Sourdough Starter – FINALLY!

Sourdough was my own private Holy Grail.

I seek the Grail!  I have never found the Grail!  Do you know of the Grail?  Can you help me find the Grail?

Ok, so channeling Monty Python and the Holy Grail aside, I think I finally found it.

No, my light is not Grail Shaped, evil Zoot.

I have been reading the Breadit subReddit on Reddit.com lately to try to get insight to this odd thing.  After weeks of reading, I finally thought that I had enough of that and just threw my hands into the air to try to make a Sourdough starter.

Sourdough is a special bacteria that grows wild in a Starter and is named after San Francisco in California but not limited to that area.  From what I can tell, while I have re-created the taste, I have the bacillis in my area.  My own commercial yeast “went wild” over the generations of breeding that happened in that not so very pretty white bowl, but it did not jump species and become that specific species of yeast that they may use in San Francisco, but the lactobacillis seems to be here.

Any kitchen where you bake bread will have wild yeast.  I would wager that any kitchen that you do NOT bake bread in has wild yeast as well, but that’s just my scientific background coming to the surface.

The story goes that you start a commercial yeast in a mix of flour and water and perhaps a little sugar.  Make sure that the glass or plastic bowl is “sterile clean”.  Allow the right conditions of not too hot nor to cold to exist for the little creatures.  Leave the thing alone for 2 to 5 days.  That’s right, practically a week.  All you do to it over that time is to stir it.

The resulting mix will have the consistency of Pancake Batter or Wallpaper Paste.  It should be runny per the recipe.

If it doesn’t get infected or spoil, you will go through some specific phases.

In the first couple hours, the commercial yeast will bloom and the mix will rise.  In my case it grew to push the towel up in the air.  I had to remove the towel and clean it off, replacing it with a cookie sheet that was placed so there was an opening at the top of the bowl for air to circulate.  The next time I try this, I will leave the towel off until the first bloom is complete and the yeast settles down a bit.

The next five days it will settle down and beneficial yeasts and beneficial bacteria will populate the mix.  The mix will settle literally and there will be some changes of smell and color.  It went from being a wallpaper paste looking mass to what you see in the picture – a layer of amber liquid on top. 

It smelled first like beer.  Then it started to smell like what I remember Sourdough smelling like.  It was a sharp smell but not unpleasant.

I vowed to allow it to go five days, only stirring the mass once or twice a day.  I did not feed it any extra flour, yeast, or sugar.  It merely sat on the counter looking strange and perfuming the house with that brewing smell of funk.  

Finally when I decided to try it out, I got proper Sourdough Rolls, Torpedo Rolls, Pizza, and a Boule loaf.

I had success!

The recipe was this link on King Arthur Flour but I will reproduce it here for brevity.   You already have the process above.  If it sounds less precise than usual, it was.

The remnants of what I made were “fed” with another half cup of flour and placed in a semi-sealed ball jar in the refrigerator.  It is still alive, although mostly dormant and growing slowly.   I will add another half cup of flour and water each week and give it a stir from time to time to make sure it is still alive and happy.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups warm water 
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey (optional) 
  • 1 tablespoon or packet active dry yeast
  • 2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

Process:

  • To Glass, Plastic or Ceramic bowl add 2 cups warm water, 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey, 1 tablespoon or packet of yeast.
  • Slowly add the 2 cups of flour while stirring it in to incorporate it to a smooth consistency.
  • Allow the yeast to bloom.
  • When the yeast settles down in a couple hours, cover the starter with a towel allowing it to breathe.
  • Stir it occasionally over the next 2 to 5 days.


Feeding and care:

  • Move the remaining starter to a smaller jar with a loose lid. 
  • Place starter in the refrigerator.
  • Feed every couple of days but no longer than once a week with 1/2 cup flour and water to retain consistency and “vigor”.
  • Yes it was vague to me as well but I added flour and water in equal parts. 
  • This “extra” water will need to be accounted for in a Sourdough Bread recipe.


