The Hoppy Okapi

A 2012 Pacific Crest Trail Adventure

Adventures in Sourdough V: More English Muffins February 21, 2009

Filed under: baking,bread,sourdough — Amanda @ 15:50
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English Muffin with Raspeberry Jam

English Muffin with Raspeberry Jam

Before Mom visited last month, she mentioned that she had never made yeast bread from scratch, and also that she thought the idea of a sourdough starter was kind of gross. ‘This cannot be!’ I said, and promised to force teach her to make bread when she visited in January. I had frozen a few of my sourdough English Muffins for her and dad to try, and they were a big hit, so we decided to make another batch to keep us in breakfasts for the rest of the weekend.

Mom kneads the dough

Mom kneads the dough

This time I changed things up by using a different recipe, from the King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary cookbook, and a different sourdough starter, the second that I activated from the set of Italian starters that Chuck gave me for my birthday. This sourdough starter is more slow-acting than the other, taking about three feedings and a day and a half out of the refrigerator before it becomes fully active. Since the other one is much faster, this one tends to make me nervous that it won’t properly activate, but it’s come through every time so far.

Still kneading - see Mom, this is fun!

Still kneading - see Mom, this is fun!

This recipe also used some baking powder for a little extra leavening power, and I was hoping that helped develop some better nooks and crannies than the first recipe.

Cutting out the muffins

Cutting out the muffins

Since this recipe used the baking powder, it didn’t require an additional rise time after cutting out the muffins, we got to cook them immediately. The instructions were to cook the muffins in a skillet on ten minutes per side, and I decided to use two skillets instead of just one to move the process along more quickly.

My double-burner skillet solution

My double-burner skillet solution

There were two things about these English Muffins that I didn’t like as much as the previous version: we floured the counter a little too much while rolling them out and didn’t let them sit to rise for very long afterward, so the cornmeal didn’t stick to the bottom very well, and I really liked the cornmeal crunch on the first version. The other thing I didn’t like was that the baking powder caused the muffins to dome a little bit during the first part of cooking, and so some of the muffins were a bit pointy-headed, where the previous batch had been more evenly shaped.

the finished muffins

the finished muffins

Other than those minor quibbles, these muffins also turned out really well. They were more sour than the previous batch, which is a characteristic of the slower sourdough starter, and the baking powder method did seem to improve the nooks-and-crannies factor. The other key to getting good nooks and crannies seems to be fork-splitting the muffins (poke a fork into the side of the muffin, then rotate slightly and poke again, continuing around the muffin until the top and bottom halves have separated).

toasted muffin, fork-split for good nooks and crannies

toasted muffin, fork-split for good nooks and crannies

 

Adventures in Sourdough IV: English Muffins January 24, 2009

Filed under: baking,bread,sourdough — Amanda @ 17:32
Tags: , , ,
Sourdough English Muffins

Sourdough English Muffins

Chuck and I are big fans of homemade “Egg McMuffins” and I recently bought some English Muffin Rings from King Arthur,  so these were high on the sourdough to-do list. It was the first time I’ve made homemade english muffins of any sort, and also the first time I’d refrigerated my starter for more than a week between uses, so I was ready for adventure when I tried these out.

I took the starter (it’s approx. 100% hydration) out the fridge in the evening and fed it, and was happy to see that it had become active overnight.

sourdoigh starter just after feeding

sourdough starter just after feeding

starter after overnight activation

starter after overnight activation

I’m really fond of the two quart measuring cup that I got recently – between the graduations on the cup and a piece of masking tape to mark the initial level of starter/dough, it’s really easy to see exactly how the dough has changed in volume.

