Raspberry Pi Tracks Starter Fermentation For Optimized Sourdough

Those of you who’ve never had a real sourdough have never had real bread. Good food fights back a little when you eat it, and a proper sourdough, with its crispy crust and tangy center, certainly fits the bill. Sourdough aficionados, your humble writer included, all have recipes that we pretend are ancient family secrets while in reality we’re all just guessing. Sourdough is partly science, partly art, but mostly delicious black magic.

In an effort to demystify his sourdough process, [Justin Lam] has gone digital with this image processing sourdough starter monitor. Sourdough breads are leavened not by the addition of brewers yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), but by the inclusion of a starter,  a vibrant ecosystem of wild yeasts that is carefully nurtured, sometimes for years. Like any other living thing, it needs to be fed, a task that should happen at the point of maximum fermentation. Rather than guess when this might be, [Justin] used a Raspberry Pi Zero and PiCam to capture a time-lapse video of the starter as the beasties within give off their CO₂, thus expanding it up inside its container. A little Python does the work of thresholding and finding the top of the starter as it rises, allowing [Justin] to plot height of the starter over time. He found that peak height, and therefore peak fermentation, occurs about six hours after feeding. He has used his data to better inform his feeding schedule and to learn how best to revive neglected starters.

Surprisingly, this isn’t the first time we’ve discussed sourdough here. It seems that someone uses Git for iterative sourdough recipe development, and we once featured a foundry made from a pyrolyzed loaf of sourdough.

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Illuminated Bread for a Cookie Cutter World

Just in case you thought your eyes were playing tricks on you, we’d like to confirm right from the start that what you are looking at is a loaf of bread with internal LED lighting. Why has this bread been internally lit? We can’t really say. But what we can do is pass on the fascinating process that took an unremarkable piece of stale bread and turned it into an exceptional piece of stale bread.

As demonstrated by [The Maker Monster], working with stale bread is basically like working with wood. Wood that you can dip in soup, granted, but wood nonetheless. The process of electrifying the loaf starts with cutting it down the length on a bandsaw, and then hollowing it out with a rotary tool. This creates a fairly translucent shell that’s basically just crust.

You’re probably wondering how you keep a bread-light from getting moldy, and thankfully [The Maker Monster] does address that issue. The bread shell is completely coated with shellac, which creates a hard protective layer that will not only prevent decay but should give it some added strength. In the video it looks like only one coat is applied, but if we had to guess, a few coats would be necessary to really seal it up. Coating it with epoxy wouldn’t be a terrible idea either.

While the shellac dries on the bread, he gets to work on the lighted base (bet you never imagined you’d read a sentence like that), which is really just a sanded piece of wood with a standard LED strip stuck too it. It’s very understated, but of course the glowing loaf really draws the eye anyway. All that’s left is to glue the bread down to the base, and proudly display your creation at your next dinner party.

We can’t say that an electric ciabatta is in the cards for Hackaday HQ; but we know that baking good bread is a science in itself, and turning the failed attempts into works of art does have a certain appeal to it.

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Breadboarding: Git for A/B Testing Actual Bread

We will be the first to admit, we like to use Git for a lot of things that are probably off the beaten path. But now thanks to [hendricius] you can find out how to make your own bread on GitHub. Let’s get one thing straight. This isn’t the breadmaker fad from a while back, although we are surprised we don’t see more hacked together breadmakers with Internet connectivity. This is old-fashioned bread baking with a bowl, some ingredients, and an oven or another heat source.

You might think this is just using Git as a repository for recipes, but it is more than that. According to [hendricius]:

Learn how to master the art of baking the programmer way. If you love programming, you will also enjoy breaking some bread. A/B test, iterate and ultimately become a self-taught baker. This repository is dedicated to becoming your bread manifesto with useful tricks and hacks. Furthermore, the goal is to illustrate how easy making bread is and that you can get started today without expensive tools.

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Amazing Carbon Foam Doesn’t Take Much Bread

A lot of people knew the Space Shuttle had ceramic tiles to protect its nose from reentry heat. That’s mostly because the tiles fell off a lot and each one was a unique shape, so it got a lot of press coverage. However, you didn’t hear as much about the parts of the orbiter that got really hot: the forward part of the wings and the tip of the nose. For those, NASA used an exotic material called RCC or reinforced carbon-carbon. Other uses include missile nose cones and Formula One brakes. A similar material, carbon fiber-reinforced silicon carbide appears in some high-end car brakes. These materials can take high temperatures, easily.

[AvE] wanted to make some carbon foam for experiments. It does take a little bread, though. Not money, but literal bread. To create the foam, he burns bread slices in a chamber full of argon. The stuff has some amazing properties.

In the video below, you can see the foam protecting a thermocouple from a torch flame and even holding melting aluminum. Not bad for a few pieces of bread.

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Baking better bread with steam

It’s not often we see a build that turns you into a better cook without any electronics whatsoever. [Chris]’s method of baking better bread with steam is one of those builds, and we’re more than willing to test it out on our own.

If you’ve ever tried to bake bread at home, you’ll quickly notice the crust is much thicker and harder than a loaf available at a bakery. The thickness of the crust can be controlled, however, with a careful application of steam. To make a better crust, [Chris] used a pressure cooker fitted with a valve to inject steam into an oven through his oven’s exhaust. Not only does this gelatinate the starches in the bread crust, but it keeps this gelatin from hardening too quickly.

The end result is a thin, golden brown crust that makes for the perfect loaf of bread. Of course, the proper application of steam does take a little bit of practice. If someone is up to the task of Arduinofying this hack with a few solenoid valves, PID sensors, and a high-temperature humidity sensor, send it in and we’ll put it up.

Refurbishing a refrigerator for fermenting

[Mikey Sklar] wrote in to show us how he refurbished a neighbors useless refrigerator as a fermentation chamber. [Mikey] is a fan of making breads, kemchi, yogurt, and tempeh. To make these, it helps to have a completely controlled temperature for them to ferment in. [Mikey] developed a temp controller for this in the past, but had to either build a control box or use a giant chest freezer.  This is not optimal for limited space, such as a kitchen. He got lucky when a neighbor tossed a wine cooler into the trash. These little coolers are perfectly sized for a kitchen and even have a glass front so you can keep an eye on what is going on inside without having to open it and effect your temps. [Mikey] ripped it open, replaced the peltier cooler with a large heat lamp and his temp controller. Since he was making yogurt with this one, he needed only to heat it. The final product turned out pretty effective.