The perfect sourdough loaf


I’ve  been playing with sourdough starters for about two years now, but this recipe can be made with just commercial yeast, no problem. The special bit doesn’t come from the yeast, it comes from letting the yeast, flour and water do its thing for a bit before introducing salt to crash the party. Things were salted to preserve them, killing the micro-organisms that like the food we do, but in this case, we want the microbes to party and salt is the parent in the room, frowning at your life choices.

Regularly feed your starter 4:3 by volume,  using tap water that has been left on the counter for 4+ hours so that the chlorine evaporates. It’s done its job, now you need to protect the microbes.

Take X units of unfed starter. This is a ratio, so it doesn’t matter the unit or the amount, but easy to remember multiples of three is best. 5 ounces of starter makes a good size loaf, 10 ounces makes three loaves) The recipe follows a simple 1-2-3 ratio. I’m going to assume a 5 ounce starter from now on.

Add 10 ounces of dechlorinated water and stir well. Then add 7 ounces of flour. You’re going to be adding 15 ounces all in, and its easier to stir less flour in at this point than more. This skips the step of feeding the starter an hour before you start making bread. Just like you would wait an hour from feeding it to starting the bread, now you’re spending 3 minutes with the scale adding the starter, all the water and half the flour. I do this when Elisabeth is making the coffee and we finish at about the same time. In the same bowl with a good scale this takes about a minute and a half, all in. I like a mix of AP and bread, so put all bread in at this stage then add the AP in stage two or use all of either. It’s a forgiving loaf. Don’t use a metal bowl to let the bread sit in; mixing is fine, but it is acidic and metal reacts badly. (*such a drama queen*)

Go away for an hour to 90 minutes. When the time is up, add the other 8 ounces of flour, 1 1/2 tsp of salt (every 5 ounces of starter needs 1-1 1/2 tsp salt, added at the last minute. Salt and yeast are natural enemies. Doing the dough in two stages lets the flour absorb the water without the salt doing its thing to hamper the process. I wouldn’t do this step if the results weren’t noticeably different. They are. You can skip the sourdough and just mix the flour and water 3:2 where half the flour is added now to make a batter and the other half is added with the salt. No difference. All the starter is is water and flour with some sour bacteria that the yeast doesn’t have.

Now, mix the dry flour and the salt together if you can, or on top of the batter if you can’t. Using the back of a spoon or a bread whisk, mix everything up until there is no more clumps of flour visible. Don’t knead, just mix. Spray with a water bottle if it’s looking a bit dry due to the humidity of the day, but you measured the flour and water pretty accurately. It should be okay.

Let sit out for 8-12 hours. 12 better than 8. Overnight works great (but not if you start it at 2 am). Take out a clean bowl, tear off a sheet of parchment paper, and dump the lump of dough onto the parchment paper. This is its final baking form. If you’ve made more, put what you’re not breadifying now into a chilled spot, then when you’re ready to bread, bring to room temperature and put in bowl on parchment paper.

Let sit for 8-12 hours. I used to say don’t do two long rests on the counter, but it is the only way to get fluffy bread that isn’t dense. If everything is clean and you’re not adding anything but flour and water, you should be okay. Any enriched doughs with eggs or dairy should be allowed to rise in a cool place the second time, but the starter sits out all the time and it’s fine.

When ready, it should be a beautiful pillow you just want to put your face on, but don’t, because that is gross. Preheat a pot with a lid; ideally enamel cast iron and going down to any (high temperature) oven safe pot with a heavy lid. A lot of non-stick is only good up to about 375 and we’re cranking this baby up to 500 degrees. You’re going to be moving it around and baking it on the parchment paper, so it doesn’t have to be enameled, nothing is going to stick, but it retains the heat the best. Preheat the oven, the pot and the lid for 30 minutes at 500 degrees. If the oven gets to temp sooner, just chill. The iron will take longer to absorb the heat, and you’re making a *tiny* bread oven in your oven with the pot.

