It's been more than a week since the Asheville Artisan Bread Festival so first let me say that it was a terrific success, thanks to the organizational work of Steve Bardwell and Gail Lunsford of Wake Robin Farm Breads. In addition, Chef Vince Donatelli of A-B Tech hosted the workshops at the brand new, beautiful, A-B Tech facility and he and his culinary and baking students were wonderful hosts. The two workshops by local baker Jon Hartzler, on hand mixing, as well as the all day series of hands-on workshops by my super-talented colleague at Johnson & Wales, Chef Jeff Alexander, were well attended and very well recieved. Our whole grain bread panel (Gail Lunsford, Brian Cook of the wonderful Weaver Street Bakery of Chapel Hill, and Jennifer Lapidus of Natural Bridge Breads, with me as moderator) held a lively two hour discussion before a full room of attendees that showed the wide ranging diversity of applications and the many ways of climbing the whole grain mountain. Green Life Market hosted the opening showcase of 12 bakeries and two farmstead cheesemakers, and it seemed as if everyone sold out all of their products. Some of the attendees included a few of our recipe testers, like Debbie Wink who flew in from St. Louis, and also Debby Taylor and her husband Tom from Rochestor, NY. Others came from Washington DC and West Virginia, including Jeff Kessler, who brought down some of his beautiful loaves from Jeff's Breads (one of his clients is the famous Greenbrier Hotel), and Hall Hitzig of the The Crazy Baker. Jeff and Hall share a baking space in Lewisburg, WV and produce beautiful and complementary bread and pastry products. We had a very enjoyable post event dinner (decompression time!), attended by about 20 bakers and their friends, at a Salvadorean restaurant called Tomato Cucina. So, all in all, a good day for everyone.
Steve, Gail, and Vince are already thinking about next year and how to continue growing this event, so keep the weekend of March 23, 2007 free. I'll keep you posted as things develop--it will be here before you know it. Thank you to everyone who organized, participated, traveled, spoke, taught, and shared (including the Bread Bakers Guild of America and the other worthy sponsors and underwriters). This is how the bread revolution spreads!
As for our recipe tests, the thin mash loaves have brought in a torrent of responses ranging from, "The best bread ever," to "Still too much work," to "Absolutely nothing special about these loaves at all,", to, "too sour," to, "Not sour enough," to "Did not perform as described--very disappointing." Some have reported nice, open structured loaves while others are still getting tight bricks and "door stoppers." From my tests, where I am convinced there is something indeed special about the loaves, I can only conclude that the problem is in my poorly worded instructions, perhaps dating back to the wild yeast starters. But each response illuminates things that can be improved and all sorts of new tricks that people are discovering to make the method work better. The mash itself continues to be an area of discussion, and the more I work with it the more I can see ways to simplify it. Some of you have come up with double boiler or hot grill techniques to keep it in the temperature range (even sous vide vacuum packing methods!), some have perfected the crock pot system, others have modified their ovens to make it work. Your feedback has been extremely helpful.
I will soon have a multi-grain version ready to send out (perhaps in a week) and we'll see if we can apply some of what has been learned to this new loaf. Little by little we're getting there.
One area of concern for many is how much starter you have been keeping on hand (and throwing out). For sure, we can keep smaller batches and, even in this area, I am beginning to see new ways of simplifying the process and possibly adjusting the hydration to make it easier to incorporate the starter into the final dough. The beat goes on....
May your bread always rise!