Or you could visit the King Arthur Flour website for additional insight on how they make their starter.

The Buns Are No Longer In The Oven

I bake.  A lot.  I am not a professional baker.  I suspect if I were, the whole process would become a bit tiresome and I’d do something else.

I’m a Hobby Baker.  I also approach the process of Baking from the aspect of my training in Programming and Computing.   That is to say, If I Do This, Then The Results Are That.

If, Then, Else.   Typical Programming Structure.

I realized lately I was not happy with my results.  My Else was flawed.  My breads were better than what you’d find shrink wrapped in a supermarket, but not really enough to make it worth the effort of baking and then cleaning the flour out of my kitchen floor grout. 

Coming from Philadelphia, Bread can easily become an Obsession.  The water there is excellent for baking, which is something you will hear about every town that draws from the Delaware Watershed, including the big monster 90 miles Northeast of Philly that is famous for their Bagels – for good reason.

You can get a hoagie or a cheese steak anywhere in the country these days, but unless they’re served on a proper Amoroso Roll, it’s going to taste like mush.

Being disappointed with my Only Slightly Better Than Mass Market results, I slacked.  I used some “lesser” flour like the All Purpose or Bread Flour with the store brand sticker on it.  Not all that good.  The water here in Florida is great for swimming in and fishing but for baking bread it is horrendous.  Filter the water at the very least so it no longer smells like it had been drained from the Fort Lauderdale High School swimming pool and isn’t tan from the tap.

Oh, yes, really.  The water has a tan tint to it and smells of chlorine.  Especially this month when Fort Lauderdale is flushing their lines with Chlorinated water. 

So I stepped away and was getting some rather excellent Ciabatta Rolls from GFS Marketplace and let the bread machine go idle.

The exception was my Pizzas.  I was making the dough in the bread machine, rolling it out and allowing it to rise for sometimes as long as 2 hours and not quite getting what I expected, but it was always better than the best local restaurants.  Still worth my while enough to make me look at what I was doing wrong.

This weekend we wanted a Pizza.  I buy Mozzarella Cheese when it is on sale, add Feta and Fresh Parmesan to it and layer that over top of a Pizza Sauce that is store bought but not bad.   It is an easy meal, better for you than at a Pizza restaurant because I use better ingredients, and takes only an hour or so to fully prepare.

The problem was that the crust wasn’t “quite right”.   I was thinking about that and how I am using exactly the same recipe I used in Philly while walking through the flour aisle at GFS when I spotted something that woke me up. 

High Gluten Bread Flour.

If you’re a bread baker, you know each flour has its own personality and will give its own texture and taste to the dough.  High Gluten Bread Flour specifically has extra protein and the texture will be more stretchy.  That stretchiness allows the dough to rise higher and has a stronger taste than the All Purpose flour you have around and generally don’t give much thought to. 

All of that was my lightbulb moment.   It was also my “Duh!” moment.  I realized I had slacked and cut corners and it was time for me to go back to basics.

I grabbed a 25 pound bag of flour and came home and made the best pizza I have had since I moved to Florida.  The bottom of the crust was crispy which I had not had either. 

We were onto something!

Since I am watching my calorie intake and getting excellent results, I had been using mass market hamburger buns for small sandwiches.  120 calories a piece and having practically no taste, it is what you’d expect when going to a fast food restaurant – something to keep the food away from your hands in a sandwich.

I got to thinking that Pat’s Pizza Dough Recipe that I have been using for more than 10 years now was a perfect loaf of bread to try this out.  I got out the calculator and scientifically figured that if I use 78 Grams of Dough I could make a 120 calorie roll and probably get something better.  No more “Bachelor Chow” burger buns, these had Flavor!

Or so I would learn later.  You see, the little “1/4 pound burger” buns were the control for the experiment.  I was shooting for that but a little better.

I got a LOT better.   The results are in that picture.  Those rolls were as tall as your longest finger. 

