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Woot! Woot! I just got an email from the Sourdough Project that they want to examine and analyze my sourdough starter! For anyone who has no idea what the heck I am talking about, The Sourdough Project is a research project where they are analyzing samples of various sourdough starters from all over the world to determine their similarities, differences and to compile sourdough DNA.
Per their website explaining who’s involved:
This project is a broad collaboration involving experts in the evolution of food microorganisms (Ben Wolfe, Tufts University), the ecology of microbes (Tad Fukami, Stanford/Natural History Museum of Denmark), human evolution (Peter C. Kjærgaard, Natural History Museum of Denmark), the ecology of life in homes (Rob Dunn, Natural History Museum of Denmark/NC State University), the interface of microbial cultures and art (Anne Madden, NC State University) among others.
If you want to learn more about this project, other than from my ranting here, there’s a great article on NPR that I’ve written about previously.
If you’ve ever baked bread using yeast, and you are like me, you can stare into the bubbling starter, mesmerized by all the activity going on in that bowl. As you watch, bubbles surface and then disappear, over and over again. Happy yeast munching away.
The typical bread I bake is a sourdough ciabatta loaf. I created the sourdough starter that I am using from scratch, using a recipe I found online. Pretty basic stuff, I took a potato, put it in water and boiled it, then used the potato water with all its starchy goodness. I placed that in a mason jar, covered it with cheesecloth and left it on the kitchen counter. It attracted wild yeast in the air. Every day, I uncovered it, gave it a stir and put the cheesecloth back on. After about 5 days, it was bubbling away. At that point, I fed it, adding warm water and flour. Ta Da! Sourdough starter! If you have grapes around when you are doing this, it is good to leave your jar of potato water near them, as that white film on unwashed grapes is actually yeast.
The starter I made back then (about 15 years ago) is still what I use today. Anytime I want to make bread, I take out the starter from the fridge, bring it to room temperature and then add some warm water and flour in equal parts to feed it.
Starters are coveted, they are unique in the flavor and characteristics that they bring to a finished loaf of bread. Some sourdough starters are passed down through generations and make my little ol’ starter look like a baby by comparison. In fact, there is a project being conducted right now that is examining different starters. It’s pretty neat and can be found at Rob Dunn Lab. They are even soliciting sourdough starter samples for their project to research the DNA of sourdough.
I signed up, figuring that I would put my starter into the mix, if they’d like to have it for research purposes. To learn more about the project and sourdough starters in general, here’s an excellent NPR article.
We had about 30 inches of snow on the ground before the weather got warm the other day. Then, things melted and it rained and as predicted, it got cold again and everything froze. Our driveway is crunchy and icy and challenging to say the least.
When the snow was falling though the other day, it was time to bake some rolls. These are my new favorites, and the boys’ favorites, too. Quick and easy to make, they bake up quite nicely. I got this recipe from The Kitchen Whisperer and while, my rolls and her rolls looks different, (which I haven’t quite figured out why yet) they are absolutely a great sandwich rolls.
Today I made some ciabatta bread and rolls. Although the bread I usually make is a sourdough ciabatta recipe, this is a traditional ciabatta using a biga. This is the first time that I used a biga, since my other recipe just uses sourdough starter and no biga. I made the biga last night and let it sit as directed overnight. Mixed the dough this morning and decided to try both a loaf and rolls from the recipe which calls for either two loaves or 16 rolls.
Here is the recipe adapted from The Kitchn.com.
- 4 ounce (1/2 cup) water
- 1/2 teaspoon active-dry yeast
- 5 ounce (1 cup) all-purpose flour
Dissolve yeast in water. Add the flour and stir to form a thick, gloppy paste. Stir approximately 50 times to activate gluten. Cover and let sit at room temperature eight hours or overnight.
- 2 cups + 2 tablespoons water
- 1 t. yeast
- 4 cups all-purpose flour (I added 4 1/2 cups since my dough was not binding together as indicated below)
- 2 t. kosher salt
Dissolve the yeast in the water in the bowl of a standing mixer. Add biga and stir to break up the large glob it has become.
Add the flour and the salt. Stir and let this rest for 10-20 minutes.
Using a dough hook, knead at medium speed for 15-18 minutes. Keep a close eye on your mixer as it has a tendency to “walk” on the counter at this speed.
