In search of healthy and fun meals to feed my family, with an eye toward sustainable living.

Here you'll find recipes & ramblings about keeping my family fed with what's available in Alaska between local produce, a little bit of wild harvest, and the modern grocery store.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Rye Bread revisited

It was snowing like crazy yesterday -- perfect day to bake!

My sourdough Rye Bread is getti
ng better and better, and I'm continuing to tweak the recipe. This picture shows a hearty loaf that I think even my German relatives in the "Old Country" would approve.

I've tried it both with retarding the dough overnight in the frig, and without. Both produce good results, with retarding bringing out more of the sourdough flavor.
I also made these as dinner rolls recently to serve with Bouillabaise -- very tasty, and easy to freeze the left-over rolls for another snowy winter-soup day...

Gudrun's Rye Bread
1 T active yeast, dissolved in 1 c warm water
2T molasses (approx. 40 g)
1 c rye starter (150g) --mine is fairly liquid
optional: altus (old rye bread, soaked & drained through a sieve)
1 c dark rye flour
3 c+ white flour (350 g) -I used Montana White Whole Wheat, which has 15% gluten content
optional: 1-T additional gluten
1 t salt
Optional flavors: caraway seed, fennel seeds (crushed or ground), minced onion, flax seeds (soaked overnight), sunflower seeds, raisins; and if desired to achieve darker color, instant coffee or cocoa.

Total weight of ingredients:
First 3 items "mostly
liquids" were 400 g before adding flour to make sponge
Final loaf weighed 800 g

9am: Started w/ sponge (after having given the starter a fresh feeding).
9:30am: ad
ded althus, all the flour, ground fennel seed and salt, and started kneading.
9:45am: Let ri
se in warm oven (woodstove is cold because a certain teenager got behind on her firewood duties -ahem!)

11am: Punched down, kneaded (actually stretch and fold), and let rise again.
noon-ish: Punched down, kneaded and formed loaves. Let rise again.
Preheated the oven to 375 w/ pizzastone -- it needs to be thoroghly heated for good crust.

1:20pm Boiled water and placed in pan at bottom of oven.
1:25pm Transferred bread
onto pizzastone.
1:35pm Removed
pan of water. Reduced temp to 350 F.
2pm Bread is done.

I'm afraid that my rye sourdough today may not have been aged very much -- I had accidentally used up all of Gudrun last time
I baked, so a couple of days ago (2?), I took some Pedro sourdough starter (who only eats white flour), and started daily feedings w/ rye and water, and in my oh-so-casual way, I didn't measure anything! The fact that my recipe contains yeast as well was probably its saving grace!

But seriously, although my casual approach to sourdough feeding seems to work fine, below is a more serious approach by HarryGermany from discussion board (link here), where he makes a large quantity of a much thicker ("porridge-consistency") sourdough initially.

Feed your starter with 100 g rye flour and 100 g warm water (approx. 1/2 c each). Stir and keep in a warm place for 24 hours, covered. Repeat for 3 more days, so on the 4th you have about 800g. Save 100 g in frig (feeding weekly w/ 1 T rye flour and water). About 3 days before baking next loaf, take starter out of the frig and feed & build as above.

Harry says: "Rye flour needs acid to be ready for baking. The sourdough has the acid. For a bread with rye flour turn 30-50% of the rye flour sour in a sourdough. A wheat-rye bread 30%, a pure rye bread 50%." (Translation: if you're making pure rye bread, then 50% of the rye should be soured in the sourdough process, whereas for a wheat-rye bread (such as my Gudrun), only 30% needs souring.

Harry's rye-wheat bread 2 loaves of ca 850 g each; hydration 73%

700 g rye-sourdough (made from wholemeal)
400 g rye flour
400 g all-purpose wheat flour
450 g water
25 g salt
1 pouch (7 g) dry yeast or 21 g fresh yeast
(The recipe also works without any added yeast, but the yeast makes it success proof and quickens the prove.)

* Mix all ingredients (rye-sourdough, rye flour, all-purpose wheat flour, water with solved yeast, salt) and knead well (by mixer ca 7 minutes, by hand longer).

* Let the dough rest 20 minutes. (cover and keep warm)

* Knead short by hand. Let the dough rest 5 minutes.

