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No longer a ‘bread bro’!

My father’s prize chrysanthemums ready for shipping to a local flower show, circa 1959. Each bloom was a masterpiece, thanks to his meticulous, science-driven approach. A young Happy Monk baker, foreground, took note of his father’s ways and favoured a scientific method when he first started making sourdough bread. Today, I am trying to be more intuitive.

My father’s passion, for a few years of my childhood, was growing prize chrysanthemums.

I remember watching him in the garden, painstakingly pulling brown or misshapen petals from the blooms with a pair of tweezers. Or wrapping the flowers with tissue bags, or building an elaborate sheet plastic roof over the plot.

In later years, we uncovered his chrysanthemum notebooks, which detailed watering schedules, insect treatments or feedings, along with dates, times, and results.

He was a medical doctor and brought his scientific method to bear on this pastime. He got results, too, winning multiple prizes in local competitions. To this day, our cutlery drawers are full of silver spoons — prizes — engraved with phrases like “Best Bloom in Show, North Vancouver Amateur Chrysanthemum Association, 1961.”

He was a competitive fellow, my old man. He won a lot of prizes. A few of the club members eventually suggested he not enter so many of his flowers, so others could have a shot at winning something. I think he left the club entirely soon after. He needed to excel. To him, there was no point in holding back. It had to be all or nothing.

He grew chrysanthemums for a few years afterward but eventually stopped.

Scientific bread-making vs. intuitive

I did not inherit my father’s fierce competitiveness. I often find myself, though, turning to scientific method and technology when it comes to bread-making. A bit of science provides some useful knowledge. But intuitive bread-making is ultimately a more enjoyable, relaxed approach.

And one I am finally beginning to depend on.

My @happymonkbaker Instagram feed is densely populated with bakers and home bread-makers and includes hundreds of bread shots and videos of people’s shaping techniques.

A favorite image or video is the “crumb-shot,” a picture of the interior structure of a given piece of bread. We are supposed to be impressed with the size of the air holes and gluten structure. An “open crumb,” a deep mahogany crust colour, elaborate scoring patterns on the crust — these are all marks of a baker’s skill and mastery.

Here is a typical Instagram caption attached to a bread photo:

Loaf from yesterday’s cut video. 80% bread flour, 20% whole wheat, 80% hydration, 2% salt, Leaven was 100% hydration, whole wheat, young (4 hours), and comprised of 10% of total *dough* weight (60g for a 600g loaf). Hand mixed via Rubaud Method for 10 minutes. Bulk for 3.5 hours, low 80s F, with coil folds at 60 minutes and 120 minutes (around 40% rise in volume).

This caption makes perfect sense to a bread nerd such as myself. It tells me everything I’d need to know if I wanted to replicate the bread in the picture. It is a complete shorthand recipe and method for a loaf of bread.

Bread bro’s rule, dude!

There is a school of modern bread makers that thrive on this precision approach to bread making. They believe they can make better loaves, with better oven spring, better crumb structure, better crusts following a scientific, technology-driven method.

A early Happy Monk crumb-shot … this is a good, open crumb with big holes, suggesting a moist, strong dough that is nicely proofed and shaped.

There is a pejorative term for them: “Bread, bro’s.”

I’m probably a bit of a bread bro.

The term was made famous in an article published last year in the online “Eater” magazine. It was titled: “Do You Even Bake, Bro?

The article suggested Silicon Valley tech workers had fallen in love with sourdough and were seeking to apply their technology-driven aesthetic to bread making. They held they could make bread better with their testosterone tech approach. In other words, they were “disrupting” the 6,000-year-old craft of making bread.

The article also suggested that the sourdough trend was mostly male-dominated. Equally skilled women bakers were overlooked by the brash posturing of the male hobbyists.

A little science helps

I’ve been making sourdough bread for much of the eight years I’ve lived on Pender Island. I’ve amassed a library of bread books, studied them, watched countless YouTube videos, corresponded with other bakers on the Internet, and made a few friends in the process.

Let me say that nothing could be simpler to make than a loaf of bread. Four ingredients: flour, salt, water, yeast.

Anyone can make bread with a little practice. You don’t need a 38-page recipe and method to make a loaf of simple country bread, as is the case with the Chad Robertson tome, Tartine Bread. That is the book that turned me into a sourdough bread bro.

Like my father and his chrysanthemums, I was convinced that if I followed the Robertson method, a scientific approach, I could produce loaves of unparalleled beauty and taste.

If my dough was 78ºF at the end of mixing, if I performed six sets of coil folds on the dough during bulk fermentation and if I proofed my bread for 16 hours before shaping and baking, I could produce loaves identical to the ones that came out of Robertson’s Tartine Bakery in San Francisco.

