Ciabatta Bake-Off

One of the big goals for the first half of 2016 is to nail down some core bread formulas for a little home bakery operation. While the last two years have seen me bake a (frankly crazy) lot of bread, I haven’t been as careful as I wanted to be re: recording details like temperature, timing, etc. In order to offer things for sale, I need to be consistent, which means knowing my dough really well so I can tell early if there’s an issue with a batch

Now, when you get way into bread, much like stationery, it becomes a bit of a “narcissism of minor differences” situation. While I know the majority of my friends, coworkers, etc. who will be my first customers can’t tell some of the differences, I want to make the bread I most love and am proud of. So naturally, I decided to start by finally comparing the two ciabatta recipes I’ve been playing around with for the last two years.

Overall these are very close to the Hamelman ciabatta recipes, because they’re solid formulas that always turn out for me. This bake, then was about comparing flavor/behavior between two preferments, biga vs poolish.

What’s a preferment? And why do you keep misspelling Polish? And what’s a biga? These are all sensible questions.

The short answers are:
preferments are any method of taking some flour and water from a bread formula and adding a bit of your rising agent (be that wild yeast or commercial yeast) before you mix the full dough.

In the case of these recipes I used a commercial yeast for both. Biga takes a larger amount of flour and a smaller amount of the water from a recipe, along with a very small amount of yeast. You let this rise for anywhere from 4 hours to, in my case, 12 to 14 hours. Then you add in the rest of the flour, water, salt, and a bit more yeast. For a poolish, the only difference is you take an equal amount of flour and water from the recipe.

A biga is stiff and tends to impart a nuttier flavor. You can use it to make a loaf of all purpose taste a bit more hearty like a whole wheat loaf. A poolish on the other hand is sort of a gloopy mess that imparts a more buttery flavor, sometimes it can add a creamy sort of sweetness.

The general process is simple. Pre-ferments came together around 6 pm on a Saturday. Sunday morning I got up around 8:30 and started checking them. They were both pretty ready, but the poolish more obviously so. I mixed it up first. Adding flour, water, salt and more yeast. Mix mix mix, fold it onto itself a few times, let it sit for about ten minutes, and then it’s the first fold. (You can see them soon after first folds in the bottom picture above). I mixed the biga one next, staggering them by about 35 minutes so I could let them both proof fully. I can’t really bake two full ciabatta in my oven at once with my circular pizza stone.

They each got three folds, every 30 to 40 minutes. And both rose an equal amount, around 4 hours. There’s no dividing because I did one loaf batches for each, so I massaged them into ciabatta-esque shapes and let them proof, each for 1.5 hours. Then into a 460 oven for around 28 minutes each.

Voila! And the verdict?

I took them into work and asked for feedback. It was pretty split in my small sample. Me? I loved the poolish. The flavor difference is subtle, admittedly, but the poolish had the richness I want from my ciabatta.

Next up with these is another bake-off. This time the same ciabatta formula with poolish, but two ways. One with a bit of olive oil, the other without. It’s pretty traditional to add in olive oil, although a lot of great ciabatta foregoes it. I do tend to like what it does to the flavor, especially with the poolish, but it’s time to compare them side to side.


WeekEnd Review - January 10th, 2016

I’ve toyed with doing some roundup posts for links and such since starting the blog. I was hesitant at first because who needs another one, right? But at the same time, I look forward to each and every one of them, especially when they can point me to blogs I didn’t know about or haven’t spent much time with. So here’s my take on it. It’ll change over time I’m sure, but for now it’ll be what I baked, anything I read/watched/listened to that’s of note, and links from the week.

WeekEnd Links

Top Ten Pens of 2015 - Leigh Reyes : My Life As a Verb
Leigh’s posts are scary for my wallet, but she has such great taste in pens and takes beautiful pictures of them. A nice round up of her favorites from 2015. (The Model 20 is inching it’s way up my list.)

The Conid Minimalistica Demonstrator Review - The Pen Addict
There have been a few reviews of this pen floating around, and while I think it’s not in the cards for now, I’m keeping an eye on Conid. I love the way this one looks.

Lostwithiel Salt Marshes - Pens! Paper! Pencils!
I really like when Ian’s posts about his sketches and painting pop up in my feed. This one in particular was open in a tab for a few days just to revisit. Really lovely painting.

Parker 61 Jet Flighter Fountain Pen - The Clicky Post
This is a very cool pen, and a reminder I should pull out the three or four vintage pens I’ve been gifted. Most of them are simple lever-fillers that just need a new sac, perfect for starting out on restoration.

DIY Proofing Box - The Fresh Loaf Forum
An old post on The Fresh Loaf, but it prompted a couple hours of planning and scheming today. After a few weeks of temperature issues (e.g. my shelf for bread making being ~15 degrees cooler than normal sometimes) and a complete disaster of a loaf this morning, due in part to both temperature and what I think was spent yeast, I have decided I need to put something together like this so I can finally control temperature. I'm sure I'll post about it when I pick up all the pieces needed.

How to Make Pizza - NY Times
My housemate and I at some point called our house House of 1000 Pizzas. We haven’t quite lived up to the name the last 6 or so months, but even so, it’s a subject dear to my heart. This is a great introduction if you’ve never tried making it at your house. Yes, a peel and a stone help, but his cast iron skillet method gives you an option not requiring either. I’m making a batch of this dough tomorrow after work for pizza later this week.

WeekEnd Bake

Two loaves this weekend. On the left, Everyday Loaf, which is a variation on the Saturday Bread by Ken Forkish. (commercial yeast, no pre-ferment, four-ish hour rise and an hour proof because the kitchen was about 80 degrees. It looks good which is a nice change from the disaster loaf, and will accompany some soup my housemate has been making all day. On the right is the first sourdough with my new all dark rye flour starter. It’s a young starter and I shouldhave given it a few days honestly, but even so I’m hopeful that when I cut into it it’ll be workable.

I tried a stopgap solution for temperature today, using a heating pad for seedlings. It ended up being just a bit too warm to keep on the whole time, but until I build out a proofing box it might be workable.

