Yesterday I birthed my starter. Boris made an appearance in the form of some very sour, sour dough bread. For being a young starter, he was quite robust. The recipe for Country French Bread came from the Tassajara Bread Book. It had a course bready crumb with nice air holes characteristic of sourdough bread and the taste was decidedly “sour”.
The sponge, started the night before, consisted of Boris, whole wheat flour and water. Left to ferment overnight, the next morning it was riddled with gaseous bubbles. I replenished Boris and put him to sleep in the fridge and moved on to baking two loaves of passable bread. This recipe called for whole wheat flour in the night before sponge and then all-purpose unbleached flour for the morning mix. I baked them in boule form and the dough must have been very hydrated because they spread rather than giving me a great rise. Next time I will use unbleached bread flour and roll into traditional french bread loaves and bake in a form that will help it keep its form during the bake.
The most important thing about this batch was to determine if my starter was a good one and absolutely proved Boris is a keeper! Having a sourdough living starter is akin to caring for a newborn infant…it requires continued care, love and support. Boris may become part of my legacy.
Pancakes evoke childhood memories in me of Saturday nights. My Mother worked outside our home but still managed to place a hot breakfast on the table for my sisters and me each and every morning of our lives. Sometimes it was scrambled eggs, bacon and toast and other times oatmeal, cream of wheat or cream of rice cereal with toast and always orange juice and sometimes hot chocolate. We were spoiled!
In addition, she packed our lunches each day for school and my lunch was always much desired by my friends. On Mondays I might have a roast beef sandwich, on Fridays it was usually a fried chicken leg and a half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and my favorite was a tunafish sandwich with potato chips. And each lunch always had a piece of fruit and some sort of dessert…a twinkie, a hostess cupcake, a homemade brownie or a piece of chocolate cake.
Because she worked, she had a routine which enabled her to meet her job demands and still be super Mom to me and my sisters. Each night we had a hot meal in front of us. Sunday dinner was usually roast beef or a pork roast, mashed potatoes and gravy, green salad and cooked carrots with pie or cake for dessert. Monday night might be “Hash” made from left-over roast and potatoes. Tuesday and Wednesday were toss ups…sometimes stuffed bell peppers or spaghetti or smothered steak and (YUCK!!!) liver and onions. Thursday was fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, peas, green beans or broccoli. Friday was my favorite (and my girlfriends too when we had a sleep over) hamburgers and french fries. Saturday night was pancakes and bacon and this was the night I rebelled. I didn’t want pancakes for dinner so my Mother indulged my stubbornness and cooked me another hamburger. As I said, she was super Mom and we were very lucky because when it came to mothers, we won the lottery.
I don’t know how she did it because back then there were no fast food restaurants or already prepared cooked foods in the grocery store and forget frozen meals, they didn’t exist. We were ecstatic when the first “TV dinners” came into our lives. I grew up in Houston and you could count on two hands the restaurants one might go to for eating out….Sonny Looks, Christie’s Seafood Restaurant, Brennans, Bud Bigelows, Gaidos, Kaphans and Felix Mexican Restaurant.
I eventually found my way to loving pancakes as children often do with certain foods when they enter adulthood. And my love of blueberry pancakes swimming in butter and smothered in warm authentic maple syrup is second to none. So this morning I made blueberry pancakes for me and my daughter for a late breakfast. And they were certainly “sour”. That slight watering that occurs inside your cheeks when we eat something sour was definitely present. I had some difficulty finding the right temperature for my cast iron pan with my electric stove. (So wish I had gas but not allowed in my condo cause I think they worry about us blowing the place up!). They were too sour or “vinegary” (my daughter’s word) for her. But for a first effort and a young sourdough starter they weren’t half bad. I didn’t get the rise I wanted from the pancakes and think that perhaps I should have left my starter out overnight to come to room temperature. Next time. And next time about three times the blueberries. I saved about a cup of my starter, re-fed it and returned it to a clean jar in the fridge until next week. Boris is turning into a dependable friend in helping me produce some pretty delicious food.
I never eat a pancake without thinking about my Mother and her dedication to going above and beyond in providing her family with healthy, home-made nutritious meals. I miss her!
My heart is breaking and I can only imagine the pain of losing a child, a sibling, a parent, a best friend in such a senseless way. This latest mass murder in a place that should be safe for our children, yet all too often safe places have become killing fields. Tears, tears and more tears combined with enormous pride and hope as I watch these young people rise up and make their voices heard. They can be a force of change. They are smart, tech savvy, strong-willed, articulate and I believe they mean business. I am thankful for their passion. They are tired of the worthless pattern that emerges after each mass murder and they want it to stop! This is what is needed today in America to stop the senseless killing of innocent people.
