Sourdough from Scratch

Inspired by the Netflix documentary “Cooked,” featuring Michael Pollan, this week I’m on a bread-making jag.

In this gorgeously filmed series, Pollen apprentices himself to masters in the cooking arts and learns how the classical elements fire, water, air and earth transform nature into food.

The episode titled “Air” includes visits to Morocco, food laboratories and master bakers to unlock the secrets of gluten, sourdough, and the art of baking bread.

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As my husband will attest, the results of my bread-making have been mixed, but this time, infused with the Pollan spirit, I know I can do it! Sourdough from scratch. No packaged yeast.

Equipment and ingredients:
• Clean glass or enamel bowl
• Clean spoon
• Clean dish towel
• 2 cups flour
• 1 1/2 cups water (optional: 2 T acidic juice, pineapple, orange or lemon)

Day 1: mix 2 cups flour and 1 1/2 cups water in the bowl. Cover with the dishtowel.  Leave it out on a counter.

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The batter attracts wild yeast, which feeds on sugar in the flour. The process produces gas, which creates the bubbles that make bread rise. The resulting culture, known by sourdough officionados as the “mother” and referred to as “her,” might take a couple of days, but can start growing right away.

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Evening of day 1

Day 2: feed with 1/3 cup flour and 1/4 cup water. The batter will be lumpy but that’s O.K. The yeast will finish the job. If a clear fluid appears on top, stir it in. It’s alcohol, a natural byproduct that adds flavor and helps preserve the batter. A pinkish or moldy-looking fluid means you’ve attracted the wrong kind of bacteria. Discard the batter and start over.

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Day 2, before feeding

Day 3-7: repeat feeding procedure up to Day 7, then use or throw away some of the mother and keep the rest in a jar in the refrigerator. Batter that is ready to use is bubbly and has a nice sourdough scent. Mine might be ready by day three or four.

Or, it might not be ready—batter can be activated by the same bacteria that makes cheese ferment, making it bubble right away. Around day 3 or 4 though, this bacteria stops working. The batter becomes flat and dead-looking. This is the point where many would-be sourdough makers give up, when actually the yeast hasn’t started to work yet.

Yeast likes more acid than the almost-neutral pH combination of flour and water, hence the optional addition of an acidic juice listed above. If the culture doesn’t start to grow by day 6, add 1/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar to the daily feeding.

It’s all right to leave the batter on the counter for an extra week or so to enhance flavor and texture.

Stay tuned for Part B: Sourdough Bread From Scratch. Maybe.

Are you a bread maker? Any tips on making sourdough from scratch?

For a trove of detailed instructions and recipes, visit experts like the Wild Yeast Blog, and The Fresh Loaf.

For more on this week’s WordPress Photo challenge: Admiration

Thank you Shawn Hoke for the featured image.

Olé

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Heavy on root vegetables and brussel sprouts

Carrots, squash, beets and cabbage grown here this time of year are very nice, but the siren song of vegetables from south of the border better match my February state of mind. Bring on the spice and color.

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Corn and Bean Salad

Serves: 6 servings
Ingredients
• 7 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
• 1 fresh tomato, chopped
• 1/2 to 1 green bell pepper, chopped
• 1 cup frozen corn or fresh cut from the cob
• green onions, sliced, to taste
• 1 /4 – 1/2 fresh jalepeno pepper (or Anaheim for milder flavor), ribs and seeds removed, minced
• 1 small clove garlic
• salt and pepper to taste
• 1/4 – 1/8 cup fresh lime juice
• 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard teaspoon fresh-ground pepper
• ¼ cup olive oil
• ¼ cup vegetable oil

Fresh spinach or other greens

Instructions
1 Place the beans, tomato, bell pepper, corn, onion, and jalepeno in a large salad bowl.
2 Mash the garlic and salt together to form a paste. Whisk together the mashed garlic, lime juice, mustard and pepper in a small bowl. Add the oil in a slow, steady stream while whisking. Continue whisking until smooth. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss to coat. Serve immediately over fresh spinach, or for a better blending of flavors, chill overnight.

For other interpretations of this week’s WordPress Photochallenge: State of Mind

For Pie Lovers: Six steps to make an excellent crust

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Treat.”

A couple years ago I was struggling with a pie crust, when my daughter frowned over my shoulder and asked — why aren’t you using your no-fail recipe?

Wha–?

I’d given her the recipe, then forgot all about it. She dug it out, saving the day. It worked. But — does it pass muster in the real world of pie-making, or do I like it because I can manage to roll it out?

We Epicureans decided to test my no-fail version against two other crusts.

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Added the crust bake-off to our pumpkin carving party.

