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Photo by MissMushroom on Unsplash

When I was new to the craft of baking bread, I assumed that scoring — making a pattern of cuts on the surface of the dough immediately before baking — was mostly decorative, but observation and experimentation have taught me otherwise. The reason we score bread is to prevent loaves from tearing as they rise in the oven. Scoring helps guide dough as it develops during baking, and if you were to omit this step the surface would likely rip in a weak spot and the loaf would not rise as high or as well.

Regardless of the pattern you…


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Photo by Mae Mu on Unsplash

One simple way to transform the healthfulness and integrity of your baked goods is to replace up to half the white flour in your recipes with whole-grain flour. Nearly everything you bake, whether savory or sweet, can handle this substitution. You may need to add slightly more salt to make the change work, and you will know this by tasting the finished product and then making a decision for the next time.

In my experience, most people won’t notice the switch and those who do will often find the recipe improved. This is because whole-grain flour imparts flavor and character…


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Photo by Katie Smith on Unsplash

In the first weeks of quarantine, my kids and I each shed about five pounds. What would have once seemed like good news didn’t feel that way anymore. Rationing every apple and each piece of bread, we didn’t know when or how we would get groceries again and it wasn’t only us. Most everyone seemed worried as we focused on planning meals and finding ingredients to make those meals.

It took me some time, but I finally settled into a quarantine rhythm, and as I did I saw some positive changes emerge around food. The first was that stores began…


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Photo by Mae Mu on Unsplash

I’m reluctant to raise concerns about flour when we’re only just now finding it again on grocery store shelves. But with the baking many of us are doing, it seems worth thinking about the fact that there are farmers in this country who spray conventionally-grown wheat crops with Roundup before harvest. This may be the first you’re hearing about the issue, or it could be a reminder about something you already knew.

Roundup is the brand name for glyphosate, an herbicide originally developed by Monsanto. It’s the most widely-used weed killer, not only in the world but in all of…


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Photo by Ronan Furuta on Unsplash

Well after two of my three children grow into adulthood, after my marriage ends and I move from a home set on acres of land to a small cottage with a yard, my dream of owning a dairy cow comes true. I see now that the dream was unrealistic but at the time it doesn’t feel that way. It feels brave and fantastical, like catching a falling star.

“You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves,” writes Mary Oliver.

The story begins when I describe the dream to my friend, Judy, who though…


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Photo By Donna Turner https://www.donnaturnerphotography.com

The tacit promise of sourdough, and of your commitment to maintaining a starter and baking a loaf, is that you nearly always get bread. Most cooks have known an underbaked cake, overcooked vegetables, or dishes that are over spiced, over salted, or altogether ruined. Sourdough is a world apart; no matter the slip up, you will have bread on your table.

Consider overproofing. If your dough stays too long on the countertop before you transfer it to the refrigerator, it becomes gassy and fragile and will collapse when you move it from bowl or brotform to pot. …


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Pliny the Elder from Lapham’s Quarterly

Bread was central to the diet of ancient Romans; baked fresh daily, usually at home, it formed the basis of most meals. There were also commercial bakeries to provide daily bread for those not inclined to bake, and the professional bread bakers who worked them were influential and powerful. If someone “gave good bread,” or “bonum panem fert,” it meant this person was reliable and worthy of respect in the community.

Well established in Ancient Rome, Pliny the Elder and his nephew and adopted son, Pliny the Younger, were morally upright, sophisticated men who lived during the first century AD…


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Photo by Taylor Kiser on Unsplash

Years ago, I set out to make whipped cream but let the process go a little too far. The cream turned into butter, though I didn’t realize at the time that butter is what I had, and this mistake offered me a new ability and an enduring gift.

Sweet cream butter like the kind I got after over-beating whipped cream comes from churning or agitating ordinary heavy cream. European-style cultured butter is different; it’s churned from heavy cream that has been treated with live bacterial cultures, the same way yogurt is. …


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Photo by Monika Grabkowska on Unsplash

1. View salt and water as tools that can help you bake a better loaf.

When you make sourdough bread, it helps to think of salt and water as more than ingredients. They are also tools you can use to bake better bread.

Starting with salt, each time you mix ingredients for dough, you have two decisions to make: how much salt to add and when to add it. Your aim is to find the balance that will give you optimal flavor, texture, and rise. In making these decisions, it helps to understand salt’s basic qualities:

Slows fermentation. Put another way, salt inhibits the rise of your loaf. If you’re making dough in a warm…


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Photo By Donna Turner https://www.donnaturnerphotography.com

Some months ago, a friend hugged me and said, “Oh, you smell so good.” I wear no perfume and use nothing scented, so I couldn’t imagine a reason for the compliment. But my youngest daughter was standing next to me and said, “You smell like freshly-baked bread. It’s how you always smell.” This was a revelation.

It’s true that baking sourdough bread has long been the through line of my cooking. I credit my love of bread and my commitment to baking it to a slice of family history. When I was growing up, my grandfather brought a loaf of…

Ellen Arian

Health-Supportive Chef & Food Educator. Join my Online Sourdough Bread Baking and Butter Making Classes. http://www.ellensfoodandsoul.com/

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