What did you do during lockdown? A whole lot of people turned to baking in between trips to the store to search for toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Many of them baked bread for some reason, but like us, [Sarah Robinson] turned to sweeter stuff to get through it.
Her pandemic ponderings wandered into the realm of baking existentialist questions, like what separates baked goods from each other, categorically speaking? What is the science behind the crunchiness of cookies, the sponginess of cake, and the fluffiness of bread?
As a developer advocate for Google Cloud, [Sarah] turned to machine learning to figure out why the cookie crumbles. She collected 33 recipes each of cookies, cake, and bread and built a TensorFlow model to analyze them, which resulted in a cookie/cake/bread lineage for each recipe in a set of percentages. Not only was the model able to accurately classify recipes by type, [Sarah] was able to use the model to come up with a 50/50 cookie-cake hybrid recipe. The AI delivered a list of ingredients to which she added vanilla extract and chocolate chips for flavor. From there, she had to wing it and come up with her own baking directions for the Cakie.
More people are making sourdough at home than ever before, and while it may not take a lot of effort to find a decent recipe, it’s quite another thing to try using recipes to figure out how and why bread actually works. Thankfully, [Makefast Workshop] has turned copious research and hundreds of trials into a dynamic sourdough (and semi-sourdough) bread recipe chock-full of of drop-down options to customize not just ingredients, but baking methods and other recipe elements as well. Want to adjust quantities or loaf styles? Play with hydration or flour type? It’s all right there, and they even have quick-set options for their personal favorites.
In order to do all this, [Makefast Workshop] needed to understand bread at a deeper level than is usually called for. During research, they observed that the format of recipes was often an obstacle to understanding how good bread actually gets made. The reason for this is simple: recipes are presented as standalone documents describing a fixed process; a set of specific steps that, when followed, yield a particular result. What they do not normally do is describe the interplay and balance between ingredients and processes, which makes it difficult to understand how and why exactly the recipe produces what it does. Without that knowledge, it’s impossible to know what elements can be adjusted, and how. The dynamic recipe changes all that.
[Makefast Workshop] performed hundreds of tests, dialing in parameters one by one, to gain the insights needed to populate their dynamic recipe. It’s got clear processes and drop-down options that dynamically update not just the recipe steps, but also the URL. This means that one can fiddle the recipe to one’s desire, then simply copy and paste the URL to keep track of what one has baked.
In the recent frenzy of stocking up with provisions as the populace prepare for their COVID-19 lockdown, there have been some widely-publicised examples of products that have become scarce commodities. Toilet paper, pasta, rice, tinned vegetables, and long-life milk are the ones that come to mind, but there’s another one that’s a little unexpected.
As everyone dusts off the breadmaker that’s lain unused for years since that time a loaf came out like a housebrick, or contemplates three months without beer and rediscovers their inner home brewer, it seems yeast can’t be had for love nor money. No matter, because the world is full of yeasts and thus social media is full of guides for capturing your own from dried fruit, or from the natural environment. A few days tending a pot of flour and water, taking away bacterial cultures and nurturing the one you want, and you can defy the shortage and have as much yeast as you need.
Making bread dough is simple — it’s just flour and water, with some salt and yeast if you want to make things easy on yourself. Turning that dough into bread is another matter entirely. You need to punch that dough down, you need to let it rise, and you need to knead it again. At home, you’re probably content with letting the dough rise on the kitchen counter, but there’s a reason your home loaf doesn’t taste like what you would get at a good bakery. A bakery has a proofer, or a box that lets dough rise at a temperature that would be uncomfortable for humans, but perfect for yeast.
The leavening cell is a DIY proofing box that keeps dough at a steady 26° C to 28° C, the perfect temperature for making bread, pizza dough, and even yogurts. [vittorio] made this and the results look great.
The design of this build is simple enough and made out of 20×20 aluminum profiles shaped into a cubic frame. The outside of this box is 6mm thick wooden panels coated on the inside with a heat-reflective insulating mesh. Inside of that is a frame of metal mesh to which a six-meter long cable heating element is attached. This heating element is controlled via a thermostat with a probe temperature sensor on a timer. No, it’s not very complicated but the entire idea of a proofer is to have a slightly warm box.
You can check out the promo video for the Leavening Cell below.
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.
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.
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.