* Shape two loaves, give them surface tension and place them in floured dough rising baskets. Cover with a cloth.
Let the loaves rise in a warm place until volume has doubled. This might require 60-90 minutes (with yeast) or up to 5 hours (no yeast).

* Very carefully place the loaves on a baking sheet with baking paper.

* Start baking with 480°F for 15 minutes. Steam once within the first 3 minutes.
(To steam, use a fresh flower spray, spray hot water against the hot inner walls of the oven. Don't hit the electric lamp!)

* Turn down the heat to 400°F and finish baking in another 50 minutes.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Bread w/ sprouted grain: Round 2

I broke down and bought a kitchen scale!
Can you believe it?
It's a cheap scale (not electronic) and I doubt that I will start weighing everything -- but for baking, at least, I want to get a better handle on the ingredients, so I'm turning into more of a German/scientist (your pick!) and am starting to actually weigh my ingredients...

SO, let's start with the sprouting: I used hard (winter) red wheat berries.
1 c berries (before sprouting) = 250 g
yield after 4-5 days was 3 c sprouted wheat (white tails, roughly the length of berries) = 400 g

I did not dry these, but that's what's needed in order to grind them if using a grain mill.
Instead, I took the sprouts and used my food processor, combining with 1 c sourdough.

I dissolved 1 t active yeast in 1 c water and 1 T sugar/honey, then added 1 c flour (King Arthur whole wheat, 150g) to form a sponge, waiting for 15-30 min for it to get nice and "bubbly". Then I added the food-processed sprout-sourdough mash (the 400g sprouts plus 1 c sourdough).

Now it's time for the rest of the flour (don't forget the 1 t salt -- best to add at the very end).
It took another 2.5 c of flour until I had a kneaded dough, still slightly sticky, but workable. And since I have a handy scale now, I can tell you that the final weight of my dough was 1340 g.

Rise until doubled, twice, then bake at 350 for about 45 min. May need longer -- internal temperature of loaf should read 200F.

Makes a nice moist bread, not too heavy. I'm guessing this to be around 1/3 sprouted, but to calculate that accurately, the sprouted grain should have been dried first. Stay tuned for another post on the subject.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bread Pudding

Experimenting with baking lots of different bread recipes means:
(a) got lots of bread around,
(b) there are some experiments that end up with "less than perfect" results (over-risen, under-done, etc).

Bread pudding to the rescue!
Our family's favorite is from The Silver Palate by Julee Russo and Sheila Lukins, and it's shining glory is the rich Butter-Whiskey Sauce drizzled over it!

Bread Pudding
1 loaf bread (calls for French, but use any that's compatible), cut into pieces
1 qt milk
3 eggs
1.5 c granulated sugar (I use alot less, maybe 1/2!) -- there's plenty of sugar in the sauce!
2 t vanilla extract
1 c raisins

Soak the bread in milk for 1 hr. Mix eggs and sugar, add to bread mixture w/ remaining ingredients, and pour into pan (use spray or butter). Bake at 350 F for 1hr until browned and set. Serve with:
Butter-Whiskey Sauce
1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
1 c confectioner's sugar
optional: 1 egg
4 T Whiskey (to taste)

Melt butter and sugar in top of double boiler, stirring until hot and well mixed. If desired, whisk in beaten egg. Let cool slightly, then stir in the whiskey.

From Mark Bittman's Food Matters, here is another (tamer) recipe:
Breakfast Bread Pudding
2 eggs
1 c milk
1/4 c honey
1 t cinnamon
pinch salt
4 apples, (peeling optional), cut into chunks or slices
1/2 c raisins
1/2 c chopped walnuts
8 slices of multi-grain bread, cubed (approx 3 cups)

Mix it all up, and let sit at least 15 min to let liquids soak into bread. (OK to make ahead: cover and store in frig overnight). Bake 45 min at 350F until golden.

Savory Bread Pudding

2 eggs
1 c milk
8 slices of multi-grain bread, cubed (approx 3 cups)
4-5 c lightly cooked vegetables (asparagus, mushrooms, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, etc)
Optional: herbs & grated hard cheese, such as Parmesan or Pecorino Romano
salt & pepper to taste

Bake 30-40 min.
Menu choice: Comfort food for a winter meal: goes well with a soup, salad & maybe a baked squash or other roasted root veggies.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Help for the Cabbage-inundated

HELP!!! There are 2 heads of cabbage in my frig, and a third one will invariably arrive in our CSA box this Wednesday. When my daughter, Eldest, signed up for the CSA she confessed to me "Mom, I'm scared of all the cabbage -- what am I going to do with it?!"
Take heart, my child.
This is a clearly a case of "Too much cabbage and not enough inspiration".