Consumed

It was a really busy week back at work so I ended up pretty exhausted most days and didn’t read or watch much, so a short list of one this week.

The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker (links to a review that is pretty in line with my feelings, if a bit more positive)
I finished the first book of 2016! It’s a slight thing, but overall I enjoyed it. There’s some interesting thoughts on how to write poetry/what makes good poetry, which was a nice addition to the main story. And the writing itself is really the draw here. As the review linked above says, the protagonist really does have a way with words.


And that’s that! I have a post about a ciabatta bake-off that’ll go up in a few days, and am planning to start on my Kaweco Lilliput Brass Wave review as well, probably for later this week/next week.

Hope you all enjoy the week ahead!

Clean Slate

6 days ago it was Christmas. Yesterday was my birthday. Today is New Year’s Eve.

There’s a lot of pressure during November/December here in America. Some folks love it, and I used to really get into Christmas especially, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve come to like this little two week stretch because I’ve realized I can celebrate how I want to, and on my best years, that means I take this time for rest, reflection and recovery, letting the holidays and birthday slide by, a tip of the hat to them, instead of rearranging my life to let them stay for a few weeks.

So to that end, here’s some end of the year thoughts to help revive the blog.

Focus

2015 was full, and a few months ago I started to realize/see that my year had been full of the wrong things. Not even bad things, just… the wrong things. I’ve known it for awhile, but 2015 was the year I finally felt clear-headed enough to watch in some small amount of horror as I kept getting lost, week after week. Getting caught up in a wave of work and exhaustion and personal hang ups and all sorts of unpleasant things, but more surprising than that, how much I could get carried away by the good things in life too, baking, pens, poetry, friends, stuff I love.

It’s not that the things were bad, but I was just going through the motions, and “keeping up” with certain things in the most slapdash way possible. To make it more concrete, with baking, I got caught in a cycle of baking just to say “Well I baked this week.” I didn’t focus on perfecting or refining, just baking without any focus, when I really wanted to be baking with an eye towards increasing production, consistent results, and moving more towards selling loaves to friends and coworkers. But after an entire year of baking a truly crazy number of loaves, I’m exactly where I was last year at this time with regards to most of those things.

And with stationery it was similar. I cut way way back on purchases in 2015, but even so I found myself buying just to buy, and then barely using anything. There were months where I’m pretty sure I maybe used a fountain pen twice, at most. I wasn’t writing poetry, journaling, or even really taking notes for work/on what I was reading. I wanted to stay in the “pen world” and for a lot of 2015 that just meant buying things that would sit.

In both cases I knew I wasn’t pleased, but was so caught up in the doing, the day to day, that I never took steps to change my habits. When I finally noticed and started to ask myself what needed to happen, I realized I didn’t know one very, very important thing.

What the hell do I want?

Now there’s a whole conversation we could have about how you don’t need to have it all figured out to make the first step and there’s value in just doing stuff sometimes, sure, yes. But for me I’ve realized if I don’t have a plan at all or a goal of some sort, I get caught up in the doing and never stop to make sure what I’m doing will actually help me get to a place of making/doing the things that matter to me.

A good chunk of this realization has been helped along by something I’ll write about more at a later date. For now though, just a quick recommendation for Shawn Blanc’s free The Elements of Focus course (I think it’s still available here) It helped take a lot of scattered thoughts and turn them into coherent thoughts that led to action. I went ahead and dropped the money on the big course and am excited to get it going soon.

Wait, So, What Is This Post About?

Earlier this year, I read a post by Pete Denison, that really resonated with me. His point, or one of them at least, was that your blog is YOURS. If you update once a month, that’s fine if that’s what you want to be doing. If you update every day about the same pen for three years, that’s fine if that’s what you want your blog to be. Your blog is yours, so don’t apologize if things are “off topic” or if you had to take a break. Own it, and worry less about your readers and more about making sure that this personal project is really personal, really yours.

I’m going to start using this blog as a space for checking-in in 2016. Here’s what I baked, here’s what I wrote, here’s what I used. Some of that will be reviews of stationery products and even baking supplies and books. Some of that will be walk throughs of a bake, and some of that may just be rambling posts where I check in on these two things I like so much, baking and pens.

Some types of posts I’m thinking about/starting on:
- tools of the trade : what do I use on a daily basis, at work, at home, while baking, etc. in the realm of stationery the first up is a post to go up the 1st on my notebook set up for the first few months of 2016.
- new habits: I want to journal more regularly, and spend more time dedicated to poetry, and take better notes on bread bakes, a lot of these things would naturally revolve around notebooks/pens anyway
- weekly bake plans and results
- load-outs
- occasional reviews
- hell, book reviews possibly?
- and finally, whatever the hell else I want to write!

The focus of this blog will always be pens and bread, they’re things I both love using/making as well as things I like talking/writing about. But in the spirit of Pete’s post, I’m going to start writing about more than just the two things in the title. For example, when my favorite podcast hit 400 episodes I wanted to write something about it, but didn’t feel like I could here on the blog, so I let it slide on by. Which is a shame, because it was an opportunity to draft a post with pen and ink, and re-listen to this podcast I’ve spent literally over a thousand hours with, easily, and share a little more of myself on the blog.

To sum up then? 2016 will be the year I make Ink and Flour a little more like me. A little more weird, a little more scattered, a little more personal. Hope you join me.

The first sourdough: Tartine Country Loaf

After a year and a half of focusing almost exclusively on commercial yeast breads, I decided it was time to take a second stab at a sourdough starter. My first attempt was a classic case of reading things thoroughly but not paying much attention to the actual starter. As bakers are wont to say, “Watch the dough, not the clock.” In this case the clock was the formula for starter. This time around I read a few different approaches and decided to combine them all and mostly focus on following my own instincts.

The Starter

50/50 KA AP Flour and WW Flour, with equal parts water. After four days this is what Lil’ Slimy 2 (that’s the starter’s name) looked like. I was lax with him, but could tell he was vigorous. A few days before I wanted to bake a first loaf I got him on a regular schedule, feeding twice a day to downplay the sourness for these first loaves.

