Rosemary Focaccia


My advisor from my master’s thesis (>8 years ago)  got back in touch with me a few weeks ago, after noticing the links to my blog posts on my Twitter feed. I remember one Friday afternoon, sitting in his office at UW, having our weekly chat about my progress, his research, teaching, life, the universe, and everything, when he mentioned that he typically made pizza for his family on Friday nights. I asked him if he had a favourite pizza dough recipe, because at the time, I think I was just using a recipe that came with the breadmaker my parents had. He suggested that I should check out The Bread Bible, by one Rose Levy Beranbaum, and if I couldn’t remember her name, to go look up I did. Then I went to the nearest bookstore. And, even though I was a grad student, I found the money for The Bread Bible, which was quickly followed by The Cake Bible, and adding Rose’s blog to my RSS reader.

One day, a post popped up on Rose’s blog, which linked to this post on Marie Wolf’s blog. It talked about a bake through project. I’d never participated in anything like that, but I knew it would be a good way to force gently encourage myself to a) actually thoroughly explore a cookbook for once, and b) actually put content up on a blog. With cookbooks, I have a tendency to buy them, pick a few recipes that jump out at me, and make those same things over and over again. See the basic white, yellow, and chocolate butter cakes, and the neoclassic buttercream in The Cake Bible. Pizza dough, white sandwich bread (which I’ve converted to whole wheat sandwich bread), and (more recently) Rye Sourdough in The Bread Bible. Pie crust in The Pie & Pastry Bible.

The Heavenly Cakes bake-through had many lovely results. I ‘met’ a wonderful group of bakers from all over the world, and got to bake with them most weeks for a couple of years. Most of our blogs went somewhat quiet for a while between then and now, and it’s been great to reconnect, recently. As one of the active participants in that bake-through, I also given the opportunity to help Rose and Woody with testing some of the recipes for The Baking Bible, which was a real insight into the amount of work that goes into a book like this. We followed the recipes, measured and weighed the components at every stage of the process, gave feedback on taste, texture, clarity of instructions, etc. Rose’s response to our feedback provided another level of insight. When something got universally low ratings, she completely swapped out a crust recipe. We struggled with a process or ran into crystallization issues on a sugar syrup, and something got tweaked. I mentioned the other week that my interest in baking is related to a love of watching simple ingredients turn into something completely different. It’s also deeply intertwined with a love of science, and specifically, food science. I did a grade 7 science project on the different results between using honey and sugar to sweeten cookies, and I thought that a career in food science was where I’d end up, until I discovered computer programming. Long story short, the level of detail and explanation in the way Rose authors her recipes really appeals to me, and satisfies my inner food science nerd.

I think I’m getting around to my point. A couple of weeks ago, someone in the Baking Bible bake-through group suggested that maybe we should bake our way through The Bread Bible as well. I thought “No way, I can’t manage that, with everything else I’ve got going on.” Then, I thought.. why not? I already bake bread for Jay and I every couple of weekends. Bread is also generally relatively forgiving, if you have to leave it at some stage. It takes a lot of clock time, but usually not a lot of active time. So, I’ve signed up for another bake-through! This time, it’s bread! We’re baking once a month, and it looks like posts are going to be “due” the first Wednesday of the month. We’re following the order laid out by Marie on her Breadbasketcase blog, which is what started this whole journey!

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