Monday, January 18, 2010

Sourdough Bread

My sourdough culture turned three last November and I’m so happy that after three years I have made countless loaves with it and that with regular (and sometimes not so regular) feedings it is still alive and kicking. There was a time before its birth that I thought I would probably never make sourdough bread.

I had tried to develop a sourdough culture once or twice with poor results, mostly due to incomprehensive instructions. I would console myself that I really didn’t like San Francesco Sourdough that much anyway, so why would I want to maintain a culture to make bread that I wasn’t crazy about? And besides, didn't sourdough bread take hours and hours to rise? Little did I know then that sourdough bread made at home bears little resemblance to store bought sourdough, and that with the addition of commercial yeast the rising time wasn't more than bread made without a starter. It wasn’t until I purchased The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum and read the lengthy and informative chapter on sourdough once or twice that I felt I had the confidence to try again - after all I really really wanted to make a bread with yeast that I cultured by simply allowing water and flour to sit for a few days. I set out my bowl of bait and hoped that this simple mixture of flour and water would capture the yeast around me. I watched it closely for the first few days for any sign that it had gone bad. Everything so far seemed to aim toward success; the scent of paint, the small bubbles forming on top, and the absence of colour that would indicate spoilage. I think it was on the third day that my culture more than doubled and I was so thrilled I felt as if I had actually given birth to a child that I would love forever. But it wasn’t done yet, I still had to continue feeding this lovely mass for a least a few more days. On the fifth day something had terribly gone wrong, or so I thought, because when I checked on it, it just wasn't as active as it had been the day before, even though I had fed it, there was no sign of life whatsoever. What had gone wrong!? I quickly went to Rose’s blog and issued an S.O.S (save our sourdough). She advised, "each sourdough seems to have a mind of its own so be patient and it surely will develop as it should", so, relieved, I continued feeding it and sure enough just one day later it was active again, it was so active that the first name that popped in my head to call it was Casanova. I thought that was pretty funny at the time but when I told my daughter she just looked at me and said, “that’s gross Mom”. My starter has remained nameless ever since. My baby may not be referred to by a proper name but it always responds enthusiastically to feedings. Sometimes I wonder if with all the feedings it has received if any molecules from the original batch are still present.
Nonetheless, I have made many loaves of bread with my reliable little starter and some have become favourites, but my all time favourite is the Sourdough Bread recipe from The Best of Better by Marcy Goldman & Yvan Huneault. It is the first recipe I tried with my new starter and the one I make the most. It is truly exceptional bread. This recipe has some commercial yeast in it, but I’ve cut down the amount I use by half with very good results. I have even made it omitting the commercial yeast altogether - it just takes a little longer to rise and produces a slightly more sour loaf. I highly recommend this bread.
Sourdough Bread

Sourdough Bread from The Best of Better by Marcy Goldman & Yvan Huneault

1½ cups liquid white sourdough starter at room temperature and recently refreshed
1½ cups water
2 teaspoons (I use 1 teaspoon)
½ tsp. malt powder or packed brown sugar
1 tbsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
3 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. semolina (optional)
4 to 5 cups bread flour

In the bowl of an electric mixer, stir down the starter to deflate it. Stir in the water, yeast, malt powder or brown sugar, granulated sugar, olive oil, semolina if using, and 4 cups of the flour. Mix to make a soft mass. Let rest for 10 to 12 minutes, add the salt and gradually add more flour as required to form a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and form it into a ball. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise for 30 to 45 minutes, or until almost doubled.
Gently deflate the dough. Spray the top with nonstick cooking spray and return the dough to the bowl and cover with plastic. Let rise for 1 to 2 hours or until puffy and 75 to 80 percent larger in volume. Gently deflate the dough. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and form into a large ball. Place it on the prepared baking sheet and spray the dough with non-stick cooking spray. Cover with plastic and let the dough rise for 2 to 4 hours, or until puffy.
Preheat the oven to 500°F. Using a sharp knife make 3 or 4 diagonal slashes 1½ inches apart on the top of the loaf. With a spray bottle mist the dough with water and then dust it with flour. Place in the oven and immediately lower the heat to 450°F. Throw in ½ cup of ice cubes on a shallow tray placed on the oven floor. Bake for 10 minutes then lower the heat to 400°F. Bake for an additional 35 to 45 minutes, or until the loaf is well browned. Let cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes before serving.
Instead or making one large loaf divide the dough in 2 or 3 pieces and form into a long loaf.
Note: You can omit the yeast, but rising time will be longer.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Oatmeal Raisin Bread & Whipped Cream Cake