And for all the Second Amendment people who value their guns more than human beings, I say get over it. No one wants your handgun, no one wants your hunting rifle. Keep them and I pray that your life is free of accidental shootings. I pray that your child doesn’t find that gun and accidentally discharge it and in that process end their own life. But no one needs an AR15. These aren’t hunting guns, they are killing machines.
One story I recently read was about an eight year old who returned home from school sobbing and told her mother that she needed new tennis shoes. Thinking that someone at school had bullied her about her shoes, she asked her child why she needed new tennis shoes. Her child said…”because Mommy, my tennis shoes light up when I move and if I am hiding they would see me.” What kind of world are we living in when an eight year old child is afraid of being shot in school? What kind of Americans are OK with this? When did a gun become more important than a child’s life? What planet is this?
This “killing problem” in America must end! Other nations that have instituted gun controls have virtually eliminated mass killings. When elected officials…Republicans, Democrats or Independents…take money from the NRA or any other organization for political gain, then they are working for that entity and not for the people who elected them to office. We the people have the power of the vote. And these young people will soon be of age to vote, some of them in the November elections. My warning to politicians…beware the wrath of this new generation. They are focused, they are tired of being afraid, they are tired of the senseless killing, they are tired of adults not solving a ridiculous problem, they are energized and they will work tirelessly to oust you from office. #Never again. They are the change. Tick tock…
Today after work, I visited the Goodwill Store next to my office in search of a “cloche” bread baker. This particular bread baking item can be quite pricey so in hopes of finding one that had been discarded when its previous owner had lost interest, I hit the aisles. Fortune did not shine on me for there were no cloches or baking stones in this particular store. Not to be defeated, I tried another Goodwill store on my way home but once again no luck. The price for finding your treasure at a cheap cost means many trips to the stores hoping that eventually you’ll be rewarded.
What is a clouche? An ingenious bread baking container with a domed lid that captures the moisture coming off of the dough as the bread begins to bake. This moisture simulates the steam within a commercial oven which produces a crisp, chewy crust. I am salivating for one of these bread baking miracle pots
I find it interesting that deciding to bake my way through a bread book can lead to not only new knowledge but also a desire to reorganize my kitchen into a more “cook friendly” one. I have vacillated many times in my life between wanting the clean, uncluttered counter look in my kitchen to desiring kitchen utensils surrounding me in a wabi sabi manner. I always wind up back in a wabi sabi mode because I love the look, the feel of having familiar items surrounding me…an easy reach to my favorite wooden spoon, my salt-cellar I dragged all the way home from Italy, the Boos butcher block that has become a familiar friend, different shapes and sizes of glass containers filled with a variety of flours and grains and of course the mixing bowls…including one that belonged to my Mother and I can almost feel her hands performing the same mixing rituals. A memory is attached to all of my kitchen utensils and equipment and with their help, I have produced many, many successful meals as well as some monstrous mistakes. It is a learning process and learning new things, experiencing new textures, flavors, sensual, visual or auditory sensations is exuberating. Isn’t life grand!!!
I love pizza!! I’ve lived in Austin for twelve years and I spent many years searching for a pizza to rival my favorite Houston pie purveyor… Star Pizza. Star turned out a whole wheat Vegetarian Starburst pizza second to none. Gooey cheese, caramelized onions, broccoli, mushrooms, zucchini squash, green peppers and a light splash of a tangy tomato sauce. I craved this pizza on a regular basis and went into pizza withdrawal when I moved to Austin. My BFF Kathleen regularly takes pity on me and brings me one when she comes to visit.
No worries though…I kept trying different Austin pizzerias and discovered Via 313 Pizza. They offer Chicago style crunchy yet chewy pizza crust in several combinations that satisfy my cravings. My favorite at this pizza parlour is “The Cadillac”…Gorgonzola cheese, fig preserves, Prosciutto di Parma, Parmesan drizzled with a Balsamic Glaze. A Melt in your mouth-watering experience! My second favorite at Via 313 is “The Rocket”…Hot Soppresatta, spicy arugula and shaved Parmesan. These pies aren’t cheap but so worth it since these guys use the highest quality ingredients which probably helps them create such gastronomical delights.
