Sourdough: Time to Bake!

The starter was ready, more than doubling in size after a feeding. I had two days off in a row. It was time to bake!

I began by moving the starter into a larger bowl and feeding it with a full cup of flour, as well as about a half-cup of water. The mere act of making a bigger sour sludge changes its name from “starter” to “sponge”.

“Proofing the sponge” is letting your big gooey mess grow to double its size, as you can see here. Then you use some of the sponge for your bread dough, and put the rest back in your jar. Feed it again, and once more it’s just considered “starter”. Weird that it’s name changes like that, but there you go. Bakers are crazy.

Time to make the dough! I used a simple recipe, and mixed it in my big ol’ stand mixer with the bread hook:

2 cups sponge
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp salt
4 tsp sugar
1/2 cup water
2 cups flour

As with pretty much every other recipe on earth, mix the sponge with everything but the flour. Then add the flour slowly, a half-cup at a time or so, mixing every time. You don’t want to dust the house with explosive flour. Depending on your local humdity, altitude, and whatever other mysterous factors affect baking, you may need to add a little more flour or a little more water. Eventually, the dough will become one cohesive ball, not sticking to the sides of the mixer bowl. Let it thump around in there a little while longer, and you won’t have to knead by hand.

Clean out the sponge bowl, add a little olive oil, and toss in your dough orb. Make sure to roll the dough around in the oil, so that it’s all shiny and slick. This will keep the dough from drying out and getting a “skin” on the surface. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel (again, the dampness helps keep the dough from drying out) and let it grow.

The picture just above is after 6 hours of rising — I mixed the dough at 5pm, and visited it right before heading off to bed at 11pm. I punched the dough back down, re-rolled it in the oil, re-dampened my tea towel, and went to bed.

9 hours later, the dough was ginormous again. I punched it, pulled it out of the bowl, threw some flour on my hands, and kneaded the stuff until it was a small ball again. Then I cut it into sixths, rolled them into balls, and put them on my silicon baking sheet.

I covered them directly with, you guessed it, a damp tea towel. Then we played some video games and went to Costco. Four hours after making the balls, they’d grown considerably again. I took off the towel and let them sit for another hour uncovered. As opposed to previous stints of damp-toweling and oil-slathering, this time I wanted them to grow skins, because that makes the crust even crustier.

So then, at 1pm the second day, I baked. at 350° for 30 minutes. (A full-size loaf would probably take 45 minutes or so.) And the result is some perfectly sour, dense and chewy, crusty-crusted sourdough bread!

So yes, it takes a lot of time. But really, most of that time passes without you having to do anything. I don’t think I put any more actual prep time into this bread than I would into, say, a batch of cookies or brownies. The prep time is just spread out a bit more. And you COULD bake after that first rise, if you felt the urge, although the more time you let this stuff do its thing, the more sour the resulting bread. This was 20 hours from making the dough to baking, and I think the level of sour is just right.

Flora, Fauna, Fungus, and Bacteria

Came home today to find this ginormous mushroom next to the parking lot. Did a double-take, saw the tiny lizard on top of it. He scampered off just as my phone made its picture-clicky sound.

Meanwhile, the sourdough starter from the freezer is ready to use. It grew to more than double its original size (marked with a line) in two hours. Sadly, the pantry stuff isn’t quite there yet. (Although another day or two might get it there.)

I think I’m going to mix a little of the pantry stuff into the freezer batch and go down to just one container. Because the freezer stuff is peppy as heck, but the pantry stuff has more age to it, which means a more sour flavor. Since baking sourdough is an all-day project, I’ll just feed this stuff until Wednesday or Thursday, when I can get back into the swing of things with a practice loaf.

Duke's #1 Clam Chowder

I’ve had this recipe card in my file for about 15 years. I really should make this stuff more often. If you’ve ever been to Duke’s in Seattle, you know how great their chowder is. Their take-home recipe isn’t quite there, but it’s really good anyway. I’ve also made a few small adjustments of my own.

