29
Jun 08

How to Make Good (Beer) Bread

A lot of people have asked for this recipe, and I keep promising to write it down, so here goes. You can use any kind of beer, and get a wonderful variety of colours and flavours, but I tend to prefer it with dark ales; they give the bread a darker crumb like a rye bread, and have a really malty, yeasty flavour that I like.  Really hoppy beers do a totally different thing, you should experiment.

I can’t take any credit for this at all – it’s how the French have made bread for 500 years, I suspect (albeit more often with water than beer.)  It takes about 15 minutes of active work (most of it up front), 30 minutes of baking (all of it at the end) and hours in between when you go and do other things.

Ingredients:

  • 1lb flour (white, whole wheat, whatever turns your crank.  I have pretty good success starting with about 10-14oz unbleached white flour, and topping up with whole wheat, but going all white flour is the classic french bread recipe) plus some for working.
  • One 12oz bottle of beer (or, I suppose, 12oz of water).
  • 2tsp salt
  • 1tsp instant yeast (if you buy the traditional yeast instead of instant, I presume you already know how to activate it)

Method in Brief:

  • Combine dry ingredients
  • Stir in beer
  • Knead
  • Cover, let rise for at least 1 hour
  • Punch down mixture, recover.  Let rise for at least 2 hours or refrigerated overnight
  • Pre-heat oven to 450F
  • Form dough into loaf, slash top, dust lightly with flour
  • When dough is placed in oven, spray oven surfaces with water, or throw in two ice cubes
  • Bake for 25-30min or until the crust is nicely browned.  Let stand for at least 15 minutes.

Method with Narrative (and an explanation of the ice cubes):

Mix the flour, salt, and yeast in a bowl that you think is too big.

Pour in the beer.  It helps if the beer is not ice cold, since that will really slow down the yeasties.  If you didn’t think to take the beer out earlier, no worries, just run it under a warm tap until it’s no longer cold to the touch.  This is not an exact science, nor should you treat it as such.

Mix with a spoon until the ingredients are combined.  This will be a really sticky dough.  It will make you sad the first couple times, until you learn to recognize the goodness it portents.

Sprinkle some flour on a countertop or other largish surface, and dump the dough out on to it.  Remove any rings or watches.

Now you’re going to knead the dough.  If you’ve never kneaded before, it’s easy.  Your job is basically to keep mooshing the flour molecules past one another so that there is ample opportunity for them to link up into chains called “gluten”.  Gluten is what gives bread its elasticity.  If you are not accustomed to thinking of bread as “elastic”, think about how a slice of bread deals with mashing and stretching (i.e. by mashing and stretching) vs. how a slice of cake does (i.e. by crumbling).  Flour mixtures all tend to form gluten.  Things like kneading help it out (which you do it with bread doughs and not cake doughs), things like fat hinder it (which is why you add things like shortening to cake – so-called because it “shortens” the dough – breaks up the gluten chains).

Kneading is also a nice analog process for getting the flour:beer ratio right, since your natural stickiness aversion will tend to have you adding sprinkles of flour as you work the dough and the surface becomes sticky again and again.  To knead, use your fingers, knuckles, or palms to stretch the dough out along one axis, then fold it over on itself and repeat.  When it gets too sticky to work with (try to keep it as sticky as you can stand) add more flour.  You don’t have to do this for long, 5-10 minutes is probably fine.  When you’re done, you’ll see a difference in the dough ball: if you stretch it a little, it will bounce back mostly into shape.

You’re basically done the hard work.

Throw the dough ball into a big bowl.  If you’re clever, you will have really lightly oiled the bowl first (not like a muffin pan or anything, just a shot of Pam, or a dab of canola oil swooshed around on a paper towel) because it will make the dough easier to remove later.  Throw a dishcloth over the bowl and leave it somewhere warm in your kitchen to think about life.  If your oven is a newer one with a “Proof” setting, now is when you can use it.

You don’t want to cook the dough here, you just want the yeasties to be at a happy temperature.  In case you weren’t clear, yeast are little, edible, live fungi that eat sugars in flour (among other things) and leave alcohol and carbon dioxide gas as well as a host of mostly nice-tasting things in their wake.  The alcohol is mostly incidental for our purposes here, though there is a delightful symmetry in the fact that we’re mixing beer (grains + yeast + water = alcohol and incidentally CO2) and bread (grains + yeast + water = CO2 and incidentally alcohol).  Point is, these guys will work through the flour making little bubbles as they go, which give our bread the ability to rise.  Very exciting.