The First Bake

I started with the Country Loaf, the first recipe in the Tartine book. Chad Robertson is famous for a reason. There are very few things I think are worth waiting in line for, but Tartine bread is absolutely one of them. The first time I tasted it my life was changed. It was years ago, but I remember very clearly saying “I had no idea you could make bread like this.” A few years later and I’m attempting to do it myself!

I went with a slight variation on the recipe in the book, raising the amount of levain by 50g. If I’m being honest it was mostly because the last time I tried a sourdough both were miserable failures and I wanted to stack the deck in my favor. Otherwise, by the book.

Tartine Country Loaf (mostly)

  • 250g Levain (about 12 hours old)
  • 700g water (plus 50g separate) 77° (a tad lower than the 80° recommended because I was anticipating it’d be warm)
  • 900g KA AP Flour
  • 100g KA WW Flour
  • 20g Salt

I mixed all but the salt and the 50g of H2O together, autolyzed for 30 minutes. Then mixed in salt and water, with a first fold before I plopped it in a 6qt Cambro container. Temp of the dough was consistently 76° throughout.

The Robertson method of folding is involved. A fold every half hour for most if not all of the bulk rise. I’d been reading a bunch of blog posts about this loaf and how to tweak it/what options there are, and it seemed like people ranged from folding throughout the whole thing to stopping after the first 2 hours. I split the difference and did 5 folds, 3 vigorous ones, and two more gentle folds.

I found the pictures he shared incredibly helpful. While my folding technique has yielded good bread in the past, a smaller container and the image of tucking the fold down into the other side helped cement in my mind just what I should be doing. I’m anxious to try a commercial yeast bread with some of the changes to approach and technique I picked up on just this one bake.

At 3.5 hours the dough was telling me it was ready. A bit of a rise, maybe 20% or so, and clearly visible air bubbles throughout. I love how easy it was to get this bread out of the container! Divided nicely, a bit floppy but workable. And yet again, the pictures of the pre-shape and the shaping were invaluable. Preshaped two little boules and let them rest for 25 minutes.

I watched a couple videos in the 20 minutes. This one in particular was incredibly useful. Watching how sure he was with the dough and how forgiving it seemed to be helped give me confidence. I can say with complete confidence the two boules in their baskets below are the best shaped loaves I’ve ever made.

The Loaves

At this point our stories diverge. I wanted to see what a retarded proofing would do to flavor and crumb so I immediately put one of them into a plastic bag and into the fridge. The other I put in the kitchen and let proof for about 3.5 hours at around 78°.

The first loaf, baked the same day.

Some obvious issues with appearance. I didn’t score it deeply enough and had a slight mishap with the transfer to the combo cooker. I am also working on my confidence in letting the bread stay in as long as it should. I know for a fact that a darker loaf yields great results but I still hesitate and pull stuff out earlier than I should.

Those issues aside, very very happy with this bread. It had a very very slight tang, but mostly just tasted like great bread. Good rise, cracks along the outside where my scoring wasn’t deep enough, and the crumb was exactly what I wanted. Uneven holes throughout, mostly smaller, but I’m perfectly okay with that on a first attempt.

The second loaf, baked about 19 hours after final shaping.

This time no issues with transfer. The scoring is better, but this weekend made me admit my very very hacked together lame is not doing it, so I broke down and ordered a real one. It will help to have something better than a razor taped into some cardboard as a makeshift handle. It was early, I was tired, and I think both of those things helped me push the bread further than usual. I could have kept it in a bit longer for sure, but I’m very happy with the color on this one.

The crumb is even better, more uneven, very, very pleasing. And the taste is just that bit more intense. A bit more tang, more complexity in general.

Verdict?

Given that this was my first go both at a Tartine bread, and at natural levain I am ecstatic with these loaves. Already planning my next attempt this week, thinking one loaf will be roasted garlic and one will be sesame. I’d also like to try a version with just AP flour.

Breathing Space/NYC Vacation

Even though it was barely March, I knew I needed a break, a chance to breathe. So over the course of about two days I booked a trip to NYC. The primary motivation was seeing one of my closest friends in the world, it’d been way too long. But I knew two of the highest things on my list beyond that were CW Pencil Enterprises and Fountain Pen Hospital.

So while there were a ton of highlights of NYC: food, cocktails, friends, my favorite gallery in the world, etc. Here I’ll focus on the stationery related pieces of my itinerary! My friend came along and played the part of field trip chaperone very well, dutifully taking pictures of me trying pens and ogling pencils. Thanks to Devon for the photos in-store.

Fountain Pen Hospital

I knew I’d walk away with a pen. I just knew it. And of course I did. I loved being in the store. I wanted to stay under $200 for a pen purchase so ended up eyeing the Visconti Van Gogh Collection Pollard Willow  and the Sailor Professional Gear Slim Sky Blue . Both are lovely, and both would have been a first purchase for each brand.

After writing with them I was torn. The Sailor was such a great writer, better than the Visconti definitely, but as I was holding it I kept leaning towards the Visconti. It took a bit of thinking, but I settled on the Visconti. The nib felt slightly off, but I couldn’t pass up the acrylic. The final decision really came down to the fact that I’m now pretty sure a Sailor Professional Gear Slim is just too small for me. I loved the look of the Sky Blue, and loved the nib, but to really have been happy I needed to jump up one size and that would have blown the budget.

There’s so much positive to be said about the retail experience. I got to talk with someone about the pens, understand what he thought the trade-offs were, and got to ink them and feel like when I did buy something I’d have a good sense of what I was getting myself into. (My friend demanded I take the traditional middle school field trip photo under their sign. I love how silly it is.)

I got the Visconti home and have confirmed the nib feels… off. When it’s flowing well it is a really nice writer, shockingly springy for steel, and even has some light flex, but I think the tines are too close together. I’ll plan to take it to the SF Pen Show this year and it can be one of the first pens I get nib work done. Even with the nib issues, no regrets. This pen is a STUNNER. The acrylic is beyond gorgeous, and using it out in the sun it glows, and the layers of color are easy to see. Once the nib is tuned this will easily be a favorite.