2 slices diced bacon
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
pinch of chopped fresh garlic

1 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp marjoram
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp basil
1/8 tsp dill
2 bay leaves
pinch of salt
pinch of cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp xanthan gum

2 cups heavy cream
4 oz (1/2 bottle) clam juice

8 oz. diced potatoes (steamed or canned)
1 can (6.5 oz) chopped clams

Starting from the top: dice two strips of bacon, then cook until brown and it gives off yummy bacon fat. Add the butter, onions, celery, garlic, and all of the dry spices. Cook until tender.

Add the xanthan gum (the original recipe calls for 1/3 cup flour at this stage) for thickening. Stir until smooth. Add the cream, clam juice, and any liquid in the can of chopped clams. Bring to a simmer, but not a boil (boiling is bad for cream).

Add the clams and potatoes, bring back to a simmer. Ready, set, eat!

Now, here are my quirks: first off, I used canned potatoes. I just don’t have the patience to cook them for this. I got whole potatoes and chopped them up, but you may also be able to find sliced or chopped potatoes in a can. Also, this could be a totally low-carb dish if you omit the potatoes entirely. Since I’m on maintenance, a little of the ol’ deadly nightshade is fine for me.

Next, I used my stick blender, but just a little bit. I still wanted lots of big chunks, but I also wanted some smaller chunks to help make a thicker texture. I think I got it just right; I probably stick-blended for 30 seconds total, popping in and out in order to get some big chunks under the blade. OH, and — take out the bay leaves before stick blending. Those aren’t good eatin’.

Lastly, I left out the original recipe’s listing of half-and-half (It would have been a quarter-cup, what’s the point?) and chopped fresh parsley. (Garnish, who needs it.) I also completely overlooked the a pinch of cayenne pepper, which probably would have jazzed this up a little bit. I’ll definitely add it next time, and I included it in the list above. I used more thyme than the original recipe called for, because thyme is my A-number-1 go-to favorite spice. You can adjust the seasonings accordingly to your liking.

It’s not surprising that I left something off; the original recipe card has the ingredients in a baffling order, instead of the more sensible order-you-cook-them-in. So I’ve put them in an order I like up above, spaced apart according to the various steps. Now I can put the card away and use a computer instead. Ah, the future. The future of chowder!

Butter Cookies & Gingerbread Cookies

A coworker is leaving tomorrow, and I wanted to bake for him. He chose cookies, so I chose cut-out cookies (he’s leaving to do a one-man show that’s guitar-centric, and I wanted to break out my guitar cookie cutter).

These are two of my favorite old holiday recipes, but they’re good any time. I think for the butter cookies, the original recipe was called “bunny butter cookies”, which I always figured meant they were for Easter. But in my house, we made these for birthdays, Christmas, Halloween, Flag Day, and every other holiday that merited cookies.

Mind you, neither of these recipes is low-carb, or sugar-free.

Bunny Butter Cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick) softened butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1-1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp baking powder
1-1/2 cup flour

Blend the butter, sugar, egg, vanilla, and baking powder. Add the flour 1/2 cup at a time, blending well each time. Then cover the whole mess with plastic wrap and toss it in the fridge for at least 2 hours to chill. I left this batch in the fridge overnight, and it came through just dandy.

Roll out half the dough, using plenty of flour to keep things from sticking. You can collect the scraps and re-roll, but bear in mind that they’ll be springier and may not hold their shape as well. The more rolling, the more the glutens go crazy.

Bake on silicon sheets, parchment paper, or non-stick baking sheets — whatever you have that’s nonsticky. 425° for 5-7 minutes. Makes 3 to 4 dozen cookies, depending on what size cutters you like.