I was using the recipe from Ed Wood’s Classic Sourdoughs as a guide, and with the help of his “Consistency Template” in an appendix I was able to convert the recipe, which called for 1/2 cup of sponge (stiffer) starter into a recipe for my liquid starter – it’s quite a handy feature of the book! For the initial rise, I took 3/4 c of my activated starter and mixed it with 7oz of flour and 6 oz of water, then let it sit for about five hours:

starter, flour, water

starter, flour, water

five hours later, ready for the final ingredients

five hours later, ready for the final ingredients

At this point, I added a cup of warm milk with 3Tbs melted butter, some salt, and four more cups of flour; then I kneaded the dough and cut it into circles using one of my English Muffin rings.

proto-muffins, at start of final rise

proto-muffins, at start of final rise

I put them onto cornmeal-covered parchment and let them rise for about an hour (they probably could have gone longer, but I was a bit time-crunched, and they ended up with some skillet-spring, so it all worked out in the end).

slightly puffy, one hour later

slightly puffy, one hour later

Cooking the muffins actually took quite a while – I don’t have the recommended electric skillet, and I didn’t want to bake them (feeling that a skillet would be more authentic), so I could only cook four or five at a time in our largest skillet. The instructions were to brown the bottoms for two minutes at 400 degrees, then turn the muffins over to cook the tops at 325 for 8 minutes, and then flip again to cook the bottoms for 6 minutes over the lower temperature. Without the tempurature control an electric skillet offers, I pretty much guessed at the temperature ranges and adjusted my gas burner flame frequently, so my muffins are rather unevenly browned.

first batch of muffins, bottoms lightly browned

first batch of muffins, bottoms lightly browned

muffin tops, lightly browned

muffin tops, lightly browned

After flipping the first batch of muffins for the final time, I was excited – they actually look like English Muffins! As soon as the last muffins finished (it took a little over an hour of muffin-flipping to get through them all), I sliced one of the cooler muffins and served it lightly toasted with butter and salt as an afternoon snack – yum! They don’t quite have the same nooks and crannies as the ones we get at the store (probably baking soda acheives that better than sourdough for these guys, but that’s another experiment altogether!), but they were fabulously tasty and the cornmeal crunch helps make them seem english muffin-y. The best part is, the recipe makes enough to enjoy for a few days AND freeze for later, so we still have some left to enjoy.

Another batch, better-browned than the first

another batch, better-browned than the first

Check out Yeastspotting at Wild Yeast for other fabulous baking ideas! This is my first submission, but I’m looking forward to adding more as my Adventures In Sourdough continue!

 

Adventures in Sourdough III: Pizza December 19, 2008

Sourdough pizza was actually Chuck’s ulterior motive in buying sourdough startes for my birthday, and I, armed with newly purchased Italian-style flour from King Arthur, was happy to oblige. I made pizza on the same weekend as the sourdough pitas, so my starter was active and ready to bake. The recipe in the booklet that came with my Italian starter called for an entire kilo of flour to make six thin-crust pizzas; since we were only going to have pizza for dinner for two nights I meant to make only 2/3 of a recipe, but I forgot to scale my measurements and ended up making the whole thing (and we got to have pizza for an extra night!).

The Italian 00 flour (which I ended up using nearly all of with just this one recipe) was ultra-silky to the touch. The King Arthur version is also low protein (8.5%), but I did some research afterward and learned that the numeric rating for Italian flours actually refers to the grind. “00″ is the finest grind, and it actually comes in diverse protein levels – I saw one online with 11.5%, similar to an all-purpose flour, and I have no idea what the protein level is of the brand that I found at a local Italian deli (hooray for living in Little Italy!).

Here, the giant blob of about-to-be-kneaded sits on my kneading mat. It was very soft, and although it got more elastic as I kneaded, I suspect that I should have kneaded it even more.

pizza dough, before kneading

pizza dough, before kneading

After one proofing once, the dough for the two pizzas we made on the first night was shaped and left out to proof again. (The dough for the other pizzas was put into the refrigerator imediately after kneading to keep it from over-proofing.)

after kneading and rising, the dough was formed into rounds (proto-pizzas!)

after kneading and rising, the dough was formed into rounds (proto-pizzas!)

