Saturday, December 20, 2008

Black Boots and My Long-Necked Deficit

I told you I would tell you about this bread, Chocolate-Sour Cherry, but I just haven’t gotten around to it till now.

The truth is, I don’t like this recipe, and I feel guilty for not liking it. I mean, who in their right mind doesn’t like chocolate-sour cherry bread? I imagine that long-legged, long-necked, black-boot-wearing French women eat it all the time. Probably even for breakfast.

Maybe I need to put on my black boots and try it again. It might taste different then.

But I can’t fix the long-neck deficit.

The other possibility is that I’m not making it right. But this last time I followed the recipe exactly. I used my own dried cherries and good chocolate. But still, I just don’t like it. It’s too dry. And I don’t like the sourdough-bread-turned-chocolate flavor.

I guess I’m just not sophisticated enough.

However, I know there are others out there who have longer necks than me, so I’ll take the time to type up the recipe for you. You’re welcome.

Chocolate-Sour Cherry Bread
Adapted from Breads from the La Brea Bakery by Nancy Silverton

½ cup (4 ounces) cool water
2 teaspoons yeast
2/3 cup (6 ounces) white starter
5 ½ tablespoons (1 ounce) dark cocoa powder, unsweetened
1/4 cup (2 ounces) sugar
2 cups, plus 2 tablespoons, (10 ½ ounces) bread flour
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) butter, cut into smaller pieces
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2/3 cup (3 ounces) dried sour cherries, unsweetened
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into ½-inch chunks

Put the first six ingredients (down through the flour) in the mixing bowl and mix for three minutes. While the mixer is still running, add the butter, a tablespoon at a time. After the butter has been incorporated, add the salt and mix for about nine more minutes. Add the cherries and chocolate and mix for just a couple minutes, until it is well blended.

Transfer the dough to a clean, oiled bowl, cover with a shower cap let sit at room temperature for a couple hours. At that point, cut the dough into the desired sizes and shape into loaves (I made four mini-loaves, but you can also make two regular bread loaves, though they will be small). Cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight.

The following morning, remove the loaves of bread from the refrigerator, take off the plastic wrap, and cover the loaves with a cloth. When the dough has reached a temperature of 64 degrees, dock the tops (I think I forgot to dock mine), and bake at 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas Gifts

I like to give little gifts to our neighbors at Christmas time. Yes, it’s cliche. Yes, everybody else does it. Yes, I know I’m not original. But that’s okay. The Christmas season provides a window of opportunity to show people that I care for them. I like that—it’s a good thing, in my mind. Besides, I’m already in the over-do-it-in-the-kitchen mode, so just putting myself out a little further is not that much of a stretch.

We don’t know many of our neighbors, at least not well. Many of them are elderly (I rely on the fact that they are probably hard of hearing—helps me to feel less guilty about all the screaming and hollering that emits from our living quarters), and the rest are mostly adults who have jobs and stay indoors when they are home. We kind of rule our neck of the woods.

I know our neighbors are kind folk, deserving of a little plate of Christmas goodies. I know this, merely because they have not turned us in, yet. I’m hedging my bets that one little plate of orange-cranberry sweet rolls or some chocolate-covered toffee to buy us one more year of goodwill.

I’m such a pragmatic person.

This year I’m giving little loaves of Country-White sourdough bread. I have a bunch of the little loaves stashed in our freezer, destined for our neighbors’ gullets. (And then I went above and beyond my intended giving-plan and sent some little loaves with Mr. Handsome when he ran into town the other afternoon—those loaves went to our pastors and church elders and church secretary. No, I am not buying my way into heaven! I can’t believe you just thought that! Come on, people, it’s Christmas. Can’t a body just want to give a gift without their motives being scrutinized? Geez.)

The way the plastic wrap stands up on top of the loaves, it makes them look like they just stuck their doughy fingers in a light socket and got electrocuted. It makes me feel rather quaint, giving electrocuted baked goods away as Christmas gifts.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


I know I’m done with baking bread, for now, but that doesn’t mean I’m done talking about bread. I don’t ever really run out of things to say, bread or otherwise—that’s just not something I struggle with, a lack of words.

I have been getting brave with my bread baking. I used to make just the boules, but now I’ve broken with tradition and made not only loaves, but also rolls.

Silverton does have recipes for rolls in her book, of course, but I didn’t even take a peek at those when I started making my own. I just shaped the rolls, set them in a greased pan, did the overnight refrigerator proofing, and then baked them the following day. What makes them so fun, is docking them. I did get this idea from Silverton, I’ll admit, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling a sense of ownership in the delightful process.

To dock rolls, take a pair of kitchen scissors and snip the tops of the rolls, first one way,

and then the other,

to make a nice little X.

