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.