Monday, July 22, 2013

Simple Simon met a pieman, going to the fair...

As previously noted, this past weekend an old back injury flared up (cough-anvil-cough) and I was a bit stuck. I couldn't sit down and got tired of laying down, so I decided to do some food-borne experiments standing at the counter.  An excellent opportunity to explore the cuisine prepared for the high and the low by the Worshipful Company of the Cooks of London. After poking around the internet (the cookbooks were on a shelf too low to reach, something I'll need to address soon) I settled on making a classic pork pie.

Except that no one on the web could seem to decide what that meant.  Which is perfect territory for me because I never know what anything means until I get there.

Thankfully, enough of the kitchen is done to give me some space for my lab equipment, but which I mean a notebook and a laptop.

What I like most about this is that it gives you a sort of mid-race look at how things work in behind the scenes. First I look to see if anyone else has done this before. If so, what did they do? Do I like what they did? Can I do it differently, or better, or in some way contribute to the discussion in my own way? Has it been done to death? Is there a better project?

Then I begin to experiment, carefully recording my results and noting where I deviated from the standard profile. Note taking is of paramount importance. I lost my notebook with all my notes on the history of brewing and it quite literally set me back a month on that project.

To quote Adam Savage from the Mythbusters: "Remember kids, the only difference between doing science and screwing around is writing it down."

So... pies.

I know going in that pies were often used as simple ways to create fare for the working stiff. Which is right up my alley. A pie wrapped in cloth will stay hot for quite awhile after the working stiff gets to his workshop, a portable hug from his family kitchen. Pies were served to all walks of life, differentiated mainly by the expense of their ingredient list.

My cupboard holds enough spices that to the 16th century cook it would seem that I'd purloined a king's ransom, so I must be careful. I want an upper-middling sort of pie, perhaps around a festival time when purse strings were loosened by gaiety or in hopes of impressing an important client. The clove and cinnamon especially come to us from the far Orient by way of many middle-men, each taking a cut of the high price I paid to show off the wealth of my kitchen... all six square feet of it that are finished enough to be in the photos.

Yes, pain and painkillers do make my imagination run a bit wild, but as long as I don't hurt anyone, who does it hurt?

After a bit of trial and error, I cobbled together the following working recipe for a spiced pork pie in a standing coffin, complete with photos of carefully-staged food (which was weird for me, because I'm not the Instagram breed of foodie).  Though I use some spices that would cost our Elizabethan cook a pretty penny, the nicest thing about a pie is that it's a scalable application and could easily be made for more money or less depending on what you put in it.

Hang on... you put what in a coffin?

A coffin is a period term for a pie crust and in general they were edible but not necessarily meant to be eaten. It's a curious bit of nomenclature and it illustrates handily the gallows humor of a people who lived much closer to the line between life and death than moderns like myself are accustomed to. When I can reach my Oxford English Dictionary (too heavy, too low of a shelf... now I know why dictionary stands were invented) I'll try to figure out whether the box for dead people or the crust for a pie was named that first.

I sort of like the idea that it was the pie first.
Please note: Bad back means no chopping wood, so this one's done in the modern oven inside, but would easily translate to the wood-fired oven or to baking in a cauldron placed next to carefully-tended coals. I really should find myself a couple of apprentices...
Let's get cooking!

To make a simple pork pie in a standing coffin

Serves: 4 (Makes four pies)

3 cups of flour
2 tsp creme of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp of salt
1 cup of water
8 tbs lard
2 tbs unsalted butter

1 lbs ground pork (plus reserved liquid)
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1 tbs spice mixture
     black peppercorns  
6 cloves of garlic
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp flour

One egg, beaten

Making the coffins...

Combine dry ingredients in a work bowl using a sieve or whisk. Make a well in the middle of the mound of dry ingredients.

Meanwhile, heat the lard and butter with 1/2 cup of water to a boil. Remove from heat and wait for it to stop bubbling, then pour slowly into well in the dry ingredients. Begin to combine the hot wet mixture into the dry using a wooden spoon, working outward from the center, being careful because the wet ingredients are just off the boil. Sieve additional flour as needed until your paste takes on the consistency of Play-do.

Turn out onto a floured board and divide into six equal parts. Use a rolling pin to flatten into disks about a half inch thick and stack the disks with waxed paper between them in an open bag.  Counter for at least four hours or move to the refrigerator and chill for at least two hours. (If you decide to chill, bring to room temperature before you start to work the dough again.)

