Friday, May 27, 2011

Sourdough II: The loaf lives

So, you've cultivated some yeast and now you want to make some sourdough? Well, be careful. Lots of people seem to hate bread called sourdough, so call it naturally leavened bread or something like that. Your bread will be very sour if you let it rise very slowly at a low temperature, but barely sour otherwise, and your deceit will surely go unnoticed. (For example, I have no idea which of my local bakery's breads are sourdough and which aren't. You have to look on the ingredient list and check if yeast is listed to know.)

I've cobbled this bread recipe together from a few sources, including Sandor Ellix Katz, Maggie Glezer's Artisan Baking, and a bread seminar I took one weekend in college. (Yes, I took a bread seminar. It was during passover, too.) I use about 75% white bread flour, 20% whole wheat bread flour, and 5% rye. In the recipe, I've just written flour.

This recipe is for two large loaves. After step 2, I take half the dough and put it in the refrigerator. Then I take it out a few days later, let it come to room temperature for a few hours, and bake it.

There are three basic steps. Here's quick summary:

  1. Mix up a preferment of starter, flour, and water, and let it sit overnight. This is supposed to give the yeast a chance to multiply and to give a deeper, fermented taste.
  2. The next day, combine the preferment with more flour and water and some salt. Knead and let rise.
  3. Form a loaf and bake.

Step 1

  • 1 cup starter
  • 240g (1 1/2 cups) flour
  • 40g (scant 3 tbs) water

Mix up the starter, flour, and water. Cover and leave overnight, or however long is convenient. This is your preferment.

Step 2

  • 840g (5 1/4 cups) flour
  • 445g (scant 2 cups) water
  • 1 tbs salt

Mix up the flour and water in a separate bowl. It might be a bit too dry to quite come together. Let this sit for thirty minutes. This supposedly helps break down some of the gluten, which makes it easier for it to reform itself in a grid.

Mix in the preferment and the salt. With your hands, combine everything and start kneading. It will be really sticky at first, but don't give up and don't add any flour. After a few minutes of kneading it should start to feel a lot less wet. Knead it for maybe ten or fifteen minutes, after which the dough should be pretty and smooth. (I might even try to make the dough a little bit wetter next time.) Form a ball, put it down, and cover.

Now you want to let the dough rise. Instead of punching down the dough at any point, which the experts seem to frown upon, do something called turning: pick up the dough, gently stretch it out a little bit, then make a ball by folding the four sides up towards the center. Then flip the dough over and put it back down. After you've done this, the dough will magically seem smoother and more dough-like, more capable of stretching without tearing. I think it's ideal to do this a three or four times as the dough rises, but I'm always away when this is happening, so instead I usually just do it once at the beginning, 15-30 minutes after I stopped kneading and started to let the dough rise. You could also try doing it at the end, thirty minutes before you want to shape the dough.

Dough that has risen.

Step 3

How long you let the dough rise probably depends on the temperature. My best loaf happened when I kneaded in the morning, let the dough rise during the day, and baked it in the evening. So, try something like eight hours of rising, maybe more if your apartment is colder than 68 degrees and less if it's warmer. But you should probably just do whatever is convenient for you, since that's what I did, and it seems to work okay.

When you're done with the rise, cut the ball of dough in half. Put half in the fridge, unless you want to bake a huge amount of bread, and form the other half into a ball. Let this sit for an hour, and while your dough is resting, turn your oven to 450 degrees and put a dutch oven in to heat up for 20 or 30 minutes. When you're ready to bake the bread, take the dutch oven out and sprinkle it with coarse corn meal. Form the loaf into a ball and put it in. Sprinkle flour on top, and slash very shallowly with a knife in whatever pattern you'd like. Bake with the lid on for 35 minutes, and then off for 15-20 minutes. Remove the bread and let cool.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Sourdough I: Starting your starter

If making your own bread isn't enough anymore and you want to make your own yeast, continue reading. I used to make no-knead bread. It's great, but I needed to put something extra in it---rosemary, caraway seeds, walnuts---to give it some flavor. My sourdough doesn't need this.

Sourdough starter with bubbles from yeast.