After an hour or two, your dough will have doubled in size.  The only problem with cooking it right now is that your bubbles will not be evenly distributed.  You’ll probably actually have a couple giant bubbles that will lead to silly looking bread.  And anyhow, that’s not actually the only reason – giving the yeast more time also lets them develop more interesting flavours.

What you CAN do after an hour (or two, or three, this is not an exact science) is what bakers call “punching down.”  You can leave the dough in the bowl, but basically what you want to do is re-distribute the bubbles through the dough, and bust up any big ones.  Just rotate the bowl around, folding the edge back towards the center until you’ve got a ball again without any obvious giant bubbles.  It will lose some of its newfound volume too, that’s okay.  The yeasties still have plenty to work with.

What you do now is up to you.  You could wait another hour and bake it and have tasty bread.  You could go out for the afternoon and then bake it for dinner and have very tasty bread.  Personally, I do this on a Saturday, with an eye to baking it on Sunday, so I give it the rest of the day to rise, and then I’ll generally punch it down a second time and put it in the fridge overnight.  By Sunday dinner, I have me some outstandingly tasty bread.  Again, I’m not taking credit, the recipe is as old as the hills.  But ask around, my Sunday night bread kicks ass.  Anyhow, time passes.

Your dough should be room temperature when you go to bake it which is trivial unless you’ve gone for the (highly recommended!) overnight rise in the fridge.  Why not just leave it to rise overnight, out of the fridge, I hear you ask?  By all means, give it a shot.  It will rise a lot, and the surface will feel like silk, and it will be nearly impossible to handle (think about trying to form a loaf out of steam, say).  But I admire your moxie.

Every time you manipulate your dough, some of the bubbles will collapse.  They’ll come back as long as there is anything else for your yeast to eat (which there will be), so don’t worry, but it does mean that you don’t really want to be doing any dough manipulation immediately before baking.  I deal with this by forming the loaf and putting it on a sheet of parchment for the final rise, since parchment can go directly into the oven.  Pro-tip: wax paper is not parchment.

This is a French bread recipe, so you want to bake it on a stone or, failing that, a cookie sheet.  You don’t put this in a loaf pan.  That means that you have considerable flexibility on the size and shape of your loaf.  You can sort of just plop your bread ball down and make a round “boule” loaf, or you can form it into the standard french-stick ellipsoid.  The only trick here is to try to ensure that the “skin” of the loaf, the soon-to-be-crust, is stretched nicely instead of lying slack.  To do that, as you’re shaping it, curl the sides of the loaf down under itself, so that the top skin stretches.  This is easier to do than to describe – you’ll get the hang of it.

Heat your oven to 450F (convection ovens are yay, and will generally be smart enough to re-interpret that as 425F since they do a better job of baking.  If yours doesn’t, help it out.)  If you have a baking stone, it should obviously be in there too.  When the oven is hot, right before putting the bread in, slash the top a few times and dust it with a little more flour.  Not only does this give it a classic look, but it also lets the bread rise more evenly as the bubbles expand in the heat.

Right after you put it in the oven, throw in a few ice cubes.  Not on the bread, just anywhere in the oven.  The ice cubes are key. They will form steam, and the steam will condense on the dough, since it is cooler than the air in the oven.  In the process, they will give up some heat to the surface of the dough.  This makes for very happy crusts, and is the difference between people thinking you cooked bread, and people thinking you are super-awesome.

5 minutes in, you can throw a few more ice cubes in, to finish the job. Be careful when you open the oven door, that steam is going to try to have a party on your face.

Total baking time is about 25 minutes, though I generally have to give whole wheat dough a little bit longer to get a good crust going.

Take it out when it’s ready, put it on some kind of rack to cool.  If you put your ear up next to it, you will hear the signature sound of bread – a crackling as it cools, that makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

Cut thick slices.  Use real butter.  Marvel at how something so easy can taste so good.  I know there’s a lot of words there, but by the third time you do this, it is easier and more rewarding than just about anything else you’ll do in your kitchen.