Making the filling...

Your spice pack is basically mulling spices minus the star anise. (The licorice flavor of anise overwhelms the pork in my opinion.) Candied ginger or orange peel is a delightful addition if you get a whim. Combine the spices in a mortar and pound into powder. If you must use an electric spice grinder, I won't judge you.

Well... maybe a little.

Combine spice pack, onions, garlic, salt, and ground pork in a pan and cook on medium heat until it starts to come together.


Once the pork is brown, mix in bread crumbs and a 1/4 teaspoon of flour to thicken the drippings.  Set aside to cool and congeal. Yes, congealing is a Good Thing.
Deviation from the norm: This gets pretty thick, but it makes a rather loose filling by meatpie standards. In traditional pork pies, you would often make a gelatin by boiling down trotters (read: pig feet) and then combine that to make a filling that could stand up on its own. For a modern approach, you can substitute unflavored gelatin, which you use according to the package instructions.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
If you are baking these in a wood-fired beehive style bread oven like mine, these are introduced in the baking sequence after the bread is finished cooking.

Raise the coffins...

When your crust dough has aged, allowing the fats and the proteins to form a strong melange (and it's back to room temperature if you chose to refrigerate) roll out the first disc on a floured board. Place a pie mold in the center of the dough disc and begin to smoosh the dough up the sides, forming a little bowl.
On the subject of pie molds: Pie molds are not often seen these days in even the best stocked kitchen store. Anything cylindrical will do. I've seen everyone including some very serious reenactors do this with an ice tea glass. I use a 4-inch cut from the middle of a thrift store rolling pin. This is the cheapest source I could find, short of turning one on a lathe and even then the raw materials would cost more than Goodwill's old rolling pins. Just remember to grease the mold so you can get it out.

Whatever you choose to use, raise four coffins in this way, making what amounts to four tall, doughy ramekins, leaving two rounds of dough on the board. The bottoms of your coffins should be at least a 1/3 inch thick and the walls should be sturdy at the bottom and taper at the tops.

Divide each of the remaining disks in half and flatten into thin rounds with your rolling pin to make lids. Scoop a bit of the filling into each, mounding the middle, but leaving the lip clear. Smear a bit of beaten egg around the inside lip and lid them up, pinching the edges decoratively if you so choose.  Be sure to cut vents for escaping steam or the coffins will get gooey instead of staying sturdy.

Add a bit of water to your beaten egg to make an egg wash and slather the tops liberally with the egg mixture.

Bake for 30 minutes or until the tops are golden brown and flaky.

Serve hot or cold, alone or with a nice salat (that's a "salad" to you and me) and a complementary beverage. For my part, I like any nice amber ale that I had nothing to do with brewing.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Historical Homebrewing Part Two: Sickness Demons and Yeast

Today was supposed to be a work day for our kitchen remodel, but then the back gremlins showed up and now I stand at the new kitchen counter typing this because I cannot really sit. Probably twinged something when I moved the anvil off the kitchen counter so The Engineer could do some tiling next to the stove.

Yes really. Why, where do you keep your anvil?

Since I can't really undertake anything new, let's rejoin the Brewery of the Bearded Alewives, already in progress...

Part Two: Exorcising Our Sickness Demons

The Elizabethans were not as dirty as advertised. They bathed more often than frontier Americans (who I wager were also cleaner than reputed) and even brushed their teeth. Okay, they chewed on a sort of bushy stick, but it sort of amounted to the same thing. The Waterpik hadn't been invented yet. Unfortunately, any benefit of this brushing was somewhat undercut by their affection for raw sugar. I've read that black teeth were a status symbol and most records of her majesty recount her black teeth.

Which honestly must've hurt like holy heck.

They even had sewers... open ones for the most part, but they did have them, and we'll get more into the transit of muck from city to sea when we discuss the Worshipful Company of Plumbers (yea verily). If you want to get ahead of the class, Google "Gong Farmer" some time. Or you could just click that link.

Hint: Gong farmers don't maintain fields of east Asian percussion instruments.

All that being said, they had no idea how sickness happened, how it spread, or what caused it. As the author of my ale book said: "Alewives... would've taken your word for it if you told them that invisible sickness demons lived in the water and could only be killed by being boiled alive." Cleanliness may well have been next to Godliness, but the definition of cleanliness was as flexible and multi-defined in our time period as was the concept of Godliness.