At the 30 minute mark, slash your loaves if you remember and if you don’t have a good enough knife or lame, (that’s la-me, french for a straight razor holdery thingie) use kitchen sheers. Snip/slash the loaf so it can expand, but I’ve forgotten to do this multiple times and the crack, like life, will find a way. It’s delicious chaos theory.

Bake 30 minutes at 500 degrees, uncover, turn oven down to 350 degrees and finish baking for 20 minutes. Remove from pot, peal off parchment paper that saved you from having to scrub a second bowl, and LET IT COOL COMPLETELY.

No joke. LET IT COOL COMPLETELY. Yeah, melted butter on oven fresh bread is awesome, but at what cost, man. At. What. Cost. (It will cause a lot of the moisture to escape and, if the starch in the center isn’t completely set when you take it out of the oven, you’ll get gooey center syndrome, to which there is no cure.

This loaf can take care of itself. Leave it tipped up, cut side down and have fresh bread/toast for up to three days. If you are honest with yourself and you know that not even you or your family can eat it in three days, slice it up the first day and freeze in the individual slices in the freezer. They toast up beautifully. Bread that had the best intentions but wasn’t frozen and goes into the fourth day makes the best french toast.

Here endeth the lesson.

We’ve been lied to about French Toast all these years…also microbial hunger game pancakes

Ed. note: Sadly this is my first blog tagged “french toast of the gods”. I’ve been been blogging since 2004. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I made a big white loaf of bread last night that turned out amazing, but since I got the sourdough starter (Tara and Willy are chilling with me on the fireplace) I’ve been making sourdough starter pancakes. You *have* to throw have your baby starter out so that the remainder can eat, kind of like a mini-microbial Hunger Games and throwing it away makes me cry. You take the starter you’re going to have to kill anyway, add milk and some oil (I’ve been using coconut) and egg and as much flour as it need to be “batter like” then instead of the traditional baking powder you use yeast and leave it rise for 1-2 hours. Oh, and it needs sweeter. I’ve been using honey, but anything woul do.

So now I’m probably going to cut it up into thick slices and cook it up as french bread so that when I’m hungry in the morning I can just reheat something loaded with custard-like egg filling. We’ve been lied about what French Toast could and should be. Take extra thick slices of bread, soak it in the egg and milk mixture overnight, then fry it in a pan until it’s lovely and golden brown and then finish it in the oven @ 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes until the centre is set.

I know that the average French bread (storebought thin, stale bread just dipped in egg wash and cooked is good, but doing it in the oven (or, after it’s been fried, you could put it in your slow cooker for an hour too!) you get this wonderful slice of bread pudding, but like for breakfast. If you add a little (not a lot, just a little sugar and vanilla in the egg mixture I swear it doesn’t need any more butter or syrup. It is a holy good thing on its own.

Easy way to make consomme (the thermodynamically-impossible edition)

If you want crystal clear stock for whatever reason people still clarify the soup for, we found a method that did that with literally no work. We had a bag of frozen chicken stock that we made by boiling bones for eight hours. The stock was very, very gelatinous. We’re not complaining, but if you wanted to make consomme from the stock, I suggest freezing your stock in a ziplock baggie and make sure that there are tiny pinprick holes in the bag.

Our holes weren’t deliberate, but after we had defrosted it in a bowl for three days, I thought it was weird that some of the broth was still frozen. The broth that I poured from the bowl into the pot to reheat was crystal clear and beautiful. What I thought was could-not-be-still-frozen-but-still-looked-pretty-solid turned out to be all the bone gelatin. So if you don’t want your soup to have yummy boney mouth feel (Ummm, boney mouth feel) just prick your baggie with pinprick holes and wait.

Dialing in on the perfect at home loaf of bread

I’m in between projects and feeling a bit down today so I decided to compare the old pot I was using to make the loaf of bread to new one we just purchased. I don’t know why, but the kitchenaide roaster might be twice as heavy and double the size of the cuisinart pot which, on paper was the perfect size for a three cup of flour loaf, but I don’t know if it’s that the roaster was thicker or the larger size allows for more steam, but the roaster is far, far, far better.

