In recent days, The Signs have all been pointing me to another attempt at sourdough. Yes, another attempt. A few months ago, before this blog existed, I made sourdough starter. I did lots of research and decided on the most simple "method." I mixed equal parts of whole wheat flour and water to make a liquid starter. I stored it in a glass jar on my counter, stirred and fed it faithfully, and it fermented quite nicely over time. On the day that I deemed it ready to make bread, I used a recipe for 100% whole wheat bread. Long story short, I ended up with a rather tasty doorstop. It had all the flavor of sourdough bread, with none of the texture. I just didn't exercise any patience. I'm sure that if I had, I would have gotten somewhere. I continued to maintain my starter for a few weeks after that, but never attempted another loaf of bread. I put the starter in the fridge for a couple of months, putting it into a dormant state, intending to refresh it someday. Finally, one day, I got tired of looking at it and threw it out. Poor starter. It never did anything wrong. I just got bored.
This time, I am ready. I have done lots more reading on the subject, and am ready to go into it with the utmost patience. I am also trying a different method of making the starter. I found a really cool kids website called exploratorium.edu. It's kind of like having your own private science museum! Categories include music, sports, and food. Yay! I love food science! Within the food science is the sourdough project. It will be just like an episode of "Good Eats" happening right in my own kitchen!
Just for reference, the dough ball is about the size of a Clementine.
Basic Sourdough Starter
1 small handful (1/4 to 1/3 cup) white flour
1 or 2 tablespoons of water
1. In a mound of flour, make a small well and add the water.
2. Slowly mix the flour and the water, bringing more flour into the center of the well. The mixture will gradually transform from a paste into a small piece of dough.
3. Knead this small piece of dough with your fingers for about 5–8 minutes, until it becomes springy.
4. Place the dough in a small bowl, cover it with a damp towel, and let it sit in a warm spot for 2 or 3 days.
5. When it’s ready, the dough will be moist, wrinkled, and crusty. If you pull off a piece of the crust, you’ll find tiny bubbles and smell a sweet aroma.
6. Throw away any hardened crust. “Refresh” the remaining piece by mixing it with twice the original amount of flour and enough water to make a firm dough. Set aside as before.
7. After 1 or 2 days the starter will have a new, fresh look. Remove any dried dough and mix with about 1 cup of flour.
8. Once again, cover the bowl with a damp cloth and leave it in a warm place for another 8–12 hours.
9. When the starter is ready, it will appear fully risen, and a small indentation made with a finger won’t spring back.
Now the starter is ready to be used in virtually any sourdough recipe. You can try it out on Berkeley Sourdough. Remember to save a small piece of the starter: You can put it in the refrigerator for several days, then refresh it again as above and use it to make another loaf. A good starter will serve you for years to come!
I used 1/3 cup whole-wheat flour and 2 tablespoons bottled water. We have really hard water in our apartment, so bottled water is better for experiments like this. After a few minutes of mixing, I found I had to add another teaspoon of water to get all the flour to mix in. Then I kneaded it for 7 or 8 minutes. I'm not sure it ever actually got springy, but it was starting to get a bit sticky, so I put it in a little bowl, covered it with a damp dishcloth, and put it on the shelf next to the chimney. That's about as warm a spot as I could come up with (not that it's cold here... but I was looking for a consistently warm spot!). I can't wait to see how it looks in a couple of days! I'll keep you posted. =)
Not only do I have books, magazines, and binders full of recipes, but I also have about 160 recipes in my epicurious.com “recipe box…” maybe three of which I have actually made. I was browsing through it the other day, looking for something new to do with tofu, and found this recipe (that I barely remembered saving!):
(I really hate recipes with names that divulge every ingredient… but anyway…)
¾ lb extra-firm tofu, cut into ½” thick slices
1 ½ tbsp vegetable oil
1 ½ bunches watercress, tough stems discarded
1 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
2 tsp grated peeled fresh ginger
1 large garlic clove, minced
½ cup fresh orange juice
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp Asian sesame oil
Pat tofu dry. Heat 1 tbsp in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté tofu until golden brown, about 3 minutes on each side.
Heat remaining ½ tbsp vegetable oil in skillet over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then cook watercress, turning with tongs, until just wilted. Stir in sesame seeds. Transfer watercress to a platter and arrange tofu on top.
Simmer remaining ingredients in skillet 1 minute and drizzle sauce over tofu.