I noted in a previous post that the idea of "They drank ale because water was unsafe" is a popular notion, put forward once more by Dr Cookson in the book I'm using. But it's a concept that is currently, finally, under fire. The easiest counter-argument is that the claim is flawed at its core for the exact reason she just mentioned: avoiding water and supplanting it with beer would imply more knowledge of disease vectors than the early modern person actually possessed.

Also, the duration and amount of boiling in ale-making is insufficient to actually kill some popular water-borne "sickness demons".

This article by medievalist Tim O'Neill will do a better job of presenting the counter-argument than What Was the Drink of Choice in Medieval Europe?  He makes a good case for water being the go-to for most Europeans... and yet, in his first sentence implies that the problem is with misinformation on the internet. I've been reading the factoid that ale was safer than water and preferred for that reason in history books, including textbooks, since I was a small child. This isn't a new idea or one of those bits of net-lore that get argued about in the fora of Straight Dope and Snopes.

Anyway, it's a great article and I'd love to talk to him about it sometime... maybe over a pint.

For whatever reason, it's indisputable that people drank enormous amounts of ale and beer. Several liters a day by many counts. We're impressed by these statistics because we think in terms of modern beers, but they got away with it because alcohol levels were so very low in early beers and carbohydrates were incredibly high by modern standards. The recipe I've been brewing has a pound and a half of oats in it, for heaven's sake.

Calorically, it's a meal in itself.

Academic arguments aside, whether it was because the local water supply was suspect or because it was the early modern equivalent of a protein shake, we can all agree that ale was the lynch pin of the early modern diet.  And whether or not the average medieval schmoe was as dirty as popular imagination would have them be (they weren't) the sanitation of the modern kitchen is vastly greater than the sanitation of the Alewife's kitchen.

Did I say "vastly"?  I meant "somewhat".  As far as you know, I decided to forego sterility for reasons of historical accuracy. Yeah... that's it.

Part III: My Yeast Can Beat Up Your Yeast

Mistake #3: Sanitation is such a Thing in modern brewing because we have a much better understanding not only of disease vectors, but also we have a much greater knowledge of what yeast is and how it works. Pathogens that cause food poisoning are one thing (and of greater concern in bottling than brewing) there are also pathogens that will just show up to eat your yeast. Also, wild yeast, which exists naturally on almost every surface, can get in the way of or inhibit the operation of cultured yeast, leading to problems, or at least unpredictability, with your brew.

Honestly, can you really sanitize a broom? Or even a wooden spoon (which is what we were using)? The God's honest truth is this: I forewent sterility in this project because sterility was an unreachable goal. Note that JoNell, quite accurately, said "sanitize" rather than "sterilize". That's because outside of a clean room in a science lab, it's all but impossible to really sterilize anything even in a modern kitchen. 

When Janet Winter commented on my Facebook wall that her husband's foray into homebrewing seemed to be more an exercise in washing dishes than it was in making beer, she put a lovely point on things. I won't define Godliness for you, but I can tell you that cleanliness looks like soap suds because I am, at the core of my being, a modern man. 

Besides, even if you do get something sterile, that stops the moment it makes contact with the air because the air itself is rife with things like wild yeast.

But we're making beer! Yeast is a Good Thing, though, right?

Yes and no.

Modern ale yeast, "Saccharomyces cerevisiae" is top-fermenting and operates best in warmer temperatures, as opposed to Lager yeast, "saccharomyces pastorianus" which is a "bottom fermenting" yeast which operates over longer periods at cooler temperatures. Top and bottom fermenting is a bit of a misnomer, frankly, and has to do with where the foam shows up as opposed to where the real action is. Both types of yeast are free-ranging, hunting down every scrap of sugar they can get their yeasty teeth into and chomping it down to turn into alcohol and carbon dioxide.

The foam that forms atop a top-fermenting beer is the stuff I was talking about in the baking post, called "barm" and though I was looking too early when JoNell posted that the next day, I knew I was in trouble when I messaged Patrick a few days later and he told me he still didn't see any barm forming at the top of my ale batch.

My yeast were failing me.

Still, I would have to wait a week for confirmation of my failure.