As far as vegetables go, cabbage is actually fairly bland, so it takes well to different flavors and cuisines. Before I start with the more unusual stuff, here are a few standards:

Coleslaw -doesn't have to be boring! try some unusual ingredients; for example, blue cheese and cranberries can transform a boring coleslaw to something interesting!
Bubble & Squeak - one of my family's favorites: mix leftover mashed potatoes with cabbage and fry them up like pancakes.
Stir-fry -I like to use ginger and orange in the sauce.
stuffed cabbage rolls -with mixture of rice and ground beef
Cabbage Soup - esp. the traditional Russian "Schi"

We've invented a new dinner entree at our house, and in our eccentric family-manner, we've given it a catchy name! Why? No particular reason, other than that it rhymes, and perhaps the fact that son is currently studying WWII in History!
Inspiration for this invention goes to Glacier Grist #52. Pasta with cabbage and toasted walnuts, was my starting point: This recipe can truly be touted as "healthy, healthy, healthy" because it has loads more vegetables than pasta.

Mussolini Linguini
small amount of pasta (maybe half of what you'd normally serve your family) -- I use about 1/2 pound of whole wheat spaghetti, linguini or fettucini
1 small head of cabbage (or 1/2 large head), shredded
optional: carrots, julienned
olive oil
onion, sliced
garlic, minced
Salt, pepper, optional: herbs such as basil, oregano
freshly grated parmesan and/or Pecorino Romano
optional for meat-lovers: ham or fried sausage
vegetarians may want to add freshly roasted pine nuts, for added protein.

Boil the pasta. Meanwhile, saute the onion in olive oil. Add garlic & cook briefly (we do like it garlicky!). Add cabbage and cook until starting to get translucent (add water if you need to, but only in small amounts). Mix pasta into the cabbage, add flavors, cheese, and optional nuts or meat (In which case our family calls this dish "Benito Mussolini"...)
I served this with a medley of roasted root vegetables: beets, celery roots, carrots.
I must say, it was surprisingly good, and even the teens ate it!

Here's an intreaguing recipe from Kuchenlatein, a German site I recently discovered:
Cabbage with Orange and Whiskey sauce.

Ulrike sautees the cabbage with butter, maple syrup, whiskey and grated orange peel. For quantities, go to the above blogpost (in German), which is easy to figure out if you know that Essl means tablespoon, and Teel means teaspoon (figuring that my only curious reader is a certain daughter afraid of cabbage, who does know more German than she thinks!).
here it is in english:
Brussels sprouts or cabbage, thinly sliced, braised in
1 T butter
1 T maple syrup
1 T whiskey
1 t grated orange
salt & pepper to taste

Next, a french recipe for
Gratin au Chou, or Cabbage Gratin w/ Bechamel Sauce
go here for recipe
This is baked like a casserole, and again, meat-lovers may add a wee bit of ham or sausage.

As you can tell from the frequent mention of meat, my "boys" do better with their cabbage if I disguise it with a little meat...

Sausage, Beer and cabbage
I've prepared this recipe often using sauerkraut (and then I cook it with apples!), but it can also be made with fresh cabbage.

2 T butter
1+ large onion, sliced into long section
1 T brown sugar
1 head cabbage, shredded, or cut into thick wedges
1 bottle beer
1 lb smoked kielbasa, cut into pieces
small red red potatoes, quartered
salt & pepper to taste
optional: caraway seed

Sautee onions in butter, add sugar and cabbage wedges to brown. Add sausage, potatoes and beer. Cover and simmer until potatoes are done. If too much liquid remains, drain or reduce by turning up heat (remove veggies first if fully cooked). Serve w/ mustard and hearty bread.

This recipe lends itself well to crockpot cooking, as long as it's not a super long day....

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Introducting Gudrun: a Sourdough Rye Bread

I'm in search of a rye bread recipe that uses sourdough, and is somewhat "Foolproof" for somebody like me who does not weigh ingredients -- in fact, I don't own a scale at all. I'm rather the "pinch of this and that" cook, but realize that in baking, the chemistry of the ingredients matters, which is why professional bakers use percentages in their recipes -duh!

