October 19, 2014

Breaking Bread.

Recently, I have come to the realization that I have an obsession with bread making. I pour over the mixture of a dough in the same way Walter White pours over an ice recipe in his meth lab. It's all-consuming. 

In many ways, bread making as akin to the writing process. It requires planning - sometimes detailed, other times not so much, the introduction of elements/ingredients and a balancing of those to achieve a workable structure and it requires refinement, editing and checking.

And of course, like writing, bread making conjures a whole gamut of emotions. From the exhilarating highs when I open the lid of my Panasonic SD-250 bread maker at the end of a 4 hour cycle and find the most perfectly formed dome of my lovingly concocted loaf. To the utter despair of finding a catastrophically collapsed, genetic aberration that has suffered from bad yeast or too much water.

Panasonic SD-250 Bread maker. 

Home bread making is a fraught passion - and I am hopelessly addicted to it. 

I have refined the genr... I mean a particular recipe - a german grain/white hybrid to the point now where I can put together the ingredients with my eyes shut. 1.25 table spoons yeast, 2.5 cups Laucke brand german grain flour, 1 cup Laucke plain bread flour, 390mls of filtered water - (it must be filtered water because, hey - I live in Adelaide after all). Set the machine for a four hour cycle and let the magic happen. 

And after several months of following this idiot proof recipe, I'm ready to expand my repertoire and start tackling more ambitious concoctions. Being the shameless self promoter that I am, I would like to receive praise in another endeavor and my family can only stroke my ego so much. 

The Laucke Flour Mill Company is a South Australian company - nay, an institution in this state and they are my go-to for quality flour. Their bread flours are highly regarded and used by both professional bakers and home enthusiasts. They also have a great website that has a growing repository of recipes from the company itself as well as contributors. I'm keen to try them all of course but, for the moment, one in particular, has caught my notice  - an almond and dried fig loaf. It looks divine and I think I have the confidence now to try it. 

Image Copyright © Laucke Flour Mills. Laucke's wholemeal almond and fig loaf. 

One of the issues I have encountered in my bread making journey is that of storage. Up until recently, I was storing my loaves either in a plastic shopping bag or a freezer bag on the kitchen bench so that it is always in easy reach. This however, is not the ideal storage medium for a loaf. Laucke bread flour contains no preservative agents therefore they recommend consuming baked loaves within 24 hours. My aim is to keep my loaves fresh for as much as several days - so they can be used for school lunches, breakfasts and meal accompaniments. Also, home bread making can be a costly exercise if one is constantly churning out loaves. 

What I have found though, is that after the first 24 hours, there's a significant degradation in the freshness of a loaf - even stored as air tightly as possible. As the days pass, this degradation accelerates and I have even noticed the beginnings of mold after day five or six. Laucke recommends storage in calico bag or a bread box. 

Where longer storage is required, Laucke recommends cutting the bread into slices and storing in the freezer. I've never been a fan of freezer storage for bread, even for short periods. There's just something about the artificial environment of a freezer that I can't quite accept. We're dealing with a delicate food item here. I've gotten a hold of a calico bag and I'm going to try that this week. I'm hoping that will enhance the preservation of my loaf but I'm open to suggestions if you have them.

What have your storage experiences been with home cooked bread? What kind of flour do you prefer? Have you found a fail safe method of storage and how long have you been able to maintain the freshness of your loaves? I'd love to read your comments and experiences.

I am a hopeless devotee of bread making. Like writing, bread making requires a skillful hand, some imagination, a constant tweaking of ingredients in order to achieve a cohesive structure and a little faith in yourself. 

The ultimate story is yet to be told...


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

What Is The Value Of Literature?

Earlier this week, I found myself participating briefly in a discussion about reading preferences between ebooks and physical books. 

In the course of the discussion, it became clear to me that there is an expectation on the part of a certain section of consumers and readers that a literary title presented to them in digital form should be priced dramatically lower than its print counterpart or, in many cases, it should be free.

Now, while I can accept that ebook pricing by and large should be set on a different tier to its print counterpart, their was a part of the consensus view point that made me angry.

It seemed to me, in the course of the discussion, that readers have very little concept of the work an author puts into creating,  writing, editing and producing a story. 

When an author commits to a project, it can consume anywhere up to a couple of years of your life. The amount of research, the character development, story development, editing, proof reading that is required of a writer is significant. It can be quite a daunting prospect to will a story from a few scattered ideas. 

And this, of course, is all before the manuscript is handed over to an editor and publisher.

At the end of that writing journey, when you have done everything to ensure that your story is the best possible story it can be, to be confronted with the kind of mentality that says - "oh I would never pay more than X amount of dollars for an ebook" or "I only read free titles" or I don't believe ebooks are real books..."

It actually angers me.

The one side effect of the explosion in digital reading I've observed is the degradation in the value of writing as a craft by consumers and the degradation of the value of literature as a whole. Additionally, the reaction of some authors to that side effect, is to further devalue their own work by chasing consumers, almost begging them to take on their work.

It is something that, I believe, should be addressed and challenged.