Sourdough

Debbie, at Stopping To Get My Bearings  asked about how I made the loaves in the prior post.

Hopefully this is organized enough.  It’s more of some notes and thoughts than a precise recipe.

I’ve found that sourdough bread–or any bread, for that matter–is somewhat difficult to turn into a precise recipe because of the imprecise nature of the ingredients, the kitchen environment and the things used to bake the bread.

  • I measure flour by volume knowing the amount of flour actually in the measuring cup depends on how tightly the flour gets packed in the measuring cup.
  • I live in the desert.  When I spent some summers at my grandparents’ house in (humid) Ohio,  I needed more flour than I expected to get the dough to “feel right”.
  • The altitude makes a difference.  I was used to making bread at around 1200 feet (375 meters) above sea level.  When I was at 8,000 feet (2400 meters) above sea level, the bread from my first baking attempts was very much appreciated by the birds and squirrels.
  • Cast iron, glass, shiny thin metal and dark thin metal bread pans also change how the bread bakes and how long it needs to bake.  The 400F degree oven temperature that  I mention below works for my cast iron bread pans.  If you use different pans you might need to lower the oven temperature a bit to compensate for the differences.
  • The size of the bread pans makes a difference.

First the starter.  King Arthur Flour has a pretty good recipe here.

One thing I never see mentioned is the importance of using UNCHLORINATED water for all things involving the sourdough starter and sourdough bread.    Yes, unchlorinated is bold, underlined, all caps and red.  It is that important.  Chlorinated water is a sourdough killer.  You’ll see I keep repeating myself with regards to unchlorinated.

I made my starter before I had found the King Arthur website.  What I did was to use unchlorinated water and all purpose flour in a well stirred 50-50 mix (1 cup of water and 1 cup of flour) and I dropped an unwashed grape from my grapevine into the mix.  I got lucky and my starter “took right off” the first time.  I used a grape because that’s what I had.  I suppose a different kind of fruit would work as long as it hasn’t been too thoroughly washed.

When I read King Arthur Flour’s starter recipe, it turned out that I pretty much followed their recommendations for the timings of my starter’s feedings for the first few days of it’s life. Again, don’t forget to use unchlorinated water.

Once the starter was going well (after just a few days), I followed, with one exception, King Arthur Flour’s refrigerator storage instructions.  I use 1-1/2 cup of unchlorinated water and 1-1/2 cup of flour when I feed the starter.  This makes a more liquid starter and obviously a larger amount of starter, but its “thinness” also makes it a little less likely to “escape” the jar as it expands.  If you repeatedly have to clean up the kitchen counter after a sourdough feeding, reduce the amount of starter and (unchlorinated…see, I keep repeating myself) water that you use for a feeding.

It’s important to use a glass, ceramic or plastic container for the starter’s home.   I learned this back in college when I used a large soup can to hold the starter and  I had a metallic tasting starter.  My girlfriend (a microbiology major) suggested glass and the metal taste soon disappeared.

One other thing.  It’s alright if the inside of the top of the glass jar gets “crusty” looking.  About once a year, I move the starter to a new jar and wash out the old jar.

Oh, one more “one other thing”.  We had a Belgian Sheepdog (named Shadow) who jumped up on the counter and ate a bowl of sourdough pancake batter.  He loved the stuff.   However, later in the day, every few minutes there would be a squeak from his tail end and he would jump up, spin around and start barking at the noise…and we would suffocate.   We called our vet and after she quit laughing, she advised us to put him outside and to watch him for signs of bloat.  He was fine by diner time.  However, after that, any sourdough anything had to be put into a dog proof spot.  Given a choice between a steak and the sourdough, he would have had a tough time deciding which to take.

The three dogs we have had since Shadow, have all longingly sniffed the air when I’ve got sourdough “working”.  Jessiecat doesn’t seem interested in sourdough, so maybe it’s just a “dog thing”.

 

I use a regular mouth quart mason jar to hold the starter and cover it with a few layers of paper towels secured by a wide mouth screw band.  This works to keep the bugs out, yet allows the carbon dioxide gas, made by the starter, to escape.  My   “sourdough hangover”  post shows how I cover the top of the jar.

 

Back to making the sourdough.

I follow King Arthur Flour’s refrigerator storage instructions recommendations for preparing the starter for a “work day”.

Stir 2 cups of warm  (again unchlorinated) water, 1 cup of starter and 4 cups of flour in a large (4 quarts or larger) non-metallic bowel, cover with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm place.  In the summer the kitchen is warm enough for the bowl to sit on the counter.  In the winter, I put the bowl in the oven and turn on the oven light.

I’ve used both all purpose and bread flour with little difference in the results.

The timing here depends on the temperature of the dough and your starter.  I’ve had it take as few as 2 hours to as long as 6 hours for things to be ready.  Basically look for the dough to get bubbly and looking like the starter at King Arthur’s   feeding and maintaining your starter page.  I’ve heard this sometimes called a sponge and I can see why it got that name.  It does look like a white sponge.

