Peter’s Blog, Labor Day, 2012
Hard to believe that it’s already September — how did that happen? Meanwhile, Charlotte is gearing up for the big convention this week and everyone is wondering what life will be like after it’s over. We’ll know soon enough.
But first, before I forget, I need to let you know that there are still places available for the Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free class coming up on Wed., September 12th at the Western Reserve Cooking School in Hudson Ohio. If you can make it, contact them at www.wrsoc.com/ or call (330) 650-1665.Since I just got back from the inaugural teaching tour for the new book I can honestly say that the class is a lot of fun and those who attended the eight classes we did in the SF Bay Area all loved the products and were amazed at how easy the method is. In addition to the upcoming class at Western Reserve (I’ll also be doing an artisan bread class the following day there), I will be at the upcoming Bookmarks Book Festival in Winston-Salem this coming Saturday, Sept. 8th, along with Steven Raichlen and a slew of authors from all genres. If you are in the area, please do come by. My demo is Sat. morning at 10:30 AM, and details can be found at http://www.bookmarksbookfestival.org/
The Bay Area tour was a big success. Denene Wallace, my co-author, is an inspiration, as she not only figured out how to make diabetic friendly gluten-free baked goods of all types using nut and seed flours instead of grain flours, but also, in the process, weaned herself from five insulin shots a day down to zero. She was a terrific collaborator both on the book and in the classes, telling stories in her delightful Georgian twang (“Do I really sound like I’m from the South? I don’t hear it — do they?” ) and also sharing all her hard earned baking tips. Sadly, she won’t be with me in Hudson — I’ll be going solo this time — but she will be rejoining me in November (the 17th) in Chapel Hill at A Southern Season. Anyway, we did cooking schools, radio shows, and I even re-connected with some of my old friends from the Brother Juniper’s Bakery days. The main thing we needed to find out, since this was our first tour, was whether those who came to the classes would love the products as much as we do. And they did!!! So, mission accomplished. For more details on the book and, to write to us about this aspect of our work, go to our website at www.thejoyofgluten-freesugar-freebaking.com
Now, onto the long thread in the recent Peter’s Blog. As I mentioned in the last posting, I was thrilled to see so much passion and sharing of knowledge. For some of you it was probably TMI — not everyone cares about potassium bromate and the various nuances of fermentation, but many of us do. But I hope you all read each of the comments as they amounted to a wealth of narrative and information. My guiding mantra, which I wrote a whole book about once (“Bread Upon the Waters”) is: “Reverence the reverences of others, not the things they revere.” So I don’t feel that I have to agree with every point regarding NY pizza by the slice, or the choice of flour, to get excited by the degree of caring expressed by the various correspondents, and I want to honor that passion. There were great points made regarding some of the things I’ve written in the past, such as how much water to add to tomato puree to make sauce (I did write 1 3/4 cups for my marinara sauce recipe in “American Pie” based on a very thick puree I used, but should have added, “or as needed” — good catch, Scott). So let me make just a few points, below, to clear up some of the other challenges raised:
–Potassium bromate, as noted by Pappy, is an effective dough improver and was standard in high gluten flour for decades until some studies indicated a “possible” link to cancer (yes, I agree, by force feeding rats a ridiculous amount — it could have been chocolate or even vitamin C and they probably would have still developed cancer). I never thought much about it, at first, until my bakery customers rebelled and then, amazingly, the mills started replacing it with ascorbic acid, a process which took a long while to fine tune, to the detriment of many loaves of breads from major brands everywhere (circa 1989-90 or so). By the time I started using the new formulation the process had been refined so I never saw any negatives by switching over. I did, however, see a dramatic improvement by switching from bleached to unbleached flour, which is where I think the emphasis should be (in California, I believe bromated flour is not allowed at all but not sure if this is true nationwide, but bleached vs. unbleached flour is still an option everywhere). Whether the elimination of bromated flour is a major cause of the decline of NY pizza, I really can’t say for sure but I don’t think so. But I can’t really say for sure that it’s not true (I’m also the guy who claims that NY bagels are not better because of the NYC water and that great bagels can be made anywhere if you know what you’re doing, and I’ve taken a lot of heat for that — but I stand by it). I defer to Scott’s and Pappy’s more intimate knowledge of the genre and if we ever get the cash to go back on the road to film more webisodes, I’ll be calling upon them to serve as our NY by the slice guides. I think Scot said it right when he pointed out how so many places just take shortcuts now rather than honoring the craft.
–The Gosselin overnight method for French bread — well, the back and forth commentary in the various responses says it all. Neither Gosselin, Calvel, nor any of the other bread geniuses of the past and future can say that there is only way to apply all the knowledge and technique that exists. For me, the point of the Gosselin method, and why I have been able to parlay it into many other types of bread, is the benefit of the enzyme development causing a sugar-breakout from the starches. Whether in a cold box or on the table overnight with minimum yeast (ala Jim Lahey’s NY Times method), it really doesn’t matter to me as long as the final product is wonderful. In the end, it’s all about the baking triangle of time/temperature/and ingredients and how the baker manipulates them. I’ve gotten in trouble for challenging the dogma of various techniques of the masters, but my goal is always to find the underlying principle that makes their method effective and see if there might be other applications, or even other ways, to accomplish the same outcome. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but, for me, that’s what makes it a quest and keeps it compelling.
–Thank you to all who challenge my own methods — I don’t want them to become their own kind of dogma. Questioning is how we get to even greater heights. Please, keep them coming! And thank you also for containing and focusing your passion in a civil discourse that, I believe, has done a lot to further this ongoing dialectic towards pizza gnosis. I’ve heard from a number of readers, offline, thanking us for making it a more welcoming forum than some of the other discourses they’ve encountered. Again, thanks to you all.
If there’s anything that came up in the thread to which I failed to properly respond, please comment below and remind me what it is and we’ll keep kicking it back and forth.
Ooops, I hear that the President’s entourage is arriving about now, here in Charlotte (along with Sweet Baby James, Ashley Judd, Jon Stewart, and a few other luminaries who I’d love to run into), so I’m signing off for now. More to come, though…..
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