Gingerbread Cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick) softened butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1 egg
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1-1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
2 cups flour

Toss everything but the flour in a bowl, and mix well. Add the flour 1/2 cup at a time, mixing after each. Then, as with the other cookies, stash the dough in the fridge for a couple of hours. Again, this stuff sat overnight and was great the next morning.

As with the others, roll out, use cutters (or slice into squares with a knife, if you want to build little houses), bake on a non-stick surface (same as the others). For these, it’s 350° for 6-8 minutes. It’s a bigger batch than the other, so you may get 4-5 dozen cookies depending on size.

Buttercream Frosting

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) softened butter
1 box (16 oz) powdered sugar
1/3 cup cream
1 tsp vanilla

This is a modified version from the old C&H powdered sugar box. I used cream, because I don’t have milk in the house. And I used more than the 1/4 cup liquid, because I wanted a thinner, more pipe-able frosting.

I’m a haphazard icer. I mostly go for the easy squiggles, but on some I tried to make them look guitar-ish. Looking at the cookies, though, it strikes me that they’re more ukulele-ish in shape. But the neck of the guitar needs to be fatter and shorter, so the cookies don’t break as much. Tiny gingerbread ukes! NOM!

Sourdough Starter: The Adventure Continues

BUBBLES!

Day 1 — 24 hours since these guys woke up. I fed them again at 8am, and now at 8pm, one of them is clearly doing much better than the other. It’s twice the size, and is bubbling like crazy. The other one is just kind of hanging out, bubbling a little but not too much, and hasn’t risen much at all. But I still have hope that it’ll get its act in gear.

It’s interesting to note that the one doing much better is the 03/08 batch that was in the freezer. The 06/08 batch from the pantry is the sad one. I wonder if freezing kept the bacteria fresher somehow.

Sourdough Starter: 2+ Years Later

So over two years ago, as the title suggests, I made my own sourdough starter. It was a victory both of science and of yumminess. I enjoyed the process of capturing the wild Florida yeasts, and the bread I made was pretty darned good too.

I took some of the starter and dried it — smeared a thin coating on sheets of parchment paper, let it dry, crumbled it up and then put it away.

A few months after Project Sourdough, I decided to lose the damn hell ass weight I’d gained since moving to Florida. And successful weight loss, for me, means low-carb. Good-bye bread, and more specifically, good-bye homemade sourdough bread. And even more recently, I’ve moved to good-bye all wheat products.

But recently, it came up in conversation that a couple of coworkers really love fresh, homemade sourdough. So I’ve decided to see if I can bring my starter back to life. I have wheat flour back in my house for the first time in at least a year, because I’m making cookies for another coworker’s going-away party. (Recipes and photos to come in the next few, as per my usual methodologies.) It’s the perfect time!

So … I looked on the shelves in the pantry. No starter. Checked the shelves where I keep spices. No starter. I knew I’d put some away in the freezer, but I was really hoping to find the stuff I’d left out at room temperature. No dice. I dug way, way back into the dark recesses of the freezer, and found the bag I’d tucked away there. Victory!

I put a couple of tablespoons of flakes into a container, then tossed in a couple tablespoons of water. I let it sit for a few minutes to get hydratey, then chucked in a couple of tablespoons of flour, then mashed it all together with a fork until it’s like thick pancake batter. Now I’ve set it on the kitchen counter with a lid slightly ajar for air circulation.

Let’s all cross our fingers, shall we? This stuff is labeled from March of 2008, and it’s been in the freezer for that long. But I’m cautiously optimistic, because it already smells … well, sour.

On a completely unrelated note, I hope the next home in which we live has solid-colored kitchen counters. I’m tired of taking pictures against this ugly brown mottled stuff.

EDIT! I looked in one final nook in the pantry, and there it was. Two big bags full of various dried starter samples from March, April, and June of 2008. So I’ve started re-feeding a sample from one of the June batches, and now the two starters will race.

Seriously, I have a ton of the stuff. So if this stuff comes back to life, if anyone wants some of it, let me know.