When it’s ready, stir in 2 teaspoons of salt and 2 teaspoons of sugar into the dough.

Then stir in 3 more cups of flour.  I use a very strong fork that I found at a thrift store for the stirring duty.

Here’s where it gets less precise.

I drop the dough out of the bowl onto a flour dusted kitchen counter and start kneading the bread.  It is nearly always sticks to my hands and the counter top.  If it does, I add about 1/4 cup of flour and knead for a couple of minutes.  If it’s still sticky I’ll add another 1/4 cup of flour and try it again.  I keep doing that until the dough sticks just a very little bit to my hands but doesn’t leave clumps on my hands.  Once I have it how I think it should be, I’ll knead the dough for about 15 minutes.

Put your hands together like you’re going to do CPR, push down with your palms except also push slightly forward so the dough flows away from you.  Roll the dough at the front back to the center and push down again.  After a several  “pushes and rolls” turn the dough 1/4 turn and keep going through this cycle for 15-20 minutes…push and roll several times, 1/4 turn, push and roll several times, 1/4 turn and so on.

I have a 1 foot tall stool that I stand on so I can use the weight of my upper body to help push the dough–like I said,  it’s sort of like doing CPR.

I spread some butter in a large bowl, drop the dough in there, wiggle it around and and then turn it over.  I use the same plastic wrap as before to cover the dough and let it rise.  As I mentioned before, if the kitchen is cold, the electric light turned on in the oven makes a nice warm place.

Again, the starter determines how long it takes for the bread to rise.  When the bread doubles in volume, I take the bread out of the bowl and divide it into 3 pieces and knead each piece just 3 or 4 times, shape it into a bread pan shape, kind of pinch the ends of the dough, put each piece into a greased bread pan and cover them with more plastic wrap.  When the dough, again, doubles in volume, I take the bread out of the oven.

I then, put two oven racks in the lowest position,  bring the oven to 400F degrees and get a pizza pan and a large glass of water ready.  Also, I mix a teaspoon of cornstarch and a cup of water together in another glass and have a basting brush at the ready.

The final thing I do with the dough is to take a very sharp knife and essentially scratch the tops of the dough. The “scratches” are about 1/8 inch (a few mm) deep.  You can see the results of the scratches in the bread picture.

When the oven is ready, I put the pizza pan on the lower rack, fill the pizza pan almost full of water, “paint” the loaf tops with the cornstarch-water mixture and put the full bread pans on the upper oven rack.  After 10 minutes, I paint the loaves again with the cornstarch-water mixture and let them bake until they are done.

The length of baking time is somewhat critical, but it’s not easy to say exactly how long it will be.  It depends….sorry I can’t be more specific than that.  Basically I look through the oven window and when the loaves get that nice brown top, I wait another minute before I take the loaves out of the oven.  So far it has always been between 20 and 25 minutes after I “painted” the loaves the second time (a total baking time of 30-35 minutes) before I take the bread out of the oven.

As I take each loaf pan out, I turn the bread out onto a wire rack.  When I was in college and couldn’t afford a wire rack, I improvised and used the cold electric stove heating elements on my stove to hold the bread while it cooled.

If you have bigger bread pans than I have, then you might need to only split the dough into two pieces.  I had been splitting the dough into two pieces, but as the bread baked,  it would almost “explode” and get all cracked looking on the sides.  Splitting the loaves into the three pieces fixed that perfectly.

I use cast iron meatloaf pans.  They work perfectly for me and the bread falls out of the loaf pans when I flip them over.  I love cast iron when it’s well seasoned.

I have used glass bread pans, as well shiny and dull dark grey bread pans.  The non-cast iron ones make bread with more of a crust on the bottom and sides of the bread and the baking time is different.  Sometimes the bread would stick slightly in these pans, but running a thin knife along the sides of the pan fixed that problem.

It took me a few tries to get it right and when I make a big move to a new area, I go through the learning process again.    Fortunately the birds and squirrels didn’t mind my mistakes.

 

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Bread

Each Sunday I make a couple of loaves of sourdough bread for my wife to use for lunch sandwiches.  Today was no exception.

bread1

Engineering and Cooking. Part 2

I had some higher priority projects require my attention, so it wasn’t until last night that I tried using a dutch oven as a panini press.

It works.  I had to fill the dutch oven with about 3 quarts (3 liters) of water to get both sandwiches compressed.   If you cook only one at a time, less water would be needed for “squash duty”.

My wife liked it.

What I did:  I put four slices of my homemade sourdough bread on the counter and lightly brushed the top side of each slice with olive oil.  I flipped the bread over and spread a thick coat of thousand island salad dressing on each slice of bread.  Then on each slice of bread, I added, in order, a thin slice of Swiss cheese, a couple of thin slices of turkey, a piece of cooked bacon that had been broken in half and a leaf of spinach.  I then put  the bread slices together to make two sandwiches.

To cook them, I put the sandwiches into a skillet that had been heating over medium heat and placed the dutch oven on top of the sandwiches.   I cooked each side for about 5 minutes.

