Sunday, November 30, 2008

Pendentives and Squinches

I have always had a hard time explaining the difference between a squinch and a pendentive to my students, in part because I have never had good pictures of either.
Well, I just got back from EGYPT and among the hundreds of pictures I took were some mosque ceilings.
This upper one is a squinch,
from the 12th century Al-Hussein mosque in Islamic Cairo:

And this detail shows a dome supported on pendentives,
from the dome of the Muhummad Ali Mosque in Cairo's citadel,
built in the 19th century:

Here are some fancy 14th century pendentives from the An Nassir Mohammed Mosque in the Citadel of Salah-AdDin (Saladin) at Cairo:

Pendentives curve out,
squinches curve in.
I think this will help teach that point more effectively.
I will have many, many more posts to come!

Monday, November 17, 2008


November is not my favorite month.
Too grey and dull.
And it can be cold.
But when the weather is mild and the snow hits the mountains,
it can still be beautiful.
These views of Timp are from Heber Valley and Deer Creek Reservoir area.
I love that mountain!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Peasant Bread

My ultimate goal with sourdough was always to bake a reasonable facsimile of medieval peasant bread: a recipe that was 100% rye, not too fine, made only with rye, water, salt and a non commercial leavening agent such as sourdough or brewer's yeast.
I went back to one of my British recipes that had given me fits a few weeks ago,
and tried it with my nice starter that had provably worked in the Czech country loaf I posted about earlier.
(By the way, I think I know why my earlier starters were flops.
I think the flour was too old.
Rye flour is not exactly selling fast off the shelves, even in health food stores, and I didn't have any success until I started grinding my own flour from whole rye berries, using my handy Lee Mill, which also does excellent wheat flour too.)

So, I mixed up my starter refresher:

This is the dough after 12 hours
(recipe said let it sit 12-24 hours).
Look how nicely it doubled:

Then I mixed up the dough proper,
with more water, and flour and salt:

Then I let THAT rise (see following post.)

Peasant Bread Too

The dough is very wet, and it is easiest to put it into the pan using a rubber scraper:

But it rose!

Unlike wheat bread, though, baking did not cause it to rise further:

Slicing into the bread (after resting 24 hours as recommended) revealed a slightly gooey crumb. I think that this is just a characteristic of rye, but I may try baking it slightly longer next time.
It has a decent flavor (especially if you like sourdough.)

Of course, I could increase medieval authenticity by using coarser flour
(and adding grit and maybe ergotism poisoning too but I'll skip those, thanks).
It will do very well for student demonstrations as it is,
which is what I'm after.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sourdough Success!

Today I finally made a successful sourdough recipe!
It was a wheat/rye bread from a book called _Local Breads_
which had been recommended to me.
I finally got my starter to a point that looked viable,
and then refreshed it:

And stirred it down, ready to add it to the dough:

Here's the dough:
whole wheat flour (though the recipe said white),
rye flour,
It's quite stiff:

Now for the sourdough addition:

After the preliminary mixing with the spatula,
I left the rest to my KitchenAid
(see below).

Sourdough Success Continued

Initial dough mixing:

Then, after resting it and kneading again with the dough hook,
nice, smooth elastic dough
(how I love my KitchenAid!)

Putting the dough aside to rise:

And it DID rise!

Sourdough Success Concluded

Here are the final steps.
The dough shaped into small rounds, as the recipe states:

The risen round, dusted with flour,
is 'docked' by poking with a skewer,
before being baked in the oven on parchment paper placed over a baking stone:

Baked loaves:

Loaf interior:

The crust is exceptionally good, thanks to the high oven heat and the steaming technique described in the book.
I really liked this bread.
It has a very lovely flavor.
Not as sour as San Francisco sourdough, for instance,
it reminded me of a bread version of Rye Krisp crackers that I used to eat when I was a child.