Further, I am torn between wanting to bake bread in the German style (which tend to be rather solid), and bread that appeals to my American family -- i.e. "fluffier", or at least not so dense!

Here are some rye breads I found on blogs:
Caraway-Molasses Rye by Ananda on The Fresh Loaf.
Here is a Jewish Pumpernickel from dmsnyder on the Fresh Loaf, adapted from Secrets of a Jewish Baker, by George Greenstein, which is described as " moist and chewy. It is not the dry, dense German-style pumpernickel. "

Gudrun's Bread
1 T active yeast, dissolved in 1 c warm water
1 T molasses
1 c rye starter
optional: altus (old rye bread, soaked and "wrung out")
1 c dark rye flour
3 c+ white flour -I used King Arthur all-purpose, which has good gluten content
optional: 1-T additional gluten
1 t salt
Optional flavors: caraway seed, minced onion, flax seeds (soaked overnight), sunflower seeds, raisins; and if desired to achieve darker color, instant coffee or cocoa.

To get a rye stater, I took my white flour sourdough
starter (Pedro), and fed it twice with rye instead of white flour. I named my new starter Gudrun. Why Gudrun? Here's a brief summary of Norse mythology from Wikipedia:

Gudrun fell in love with Sigurd, who did not care for her, because he was in love with the valkyrie Brynhild (Brünnhilde), to whom he gave the ring Andravinaut. Gudrun's brother Gunnar, however, wished to marry Brynhild, but this was impossible because Brynhild, knowing that only Sigurd could do so, had sworn to marry only the man who could defeat her in a fair fight...

Gudrun's mother Grimhild, who is called Ute in the Nibelungenlied, gave her a potion to make Sigurd forget his love for Brynhild. Gunnar allowed Sigurd to marry Gudrun under the condition, that Sigurd would win Brynhild for him. Sigurd succeeded in doing so; taking the shape of Gunnar, he took the ring Andravinaut from Brynhild and gave it to Gudrun as his morning gift. Both queens, Gudrun and Brynhild, were married on the same day.

Photo credit:

Now on to the baking of the bread, which is nearly as
exciting as a battle in the Nibelungen saga -- will Gudrun succeed?

I did make a sponge first, let it sit about 1/2 hr, then added rest of ingredients. When dough started getting hard to stir, I turned it onto a floured surface and finish kneading (dough is definitely "stiffer" than my other breads). NOTE: this stiffer rye dough is supposedly a good candidate for mixing by machine.
Then I let it rise, kneaded, and retarded by setting dough in frig overnight.
Next day, I kneaded and let it rise again, using a springform pan for a "backform" or baking form (Alternatively, divide dough and use 2 loafpans). Took it out at 6am, baked at noon.

Right before I'm ready to bake this bread on my pizzastone (oven preheated, 375 or 400F) with steam pan ready, I poked several deep holes into the dough with a skewer, to allow air to escape (this is traditional for rye breads). Bake 30-45 min, until bottom tapped sounds hollow.

Bread was a bit on the dense side! Next time, I plan to try this without the retarding step -- I think it did slow the process down too much, and probably should have allowed more than the 6 hrs for the rising of the cold dough.

I'll post pictures soon...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Gardening on my mind

The raised garden beds are under 16" of snow. But gardening is on my mind as the days get longer. It won't be long now... until I start itching to start vegetables indoors, from seed -- and invariably many of them fail!
I don't have the best success starting plants indoors (no grow lights or heating mats), but I try a few every year, nonetheless. Sometime between Mother's Day and Memorial Day, I end up at the big commercial Greenhouse down the road and buy bedding plants, by then having realized that the sad little plants on my window sill will not amount to much in our short growing season...
Another thing I need to remember is not to start planting outdoors too early: many plants should not go out until June, which seems sooooo late. Instead, REMINDER: check the soil temperature!!! I'll probably be experimenting this coming spring with covering my raised beds w/ plastic overnight to help prevent the soil from radiatively cooling overnight.
Last year I planted my red potatoes somewhere around May 20th, and they just sat there doing absolutely nothing. I replanted in early June with fingerling seed potatoes, and then sometime later in June they both started putting down roots and leafing out. By then, the weeds were established very nicely, thank you!