 

 

Engineering and Cooking

Tomorrow, I’m going to find out if a skillet and a dutch oven can be combined to make a panini press.   I’m going to try cooking the panini in the skillet while using the dutch oven, maybe with some water in it, to replace the press.

Unless I find something more interesting, the recipe will use some of my home made sourdough bread, thousand island salad dressing, thin sliced turkey and swiss cheese.

Not Much Happening

Since I’ve been retired, I’ve been slowly (no sense hurrying this) cleaning up the house.  I’m about 3/4 done with a *VERY* thorough cleaning.   Most of the problem is dust.  I’ll get the dust cleaned up in an area and, two days later, it needs to be dusted again.  I’m hoping it’s a case of cleaning new areas of the house is stirring up the dust and allowing it to settle on the already cleaned areas….but I doubt I’ll be so lucky.


Over the summer, I cooked a turkey and I froze the bones.  This week I simmered the bones to make more turkey broth and I just finished pressure canning it.  I have 14  twelve ounce jars cooling on the kitchen counter.  So far 12 of the 14 lids have “plinked”.  I’m hoping the other 2 will soon do the same.

For what it’s worth, I think I fixed my problem of liquid leaving the jars as I process them…I think I had the screw bands too tight.  I did not tighten them so much this time and the broth level in the jars is right where it should be.


I also made some sourdough bread.  Our daughter was home when I took the loaves from the oven and she took one back to her apartment.    She and her roommates are hoping I will let them know when I’m again making bread. 🙂


Lights….ET (“Evil” Twin) called and asked if I could fix the ceiling lights in her kitchen, She said that every time she turned on the lights, the circuit breaker would trip.

The heat from the light bulb was high enough to destroy the insulation on the wires within the ceiling light fixture.   It was actually fortunate that the failure resulted in a short circuit that tripped the circuit breaker.  Had this not happened, the dangerous overheating problem likely would have remained “lurking”.   And, no, she did not put too large of a light bulb in the fixture.  She was using 60 watt ones. The fixture’s sticker said any light bulbs less than 150 watts was OK to use.

Baking Bread and Meeting People

My wife reminded me of the this bread baking adventure.

We were camping on a 3 day weekend in a public campground and each afternoon I baked some bread in the dutch oven.

For what it’s worth, baking bread while camping is more fun than baking in a kitchen.

In a kitchen, one just lets the dough rise on its own because watching dough rise…is not very exciting.  Baking bread in a dutch oven while camping offers the excitement of watching squirrels.  While the covered dough is rising and I am far from the dutch oven, three or  four squirrels will wait nearby while one tries to figure out how to get inside “that thing”.  After the first one gives up, the others will come and give it a try.  So far, none have been able to move the heavy lid.

The smell of baking bread also attracts humans.

Each day, while the bread was baking, a lot of people would come over to check out the baking bread smell and, being the good host, I always made enough to be able to offer some to the guests.

At the neighboring campsite was a young man and he noticed that most of the people stopping by were young women.

On the last day, he came over to ask where he could find a dutch oven with legs and to see if he could watch me make some bread.

It turns out he was a 4th year mechanical engineering student.  The old electrical engineer got to pass along some practical knowledge to the young mechanical engineer…and my wife (a nuclear engineer)…she laughed…

 

 

 

 

 

First Time Home All Weekend

Except for a vacation and a few short deployments (a total of 8 weekends) I have been going to my parents’ house at least one weekend day each week since October 2003.  Even after my mother died, I continued to do this as I cleaned out the house so the workers could get in there to paint and install new carpet.

Today, for the first time in almost 14 years,  I did not go over there and I’m not sure if I feel relief, sad or glad; relief at having more time, sad that I can no longer visit with mom or glad that mom is no longer “imprisoned” in a failing body.

I felt similar conflicting thoughts when my fiancee died, so I guess this is normal.  No matter what, this is not something I want to go through again..but we have no choice.

I did not make it over to the cemetery to place mom’s wedding bouquet on their grave markers.  It was so breezy this morning that they would have blown away before I could have taken a picture.  So, maybe next weekend.

I did make use of the extra time by making sourdough bread.  This is the first time in many months I have done this.  The bread just came out of the oven and the house smells wonderful. My wife just sliced a piece and pronounced it “wonderful”…music to my ears.

The 2nd use of my time was cleaning out my dresser of no longer worn (or never worn) clothes.  In my job, manufacturers and engineering services firms drop by lots of shirts with their company logos embroidered on them.  I rarely wear them, and I just stick them in the dresser until I begin to have to really squeeze the stuff into the drawers.

Now that the dresser “load” has been reduced I will be able to get my clothes into the “new” dresser.  New and old are backwards this time. The new dresser dates to 1959 and was used by my parents.  The old dresser was put together in 2015. The 1959 dresser is made from solid maple and is beautiful.  The 2015 dresser is pressed board covered with wood looking “paper”.  It looks  OK, but not as nice as the maple.