Picking back up.

So 6 months have passed.  My year of change has slowed down somewhat, into a new routine of workdays and weekends.  Kitchenwise (and in general), I have changed in more ways than I can count - but in all this while and with all the changes, I have never given up on baking bread.

Going back even as far as 3 years, I can see how my personal bakery has changed too.  In regards to sweets, far less of them have come tumbling from the oven - in part because just about everyone I know is also cutting way back on them.  But bread bakery is different; while I have baked consistently since that first baby starter was birthed back in 2010, the past several years found me adding a pinch of commercial yeast to my wild breads.

commercial yeast.

When I started on my bread journey, I thought this was cheating and I never (ever) did it.  But commercial yeast is reliable, and when trying to juggle a new baby and homeschooling, I grasped that trick with both hands and held fast.  So much so that I have found that I was almost nervous to go back to full-wild bread.  What if I've changed so much the bread knew it too?  What if I went back to airless loaves that were no joy at all to eat?  I'm happy to say that since the dawn of the new year, I've gone back to full wild levain breads, and not only are they consistently good, the curve to get back to them wasn't as steep as I'd imagined it would be.

Another push that I needed for my bread change came recently when I was able to buy a grain mill from a friend who needed to downsize.  It's a Magic Mill: as old as I am and working fantastically.  I discovered Anarchy Acres' heirloom wheat, and before committing on a bulk sack of wheat berries, I've been using their Turkey Red which is sold in bulk at my co-op.  I haven't yet worked my way up to loves made fully of fresh milled flour, but I'll get there after I buy some sieves to more effectively achieve the extractions I need.

anarchy acres wild bread

The biggest hurdle of full wild yeast bread for me at this point in my life is time.  The years I was able to spend at home were truly a luxury in so many ways, especially for one who loves to make things from scratch.  I always had more time than money, and in retrospect especially, I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.  If I'd never had those years, I likely wouldn't have stumbled on real bread baking in the first place and that is too depressing to imagine. 

My first wild loaves had 3 day build times!  And while I might have to wait for vacation days to get that going again, at least I can have full wild bread on a working man schedule.  I will outline it for you.  Of course, you bake in your own way and this template might not be as useful to you as it is to me.  (I work from 8:00 AM- 5:00 PM with an hour off from noon to 1:00 that I'm fortunate to be able to go home for.)


Working Man Full Wild Sourdough

1 loaf of bread, easily doubled (based on ratios/methods from Ken Forkish)

STARTER NOTE: Forkish loaves are built on 80% hydration starters, and I keep a 100% one.  The morning of the day I want to start bread, or 7-10 hours ahead of time, I mix up enough 80% for use in the loaf.  In this case, I mix 25g. starter (my 100%, or "liquid levain"), 25g. whole wheat flour, 100g. white flour, and 100g. water and let it sit covered at room temp until I'm ready to continue - usually 5:30 PM.  This amount makes enough for 1 loaf of bread.  If making 2 loaves, double it.

  • 302 g. white flour
  • 138 g. wheat flour (this is the fresh milled Anarchy Acres stuff I'm using here)
  • 342 g. water
  • 2 t. kosher salt
  • 108-160 g. levain starter (from above, I use more when it's chilly in the house)

Around 5:30 PM, mix white and wheat flours with water and autolyse for 30 minutes.  Then, add salt and starter and mix well by hand until well incorporated.  Bulk rise for 12-15 hours give or take, until about triple in size, folding 3-4 times before bedtime.  I'm pretty loose on this timing, it can be every 30 minutes, or just as you remember as you are walking by.  The loaf I made today, I totally forgot about and did 3 folds about 20 minutes apart just before bed last night, a full 5 hours after mixing and it was absolutely fine.

