More Sourdough Experimentation

IMG_2298This was my “great sourdough loaf” from a week ago.  Never one to be satisfied, I thought I’d try a couple variations that I’ve read about.  Bakers talk about hydration.  It’s their secret code so they know who is in the know and who is a wannabe like me.

Jordan introduced me to Aaron from 1000 Park Baking Co. in Winona Lake when we went out for breakfast during his recent visit.  Aaron makes absolutely beautiful bread with huge airy holes.  His first tip was to put in a real hearth oven… I settled for my dutch oven and made peace with the fact that I could always go to 1000 Park if I wanted a true artisan loaf.  Aaron gave me a quick lesson on dough hydration.  You talk about hydration in terms of water as a percent of flour by weight.  If you have 10 ounces of flour and 6 ounces of water, then you have 6/10=60% hydration.  This is “normal” 5:3 ratio basic bread dough according to Michael Ruhlman’s book Ratio.  Aaron said that his sourdough can be up to 80% hydration.  If you’ve never tried to mix up an 80% dough, it seems more like pancake batter that acts more like a liquid than a solid.  This is a little beyond my skill level, so I settled for a 70% hydration attempt.  Here goes…

1 cup starter
10 ounces whey
20 ounces flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon raw sugar
2 teaspoons salt

IMG_2322The batter…er… dough mixing in the KitchenAid.  You can tell how liquid-y it is.

IMG_2324This is my mixed dough literally poured out on floured parchment paper.  The parchment paper will go in the dutch oven to make it easier to move the risen loaf without deflating it.

IMG_2325I attempted to cut a # into the top of the loaf, but it is so wet that it didn’t really work.  I skipped brushing it with water or oil since it is already so wet.  I sprinkled with Himilayan rock salt.

IMG_2326I preheated the dutch oven in the oven this time to see what difference that would make.  The parchment paper did indeed make transferring the loaf easier without burning myself or messing up the loaf.

IMG_2327After baking, you can see the crust is a little darker with the preheated dutch oven and the parchment paper survived the 450°F oven.

IMG_2328You can also see that cuts in the crust are a little more random than the loaf at the beginning of the post.

IMG_2333A glamour shot of the sliced loaf with a few nice big holes.  And the taste test with homemade cultured butter out of the butter bell…

IMG_2338So what do you think? The first loaf with lighter crust and pretty # cuts in the top or the darker rustic crust with bigger holes?










Sourdough in Depth

I hope I don’t jinx my bread baking by posting this, but I think I’m happy enough with my sourdough that I’ll post all the little details for posterity.

My Starter

Adapted from “Grandmother’s Sour-Dough Starter” from Uncle John’s Original Bread Book by John Rahn Braué:

2 potatoes
2 cups reserved potato water
2 cups whole rye flour
1/4 cup homebrew hefeweizen
1 tablespoon raw sugar
1 teaspoon salt

Boil potates, then peel and mash them in 2 cups of the water they were boiled in.  Add remaining ingredients and let stand covered for 4 days, stirring daily.

Using and Feeding the Starter

I began my starter in a 1 gallon crock to get it started.  I fed it several times without taking any out to be sure I had a lively starter.  I have since moved it to a quart jar and aim to keep it half full when it is in the refrigerator waiting for the next use.  I always have my starter covered with a paper towel held on by a rubber band, so it has lots of wild yeast in it by now.

I typically use 1 cup of starter and replace that with a feeding of 1/2 cup rye flour and 1/2 cup water.  If I’m making two loaves, I’ll feed the starter in the morning without taking any out so I’ll have about 3 cups in the jar.  Then that evening I can pull out two cups and replace it with 1/2 cup rye flour and 1/2 cup water to get it back to a half full quart jar with 2 cups of starter to go back in the refrigerator.  A lot of what I’ve read says to feed equal parts flour and water by weight.  That makes for a pretty thick starter and tends to make it rise and overflow rather than bubble and release some of the gas from the fermentation.

Baking Bread

My preferred recipe is a dutch oven bread boule.  You can use the starter for pretty much anything you can think of, but this is my favorite (so far).

1 cup starter
1 cup whey (or water)
20 ounces flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon raw sugar
2 teaspoons salt

Set starter out in the morning to warm up and feed if making more than one loaf.  In the evening, mix starter, whey (or water), oil, sugar and salt.  Add the flour and “knead” until the dough has come together.  I say “knead” in quotes because I use the KitchenAid.  Cover and let sit overnight.  I leave my dough in the KitchenAid mixer bowl and cover with the plastic lid made for the bowl.

In the morning, punch down the dough, shape into a boule, and place in the dutch over to rise for 45-90 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 450°F for at least 45 minutes.  Brush the surface of the loaf with water or oil and sprinkle with large crystal salt if desired.  I prefer water with Himalayan rock salt.  Cut the surface with a knife to about 1/2″ deep to allow the crust to split as it bakes.  I like cutting a # in the top to get that neat little square on top with crunchy edges.

Put the lid on the dutch oven and bake for 30 minutes.  Turn the oven down to 350°F and bake for another 15 minutes.  Cool completely before cutting.  If you love that warm bread with melted butter experience, heat the slice bread up slightly when you are ready to eat it.