The dough will
The dough will start off sticking to the bottom and sides of the bowl. Around halfway through the mixing time, the dough should slightly pull away from the sides of the bowl, and regularly slap the sides of the bowl. If it doesn’t, turn the mixer speed up a notch. (This is where I noticed that it was still real soupy and not binding together at all and I added another 1/2 cup of flour a little at a time. The dough is still very wet compared to bread dough you might be used to — this is okay and what it is supposed to be doing.
Cover the bowl and let the dough rise in a warm spot until tripled in bulk.
Dust your work surface heavily with flour. Prepare two baking sheets each with a sheet of parchment. Scrape the dough out on the floured surface and dust the top with more flour. Use a pastry cutter to divide the dough into two if you are making loaves or 16 pieces if you are making rolls. I did half and half — did one loaf and 8 rolls.
Brush your hands with flour. Working gently but swiftly, scoop the the loaves (or the rolls) one at a time from the work surface to the parchment. Press your fingertips about halfway into the dough to dimple the surface and slightly flatten. Let the loaves (or rolls) rise, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes. When ready to bake, they should look pillowy with many big bubbles just beneath the surface.
Preheat the oven to 475°F while the loaves are rising. If you have a baking stone, put it in the oven now.
When ready to bake, slide the loaves, still on the parchment, onto a pizza stone if you have one. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until puffed and golden brown. Rolls will most likely cook faster than the loaves if you made both like I did. Slip the parchment out from under the loaves or flip them over and cool completely before eating.
Ciabatta rolls just before they went in the oven.
Finished ciabatta rolls — fresh from the oven.
Here in Vermont we were very lucky this time around when Hurricane Sandy struck — we were spared the devastation that took all of us by surprise a year ago in August. It is sad to see the destruction that has befallen our home state of New Jersey, especially “down the shore”.
It was however interesting to see as I drove around over this past weekend and on Monday before the storm gained a foothold, the preparations being taken here, although the forecast was not as dire as it was in the New York area and other coastal sections of the eastern seaboard. The gas stations were doing a booming business since everyone was there, filling their vehicles, filling their supply of gas cans (a requirement here in Vermont), and even some folks had their generators on their vehicles, filling those as well. The stores didn’t have the run that the stores closer to the storm did, but clearly you could see that people had some extra water or milk in their shopping carts. As I dropped a child off down in town, I was amazed to see that every single house along the way had their outdoor belongings tucked away or tied down, bare lawns and secured belongings clearly added to the evidence that the folks in Vermont weren’t taking any chances this time around.
One of the good things about living up here is that you feel almost compelled to be “stocked up”. Everyone, or so it seems, puts food by for the winter…or the blizzard….or the hurricane… or even the zombie apocalypse (Happy Halloween, everyone!) if you believe my sons. If you don’t can, pickle, dry or jar you are pretty much a newbie and you feel like a loser. If you haven’t learned how to make at least some of the stuff that you eat yourself … well, you definitely aren’t from around these parts. Everyone that I know does some form of preservation of the fresh summer veggies and has other goodies tucked away to keep them going through the bad weather.
My recent posts on homemade yogurt and homemade granola go hand in hand with my post on homemade jam. The peppers from the garden have been sliced and frozen for winter soups or stir fries. The tomatoes have been slowly boiled down to sauce and tucked away in the freezer. Habanero peppers, cayenne peppers and Thai peppers have been dried, as has the basil that now resides in a mason jar on a shelf in the pantry. I have made pickles and put up Jersey peaches at the height of the season.
Potatoes from the garden will be stored in the basement, along with the canned goods and non-perishables that will help us weather what Mother Nature and zombies may throw our way in the coming months. My sourdough starter is in mason jars (note the plural) in the fridge and can easily be turned into a loaf of bread when the mood strikes.
We have huge stockpots that were hauled out a few days ago to hold water in the event that the power went out, so we wouldn’t need to start the generator right away. The firewood was brought in and stacked by the wood stove. Many a batch of dough has risen by the warmth of that fire as have many bagels, cinnamon buns and dinner rolls. When the power was out before the generator, we even cooked soup and boiled water for pasta on the wood stove.
We are fortunate that the farm down the hill is a dairy farm and we have gotten raw milk there on occasion – especially when the ladies and I made cheese.
