I’ve Lost My Way…and Sourdough Starters

Here I am. Lots has happened since I last posted. Travel. Life. A case of the lazies. I’ve missed blogging about recipes that I’ve completed what feels like months ago (I think six maybe) and well, I’m just behind. And maybe I need to rethink what this blog is about. Also, I’m tired of following the book one recipe at a time. There’s been a ton of bread and many recipes are similar with slight tweaks… and I think maybe that’s what this blog needs. Tweaks. Not to be confused with twerks. Just saying.

So, while I rethink this blog, I’m just going to go all “stream of consciousness” and talk about the baking I have done. And of course it’s bread, but it’s not a recipe from the book per se though interestingly it is very related.

Let me back up. My husband went to visit his bestie from New Hampshire sometime in April. I don’t remember when exactly. His buddy – who was his best man at our wedding – is a foodie but not the overly obnoxious foodie type. He just loves good food and he and his wife can really throw down a “bad ass meal.” He is also the type that likes to master whatever it is he’s learning about. And – he’s fun to hang out with to boot. Anyway, Eric’s recently started mastering sourdough. I mean, not just make sourdough in a bread maker from a mix. Oh no. I mean get a mill, grind your own shit from top quality grains, and capture wild yeast type of mastery. Admirable. If I had more time, I’d probably do that, too.

Eric knows I’ve been baking so he sent the hubs home with a starter batch from his “42 Highfelds” proprietary blend. My first thought was “what the hell am I going to do with this?” Eric texted me a picture of his bread that he’d made while my husband was there. They were amazing rounds. I mean, top quality. See for yourself.

Disclaimer – this is not my work. Baker: Eric L.

He also sent me a link to some YouTube videos he referred to when he was getting started. (Here’s an example: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Jdb63_3vMu0 ). I watched but nothing was clicking. I mean, I wasn’t to that chapter yet! (I need to be more flexible.) Turns out, he had a biz trip planned to Colorado and he was going to stay with us the following week.

Whenever this man comes to town, his friends come out in force. I swear they’d have a parade if they could. (I exaggerate.) This time was no exception – loads to do and he still wanted to bake bread. I wasn’t sure we’d (he’d) have the time, but we made it happen. I learned a few things along the way including you can use Alexa as a timer. Handy. Also, you can make a delicious bread yet another way that produces really delicious bread.

Here’s that result:

Was it perfect? Nope. My basket (brotform) is fairly new, unseasoned, and not made of plastic. The dough was wet, sticky, and aggressive. It was a warm day for the bake and the proof was large. It almost overflowed the basket. When we put it in the super hot ceramic pan (500 degrees), the dough stick stubbornly to the basket and the result was an uneven turn out of the basket. The dough just did not behave. Bad dough! It happens. I personally thought that bread tasted amazingly delicious – like bakery quality good. Chewy outside, soft and spongy inside. Perfection.

I decided to try it on my own a couple of weeks later. I was unsure how best to do it, so I just found several videos and followed them. I was confused. Nervous. Not sure my additions would hurt or hinder the end result. See for yourself

Not bad! I did forget to lower the temp halfway through so oops. Progress not perfection, right? It was still very delicious though perhaps a bit salty.

The last time I did this I decided not to follow a technique per se and instead just winged it. I guessed on salt, texture, proofing times…pretty much all of it. Here’s my result.

Although I lowered the temperature halfway through, I second guessed myself on whether the lid was on or off and I think I left it uncovered too long. I actually could smell the burning top so I took the bread out of the oven with about ten minutes left of baking per the timer I set. I knocked on the bottom of the round and heard the expected hollow thump sound and knew it was done so I took it out early. This bread had to travel from here to my step mom’s place in Florida the next day. I let it cool completely and then wrapped it the next morning in parchment paper. Then I put it in a paper bag which I folded and then slipped into my backpack. After traveling all day, the bread was still fresh when we got into Orlando about 9pm. I was so proud. I wish I’d had eaten it sooner but it was all things considered pretty great. I tried butter and jelly. A nice Brie would have been better. Yum. Anyway, I had her freeze it so she could enjoy it later. I hope she does.

There you have it. I just fed the starter today. I’ve been trying to do that at least once a week. I read that the active yeasts start to die off after about three weeks without a feeding so doing so weekly insures the active yeasts remain which you need for a good rise. Feeding just means you give it more flour and water which is pretty simple. Really simple. Ah science. Anyway, I encourage you to try it if you have the patience and commitment. If you want a bit of direction or some starter (live locally for the starter exchange), just send me a message and I can give you more details along with links.