The first step is to catch some yeast. I followed Sandor Ellix Katz's instructions.

  • 2 cups flour (I used a mix of white, whole wheat, and rye)
  • 2 cups water

In a jar, mix the flour and water. Stir vigorously, cover with cheesecloth or a cloth napkin or other porous material. Stir at least once a day. After two or three days there should be bubbles produced by the yeast (there will always be bubbles when you stir up the starter, but these are irrelevant). Add 1-2 tbsp. of flour to the starter every day for 3 or 4 days and keep stirring. The starter should get thick, but if it becomes so thick that it's not really liquid any more, add a bit more water.

After these days of feeding, you'll need a bread recipe (coming soon!). When you use the starter, leave a little bit behind and replenish with equal parts water and flour. If you're using the starter a lot (say, every week), you can leave it out and feed it a spoonful of flour every day or so. If you're using it less, put it in the fridge. Let it warm up and feed it a day before you want to use it. In the fridge, you should still feed it once a week or so.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Egg Salad Sandwich

My mayonnaise batting average is all the way up from .333 to .500. I followed these instructions. I whirred my immersion blender inside a jar as Lindsay dripped oil in. Nothing happened until the oil was mostly gone, and then all at once the egg yolk and oil turned solid, or at least, very thick. I added some extra olive oil to thin it out a bit, and then we ate some with asparagus. Today we made egg salad. If only we had some brioche or challah; think how much egg we could have consumed in a sitting!

The egg salad had hard-boiled eggs, red onions, carrots, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and our mayonnaise. The bread is my third (and best so far!) attempt at sourdough.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Almond Rhubarb Cake

I took a plum cake from David Tanis's A Platter of Figs, which I have out from the library, and replaced the plums with rhubarb. I also added some extra sugar to compensate for the rhubarb, which was a good thing, because it still came out pretty sour. The cake was nutty and wholesome, more like a breakfast pastry than a dessert (but good for dessert too!). I'll give a very abbreviated version to encourage you to check out the original cookbook.

  • 1 cup unblanched almonds
  • 1/2 cup sugar, plus 1/3 cup for topping
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • dash of salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 4 tbs. melted butter
  • 2 pounds rhubarb

Grind the almonds and 1/2 cup sugar in a food processor, and combine with the flour and salt. Beat the eggs, milk, and butter together. Combine with the dry ingredients and put in a buttered, 10-inch cake pan. Top with thickly sliced rhubarb (more than one layer is okay if they won't fit) and the extra sugar and bake at 350 degrees. The recipe says to cook for 40-45 minutes, but the rhubarb adds a lot of liquid, and I had to mine took longer.

A halved recipe, cooked in a cast iron pan.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Chana Masala

A few weeks ago my friend Sweta picked up some authentic Indian spices for me, and today I cooked some authentic Indian food, mostly following the recipe on the back of the box. It was a good recipe--not the Indian equivalent of Ritz Cracker Apple Pie--and I'll tell you what I did.

  • 1 and 1/4 cups dried chickpeas
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2 tsp. Punjabi chhole masala (Sweta got Badshah brand for me)
  • dried chile to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric
  • half of a 28 oz. can of tomatoes, crushed
  • chopped cilantro
  • salt, vegetable or peanut oil

Cook the chickpeas until soft with the garlic, and optionally with half the onion, chopped. The box says, "Pressure cook for three whistles," but I don't know how to convert a whistle to different units, so you're on your own. The box also says to cook the chickpeas with a small cloth containing tea leaves, which I didn't do but am interested to try.

Chop the onions as finely as you can, or turn them to mush in a food processor. In a large pot, sautée the onion puree in oil over low heat, stirring occasionally, until it starts to color. Add the spices and sautee for a few more minutes. Add the chickpeas with some of their cooking water, and scrape everything off the bottom of the pan. Add the tomatoes, and some salt. Cover and simmer for fifteen minutes. Serve with rice, garnished with cilantro.

Odin Freya's Gold

Odin Brewing Company, Freya's Gold
Kolsch Style Ale
Seattle, WA
4.5% Alcohol
Rating: 4/5

An excellent summer beer. Every light beer aspires to this. It's sweet and a little bit wheaty.