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Read 'Josey Baker Bread' and let your bread-baking beast out

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Josey Baker starts off easy, and slowly feeds the fledgling baker with the techniques to make homebaked bread
For baker Josey Baker, it all started when a friend passing through left a lump of sourdough starter behind

It would be tough to write a bread book to compete with Chad Robertson’s definitive Tartine cookbooks. But another passionate San Francisco baker, Josey Baker, is taking him on with “Josey Baker Bread: Get Baking. Make Great Bread. Be Happy.” 

Baker (that's his real name, truly) is not going for definitive or exhaustive. He wants to take readers by the hand and get them baking. So he doesn’t overwhelm with details for that first simple loaf. He waits until you’ve discovered the magic of making an actual loaf of bread before he introduces the concept of sourdough. He starts off easy and slowly feeds the fledgling baker with tips and techniques in the following recipes, each coloring in the details further.

Baker is a born teacher and exuberant guide. Yet the thought of baking bread never crossed his mind until a childhood friend passing through left an intriguing lump of sourdough starter and some scribbled directions behind.

“I didn’t really think it was going to work, but I figured I’d follow through and bake it, just to see what happened. And when I bit into that loaf, I couldn’t ... believe it: the bread tasted incredible,” he writes. You can almost hear him laughing in wonder.

It wasn’t perfect, but it gave him confidence and, as he puts it, unleashed a bread-baking beast. Self-taught, after baking for friends and starting a bread subscription business, Baker now sells his bread at the Mill in San Francisco. 

With this, his first book, he hopes the first few recipes will inspire the reader the way his first bread inspired him: “Just let that bread baking beast out. You know you want to,” he writes.

In addition to chapters such as “A New Challenge/Adding Stuff To Bread” or “Another New Challenge/Breads Made From Other Grains,” he’s got a pizza chapter. He tell you how to make the dough, but also how to make what he calls “the raddest homemade pizza the world has ever known” by cooking it first in a skillet on the stove and then under the broiler. I’ll be trying his sourdough pizza dough and hauling my cast iron skillet out this weekend.

Also, on July 31, Baker will be giving a free talk to the group Los Angeles Bread Bakers at Grist & Toll in Pasadena. You can sign up online.

Here's a recipe from the book: Note, it has not been tested in the Los Angeles Times Test Kitchen.

CREAM SCONES

Adapted from Josey Baker Bread (Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 2014, $27.50)

“This recipe is for a cream scone, which in my humble opinion is the best type. Some scones just have milk and egg in them, others have buttermilk, but these omit all of that stuff for uber-delicious and fatty cream. Are they healthful? No, they are not. But what the hell, exercise feels good, so eat as many as you want and then go ride your bike, baker.”

1. Gather your foodstuff and tools.

2. Mix the dry ingredients. Mix together in a big bowl:

1 cup/125 grams all-purpose flour

1 cup/100 grams whole-wheat pastry four

1/4 cup/50 grams white sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon sea salt, fine grind

3. Cut up the butter into tiny pieces. Use a knife or pastry cutter to chop the butter up into small cubes, no more than 1/4 inch/6 millimeters:

12 tablespoons/170 grams unsalted butter

Dump this into the bowl of dry ingredients, and put the whole bowl in the fridge for 1/2 hour. You want everything to be nice and cold before you do the next step, so don’t rush it.

4. Preheat your oven. Take all that excitement and use it to put a rack in the middle of your oven and preheat to 375 degrees for about 30 minutes. Then read a book or maybe just sit and ponder life until all that stuff is nice and cold and your oven is nice and hot.

5. Cut in the butter. Take that cold bowl out of the fridge, and cut the butter into the flour with a spatula, bench knife, pastry cutter, or your fingers if you must, breaking it up into small pieces. You want all of the butter to be no bigger than peas, and most of it more like coarse sand.

6. Fold in the filling ingredients of your choice. Toss in the special stuff and mix til everything’s dispersed evenly.

7. Mix in the cream. Now pour in that delicious, magical liquid known as heavy cream, and mush it up with your hands:

1 cup/240 milliliters heavy cream

Optional bonus move: replace 1/3 cup/75 milliliters of the heavy cream with creme fraiche. Whoa.

This dough should feel pretty darn stiff, very similar to playdough. Once all the cream is absorbed, turn the dough out onto a floured counter and fold the dough over on itself repeatedly for about 30 seconds. Not too much, just enough to give it the strength to stand up in the oven.

8. Gently shape the scones. Use nonstick spray or put a piece of parchment paper on your baking sheet. Gently grab about 1/4 cup/100 grams of scone dough, and lightly form it into a ball. Place each scone on your baking sheet, with about 3 inches/7.5 centimeters space around each one. They are going to spread out, so don’t crowd these suckers! If you are doing sweet scones, brush their tops with cream and sprinkle with sugar.

9. Bake those babies off. Into the oven! Take care not to overbake these little sweeties. Set your timer for 10 minutes and take a peek, but likely they’ll need another 8 to 12 minutes. You’ll know they’re done when their peaks and perimeters are starting to turn dark brown.

10. Once they’re done, take them out and let them cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then use a spatula or bench knife to move them to a cooling rack. Let them cool for 5 minutes, then eat them all and take a nap. 

Follow @sirenevirbila for more on food and wine.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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