After the bulk rise, you can bench rest for 15-30 minutes or not (also depending on time), shape the loaf and figure about 4 hours on the final rise.  If I do this on a work day, I set my oven to time bake an hour before my lunch break, and be sure to put a cast iron dutch oven in there.  Bake temp is 475, and I bake in a covered pot for 30 minutes and without the lid for 15.  My workplace is less than 5 minutes from home, so this works out fine if I don't worry about being able to hear the bread sing after it bakes. (This bread seems to be consistently "sticky", so I line a brotform with cloth and sprinkle well with 50-50 mixture of rice and ap flours.  I also put the bread into the brotform seam side down - so that after tipping it out into the pot, the seam side is up - and do not slash it.  I let it break in natural form the way Forkish recommends.)

I mean to experiment with proofing the shaped loaf under refrigeration and then baking in the evening, but I haven't tried it yet... mostly because I'm afraid I'll be getting up in the middle of the night with sluggish rising times.  In the past I have happily gotten up many times mid-sleep to check on kitchen projects, but working life - or working "outside the home" life - is different, and sitting behind a desk when tired is infinitely more trying than just being a bit sleepy and carrying on with working around the house and yard...

sourdough grilled cheese.

We have been sick a record number of days this winter, and I blame mild weather and having a boy in day care for the first time.  Last weekend I was down for the count, not baking or cooking or eating or caring about any of it.  This bread for the grilled cheese abovewas from the week before, and I couldn't help but be so thankful for it for lunches after I got my appetite back.  Well over a week old, and it was still stellar toast with a truly lovely, deep flavor. 

This is only part of why I can't give up on bread.  The real stuff has keeping power, and it makes a meal all by itself, or enhances a meal I get the time to make.  Working with dough somehow keeps me grounded, thinking that one tiny part of my old self is still in there and kept alive and thriving.  I try not to think about it too much, it becomes overwhelming - kind of like putting words back on a page after a half a year of silence.  You know the silence wasn't there without reason, but you can't figure on why the words are not just pouring out all over... instead it's like coaxing, pulling them out, unsure of a purpose.

I guess my purpose was more utilitarian in detailing my baking notes for my last four or so loaves of bread.  For those that might still keep an eye on what happens in my tiny corner of the Internet, I'm still here.  I'm getting stronger.  I'm getting more confident with wild yeast again.  I'm still baking.  I'm not giving up.

wild bread

In the interest of time.

Sometimes I feel like I'm floating through the days and weeks somehow just elapse.  It's garbage day, it's laundry day, it's library day, it's pizza night.  It's a blur.  All the time I hear my Mom's echo: "my 30's came in clumps", and my 30's were no exception.  Now that I'm at the tail end of them, the elusiveness of enough time seems more than ever present in my thoughts.  If I had extra time, I'd start croissants, I'd nixtamalize some corn to make homemade masa for tortillas, I would sit in the backyard with a book.  Maybe not even a cookbook, maybe a full-fledged novel.

And I'd definitely make more recipes that I'd make time to share with my (hopefully not dwindling) group of readers.

vegetable torta

Meanwhile, I've got a new batch of cookbooks that I've been cooking heavily from.  My time in the kitchen is not as full as I'd like it to be, and yet I still make the time to delve into new recipes.  My new crush is the America's Test Kitchen The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook.  The day I picked it up from the library, I made the cover recipe - a simple tomato tart with a food processor butter crust.  Last night, I made the vegetable torta (above).  I shouldn't be stunned that these were so wonderful but somehow ATK always makes me feel that way.  I know the one thing you should never do when entertaining is cook something you've never made before, but I frequently use their recipes to do just that.  

The tomato recipes were perfect for my handfuls of garden tomatoes - the precious few that the fusarium wilt didn't get.  Both recipes I tried instruct you to dust 1/4 inch thick slices of tomato with a bit of salt on paper towel for a half hour and then blot them carefully to remove some moisture.  The result is a super-tomato, meaty with the full summer flavor that by this time of the year you are trying so hard to eat enough of - to sustain you until next tomato season.

