May 11, 2020

The Sourdough Rabbit Hole

I'd love to take credit for the sourdough rabbit hole language but you'll have to see @Brad_Leone's Instagram feed for that fun. Any of us who've done the dive into sourdough during the Covid-19 Stay Home and cook-and-buy-up-all-the-flour-and-yeast-you-can-find frenzy will tell you making Sourdough is a test of patience, and tenacity, but oh, it is rewarding!

Sourdough does take procuring starter (I got mine from our local bakery Gusto Bread and right afterward, they were named one of Food and Wine's Top 100 Bakeries - coincidence?), days of  feeding and tending your starter, deciding what to do with the pour-off - I vote scallion pancakes - then, there's some learning about how to work with a dampish dough, how to space the work across your day, extending it to two or more if you like. There is waiting. And, then trusting your loaf to a 475 degree oven and holding out for two whole hours while the bread cools and cures when finished baking. So far, each time has been fun and fruitful. (There may have been one time we didn't quite get to the oven stage.)

So what's the rewards beyond sourdough toast? First, I finally learned why my Dutch Oven is called a Dutch Oven (mine's French for heaven's sake.) You bake the bread in the Dutch Oven inside the oven - the key to trapping steam for moisture and a good crust.

I thought the big fun was cutting into the first loaf, finding a good firm crust, big holes and just the right amount of moisture. It's was exciting. (It was also fun to hear my son tell me how much he loved the flavor.)

The really big fun is in learning, researching, exploring, trying and looking for improvement. My big mistake so far was adding the flour for an autolyse (sourdough words), answering the phone and coming back and adding water just as the scale turned off. I ended up with an inaccurate measure of water, more than I was shooting for, and the dough literally slid off the board during the pre-shape, like a Dali painting. I didn't try to save it, I chucked it and wrote it off to focus.

I found these videos and websites great fun for exploring:
Pro Home Cooks - 15 Mistakes Most Beginner Sourdough Bakers Make - It's really 15 steps to really good (and pretty simple) sourdough. I use his recipe with a couple of twists. (I can't get my hands on Einkorn and, I only use organic unbleached because organic seems to help the tang. I also hold back 100 grams of water adding half of it when I add starter and the other 50 grams when adding salt.)
Sarah Owens on Food52 - on starter
Sarah Owens on Food52 - on the best sourdough Table Loaf. Sarah is pretty wonderful and makes it all feel easy and breezy. I've followed her method with good results, and her loaves are really beautiful - bread goals.
Then there's The Perfect Loaf - I think Maurizio has all the information you'd ever need on bread and sourdough specifically. There's really good technical information here - the benefits of following temperature, etc., a truly tremendous resource.
Back to Brad Leone, you might love watching Brad and Claire in the Bon Appetit Test Kitchen and learning about slap and fold. Tried it. Kinda fun!

You'll find some respectable seriousness at the San Francisco Baking Institute demonstrator. When I was on my second set of loaves, he helped me figure out the pre-shape move. (I love the idea of a giant tub of dough. But I'll need some serious refrigeration and a much bigger oven for that.) For now it's two or three loaves at a time. Sharing with friends and hoping for good feedback. Last week I traded a loaf for some lemon bread, banana muffins and beets. Tomorrow I have plans to trade a loaf for some fresh from the coop eggs. Where does this lead? Who knows. But I got my Bread Lame in the mail last night, so I'm invested.

My baking pal Leah and I have been socially distancing in our baking with about 50 miles between us. We text and share photos as we go. Last week we both had a baking day where our results were a less tangy loaf. I went to work to find out how to adjust the tang upward and found there's something to be said for lower hydration levian, whole grain flour, and longer fermentation all help. But as we chatted about what was different, we both figured out; we'd found the holy grail in these hard-to-find flour days - bread flour. We each used it. It was the constant that had, indeed, affected flavor. I'm not really ready to give up on it yet. (I mean, I bought about eight pounds!) So this week, I'll use it, but, I'll also be sure to use lower hydration starter, mix in whole grain flours, and go for long fermentation. (I'm learning...)