I remember someone that I knew in New Jersey years ago commenting, “why store stuff in our house when we have the supermarket down the street, storing everything for us?” Why? Because you never know when zombies can come out of the wood work or the “storm of the century” decides that you are in its path. Here, we lose the power quite a bit (not as much as we used to, but it happens with some frequency, especially during windy or rainy weather). Sometimes, it happens when you least expect it. For instance, two weeks ago at about 10 p.m. the power went out for about 1/2 hour for no discernable reason. I was critical of Tom’s decision to buy a generator, figuring candles are romantic aren’t they? However, not being able to shower or flush the toilets or have drinking water, isn’t. When we lived in New Jersey a power outage if it occurred usually happened at the height of a heatwave and resulted in no power. We had a gas stove and our water came from the water system. Here, our water comes from a well that guess what? Doesn’t work without power so when our power goes out, so goes our water, and our showers and our toilets. Trust me, generators are a good thing and for the time or two that you might need them for days or a week or more, you will be thanking your stars that you invested in one.
If living in Vermont, and my wonderful neighbors and friends, have taught me anything, it is that we have to be prepared to be self-sufficient — whatever the reason. We could survive here for days (in fact, last year when Irene struck we did) without a store run and weeks if necessary. I have made bread on the gas grill, I have cooked dinner on the wood stove. We have melted snow in pots on the wood stove to flush toilets. It may sound apocalyptic but it’s not. It’s being prepared. We are fortunate to have honey from the bees and fresh eggs from the chickens. If the zombies ever did strike, I am sure that we could have chicken from the chickens as well, but I’m hoping that we don’t have to go that route. The goats, cuties that they are, are off limits.
Being prepared is something that I have learned not to take for granted. You never know when the weather or the zombies may take a turn for the worse and after these last few storms we have all learned that you can never, ever be too prepared. In addition, knowing that you can take care of yourself and be self reliant and self sufficient, even if it is only for a few days, is a really good feeling.
- I am not prepared for a zombie apocalypse. (pinkbekah.wordpress.com)
- Are You Prepared for a Zombie Apocalypse? Survival Pack Offered by GOFoods Global (prweb.com)
- Zombie Apocalypse Science (buzzfeed.com)
- What to do with a bumper crop of habanero peppers? (ask.metafilter.com)
Poor Tom, it wasn’t much of a Father’s Day. We drove kids around, which wasn’t too bad, since we knew we were doing that and we were prepared for it and looking forward to have a few hours to ourselves after we delivered a group of kids to UVM in Burlington.
In between driving kids around, we came home to find that the dog had eaten a loaf of cinnamon raisin bread less the two slices that Tom and Tim had for breakfast. This was not good, especially on top of the two breakfasts that she got. Raisins are toxic to dogs, much like grapes, except since raisins are dried and concentrated, it takes a whole lot less raisins to reach toxic levels. We realized this when we were in Burlington and raced home to see 1)if we still had a dog; and 2) to get her to the vet.
Lo and behold, two days in doggy hospital, a whole lot of intravenous fluids and she is home. It was a very anxiety provoking Father’s Day and a very, very expensive loaf of raisin bread.
Okay, there are some things that I just do not think should be dispensed in a vending machine. Baguettes are one of them. Obviously, there are those that disagree with me. Opinions?
Snow day. We spent the day home, not that the weather was all that bad, but hey isn’t hanging around what a snow day is all about? Dinner was going to be simple, burger, potatoes and salad. One problem, no buns. I pulled up this recipe from King Arthur Flour and made these hamburger buns. They were easy to make, came out looking delicious and tasted even better. Next time, I’m going to substitute honey for the sugar in the recipe. I didn’t want to try it first time out of the box, since I wouldn’t know whether I goofed the recipe or the substitution didn’t work correctly.
Here’s the link to the recipe at King Arthur’s site.
I thought that it might be fun to try to incorporate a “my own…” section in on, of all days….Monday! Each week I’ll make a concerted effort to “make” something of my own that Monday. Schedules around here have been crazy busy lately, so not as much time to “make my own” as I’d like.
So, for the first My Own Monday:
Potato Leek Soup
Not so bad for a cold, cold winter’s evening? Filled our bellies and now I hear rumors that we’re having chocolate chip cookies for dessert….