Before snowfall, many moons ago, I found myself debating covering the beds up with plastic to keep them somewhat more weed-free (ha!), and decided on a couple of different treatments: I covered the potato bed with plastic, and tried another with newspapers weighed down by rocks, while the remainder was left uncovered --those will melt out first and I want to try making them into coldframes by covering them with clear plastic in the spring. It sure would be nice to have a greenhouse someday!

Been doing a bit of reading about what to seed directly into the garden. Here in Alaska, the traditional ones include kale, carrots, lettuces, peas, snap peas, beets, spinach, beans and potatoes.

Last summer I successfully grew leeks from starter plants I found at P&M greenhouse -- I do want to grow leeks again (as I've admitted on this blog before: I adore leeks!), perhaps even from seed? Here's a article by Jeff Lowenfels for how to start leeks. He writes that some of his readers
"are complaining that I encouraged them to plant leeks early and now the plants are not only spindly and flopping over but the tips are browning. If you grow leeks from seed, both of these are common occurrences. The solution to correct both symptoms, as well as preventing both, is to cut off an inch or two of the tips with sharp scissors. This will not affect the bulb part of the plant nor the bottom stem of the leek, and these are what you eat when you harvest leeks. "
Too bad that the gardening column is no longer found in our ever-shrinking daily newspaper -- instead we have to go to the web for that local knowledge -- see the sidebar on my blog for Gardening in Alaska (TALK DIRT TO ME), which is on the Anchorage Daily News website.

Menu for mid-Feb

CSA boxes are full of good winter crops.
Last Wed: Alaskan onions, potatoes, carrots. From Outside: certified organic Fancy Fuji apples | certified organic large navel oranges | certified organic kumquats | certified organic romaine lettuce | certified organic Rainbow chard | certified organic sunchokes | certified organic broccoli, butternut squash.
This Wed: Alaskan beets, red or yellow onions , celery root, cabbage. From Outside: certified organic Asian pears | certified organic pummelo | certified organic Murcott mandarins | certified organic butter lettuce | certified organic green kale | certified organic living pea shoots | certified organic garlic.

When the boxes first arrive, we use the greens first -- so last week that meant a stir-fry and cajun greens (I actually bought extra greens at the grocery store)! And the fruit gets attacked as part of snacks and lunches, esp. by my youngest, the fruit-bat.

Sat: Cajun Flanks and Greens
Sun: Gumbo w/ jumbo prawns, roasted potatoes & Brussels sprouts, green salad
Mon: Grilled fish, roasted sunchokes and yams, rice, salad
Tues: squash soup, Bubble and Squeak, salad
Wed: Thai Soup w/ salmon, Thai noodles w/ pea shoots, carrots, etc
Thurs: Musselini Linguine (*), Roasted medley of root veggies: celery root, beets, carrots
Fri: eat out: pizza?

I also had to look up pummelo: it's a large citrus, ancestor of the grapefruit, and also called a pamplemousse, pomelo, Bali lemon, Limau besar, and shaddock. My little fruitbat should be happy!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sprouting barley...

No, I'm not getting into beer or whiskey-making, but I did start sprouting some barley a few days ago, and plan to make sourdough bread with it.
I did try this once a while back, but I did not grind the sprouted barley, resulting in a loaf of bread with some rather hard chewy nuggets that could potentially have dislodged a small child's loose tooth!
Soooo -- this time I'm planning to grind up the sprouted grains BEFORE adding them to the dough!

Two days ago I started soaking 1 c of barley, expecting it to take several days until it's ready
Today there are definite white tails on the barley, and since I'm itching to try this recipe, I'm going ahead (but it probably could have gone on sprouting into a third day).

I found a recipe for a modified "Essene" or sprouted spelt grain bread, and here's what it recommends for sprouting:

Sprouting the Grain
Soak the spelt grain for 12 hours in two litres of water. Drain off the water, rinse, pour off the water, then lay the jar on its side so that the water can drain out. Rinse 2 - 3 times per day for 1 - 3 days. The weather will determine how long you sprout and how often you need to rinse. You need to make sure that the sprouts do not dry out and that they do not grow bacteria or mould. The sprouts are ready when the rootlets are about 1-2 mm long. If you sprout the grain for too long then they may become woody.

PS: I've read elsewhere that you want to keep them in the dark once sprouting -- does anybody know if that's true for all species, or only wheat?!?!