It's almost difficult to remember the days before homeschooling now, the ones where I spent a good amount of time in my day procuring and preparing food.  I remember the canning projects that I didn't need to sneak in just before bedtime, or just before suppertime.  Last week my parents brought me a bushel of tomatoes (1/2 Roma and 1/2 regular "canners") and I had no idea how I was going to get them preserved.  My Mom washed them all when we were visiting, and arranged them by ripeness on sheet pans, pans I needed to keep moving to ward off my toddler who will eat any ripening fruit or vegetable left on the counter.  The ripest 12 pounds I pureed right away in the Vitamix.  I left it stashed the puree in the fridge for a couple of days for (Local Kitchen) ketchup.  That lazing about in the fridge trick also worked well for the (Food in Jars) tomato jam: 5lbs. of tomatoes that I cooked mostly down before letting it wait in the fridge for awhile.  The last 26 lbs. of fruit I determined to roast, puree, and just can in pints.  The roasting and pureeing I did on Sunday afternoon and I finally got the canning done yesterday afternoon.  13 jars doesn't seem like all that much when it's resting on the counter.  But it is 13 weeks of pizza sauce.  I am immeasurably indebted to my Mom for canning me quarts upon quarts of whole tomatoes for the rest of our tomatoey needs!

tomato puree

The 35 minutes of general monitoring and kitchen cleanup when the tomato puree was in the water bath allowed me some thinking time.  When I have this time to think, I think of what things I could make to eat, what things I can make quickly and with pantry staples.  I think of all the things I wish my picky boy would eat, and how if he would just eat, it would be so much less stressful for me.  But there are tacos and pizza, both of which I make at least once a week and fully from scratch.  I have mastered a dozen, maybe more, pizza doughs - and I know which ones to use for the time frames I have to work with.  I can make tortillas in my sleep, and short order breakfast for dinner on a whim.  I seem to have developed all kinds of kitchen nuances that save me time and put food in our bellies.  Here are a half dozen recent time savers:

1.  Make extra rice.  Leftover rice seems to be better than rice made for the day.  It was Tamar Adler who first made me aware of this and just two days ago I turned the last of some Indian-spiced basmati into a small amount of rice pudding with currants.  One boy ate some for dessert, the other happily ate the rest for breakfast. 

2.  When grating cheese, grate the whole block.  You will use it in omelets, on tacos, for a grilled cheese, and you won't have to be bothered to stop and grate it on demand.  (Or better yet, if you have the food processor out to do something else that can stand a bit of cheese, drop large, hastily cut cubes of cheese into the running S-Blade.  It's not grated or shredded, but it's perfect for melting, sprinkling, using in general.)  If you don't think you'll use it up within a week, it actually freezes well too.

3.  Slice, dice, or chop extra vegetables.  Whatever the vegetable, onions and carrots for soup, peppers for frying or sautéing, extra prepped veg means less chopping later and more chance that I'll include them in something fast.

4.  Cold Brew Coffee.  It's definitely something I relied on all summer, but I think it will have a moment this fall as well.  I am the only coffee drinker around here, and some mornings a pause to make myself a moka pot or a cup of Aeropress is just too much to ask of me.  For mine, I coarsely grind 4 oz. of beans, soak it in 4 1/2 c. (36 oz.) filtered, room temperature water for 20 hours, then strain through a double layer of nut milk bag and decant to a quart jar.  It keeps a week in the fridge.  It's marvelous with heavy cream and a splash of maple syrup.

5.  Extra scrambled eggs.  Scrambled eggs are actually pretty good cold, and make good additions to sandwiches, tacos, and my gut when unexpected "hanger" strikes.

6.  Always soak a pound of beans.  I just recently got smart on this one.  We generally eat a half pound over a couple of days, no matter what the variety.  Making more leaves a batch for the freezer, which is good in a pinch or when I haven't planned ahead.