So that’s it… my “house” bread.  Let me know if you want a starter… apparently these things are like zucchini and you’re supposed to give them to your friends!

Drunken Goat Tasting

Disclaimer: no animals were harmed during the writing of this blog post.

Drunken Goat is a type of semi-hard goat cheese soaked in wine to give it a wine colored and flavored rind.  I bought a piece at Jungle Jim’s to compare to the cheese I have aging downstairs.

IMG_2320I let this one age for a month and then gave in temptation knowing full well that 2 months has been the magic number for all the other cheeses I’ve made so far…

IMG_2321The two pieces on the left are mine and the two on the right are the store bought cheese.  You can see that mine has some holes in it – not pressed as tightly as the store bought.  Mine still tasted sweet where the store bought was drier and sharper.  Another month of aging and we’ll see how this one matures.  You can see a difference in the rind that looks like the store bought was soaked in wine while wrapped somehow.  Mine was soaked without any cheesecloth or any other wrapping.  Not sure that make a bit of difference, but I thought I’d mention it since you can see it.  As for the wine flavor – mine tasted very much of the wine and it tasted good!  The store bought cheese was drier and sharper which made it taste better as cheese, but I couldn’t taste the wine at all.  If mine matures well and the wine flavor lasts through the aging, then I think I’ll have a winner.  Stay tuned…



Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us

Just finished the audiobook version of this book.  The author is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who wrote in 2009 about E. coli in hamburger from Cargill.  He describes the world of processed food in historical terms, scientific terms, and social terms.

If you eat anything with a nutrition label or feed anything with a nutrition label to your kids, I recommend you read this book.

Michael Pollan gave his eating advice in a book I read not too long ago, In Defense of Food, saying we should, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”  I’ve read several books from the foodie perspective that make a great case why real food cooked at home is what our bodies need.  This book makes it clear that processed foods are NOT an alternative if your health matters.

The book looks at the three ingredients in reverse order: section 1 is about sugar, section 2 about fat, and section 3 about salt.  Soda and cereal are the highlighted products in the sugar section.  Cheese and processed meat in the fat section.  Chips in the salt section.  Lots of stories about the people and products going back to the turn of the last century all the way up to recent years.

A few things that stand out.  The obesity trend in the US tracks exactly with the soda consumption trend.  A European country made a focused effort to reduce salt intake nationwide, and the number of heart attacks and strokes dropped.  There is a link between socioeconomic status, consumption of processed food, and obesity and its related illnesses.  It really is more expensive to eat healthy.

Grandma’s homecooking is old fashioned, too expensive and too time consuming.  “3 squares a day” and “you’ll ruin your appetite” used to go along with family meals together at the table.  Now it’s socially acceptable to feed your kids a lunchable while you wolf down a hot pocket on the way out the door.  There I go again getting worked up… Read it for yourself and you can get worked up too!

A Great Sourdough Loaf… Finally!



Mom knows best.  I welcomed her for a weekend visit with a deflated loaf of tomato sourdough which kicked off a baking how-to conversation.  After a few attempts at an overnight rise that resulted in deflated loaves, she offered the magic fix…

The first rise is overnight and the second rise after shaping is the short rise.

The loaf above is a boule baked in the dutch oven for 30 minutes at 450 F with the lid on followed by another 10 minutes at 350 F with the lid removed.  Here are a couple shots of the sliced bread and close up of the nice airy crumb:


IMG_2302I think I finally have this baking thing figured out.  Of course, this timing will only work for weekends and non-working days… forced moderation!?@#$%


Grapes of Wrath

No, I didn’t read the book, but I had a small harvest this year for my grapes.  I have gotten 10+ gallons in my bumper crop years.  This year was only about 3 gallons, but they were nice and ripe:


I borrowed Angie’s Nutri-Steamer juicer (again… it’s an annual mooch) for the easiest way I’ve found to turn my grapes into juice for canning as juice or jelly.  I couldn’t find the Nutri-Steamer on Amazon, but I did find a couple nice photos of another brand in case you’ve never seen one before:




Since I had a small harvest, I supplemented with black seedless grapes that were on sale at Meijer for 97¢/lb.  The concord grapes from the garden make a lighter colored juice than the black grapes:


I canned a 1/2 gallon of concord juice and drank a quart throughout the day.  I canned another two 1/2 gallons of black seedless juice and put another quart in the fridge for tomorrow.

I’ve seen several posts on the internet that talk about mixing the juice half and half with water and sweetening to taste.  I think my ideal is 2:1 juice:water with about 1/8 cup sugar per quart of mixed juice & water.  

More Pig

IMG_220135+ pounds of bacon… need I say more?

Mild cure, maple, pepper and maple pepper varieties… I love bacon… I’m gonna to do a spoof of the Forrest Gump scene with Bubba and name all the bacon recipes in place of the shrimp recipes.

“Bacon and eggs, bacon cheeseburger, BLTs, bacon wrapped scallops…”

“…bacon ice cream, bacon chocolate, bacon wrapped shrimps.  That… that’s about it…”