23
Jun 08

Hello Vancouver! Briefly!

A quick note, to any Vancouverites that may be interested, that I will be in town on Wednesday to speak at the FIRST 2008 conference. The title of the talk is “The Most Important Thing – How Mozilla Does Security, and What You Can Steal.” If you’re attending the conference, I hope I’ll see you there. Once the conference is over, I’ll post my slides and a video of a presentation dry-run, in case anyone is interested.

I had a lot of help from several people, most notably Shaver, in putting this presentation together; my goal is to keep adapting it and ideally get other people giving it as well. Security is something that the Mozilla project has a lot of experience with, and a lot to be proud of. It is important to our mission that we share that expertise. Even when what we’re saying isn’t new (“have unit tests”), the fact that we have achieved the success we have lets us be a proof point for people trying to make change in their own projects (“Mozilla didn’t think code review was too time-intensive.”)

I may not be an official member of the evangelism team, but I will do whatever I can to encourage more people in our community to take their knowledge outbound. We are doing crazy awesome stuff here (how many IT people, on the planet, have dealt with what Justin‘s team has?) and we should consider it an obligation to spread that knowledge around. Heck, that’s actually sort of what my talk is about.


05
Jun 08

Party Planning Tips

Y’all.

It is time for us to be planning up some parties.  Firefox 3 is just around the corner and we have thusly undertaken to begin populating Mozilla Party Central.  I invite you to do likewise – join an existing one, or start your own!

If it helps you in your planning, the Firefox search bar knows things.  Important things.

1 keg in pints


01
Apr 08

New Digs! (Correction)

After publication, I was made aware of some errors in my original post. I have included a corrected version below.

As of today, the Mozilla Toronto office has moved from our building at 20 Richmond to this little out-of-the-way place:

720 Spadina

The CN Tower! 720 Spadina Avenue!

We didn’t want to talk about it until everything was fully settled, but we are now residents of an architectural icon building with a pretty ridiculously excellent view door. Full props to beltzner for scouting out office space, and to ben for orchestrating the move; it’s been a crazy pretty smooth couple of weeks!

Some information about the new office, since it’s a little more noteworthy different than the old one. 🙂

Suite 12811

Q: What is the actual new address?

A: We’re now accepting mail at

Mozilla
301 Front Street, Suite 12811
Toronto, ON
M5V 2T6

Mozilla
720 Spadina Avenue, Suite 218
Toronto, ON
M5S 2T9

Q: Did that say 12811 218?

A: Yep. We’re a loooong way up.

Q: How do I get there?

A: There’s a stairwell. 🙂

Seriously, this can be a bit of a trick the first time is quite straightforward. If you come in through the usual entrance, you’ll be sort of pipelined into the “tourist” sections elevators of the tower. Those elevators won’t will go where you want them to, and the visit will end up costing you significantly more nothing.

Q. Do we get discounts for the tourist areas?

A. We do! As tenants we get basically a pad of discount coupons. Visit us first, and we’ll tear you off a few. No.

Q. What about the view?

A. Oh there’s a view. Of a brick wall. Unfortunately, we only have some cameraphone pictures from our move-in day right now, but we’ll get better ones up soon. In the meantime, here’s a taste.

Gavin checking out a conference room (and missing the view wall):

Closer view through some of the NorthSouth-facing windows (you’ll notice not care that these windows don’t open):

Ahh, April 1.  We really did move, and the new, second floor office in a normal office building really is a big improvement.  The rest though, is a big fat lie (and full credit to madhava for the photo work).  “720 Spadina”, “CN Tower” — the keys are right next to each other.

We regret the error.


01
Apr 08

New Digs!

[This post contained certain errors not caught at press time. Please see the corrected post here.]

As of today, the Mozilla Toronto office has moved from our building at 20 Richmond to this little out-of-the-way place:

CN Tower

The CN Tower!

We didn’t want to talk about it until everything was fully settled, but we are now residents of an architectural icon with a pretty ridiculously excellent view.  Full props to beltzner for scouting out office space, and to ben for orchestrating the move; it’s been a crazy couple of weeks!

Some information about the new office, since it’s a little more noteworthy than the old one.  🙂

Suite 12811

Q: What is the actual new address?

A: We’re now accepting mail at

Mozilla
301 Front Street, Suite 12811
Toronto, ON
M5V 2T6

Q: Did that say 12811?

A: Yep.  We’re a loooong way up.

Q: How do I get there?

A: There’s a stairwell.  🙂

Seriously, this can be a bit of a trick the first time.  If you come in through the usual entrance, you’ll be sort of pipelined into the “tourist” sections of the tower.  Those elevators won’t go where you want them to, and the visit will end up costing you significantly more.

Instead you want to take a hard left when you get in, and follow the signs for “Tower Offices.”  If you get lost, ask one of the tourist reps, they are (unsurprisingly) used to this confusion.  From the office elevators, it’s about a 70 second trip to 128, and we’re the 5th door on the right.

Q. Do we get discounts for the tourist areas?

A. We do!  As tenants we get basically a pad of discount coupons.  Visit us first, and we’ll tear you off a few.

Q. What about the view?

A. Oh there’s a view.  Unfortunately, we only have some cameraphone pictures from our move-in day right now, but we’ll get better ones up soon.  In the meantime, here’s a taste.

Gavin checking out a conference room (and missing the view):
New Office 1

Closer view through some of the North-facing window (you’ll notice these windows don’t open):
New Office 2


08
Dec 07

NSID

Johnath on NSID Day 7A couple years ago, when I still worked for IBM, there came a point – about a week into December – when I realised that I had no more user lab sessions, no more customer travel – that I had no particular reason to keep myself presentable.  This was an opportunity not to be ignored.

I tend to shave pretty regularly, and I think people tend to prefer it that way, for the most part.  I do too, really.  But sometimes you need a chance to stretch your follicles and see what you’d look like if only.  And so, NSID was born:

No Shaving In December

I have been delinquent in not introducing the concept sooner, but in truth, the first NSID was not a full month long anyhow, and we keepers of the faith welcome late arrivals in any case.  Don’t view it as a contest, or a strict discipline, view it as an opportunity.

If you have to shave early because of some social function – so be it – consider resuming your hobo look afterwards if there’s still time.  If you have to shave it because it itches like an unholy FIRE, that’s okay.  NSID is not about judgement.  It’s about self-actualization which, unless I am sorely mistaken, and I’m not, is right at the tippy-top of the god damned pyramid.  It’s the gift you give yourself.

Know too that you are not alone.  I am here.  Robcee is here.  Beltzner and bhearsum and claire are here too.  Shaver defied the destiny of his very name to join our motley crew, and mconnor is a member by default.

We have a flickr pool.  You know what to do.


14
Nov 07

Self-documenting

I know I’m weird, but I’ve always really liked the way roads combine with badly maintained trucks to create emergent topographical self-documentation.  Pictures are easier:

self documenting road

Notice the dark spots?  That particular stretch of road always drives the point home for me – every time the trucks in front of me hit a bump or dip in the road, it shakes some grease loose from their chassis, and darkens the road a little bit.  Like ants finding efficient routings, it’s always just sort of made me happy.

[Note: The embedded google map got very very broken in RSS, so I’ve replaced it with a static graphic.  Still I suspect the RSS damage is done.]


11
Sep 07

Mozilla24

FoxKeh!  On the world!I don’t normally blog about my work travel here, because what are you gonna do, come with me?  This one’s different though.

I’m flying out to SFO tomorrow morning (oh AC757, we’ve really gotten to know each other, haven’t we?) in anticipation of Mozilla24, a 24-hour all-mozilla, all-the-time conference at which I will be speaking amongst a group of shockinglymoreawesome people.  I will be talking about security UI, natch, and I would love to see all your smiling faces (though I’ll forgive the folks who saw the OSCON version for having their laptops open).

One of the many cool things about Mozilla24 is that it’s global – California, Tokyo, Thailand, and Paris, sure, but also online – so that if you are interested in the open web, and the directions we can take it, or if you’re just getting your feet wet, you can get involved.

Go sign up!  Why not get into the thick of it?  I’ll wait here.

PS – The blog photo here, Foxkeh, and indeed the whole Mozilla24 shebang, comes from Mozilla Japan.  They’re trying to make the rest of us look bad, bringing their A game.  Their A++++ OMG WOULD DO BUSINESS AGAIN WOW game.