Today is Homemade Bread Day. I didn’t know that there was such a holiday, but hey – I love bread and I enjoy baking bread so I’m all for it. There is nothing as good as the smell of fresh bread baking … it even trumps the smell of cookies in my world. If you told me years ago, that I would be baking bread on a fairly regular basis, I probably would have laughed at you. At that time, bread baking (if I did it at all) consisted of throwing the ingredients into the bread machine that my husband had gotten for me as a gift and 4 or so hours later out came a loaf of bread, a round tall loaf of bread but bread all the same. Since then I have created my own sourdough starter which is just about as old as my youngest son and babied it along all these years – almost losing it completely when the cleaning people cleaning our house here in Vermont while we were not here and threw away what appeared to be something that had horribly bad. Lucky for me, I still had a jar of starter in New Jersey, which I fed and doubled and we’ve been good ever since.
I have used the starter on a fairly regular basis and given lots of it away to various friends over the years. Now, bread baking is a more hands-on experience and has expanded into different types of bread and different techniques for making it. While I do not at all profess to be even remotely a professional, I’m a good amateur and I enjoy it immensely. The joke around our house has become that I must have performance anxiety when it comes to bread baking since under normal conditions I can make a pretty decent looking and tasting loaf of bread (see above) but when I want to really have the loaf turn out super good (like when my mom comes to visit) it is usually less than perfect.
Despite how it looks, it always tastes pretty darn good. Personally I like bread with pretty much everything but the kitchen sink thrown in there, but my family – well not so much. So my bread baking is generally confined to loaves that the family will eat such as sourdough, sandwich loaves, baguettes and dinner rolls. My latest endeavor has been to find the perfect sandwich loaf of bread, one that will pass the boys’ inspection for lunch. While, they’ll eat just about anything with dinner, taking the bread and making it into a sandwich is a more grueling inspection and I’m still working on that one.
I was recently asked if I would consider doing a baking class (or a cooking class) and I was both flattered and taken aback. Really? Me? The more I think about it, I think it would be fun – but there’s always the issue of the bread just not coming out the way I’d like. What do you think?
To celebrate Homemade Bread Day, go out and make yourself a loaf – here is my recipe for sourdough baguettes which were my first undertaking and is a tried-and-true favorite here at the T’s House.
- 1 cup sourdough starter – recipe follows
- 1 1/4 cup warm water (110 degrees)
- 3/4 cup 1% milk
- 1 T. oil
- 1 T. active dry yeast
- 1 T. sugar
- 1 T. kosher salt
- 6 cups all purpose flour
- Place 1 cup of starter, milk and warm water into the bowl of stand mixer fitted with hook attachment. Add yeast and sugar.
- Allow to sit for about 10 minutes.
- Add oil, salt and flour.
- Mix on low speed until blended and then mix at medium speed to knead for about 5 minutes. This dough will NOT form into a ball, if it does, you need to add more liquid. It should be wet and slack.
- Place dough into a well oiled bowl or container – cover and allow to rise in a warm place (I put mine next to the woodstove in the winter or into a preheated 160 degree oven (turn it off when it reaches temperature) to proof.
- Let rise until doubled in size. This can take an hour or two, depending upon the temperature. It is more important to move on only when it has doubled, no matter how long or short that is, rather than go by the time alone.
- Remove the dough onto a well floured surface. This dough will be sticky and if the surfaces does not have a lot of flour, you, the counter, the utensils will all be wearing the dough – trust me on this one.
- Divide the dough into three sections.
- Form each section into a ball and then roll out into a log about 9-12 inches long. Repeat for remaining dough.
- Place baguettes onto a baguette pan or separately on a flat baking sheet, sprayed with non-stick spray.
- Take a razor blade or sharp knife and make several slits in the surface of each baguette.
- Cover and let rise again for about 30 minutes.
- During this time, pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees.
- Just before placing baguettes into the oven, brush each one with water.
- Set the timer for 10 minutes. During this ten minutes, you should brush them again with water at least 2 more times.
- Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake until loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. (About 25-30 minutes)
- Remove from oven and enjoy!
We are forecast to have precipitation in one form or another (mostly rain though) here on the hill in Vermont until at least Thursday. Rainy days can be relaxing especially when there’s a fire going in the woodstove and you have a nice hot cup of tea or coffee and a good book to read. What to have for dinner on such a night? Well, homemade bread and homemade chicken soup are always good choices. Last night’s roaster is tonight’s dinner (don’t you just love when one meal can morph into another?)