Meanwhile, the search is on for a recipe.

Besides the Essene bread from above (which calls for 2 c grain sprouted, 2 c flour, 1/2 c sourdough, 2 T coconut oil, salt and water), I also found this very promising recipe on a blog called Cook.Eat.Think. for making sprouted grain bread in a breadmachine-- judging from the picture and recipe, this looks pretty perfect! And it turns out, this is Denise, who's Mom in Madison blog I've been following after I discovered her thru Mountainpulse! I sure am excited to read more of Denise's cooking blog...

I do want to add sourdough to the recipe, however, so I'm making modifications. Also, since I've lately done a lot better with bread-baking by hand (without using my Kitchenaide), I plan to make a sponge, knead by hand, and make it an old-fashioned 2-day event.

So here's my game plan for

Sourdough sprouted grain bread

1 c grains to sprout (this time it's barley, but could use a mix of many other grains*)

1 tsp active yeast dissolved in 1 c warm milk

1 c sourdough starter, freshly fed

approx 3 c whole wheat flour (I use King Arthur, but occasionally I get freshly ground Montana wheat from the Natural Pantry -yummy!) Optional, add 1-2 T of gluten -- to help it rise.

1-2 Tbsp sweetener (sugar, honey, molasses, or malt syrup)
2+ Tbsp oil or butter (I wonder why so many sprouted grain recipes call for coconut oil???)
1-2 tsp salt


Place the freshly fed sourdough into a big bowl and let it rise in a warm place for several hours, until it's good and bubbly.

Dissolve yeast in warm milk, feed with about 1/2 c flour and let it sit and form a sponge before adding to the sourdough.

Drain as much water from sprouted grains as possible, then chop them up in a food processor (if need a liquid, add some of the sourdough). Add this and the remaining ingredients to the sponge, stirring with spoon until no longer feasible, then transfer to counter and knead. It will be sticky -- keep adding flour until it stays together and "behaves".

Give it 2 risings, with an optional "retard" (place in frig overnight, covered w/ plastic film). Next day, take the dough out and let it come to room temperature.

Punch and knead, form into loaves, and let rise until double.
Bake at 375 for 45 min or so.

Notes from today:
I used 1 T molasses, melted 2 T butter, and did not use any additional gluten (and it did not seem to need it, either). I did not start with very warm milk, so the yeast did not get a roaring start, which I think is probably a good thing -- don't want to over-rise this bread! The food-processor still left some good-sized pieces of sprouted barley-- let's see if it bothers the the bread-eating masses (I may need to grind it better next time, using a spatula to get everything and processing it again and again!)

I did not do the "retard". I started making the sponge at 2pm, let it rise twice, then formed loaves around 5:30pm. Baked it at 6:30 (with steam in first 10 minutes), and was done around 7:15pm.
We ate some for dessert, not being able to wait until breakfast -- it looked so good (at first I did not want to cut into it -- you're supposed to wait -- but they charmed me with compliments like "Mom, you make the best bread in Eagle River valley, Please, can we have some?", so I gave in!)
It tasted really good, but alas, the grains were not ground up enough -- and every other bite we found ourselves chewing down on one of those kernels! GOTTA GRIND IT BETTER!!!
Now my husband tells me he still has his grain grinder from his beer-making days -- what wonderful news! I wonder how long he was going to hold out before telling the best bread-baker in Eagle River Valley!!!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Sourdough Potato Bread

Potatoes are a great addition to bread-baking, and I happen to have some left-over mashed potatoes in my frig.

I want to make up my own recipe, preferably with a sourdough component.
So, let's see where the thought-process and experimentation leads!

I could start with the absolute basic bread recipe: 3 cups flour, 1 + a little cups of water, 2 teaspoons yeast, 2 teaspoons salt. Replacing between 10 and 30 percent of the flour with mashed potatoes should make a nice, moist loaf of potato bread.
One has to be careful, though: potatoes are considerably lower in gluten than wheat, so adding too much potato may result in a dense, moist loaf that resembles mashed potatoes more than actual bread! I've read that 1/2 cup potatoes to around 3 cups flour is about right.

What else could I add? Some fat is nice, and it makes the bread last longer too. Butter, oil or even sour cream is good. For flavor and an extra kick, I think I may add some roasted garlic and/or bacon bits too! And if my chives weren't under 2 ft of snow, I'd snip some and add them as well.