Special thanks once again to Patrick and JoNell Franz for not only generously offering their kitchen to host the brewing of this oatmeal-soup-which-we-will-agree-to-call-ale-in-order-to-humor-Scott, but also their generosity of spirit and wonderful good humor along the way. Would not have been the same without JoNell's play-by-play documentation.
Today's Unsolicited Endorsement: Patrick is a professional Robin Hood (yes, really) as well as the founder and president of Presenters of Living History. JoNell and Patrick bring hands-on history demonstrations into schools and organizations, giving kids a chance to make a tactile connection to history by participating in demonstrations and crafts from the renaissance through the American civil war. Aside from being two of my favorite people on the planet, they do Good Work showing kids that history is NOT BORING. You can find out more about their work at
Next: We drink!

- Scott

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Historical Homebrewing Part One: Alewives like us...

Sometimes, I run out of resources and the chronicles are silent, so I end up doing things by the seat of my pants on this project. Beer-brewing was not supposed to be one of them.

After, all I had a book!

What could possibly go wrong?

I read the instructions in my book. Over and over again. I visited the local home brew store. I talked to the very knowledgeable guy who was there. When I told him what I was up to, he didn't bat an eye. Told me what to expect, gave me some advice, told me I didn't need to buy any extra gear, and sent me on my way with ingredients in hand. I read three books on the history of beer and brewing.

Then I re-read the instructions and read two books about modern home brewing and made notes on a bunch of things I didn't actually need to know, but wanted to know just in case I was wrong about what I'd need to know.

And then this happened.

Yes, it was going to be that sort of night.

My partner in crime Patrick has a partner in crime of his own, his wife JoNell. She was there to document the procedure for the edification and amusement of her friends on Facebook (and with her permission, you as well! Remember to thank her in comments.) 

It was supposed to be simple (according to the instructions, which I really did read) for Patrick and I to put together a basic, low-alcohol, late medieval ale. It would "be like liquid bread," the author assured us.

Deviations from Period Procedures: 
  • Sanitation. (More on that later.)
  • I make a very masculine alewife. In fact, both of us are a bit hairy about the jowls for a proper alewife.  In fact, if the ghost of particularly annoyed alewives of yore were haunting us and cursed the proceedings, I would not be at all surprised.
  • Period alewives used a twig-broom known as a bessom or the branch of a broom plant (known hereabouts as 'Scotchbroom' to which I am fiercely allergic) to stir the mash. We used a wooden spoon.
  • No huge copper tuns or kettles or oaken barrels were sullied in the manufacture of this small ale. My efforts were barely worth the plastic buckets and coolers that we did use.

Incidentally, when you're around theater people, mention the idea of dressing in drag very carefully or you'll end up in a dress before you can say "Milton Berle".

Welcome to the Brewery of the Bearded Alewives.

Part the First: Angus MacGyver, Patron Saint of Brewers

Mistake #1: As previously noted, I forgot to bring the kitchen scale with us and the Franzes didn't have one. As it turns out, you can weigh ingredients the way you weigh a cat: Weigh the person, weigh the person holding the cat/oats, subtract the difference. 

In all honesty, this probably had minimal impact on our results. The malt was pre-weighed by the home brew store, who also ground it for us.  We also tested our scale scheme with known-weight items like the bag of malt to be sure we could get into the correct ballpark for our weights and measures.

The oats were mostly present for flavor, so a slight deviation in weight probably didn't affect the brew much anyway.

Why yes, I did watch a lot of MacGyver as a young and impressionable child, why do you ask?  Look, if you want to read about brewing being done right and done well, there are places to find that sort of thing. Sadly, this is not going to be one of them.

The recipe was simple:
4.5 lbs of Malt
1.5 lbs of Oats
4 gallons of water
2 packets Ale yeast
2 five-gallon food-grade buckets

End of list.  How could someone as experienced at cooking pretty much every cuisine as I am screw up a recipe that simple?  

The careful observer will note that I even got to wear my own clothes! And a snazzy black Guinness apron.

And so the evening began. 

There was a bit of tumult early on as we encountered cracked and broken buckets. Patrick has tried home brewing before, but it was quite awhile ago and some of his equipment has moved all over the country to sit unused in various ports of call. Not all of it fared well.