You could say the rolls look kind of spiked, scared almost, but I think they look cute. And snip-snipping their tops is kitchen work at its most thrilling. You gotta give it a try.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Frenzied Finale

I finished up the last of the bread baking on Friday.

I’m sick of baking bread, as in I-can-hardly-stand-to-eat-bread-anymore sick. My refrigerator seemed to always be loaded down with the proofing bread (and now it’s my freezer that’s loaded down), and I was putting so much of my energy into feeding the starters and mixing and shaping and baking when I already had the extra work of Christmas baking and menu planning. I was spending way too much time in the kitchen, so it’s with an enormous sigh of relief that I put the baby away.

I will not bake more sourdough till 2009. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Baking Frenzy

I haven’t written here for awhile. You may think that I have been doling out water and flour three times every day, day in and day out for the past month, but I haven’t. I put the babies to sleep again, and after a break that lasted several weeks, I woke them up, just last Wednesday.

After the first day of feedings, both starters looked pretty flat and the whole wheat starter smelled dead (in other words, like flour and water, no tang to it), but the next morning they were alive and well. I breathed a sigh of relief, and on the third day I started baking.

I’m trying to bake every day, in preparation for our Christmas company and travels. It makes my mornings a little crazy what with all the measuring and pouring and all the doughy containers to wash.

I have a nice little system though.

I first get out the four loaves of bread that have been in the refrigerator overnight. I take off their shower caps and cover them with a towel.

Then I mix up a batch of the country white. While that dough is mixing,

and then resting,

I measure out the ingredients for the whole wheat.

After the country white is done, I simply transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, cover it with a shower cap, and dump the pre-measured ingredients for the whole wheat into the mixing bowl—I do not wash the mixing bowl between breads.

Somewhere in there I get my continuing starters measured into clean jars, fed, and set back in their corner on the counter.

And the leftover starter dumped into a little bowl, ready to add to the compost and for one of the kids to carry it out to the chickens.

Several hours later it is time to get busy again. I bake the risen loaves.

Then I grease the newly-emptied bread pans, cut and shape the new loaves, put them in the pans, cover them with shower caps, and let them rest at room temperature for an hour before putting them in the refrigerator.

After that, all that remains to be done it to feed the babies at noon and before bed, and to package up the freshly baked bread loaves and carry them down to the freezer.

Like I said, it’s a little crazy, but only for this week, or until I get about 16-20 loaves of bread. Then I’ll stop.

I already did stop with the whole wheat starter. Instead, I’m now doubling my white starter baby so that I can make a double batch of breads based on the white starter, such as the rosemary-olive oil and George’s Seeded Sour.

Ps. I made some changes to the whole wheat recipe, which I noted here. The dough was just too wet for me to work with.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

George's Seeded Sour

I loved this bread the last time I made it. The seed combination is brilliant, a perfect combo that mirrors a seeded sourdough bread I used to buy at our farmer’s market that made me go all swoony.

But I made a mistake this time. (I’ve been making a lot of mistakes, but I try not to dwell on them too much because then I get discouraged and am no fun to be with.) I used seeds that had not been stored in the freezer (I do know better) and had been piled listlessly in the corner of my kitchen cabinet for a year, or, oh I’m so embarrassed, more. So the seeds were a little bitter, which kind of ruined the effect.

Moral of the lesson—buy fresh seeds if you are going to make this bread, and then store them in the freezer until you need them again.

George’s Seeded Sour
Adapted from Breads from the La Brea Bakery by Nancy Silverton

2 1/4 cups (1 3/4 pounds) white starter
1/4 cup (2 ounces) milk
2/3 cup (3 ½ ounces) whole wheat flour
½ cup (1 1/3 ounces) dark rye flour
2 tablespoons bread flour
1 ½ cups (10 ounces) cool water
2 ½ tablespoons quinoa
2 ½ tablespoons millet
1/4 cup amaranth
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
5 cups plus 2 tablespoons (1 pound and 5 ½ ounces) bread flour
1 tablespoon sea salt

Start the bread in the late afternoon of Day One:
Make a sponge with the first five ingredients: using a spoon, mix them altogether in a bowl, cover tightly with a shower cap and leave the bowl sit on the counter until it has doubled, about three hours.

Put the water, sponge, grains, poppy seeds, and flour in the mixing bowl and knead for four minutes. Let the dough rest for twenty minutes.

Add the salt and mix for another five minutes. The dough will be sticky. Knead it by hand on the counter for a couple minutes and then put in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a shower cap and chill in the refrigerator for about six hours, or overnight.

Morning of Day Two:
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and take off the shower cap. If the dough has not yet doubled, let it sit at room temperature until it does.

Cut the dough into two pieces and shape into elongated boules, about ten inches in length. Lay them on the counter, smooth side up.