CW Pencil Enterprise

What can you say about a store devoted entirely to the wonderful world of woodcased pencils?

First things first, Caroline is such a great great presence in the store. It’s a small space, and she’s done quite a bit to make it welcoming and to make it easy to have a few people in, all shopping and testing and oohing and ahhing. But small stores can be intimidating too. She makes what could be a weird experience so warm and friendly though. Her enthusiasm for the store and the items inside is contagious. While I walked in knowing I like pencils (it’s only been a few months of serious pencil use for me), my friend was new to the world entirely, and ended up completely entranced and wanted to borrow pencils and split the cost of a book on the history of them. I think that is in very large part due to Caroline herself.

It’s definitely due to the store itself in part too! It’s full of so many beautiful things. I walked in knowing I wanted to get a carpenter pencil sharpener because I was so intrigued by the idea of it. And had a couple of pencil brands I thought I wanted to try. But mostly I just let myself go with what spoke to me. I ended up with a nice haul of individual pencils, an eraser, the carpenter pencil sharpener and the David Rees book.

The Spontaneous Flea Market

One of the best surprises about the whole trip was spending an afternoon with one of my oldest friends' best friend. It was one of those "We know we adore the same person so we are bound to get along" sort of plans. What was going to be a lunch turned into 5-ish hours of brunch and cocktails and then a spontaneous trip to a flea market in Midtown Manhattan.

I brought up pens, because of course I brought up pens. And Ellena was fascinated. We started talking about vintage pens, flea market finds, the valuation of pens vs the valuation of vintage fashion, and as we were getting ready to leave she said "wait, there's a flea market near here, we should just go and see what we can see!".

I didn't take any pictures, but it was my first real experience going to a flea market to try and find pens and pen related ephemera. We marveled over rings, lots and lots of rings, some clothes, some power tools, an incredibly weird and wonderful board with examples of various types of wire, and we both were eagle-eyed looking for pens.

I saw a gorgeous gold overlay waterman but the asking was $150 and I don't know enough yet to tell if it's restorable. I saw a couple Esterbrooks that looked beat up all to hell, and what appeared to my untrained eye to be some fake/knock-off pens of various sorts. It was insanely fun, and even though I didn't buy anything, it made me want to go to some flea markets in the bay area. It's always fun to share the love.

Returning

Coming back was hard. I love the East Coast, and love the friends I have out there. I returned to a day of recovery and easing back in, and then an onslaught at the day job for the next few weeks. It’s been quiet around here, but also quiet for pens, paper and bread in real life. This weekend I decided to force in some time for getting back to pens and paper and to finally tackling a bread project I’ve been putting off, a sourdough loaf with all natural levain, no commercial yeast.

The bread gets its own post later this week, for now a few shots from NYC, plus a couple of shots of recent purchases, my May load out, a recent whole wheat with raisins and walnuts bread, etc. It feels great to be baking regularly and back to a nice consolidated set of inked pens and sharpened pencils.

Some Failed Bread Experiments, #1

I love baking. It’s not a secret to people who know me that baking has become something of a longer term goal, i.e. I like my job well enough but my long term plan is to figure out how to bake for a living. That requires learning a lot, and that learning involves some failures. So here’s the first of an occasional post about trying things and failing. 

I’ve been making my variation on the Ken Forkish Saturday Bread for a good long while now. It’s such a great one day bread,  flavorful and pretty forgiving. Since I’m getting to know the bread well I decided this is a good way to experiment. It’s easy for me do in a day, and like this past Sunday, I can whip up two very different loaves without much scheduling. 

Experiment 1: Heavy on the rye
I bumped up the rye flour in this one to about 1/3 of the total weight. Rye is a weird little flour. It’s easy for it to get gummy if you don’t have some acidity, and because I’m still working with commercial yeast I don’t have that acidity naturally. So I wanted to see whether I could push up the rye flavor without sacrificing texture. 

This is the second time I’ve done this, and I was mostly hoping to learn more and get a better sense of adjusting the hydration with the rye. I did 125 g dark rye, 50 g whole wheat and 325 g AP. Because the WW and Rye are so different than AP I also bumped the liquid up by about 30 g, although I was liberal with the hand-wetting while I mixed. I did three folds and was feeling good, but realized pretty quickly while it was rising that by cutting the formula in half I had less of an idea how to tell it tripled in volume. 

I pulled it out at 4 hours, it was starting to really heat up in the apartment, but even so I think it could have used more time. It shaped up okay, and I proofed it for about 1.25 hours. After 50ish minutes in the dutch oven at 460 I pulled it.
I’m happy with the color, but that’s sadly about it.

The bread was mostly under done. Internal temperature was good, but it needed a bit more fermentation time and was under proofed for sure. Flavor was nice, but texture and crumb were way off.  Lesson learned, I need to figure out volume tracking on one loaf bakes better.
 
(sad, sad) crumb shot:

Experiment 2: Roasted Garlic and Rosemary 
Normal Saturday Bread, all AP flour, but roasted three heads of garlic and some fresh-ish rosemary. I get requests for garlic bread a lot, and I’ve done one experiment with it, but the results were mixed. Great flavor, kind of a terrible bake. With a really dense crumb, very little oven spring, etc. This one was… actually sort of the same! 

Autolyzed for about 20 minutes, then added in salt, mixed, yeast, mixed, and then finally garlic and rosemary. I realized quickly once I added the garlic that I should have taken into account the extra hydration. More than that though, the garlic adds oil which completely changes the characteristics of the dough. I gave it a few more folds than normal, did 4 instead of 2. 

This bread refused to tighten up as much as I wanted. Just really really slack, but that’s not shocking with the extra moisture. Next time I’ll back off on the water by maybe 10 grams  or so. Shaping was less fun than I’d have liked, but here it is in the banneton next to the finished rye-heavy loaf.