(stop looking at your finger, you don’t know where it has been)

Just get the gram scale out, measure 2.1 ounces of dough exactly. Each ounce is 35 grams, two ounces is 70, but the extra 8 grams is a better size and used the dough evenly.  I got an even dozen dough balls and walked away from the kitchen for two hours.

The whole while, the house was being infused with the perfume of rising dough and my little Yeasty Beasties doing their best to make my later dinner perfect.   In fact, it’s easy to say that that particular combination of Filtered Water, High Gluten Bread Flour, and 2 hour rising time was the key to this lab experiment. 

The trick is cracking the recipe for your current conditions.  Things change.  You Move.  You forget things, and sometimes it’s time to go back to basics.  Big Fluffy Buns that were dusted with a tablespoon of “Italian Seasoning” from McCormick in the Dough Stage turned out to be just the right touch for the evening burger that I found in the freezer.

There is only one problem.   I have leftover mass market burger buns that taste like nothing.   No biggie, they’ll get eaten, but each time they do, I’ll realize that to bake well sometimes you just have to go back to the kitchen and play with your flours.

How to Have Your Pizza And Diet Too

Sometimes you just have to shrug and say go for it!

Paraphrasing Ferris Beuhler aside, that’s what I wanted for dinner.

I’m watching my weight, and have been since I was 19 years old.  Lately I noticed that the formerly baggy cargo shorts weren’t quite so roomy any longer and needed to act. 

The result was two months and two weeks later, 10 pounds lighter, and the shorts fit better.   I still need to get more pairs since Cargo Shorts are almost formal wear in South Florida for 10 months out of the year.

Almost.  Not quite.

So after making this pizza and thinking that the calorie count was obscene I decided to sit down and count calories.   It turned out that my mental estimates and my spreadsheet were fairly close.

Yep, I’ve been counting calories long enough to qualify as being mental.   When I was skating 2000 miles plus a year it was irrelevant since I had some days burned more calories than I took in. 

A second slab of Chocolate Cake? SURE!

I haven’t been on the skates for a while, South Florida may be good for casual skating but for distance Philadelphia was heaven with its trail from the Liberty Bell in Old City to Valley Forge and out to Reading PA.

So it was time to shave a few calories off the diet.  By the time I was through I cut my maintenance diet of 3000 calories a day to 2000-2200 a day and managed to lose that 10 pounds in 10 weeks.

When Saturday came along I just shrugged and said I Want Pizza.  It was either the local Humpy’s Pizza or I was going to make one.

Making one won out and it really isn’t tough.  There’s a Pizza Dough Recipe that I have been using for more than 10 years that Pat gave me.  Make the dough in the bread machine or in a mixer with a dough hook.  Allow to rest for 30 mins, roll out, rise for 30 minutes while “decorated” with ingredients.  Cook at 525 for 9 minutes (plus or minus).    My oven doesn’t really know what a stable temperature is so I have to guess but the results are above.

That calorie count?  I’m a big guy so 1/4 of that full cookie sheet was dinner.  I used the spreadsheet and counted the calories out to be 3384 for the pie, so that means Dinner on Saturday was 846.  Dough was 1400 Calories alone.  Three Cheeses – Mozzarella, Feta and Parmesan.

Ok, so Sunday either I didn’t really do well with the diet but there’s always Monday!

Oh and there’s none leftover.  It was too good since I had the other two slices on Sunday.  The other half was all cheese no onions or mushrooms.  Subtract 20 calories per meal for that half and it is gone too.

Just in case you were curious… Oh and it was amazing the second day too.  Just use a skillet heated medium.  Put it cheese side down until the cheese melts.  That grease will let you flip the slice then fry it until crispy on the bottom.

Yum.

The reality is that if you want a really GOOD pizza you either have to find a really GOOD restaurant or do what I did.  Make one from scratch.   It isn’t that hard to do, and I will fill you in with one very important secret:  Always.  I mean ALWAYS use fresh basil.  Trust me on this one.  You will thank me later.  Just snip the leaves into the sauce and go heavy with it.  Basil does not add many calories (it wasn’t even listed on the package) and it’s a wall of flavor that you will love.