A few times, I came close. Most of the time, I fell short of my ideal. The crumb wasn’t open enough. There was a gummy layer at the base of the loaf. The underside of the crust was scorched.

There is no mystery to a great loaf of bread

All the while, Jennifer proclaimed the bread to be the best she’d eaten. Dinner guests raved. Friends and neighbours were delighted with the samples I offered.

My bread making has developed into a more intuitive approach than scientific — less “bread bro,” more feminine. I no longer need to measure the temperature of my dough to know it’s time to shape it. I can tell by the feel of the dough that the gluten structure is proceeding nicely and that the dough is rising.

It’s easy to see now that the data-driven scientific approach was useful only to a point. As I learned more about dough through experience, I found it less helpful to follow dough temperatures, hydration rates, and enzymatic activity in sourdough culture. The joy of making bread is listening to the dough, finding new ways to develop flavour, creating beautiful looking loaves.

Science took me so far, but I am gradually finding my way back to the old ways.

Happy Monk Tidings - September 28, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: The Approachable Loaf; Blog: This Island of Apples; South Pender Growers and Makers Market [ See LinkTree in Profile ]
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#apples #applebread #applelove #approachable #approachableloaf #breadlabcollective #breadlab

Happy Monk Tidings - September 28, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: The Approachable Loaf; Blog: This Island of Apples; South Pender Growers and Makers Market [ See LinkTree in Profile ]
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#apples #applebread #applelove #approachable #approachableloaf #breadlabcollective #breadlab
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Happy Monk Tidings - September 21, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Harvest Bread; BLOG: Greetings from St. Francis and Mildrith; The Wood-Fired Oven's Back in Business [ See LinkTree in Profile]

Happy Monk Tidings - September 21, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Harvest Bread; BLOG: Greetings from St. Francis and Mildrith; The Wood-Fired Oven's Back in Business [ See LinkTree in Profile] ...

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Introducing this bread, Raven Ring Bread (a take on Hapanleipä, a Finnish bread) a recipe borrowed from @ravenbreads. The stand is made by my neighbour, Ken, a gifted woodworker. See you at the South Pender Growers and Makers Market, if it don’t rain too hard!

Introducing this bread, Raven Ring Bread (a take on Hapanleipä, a Finnish bread) a recipe borrowed from @ravenbreads. The stand is made by my neighbour, Ken, a gifted woodworker. See you at the South Pender Growers and Makers Market, if it don’t rain too hard! ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - September 2, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice : Volkornbrot (German Rye); Blog: The Golden Loaf of Gorsefield Rye; NOTE: We're closing two weeks for Mildrith Maintenance [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - September 2, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice : Volkornbrot (German Rye); Blog: The Golden Loaf of Gorsefield Rye; NOTE: We're closing two weeks for Mildrith Maintenance [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - August 24, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice this week: Spelt and Honey Sourdough; Blog: The Great Kind Mystery; SPECIAL NOTE: Mildrith needs an upgrade [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

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Happy Monk Tidings - August 10, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Double-Fermented Oat Bread; BLOG: Resuscitating Mildrith; Reminder: No Bread Next Week! [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

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It was a dirty day, Wednesday. The sky hadn't been washed, the ocean was soiled, and the air was muggy and smelled oily. Then, moments before the rain started, the sun shone through and a glorious slash of colour opened up. And a rainbow! No unicorns, sadly.

It was a dirty day, Wednesday. The sky hadn't been washed, the ocean was soiled, and the air was muggy and smelled oily. Then, moments before the rain started, the sun shone through and a glorious slash of colour opened up. And a rainbow! No unicorns, sadly. ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - August 3, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Anadama Bread; BLOG: Dog Days of Summer; Special Note: No Bread August 19 [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - August 3, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Anadama Bread; BLOG: Dog Days of Summer; Special Note: No Bread August 19 [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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Dog days. The beginning of summer mellowness. Baked in languor. But sometimes it's hard to let go. Shouldn't I be baking something? [See LinkTree in Profile ]
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#penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery
#happymonkbakingcompany #dogdays #dogdaysofsummer #southerngulfislands
#southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #southerngulfislandsbc

Dog days. The beginning of summer mellowness. Baked in languor. But sometimes it's hard to let go. Shouldn't I be baking something? [See LinkTree in Profile ]
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#penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery
#happymonkbakingcompany #dogdays #dogdaysofsummer #southerngulfislands
#southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #southerngulfislandsbc
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Happy Monk Tidings - July 27, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Whole Grain White Wheat; Blog: Call Me Ishmael; Video: How the U.S. Ruined Bread; Announcements [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - July 27, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Whole Grain White Wheat; Blog: Call Me Ishmael; Video: How the U.S. Ruined Bread; Announcements [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - July 20, 2022 🍞 - BAKER'S CHOICE: Rye and Currants; BLOG: Blessed; EXTRA: World's Oldest Sourdough? [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - July 20, 2022 🍞 - BAKER'S CHOICE: Rye and Currants; BLOG: Blessed; EXTRA: World's Oldest Sourdough? [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - July 13, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Bird Seed Bread; Blog: Down to the Crossroads, Medicine Beach; Baking your own bread guides - [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

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This is James Morton, my father, who would have been 100 years old today if we hadn't lost him 36 years ago. I've surpassed him in living age and spent more years without him than with him, yet he still whispers in my ear and is a great listener when I talk to him. Taken at 14th Ave. and Burgess St., Burnaby, 'round about 1955. Handsome devil, ain't he?