Proofed about an hour, a little over, but not much. I did the poke test and even if it was incredibly slack it seemed to bounce back slowly in the right way. Baked at 460 for 50ish minutes, it smelled so, so great throughout.

But it was the same story, just worse. The loaf was incredibly flat, and the inside barely baked. Flavor was somewhat promising but it was ultimately pretty inedible. 


So why post my failures? A lot of people I know look at my breads and tell me they could never bake bread as good as I can. Setting aside that I’m still a relative newcomer to this world, anyone can bake amazing bread! And on the flip side, lots of people who make amazing bread can still have days full of failed loaves. But as I’m learning… there’s always the next loaf!

Happy National Pencil Day!

I know I focus a lot on fountain pens, but like any good stationery addict I have my fair share of pencils. For the nightly writing I decided to sharpen up some pencils. Of course I had to ink up my new Pilot Desk Pen first and spilled some black ink on my pants before sharpening up the pencils.

I chose three pencils that showcase the wood in woodgrained. A Palomino Prospector, a Field Notes pencil and a really wonderful pencil from a store here in Northern California, Venture Quality Goods. (I was so excited when I went to visit a friend who works there to see they have woodcased pencils, and they're good quality too!)

If you're still looking for ways to celebrate, here's a great podcast about pencils, a great blog post about finding a pencil that works for you, and a great starter pack of some quality pencils. 

Happy Pencil Day!

Super5 .5mm Calligraphy Pen

I like stub nibs, but also tend to write pretty small. The first one I tried, a 1.1mm Lamy nib was HUGE with my handwriting and made what can already be pretty messy into a weird illegible series of letter-like things. But I keep trying! So when I saw this on the Goulet Pens site I was intrigued. Sub 30 dollars for a .5mm stub nib, in a simple but nice looking body?  Sold.

The Super5 comes in a few color variations, with the only difference being the color of the clip as far as I can tell. The body itself is very simple. Black with gray or yellow or black clip, tapered body more a bullet than a cigar. I don’t love the logo, I’ll be honest. It’s not an expensive pen but it’d look oh so much nicer without the huge logo on the side of the body. Author and fellow pen nerd J Robert Lennon sanded the logo off to end up with a sleek plain black version, it’s a great idea to elevate an affordable pen.

The body has some heft to it which was a nice surprise. It’s about 5.5” when closed, and a little longer when posted. The cap fits snugly, requiring a decent amount of effort to pull off, but it’s a satisfying snugness, no chance of the cap just slipping off. It also posts securely, and for me the posting is necessary even if I don’t usually post. It’s just a tad too light to be comfortable without the cap posted, and the pen is heavily weighted towards the nib. With the cap on the back though it’s perfectly balanced for me.

The nib is steel, and very firm, but it’s incredibly smooth. For a 30 dollar pen, this nib is pretty unbelievable. The stubbiness allows for slight line variation, nothing too extreme, but a touch of interest to your writing. There’s no flex, and pressure doesn’t really add anything. But who needs flex when the nib is this smooth and trouble-free.

Now for my big complaint. As much as I love how this pen writes, I just can’t get over the lip at the front of the section. In the picture below you can see the rings right up near the nib, and then this step up and down again before the nib. Maybe it’s how I write, so take this with a grain of salt, but everytime I sit down with my Super5 the sharpness of that step ends up digging into my fingers. I still use the pen because I love the nib so much, but it’s more readjusting than I’d really like. I could grip it further up but my natural grip is pretty close to the nib.

All of that said, it’s a great, great pen. Especially for the price. Just keep in mind the section may be less comfortable than you’d like.

Below you'll see the hand written part of my reviewing. Before I write a full version I try to capture my main points in a handwritten summary, this one written with Diamine Terracotta in a 3 Legged Juggler Baron Fig Confidant.

F-C Model 66 Stabilis

Let’s start with the background story. As I understand it, these pens weren’t intended for sale when they were first designed. Both the 66 and it’s smaller companion pen the 65 were made to hold all the nib options on F-C pens, Model 65 for #5 nibs and Model 66 for #6 nibs. With over 20 options between the two sizes and different materials/grinds, F-C wanted to give everyone a chance to try all their options. The pens for this should be simple, easy to ignore so you can focus just on which nib you want. If you’ve ever been to a show where F-C has a table you realize how well they accomplished this. The pens are long and sleek, with small caps, and a big flat section in the middle where they’ve put the nib material and grind.

That ability to ignore the pen is in part why I love these so much. At first glance they’re simple pens, the Model 66 is the larger of the two, at 6.3 inches capped. But the more I stared, the more I realized there were lots of subtle details that make this pen far more interesting than it may appear at first.

 

While it’s undeniably beautiful, (or as undeniable as that can be I guess, eye of the beholder, etc.) the cap, for starters, is tiny compared to the rest of the pen. I took a picture next to TWSBI Vac700 to compare overall size, but more specifically the proportions of the 66. The cap is small, with a nice rounded bevel up to the flat top. This is a deign decision driven by the original use case I believe, with a small cap, when you’re taking it off and on all day there’s less air to get trapped in there, and once you take the cap off you see how the reduced the room for air even more. Once you take the top off the threads jumped out at me.  Instead of being at the bottom of the section they’re right behind the nib. They’re also THICK, which helps them disappear under your fingers, if you end up having your fingers over them at all.

The section is incredibly comfortable, I’ve happily sat and written page upon page with this, no cramping at all. It’s a thick pen all told, but the section tapers in beautifully and should be comforatble for most grips.

 

The most notable feature of the rest of the body is the flat portion. On the testing versions the flat section is much larger, but on the Model 66 there’s a small flat section which helps keep the pen from rolling away. It also holds the only branding, Franklin-Christoph Model 66. It’s a lovely and practical addition, another way in which this pen speaks so clearly of its original intended use.

