Try This at Home Series

June 12, 2020

Savory Biscotti
Mitch Stamm

I knew it last night.  I knew it all week.  I had nothing prepared for today. Honestly, that hadn’t happened since last week.  Try This at Home and the Friday Feature are meant to be a distraction from everything around us.  Like some of you, I feel like I’m treading overripe liquid levain; it’s not just the gummy consistency, I’m choking on the fumes too. 

I’ve been too distracted to create a distraction. Shamefully, I realized that most of you don’t have the luxury of being distracted.  You’re focused.  You’re baking your hearts out for your communities.  You’re working day and night with masks, curbside pickups, pivots, shifts, scarcity of ingredients, tending to your families etc.  Whether you’re baking at home or in a bakery, you’re nourishing and sustaining yourself and others.  The world has taken note that the artisan baking community is welcoming and sharing.  Your words and actions inspire me and fill me with hope that your communities will respond to the lessons, didactic and subliminal, that you are modeling and sharing.

With nothing prepared, I went deep into the files.  I found something I had forgotten about.  A young man interviewed for a bakery position when I was the pastry chef at Zingerman’s Bakehouse.  I can’t remember his name or why he did not work at the Bakehouse.  But I do remember the savory biscotti he brought with him and the way my mind unlocked when I tasted them.  It was easy to come up with a recipe; it was more difficult to share the thought behind it and the process.

When I was younger – I guess that includes yesterday – I placed more emphasis on gilding the lily than I did on the lily. Something like, “Fundamentals be damned, add praline and some of that gold leaf...”   If a baker put bananas into a product, I felt that I had to one up them by roasting the bananas before using them.  It never occurred to me that the first baker may have tried a bunch of banana treatments and decided that using them raw suited their vision and palate best. And did not over-complicate the flavor. I did not take note of the fundamentals involved; I was focused on one-upping.  Not improving, or developing something, but one-upping.

That’s peculiar behavior.  Even for me.  I don’t remember waving roasted bananas in anyone’s face, but I was rather smug, if not downright arrogant, about one-upping anyone who didn’t.  I admit, I was a slow learner.  Baking and bakers have taught me much.  Oh, the lessons…

And, I did not want to share the recipe.

Why was I so concerned about protecting something that means nothing in the grand scheme?  What if Beethoven wrote and performed “Ode to Joy” only for himself or his chosen few?  Even if they hadn’t received royalties, did it bother the Beatles when the Supremes covered their songs?  Why would I design something to give pleasure and not put it out there to give others pleasure?  What’s that line about people on photo sharing sites (not ours) simply making love to themselves?

Edvard Munch painted four iterations of “The Scream.”  What if he kept them in his house because he didn’t want them copied or imitated?  Who would be more penalized?  Him or humanity?

A stupid little cookie was so important to me that I did not want to share it.  It was so important that I forgot about it.

Go ahead, one-up it.  Infuse the olive oil, grind dried heirloom corn, centrifuge the parmesan.  anything else you can think of. Have your party.  Make it yours.  And then one or triple-up it.

I’ll hang on the prefermented, breadsticks laminated with a parmesan butter block (not kidding; I’ve done it) for the next trip to the files.  And that’s after all that talk about not one-upping…

Until we bake again,

Savory Biscotti Formula

Un petit lagniappe:

I have to get this off my chest. Why would anyone put something in a preheated oven if they wanted to bake it? Wouldn’t putting it in a heated oven make just a little sense?  Who started this?