This is James Morton, my father, who would have been 100 years old today if we hadn't lost him 36 years ago. I've surpassed him in living age and spent more years without him than with him, yet he still whispers in my ear and is a great listener when I talk to him. Taken at 14th Ave. and Burgess St., Burnaby, 'round about 1955. Handsome devil, ain't he? ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - July 6, 2022 🍞 - BAKER'S CHOICE: Cinnamon-Raisin Bread; BLOG: Filling the Belly: Words vs. Loaves [ See LinkTree in profile ]

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How many times have I seen these loaves tumble out of the oven! If I’m not in a rush, I like to pile them up and just stand near them a moment, feeling their heat, hearing them crackle, their glorious warm aroma! Seems like a miracle, been working hard since the dark hours of morning, heard the first birdsong, seen freighters moving silently through Boundary Pass, a gentle breeze coming up from the ocean. I know I’ll pay for all this later in the day with fatigue and there’ll be several days catching up with sleep. Is it worth it all? Three years into Happy Monk Baking, I still say yes. Happy sleeping, everyone!
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bakery #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #breadmaking🍞 #sourdough #sourdoughbread #rusticbread, #breadhead, #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #penderisland

How many times have I seen these loaves tumble out of the oven! If I’m not in a rush, I like to pile them up and just stand near them a moment, feeling their heat, hearing them crackle, their glorious warm aroma! Seems like a miracle, been working hard since the dark hours of morning, heard the first birdsong, seen freighters moving silently through Boundary Pass, a gentle breeze coming up from the ocean. I know I’ll pay for all this later in the day with fatigue and there’ll be several days catching up with sleep. Is it worth it all? Three years into Happy Monk Baking, I still say yes. Happy sleeping, everyone!
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bakery #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #breadmaking🍞 #sourdough #sourdoughbread #rusticbread, #breadhead, #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #penderisland
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Happy Monk Tidings - June 29, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Rustic Peasant Bread; Blog: A Pinch of Salt, A Pinch of Life [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

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Happy Monk Tidings - June 22, 2022 🍞 - Bakers Choice: Sprouted Rye and Seed Bread; BLOG: Henry Miller and the Staff of Life — [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

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Happy Monk Tidings - June 15, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Cranberry-Pecan Sourdough Bread; Blog: Breakfast on Bloomsday https://mailchi.mp/4c924688ed54/happy_monk_tidings_june15

Happy Monk Tidings - June 15, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Cranberry-Pecan Sourdough Bread; Blog: Breakfast on Bloomsday https://mailchi.mp/4c924688ed54/happy_monk_tidings_june15 ...

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Fun at 4 in the morning … first load of bread in the oven, first light, first birdsong, making the treacherous walk back inside with a tower of bannetons. In the rain.
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#bakerslife #bakersofinstagram #baking #baker #woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #bread #sourdoughbread #sourdough #bbga #realbread #naturallyleavened #artisanbread #artisanbreadbaker #rusticbread #breadhead #breadlove #breadhour #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries

Fun at 4 in the morning … first load of bread in the oven, first light, first birdsong, making the treacherous walk back inside with a tower of bannetons. In the rain.
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#bakerslife #bakersofinstagram #baking #baker #woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #bread #sourdoughbread #sourdough #bbga #realbread #naturallyleavened #artisanbread #artisanbreadbaker #rusticbread #breadhead #breadlove #breadhour #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries
...

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Happy Monk Tidings - June 1, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Fig and Fennel Sourdough; Happy Monk Blog: The Golden City [ LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - June 1, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Fig and Fennel Sourdough; Happy Monk Blog: The Golden City [ LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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Post to The Happy Monk Baking Company
Happy Monk Tidings - May 25, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice this week: Sprouted Kamut Bread; Blog: A Paean to Rye Bread: Deeply Felt and Honest [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Post to The Happy Monk Baking Company
Happy Monk Tidings - May 25, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice this week: Sprouted Kamut Bread; Blog: A Paean to Rye Bread: Deeply Felt and Honest [ See LinkTree in Profile ]
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