Last, I want to add my sourdough starter, Pedro. Probably should reduce the yeast , and allow for a slower rising process.

So here it is:
Potato Sourdough Bread
1 c sourdough starter, fed w/in last 12 hours
1 t active yeast, dissolved in
1/4 c warm water
optional: 1 t sugar
3 c flour, approx.
2 t salt
1/2 c mashed potatoes (skin, salt pepper, butter, etc are all fine)
1 T butter, oil or bacon fat
optional Flavors: bacon, chopped into bits
roasted garlic, mashed
chives or other fresh herbs, chopped

place sourdough starter in large bowl, add about 1/2 c flour and stir.
Meanwhile, dissolve yeast in warm water, add sugar, and when foaming, add to sourdough mix and stir. If mashed potatoes are cold, warm them up before adding to bowl. Stir in salt, optional flavors, fat and flour, 1/2 c at a time, until cannot stir anymore, then transfer to counter and knead dough until "feels right" -- this will be stickier than regular bread, so don't overdo it!
Note: I made a double batch and had a little less than 1 c flour left over.

Let dough rest and double (takes approx 1-2 hours).
Punch down and knead again (but gently) -- best to pull and fold rather than hard kneading.
Let rise again until double (at this point, could place in frig to "retard" and continue next day).

Punch, knead, and place in loafpan (or free-form) to rise.
Bake at 400F for approx 1/2 hr -- adding steam in first 10 minutes will make for crunchier crust!

Note from testing-round 1: this bread got rave reviews -- it rose quite well and fast (I did not retard dough in frig), and can probably be made with less or no yeast, and/or more potatoes...

photo credit:

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Dreaming of Bretzels and Bagels...

Now that I've got sourdough-baking more or less down to a reliable loaf of bread, I'm ready to embark on that combination of boiling and baking that produces pretzel (Bretzel in German) and bagels.

Here are some great recipes I'm looking forward to trying sometime soon (and yes, they do use sourdough starter!):

1) recipe for an authentic German Bretzel on the blog Confections of a Master Baker,
2) Jewish Pumpernickel Bagel from the blog A Fresh Loaf.

Last, but not least, I just learned that the German "Dinkelbrot" translates to Spelt bread!
Here's an American recipe for German Dinkelbrot from A Fresh Loaf.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

SLOW sourdough bread-baking

We're eating our first loaf of retarded bread (a.k.a. Two-day-bread) -- it did turn out good!
Definitely more sour than without the retarding. Retarding is the way to go if you like your bread authentically sour!

Here's what I did:
Day 1: started sourdough bread (recipe here) and gave it its first rising.
Given that this recipe had no added yeast, and that the house was not nearly as warm as on Sunday morning with a nice fire going in the woodstove, this first rising took a couple of hours.
I punched it down, kneaded a bit more, wrapped it in plastic, and placed dough in the frig to "retard" for the night.

Day 2:
Took dough out of the frig mid-morning. It took many hours to warm up and start rising again -- something like 4-5 hrs. Again, no woodstove blazing, just a relatively cool kitchen while we were all at work/school.
In the afternoon, I punched it down (still felt cool!), shaped it into 2 loaves, and set on the stove to rise. Again, this took longer than I anticipated, and I did not get this bread baked until after dinner. Still, it was yummy!

Lessons learned: this is SLOW bread, not much work, but got to think ahead!
Next time, I should take dough out of frig first thing in the morning (before the High Schooler's run to the bus stop!) if I want to serve bread with dinner! At least in ALASKA during February....

NOTE: This was a white bread loaf, so I suspect it might be even slower for a mixed grain loaf.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

More sourdough baking... with Pedro!

Pedro is the name I gave to my sourdough starter -- it seems to be the "rage" nowadays to give a name to that bubbling live thing on your counter (my daughter, Kitchensister, has named hers "Stinky Pete"). In my blog-reading, I've come across names like Herman, Virgil, Ed; and my first starter (see last blog) was named Jedediah.
Now I can say things like "I need to feed Pedro", or "I've got Pedro rising behind the woodstove, so no, I cannot run down to Blockbuster"...
After all, a sourdough starter is a alive, and thus a member of the household, and to survive, it needs care just like a baby or pet...
Why Pedro? Well, I thought it was a good name for an Alaskan Sourdough starter, since the "Sourdough miner" who first discovered gold in Fairbanks (which was our first Alaskan home, and where I first started seriously baking bread weekly) was an Italian immigrant named Felix Pedro --more about him and Fairbanks Gold Rush history here.