I went with an EF nib in steel, and as usual it wrote beautifully immediately. It’s a tad wider than I was expecting, but I realized quickly that was because I’ve been using a lot of Japanese pens of late. My nib tastes have been shifting as well, so I’m overall happy. I’m very curious about the gold options so I may grab a slightly wider gold nib, or go for the one of the best deals in all of fountain pendom and get a Masuyama cursive italic/stub. I have a lovely cursive italic for my Model 40P, one of the #5 nibs. It's a cartridge/converter fill pen, and the converter it comes with is a standard twist fill converter, but good quality, with a firm seal.

All in all the Model 66 is a subtle, sleek pen that I have fallen in love with. I’ve kept it inked continuously since I got it in December of 2014. It tends to stay on my desk as opposed to traveling with me due to the length, but I find my hand reaching for it first most times when I’m going to write. While it’s not flashy, there’s a lot of small details that add up to something special. They just recently released a version of this in the ice acrylic, which turns a sleek, subtle pen into an astonishing, and depending on the ink flashy as all get out eyedropper. This wasn’t my first F-C pen, and I’m sure it will not be my last.

50% Poolish White Bread a la Forkish

Baking is science, but for most of us it’s also a bit of an art. The play of time, temperature, humidity, not even considering the ingredients themselves, all have to be considered when you’re baking bread. That’s why when I bake I tend to focus. Working with one formula over and over again, but not until I perfect it, because that’s impossible! I bake them over and over to get to know the bread, what it needs. The best way to get good, consistent loaves is to know how to feel when the loaf or the temperature or any part of the bake requires adjustment. e.g. the humidity is really high today, so backing off those last two grams might make sense, or that even if it normally takes 3 hours to rise, it’s warm today, which means the flour was warm and the air was warm, and you either have to be ready at 2.5 hours or you cool down the flour or use cold water.


Which is all an intro to this bread, which is based on the formula in the Ken Forkish book Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast. It was my first attempt at Poolish when I made it months ago. I talked a bit in a previous post about how much I like the process of eaking out as much flavor as possible from commercial yeast. Pre-ferments are a common way to do this, that is, taking a portion of the flour and water in full formula, adding a small amount of yeast, and then letting that rise first, before combining everything together for the normal bulk rise. The advantages can be tasted, and even felt. Pre-ferments help the dough last longer, allow for more flavor development, and affect the texture of the crumb. It’s a way to space out baking, and an easy way to get a ton of flavor out of commercial yeast.  I’ll talk about other preferments eventually because I am going to experiment with a few new to me over the next few months, but for today we’ll focus on the poolish.The poolish is equal parts water and flour, and it’s a big gloopy mess. But it gives such a buttery quality to the bread that I’ve become very attached to it.

So on to the loaf. This was a pretty normal bake for me, just a regular Saturday run. I started the poolish around 8 pm on Friday night and let it go for about 13 hours. The temp was about 69 when I went to bed and maybe 71 when I got up the next morning. Mixed the poolish with the flour salt and yeast, water at about 100 degrees. I folded three times. I think after baking this one more that I am happier with two folds after the mix, and the pictures seem to support me. THis bake is actually from December, and it was a week or two afterwards that I made a nice little breakthrough with dough handling. It’s easy to ignore or downplay the instructions to fold with some vigor and quickly, but I’ve noticed my breads turning out better when I follow them. It takes some courage and some practice to work with high hydration doughs, but wetting my hands and working my way around the whole mass before lifting, slapping back down, turning the tub and repeating three times has helped my breads’ spring quite a lot. It sounds so self-help-y but really and truly, you are in charge here. You need to understand what the bread wants, but ultimately you are the baker, and the more aggressive and quick folding has helped give me the all ove irregular holes all of us who bake strive for.

Bulk ferment for about 3 hours, and then I shaped into a boule and a loaf. My shaping is my weakest point still, by far. It’s in part tools (we don’t have a great surface for this work so I end up using a large cookie sheet on our table) and in part that I haven’t been as confident as I should be in handling the doughs. Anyway, proofed for about an hour and a half. Midway through the oven went to 460, with two dutch ovens inside.

I want to make another post about my oven issues, because figuring out how to manage heat and avoid scorched bottoms has been a real struggle. I’ll leave that for another day though. I ended up overproofing these. I was distracted and should have checked sooner. It wasn’t a disaster, but as you can see in the pictures, the color is beautiful, but the spring could have been nicer. The boule I attempted to make into a fendu loaf, but I’m always too hesitant to really punch down the center, and end up smooshing things together in the transfer.

I forgot to take a crumb shot, rookie mistake! But these loaves were delicious. There have been times in the past when I end up having to throw away parts of loaves, but these two I remember disappearing entirely. Always a nice feeling!


Takeaways:

For my bread post I plan to end with any lessons learned. From this bake in particular I remember focusing on two things:

Proofing! It’s important to really pay attention. Check after 45 to 50 minutes to keep up on whether things are proceeding too quickly.

Shaping! I’m much more confident with my folds and dough handling while mixing, but I need to be less afraid of shaping. I’m getting better at this thanks to the last few months, but this is the place I’m most excited about improving.


One Star Leather Goods Indie Notebook Cover

This year I’ve been bit by the Field Notes bug rather seriously. My little collection of a few random notebooks has grown a lot, including a few ebay purchases for older editions! And starting with this Spring edition, a Colors subscription. (Picture from my instagram)

I think a turning point for me was finding some really amazing pen/refill combos that made the changing paper quality issue with Field Notes less of a problem. I tried just carrying a field notes naked, and bought a nice canvas cover that could fit one, but I realized I really wanted to carry around two pocket notebooks at a time. I write poetry and odd snippets of fiction like things, and wanted to make sure I had a place for scribbling triggers and fragments that could be separate from work notes or grocery lists. I don’t have much of an issue with the overlap conceptually but ended up getting frustrated  trying to sort through stuff after the fact.

Enter this simple beauty.

One Star Leather Goods is a name I’d heard about from a few places. Podcasts, blogs, instagram, etc. There’s so many people making quality leather goods to support the analog writing we all love that really I ended up just picking one based solely off my memory. Which isn’t a knock on One Star! More a testament that I felt confident if I’d heard the name around the pen community I could trust the quality. That confidence was well placed.