Prepare your proofing tray: Lay a cloth on a cookie sheet, lightly dust it with flour and bunch up the cloth in the middle, creating a little wall to divide the two loaves.

For the seed mixture:
2 tablespoons amaranth
½ cup sesame seeds
3 tablespoons poppy seeds
3 ½ tablespoons anise seeds
3 teaspoons fennel seeds

Mix the seeds together in a small bowl and then pour into a large tray that has sides.

Now’s the fun part. Spritz the tops of the loaves with water, roll them, wet-side down, in the seed mixture and lay them, seed-side down, on the proofing cloth.

Cover them with another cloth and allow to proof for three to four hours.

Heat the oven to 500 degrees. Flip each loaf over, dock them, and slip them, seed-side up, into the oven. Follow the same spritzing and baking procedure that you use when making the Country White.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Don't Cheat When Proofing

Here is the pumpkin bread that I told you would be coming.

It's not made with pumpkin, but with sweet potato, and enlivened with cumin and toasted pumpkin seeds. The last time I made this recipe it got rave reviews and everyone scarfed it down, but this time it is languishing, half-eaten, on the kitchen counter.

It is all my fault. I decided that the bread didn't really need to take two days to make---I could just rush it through if I cut back on the proofing times just a little. So I did, and while the final product has good flavor, the texture is too dense and heavy. So please learn from my mistake: do not skimp on the proofing times, and you shall be richly rewarded (with scarf-able bread) for your honesty and integrity.

Pumpkin Bread
Adapted from The Breads from the La Brea Bakery

Start the bread in the late afternoon or early evening so that it can ferment in the fridge overnight.

Two medium-sized sweet potatoes, or one big clunker
1 1/3 cups (7 ounces) shelled raw pumpkin seeds
1 ½ cups (12 ounces) cold water
1 cup (8 ounces) white starter
5 tablespoons raw wheat germ
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3 1/4 cups (1 pound and 2 ounces) white bread flour
1 1/4 cups (7 ounces) whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon sea salt

Bake the potatoes in the oven,

and then peel them and scoop out 1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) of the pulp and set it aside.

Put the pumpkin seeds on a cookie sheet and toast them in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes until they are golden brown. It’s important to get them all nice and toasty-brown because then they will taste lighter and crunchier once they are baked into the bread. Set them aside.

Mix together the water, starter, wheat germ, cumin, and flours, and knead well. Let the dough rest for twenty minutes, add the salt, and knead for another 5 minutes. Add the pumpkin seeds and knead for another two minutes, or until the seeds are well-incorporated. Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with a shower cap and let it ferment in the fridge for about 10 hours.

In the morning, cut the dough into two equal pieces and shape into loaves. You can make the bread into standard loaves, or boules, depending on your preference. I think they would also make fine dinner rolls.

If you make elongated boules, lay them smooth-side down on a flour-dusted cloth that has been placed on a cookie sheet. Pull the cloth up around the edges of the loaves to provide a separation between them and to help them keep their shape.

Once your bread loaves/boules/rolls are shaped, cover the loaves with shower caps (or if you’re using cookie sheets, slip the pan into a garbage, or big zip-lock, bag) and put them in the fridge to proof for another 6-10 hours.

Take the bread out of the fridge (now you are on late afternoon/evening of day two) and remove the plastic and cover the loaves with a cloth. Allow the dough to proof on the counter for one to two hours (till the dough reaches about 60 degrees). Dock the bread and bake in a hot oven, about 400 or 450 degrees, for about 30-40 minutes (less if you made rolls).

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Unauthentic Practicality

I finally made it through a entire day without neglecting my starter and so the following morning I celebrated by making a recipe of country white and a recipe of whole wheat. I baked the country white in loaf pans, and docked them with two diagonal slashes. The bread turned out chewy and soft and tender, but totally different from the oatmeal bread type of chewy, soft, and tender.

I also baked the whole wheat bread in loaf plans, docked with just one long slash. The bread, just the one loaf, kind of fell in on itself and I’m not sure why. But I do know that it’s important to dock the bread, even when baking in loaf pans, because I forgot to do it once and there was a giant air bubble between the top crust and the main body of the bread which was a pain because the top crust would always burn when toasted.

I’m finding that its tons easier to make this sourdough bread in loaf pans. I just plop the loafs of bread in the pans, cover the pans with shower caps, and line them up side-by-side in the fridge. The following morning I pull them out, replace the caps with a cloth, and let them rise on the counter for several hours. Then I dock them and slip them into the hot oven.

Is that boring? Unauthentic?

Probably, but it’s just us eating the bread. Who am I trying to impress, anyway?

But still, I feel like I’m cheating.

Maybe I need to give myself a lecture: You’re being practical, JJ. Practical.