Don’t get me wrong, the pot’s bread was golden brown and delicious. Wrapped up in a clean dish towel the slice of bread I had for breakfast was as good as the slice of bread I had for dinner the night before. When Harry the Fifth came out of the oven today, I was a littl disappointed. There was nothing golden about his crust. He was just brown.

But my goodness, opening him up was amazing. He had the crumb of a really good high end ciabatta. The crust was crisp and crunchy but thin as a sheet of paper between the chewy, airy bread. As much as it hurts to sacrifice the ability to melt butter over the bread from the internal heat, allowing a bread to cool down to room temperature without slicing it open allows the starch to cool without going gummy and underbaked. A small bun may be sacrificed without damaging the rest of his batch to melt butter, but to slice open a loaf while still hot is how bread gets gummy.

So this batch was done in the yogurt contained that had remnants of the last batch of dough in it. I left it sitting out beside the fireplace for eighteen hours then put it in the unheated mudroom sealed but for an air hole for three days.The recipe was three cups of water, 1 3/4 cup of water, 1 1/2 tsp of sea salt, 1/2 tsp sugar and 1/4 tsp of yeast. I mixed Harry up until all the flour was wet and then let him rise.

When it was Harry the Fifth’s time, I brought him back inside where it was warm for an hour, again by the fire. When I degassed him, I floured his surface and I stretched him out with a knife. I don’t know how to decribe it but I pulled the dough up as far away from the container as I could. He stretched just under two feet.. Then I put a parchment paper down on a non-stick frying pan and plopped him down into it and floured the top. I put a second sheet of parchment paper on top. The top sheet gets rolled back up and becomes the bottom sheet for tomorrow’s baking.

After an hour and a half proofing, I put the roaster and the lid in the oven and crank it to 475 for thirty minutes. When that timer goes off, I snip a cross into Harry’s top, gather up the edges and plot him (gently) into the hot roasting pan, cover him up, and let him steam for 30 minutes. Then the lid comes off and I pull the parchment paper away and let him finish cooking for 10 minutes at 350 degrees.

The crust is crispy from the steamy bath of his own cooking. There’s no oil in the recipe at all. All told, there’s about 10 minutes of work for the three hours of prep time. The longer he sits in the cold room, the better the flavor. The 1/2 tsp of sugar isn’t in the original recipe and the longer he sits, the more sweet his bread is, but for three cups of flour you can hardly taste the additional sugar.

You don’t get bread better than this. I can’t wait for my sourdough starter to come, but for right now I’m loving the simplistic nature of the final product. I have a big bowl that’s up to day three that I’m going to turn into pretzels and make a beer mustard to go with it. It’s going to be amazing.

French toast of the gods

breakfast french toastAlton Brown recommends letting your french bread soak overnight. I took a Costco baguette, halved it and thirded the halves so they fit into a ziplock baggie, mixed up 4 eggs with coconut sugar, vanilla and  1/2 cup of kafir, 1/2 cup of milk and got as much air out of the bag as possible.

He says to cook them in the oven. I laid out the soaked bread in a glass dish and roasted it in the oven for 45 minutes. While it was baking, I peeled, halved and cored pears and an apple to roast along side the bread with 1/2 tsp of butter where the seeds scooped out. The pears were perfectly ripe.

And while all of that was being done, I put 1/2 a cup of dried strawberries (not freeze dried, just dried wild strawberries) in a bowl with 3-4 tbs port.

The little tiny bit of butter in the roasted pears was all the butter the french toast needed. The little bit of strawberry soaked port just gave it a hint of savoriness.

I didn’t make it pretty on the plate, but the yumminess of what is on the plate should make up for that. It’s been a while since I’ve had enough spoons to cook with, but I’ve been craving french toast for so long this was definitely worth the wait. It made a massive amount and should freeze really well. Costco baguettes are huge.