Recipe out of order: Chapter 2, Recipe 1 – Multigrain Bread

I’m doing something novel here and writing about a recipe the day I actually made the recipe. I mean, I’m something like five recipes behind in my blogging but I’m forging ahead. Anyway, it’s novel because I’m a mom to a five-year old child, a woman with a full-time job (ish because I’m at 90% FTE but it’s pretty much full time) who actually finds herself with “me” time on a girls trip to the mountains. No one is asking me for anything. No one is expecting anything of me. It’s awesome. And novel because it’s a rare occurrence. A lovely moment in time to reflect and appreciate the things in my life and enjoy a much-needed break.

This recipe is the first of the advanced yeast and enriched breads chapter in the book I’m following. (Reminder for those who haven’t read my earlier posts that I’m following the Culinary Institute of America’s textbook on baking and pastry and I just started chapter 2.) It requires the use of two things that are new to my bread baking. The first is a soaker. This is simply a bunch of dense grains and seeds that are placed in liquid and allowed to plump up overnight or at least 6-8 hours. The second is the use of pâté fermenteé which means “old bread” in French. In the past, the practice was to save a bit of dough from the bread you were making that day to use the next day or another day as a starter to the next bread bake.

I decided to try this recipe up in the mountains at a high altitude to see if I could produce a quality loaf. I also knew I’d have the time to focus and honestly, I wanted to share some tasty fresh bread with meats, cheeses, and wine with my girls. So, the soaker part was easy. Flax seeds, sunflower seeds, and a nine grain cereal mix (Ezekiel 4:9 almond brand) were combined with water and left to soak overnight. There was just enough water to soak into the grains and seeds to fluff them up. If you’ve ever soaked any sort of bean overnight before cooking, it’s pretty much the same thing. Next, I had to address the old bread, namely I didn’t have any. So, after I got situated at the cabin we rented for girls weekend, I made a basic lean bread which if you remember lacks fats of any kind and consists of only flour, yeast, water, and salt. I set aside a chunk of the raw dough, wrapped it in plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge. I baked the remaining dough into a small round and it was good. A little misshapen perhaps but perfect otherwise. I’d show you a picture but I forgot to take one.

The next morning, I checked the dough in the refrigerator and realized part of it had expanded beyond the plastic wrap and was exposed to air. Pity. It means that the exposed bit was hardened and had to be pinched off and tossed away. It also meant that the old dough bit was a little shy of what I needed for my bread. Not much though so I just decided it was good enough and I would just keep going. The soaker was ready to go. It looked a little like ground beef said both of my friends. It kinda did. Time to do this.

Bread and wheat flours measured. Water, salt, barley malt syrup mixed together and then added to the flours. Note that I skipped bringing my stand mixer so this was going to be done all by hand… and no yeast. Say what? The pâté fermenteé is what served as the yeast or starter to my recipe. I had to incorporate the old bread into the new bread and knead for a bit, add half the soaked grains, knead some more, add the remaining grains, knead some more, and then knead until it was the right consistency. It’s a work out! I even enlisted one of my friends to knead. Here’s what it looked like when I was done kneading and after the bread did its bulk ferment/proof thing.

Multigrain dough after kneading and before first proof

Dough after a couple of rises

I decided I wanted to make a loaf instead of large rounds so I brought my Pullman pan with me to do this. I had to guess on quantities. I went with a quarter of the recipe and figured that I’d have enough for a two-pound loaf. The dough went in the Pullman pan for the final rise. It could have been more but I was fine. It didn’t rise as much as I’d hoped in the final proof but it was going to be a sizeable loaf. One thing I hadn’t factored was a cold kitchen. I had to run one of the ovens (two ovens are just awesome) to try and keep the area warm so my bread would rise. I let the dough hang out for about 75 minutes in total before I baked it in an oven with steam. To create steam I placed a baking tin in the oven while it reached temp. When I put in the bread (lid oiled and on pan), I added some water to the tin to create steam and closed the oven. One of my friends asked me why you add the steam. It’s twofold in my mind. One reason is to increase moisture and the other reason is to make a nice, crispy crust.

The load took about 30 minutes in a 475 degree oven. I thumped the bottom and listened for the hollow thump sound a finished bread makes. Knock knock knock. The finished product is a thing of beauty. Soft, warm, delicious and excellent with fancy cheeses and meats. It would also be great as rolls or sliced and toasted. Overall, this is a really satisfying multigrain bread with a crispy top and chewy center. I’d definitely make it again.

