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.

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:

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