Monday, November 3, 2008

I Forgot Them, Twice!

I don’t know if I’ll ever get around to making bread. I can’t seem to get my act together long enough to feed the starters three times a day. I don’t remember ever having this problem before. Even when I was hemorrhaging and ended up in the hospital, even when an explosive 14 year old foster daughter landed in our lap, even when I traveled, my starters never got neglected.

But on Saturday I went shopping all day long and forgot to put “do the starters” on Mr. Handsome's list and then I forgot to call home at lunchtime to tell him to feel the babies, so they only got two feedings that day.

And then yesterday I got sick (a stomach bug) and forgot to remind Mr. Handsome to give the babies their bedtime feeding because I fell asleep at 7:30 and slept all night long (and that was after I slept from 3-6 pm, and that was after taking periodic naps all day long ... I was doing a lot of sleeping). It’s not like I can blame Mr. Handsome. Not at all, really. See, he had been swamped with work: taking all the kids to church, hosting my grandparents who were visiting from PA, and then my balding bro and his wife came too, and making dinner (potato soup and apple pie) for everyone. If the starter babies were going to compete with all that chaos, then they needed to be the type of baby that screams bloody murder, which they aren’t.

The good news is that now I know what the starters looks like when they’ve only had two feedings. Just for the record, the white starter gets a thin layer of frothy liquid on top, and the whole wheat starter smells a little flat. They’re probably just fine, and I could’ve baked with them, except that I didn’t have enough starter to use in bread and still have some leftover to keep it going. So, we’re waiting till tomorrow.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Waking Them Up

My babies are waking up! I got them out of the fridge yesterday morning; the poor things looked chilled to the bone, watery, and weak. So pathetic and sad! I almost felt guilty.

They clearly needed to get the blood moving again. To stir some life back into them. To eat something! So, I did what any good mom does when her kids look cold and weepy---I fed them (just water and flour, nothing fancy) and almost immediately, it seemed, they were back to their boisterous, tangy-scented selves. It made my heart swell with pride, it did! Silverton says to wait for three days before baking after chilling the starter, but I bet I could’ve baked with them today.

Anyway, all that to say: We’re back in business, folks, and I have a couple new recipes up my sleeve. Well, at least one ... but I think it’s a good one. It involves pumpkin seeds and a sweet potato. Just in time for Thanksgiving, too.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Cold Nap

My babies are sleeping. Shh.

Because I did a lot of baking over the past couple weeks and now have quite the stash of bread in the freezer, I decided to put the babies to sleep for a week or two. There’s no need to be using up all that flour if I’m not needing it. So I filled two pint jars three-quarters of the way full, one with the whole wheat starter and the other with the white. I labeled and dated the jars and popped them in the fridge.

It’s nice to have a break from the rigorous feeding schedule, but I know I’ll be glad to see my babies again when I wake them back up. Frozen sourdough bread is plenty good, but there is nothing like a hot loaf of crusty bread, straight from the oven. Mmm. Absence does make the heart grow fonder.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Taking Risks

I am not one to play around with recipes much. I like to follow the directions exactly as is. I'm just not a risk-taker, I guess. Does that mean I'm boring? Maybe, but I'm also consistent.

The one thing that keeps me from appearing too boring is that I try new things. And that's interesting, right? I figure if I try out lots and lots of different recipes no one will ever catch on to the fact that I'm not thinking for myself, creating original recipes. (Or have you all figured that out already and are tittering to each other behind your fingers? Please don't answer that question.)

Anyway, all that boring blather just to say that I tried something different with the whole wheat sourdough bread. I'm proud to say that my little experiment was successful.

Tinkering with Silverton's golden recipes gave me a little adrenaline boost and made me all happy inside. As The Pioneer Woman would say, it made my skirt fly up.

What I did different was this (it's really not much so you must promise not to laugh at me): I shaped the bread into loaves instead of boules, proofed them in heavily-greased bread pans (first out on the counter, then overnight in the fridge, and back out on the counter the next morning), and then baked them in a 400 degree oven for about 35 minutes---no flipping them around, only a tiny dock-slash down the backbone, no spritzing the oven with water.

The result was a normal enough looking loaf of bread, one that did not sink and go flat (I decided that was a problem), with a very moist and chewy crumb and without a hard, tough-crunchy crust, something that has understandably been bothering my children.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Blow Out

This is what happens if you don’t dock the bread properly, or if it hasn’t been proofed all the way.

In this case, both factors were present. The bread was under-proofed (right around 58 degrees instead of 62) so I should have made a deeper cut when I docked it.

But I didn’t, and you can see how the bread contorted itself as it struggled to find room to expand.

So now it sports a Novocaine-induced chipmunk face---a loaf of bread that has had dental work. How about that ... a genuinely toothsome bread.