October 26, 2012

whole wheat sourdough pizza crust

Now that you've cultivated your sourdough starter, and have been building its strength by feeding it every twelve hours for the last few days, it's time to try it out. This whole wheat sourdough pizza crust is a great way to use your new sourdough starter. I've included lots of pictures for reference, and I hope the visual tutorial makes it easier as you follow the recipe, which is an adapted version of the whole wheat bread formula from Tartine Bread. Though I've previously posted a quicker version of a whole wheat pizza crust made with commercial yeast, I think you'll really like the depth of flavor that this naturally-leavened dough has in comparison. If you love making your own homemade pizza, it's completely worth the extra time and effort, and in the process you will have learned a valuable bread-making skill. This recipe makes two large 14-inch crusts that you can pre-bake and store in a medium plastic bag in the refrigerator, where it will keep for a week. You can also wrap and freeze the crusts. Whenever you feel like having pizza, the pre-baked crusts are ready to top, heat, and eat. Who needs to order in when homemade is so much better?

October 19, 2012

egg salad sandwich with spinach, turmeric & smoked paprika

Recently my husband and I were getting ready to go on a short trip, and we needed to pack a light lunch so we didn't have to stop or spend extra money. We also prefer what we cook better than most of what you might encounter just off the freeway; it's healthier, cleaner, and made just the way we like it. On this particular morning, we'd already finished the last of the chicken I'd roasted a couple of days before, so my husband suggested egg salad sandwiches. Though I love eggs in their many cooked (and sometimes even raw) forms, egg salad, and its fairly bland flavor, has never been at the top of my list. So with a few ingredients I had in-house, I made a quick version of an egg salad sandwich that I would want to eat. With turmeric and smoked paprika blended into homemade garlic mayonnaise, it steals its flavor inspiration from Spanish tapas, and has a strong smoky-earthy-creamy-salty tang that's perfectly subdued when served between slices of your favorite whole grain bread. And as I like to say, a little green is always good, so some minced spinach adds color and texture. If you really want to put this sandwich over the top, try an herbal oil, like this tarragon oil, drizzled all over the inside of the bread just before you scoop the egg salad on it. Now that's what I call a seriously good, worthy-of a-short-road-trip, egg salad sandwich.

October 12, 2012

making your own sourdough starter

About seven months ago, I finally cultivated my own sourdough starter. While this might sound either impressive or difficult, it's really neither, and if you love to bake bread you really should try it. Why? Because using a sourdough starter in baking bread is the single best way to add complexity and depth to its flavor. The amount of sourdough starter you use in making bread determines how subtly sour or strongly tangy it tastes. In addition, the sourdough starter pre-digests the wheat flour(1), making the vitamins and minerals it contains more available for nourishment, and the bread easier to digest when you eat it. The starter also gives the bread a longer shelf life.

The following formula, taken from The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Bread Baking by The French Culinary Institute, and very slightly modified, is the one that finally brought me success (it was my third attempt overall, after two failed attempts with a different formula). This formula is nearly a two-week process; by the eleventh day, if all goes well, you'll have a strong, reliable starter that you can use to leaven your bread. In fact, in a couple of weeks I'll be posting a recipe for a sourdough pizza crust, timed to coincide with your brand new starter. If you start your culture this weekend, you'll be able to make that pizza crust. Once you taste the difference, you may never want to go back to using commercial yeast again.

I've listed a few pointers to remember as you patiently wait for those wild yeast and bacteria to develop into a balanced, fragrant community. First, purchase high-quality commercially-milled flours, preferably from a bag and not an open bin. Avoid using flour from whole grain that you've milled at home to cultivate a starter; over time it takes on an unpleasantly tainted odor. It's important to use bottled spring water, not distilled water, which is too clean, and not tap, which may have chlorine. Make sure all the ingredients you use are at room temperature. Use a digital scale when measuring the ingredients; it makes the process more foolproof because the amounts are more accurate. Try to feed the culture around the same time every day. I like to keep the jar swaddled in a kitchen towel to keep the temperature stable. Until the culture begins to develop obvious foamy bubbles and a regular cycle of rising and falling, help it by stirring it, up to three times per day, as it sits in the jar. This introduces more oxygen into the culture, helping the yeast to grow and also preventing mold from forming on the surface.

When I finally successfully developed a sourdough starter, I felt like I'd moved to a new level in baking bread. But the amazing improvement in taste in the bread I bake is really what makes the extra effort worth it to me. Though it might be a new process to you, it's really a very old and time-proven method; it's the transformation of flour and water into something that then changes the bread we eat in a very good way. It might change the way you bake, too.

October 5, 2012

out here where you can breathe

There are some days when it just seems like you need a small adventure or a short trip. But with current fuel prices, you need a good reason to waste the gas it takes to get there. I needed milk. Right now, at the local farm I buy milk from, the most productive milking goats are waiting to have baby goats, which in turn means the supply is very low until the end of October. After a search on realmilk.com, I found a farm, about an hour's drive, that sells fresh milk from a type of dairy cow called Brown Swiss. Visiting a farm out in the country always has a particular pull for me, and so soon I was on my way.

The freeway I took to get to the farm is the kind of road people often think of when they think about driving through Texas; a long, boring stretch of road without much in the way of scenery. But when I finally exited the monotonous road, I found myself surrounded by green trees and wide fields and white fences, and a whole different world that was somehow obscured by the seemingly endless freeway.