This is what they call their Indie Notebook. It’s a simple thing. A piece of leather sized for pocket notebooks, with elastic bands to secure at least two notebooks inside. There’s also an elastic band to keep it closed. And that’s pretty much it! The only branding is a small star on the spine, a nice bit of branding that is incredibly unobtrusive.

It’s hard to know what to say aside from this:

I think this is a perfect home for pocket notebooks and I now can’t imagine going even a day without this on me. I currently have a Shelterwood and a Word. notebook in mine, and carry it around with my Ti2 Techliner Shorty in brass. It goes in every bag I carry or in my back pocket nearly every time I leave the house.


A simple thing done very, very well.

January 2015 Kickstarter Roundup

I don’t know how regular these posts will be, but last year I ended up getting some nice stuff via Kickstarter and figured when I see interesting pen/paper/baking things I might as well share them. Caveats and all, I’m definitely not vouching for any of these, and I may or may not back the stuff I link to. It’s just meant as a roundup of interesting projects. 

 

Foldio 2

I just got a new camera and a big part of my justification was photography for this blog. Looking forward to having a nice light box to help make the pens look as good on the blog as they do in my hand. I’ve heard great things about the first version and the second seems even nicer. Bigger, three sets of lights, and with the stretch goals it’ll have a dimmer and a carrying case among other things. Definitely backed this one.

 

 

Modern Fuel Design Mechanical Pencil

This is one I’m watching. I don’t know if I’ll back because I don’t know how much I’d use this but it’s a beautiful looking object. That alone is tempting, but it’s probably too much for me to buy it and mostly stare at it. Still, if you like mechanical pencils this seems like a great thing. (A preview by Mike Dudek is here.)

 

Code & Quill Notebooks

I ended up backing this. I love notebooks and like the pitch here and the look of both notebooks. They mention fountain pen friendliness in the Kickstarter write up to boot! Always happy to have more notebook options.

 

My Book of Change

Normally I’m not a huge fan of prescriptive notebooks. Nothing wrong with them of course, but I like a blank slate I can do with what I will. But this looks interesting to me, as I’m starting to plan a little further into the future for the first time in awhile. I also have started journaling every day this year, using a hodgepodge of prompts each day for the first month or so and have found them useful, which is making me more open to the idea of a directed journaling/planning experience. I haven’t backed this yet but am leaning towards getting one of the black and white art books.

 

I was a little bummed I couldn’t find anything interesting for baking, but to be honest one of the things I like about my baking habit is that for the most part I don’t have a ton of specialized tools and mostly just spend my money on flour. 

 

Let me know if you back any of these or if you see something cool I’ve missed!

New Toy! (new camera photo post)

As promised, new camera. Sony Alpha A5000 with the kit lens. After reading a million reviews for the last few days I finally made my choice. It's a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera and I have lots of learning to do, but even with just 30 minutes of playing I can take much MUCH better pictures than my phone would ever have given me.

I'm going to take some time to learn photography again. The last time I had the basics ready to hand was in college when I would shoot with an old Nikon 35mm SLR. I doubt I'll write much about this, but decided to share some of the first photos I've taken.

Happy Holidays to everyone reading this, will have a bread related post next week and then will be quiet till 2015. Here's to pens, paper and bread!

Pre-Holidays Daze

The last few weeks of the work year were a blur. This is a bit of a 2014 wrap up post as I launch into what will be a busy holiday.

It's been great to get back to baking. I've focused on perfecting my version of a 50% poolish bread a la Ken Forkish, and feel close to having it down. Have a mostly written post on that bread nearly done, will be the only content in the next couple of weeks before 2015.

There have been some great mail days the last two weeks. My Fountain Pen Day hoodie showed up and is one of the most comfortable hoodies I've ever worn! As well, two Kickstarter items showed up recently. The Writer's Block from the Word Notebooks folks arrived and is small but pleasingly solid. It's been a handy addition to my desk at work. And last week the Ti2 Techliner Acid Wash Brass Shorty from their recent Kickstarter arived. I admittedly was on the fence about this pen, but the shorter version convinced me. I love it waymore than I expected. Full review to come, and a photo of it on my little tree.

I snuck in one more pen purchase this year, a vintage Esterbrook J.  It has the new J Herbin Stormy Grey in it, and I've been swapping between it, my new Pilot Custom 74 with Ku-Jaku, and the Model 66 with Noodler's Lexington Grey. Mostly in my new Baron Fig notebook. I was seduced by those ltd. editions. The Three Legged Juggler edition is my first from them and I'm very impressed. Anothere review to come!

Final piece of news is that I've admitted one of my biggest frustrations so far is not being able to take photos I'm very happy with. My phone camera is okay, and that's about it. I kept waffling back and forth on whether or not I should get a camera though, and I think I've finally reached the tipping point. Planning on picking up a nice mirrorless camera (Sony Alpha A5000 for the curious) in the next few days. I think from what I've been reading I'll be able to finally do justice to these pens.

Thanks to all who see this for checking in on my sporadic blogging in 2014. I'm excited about being more consistent next year!

Catching Up: Ink Drops

I am probably not the only one who occasionally gets their Ink Drop package with a mixture of excitement and some amount of trepidation because of the growing collection of ink samples. It wasn't the worst news in the world to hear that the Goulet Team were taking a month off. A month turned into two, and my nearly full ink vial holders breathed a sigh of relief.

It's back though! And last night I got out my Airmail 90 with an EF nib to use as a dip pen. I had three (!!) months of drops to play with. Excuse the not so succesful attempts to liven things up, I blame the Manhattan and a worry that just writing the names in my scrawly handwriting does not an exciting post make. I'm working on a camera solution, but for now here's some decent phone pictures of last night's fun.

September

I really loved all of these, although I think China Blue and Burma Road Brown, which I've loved for awhile, are my favorites. Naples Blue is a gorgeous color that I don't think I'd ever use.

November

A month of beautiful inks I'll likely never purchase. Blood Dragon and Yu-Yake were especially nice, but as much as I like reds and oranges, I never really reach for them to ink up a pen.