So here's the recipe for my own version of an everyday mixed grain bread:
Pedro's Peasant Bread
1 c sourdough starter (fed within the last 12 hrs)
1 c warm water
1-3 t yeast (I'm still experimenting -- may not need much yeast at all!)
1/2 c white flour
1-2 t sugar
1 T oil
1-2 t salt
1 T + flaxseed, ground
1 c whole wheat flour (I like King Arthur organic WW)
1 c rye flour (I use Bob's Red Mill Dark Rye)
approx 1 c+ unbleached white flour -- as needed

Set sourdough aside. Mix warm water, yeast, flour and sugar in a large bowl, and let it sit for a while (minimu 5-10 minutes) to form a bubbly "sponge". Then add the sourdough starter (my Pedro lives in a mason jar that has volumetric measurements on the side, so I just pour out what I need, and then give the remaining Pedro its daily feeding of equal amounts of water and flour).
Stir the remaining ingredients into the sponge, 1/2 c at a time, until stirring gets hard and the dough starts pulling together and off the sides of the bowl.
Transfer the dough onto your counter into a pile of flour, and start kneading.
Knead (adding flour as needed) until the dough feels right: smooth, not too sticky (although rye does make for a more sticky dough than wheat), and "smooth as a baby's bottom".
Note: I've read that you're supposed to knead first without salt, let it sit 20 min, then knead in the salt -- this influences the gluten chemistry. But I also have to admit that it works fine to throw the salt right in near the end of the flour additions -- I tend to forget the salt otherwise...

Place the dough ball in clean, oiled bowl, and let it rise in a warm place, covered, for approx 1 hour, until doubled in bulk. Punch down and knead.
Variation at this point: go for a second rise, or else "retard" the dough (covered w/ plastic, but with room to expand) by placing it in the frig.
I've done a bit of research on this topic on the web, plus talked to a friend who baked professionally. Professional bakers use a "retarder" for sourdough breads -- the dough is cooled down in the frig or special "retarder box" for somewhere between 6-18 hrs, slowing down the yeast into something close to hibernation while letting the bacteria do their magic, S-L-O-W-L-Y, which is said to improve the flavor, esp. if you like more sourness.
I personally am not looking for much extra sourness, but I can see advantages in timing, such as mixing and rising on the first day, then pulling the dough from the frig, finish rising and baking the next day... Retarding can be done either in the early stage (after 1st rising), or at the last stage with shaped loaves (but that takes up more space in the frig)...

Final rise (after shaping): I either use a greased loaf pan (easiest), or do a free-form loaf, or a use a form: Sprinkle cornmeal on a cookie sheet, and place bread inside a bottomless baking form (I use my smallest springform pan (without the bottom) -- the form's shape can be round or square. Let it rise again, covered. Optional: with a sharp knife, make some slashes into the top of loaf right before baking.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 (or 425) F with pizza stone on the top rack. On the bottom rack place an empty pan. 5-10 minutes before the bread hits the oven, carefully (wear gloves) pour some hot water into that bottom pan and close the oven -- that's to give the oven a good shot of steam, which helps form a nice crust. Some websites suggest filling this pan with lava rocks. Can also add extra steam by spritzing the oven w/ a spray bottle.

Using a your best transferring skills from pizza baking (better yet, use a baker's peel -- I'm lucky to have received a Superpeel from my daughter for Christmas), transfer the loaf (including the form, if using one) onto the pizza stone. Work quickly and carefully, because you don't want to loose all that steam!
After 10 minutes, remove the water pan, if there's still water left in it. Also turn heat down to 375 F. Basically you need to finish dry-baking the bread, rather than steaming it the whole baking time, in order to get that nice color and crust! This takes about 30 minutes, depending on the size of the loaf/loaves.

Result from today: Was in a hurry, wanting to bake bread before needing to go to work. Used a full T of yeast, sugar, and forgot the salt. Result was very fast rising (last one doubled in bulk in 1/2 hr, which was definitely too fast) , but bread still turned out quite good.
Next time: Try less yeast, also, try retarding overnight.

More hints for sourdough baking can be found at: