Embracing Imperfection with Sourdough – Part 2

I have finally figured out my sourdough baking regimen. Dare I say, perfected it? I think not (note the title of this post), but I am happy enough with my routine that I’d like to share it with any aspiring sourdough bakers seeking inspiration, encouragement, or reassurance.

As I explained in Part 1 of this post, my household acquired a new member at the outset of the pandemic: Stan the sourdough starter. Stan’s appearance in our lives was prompted by the concern that we would not be able to obtain bread while in COVID-19 lockdown; we take bread very seriously in our house. So we ordered a dehydrated sourdough starter from Cultures for Health. After a week of daily feedings (flour and water) the starter was activated and ready to be used. (As an alternative to ordering a dehydrated starter, you can adopt some of a friend’s or begin a starter from scratch.)

A Couple Notes

Before we go any further, I must make two important points regarding (1) sourdough “discard” and (2) kitchen tools.

(1) DISCARD: Every time you feed your starter, it grows exponentially. Not only are you adding flour and water; once fed, the starter produces gas leading it to double in volume. So, the only way to keep your starter a manageable size is to “discard” some of it before each feeding. There are a few ways to “discard”: you can compost the excess starter, put it in the garbage, or (my favorite!) use it in baked goods. More on this later.

(2) TOOLS: I am an old-fashioned baker. Generally speaking, I’m happy with the simplest of kitchen tools: bowl, spoon, knife, measuring spoons and cups, etc. However, when it comes to sourdough baking, there are two gadgets I could not do without: a food scale and instant-read thermometer. These are affordable ($30 total) essentials you will come to love!

PREP

Once Stan the starter was active—happily bubbling within a few hours of feedings—I put 60 grams in a small glass container and tucked it away in the fridge. One evening (DAY 1), after about a week, I pull him out, transfer him into a larger jar, and feed him. The feeding formula is: equal quantities by weight starter, flour, water. I keep 60g starter, so that means stirring in 60g flour and 60g water. Stan then spends the night on the counter.

In the morning (DAY 2), I divide Stan three ways (this is when the food scale is so helpful!). I remove 38g to get a levain going (see below); this eventually will join a mixture of flour, water, and salt to become two delicious loaves of bread. Of the remaining starter, 60g goes back in the fridge for the following week. This leaves me with about 80g “discard,” which I feed (equal parts water and flour) so I can use it later to make a batch of scones. What I love so much about this routine is that I don’t waste any starter!

Left-Right: 60g starter for the fridge;
38g starter for bread, fed according to
levain recipe below;
80g “discard” for scones, fed 80g flour & 80g water.

RECIPES: Bread & Scones

BREAD: I use Maurizio Leo’s Beginner’s Sourdough Bread, from his website The Perfect Loaf. (Yes, I know it’s ironic I source my recipe from a website called “The Perfect Loaf” given that—as explained in Part 1 of this post—I’m using sourdough baking to embrace imperfection. But what would life be without irony?) The recipe below is Maurizio’s, paraphrased and very lightly edited; all I have done is simplify it for readers who, like myself, prefer to keep things short and sweet in the kitchen.

Make your levain: Mix together in a jar 37g sourdough starter, 37g whole wheat flour, 37g bread flour, 74g water. Store somewhere warm for 5–6 hours. The levain is the agent responsible for making your bread dough rise.

4 hours later: With your hands, mix together in a large bowl 748g bread flour, 159g whole wheat flour, 641g warm water. Cover the bowl and store next to your levain for 1 hour.

The flour and water mixture described above are in the covered bowl. My levain is still fermenting in its jar, as is the sourdough “discard” I will soon use to make scones (hence the stick of butter).

NOTE: Sourdough is MESSY. Flour and water congeal into a glue-like substance that is truly a pain to clean up. I find it helpful to keep a basin of cold water at the ready. Yes, cold water; warm water causes gluten to develop and just makes things stickier. After the above mixing step, your hands will be covered in dough. Rinse them off in the basin. Also toss all utensils into the cold water so the dough residue doesn’t dry out (making clean-up all the more impossible).

1 hour later: Add to the flour and water mixture levain, 18g sea salt, ~50g warm water. Only add enough water to mix everything together with your hands.

Bulk fermentation for 4 hours: Perform 3 sets of stretch and folds during bulk fermentation, spaced out by 30 mins. “Wet your hands with a little water to prevent sticking and then lift up one side (North) of the dough with two hands. Stretch the dough up high enough just so that you can fold it completely over to the other side of the dough in the bowl. Rotate the bowl 180° and do the other side (South). Finish the other two sides (East and West) to complete the set. Let the dough rest 30 minutes, covered, between sets. After that third set of stretch and folds, let the dough rest for the remainder of bulk fermentation.”

SCONES: At this point, while the dough is fermenting, it’s time to bake scones! I follow this recipe from Bake from Scratch. (The 1 cup sourdough starter called for is exactly how much you set aside in the morning.) It’s quick and easy; you’ll be pulling a tray of freshly baked scones out of the oven within the hour. A delightful prospect, no?

Sourdough discard scones

After bulk fermentation: Lightly flour a work surface and dump out the dough (it should have risen 20–50% during bulk fermentation). Cut the dough in half. “[T]urn each half of dough on the counter while lightly pulling the dough towards you. This gently turning and pulling motion will develop tension on the top of the dough forming a round circle.” Let the dough rest for 25 mins. Then, shape each circle into a boule (round loaf) according to the video below.