Eventually, we discounted the idea of using the floor cleaner bucket and settled on a 5-gallon water cooler and the one food-grade bucket that had survived the moves. 
Mistake #2: This one might've been worse. The bucket substitution wouldn't have been such a big deal, but the broken one was the only bucket with graduations marked on the side for gallons. We used a pitcher that was almost a half-gallon to measure out our universal solvent.
The whole procedure takes several hours, long stretches of time are called out in the recipe as each step requires the mash (which is the term referring to the mixture that is allegedly going to magically become beer at some point) be left alone to saturate, meld, boil, sit undisturbed, settle, etcetera.  All with the aim of extracting the sugars locked in the barley, which will feed the yeast, which will make alcohol with them.

Not to blame my tools but if I had one criticism for Dr. Cookson (Author of Drinkable History) it would be to better list out the steps in the process. As it is, the recipe/procedure is shot through with jokey asides while you scour the instructions for some indication of how much water should be boiling and when it should be added can get a bit lost in the silliness.

Rather like trying to cook from one of my blog posts, come to think of it.

Through the clever use of an array of kitchen timers, we were able to keep on-track with our boiling and stirring and pouring routine...

Well... mostly.

Did I mention that my TV is only tenuously hooked to the rest of the world? It's been ages since I cut the cord, so any current television is a bit of a siren song. Honestly, between the television and the ghosts of alewives past, we probably never had a chance.

I ended up with a series of successive timers set to go off at specific intervals so that one would signal me to begin heating the water that I'd need to be boiling for the next step. I don't know how alewives did this, but for me, it was all about timers.

Sometimes, it was difficult to figure out what was going on and I think I re-read the entire book several times, trying to suss out the instructions from the asides.

Then, he asked me if I'd sanitized the spoon... crap.

Should've used a broom.

Coming tomorrow in Part Two: We tangle with the Sickness Demons

- Scott

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Kill It With Fire Part Two: Time to eat your beer...

I have to admit something before we begin... I'm not a baker. Bread is as near to kitchen magic as anything I've ever seen.  It's something my mom did so easily yet seems to complex that it's always freaked me out a bit even when the most complex kitchen procedures fell before my mighty spoon.

I own scores of books about breads and I aspire to being known as a baker, but I never actually bake anything.  It's just so fiddly and I always have some other Thing that Needs My Attention Right Now.

That changes today.  And because I can't do anything normally, my first loaves of bread ever will be in a wood-fired oven made out of cat litter.

Yes. Cat litter.

It was clean when I started, honest. But we'll get to that in a minute.

You are, by now, familiar with that photo of the empty plinth in my back garden that I have posted a time or three in hopes that doing so will inspire me to put something there... preferably something oven-shaped.

It finally worked.

My old nemesis Jost Amman was an enormous help this time around, with his picture of the half-naked baker at his work.  (Call me crazy; I decided to do this fully-clothed.) Bread ovens the world over are made in essentially the same way. A dome of clay mixed with sand and straw is formed, and when dried it is heated with a fire. This simple style was in use in Pompeii and was still in use in an essentially unchanged form in colonial America. Without driving more than an hour from here in any given direction, I can reach at least ten restaurants using the same technology as our ancestors did to bake pizzas. Some of them cheat and use gas to heat them, but there are a good many that still use wood.

Some technologies are just built to last.

The principle is simple. Clay is a natural heat sink, an insulator that stores heat that it pushed into it by a kiln or by a wood fire. This makes ceramics possible. It also makes it possible to use that "heat sink" property to cook food by adding heat and then using the stored heat after the source is removed, in this case a wood fire.

Apparently, the island where I live used to house the Pacific Northwest's largest clay quarry. This should be a blessing since most of that clay went into the bricks that built Seattle. It's not a blessing, though, because apparently they scooped it all out and carted it away, leaving me wanting for clay when it came time for building ovens.

The closest, cheapest, most readily-available source of clay? Cat litter. The stuff they sell in the bulk bins at my local pet store is almost pure clay and it's less than ten bucks for thirty pounds if you have a coupon.

I used a book called Build Your Own Earth Oven by Kiko Denzer and this video from Jas Townsend that is based on the same book.

They have another video on their YouTube channel showing them building a quicky version using cat clay. Mine is a melange of both methods the base method in this video and the quicky version, all based on reading Denzer's book.

It takes up to two hours to get it fully up to heat.  Which is handy since most breads need that much time to rise.