Multigrain bread loaf right out of the oven
Multigrain loaf after slicing

Now back to my wine and break before it’s time to cook the steaks. I’d grill but I’m afraid of gas grills for some reason. It is what it is. Plus it’s snowing. No thanks.

Mountains and Advanced Breads

It’s been far too long. With a kitchen renovation, important birthday milestones and planning for parties, I just haven’t been in the right headspace to bake (or blog) and/or I haven’t had the actual space since I was without a kitchen for two weeks. I did manage to put together a fun Holi-inspired cake using a box mix cake and my tried and true buttercream recipe but I don’t consider box mixes baking. It is but it isn’t.

This weekend I am jumping back in. I’ve decided to skip the last recipe in chapter 1 (jelly donuts) for now and start chapter 2, Advanced Yeast Breads and Rolls. The first recipe is for a multigrain bread which uses a soaker AND something called a pâte fermenteé. A soaker as far as I can tell is simply some grains and seeds in a liquid that are left to soak and expand for a period of hours or sometimes days. The reason to do this is that some grains are very dense and can suck the moisture out of your bread so this ensures the grains have soaked in the moisture and will help not hinder gluten development. A pâte fermenteé (“old dough”) is pretty much leftover dough that has fermented for at least 6-8 hours if not more in the fridge that is then added into the fresh dough mixture. I think it’s done to add flavor and richness. I aim to find out. To complicate things, I’m going to try this recipe at high altitude – 8200 feet – in a kitchen that isn’t mine and I’m going to knead it by hand. Girls weekend. Stay tuned. I hope I’ve figured out the correct measurements.

Recipe 17. Raisin Bread

I made this bread exactly two months ago. I remember it. It was right before my husband went on an ice fishing trip with the men folk. It was my Friday baking day and he was packing up his stuff to go. I decided if the bread came out, I’d send him with some. How domestic of me.

I also remember that I did not adjust the measurements correctly as far as quantity so I ended up with more bread than I wanted. Thankfully bread can be easily frozen. And this bread was delicious.

Anyway, the bread came together quite easily. Beautiful rise. Tons of raisins. All the glutens. I’m including pictures here of the raisins and of the bread after first rise. The video is a bonus. It shows me playing with the dough. Sometimes it is necessary to finish the kneading outside of the mixer so you can get a feel for the dough plus it’s fun to play with.

I had enough for two rounds AND a large Pullman loaf (see below).

I had to guess on baking time for that, but it was a beautiful loaf when it was done. I’d definitely make it again. I ended up sending the large loaf with my husband. It was a hit. I froze another round which I thawed last week. It’s a delicious bread toasted with a little butter. Definitely a keeper. If you’d like the recipe, let me know and I’ll try my hand at rewriting it so it’s not infringing on any copyright laws.

“Every box of raisins is a tragic tale of grapes that could have been wine.” -Unknown

Forgive Me For Not Posting …

But here’s some cake to start.

Yesterday, I made my daughter this cake and some cupcakes for her birthday. It’s a yellow cake box mix. I’d made a dry lemon cake and not very sweet Italian buttercream the week before and my heart couldn’t take another failure. I only had half of the oil amount required so I ended up substituting applesauce for the remaining half. The result was a moist and delicious cake. The frosting is standard American buttercream that I whipped together and my daughter’s favorite I wrapped the sides of the cake in fondant just to see how it would go since I’m not really familiar with using it so I considered it practice, plus it was just fun. I had no design ideas other than I knew I wanted to make her a little cake to support that huge candle. Not too bad I have to say. (I should buy smaller rounds for under the cake, but that’s all I had.)

I’ll work on my blog posts this week. I’m something like five recipes behind and feeling incredibly guilty, but meh, life gets in the way. I still have the jelly donut recipe to go to complete the first chapter of my book. It might be complicated due to the fact that my kitchen is set for demo and renovation starting Friday. Luckily it’s a quick project – 9-10 days – and when done should be a dream for me to work in. I might need to use a neighbor’s kitchen to complete the donut recipe, but that might be weird. I’ll figure it out.

Oh, here’s what the cupcakes looked like. She wanted purple and these cute mermaid toppers. Poor kid caught the flu and we had to cancel her party, but I still made her some cupcakes. Later.

Recipe 16. Challah

Oy the guilt. I’m so far behind on these posts. While I’ve been bad about blogging, I’ve actually been keeping up the baking at least once a week although it’s not always from The Book. I’m probably five recipes behind, but I’m going to try my best to get caught up before the next bake.