Home Made Pizza

Yesterday’s Pizza Dough Recipe is to be used here.  Go get it started and when it has been mixed, you can start with this post.

Sort of.

Actually there’s some prep worth you need to do.  Pizza is a very personal sort of food.  Everyone has their favorite set of toppings and this is mine.  Make your own up, this is how I did.

I got for toppings the following ingredients:
1 fresh red pepper diced down to 1/2 inch squares
a can of Mushrooms
1/2 of an onion sliced and diced into small pieces.
Feta Cheese as an addition to spice up the bland…
1 pound of Mozarella cheese
1 can of pizza sauce.

I use canned sauce because I can’t seem to crack that recipe so it doesn’t taste like spaghetti sauce.  There’s a certain difference between spaghetti sauce and pizza sauce.  I’ve been lucky to find a good brand here, so you will have to find your own.

This will make what I grew up calling a Sicilian Pizza.  Thick crust.

I have a cookie sheet that is 12 inches wide, 17 inches deep.  I take the cookie sheet and lay down aluminum foil on top and cover it with a layer of extra virgin olive oil and dust it completely with flour.

I then take the dough that is fresh out of the bread machine (or your mixer) and roll it out so that it covers the entire bottom of the pan.  The entire cookie sheet will be covered.

I then allow this Pizza Dough to rise for two hours.  When it is done, there will be some high spots and I tend to flatten them down somewhat even.

Now your dough covers the entire sheet, has risen, and the bubbles have been popped.  If you like bubbles, then leave them alone.  Sheesh!  🙂

At this point I will coat the dough in the sheet with a can of pizza sauce completely.   Once the sauce is even, I sprinkle evenly the chopped pepper, mushrooms, and onions. 

After the veg has been laid down, I cover them with a pound of Mozzarella cheese and sprinkle some Feta cheese on top to taste.   This will wake up the pizza a bit.

To bake this, I turn the oven on as hot as it will get.  Since my oven is really very inaccurate when it comes to holding temperature, I shoot for 550F and am happy when it gets nearby.  I have a pizza stone that fits in the oven to help the pizza along, but the last time I made the pizza I didn’t use it.

I have found that with my oven, it takes 10 minutes to bake the pizza to a soft crust.  The exposed edges won’t be too dark, although they do have a golden brown tint.  Just the way I like them. 

There’s a lot of play in this recipe, you will probably have to “Learn” the recipe and see where your oven takes you.  The first time the oven goes to where I set it in this house will be when I break down and buy a new oven.

It make a deep dish pizza that serves four guys like me, big.  Your mileage will vary.

So make one and enjoy.  I’m about to warm up the leftovers right now.

Ciabatta in a Minute – Picture and Review

I like to read about all sorts of technical things.  In fact I have to as part of my career as an IT Manager.  When you read some sites, the nature of the web tends to get you onto other sites that will interest you. 

I read a lot of technical things and I also bake a lot of bread.  I was pleasantly surprised when I found a recipe for some Sixty Second Ciabatta Bread on Lifehacker.  I like my title better. 🙂

I’m always up for a cooking challenge so I looked at the recipe and said OK Lets Try This!

If you follow their instructions, you will end up with a loaf of bread that is simply amazing and amazingly simple.  Ciabatta Bread is what you get when you have a Panini and it is full of big holes and “nooks and crannies” that toast up well with melted butter, whether mine or someone else’s.

Here was what I got when I followed the recipe.  It turned out perfectly.  Next time I’ll bake it another minute or two, but I have an oven that has only a passing acquaintance to the correct temperature so I’ll blame it on my equipment!  LOL!

The recipe is simple.   Grab a large bowl, mine was a foot across.  Add to the bowl
2 cups of warm water,
1/4 teaspoon of yeast,
1 teaspoon of salt,
and 1 teaspoon of sugar.  Slosh all that around for a little bit.

