My first sourdough bread and a blue yarn update

Last weekend, I had one major goal—to make my own sourdough bread from scratch. And I did it! I’m not going to lie, it takes a LONG time to make. It’s not something I would do every weekend. But the results were delicious.

Here are the details on my sourdough bread making experience.

Sourdough starter

The starter I used was Carl Griffith’s 1847 Oregon Trail Sourdough starter—you can get it for free from Carl’s website. It came dried in an envelope, and I revived it used the instructions on the website. The most essential part is the following:

Get a small container.  Begin with one tablespoon of lukewarm water, stir 
in 1/2 teaspoon of your starter and let stand for a few minutes to soften 
the start granules. Then mix in one tablespoon of flour. Depending on the 
flour, you may need to add an additional teaspoon or two of water. You want 
the mixture to be like a thin pancake batter.  When the mixture gets 
bubbly, put it in a little larger container.  Then stir in 1/4 cup of water 
and 1/4 cup of flour.  When that mix rises up add 1/2 cup of water and 1/2 
cup of flour.  When this bubbles up, you will have about one cup of very 
active starter that is ready for use or storage in your refrigerator.

I mixed it in glass jar with a plastic spoon. When I did, it looked like this:

Those spots are bubbles, and they’re a sign that the starter is active. I have to admit something here—using just water and flour didn’t give me bubbles. But I read in the Carl’s brochure that a little vinegar would kick the starter into high gear. After reading that, I realized it would probably be a good idea for me, since my tap water is both hard and alkaline, two aspects that starters don’t respond well to. A small amount of apple cider vinegar did the trick. I used anywhere from a few drops to 1/4 tsp depending on how much water I was adding, and I did this every time I added water to the recipe too.

The recipe

For my first attempt at sourdough, I chose a recipe from Carl’s website called  Simple Sourdough Pan Bread, Hand Mixed with a Low Knead Procedure. It’s the second on the list in the above link (PDF here). I chose it because it really did seem straightforward: four ingredients, two bread pans, and only a little kneading. I wouldn’t recommend making sourdough bread if you’ve never made bread before in your life, because many things are left to the baker’s judgement in this and other recipes. But you don’t need to be pro to do this either. I’d recommend baking some other bread first if you haven’t done so before.

Here’s the ingredient list for the recipe—don’t do what I did and almost run out of flour!

Ingredients

• 1 Cup Active Sourdough Culture

• 2 Cups Water
• 5 to 6 Cups Flour (divided)
• 1 Tablespoon Salt

The directions are rather lengthy at this point, but they are divided into sections, so instead of reprinting them all I am going to just write down the section and what time I started it, with photos.

It took longer than the recipe said because a) it is still cold here, and most of the rises require warmth and b) I have a life and could not always do each step at the exact time. Again, this is a long process—do it on a day where you have lots of random stuff to do around the house (for me, grading papers).

Baking bread, step by step

1. Make the sponge,  1:30am Sat

Before I went to sleep on Friday night, I made the sponge. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo of this stage. I remember that it was very bubbly the next morning, but when I mixed it it was the same thin pancake batter consistency of the starter. Recipe says do this 6-10 hours before the next step.

2. Make the dough, 1:15 pm Sat

I wasn’t exactly sure what they meant by a “medium” dough, but this dough was really sticky, and I read that this is a good sign for sourdough.

3. Knead the dough, 1:45pm

No photos of the action because I was doing this by myself, but I used the technique in this video that I wrote about in my previous post on bread. The difference I noticed with sourdough is that, due to the stickiness, flouring your hands will not keep the dough from sticking to your hands. You either need to wet your hands and keep re-wetting them as you knead, or lightly oil them. I tried both and I prefer oil a little more, but I tried both and either works.

After this it had to rise by 50%, when it looked about like this:

4. Stretch and fold, 4 pm

No modifications to this technique—oiled surface made things go smoothly. After this step though dough needs to rise until it has fully doubled. I had to put it into a bigger bowl. Here’s the before and after fully doubled:

5. Shape the dough,  8:25 pm

Here’s where you divide the dough, let it rest, then put it in loaf pans. My bread pans are two slightly different sizes, which is why they look a little weird.

6. Final rise, 9:30 p.m.

Once the dough rose enough to touch the plastic wrap, I made expansion cuts and put them in plastic grocery bags for the final rise. It sounded weird but it worked well—this photo is from near the end of the final rise:

7. Bake the bread, 1 am Sunday

Finally, the baking part! While the recipe said 40 minutes at 375 degrees F, mine took closer to an hour. I blame the small bread pan and the fact that my oven runs hot, but since I don’t know how hot, I have to cook everything at much lower temps than suggested.  But with some watchful baking, I managed to get it to a lovely golden color outside, with lots of awesome little air pockets inside!

8. Eating the bread for breakfast! Sunday…brunch (ok it was after noon)

The best part about the bread, of course, is the taste! This bread has some of that nice sour flavor without being overpowering, and its spongy without being squishy or underdone. Sourdough is probably my favorite bread for toast, so I made toast with our homemade marmalade from Christmas, eggs (one over easy one scrambled cause I broke the yoke…), and tea with milk. It seemed a rather British brunch indeed:

 

Blue yarn update!

While this post is already quite long enough, I wanted to live up to the title of this blog and post about some knitting.

First, I finally decided what to make with all my blue yarn! I’m making the Wave Cowl by Rebecca Hatcher. And just to prove it’s actually a work in progress, here’s a photo of it on the needles!