Through the years I have experimented with making my own pizza. My pizza stone gets quite a workout with pizzas, cookies, and bread. I usually use a whole wheat crust purchased from HEB or Trader Joe’s. My “go to” favorite at home pizza consists of cheese, cheese and more cheese (who doesn’t like bread and cheese!), caramelized onions, Medjool date pieces, cooked bacon bits, cherry tomatoes, roasted peppers, Parmesan Reggiano cheese and a splash of Con Olio pungent, peppery olive oil followed by a drizzle of Fig Balsamic Vinegar and a dash of coarse kosher salt. But I’ve decided that the time has come for me to master my own pizza dough since I have a definite preference for my toppings.
Yesterday I tackled making pizza dough for the first time. Just plain old pizza dough. Using my Kitchen Aide, mixing the dough was easy and it doubled in size in about two hours. While it was rising, I prepped the toppings for my pizza. Next I gathered the dough into a ball and pressed it out on my pizza peel that was lightly dusted with flour. I was even able to pick the dough up and stretch it by moving my fists around and around like you see in the movies. With practice I might be able to send the dough flying. It stretched quickly to the size I wanted and after topping it, baked in a 475 degree oven for about 20 minutes.
For a first effort at making my own pizza dough, it wasn’t half bad. Was it perfect? Hardly and I will keep trying to find the one that satisfies my palette. I know I prefer a whole wheat crust so will try that next and perhaps bake in a square or rectangular pan to try to get that crisp buttery crust that Via 313 has made famous. Too bad I can’t take a lesson from their expert pizza makers.
So I spent yesterday in my kitchen “playing” with the two starter mixes. The one from the Tassajara Bread Book wasn’t looking too healthy but had a slight sour smell none the less. I decided that it might be starving so I fed it some flour and spring water and instantly it began to revive. So much for just stirring it daily for five days…definitely did NOT work!
The rye starter from the Bread Alone book was very healthy but I have been feeding it daily. In the end, I decided to leave the Tassajara starter to grow and mature for a few more days and I would use the Bread Alone rye starter to make some bread. The directions in the Bread Alone book left something to be desired and I found myself trying to “wing” it. I watched you-tube videos (thank goodness for the internet!) and plodded forward into a day of folding and proofing for about 8 hours. Finally I decided it was ready to form into loaves. Frankly I was tired of the whole process and was ready to go to bed. I divided the dough in half and divided one of those halves into two. I made a round loaf that I cooked in my Le Crueset dutch oven and the other two pieces I formed into baguettes. After a final rise, I baked them and the end result wasn’t all that great.
When I bent the baguette it had a nice crackle. The crust was crisp and successful thanks to the pan of water beneath the loaves that delivered moisture in the form of steam as they baked. The inside crumb was chewy, moist and decidedly rye. The round loaf in my Dutch oven was not a thing of beauty. I had difficulty transferring the risen loaf into a blasting hot preheated dutch oven, burning myself a couple of times in the process. Bottom line…I think the starter needs to mature more and baking bread successfully and without injury, demands the right equipment. I fed a couple of tablespoons of this starter and placed the jar in the fridge until next weekend when I may try again. Now I am asking myself why I am bothering with the rye starter since I am not a great fan of rye bread.
On the plus side of this very long day in the baking kitchen, I cranked out more Multi-grain Dakota bread. My original loaf of this bread met my culinary needs but the loaf was quite large. I decided to divide the dough into two loaves this time but wasn’t too happy with the end result. The boule was great, just smaller, but the second loaf I placed into the willow basket (Banneton) and when I turned it out onto the stone, it spread while baking resulting in less rise. Bread still tastes great but just not as aesthetically pleasing as the round loaf.
As I write, I have another loaf of Dakota bread rising and almost ready for the oven. Did I say how easy this loaf is to make and that it is yummy!!! Onward to pizza crust for my dinner tonight and lunch tomorrow when I head back to work.
I have a scientific experiment happening in my kitchen right now. I am trying to “grow” yeast or “chef” from which (if I am successful) I will create my sour dough starter that I will be able to “feed” weekly and maintain a constant supply of “starter” to make sour dough breads. Whew!! Sounds complicated, but this isn’t my first rodeo with using a starter to create sourdough bread. Back in the 60’s I was a hippie chick and we hugged trees, recycled, reused and cooked a lot from scratch which included making my own bread. But throughout the ensuing 40 years or so, I discarded my starter so I am beginning anew. Some sour dough starters have been maintained for 100 years, passed down through generations. I myself shared portions of my starter with friends and family way back when…
I have two different concoctions growing right now from two different book recipes. One was simple to mix and only requires that I stir it once daily for five days. This recipe came from the Tassajara Bread Book…1 tablespoon dry yeast, 2 1/2 cups warm water, 2 teaspoons honey, 2 1/2 cups flour mixed together, covered and left to brew for five days.
The second comes from the Bread Alone book by Daniel Leader and Judith Blahnik. This starter recipe is slightly more labor intensive but still easy. 1/2 cup spring water, 2/3 cups stone ground rye flour and less than 1/16 teaspoon yeast (pinch). Combine, scrape down sides and cover with tightly fitting lid. This process is repeated (minus the yeast ingredient) for 4 days. I am on day 3 as I write this. From this rye “chef” I should be able to make a rye sourdough starter. Both of these recipes are not labor intensive but do require a small amount of time daily to continue the growth or fermentation.
My quest is to make bread from each of these two starters and thus determine which one I want to continue to use and which one will be unceremoniously dumped down the drain.
My three work days are behind me and this morning I eagerly anticipated getting into my kitchen to begin my baking challenges. I was pretty much whipped from my work week, but somehow that exhaustion dissipates when I begin another baking adventure.
My sister has been sending me a few tried and true recipes that she has baked throughout the years and as they arrive I put them into my Tassajara Bread Book to be added to my bread baking experiments. The first one I decided to make this morning was entitled Cook’s Country Multigrain Dakota Bread. My preference in bread is for it to have multigrains dispersed throughout and more adhered to the outside crust and this recipe is chocked full of seeds…sesame, poppy sunflower, pepitas, flax seeds and a seven grain hot cereal mix as well. I love the crunch of those styx and seeds.
It was easy to make and for the first time I decided to press my Kitchen Aide mixer and dough hook into service. All of my previous loaves have all been hand mixed and kneaded. My mixer performed admirably and made the whole process quick and easy. After a couple of risings, it went into the oven for about 40 minutes and out came one of the most beautiful loaves I have produced to date. And perhaps the best tasting thus far. Firm, crusty crust and a multigrain infused soft, chewy moist crumb.
The next recipe I tackled was from the Tassajara Bread Book…Oatmeal Bread. Once again I used the bread hook and the dough came together nicely. After several rises, I divided the dough in half and used a loaf pan for one and gave another try to the woven willow basket for the other loaf. This time when I removed the loaf from the woven willow basket to place on the pizza peel to be transferred to the preheated baking stone, I could at least see the woven pattern so at least I am making progress. The Oatmeal Bread turned out quite delicious…nice firm crust and a soft, chewy, nutty crumb. It was delicious with bread and sour cherry jam!!
These two different types of loaves I made today are definitely “WOW” keeper bread recipes. The Multigrain Dakota Boule was quite large and I would probably make two loaves out of this in the future. I’ll keep trying new recipes but these two may end up being my “go to bread” for daily use because they ticked all the boxes of what I desire in a loaf of bread.
This past Saturday, I got up early, loaded my car with cinnamon rolls and homemade bread (my latest efforts) and headed to my sister’s home in Burton. On this trip we planned on attending a concert at the Festival Institute located in Round Top, Texas.
Festival Hill Institute is well-known by classical music lovers, many of whom travel frequently from Houston, Austin or San Antonio to attend masterpiece performances by world-renowned musicians for little or no cost. But it may be little known to many people who have no knowledge of this gem of the countryside for unless you know it is there you wouldn’t expect to find the quality of music and a magnificent concert hall tucked into the lush landscape off a small country road. It is located on a campus that has been slowly developed piece by piece over thirty years or so. There are residences that house students that vie for summer scholarships to work and study under music masters of all kinds. There is a chapel, beautiful gardens, a magnificent terrace and of course the music hall itself which is a testament to the skilled workmanship of the creators and builders of the whole campus.
All of the exquisite patterns of wood were honed by the hands of master craftsmen. The building itself is a work of art. The music that fills the concert hall and floats outward to fill our souls with the sweet notes of beautiful music is a gift made possible by many dedicated workers, sponsors, and aspiring musicians who have spent a lifetime studying and practicing to become the best of the best in the musical world.
I highly recommend a visit to this special place. Better yet, give them a call (979-249-3129) and ask to be placed on their mailing list and then you will have a complete schedule of upcoming concerts and events. I am lucky, for my sister works for this organization and has been fortunate to be a part of this, her second family, for many music filled years.
No one would guess or imagine that life in a small town could be so filled with such riches. Festival Institute is definitely one of these gems. But for me, my sister and the time we spend together making memories, is my most beloved treasure.