This bread frightened me because I just was having trouble figuring out how I was going to braid it. Was it like braiding hair (sort of, not really)? Could I get it tight enough? Would I be able to crack the plait? The short answer – nope.

I decided to focus on the three-braid challah rather than the six braid. The book had cryptic instructions for both so I just didn’t have a good feeling. I can’t tell you how many videos I watched trying to psych myself up for this bake. They made it look so easy. I could do this.

After the initial rise, I cut the dough into 160 gram chunks as instructed. Each loaf would require three of these to create the braid. Fairly obvious. Here’s one where I actually got it on the nose. It feels amazing when you get it right. Like I was elated because my dough ball was spot on in weight.

After weighing, each dough ball was shaped into a batard which is a bread roll shape that is oblong and oval in shape. The dough then rests for a bit before you start to roll out the strands for the braids. Notice that I made enough dough to make two loaves plus two extra to do something with.

Once the dough had rested, I shaped each bastard into a long piece and then attached each “strand” to each other at the top to create a starting point for the braid as shown below. It was tricky to get the dough in that shape, mainly making sure the dough was evenly shaped. It was quite a strong and tight, stretchy dough which tended to shrink up as it got longer.

Now I was ready to braid. I don’t think I did it right or got it tight enough, but here’s what they looked like when I was done. The little guy was made from the two extra batards. (True story. When you type “batards”, autocorrect puts “bastards.”)

A little egg wash and in the oven they went. Here’s what came out. Not too shabby though I was hoping there would be less expansion between the braids. I still think they look cool.

We recently had some new folks move in to the neighborhood and they had invited us to their place for a little get together. I brought the bread and it was well received which always makes me feel elated. Truly a sense of accomplishment and feelings of major pride. It’s like being high but not. (Hey. This is Colorado. You have to specify.) Anyway, bread and baking are proving to be quite pleasurable to me. I knew I loved eating bread – duh – but just never thought I’d enjoy making it, too. It’s very satisfying.

Yummy bread. I’d make it again even if I never master the braid.

Recipe 15. Pizza durum dough

I can’t believe I am blogging about this recipe so late. It’s been a month since my last post and I’m pretty sure I used the last dough I froze from this particular baking adventure maybe three weeks ago, but a promise to myself was to see this blog through. I will post but I don’t promise timeliness.

This pizza dough was great. Chewy where you want AND extra crispy where you also want – like a cracker depending how thinly you roll it. It’s a dough that doesn’t overwhelm the pizza but is sturdy enough for heavy toppings. I ended up making about five pizza dough balls. Each dough ball produced more of a personal pizza size at 10 inches. I kept two and froze the other three.

I won’t go too crazy with the review. The recipe was spot on. I was pleased with how easy the dough came together. I’d definitely make it again. I do have one recommendation if you’re going to make pizza on the regular. Get a pizza peel which is really a huge spatula to put a pizza into and out of the oven and can serve double duty as a cheese/charcuterie board. (I love those things with fancy red wine). I struggled without one because once I got the dough ready with toppings, I couldn’t get it off the counter or cookie sheet. By the fifth pizza, and with the bamboo pizza peel I bought off of Amazon, I got a rounder, more uniform look and bake. It was a pretty good feeling.

Here are some pics I took along the way.

Pizza dough balls wrapped for freezer
First pizza with stuff I found in the fridge
This one had some spinach in there.
Not too bad. Looks round-ish. “Half” cheese

Overall success! If you want the recipe or to try something similar, let me know. (Note to self: I must make another round and freeze them!)

Recipe 14. Pita

So this should be the Lavash recipe, but I decided to skip it. I am totally unfamiliar with it, it required overnight work, I still hadn’t gotten over my failed naan bread, and… it’s my blog and I’ll skip if I want to. I decided I can go back at any time. I’m taking a pass, kinda like in that one game show from years and years ago where if you couldn’t figure a word that would make the other person guess the clue, then you could say “pass.” I’m blanking on the name of that show. Match Game? Anyway, yeah…I’m taking a pass.

Pita seemed challenging. I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, but I went into it with an open mind. The recipe was fairly straightforward – 50/50 bread flour and whole wheat flour, oil, yeast, salt, sugar, water. Simple enough. The dough was a bit heavy though and a funny thing happened to my KitchenAid.