I could also add bread.  Always bread.  Earlier this year I was feeling bad about my lack of sourdough experimentation and a Flickr friend commented back that so many people buy the same cereal or ketchup for years and think nothing of it - and that really changed my perception of the joy of repetition.  This is my bread, it's always kind of the same, but always just a little different.  And it's good for and in everything.  In fact, America's Test Kitchen told me to use white sandwich bread in that vegetable torta, but I used my own bread to wonderful effect.  I never want for croutons or bread crumbs and when I sometimes feel sad that I don't have the time to devote to long and drawn out kitchen projects, I rest on the bread that I still can't believe I can make myself.  The moments devoted to good bread have given me back so many more minutes than I can count, and made them filled to overflowing... Reminding me all the more the reason it is a stable staple and spirit-filled entity.  If you have a good slice of bread, you have the whole world.

Decades, Sprouted Wheat.

In two weeks, I'll have been married for a decade.  A decade.  That frame of time seems both long and short as I look back over it.  Time in general has started to feel completely relative in nature: in perpetual fast forward as I look at my boys growing bodies day by day, in slow motion as I watch things in the kitchen sprout and grow, in stubborn reverse as I look back over the things that might have been or could have been if events hadn't played out the way they did.  

A decade, almost all of it full of slow food and homemaking as a profession.  I don't know many who do their taxes and put "homemaker" down in the box - every year I think of that.  The term, also in print on my boys' birth certificates, seems antiquated and humbling and yet it is the thing I am most proud of.  I never dreamed I'd even have children let alone have the autonomy to watch them closely every day, hold onto the minutes, the hours, the years and try (at times) to remember to not wish them away.  I never knew how happy tending a home full time would make me, and I worry that if I ever had to be doing something else full time it would kill me.  I watch over my home, the center of which is (of course) this kitchen, and there is nothing else I'd rather be doing.

Another relationship began 5 years ago, the one involving wild yeast.  That relationship parallels the ones with my husband and children in perplexingly similar ways.  Living, breathing, growing, changing, I can't neglect it and I can't ever predict it.  Just when I think things are going horribly, out pops a tremendous and amazing reminder that slow and steady wins the race.  That glorious things can come from strange circumstance.

sprouted wheat, Ball jar.

In the new batch of cookbooks rented, I've been enjoying Peter Reinhart's Bread Revolution.  It focuses on sprouted wheat breads both with conventional yeast and wild yeast and also a host of quick bread and baked good recipes using sprouted grain flours.  When I had first sprouted my own wheat a few years back, I couldn't get over the flavor of it - but I did notice the difference in how it baked.  Reinhart of course is able to explain this better than I ever could, and leave it to him to come up with a whole book full of recipes highlighting how to use it in the very best way.

Sprouted sourdough almost seems redundant.  After all the process of culturing regular flour with the wild yeast innoculant renders the whole loaf already easier to digest, a true whole and fermented food.  Before reading about it, I never thought the result would be that much better but boy was I wrong!  The flavor is incredible; it's wheaty, earthy, and almost sweet.  It makes the best toast I've ever eaten.

sprouted wheat berries
sprouted wheat flour

The dough seems harder to work with, it's stickier (Reinhart advises oiling your hands, but I just used water and folded the dough in the bowl I mixed in rather than putting it on the counter each time) and more "relaxed" in feel than dough made with regular flour.  I didn't pay good attention to the time when I began and had to get up in the night to form my dough into a loaf - and then rather than set more nighttime alarms, I decided to cold proof it in the fridge until morning.  All of my variables and I was sure the bread wouldn't be anything to speak of, but like sourdough always does it surprised me with it's wonderfulness.

009 :: 02.04.15
Click the photo to read the baking notes.

Isn't that always the way?  The bread always changes the rules just when you think you know it all.  And there is always, always something more to learn.  I made this loaf alongside a whiter one, plain sourdough as I'm used to making.  The boys all wanted this one before the other and it really was that unique.  When toasted, it became brittle and almost graham like.  There is just the heel left, and I'm saving it for breakfast tomorrow with more marmalade.  I will eat it slowly and plot my next sprouted baking experience.

sprouted toast.
I still can't decide if I should make another batch of the kumquat & blood orange marmalade...

I seem to save the heels of bread to toast and eat myself, like I save up all the small moments in my day to day family life that one day I'll likely use to comfort and warm myself.  In another decade, my oldest boy will likely be out of the house and the growing baby boy will be almost a teenager.  I will be greyer and telling more tales of bread, hopefully still learning more and more about it. 