Last night my college girlie and I made baguettes. I am clearly down the Rabbit Hole and happy to be there. Those baguettes are super tart and delicious. I'm learning about shaping them - they need a long cool rest so I definitely need to clear out a whole shelf in the refrigerator for all this fermentation, proofing and testing. But then, what will I we do with all the pickling supplies?

May 03, 2020

Back on the Reading Track

Ann Patchett is just so good at helping herself to generous heaps of my time. Our introduction was her beautiful novel Bel Canto, an almost can't stop read, I loved it. Loved it. I've read a couple of her other books, which reside in our living room library shelves because my husband, a hardback lover, is a big fan of Ann's work. None of them have lingered recreationally. They all seem to wrap around my arm and tug me to the chair, like a clingy, but adorable, boyfriend. This though, is about The Dutch House. A work of near-perfection. I bought the book for my Dear, but when someone recommended Tom Hanks' reading on Audible I had to start there. I love reading. I love driving. I love listening. So, I occasionally, if not often, I grab the book and the audio (see Libby) and go. To begin, I loved Tom Hanks as narrator. His voice and style helped me get a feel for Danny as I read. Not a downside, but I see where it might point one in a direction.This was fine by me, because first, I was reading when not listening and also, Tom Hanks. He's offered so many roles with a core of strength and tenderness he didn't do anything but enhance the experience.   
Danny and Maeve are brother and sister, raised by their dad in the grand and glorious Dutch House. Their mother left them inexplicably and while Maeve took on the mom role, Danny was learning some of his dad's role in real estate management. At a point, Andrea, their stepmother enters with all the injustice this entry can bring. 

What we find, hold in our hands, welcome through our ears, is a story of connection and detachment, cruelty and inability, forgiveness and understanding. Danny's story is full of hardship but told through a heart willing to test each step taken without expected malice or prejudice. We're involved in the learning, the unfolding. Here the young children create their own family/echelon within the structure and bond in ways adults can't imagine. In some ways, the story was aligned to instances in my own experience. That's of course, a different post, but the resonance turns out to be more universal than I might have thought. More than one friend talked about how they'd experienced some part of Danny and Maeve's tale. 

It's beautiful with ugly pits and promises.
And, as I said, I loved it.

January 26, 2020

A Walk on the Lagoon

Every now and then I forget I live in a particularly wonderful part of the world. The California coast is beautiful and so varied in local environs you really can have a practically new experience every day. Alas, I seem to leave this truth in the back of my mind for unlimited spans and stay in the unplanned parameters of my comings and goings.

Almost everyday I pass our 388 acre city park. I do it intentionally. I need to be in that park. The trees are breathtaking every single day - old and tall and rich with branches and leaves and trunks that seem to speak words like established and environment and rest. My kids played and practiced soccer in several of the fields of this rambling space and my first German Shepherd, Max would come along with me and sit and watch them play.  I think romantically about the park because that dog-at-my-side is gone now and we had hours communing with nature and each other as the fall sun set through the trees.

Last week with our Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, I packed my big dog into the car in the early morning and off we went with the 100 foot lead. We explored, watching the birds in their patterns slide across the pond as we rambled in the grass. The air is different in the park, verdant, damp, clinging. Under the tree branches and along the field of green we took what I all too often forget to take -  time. Time for meandering, and looking, and enjoying. My doggy came home muddy and happy and tired. I came home satisfied by a small adventure. I love small adventures.

This morning I heeded the call of another small adventure and ended up walking around our local lagoon. There's a new nature trail of decomposed granite from the back side of the lagoon lined with dormant and perennial greens leading to a bridge where ducks and cormorants entertain - diving for breakfast. It's a unique space with a coop style preschool, where we found a mama gardening, a model boat building shop, playground, picnic area and space to swim. It's a sweet place for a walk with little unexpected vistas every few feet. We made our way around, some 3000 steps and ended up walking past the pretty houses that overlook, watchfully, the nature reserve and golf course.

Our feet are dry. And once again, hearts are satisfied.

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