Now go add to this the rest of the ingredients:  4 cups of bread or all purpose flour.  Oh you’re done.

Mix this stuff until its a batter.   Their directions said that it would be like a thick pancake batter.   I found that it was a bit like a biscuit dough that was dry.  Looser than usual for bread dough.  It also reminded me of play-doh.   I suspect that the weather will have an effect on this one.

Now you need to put this in a warm place for 8 to 12 hours until it doubles in size.  I warmed my oven to 100 or 105, slipped the bowl in there, and walked away until the next morning.

The next morning, I dusted the cookie sheet with Corn Meal, you could use butter or flour… your choice.  I then poured this sticky batter out onto the sheet, dusted it with flour, and popped it into a 400F oven for 25 minutes.

That’s It!

Next time I do this, I’ll leave the dusting of the flour off the top of the loaf as it was unnecessary and I will bake it a little longer since the oven is so inaccurate. 

The recipe is SO simple you will end up scratching your head “Am I really DONE?”!  I’m going to send this to my Godmother who insists she can’t bake (I am corrupting her and now she makes my 3 ingredient fudge recipe) and see what she thinks.  

Even you can bake bread!

Gold Medal Flour – Extraordinary Buttermilk Biscuits Recipe

I promised you a simple and bullet proof biscuit recipe when I posted the butter recipe a few days back.   Here it is.

This is right off of the back of the Flour Bag.   Go to the supermarket and get Self Rising Flour.  Make certain that it is “Self Rising Flour”.   That’s important for this recipe.   I used Gold Medal Flour the first time and the biscuits turned out perfect, I used store brand Self Rising Flour from Publix and it turned out perfect as well…

You also need the Buttermilk from the Butter Recipe, so if you haven’t broken down and tried it, you should.  Otherwise you can substitute Whipping Cream or Milk.  Don’t go for skim, it needs the fat to make them taste right.

Ingredient list:
2 1/2 Cups Self Rising Flour – Make certain that it is Self Rising Flour!
2 teaspoons of Sugar
1/2 cup of Butter – You did make this yourself, right?
3/4 to 1 cup (or more) of Buttermilk – Again, you did make this yourself, right?

Ok, I’ll believe you there…

The recipe from the Gold Medal Self Rising Flour Bag is simple.

Preheat your oven to 450F
Stir together your dry ingredients in a mixing bowl:
2 1/2 cups Self Rising Flour
2 Teaspoons of Sugar

Using pastry blender or fork, cut in  1/2 cup butter until mixture is crumbly

Stir in 3/4 to 1 cup of Buttermilk until dough leaves side of bowl.   If dough is dry, add buttermilk a teaspoon at a time until it looks right.  Depending on how thick your buttermilk is will determine how much you need – thick buttermilk means you need more.   I had buttermilk before that was more like Yogurt and ended up using 1 1/2 cups.

The recipe calls for you to roll out your dough on a lightly floured surface.   Since I shoot for a sticky dough I  have a 1/4 cup measuring cup that I use to measure out biscuits.   Pack this dough down into the measuring cup, I’m always a little generous with it, and scoop it out onto your cookie sheet.

When the oven is at temperature, put the cookie sheet with the approximately 10 to 12 biscuits into the oven at 450.  The Recipe calls for 10 to 12 minutes.   I found that my oven runs “hot” and I end up baking this recipe for as much as 15 minutes.  I would check the biscuits every 2 minutes past the first 10 minutes until you learn what the biscuits “want”.   

Bread Baking is an organic, and living process.  It is always a little different every time.

Be patient and remember, it is a living thing, treat your bread and biscuits with care.

Now that having been said, I have a Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer.   I have a nasty habit of tossing all the ingredients in there, turning it on until it looks right, then spooning them out onto the cookie sheet.  I know, I KNOW!, there’s some dear Southern Woman who is aghast at the idea that someone would make biscuits in a mixer that way but this really is a forgiving recipe and will turn out if you do it that way in the big ol mixer.

I promise, really I do.