Saturday, May 31, 2014


Hier geht's zur deutschen Version dieses Post

After reading Don Sadowsky's guest post "The Hole Truth" on Barbara's wonderful blog
 "Bread & Companatico", I knew I had met a kindred spirit. 

Beginning with his nouvel interpretation of Munch's famous painting - how lame seemed my 12th grade essay on the same subject in comparison! - he mused on the holeyness of bread, going back to the caveman's gritty gruel and ending his discourse with St. Chad's holey grail at Tartine.

Eager to further this hole discussion I invited Don to share more of his eye-opening insights with a guest post on my humble blog. He graciously accepted, so I'm happy to present to you:


I have a huge amount of respect for people like Daniel Leader. He treks all the way from the U.S. to Europe and dodges rolling boulders, booby traps and angry natives to find THE guy who makes the best kringenschmaltzenblinkenbrot in the world.

Daniel Leader's French Walnut Bread - not authentic?

Then he spends a decade cleaning out the stables so that the master will teach him the secrets to put in a cookbook for the likes of you and me. I’ve made some of his breads, and they’re fantastic. Authentic breads, people say.

You know another group I have great respect for? Bakers who take difficult ingredients that have been used since the dawn of time to make bricks, and manage to turn them into gorgeous, airy and perfectly shaped loaves better than anything I could make with the finest wheat flour and Peter Reinhart looking over my shoulder making helpful suggestions.

They’ll use 100% einkorn or barley to create a boule that’s better supported than a suspension bridge (and tastier too!).

100% Einkorn - solution to our crumbling infrastructure?

Well crafted, impressive breads? Certainly. Authentic bread like what folks ate in the old days? Not so much. Do you really think that most people dined upon lovingly baked loaves made with golden wheat from tall fronds waving in a gentle breeze and harvested on a sunny afternoon by a smiling Tuscan ragazza in colorful garb?

Snort. Real breads were made with rancid, weevily flour, badly milled and mixed with whatever powdery substance the baker had on hand, because flour was expensive and he had to sell the bread at the price that the local authorities dictated.

Only God and the baker knew what's in the bread

Chalk, sawdust, plaster, alum, clay, ammonium and hemp were just some of the unnatural additives used to bulk up both the breads and the profits of the baker. Yes, some people could pay black market prices for white unadulterated bread, but the lumpenproletariat majority had little choice in the matter.

Add the quest for authenticity to high wire experimentation with early progenitors of gluten-free ingredients and what do you get? Probably a disaster, but if a disaster was good enough for our ancestors, it’s good enough for us. So herewith,


Ingredient             Weight*        Baker’s Percentage**
Plaster of Paris        100g                25%
Chalk***                   100g                25%
Clay                         100g                25%
Sawdust                   100g                25%
Yeast                            8g                  2%
Salt                               8g                  2%
Water****                   280g                70%

* Despite extensive searching (at least 45 seconds) I was unable to find authoritative accounts of just how much of each ersatz ingredient was typically used, because surprisingly bakers kept such information close to their flour-stained vests. Who knew? So I picked round numbers.

** Calculation of baker’s percentage caused me some consternation, since none of the dry ingredients are really flour. But since they were substituted for flour, I figured I’d count them as such.  Baker’s math junkies feel free to weigh in.

*** Pro tip: Pound the pieces of chalk into powder before mixing, unless your intent is to use the bread to write on a blackboard.

**** I did some googling and could not find any online sources of water guaranteed to harbor cholera. I hope you will excuse this egregious anachronism.

Step 1. Purchase the ingredients at your local baker’s supply store:

Your local baker's supply store has everything you need for authentic bread

Step 2. Mix. Toss everything together in that hideous bowl you got at your wedding which you’ve been meaning to throw out all these years but never did (you’ll want to after this). Stir. DO NOT AUTOLYSE – plaster sets.