Wasn’t that awesome? That derailed me a bit. I wasn’t expecting the mixer to struggle let alone smoke. I called them later to talk about it. I hadn’t registered it, but seeing as how I’d purchased it in October 2018 and it was only December 2018, I was concerned. I still had some of the materials (not the registration card, of course…no idea where it is) and it clearly said if there was something wrong with it within the first year that they would replace it. After finally figuring out how to talk to a person — because their automated system insisted I type in a phone number on the registration and I hadn’t registered it – I finally got to a person. Felt like I was on hold for what seemed like forever. He suggested I let the machine cool off and then trying it again to see if it still smoked. He said that sometimes you can overheat them if you have them on too long. I had it on four minutes on the lowest setting (Stir) and an additional four minutes on the next setting (2). The documentation on the mixer indicates that you should never knead above a 2. So eight minutes is too much on a professional mixer with a bad ass motor? Okay then. I let it cool off and tried it out and it works just fine.  What a relief. I think going forward I will probably just make sure it doesn’t get too hot and maybe not go above the stir speed for dough.

Back to the pita. Everything went according to how the recipe said it would. It doubled great. I weighed and preshaped the rolls. I let them rise again and then rolled them out. This time, I decided to try and make a video using my iPhone because I don’t have a video camera. Maybe I’ll get one. And some white lights because my kitchen lights are too yellow and everything looks more yellow than it is. This is the second video. In the first video, I did not like the way I looked without makeup so while the bread was resting before rolling, I legit went and put on makeup and did something with my hair. I still am not pleased with how I look on camera, but you know what? That’s me and what you see is what you get. Not that first video though. Nope.

Here’s what the final pitas looked like. I was quite pleased with them!  I even calculated correctly to make one dozen. I finished them up and made a quick turkey salad (I had just roasted a turkey the day before) and brought that along with the pita for a catch up night with a friend. We met at one of those brew pubs where they sell their beer and then you can bring in your own food, play games, chill. Those pita sandwiches were so good. I will definitely be making them again.



Recipe 13. Naan

Hello anyone still reading my blog. Thanks for hanging in. Happy New Year! It’s been a flurry of activity over the holidays and while I was busy with shopping, decorating, traveling, celebrating, and all that good stuff, I was a bit lazy in keeping up with my blog. I managed to bake, but not much from the book I’m following that is the inspiration for this blog. I’ve managed to make naan, which I will talk about here, pita, and pizza dough which I will post about  shortly. I ended up skipping the lavash recipe; I decided I can always come back to it another time. It’s not like I’ll be penalized for going out of order. Besides, it’s my blog and I can do what I want.

I had high hopes for the naan bread. It is so delicious. I just love going to this fast food Indian restaurant near my work and getting some chicken tikka masala with fresh naan. I tell them to give me double bread and skip the rice. I don’t have time for the rice. I want to dip my bread in that delicious sauce. I was thinking how awesome it would be to be able to make it at home whenever I want. I especially love it with onion. Just yum. But things did not turn out as I had planned.

First, the recipe called for baking the bread in the oven. I didn’t think traditional naan was made in the oven, but I have committed to following the recipes in this Culinary Institute text book and so I just did what the recipe said to do. The dough came together quite wonderfully. It proofed beautifully. I mean, perfect rise. (I absolutely love the newly discovered Standard Proofing option my oven offers. The bread goes in, I set the time, and it comes out perfectly doubled.) I created the rounds (preshape) that would then be rolled out to make the bread. Here’s how that looked:

risen dough rounds
Naan rounds after rise and before rolling out

Then comes the rolling out and baking. I did precisely what it said and baked. I had high hopes but in the end was disappointed with how they turned out. Not how they tasted because the bread tasted good – it wasn’t naan like my fave fast food Indian place – but how they looked. To me, this was more pita than naan though soft bread. I added onion to some of the dough and it was good. I think maybe next time I would pan fry them using a cast iron skillet because I think that’s how you’d get the browned crispy bits on the bread. Traditionally, naan is made in a tandoori oven (clay oven).

So there you go. Not every recipe is a winner. I did like the flavor though so maybe if I were to make it again, I would just play with it to make it what I want. I did enjoy the onion flavor so maybe next time I’ll roll them more like tortillas and add more stuff to it. Or roll it out and use it as a pizza dough. If I do, I’ll write up a post about the experience.



Must write more but in the meantime…

I’ve been really bad about blogging my baking adventures. I’ve made naan bread (not so great), a gingerbread house, cookies for Santa, pita bread, and today’s creation, a chocolate cake for my husband’s birthday. I will write more about each project soon, but in the interest of getting out a post, I’m doing a quickie collage.

Happy New Year!