Gourmet, January 2000
I made just the tofu and sauce. I’m not too into sautéed greens, and I’m not sure I would have found watercress in my grocery store, anyway. I followed some readers’ suggestions and dredged the tofu (and myself, and my kitchen – that stuff really flies!) in cornstarch before I sautéed it. They said it would make the crispiest tofu I’d ever cooked. They were right… until the tofu cooled a bit. The “crust” turned a little gummy and starchy. Lesson learned. I’ll leave out the cornstarch next time, or cook the tofu last so it doesn’t get a chance to cool before I serve it.
To go along with the tofu, I found a recipe that sounded perfect – it’s another Asian-influenced dish, and it also calls for sesame seeds. What a great tie-in!
(apparently creative recipe names aren’t the strong suit of the folks at Conde Nast… but the recipes sure are good!)
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups jasmine rice or long-grain white rice
1 pound boiled soybeans (edamame), shelled (about 8 ounces)
1 tablespoon peanut oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
Combine 2 cups water, rice, soybeans, oil, and salt in large saucepan. Bring to boil over high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium, cover and simmer until rice is tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Let stand, covered, 5 minutes. Fluff rice with fork. Stir in sesame seeds; season with salt and pepper.
Makes 6 servings.
Bon Appétit, August 2001
I buy frozen, shelled edamame, so I cooked the rice by itself, then threw in a cup of edamame after the rice was done. That way, the edamame got thawed and heated by the hot rice, but not overcooked. I also added one bunch of scallions, finely sliced, for a bit of extra color and flavor. They also cooked slightly from the heat of the rice. Then I used toasted sesame oil instead of peanut oil, to match the tofu’s dressing.
The rice is a bit blah on its own, but with a little of that orange-soy sauce mixed in, it’s great! The two dishes work wonderfully together. As you saw in the picture at the top of the page, I served the pretty tofu triangles beside the rice, with a bit of the sauce drizzled over everything. Today, I cut up some of the leftover tofu and mixed it with some of the rice and just a bit of the sauce. It turned out a little like those frozen “rice bowls” you buy at the store, but tasted much better!
Have you figured out yet that I've had way too much time on my hands lately? I am a bread-baking fiend! I decided today would be experimentation day. Rarely do I deviate from a yeast bread recipe... you know, that whole chemistry/formula/precision thing tends to hold me back!
If you have a Borders bookstore in your neighborhood, and you've actually been to it, you've probably noticed that they have a bargain book section, usually right in the entryway of the store. The Borders in Bangor often has lots of cookbooks in its bargain section. I, of course, have a problem staying away from those books. They call out to me before I even get into the store. As a result, I have acquired several bread books from this section. A lot of them are published in the UK, which makes for some interesting reading, and some improvisation of ingredients!
One of my books is called "The Complete Book of Bread & Bread Machines," by Christine Ingram and Jennie Shapter. The recipe I chose to make today is "Granary Bread." For a 1-pound loaf, it calls for the following ingredients:
1 cup water
3 1/4 cups granary (whole-wheat) bread flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp granulated sugar
1 1/2 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp rapid-rise yeast
What the heck is "granary flour?" There are several other kinds of flour in this book that they also refer to as "whole-wheat flour!" It's very confusing. I have a bag of "6 grain flour" in my fridge, which I thought would make a good substitute. It sounded feasible, anyway! The other thing I found strange about this recipe is that it only calls for 1/2 tsp of yeast. I know it says rapid-rise, but still... that doesn't seem like much. Plus, I only have active dry yeast. After much pondering and re-pondering, here's what I put into my machine:
1 cup water
3 1/4 cups 6-grain flour
1/4 cup 7-grain and seed mix
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tbsp butter
1 tsp active dry yeast
I put everything into the pan, set the machine on "dough only," and watched it mix. After a few minutes, it looked pretty dry and coarse, so I added two more tablespoons of water. That seemed to help. I let it do its thing, which took an hour and a half. At the end of the cycle, the dough didn't seem like it had risen enough, so I let it go for about 45 more minutes. It's a cool, dry day here, and this is a 100% whole grain dough, so I figured I needed to have a little patience. When I thought it had risen enough, I punched it down, let it rest a few minutes, and shaped it into a loaf. I then put it in the oven with just the light on for its second rise. That took probably another hour, and I was finally happy with the way it looked. I got a bit artistic and made two diagonal slashes on the top of the loaf, which deflated it a bit. I hoped it would rise a bit more as it baked. I baked it at 350 for about half an hour. It did rise a bit, but not as much as I'd hoped...
