Last week’s bake was all but finished when I realized I’d forgotten to make my offering to the goddess of the ovens, Fornax!
Last Thursday, Feb. 17, was the final day of the Festival of Fornacalia, a day when Roman bakers made an offering of spelt grain (they tossed some into their hot ovens) and asked for Fornax’s blessing for the coming year. Thanks to hot ovens for the year past, blessings of hot ovens for the year to come!
I’d written about it, stating my intention out loud that I’d honour Fornax. Flowers, spelt, prayers. And I done forgot! I got too distracted with my dough mixing and completely forgot my plan to honour the Roman deity — if only for a bit of fun, a bit of bread-making tradition.
Would my negligence cause the female deity to take a dim view of the Happy Monk for this oversight? Apparently not!
An offering from Fornax?
Last Friday morning, while the loaves were cooling down, I remembered leaving a Seed Feast loaf in the oven because it hadn’t finished baking.
“Five more minutes,” I thought. I turned the oven off, then promptly forgot about it.
I smelled the burning much later.
The loaf wasn’t entirely black. How about deep caramel? The bottom was charred, but it looked pretty. There was a lovely sheen, a pronounced Seed Feast scoring, and a pleasing pattern of caramelized pumpkin seeds.
I’d hold this one back from Happy Monk customers. Too risky to send it out! Many would be offended by a burned loaf. This one would have to be mine!
I smiled, too! It was a chance to post my charred loaf on Instagram with the hashtag “#showusyourfuckedloaves.”
It’s an Instagram point of honour, your bread-baking mistakes. An opportunity to show your humility instead of all the time posting pictures of your perfect loaves. The perfectly shaped ones, beautifully coloured, sliced open to reveal the ideal crumb, steam rising, a pat of butter melting into it.
Chad Robertson 1 calls them “aspirational loaves.” Not the ones on #showusyourfuckedloaves. Other bakers call them “homely loaves.”
The commenters on the Instagram picture said the loaf looked delicious!
“What’s wrong with that … I love caramel colours,” said @leavenbread09 of the photo I posted (see above).
“I think it’s pretty good!” wrote @chez_sjann, a baker from Spain.
“I’d love to see a slice. It looks entirely edible to me,” implored @jvallas.
It was sublime!
I’ve forgotten about loaves inside Mildrith before. Mostly they have been inedible, black and brown through and through — an embarrassment, fortunately, to me alone — and a laugh for those who follow #showusyourfuckedloaves.
Maybe the commenters were right about this one, though! I cut it open for a look, and behold!
The crust shattered under the bread knife. The crumb was lovely and airy (by my standards) and moist! Biting into it with a bit of salted vegan butter, it was delicious! The second slice even tolerated a schmear of Happy Monk Seville and Blood Orange Marmalade.
There was no escaping the charred flavour, though. The bottom crust was the blackest, but it didn’t have the gritty, sandy texture that some bread has when it’s blackened beyond hope.
There was no need to cut the crust off. Its smokiness was sublime! I savoured every mouthful!
A point of honour
There is a point of honour among many bakers who only want to show off their best loaves. Those that are perfectly shaped, beautifully scored and baked to burnished excellence.
Yet bread, in the end, is just bread. Has been thus for thousands of years and will continue to be. A baker who takes pride in their craft can push for great flavour and a beautiful finish. But in the end, it’s food and sustenance.
There’s an egotistic pride in raising our best loaves to friends, customers, hungry mouths. Or to the Instagram bread feed. You want people to admire your work, your skill. To think, “Yeah! Here’s a well-made loaf.”
Sometimes, as in my case, egotism extends to showing off our failures, too. “Ha!” I say to the #showusyourfuckedloaves followers, “I’m imperfect, too. I’m human! Isn’t that great?”
On some level, it’s all an expression of ego, whether in pride or humbleness. The genuinely humble baker toils through the night, hoists huge tubs of dough, shapes countless boules, batards, baguettes, and tends the oven or fire. They put the best foot forward, move each freshly baked loaf to the display case or to the paper bag and expect only a modest thanks.
The humble baker
The truly humble baker doesn’t seek the spotlight, secure alone in their baker role. The one who is simply the one that bakes the bread, provides sustenance to the community.
But is there any such thing as a selfless baker … or butcher, or candlestick maker? Any endeavour, really, is propelled by ego, and thus we celebrate our triumphs and losses.
The mistake of forgetting about the last loaf in the oven turned into a bit of a triumph. A burnished loaf, a little overdone, but one with a sublime flavour. This one was first greeted with dismay and self-recrimination but turned out to be nice to look at, delicious. A blessing in disguise.
Thanks be to Fornax!
Do you see, now? That Seed Feast loaf must have been my offering to Fornax, though I hadn’t realized it at the time. But she received it as thus and returned her blessing in the form of this exquisite loaf, a loaf that only Fornax could have provided. With it, she bestowed on the Happy Monk Baker her own blessing in return: a perfectly imperfect loaf. A Fornax-style Seed Feast! I look forward to lots of warmth for Mildrith for the coming year, and lots of bread for the coming year!
Thanks be to Fornax, almighty keeper of the ovens and warmth, of wheat fields and plenty!
Happy Monk Tidings - May 18, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Olive Bread; UPDATE: Canal Bridge project postponed; Assume normal delivery schedule; BLOG: The Breadman's Quest for the Stanley Cup - [See LinkTree in Profile ]...
Fun visit from @thiswolfeislandlife on bread day Friday. Laura Buckley and partner Peter from Wolfe Island near Kingston, ON to compare notes and share a few laughs. So great when bakers get together! Thanks for the photos, Laura! See you next on Wolfe Island!
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This guy, Davy Rippner, @leathersmithe, our neighbourhood sandal-maker, wood-chopper and story teller extraordinaire, is one of my best buddies. He comes every Friday morning to help me bag each loaf of bread and get ‘em out the door in time for delivery. He turns the whole process into a heck of a lotta fun, laughs and great conversation. Lucky to have him as a friend and Happy Monk helper. These are Spelt-Honey Sourdough loaves, by the way. Adapted from Michael James’ Tivoli Road Baker.
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Mooning for the camera, first light on bake day, with the first load of Salish Sourdough singing at the table..
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These corn kernels are headed to the mill to make cornmeal for Anadama Bread this week. It’s a bread with origins on the east coast, but that shouldn’t stop us west coasters from enjoying it, too, godanadamit! This is organic field corn from @fieldstoneorganics of Armstrong, B.C. … and the hard red whole wheat from Metchosin, B.C. make this Happy Monk take on Anadama a bona fide west coast phenomenon! Just sayin’!
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I cut open the loaf to reveal a pretty pleasing and moist crumb. Wow! If you don’t mind a little char, this burned loaf has some pleasures, like a super crispy crust contrasted with the soft crumb and the nutty chew. The char does dominate the flavour, though 😂. But would you put it in the display case of your bakery? (Thanks for the comments, all 😉)...
John-boy’s got his arms loaded with a bunch of Happy Monk bread, one of his favourite states of being. He’s generous to a fault, though, and spread the loaves around his close circle of friends. That’s m’boy!...
The 2kg Desem miche is out of focus, in the back ‘cause it would have drowned out the little 1kg Durum Sesame loaf in front. The miche is a monster but every bit as delish as the Durum loaf! The Desem’s coming soon! Won’t be a miche, though!...