Measuring

Most bread baking books will tell you how important it is to get your measurements right. They will recommend weighing your ingredients, instead of using measuring cups. Here’s what Daniel Leader and Judith Blahnik say in their book Bread Alone:

A scale is vital. I like the ultra-precise Pelouze Balance Beam, but home bakers will do fine with a small spring scale. Bakers are incredibly precise about their ingredients. They weigh everything. It’s more reliable and specific than a measuring cup…

Well, I have to admit that I have yet to invest in a Pelouze Balance Beam scale. 🙂 It’s true, though, with so many environmental variables surrounding the baking of bread in a home kitchen, it helps to have consistency at least in your ingredients and measurements. One trick I’ve developed comes with the measuring of salt and yeast.

I’ve converted old baking powder containers into spice and salt containers.

This allows me to get fairly accurate measurements from one batch of bread to the next so that I know how to better make adjustments. I’ve converted some other spices to these containers, too. Spices that are potent and whose quantities need to be monitored carefully.

Plus, the wide mouths allow little bakers easy access to the ingredients.

And there’s no way to measure my delight when little–or big helpers–join me when I’m baking.

Nope, no scale, Pelouze or not,

that measures delight…

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Ingredients: Salt

Two loaves of French bread, made with our own sea salt

Mixed: 6:45 am

Molded: 9 am

Left on counter for 1/2 hour to rise before retarding in fridge for several hours

Baked: 1 pm

Gave to: Mr and Mrs B, and Mrs B’s parents who are visiting from Far Off Canada

When I put together this post a few weeks ago I started thinking further about the four ingredients needed to make a basic loaf of bread. And since I was headed to the beach the following day, I decided to try my hand at making sea salt from scratch. I’ve always been a bit of a “survivalist” (…wondering if that’s really a term). I like to think about what I would do if I lived centuries ago, or if we didn’t have all the resources available to us–resources like grocery stores and electric ovens and super speed computers. Anyway, making salt the old fashioned way seemed like a great way to find out about a very basic resource, and understand better one of the key ingredients in my bread baking.

I live only a little over a mile from the Pacific ocean. It didn’t take much research to convince me that salt making can be done with almost no equipment; all I really needed was a willing soul to wade out past the tide line and fill up some empty jugs with sea water, and a few sunny days for evaporation. In walked my energetic daughter. Perfect!

Making sea salt was easy and fascinating. While the evaporation process was taking place, I read a book titled Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky. I took some time, too, to browse the web and see what other amateur salt makers had to say. Here’s some of what I learned about this important ingredient in our diet:

  • Salt is derived either from water evaporation or from rock deposits. Chrystaline salt deposits are found on every continent.
  • Ocean water is 2.7 percent salt.
  • Both humans and animals need some sort of salt intake to survive.
  • Bread is icky if you leave out the salt. I know… I’ve done it…
  • If you want a really cool salt box, like the one we bought made of olive wood, then you can find them at Williams Sonoma or other kitchen stores. But if want to make salt in order to save money, it’d probably take you thirty years of monitoring your evaporating pans before you pay for your very cool box… Salt is cheap today, unlike the price it fetched during the Middle Ages. Some called it White Gold back then…
  • There are many resources on the web that speak of the uses and benefits, health risks and origin of salt. One website I found interesting is put together by the “Salt Institute” and this page of facts is packed with all sorts of information. Here’s another website (a commercial one that sells salt) that is filled with well-organized information regarding salt.
  • Just like anything else, salt intake needs to be balanced. Too much, or too little can get you into all sorts of health trouble.
  • Homemade sea salt is moist to the touch. I tried to dry a particularly wet batch in the oven and ended up making something that looked like white coral. I’m thinking that I probably destroyed some of the minerals in the salt when I overheated that batch.
  • One of my very favorite chocolate treats is found here in Santa Barbara, at a local chocolatier. Chocolate Maya sells a truffle with a dark chocolate exterior, a caramel interior, and it is topped with several rough grains of sea salt. Oh, my.
  • Most salt that is mined or made today is not intended for human consumption, but instead used in manufacturing. If you live in the north east, you might know that 16% of salt used in the US is for deicing roads during the winter.
  • Guess what Salzburg means?
  • And back to tasty treats… I recently tried Bequet caramels. They’re made in Montana and one of the varieties mixes the soft caramel with Celtic sea salt. What a great way to get your daily salt intake 🙂
  • Table salt is a simple combination of sodium and chlorine. Refined salts may have other additives, such as iodine and anti-caking agents. Sea salt, like the one I made!!! contains over fifty trace minerals in addition to the all important sodium chloride…

Okay, here is my salt making journey!