(btw, that little spot of green in the corner is the subject of an upcoming gardening post :c)

I am probably going to end up making the Cranberry version of the cowl, with its flare at the bottom. I had been wanting a pattern inspired by either the sea or the sky because that’s what the blues of the yarn remind me of. I also needed something that didn’t require more than 1 skein, and preferably one that could work with small amounts of different hues. The awesome knitters over at Reddit (the knitting subreddit to be specific) suggested an ombre pattern that arranged the yarns from light to to dark. I thought that was the perfect idea! However, as you can see from the photos in my earlier post, I had a large chunk of the yarn that was all the same hue. So two weeks ago, I divided that  up into 1/2 oz. parts and attempted to overdye it to varying degrees to get some more color variation. Here’s the result:

I was going to write a post on how the overdying process went, but I think I can sum it up in one sentence: Unless you are desperate, don’t do it. It was a huge pain. Mordanting the yarns again turned their original blue-gray into gray. Then they needed to be in the black bean dye that was quite strong, and they needed to be in there a long time. It smelled much worse than last time. And for all of that, some of them came out with uneven coloring or hardly differentiated. In some good lighting, you can tell the difference, but even then it is subtle:

Those are the same three, in slightly different lighting. Gah, Too much work for such small results. At least I did get some different shades of blue out of it. But the best part was the fact that this time, I rinsed the beans right after soaking them for their dye, then immediately put them in the slow cooker with some chicken broth, canned tomatoes, onions and a bunch of spices. That’s right—this time I made black bean soup! And once the sourdough bread was ready—lets just say it was a tasty combination:

That’s right, I added peas and a lot of sriracha sauce to my soup. Laugh if you want, but it tasted awesome!

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I love lemon: five lemon recipes that I have made

I recently transfered my photos over to a new computer. Unfortunately, I did a terrible job moving them to iPhoto and the order is all jumbled. Fortunately, this made me notice that I have a lot of lemon recipes to share! (You may have noticed this from my post on making a caramelized lemon tart for Thanksgiving). It helps that there is a lemon tree not far from my apartment that had a good crop this year. Lemons are still in season, so it’s a good time to make something other than lemonade.

I’ve got five kinds of recipes to share, (starting with the most recent): pizza, cupcakes, cookie(s), biscotti, and lasagna. The photos aren’t always the greatest, but I’ve tried to include links to the recipes and notes on my mistakes on modification.

Recipe #1 Brussels Sprouts-Lemon Pizza

This recipe is from the March 2012 issue of Martha Stewart Living, and it doesn’t seem to be up on their website yet (EDIT: I feel weird about posting it here because of this, but you can find a version of the recipe over at this blog). I really liked this pizza, but I made a few errors and I would also make some changes. First, my own mistakes: I used 1 lb of dough instead of 3/4 as suggested because I was in a hurry, not noticing that my pan was also a little smaller than the one in the recipe. The result: this photo looked great, but I had to cook it for another 15-20 minutes for the dough to cook! By that time the brussles sprouts were extra crispy.

My only change beyond that was substituting grated parmesan cheese for the grated romano, which worked fine. The change I would make next time: MOAR lemon! Seriously, 1/2 a lemon on this pizza wasn’t enough for my taste. But then again I love lemon. A lot.

Recipe #2 Lemon yogurt cupcakes with lemon buttercream frosting

This is the second time I have made these cupcakes, this time for my friend’s birthday party. It’s a recipe from food.com—and it’s a keeper. It’s got a nice lemony flavor without being too sour or too sweet. The frosting recipe is also on the website, though supposedly it came from the company Sprinkles. It is quite delicious, the perfect pairing.

I only made one mistake this time but it was a big one! I forgot to check that the oven rack was in the center of the oven, I had moved it down for another recipe but hadn’t put it back. I made some mini cupcakes as you can see above, but a number of them (all without blueberries) burned on the bottom and never made it to the party.

My own changes to the recipe: The obvious one is that I added blueberries to some of the cupcakes and topped those cupcakes with blueberries. I made a double batch, so one with 1/2 cup frozen blueberries and one without. I think the frozen factor helped keep the mini versions from burning. My other change is to the frosting recipe—I only made one quarter (1/4) of the original recipe. For a double batch of cupcakes! The frosting recipe said it makes 12 servings, same as the cupcake recipe, but I think that’s only true if you pipe an inch or two of frosting onto every cupcake a la Sprinkles. If you do not, you won’t need that much frosting!

Recipe #3 Vegan Lemon Cornmeal Poppyseed Biscotti with Lemon Glaze

Yes, something for the vegans! This is from the book “Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar,” and you can read the recipe here. I didn’t make any mistakes that I know of, but I did make changes.

First, I added dried sweetened cranberries. The cornmeal is nice but the flavor is strong and the texture is dry, so cranberries helped balance that out. Second, I added a lemon glaze after I took this photo. I don’t remember which recipe I used but this one would work fine. Basically, I wanted more lemon flavor! These were Christmas gifts for family members this year, so I wanted to make sure they were really tasty.

Recipe #4 Lemon Cornmeal Sheet Cookie

Lemon and cornmeal together seem to be a theme here, as seen in Martha Stewart’s recipe. The only change I made to this recipe was removing the anise seeds altogether—not my favorite flavor and they didn’t seem necessary. I would say that “serves 4” is a bit generous—my sheet cookie came out smaller than I expected. But we had it for dessert on New Years Eve and everyone seemed to enjoy it.

Recipe #5 Sausage, Chard, and Lemon Lasagna

Another poor quality cell phone photo, but a great meal! Once again this is a recipe from Martha Stewart Living. Perhaps a little more involved of a recipe, but worth it. We made this quite a while ago but I don’t recall any changes—only that we had to look around a bit to find no-boil lasagna noodles. Perfect flavors to compliment the lemon slices. It was so tasty I didn’t get a photo until after some was eaten!

I hope you find a recipe you’d like to make. I think my next few blog posts won’t be about food though—I’ve got some knitting projects to share, and I have a whole new topic to write about now that it is almost spring: gardening!