Here are the contenders (recipes below):

  • JBW’s “no-fail” crust
  • Bev’s Martha Stewart video-inspired recipe. According to Martha, a five-year-old could do it. We’ll see.
  • Beckie, our amazingly talented cook and baker, tried a new recipe, rather than her standard part-butter, part-Crisco version.
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Ready, set …

Two rules for pie crust:

  1. Use cold ingredients.
  2. Don’t fuss. Work quickly.

Here’s how it went:

Step one — cut up cold butter:

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Beckie’s butter
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Bev’s
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Julie’s

Step 2: add salt and flour, cut butter into flour until butter is in pea-sized bits.

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Beckie uses a food processor.

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Step 3: Add liquids. Toss with fingers or fork, just until dough holds together in a ball. Might not need all the liquid called for.

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The face of the Virgin Mary appears on my dough ball. Or maybe a zombie. A good omen, surely.

Step. 4: wrap dough in air-tight plastic or container. Refrigerate at least fifteen minutes, or put in freezer for a shorter time.

While the crust is chilling out, prepare the filling.

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Bev attached this cool apple slicer to my KitchenAid mixer.
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Another tip from Bev: use a melon baller to core.
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No gadgets for Julie. Just hack away with peeler and paring knife. None of those price stickers made it into the filling. Honest.

Step 5: Roll

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Beckie & Bev roll dough on a pastry cloth. Doesn’t need as much flour to keep from sticking. It’s good if butter bits show.
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Julie dips hands in cold water to gather the dough, uses lots of flour and rolls out on counter-top. Phew. Made it in one piece. No visible butter bits though.
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Bev prepares strips for her woven top.

Step 5: Bake

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Beckie’s pear-cranberry pie topped with walnuts and caramel sauce
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Bev’s apple pie on the left. Note how her KitchenAid-sliced apples fill the crust. Julie’s thicker-sliced apples settled, leaving the woven top suspended over the top. Like the Super Dome.

Step 6: Let cool. If pie is too hot, juices are runny.

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Cheers. On the left, sample crusts with cinnamon and sugar, ready for taste testing.

Drum roll. And the winner is …

Martha Stewart. My crust was pretty good, but — Bev’s was best, just the right amount of crispy and flaky. Beckie swears her crust was a disaster, although it actually was delicious. Nevertheless, she’s withholding the recipe, and going back to her standard.

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Notes: 1. Because our bottom crusts were soggy, Beckie advises that next time, Bev and I use a lower rack in the oven. 2. Bev didn’t like how tightly packed her KitchenAid-sliced apples were, and will hand-slice in the future. 3. Beckie’s pear and cranberry filling was out of this world. Hoping she’ll divulge the recipe in a future post. 

Recipes:

UnknownBev’s: 2 sticks (one cup) unsalted butter, 2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/4 cold milk with 1/4 ice water.

imagesJulie’s: 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, 1 1/2 cups flour, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons milk, 1/4 teaspoon vinegar, 1/4 cup ice water, or less

Have funny pie-making stories to share? A no-fail recipe of your own? If  it’s not trademarked, leave it in the comments for us. We might have to keep experimenting, since Beckie now wants a retrial with her standard. Happy baking.

Made with love

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Careful.”

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Tailored Coffee Roasters
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Beckie’s baked French toast. If we’re nice, maybe she’ll share the recipe.

Blog find of the week: Spiced Carrot Soup (Really, really good)

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Photo and recipe: Popsugar.com
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Perugino’s Coffee House

Speaking of careful — don’t miss next week’s pie bake-off, testing Julie’s “no-fail” crust, against Bev’s and Beckie’s recipes. 

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Twenty-something putting no-fail claim to the test.

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Ta da

Garden to Table: Best Ever Baba Ghanoush

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Connected.”

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Beckie connects garden to table with her excellent Baba ghanoush.

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2 medium eggplants
1/2 t. Salt
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 cup Tahini

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prick eggplants with fork, grill until charred and somewhat soft.

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Continue roasting in shallow pan for 25 minutes or until very soft.

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Let sit for 5 to 10 min. Remove skin and salt eggplant.
Place garlic, Tahini, lemon juice, and half of the eggplant into a food processor. Process until mostly smooth.
Add remaining egglant. Combine and process to desired consistency. Taste and add additional tahini and/or lemon juice as desired. (Freezes well at this point).
Place in serving bowl and top with a good pour of olive oil and a garnish of olives. Serve at room temperature with pita chips or bread.

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As an alternate recipe:

Trader Joe’s sells an 8 oz. container of Tahini Sauce ($2.99), found near hummus in refrigerated section. Roast eggplant as above then combine with all the sauce. Add fresh lemon juice and garlic if you wish. Top with olive oil and serve.

Join our test kitchen. Try this recipe and let us know what you think. Cheers — Beckie, Julie & Bev

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Beckie’s garden.