Even though it looks sunny and warm, Mad is wading out in ocean water that is about 61 degrees cold. Eek! Before I sent her out, I checked the water quality at this beach–Butterfly Beach in Santa Barbara–and it had just received an A+ rating…

My brave and adventurous daughter

We evaporated some salt water in the sun after quickly boiling the water over the stove, wondering if the grade A rating could be trusted. We also evaporated another batch that came straight from the ocean. Here is the salt that was boiled, forming crystals in the bottom of the pan after about five days in the sun.

I learned after a wild wind storm that you need to cover the sea water so that dust and tree debris is minimized. We eventually came up with a method where we would cover our glass pans with a clear thin acrylic cutting board, leaving a corner of the pan uncovered so there was adequate air flow.

Here I am filtering the sea water through a coffee filter after the wild windstorm

Here is another batch of sea water that is just beginning to show signs of something salty. Because I only evaporated a little under two gallons of water, it took just a few sunny days to complete the process in these shallow pans.

This is a picture of the salt that I thought was too moist, so I baked it. It was so hard that I ground some to a fine dust. I wouldn’t recommend doing this–I wouldn’t be surprised if I baked some of the trace minerals out in my hot oven…

Here is my Santa Barbara Sea Salt, looking so important in this beautiful olive wood salt box that my husband found

And here is a French Jaco, made with flour, water, yeast and homemade Santa Barbara sea salt!

So there’s my sea salt story. I enjoyed this process so much that I think I’ll keep it up during the warm months. I’d love to hear your salt facts and stories. Please share!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. Not from my favorite chocolate shop, not from the RealSalt website, not from Bequet, who makes the most delicious caramels in all the world. But I suppose there might be some give and takes with Mr. B, whom is right now eating my bread, because he teaches my daughter math, and is just a handy friend to have around. I’m no good at math. If anyone owes anyone anything–then I really must pay some royalties or a bigger allowance to my daughter who dives readily into the sea to scoop up salt water for simple experiments. Okay, this has gone on long enough. Later, and back to the regularly scheduled show– I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

You know what, though? I’m thinking that maybe I should write a children’s book on salt. The bread and the wine are covered… If you have a starting point for me please send that along.

Simple Giving

New French bread recipe

One mix, three rises, short bake

First batch given to neighbor–Bob

Second batch given to a woman out for a walk

I’ve been trying a new bread recipe this week. Fiddling with a mix of flour, water, salt, and yeast that is famous in Provence, France. Once I understand the method a bit better–I’ll share the recipe with you here.

One of the many things I love about baking is the simplicity of the ingredients. As I move from the cupboard to the bowl and back again, measuring and sifting and sprinkling in the salt, I always recite those four ingredients in my head. Flour, water, salt, yeast.–so few ingredients, yet each one so essential to the final loaf.

I’ve been blogging less, now that it’s Lent, but baking just as much. And my adventures in giving have continued. On Tuesday I had an extra French boule, and set out to give it to a neighbor, who lives in a charming little house on the corner, but whom we see only now and again. I don’t even know her name.

But she wasn’t home.

Just down the street, only a block away, three little munchkins, all five years old–triplets–were running and shouting and cavorting in the street. It was easy to walk their way, toward their laughter. Two neighbors were talking. Two men I’ve never met. How can we have lived here in this neighborhood for ten years and still know so few?! It shames me.

I approached the grownups and introduced myself. “Who wants a warm loaf of bread?” I asked, smiling. The loaf was small, so I handed it to the single man who lives in the house with all the beautiful succulents that we admire. He introduced himself as Bob. I then met Mark, the father of the triplets; they live across from Bob and have the sweetest little home that has a forty foot palm tree hovering over it, and ranunculas that come up each spring. I promised them a bigger loaf in a few days. It was about time I had made a move toward neighborliness…

On Friday, another loaf of warm French bread in hand, (but still too small a loaf for the triplet family) I picked up my two big kids and some of their friends from school. We looked for someone on the street to give it to and eventually found a mom sitting by a stroller, looking tired, looking strained. The newborn was sleeping. I approached her; she was holding a cell phone, but not talking. “I baked an extra loaf of bread today and would like for you to have it. I know what it’s like when you have a newborn in the house.”

She laughed, and took it with a thanks, and the kids and I continued our after-school journey home.

It takes such basic ingredients to bake one loaf of bread. Wheat flour, a foodstuff known to man for thousands of years. Salt, a mineral used in every culture, in every land. Yeast, found in the very air around us. And water.

And giving is just as simple. A walk down the street. A knock on the door, or a wave of the hand. A word or two, and a smile. A quick exchange–the bread passing from my hand to another’s.

I find this time of giving, during Lent, when we seek to strip ourselves of all the extras, as especially poignant. Flour, water, salt, yeast.

Walk. Greet. Smile. Give. It makes me want to sing that old shaker tune…

Hum with me:

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,

‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d,

To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning we come round right.