Maurizio Leo shapes a boule

After shaping, place boule seam-side-up into a towel-lined kitchen bowl lightly dusted with flour. Cover the bowls, rest on the counter for 20 minutes, then put into the refrigerator for 16 hours.

The next afternoon (DAY 3), after the loaves have been in the fridge for 16 hours: Preheat your oven to 450°F, with a Dutch oven (e.g. Le Creuset) inside. Remove one loaf from the fridge and flip it onto a cutting board. Score with a knife.

Remove your Dutch oven (careful, it’s hot!) and sprinkle with some cornmeal; this will prevent the bottom of your loaf from burning. Place your loaf inside the Dutch oven, and bake covered for 20 minutes. Then bake uncovered for 30 minutes. Bread is done when your thermometer reads over 208°F. Repeat with second loaf. Let each cool for at least 1 hour before cutting!

Bon appétit! Time to slather a thick slice of your homemade sourdough with butter and devour no less than half the loaf in one sitting. Ready to give it a try? I have attempted to make this post thorough but not overwhelming. As such, I’ve left out a few details. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch in the comments or via email (TwoInTheWorld@hotmail.com). I will do my best to assist!

Pancake Chef Cheers Us

It turns out after knowing my husband Bill for 35 years, I (along with Natalie) have only recently learned that he is an amazing pancake chef. We wake up thinking about his pancakes. One night last weekend, I told him I was in the mood for his pancakes and guess what? Yes!! We ate pancakes at 10 pm, after watching a good movie. Any left-over pancakes are delicious to have with afternoon tea/coffee or for dessert with a smear of jam. Pancakes can be left out on a plate for one day on the counter, unless it is a hot summer day. Pancakes made with yogurt instead of buttermilk, olive oil instead of butter, topped with maple syrup and with a side of excellent applesauce, are uplifting for both tastebuds and spirits. Recipe below:

PANCAKE RECIPE

  • up to 1 1/2 cup of plain whole milk yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup wholewheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon natural sugar cane sugar
  • pinch of salt

Stir dry ingredients in bowl. Mix wet ingredients in a separate bowl, then add to dry ingredients. Bill drops a small dollop of olive oil on our iron skillet, then wipes the dollop to lightly oil the skillet. Bring the skillet up to a medium-low heat. You know it’s ready when you flick some drops of cold water onto the skillet and they burble and dance around. Take a soup spoon of batter and plop onto skillet. It will melt into proper shape. Wait for bubbles to appear on top side, and then check bottom for lightly browned color. Flip. Wait a minute or two, then jiggle the top of the pancake with edge of spatula. If top doesn’t wiggle side to side separate from bottom, the pancake is ready. Caution: Monitor the bottom layer for over-browning, rotating and sometimes flipping pancakes an extra time or two to make sure pancakes are perfect.

A Corny Curious Story About Sweet Corn

I love reading. I read every day. I actually don’t feel good if a day goes by without at least a little reading.

I cook every day. Some people think I love cooking. But I don’t think I really love cooking. I think I love eating. I cook good food so that I can eat it. What I love about cooking is that I can choose ingredients I love to eat. So I read books about food and cooking.

Some years ago, I cut out and kept an article titled “Breeding the Nutrition Out of Our Food” and I stuck it into one of my cookbooks. I have read it a number of times since. The article was written by Jo Robinson, the author of “Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health.”

I learned from Jo Robinson how “we’ve reduced the nutrients and increased the sugar and starch content of hundreds of fruits and vegetables.” Corn is the best example of this. Here is a story about corn that is both fascinating and shocking:

White kerneled corn “was born” in 1836, the creation of Noyes Darling whose goal was to create a sweet, all white variety without “the disadvantage of being yellow.” He succeeded.

But the story becomes strange and more than a little disturbing. Supersweet corn was born in a cloud of radiation. Beginning in the 1920’s, geneticists exposed corn seeds to radiation to learn more about the normal arrangement of plant genes. The corn seeds were exposed to X-rays, toxic compounds, cobalt radiation, and then, in the 1940’s, to blasts of atomic radiation. Then the seeds were stored in a seed bank for use in research. In 1959, John Laughnan, a geneticist who was studying some of the no-longer-radioactive seeds, decided to pop a few into his mouth. He couldn’t believe how sweet they were. Lab tests confirmed they were 10 times sweeter than ordinary sweet corn. The radiation had turned the corn into a sugar factory.

Mr. Laughnan realized people would love extra-sweet corn and he spent years developing commercial varieties of this corn. In 1961, he began selling his first hybrids. And within one generation, the new extra-sugary varieties were selling more than the older varieties. Today, most of the corn in our grocery stores is extra-sweet. The sweetest ones contain 40 percent sugar. The disadvantage of white corn is that it lacks nutrients. If you want more nutrients in your corn: choose corn with deep yellow kernels. It has 60 times more beta-carotene, which turns into Vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A helps vision and the immune system. When baking, try blue, red or purple cornmeal.

While you are at it: Eat some scallions, aka green onions, which Jo Robinson calls “jewels of nutrition.” The green part is more nutritious than the white part, so use the whole plant. I’ve discovered I LOVE green onions cooked with mushrooms. I slice up an entire bunch of green onions and cook them with mushrooms in a generous amount of olive oil and a dollop of lightly salted butter. Sourdough toast or brown rice is a wonderful accompaniment.