Often when I'm flipping through bread books I'll come across recipes that I would like to bake, but then as I scan down the list of ingredients, buttermilk powder is listed as an ingredient. I have a mental list of items at the back of my mind which I'm always on the lookout for when I'm shopping and buttermilk powder has been there for a while. I know you can get this item, otherwise it wouldn't be listed, but when I've shopped at my local supermarket or any other supermarket within a five mile radius I can never find it. Well my luck finally changed when I was shopping at the bulk food store recently. I know I had checked for it here many times before, never to be found, but I persisted and as I looked over each bin, this time, there it was near the skim milk powder which, by the way, you can find everywhere. Not only did they have buttermilk powder, there in a bin nearby I finally spotted dry milk. I came close many times to ordering dry milk from King Arthur but shipping to Canada was more than double the cost of the item so I resisted. Dry milk differs from milk powder in that dry milk does not dissolve in water, and is used in bread recipes and eliminates the scalding milk step. I had no idea what recipes I would be baking with either of these ingredients, but I scooped a bit of both into small plastic bags and came hope quite satisfied, having hit two birds with one stone.

I went through my bread machine baking book where I had seen the buttermilk listed in many of the recipes and came across Oatmeal Raisin Bread. I love raisin bread and this one had oatmeal in it, how bad could that be I thought, well not bad at all, so I eagerly assembled all the ingredients into the pan as described and set my machine to work. How easy is that! This time to keep things simpler I didn't bother to convert the recipe to the sponge method, I could always do that next time. This recipe is loaded with raisins which I like. Often bread machine recipes skimp out the amount of raisins added to the dough and I will normally increase the amount to my liking but I didn't have to this time because this recipe is loaded with raisins.

The dough was nice to work with and before I knew it, it was time to shape the dough into loaves, allow to rise and bake. About a half an hour later the house smelled divine and the bread was done. The bread was quite good, certainly better than any bread you find in your grocery store bakery department. I'm sure the buttermilk improved the flavour from a loaf made with skim milk powder but I didn't have one to compare it to so I couldn't do a taste it. I certainly will make this again.

Oatmeal Raisin Bread
Makes 1 loaf (1.5 Lb. or 750 gr.)

1-1/4 cups water
1-1/4 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. granulated sugar
2 tbsp. shortening
3 cups all purpose flour or bread flour
1/3 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup buttermilk powder
1-1/4 tsp. bread machine yeast
1 cup raisins

1. Measure all ingredients except raisins into baking pan in the ordr recommeded by the manufacturer. Insert pan into the oven chamber.
2. Select Basic Cycle or Sweet Cycle.
3. Add raisins at the "add ingredients" signal.


1. Select dough cycle.
2. Add raisins.
3. Transfer dough from pan to a greased bowl to rise until doubled.
4. Deflate slightly and give two business turns and return to bowl.
5. Allow to rise until doubled
6. Deflate slightly and roll to fit a 4 x 8 bread pan.
7. Allow to rise until doubled.
8. Bake in a preheated 375 F. oven for about 35 minutes or until internal temperature reads 205 degrees.

I am not a member of the Heavenly Cake Bakers, but I do look forward each week to what was baked. There are so many wonderful cakes in the book like the Plum Ingot cakes that I can't wait to bake when plums are in season again, but recently Marie Wolf (Heavenly Cake Place)posted the Whipped Cream Cake and I couldn't wait to bake it.

My photo of the finished cake doesn't do it justice but if taste could be photographed then this photo would win first prize.

