Monday, January 20, 2020

Sourdough Bread Baking Tips

Not much beats the wonderful smell of fresh bread baking in the oven--and sourdough bread is particularly luxurious as it fills the kitchen. I love baking bread but since I don't often have much time to do it, I like to put my efforts towards sourdough with its rich and complex flavor. Sourdough bread is often easier to digest and a bit healthier than other types of bread because of its natural fermentation process, which boosts healthier gut bacteria. You don't have to use yeast as the active sourdough starter provides the leavening needed for the bread to rise, so the only ingredients are flour, water, and salt added to your starter.

On the flip side, sourdough can be tough to master, time-consuming, and difficult to produce a great loaf every time. When I first became serious about sourdough bread, I decided to enroll in an online
class/workshop hosted by Jenny McGruther of Nourished Kitchen. She emailed daily instructions for preparing your sourdough starter all the way through baking your first loaf. Counseled by her advice, I ordered my sourdough starter cultures online from a source like this one.

I recommend either following Jenny's instructions which can be found here or following the recipe that comes with your starter cultures. For me, it took a while for my starter to get to where it was doubling, nice and bubbly, with only a couple of feedings.

the starter before feeding

Once you have an established starter, you can store it in your refrigerator and take it out as needed to feed, and then eventually use for baking.  I truly believe for me, getting the starter to a point where it was a strong, active starter was the key to making a good loaf of bread.

Now--I'm not the type to continue with a complicated method like so many instructions you see out there for sourdough. And measuring in ounces with a scale--ha! Forget about it......I like to keep things as simplified as much as possible and in order for me to do that while also creating great sourdough bread, I've had to adapt my own way of making sourdough using a lot of trial and error pulling from a few different cookbook authors and recipes.

This is not the best or most precise method for always producing good results with sourdough bread (and definitely not the most detailed), but for me and my lifestyle it works so this is what I do:

1. Take starter out of the refrigerator a few days before you plan to make your Levain and bake bread. Feed it each day. Usually with my starter by the second day it is more than doubling in volume after feeding.

2. The night before you plan to bake your bread, make your Levain. For me, I had to alter my Levain recipe to 1 cup of water, 2 cups all-purpose flour, mixed with 4 generous tablespoons of sourdough starter. Mix all together and let sit overnight. (I usually cover with a towel or plastic wrap) Place your starter back in the fridge.

the finished Levain in the morning

3. The next morning, mix into your Levain 1 tablespoon sea salt, 2/3 cup flour, and 1/3-1/2 cup of water to form a soft dough. Let rest 20 minutes. Fold your dough over into its center 4-6 times, turning the bowl while doing it each time. Cover and let rise 1 hour. Repeat the folding of the dough, cover, and let rise 2-4 hours or until at least doubled in volume. It helps if you have your dough in a warm place (try setting it beside your stove while cooking or simmering bone broth).

the dough after rising, ready to be kneaded and worked into a ball before placing in proofing basket

4. Prepare a well-floured proofing basket. Turn dough out onto a well-floured surface and lightly knead until tension develops and you have a soft, taught, ball--but not for very long. I like to leave lots of air bubbles in mine and I err on the side of caution when kneading so that the dough is not overworked. You might try experimenting with not kneading hardly at all and see how it turns out--you may like it better that way!

5. Form a ball with dough, turning sides underneath and then place into the proofing basket. Cover and let rise another 1-3 hours. Preheat oven to 450 degrees and preheat a dutch oven (I use a small cast-iron one) that you plan to bake your bread in if you have one for 30-45 minutes.

6. Turn dough carefully out onto parchment paper (you can score the top if you want) and place the dough with paper into the preheated dutch oven. Place the lid on top. Bake at 450 for 15 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 350 degrees, remove the lid, and continue to bake for 1 hour more until the bread is golden brown.

7. Remove your bread from the dutch oven and let cool. Enjoy!

Don't worry, it's normal to run into problems and bread flops when starting out. My first loafs were too dense, or too hard, or too gummy. I also had issues with my dough not rising. But the more you work with getting your starter activated and healthy, the more forgiving the bread will be.

One of my favorite ways to enjoy sourdough bread is dipped into a hearty soup, but I also love it simply with butter and honey. I typically bake my sourdough on the weekends since you need to be home for much of the day when you bake it, so Saturdays or Sundays are a usually a great baking day for me, with the Levain prepped the night before.

Happy baking!

Monday, December 16, 2019

Simple Christmas Porch

I actually have a porch decorated for Christmas this year!

Our front porch is about all I can manage (the back screened-in porch will have to wait until another year). I simply added some fresh Christmas tree trimmings to a copper wood basin we had and hung a fresh evergreen wreath on our front door. Not much at all--but that's the kind of simplicity I like.

We got new black rocking chairs this past summer and are enjoying using them out front and for photo opportunities. Our old chalkboard where we often write messages hangs out on our front porch as well.

I have so much fun using fresh greenery to make our home look festive for the holidays. Wreaths are very easy to make from greenery like boxwoods, fresh rosemary, or evergreen trees from your yard. Adding a different colored ribbon each year helps to keep things interesting.

Other than the front porch, we don't do any other outdoor decorating such as lights, etc. Just simply no time!

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Just a Touch of Christmas

Happy Holidays, Y'all!

It seems like every year I put out less and less Christmas decor--but with having moved into our new house a little over two years ago and the fact that I have a 10 month old baby and two 6 year olds I guess I'm getting pretty lazy...

I'm starting to have a complicated relationship with Christmas--I dread it more and more every year for a myriad of reasons. Perhaps I will detail this in an upcoming post at some point. The stress, the traveling, family drama, the endless to-do lists, and the over-commercialized celebration it has become make it NOT the "most wonderful time of the year" for me. I hate that we feel obligated to get people specific gifts on their lists-whatever happened to just simply making homemade gifts or surprising them with something you think they might like?

The last couple of years I have LOVED the quiet weeks in January and February after the stress and rush of the Holidays, especially when it snows outside and I can hibernate with a mug of hot cocoa sitting by the fire. And last year being only a month or so away from giving birth I seriously wanted to skip Christmas altogether, so it was wonderful being able to stay home here in NC and relax.

Anyway, most of what I have put out in addition to our Christmas tree ornaments is basically fresh greenery cut from around our property and a few keepsake items. We will start in the kitchen, work our way to the dining room, and end in the living room....

fresh rosemary and Christmas aprons hanging on my Shaker peg shelf

touches of greenery from our property give a festive feel to the corner cabinet in the dining room

Our fireplace mantel is simply decorated with candles, a vintage tractor toy, and a glass urn with some nuts that has been there all year long. Above the fireplace is our "frame" TV, which in real life really does look like a picture or painting that then transitions to a regular TV. This was a Christmas gift to us from grandparents last year and turned out to be a great compromise between me and my husband (who has always wanted a TV above the not so much!)

I hope you enjoyed the tour! How do you like to decorate for the season, if at all?