It's a compact loaf, but it isn't as dense as I expected. It's a bit dry, however... almost crumbly. But believe it or not, it's pretty good. It has great flavor, and I love the texture and crunch the 7 grain and seed mix adds. I will definitely experiment with this recipe again sometime. I'll use more yeast. Maybe I'll use milk in place of some or all of the water. I might substitute some white bread flour for a little bit of the 6 grain flour. Maybe a shot of vital wheat gluten would help, too. I'll certainly be spending some time reading the "troubleshooting" sections of my bread books to figure out how to make it less dry! For now, I have a loaf of hearty, healthy bread that makes great toast.
Today was another one of those days when I was actually motivated to get up early and go to the Brewer Farmer's Market. I won't bore you with pictures of the day's haul, but I got three ears of corn (which turned into my supper), two bunches of very tall scallions, three small but beautiful eggplant (eggplants?), a pound of tiny red and white potatoes (ranging in size from marble to walnut), a canteloupe-sized watermelon reported to have orange flesh, a couple pounds of very cute little pears, a pint of wild blueberries, and a pint of wild blackberries. Grand total, $17 (the berries weren't exactly cheap, but they're well worth it.).
I was most excited about the blackberries. Fresh, wild blackberries aren't easy to come by. The woman selling them picked them in her backyard and promised that they hadn't been sprayed with anything -- no pesticides, no fertilizers... and let me tell you, they were perfect. I ate a couple of handfuls as is, and used the rest to -- what else -- bake something!
My friend Kacie makes a killer blueberry coffee cake. I got the recipe from her a few weeks ago, and have been waiting for the perfect opportunity to use it. It's from a Betty Crocker cookbook that was published in the early 80s. I can't credit it any better than that because that's all I know about it. The book gives a recipe for Streusel Coffee Cake, and then gives several variations, including blueberry coffee cake, peanut butter and jelly coffee cake, and whole wheat coffee cake. I ended up making a variation on a combination of variations of the cake.
Blackberry Coffee Cake
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup margarine or butter, softened
1 cup milk
2 cups blackberries
Heat oven to 350. Beat flours, sugar, baking powder, salt, butter, milk, and egg in a large mixer bowl on low speed 30 seconds. Then beat on medium speed, scraping bowl occasionally, 2 minutes. Spread half the batter into a greased pan, either 13x9x2 or9x9x2. Sprinkle with 1 cup blackberries. Top with remaining batter. Sprinkle with remaining bluberries. Bake oblong cake about 35 minutes, square about 40 minutes. Drizzle warm coffee cake with mixture of 1 cup powdered sugar, 1 tsp. grated lemon peel, and 1 to 2 tbsp. lemon juice.
I baked mine in an 8x12x2 pan for about 40 minutes, and it came out great, if not completely photogenic...
It's light, fluffy, and moist. The cake is sweet, the berries are tart, and the glaze is sweet-tart. The whole-wheat flour makes for a wonderfully (but not overwhelming!) earthy, nutty flavor. The lemon in the glaze is a nice contrast to the berries. Instead of putting the lemon zest in the glaze, I grated it over the cake after I glazed it. you can see a couple specks of it if you use your imagination.
If you want to try Kacie's blueberry version of this cake, just use blueberries instead of blackberries, and use all AP flour instead of half whole-wheat. I can't decide which one I like best!
Look how much much my dough rose during its 20 hours in the fridge!
Here's what it turned into:
Jammin’ Breakfast Buns
Pinch off 9 ounces of Oat-Bran Refrigerator Dough and shape into six balls. Arrange the balls in an 8-inch round baking pan. Cover the buns and let them rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 35 minutes. Make a depression in the center of each bun, and fill it with 1-½ teaspoons of fruit preserves. Bake at 350 for 12 to 14 minutes. This recipe makes 6 buns.
What a strange dough. It's a lot more like play-doh than elastic-y, gluten-y bread dough. It's actually a bit easier to work with than traditional dough. I used the whole 1-3/4 lb. batch of dough and made a total of 18 buns, in two cake pans. They’re smaller than the recipe calls for, but this is kind of a potluck party – there will be several things for people to nibble on, so smaller buns make more sense. Here they are before baking...
I know, there's not much difference between before and after...
Do you like my flowery design? The yellow filling is ginger preserve, and the dark red is damson plum jam, both thanks to our friends the Trappist Monks of Spencer, MA. I like the contrast in the colors.
The one thing to be careful of if you try this recipe is making the indentations in the risen buns. I was a bit overenthusiastic and deflated the first couple I did. Fortunately, they came out OK anyway! They smelled so good baking. I can't wait to try them!