Sourdough Surprises May 2014: Sandwich "Buns".

So it's been a few months since I made time for the Sourdough Surprises baking group but it's not because I didn't want to do it.  Time seems to be going even faster now that the weather has turned for the warmer, and just yesterday I realized that it was close to the 20th and that I had just happened to bake my rolls in the morning.  Technically the challenge was for a sandwich bun, and these are bun-shaped so I'm going with it. 

sourdough rolls

I don't usually mess with rolls.  I don't know why, maybe because bread lasts longer and stales slower?  Because it's less monkeying around?  I've been following a few bread boards on Pinterest, and when I saw these, I knew I had to make them.  Made of heftier grains and plenty of water, I suspected they would be a good sandwich roll, and I was right.  I made just a dozen and only one remains 24 hours later.

After baking, with just enough time for them to come to room temperature, they were actually nice and soft - despite me misting them with water to try and encourage a crustier crust.  I used Kosher salt instead of fine salt, and when eaten plain, I would have preferred them a touch saltier.  However, made into a sandwich with some type of salty cheese, they were perfect.

sourdough rolls
Not so creative, but delicious asiago cheese and cucumber sandwich.

They are heartier than most soft buns, but I think when using deeper tasting grains that is acceptable.  I'm still using the local Lonesome Stone Milling flours (except for the spelt, which I ground myself from co-op spelt berries), and the taste is so so good.  By today, they really had developed some great flavors.  In fact, I'm thinking of making them again for tomorrow.

The recipe is incredibly simple:  just mix up the dough and autolyse without the salt for 45-60 minutes, then add the salt and give it a few folds at 30 and 60 minutes.  Just wait until the next day, let it laze about on the counter for awhile and bake them.  I used a baking stone, and shoveled them in using a pizza peel dusted with cornmeal.  They are pretty sticky; use a bench scraper to help you cut them and gently form them into rough pieces.  The dough was so sticky I had trouble using a lame to slash - resulting in domed tops.  By the last pieces, I figured out to use a serrated knife - those rolls baked into a more appropriate shape.  Here is the recipe I used, I didn't alter it at all except to make a half batch.

sourdough rolls

I would like to experiment more with soft buns - and I'm sure the baking group will have lots of inspiration, have a look below!  I hope to be more on track for the summer months with Sourdough Surprises participation!



Sourdough without a recipe.

The sourdough has become so much a part of my life that now it's hard to remember a time without it.  But if I do think back, I remember the sinking feeling that I would never master it, that I would continually have too much waste (or rather discard), and never really have something that I would be proud to share.  Working with things continually is the best education, and my daily walk with sourdough has taught me so many things.  Deep things like patience, scientific things like the power of leaven, and superficial things like the cosmetics of slashing.  There are probably one hundred other things - it's been a very well-rounded education to be sure.

Just when I think that I should delve into new technique or hydration, branch out into other grains or even tackle something gluten-free just for the sake of learning, sourdough has other more basic things to teach me.  My confidence in my own intuition is sometimes lacking, and these past few weeks that leaven has showed me that I know more than I think I do.  It has given me baking confidence.

sourdough cracker

In efforts to entice my husband to healthier snacking, I've taken to more scheduled cracker making.  I've made them pretty much the same way for a very long time, more or less using this recipe.  I don't know when I stopped looking at the actual recipe, and just starting winging it, casually spooning in room temperature coconut oil and usually forgetting the salt by accident, adding whatever flour is handy.