Our flours, clockwise from top left: clay*****, sawdust, plaster, chalk

***** I can hear the whining already: “That’s not authentic clay, that’s Playdoh, you fool, and it’s made from wheat. You’re cheating!” Listen, I don’t know what kind of clay those bakers used – if they were willing to substitute clay for flour maybe their clay wasn’t real clay. Kind of makes sense, doesn’t it?

Anyway if you can make artisan bread out of actual clay and the rest of this trash, then I’d be happy to let you write this post instead of me.

Step 3. Knead. Don’t let your precious Electrolux Assistant get anywhere near this pile of solid waste. Stretch and fold with your bare hands. Don’t be afraid to get them dirty, but do wash before and afterwards. A clean baker is a healthy baker (especially with ingredients like these).

Step 4. Ferment. Let rise between 5 minutes and 2 weeks, it really doesn’t matter.

Our dough, before and after fermentation. Looks like fine wine, doesn’t it?

Step 5. Shape. I think mud pies would be appropriate here.

Step 6. Proof. Don’t bother.

Step 7. Bake. To prevent hazardous fumes I decided to bake at 70° F/21° C. This temperature provides a number of significant advantages: no warm up needed, no chance of burning either my hands or the bread, and no cool down period necessary. In fact I really don’t understand why all breads aren’t baked this way.

To achieve the crumb structure I was looking for, I finished the loaf with my specialty crumb enhancement tool:

Crumb enhancement tool - also works for Swiss cheese

And voilà, rough authentic bread just like the townspeople used to eat!

Rough authentic bread (after crumb enhancement)

************* Do not try this at home. Sickness or miserable flavor may result.


  1. What a delightful post! Have you allowed for the weevils in your formula or is that because it contains no wheat at all? Thank you Don and Karin! Reminds me of reading about John Snow, who figured out that cholera was water carried and had a few words to say about adulteration of bread with alum in 1857

    'A probable way to break through what seems the universal practice of bakers to adulterate bread, would be for the committees of the public hospitals and the guardians of the poor to oblige the bakers who contract to supply their respective institutions to furnish an unadulterated article. No one pretends that alum is either nutritious or wholesome; and if the loaves without alum should cost a little more, owing to their carrying less water, no one can doubt that as much nutriment would be obtained for a given sum as under the present system.'

    Sackville-street, June, 1857

    1. Cool background, Joanna! I can see that government contracting hasn't changed a bit since 1857. :-)

    2. Exactly! Thanks, Joanna, for this valuable information. Don clearly omitted some healthy alum in his formula!

  2. What a funny post! You have the talent of the writer, I don't understand all, but guess the ironic sense and appreciate the stylish form!
    Scuse me for my bad english :)
    Maria Teresa

    1. Thank you, Maria Teresa, and thanks for visiting. I'm just trying to translate it into German, but some things are play on words, and can't be well translated. Your English is certainly better than my Italian :)

  3. This made me smile....

    1. That was my intent! Sometimes you need something to smile about - and not take too seriously.

    2. Lucy and I take offence at Hemp being called an unnatural bread additive:-) It is a natural and welcomed bread additive as you well know...and taught Lucy and I. Other than that a fun article is closer to the truth than we want to believe.

      Happy Baking Karin

    3. It might not have been the hemp seeds - Lucy is right to object to that notion. As Mini suggested, the bakers perhaps put bits of their old flour bags into the dough - or rags that were too small for other household needs.
      Thanks for visiting, DBM!

  4. Delightful post. As they say, "They don't make nostalgia like they used to anymore."


    1. Thanks, David - I do like the way you are thinking! You can't even get some good cholera-water in the US anymore, only this dyed vitamin stuff, pah!

  5. hilarious......the good old days

    1. Yes, everything was better in the good old days! We can't even find protein enriched (weevily) flour these days anymore.
      Thanks for visiting, Daniel!

    2. I like your Alltagsbrot - do you have a blog, too?

  6. i am going to try plaster of paris in bread making lets see
    wait for a day I will write a good past is it true /false