I had never made a cake where the cream is whipped and then the rest of the ingredients are added. The batter was so light and lovely. I greased the pan with Pam then floured it but after baking I had a bit of trouble removing the cake from the pan. A small piece of cake stuck to the pan but I gently removed it and placed it back on the cake. You could hardly tell after I sprinkled on the icing sugar. I had a slice with some whipped cream and wished I had had some macerated strawberries to go with this cake, one of the best tasting cakes I've ever had.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Country Harvest Bread

Over the holidays I was so busy baking cookies and cakes that I hadn't baked any bread at all. I have to admit that I resorted to buying a few loaves which doesn't happen much when I'm in full bread baking mode. I didn't even have a loaf in the freezer in reserve. Well that was going to change today. I missed having my bread in the morning toasted with jam so I decided to make my good old reliable Country Harvest Bread from Canada's Best Bread Machine Baking Recipes by Donna Washburn & Heather Butt. This is a wholesome loaf of bread made with whole wheat flour, bread flour, a touch of honey and flax, sesame, and sunflower seeds. I use my bread machine because it does a good job of kneading, but that's where its function stops because after the dough has risen I shape it and use my oven to bake the bread. The recipe straight out of the book works really well, but because I like to improve the bread's flavour, I converted this recipe to the sponge method as described in The Bread Bible by RLB. I also increased the recipe by 25% so that I get two loaves, one for now and one for the freezer for a later date. If you don't have a bread machine you can use a stand mixer.

I mix the sponge in a bowl and poured this mixture into the bread pan. I combine the flour mixture together with the yeast and sprinkle this over the sponge and allow it to sit for 1 to 4 hours, any longer and it should go in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. I turn the machine on and after a 20 minute it begins its cycle and I add the honey and shortening to the mixture and let is mix for a minute or so and then turn the machine off. I immediately turn the machine on again (my machine doesn't have a pause button) and it goes into the 20 minute warming again which is just the right time for the autolyse and add the salt and seeds when the kneading begins and allow the machine to finish the kneading cycle. I remove the dough from the machine and place it into a greased bowl for the risings.

I divide the dough into two portions and shape into loaves. One hour later the loaves are ready for the preheated oven and about 35 minutes later two lovely loaves are ready.

I love the texture of the crumb and the crunch from the seeds and it makes great sandwiches but I really look forward to breakfast when I make this bread.

Country Harvest Bread

· 360 grams water
· 25 grams skim milk powder
· 20 grams honey
· 100 grams whole wheat flour
· 200 grams bread flour
· 1 tsp. instant yeast

Flour Mixture

· 110 grams whole wheat flour
· 165 grams bread flour
· 1 tsp. instant yeast

Add in

· 20 grams honey
· 35 grams shortening

After the autolyse add

· 2 tsp. salt
· 40 grams flax seed
· 20 grams sesame seeds
· 45 grams sunflower seeds

In a bowl combine the sponge ingredients and mix for 2 minutes to incorporate air and pour into the bread machine pan.
Mix the flour mixture together and lightly spoon over the sponge. Allow the mixture to ferment for 1 to 4 hours.
Turn on the machine on dough setting and mix the sponge and flour for a few minutes until combined, then turn of the machine. Turn on the machine again, there will be a 15 to 20 minute period before the machine begins again.
When the machine starts add the salt, flax, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds. Allow the machine to run its cycle. Remove the bread dough and place it in a greased container to rise.
When the dough has doubled in about 1 hour deflate it and return to bowl to rise again until doubled. Remove the dough from the container gently deflate and divide the dough into 2 equal parts. Let the dough rest 5 minutes and then shape into two loaves and place the loaves in two greased loaf pans. Cover with plastic or place into a large clear plastic bag and let them rise until the dough has risen about 1 inch above the rim of the pan.
Preheat the oven to 450°F. one hour before baking.
Spray the loaves with water place them in the oven and throw in 1 cup of ice cubes in the pan on the floor of the oven. Turn heat down to 425°F and bake for 35 to 45 minutes
Allow to cool completely.