Local Flours Sours: Duchess Bread (Part One)

You know your family thinks you are slightly obsessed about something when supporting your hobby winds up under the Christmas tree in holiday gift form.

After baking some hundreds of loaves of sourdough the last couple years, I guess my family has noticed my obsession. This year I received a 5kg bag of bread flour under the Christmas tree.

But let me back up…

There is a well-known local French-style bakery in Edmonton called Duchess Bake Shop.

There are now two locations, but for years but one address served a frequently long line up of customers selling pastries and sweets from a building in a gentrified neighbourhood just west of the downtown core.

I’m not really a sweets and confections guy, but I respect a good local bakery, and I’ve stood in my share of queues for a box of goodies from Duchess.

My wife, on the other hand, will line up for a week for the right cookie. And in her quest to locate and single-handedly support all our local bakeries through tough pandemic financial times, she has become well acquainted with the online menus of many of these local establishments.

As it turns out, Duchess not only sells baked goods but also sells baking ingredients, including — that’s right — 5kg bags of their own custom bread flour blend.

Holiday mode now falling behind us as we resume our normal back to the grind lives, I cracked open my Christmas present and prepped my standard sandwich loaf dough with 500g of bakery bread flour blend.

Now details on both the bag and the website are scarce, so I don’t know exactly what makes this flour special or unique in any way. Maybe it’s locally milled. Maybe it’s a unique blend prepared for the French bakery’s secret receipes. Or maybe it’s just flour and it has been bagged for the sole purpose of supporting their charity of choice.

Either way, I’ve got a pair of loaves proofing on the counter and my obsession-meets-gift flour will soon be transformed into some delicious sourdough. It gives a new meaning to “Christmas bread.”

Check back for part two to find out how it turned out!

Merry Christmas

What did you want this year
… and get?

Too much.

As I was wrapping up my work email for the holiday break yesterday, thumbing through my last few messages, a long thank you note rolled in from the president of a company with which my team does a significant amount of business.

It concluded with a bit of an explanation:

“We had thought about sending out our usual gift baskets this year,” he wrote, “ but with the logistics of everyone working from home we decided not to do that.”

”Instead,” he continued, “we have made a large donation to the food bank in the names of all our clients.”

I remember in past years when over the last week before the Christmas break a few big boxes of chocolates or candies would appear and everyone would pick away at them as the last few days wound down to vacation. As much as I know the work I do is appreciated by some, the mundane and behind-the-scenes nature of being a technology professional means a lot of it also goes unnoticed. It’s nice to be appreciated, and a bix box of treats definitely helps.

It’s a weird thing to miss, but then again there a lot of things missing these days, huh?

I hit the reply button and typed something back, thanking him and wishing him a Merry Christmas.

We miss the sweets, but most of us are doing the kind of work we do to make the world a more interesting place, not for the Christmas baskets.

I got too much of the things I thought I wanted this past year, but seeing a simple little gesture like that, as basic and seemling obvious as it is reminded me that what I really wanted this year was for the world to be a little gentler, more caring, and generous to each other.

So, I guess I got a little of that, at least.

Thirty one topics. Thirty one posts. Not exactly a list… but close. In December I like to look back on the year that was. My daily posts in December-ish are themed-ish and may contain spoilers set against the backdrop of some year-end-ish personal exposition.

Salted Toffee Crisps

For the span of a whole weekend in early December it seemed like I couldn’t look on my social media feeds and subscriptions without seeing a recipe for some kind of homemade chocolate toffee bar.

In fact, I saw this (or a variation of this) recipe online on Youtube, Instagram, and Twitter no less than four times before I got curious enough to copy the ingredients into my shopping list and try my hand at baking my own version.

What is your best winter treat recipe this year?

It turns out it was a fast and simple treat with lots of room for variation (particularly in the topping) making it a year round sweet with opportunity for a holiday twist only limited by your imagination in substituting the nuts for candy, sprinkles, or whatever.

Salted Toffee Crisps

150g Crackers (Saltines or Graham)
250ml Butter
250ml Dark Brown
Sugar
500ml Chocolate, Chips (Semi Sweet)
250ml Chopped Nuts (Cashews or Peanuts)
5ml Sea Salt

While you are preheating the oven to 400F you can line a baking sheet with some parchment and tile out the crackers to completely cover the base of the sheet. The butter and brown sugar go into a saucepan and combine to a boil for a minimum of three minutes. An experienced candy maker is going to jump in here and substitute some exacting time and temperatures for the right crack stage of cooking sugar, but I did this blind without a thermometer (because that’s what the internets promised me would work) and it worked just fine. After the boil, the mixture coats the crackers and the baking sheet goes into the oven for five to six minutes. A dash of salt is followed by spreading the chocolate chips on the hot toffee and smoothing it even as it melts into a decadent coating atop the still-hot candy layer. I topped with chopped peanuts, but online I saw crumbled candy canes, M&Ms and other kinds of nuts, too. Cooled, this cracks or cuts into cookie-sized pieces and (if it lasts longer than a few days) holds up in the freezer for the holidays.

Enjoy!

Thirty one topics. Thirty one posts. Not exactly a list… but close. In December I like to look back on the year that was. My daily posts in December-ish are themed-ish and may contain spoilers set against the backdrop of some year-end-ish personal exposition.

Short: Long Weekend & Floury Friday

In Canada, we celebrate our Thanksgiving in October.

The right way.

And as we prepare a large meal for Sunday evening, my wife is out shopping for a fresh turkey and I’ve spent Friday evening getting my sourdough started.

While making sourdough has become fairly routine around our house, I find myself usually making sandwich loaves. In fact, over the duration of the pandemic I’ve baked about two hundred and twenty sandwich loaves … but only four classic dome loaves.

So, Thanksgiving is a lot of things, but it’s a thankful opportunity to bake up a beautiful classic loaf of sourdough to enjoy with our Sunday dinner. I settled on a basic white flour loaf with about twenty percent organic spelt mixed in. Nothing beats sopping up some turkey gravy than a thick slice of buttered sourdough, after all.

And of course, the work starts on Friday.