Sometime after my Tartine #3 book came, I oogled Chad's gorgeous windowpane-thin "crackerbreads", but wasn't so enthusiastic with the way his recipes were written.  And meanwhile, I had made crackers with the 80% hydration starter that I base my bread on.  It seems less water in the cracker dough to begin with helps in the rolling out, and I was finally able to run the dough through my pasta machine without wondering why I bothered with the big mess.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I stumbled onto my new preferred method, a foolproof way of easier crackers, without any waste or as much mess.  To whatever measure of 80% starter I have to use, I mix in a few spoonfuls of room temperature coconut oil and mash it with the back of a spoon as best I can.  Then, I mix in flour until a nice dough forms, and try to remember to put in a heavy pinch of salt too.  I knead this by hand on a bare countertop for several minutes, rolling the dough strongly with my palms to melt any little bits of coconut oil that is still solid.  I might notice it needs more flour, but I try not to add too much - figuring that like pasta and tortillas, a cracker is most tender and delicate with less flour instead of more.  Then I let it rest for 8-24 hours before running through the pasta machine.

Instead of cutting the crackers into little diamonds, I started baking them in whole sheets and instead of brushing them with olive oil and sprinkling with salt, I sprinkle them first with (kosher) salt and then spritz them water to help the salt to stick.  I bake them at 350 until golden or dark golden brown depending on what other things are going on around me.  After cooling thoroughly, I break them into rough shards and store them in glass jars.

(To make my 80% hydration starter, I follow Ken Forkish's ratio in Flour Water Salt Yeast.  For 2 loaves of bread I've scaled it down to this:  50 g. 100% starter, 50 g. whole wheat flour, 200 g. ap flour, and 200 g. 95 degree water.  I mix it about 6-8 hours before building bread or cracker dough.)

sourdough "cracker"
They bake into brittle thin sheets, and depending on how long I've let the dough rest they can have a nice sour tang to them.

Yesterday, I mixed up enough 80% starter for 3 loaves although I was only going to make two.  When I set to working the bread, I also mixed up some cracker dough.  By this morning, the dough had risen out of the container signaling both the well-fed nature of the culture and the how-can-it-finally-be-spring feeling of warmer outdoor temperatures.  I knocked it down a couple of times, and it kept growing back - and then I had the idea of making it into flatbreads for lunchtime.

I mixed up some mid-eastern inspired spice mix based on the msemmen from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, and pinched off a few ping pong ball sized pieces of cracker dough.  I rolled them the same way I did the msemmen, and baked them several minutes per side in a cast iron skillet.

sourdough flatbread

They were crunchy in some places and soft in others and perfectly spicy.  I realized that I'd forgotten the salt in the cracker dough, so I sprinkled more on top and pressed it in.  I don't know why it's so hard for me to remember that lately; I have stopped the practice of nibbling a small bit of raw dough, and I think I need to take that back up.

I'm not sure how well these would keep - but given how simple they are to make on demand you wouldn't have to worry about that I suppose.  Instead of letting the dough rise at room temperature after mixing it, it might be a good idea to refrigerate it right away.  I'm assuming that instant flatbreads could be yours for the next 48 hours before the yeast tires.  If you were to bake the breads more thoroughly, say on a pizza stone, and let them crisp up fully, their keeping power would increase.  But I say make and eat liberally on demand.  There aren't nearly enough breads eaten directly from pans, moments after baking transforms the raw dough...

sourdough flatbread
Perfect eaten with feta, chile olives, and some delicious homemade yogurt my friend Mary gave me: I added a little of the msemmen spice mixture to it.

The sourdough is a teacher, always providing me lessons in life and good eating.  When I work with it, I often think back to a conversation more than 20 years old that I can't quite remember.  My Gram was the first to tell me about capturing wild yeasts, though I'm not sure she ever used it to bake wild yeast bread.  That day she told me about trying to find a favorable culture by leaving a piece of bread out in the woods is like a dream at this point, I remember where I was in her house when she told me, and I remember conjuring exactly where in the woods she was placing that slice of bread, just past the edges of her sprawling garden.  Like a dream, I can't quite put a finger on any more detail than that and I wonder about it all the time.  Is it in my blood to be so curious about natural cultures?  Did the wild yeast also have lessons for my Gram long before I ever would have suspected it had lessons for me?  Either way, it has turned from a unknowing teacher to a carefully chosen mentor, one I respect deeply, and one I hope to continue learning from for the rest of my life.