Eat your beer/Drink your bread

My sources don't agree on whether or not soured dough was a Thing in Elizabethan bakeries. And those who say it was don't cite their sources. I honestly thought it was, because it seems so obvious to me and I can find plenty of sources dating the procedure back to the ancient world. One thing I know for certain is that yeast was available for purchase from brewers, who scooped it from the foam that forms atop fermenting ales. The foam was called "Barm" (from Old English "beorma" meaning 'yeast', and the common root of the word "Barmy" meaning goofy... I just couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.)
My ale just isn't barmy enough...

As it happens, I have a batch of fermenting ale... that isn't very foamy.


Thankfully, I know how to cheat because the same wonderful folks who posted those bread oven building videos also posted some videos about using their ovens. (Honestly, their cooking videos are not to be missed.) And along the way, they gave some tips on how to fake ale barm using a bottle of modern ale, some ale yeast, and a bit of agitation.

1/2 cup warm ale
1/2 cup flour
1 packet of yeast

Mix well.

I mixed mine in a mug. The guy at Jas Townsend mixed it up in a bottle, probably because it made for more interesting video footage.  Just remember to account for that flour and moisture in your recipe.

Bread recipes for the period are frightfully simple. Flour of various sorts, water, a bit of salt, and yeast. Most of the things we add to bread today to change crumb structure and density and whatnot are perishable and therefore seasonal for the Elizabethan baker. A professional bakery probably had better access to all ingredients, but for a loaf meant to be sold at the palace. Our bread is of the middling sort, so it will boast only one extra ingredient to suit my fancy: honey.

A confession the recipe I used as the basis for my first loaf was the Basic Whole Wheat Bread from the Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book by Laurel Robertson, et al.  It's a fantastic loaf of bread, dead simple, and she has a wood-fired oven in her home, all of which are points in her favor.

Also, it's as close to the period recipes I have onhand as any other and I needed something basic to start me out. So thank you, Laurel and your kitchen.

I keeping with my imaginary middle-class loaf, I won't be using white flour, which in the 16th century would be achieved by 'bolting', which is the act of filtering flour through increasingly finer cloth until all of the chaff and germ are out of it and only the endosperm remained. These days, we use chemical processes to whiten flour, so I don't generally eat the stuff anyway.

6 cups (900 grams) of whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons of salt
2 1/4 cups lukewarm water
2 dollops of honey
Jas Townsend Cheater Barm 

Sit the water and honey atop the warming oven to dissolve the honey into the water while you scoop your dry ingredients into a large wooden workbowl.  Make a well in the center and add your warmed water/honey mixture and your barmy concoction.

 Get your hands in there and start to bring it together into a dough. It will be sticky.

Turn it out onto a floured bread board and knead for up to twenty minutes or until the dough has absorbed all the flour it's going to.

Split in twain and let rest under a towel in a warm spot under a rhododendron or apple tree (which is totally period, right?) and leave it alone for two hours. 

Seriously. Leave it alone. Don't even peek at it. Go put the kettle on and make yourself useful while the yeast do their thing.

When the bread's risen and the oven is heated up, it's time to work quickly. No time for lollygagging or posing for pictures. Use a hoe or something to rake the coals out of the way and give the floor of the oven a good mopping with water. 

 Much sizzling will occur; that's okay, it helps the bread form a goodly crust. Flour your peel and transfer your risen dough balls to the oven, quick like a bunny!  The longer the door is open, the more heat you lose!

Take that door you made yesterday with the handle made from a re-purposed curtain rod holder (waste not, want not) and get it in place, sealing around the edges with a paste made from flour and water.

Wait twenty minutes. No peeking! Just let it bake.  

When the cell phone timer goes off (or your perfectly-period hourglass... um... beeps) it's time to remove the bread.  The paste caulking might still be gooey. That's okay.

Pull them out and flip 'em over. When you knock on the bottom, it should sound firm, but a bit hollow. That means they're done. I don't know why, but it does and they didn't have things like instant read thermometers and toothpicks to test these things.

Note to self: The surface of a bread peel is not a high-friction surface. You almost dropped two loaves in the dirt because you were getting cute with it. Move slowly and don't be barmy.

Find a bread knife and don't cut yourself. Bloody bread is not good eats.

Smear with a goodly portion of butter and enjoy the taste of your fragrant, crusty, and just slightly chewy, beer.