December

Easily one of the best months in the last year for me. I adore every one of these colors, and plan to add each of them to my rapidly growing ink collection in the near future. Inspired Blue reads like a darker version of Naples Blue from September, and all three De Atramentis inks are perfect fo rme. Gorgeous dusty colors with some shading. 

So there's my catch up! Definitely worth the wait, and I'm looking forward to next year's drops. Head over to gouletpens.com and check out their slick new website to sign up for Ink Drop, 10 bucks a months for five samples. (Not affiliated at all, just a happy repeat customer.)

Why Bread?

The last year I've baked a lot of bread. A lot.

A few years ago I got Artisan Breads Every Day (full disclosure, that's an affiliate link. I don't expect to make much money off of this, but figured I might as well set up an affiliate account. Feel free to search for it yourself, or better yet, order it from a local bookstore!) by Peter Reinhart. I liked it, but mostly baked his lean bread formula. It was startlingly simple, just a few ingredients and time, but what you ended up with was incredible. I baked a few others, but mostly kept saying "I want to bake more bread", and left it there.

At the beginning of 2014 my housemate and I decided to start a bread club with some friends. We picked a bread to start, and the plan was to have me bake the first batch, then hand it off to the next person in line. We could work out the kinks, try variations, etc. What happened was that I baked it two, maybe three weeks in a row and the club fell apart. But I knew I had a problem. Over those three weeks making the same exact formula, I saw the bread change as my understanding expanded. I knew I liked eating bread, but I was coming to the conclusion that I wanted to really GET bread. Over the course of a few months my obsession went from a batch a week to in one long weekend baking I think 8 loaves of bread. I started reading about food science and chemistry, bought way way too many bread books, and started admitting this was an obsession.

But why? Why bread? And in particular, why these lean, artisan breads, that so far have focused mostly on commercial yeast techniques?

It's a fair question, and one I spend a lot of time pondering. At base, I think it's about the simplicity of these breads. Even as I start to understand more of the science behind bread baking, there's something magical to me about taking the simplest of ingredients, all purpose flour, salt, water, and instant active dry yeast, that when you combine them, can take on so many different shapes and flavors.

And I have become obsessed with how important time and temperature are. The formula for two loaves may look identical in terms of weights of ingredients, but the difference between an 80% biga version and a version with no pre-ferment but a long slow bulk rise in the fridge and a long slow proof in the fridge can be astonishing.

Flour, water, salt, yeast, temperature, time. Six ingredients are all you need. And controlling those six as best you can, slight variations, etc. allow for nearly endless variety.

For an added bonus, I wanted to figure out if there was some link to pen and paper, if these two obsessions share anything. In part because I like finding links between things, but I soon realized it stemmed from the fear that this blog is confusing, so I felt some responsibility to tie them together. But really, it's not that I like baking and pens for the same reason or reasons, it's that they are the two things I like most, and more importantly, the two things I want to write about.

So I have given up on trying to make sense of them together, and will just happily continue hastily writing about ink and flour both. Hope you join me.

 

 

Using What You've Got

I like paper. An uncontroversial statement for pen folk I realize. But for people who love paper, it seems pretty common for us (at least me and the "us"es I read online or listen to on podcasts) to have some amount of hesitance about not using our paper. The number of conversations around collecting notebooks to write in, but then never writing in them for fear of not using them to their full potential started to hit home in a real way. I suffer from this too, have for years. Back before I was a certified pen addict, I'd often excitedly buy a Moleskine and then maybe write on a page or two before that sinking feeling would creep in, that I was just filling this up with random bits of nonsense, instead of whatever notional GREAT WRITING I should have been putting down on paper.

A few months ago I decided to change this part of my behavior. I love the act of writing, whether it's an important letter/note or just an excuse to use my pens and pencils, but for so long I've been a serial notebook purchaser who barely writes in notebooks. Convinced even though it's irrational, that I had to fill my fancy Arts & Sciences Edition Field Notes with something IMPORTANT, and meant to LAST. 

I'm not 100% sure what has changed, but I went from a 1 field notes book in maybe 3 months, to someone who has filled his Arts Edition in a couple weeks, along with a normal kraft field notes in another week. 

I just let go. And decided to ignore that voice for awhile. And you know what? It's really nice letting go in this case. I'm writing more! And finding reasons to switch out pens more often. I have scraps of poetry, and quotes from books written down next to grocery lists, some doodles (I am very bad at doodling, but practice makes.... less bad?), and occasionally even small journal style entries. It's a hodgepodge, and it's FUN.


Mostly unrelated, since this is the first pen related post I've made in a good long while, wanted to share my currently inked pens. I'm trying to keep it to a smaller number these days, and am planning to write a few of these dry in the next week or two. I think ideally I'd have about four to five inked at once at most, but it's hard to keep that number down sometimes.




Changing Times, Changing Names

Hastily written has been not so hasty, or written, for the last many months. Part of it is just general busy-ness and these little write ups getting constantly pushed to the bottom of the priority list, but it's also that I have two warring loves, and the other, bread baking, has taken over my brain more actively. Even so, I still have the itch to write about pens and paper...

So an announcement of sorts to what audience I still have, Hastily Written is dead, long live Ink&Flour. I've decided to have a place for both bread writing and analog writing tools. I use my pens when I bake, I eat my bread while I write, and I'd like to be better about chronicling both of these things.

I realize I'm combining two niche interests in one blog, and that's a recipe for confusion, but hey, it's my little blog, and I can do what I want. I have some posts written up that will go up over the next few weeks, but come 2015 I'm hoping to keep a running log of my baking experiments in addition to the pens, paper and ink I use on a daily basis.

Forkish's White Bread with Poolish on bottom, Forkish's Saturday Bread with a mix of AP, WW and Rye on top. 

All that is to say, welcome to Ink & Flour. It's all hastily written, and slowly baked. In the next week I'll have a post up on using those precious notebooks we love to collect as well a first post on bread, an ode to lean artisan breads and the way these simple formulas have captured my attention so fiercely.