After stretching the dough into shape and proofing again, we started topping the pizzas – since these were thin crust pizzas, a light hand with the toppings worked well. Here we used light layers of pepperoni and fresh mozzarella (dry thoroughly first if using water-packed cheese!), plus roasted garlic and drained canned tomatoes.

fresh mozzerella, pepperoni, roasted garlic

toppings: fresh mozzarella, pepperoni, roasted garlic, tomatoes

We then put on the final touches – parmesan cheese and herbs – and put the pizza in the oven – heated to 500 degrees F, with baking stone.

after sprinkling with parmesan - ready for the oven

after sprinkling with parmesan and herbs - ready for the oven

One of the key things we learned about this dough is that it’s very delicate after shaping and proofing. the first night, we didn’t think to shape the pizzas on parchment, and the second round ended up sticking too it’s rising surface too much to be transferred to the baking peel. It had to undergo an emergency re-shaping, and the texture of the baked pizza suffered as a result. The second evening (when we baked all four remaining pizzas), we let the pizzas rise on parchment, and then transferred the parchment to the stone along with the pizza. This worked well – with the caveat that it’s important to trim the parchment to just about the same size as the pizza; otherwise the corners of the parchment will start to singe and you’ll be on oven-fire-watch until the pizza has finished baking. (Or perhaps a Super Peel would solve my pizza transfer problems…hmmm, it would be sad if my current peel had an unfortunate accident…)

Here’s the pizza from the first night that turned out well – the crust was thin and wonderfully crispy, with a little chewiness at the edges.

Baked to crispy perfection!

Baked to crispy perfection!

We had a lot of fun making the pizzas, despite the frustrations with the fragile crusts. Chuck made a barbecue chicken pizza that turned out really well, and I made a delicious one with kalamata olives and sundried tomatoes. Chuck actually prefers a chewier crust for his pizzas, so next time we do sourdough pizza it will probably be from a different recipe, but I’m looking forward to getting another bag of 00 flour and giving this another try.

 

Adventures in Sourdough: the First Loaf November 30, 2008

The last time I made sourdough bread was probably eight years ago. I had two cultures – one from Bahrain and one from San Francisco – and the bread I made with them was OK but not spectacular, and at some point they got thrown out during one of many our post-college moves, having been long dormant in the fridge for many months. When we lived in Santee, I meant to try starting a culture from scratch, by was ultimately discouraged by the industrial zoning just a few blocks away. Fast forward to August 2008 and the creation of my 101 Things list: I added “make a sourdough starter from scratch” and “cook one recipe from every cookbook I own” to the list, and with two of those books featuring exclusively sourdough breads, it was clearly time to get started again.

Chuck helped jumpstart my sourdough renaissance with a new sourdough bread book and two Italian cultures from Sourdoughs International (which had been the source of my previous cultures as well). I’ve been on a bread-baking kick recently, so I was eager to get started, and I started to activate the culture last weekend:

culture activation - step one

culture activation - step one

I was using a brand new bag of King Arthur Flour and didn’t want to mix it in with the remaining “old” flour I had in my canister, so I weighed the flour throughout the procecss. In the photo above, you can see the foil packet that the dried started came in, and my sourdough crock containing the dried starter, 1 cup of water, and 3/4 cup of flour. After 24 hours, there were a few bubbles and a layer of water at the top before I gave it more flour and water:

starter after 1 day

starter after 1 day

After the first day, the starter was fed every 6-12 hours. At the next feeding, the bubbles were more active:

the starter, it has bubbles!

the starter, it has bubbles!

And then I split the starter into two jars so I had a backup. By the next morning, both we bubbly

sourdough starter, two jars

sourdough starter, two jars

more bubbles

more bubbles

At that point the starters were almost active, so I dumped out about half of the goo from each jar and gave them one more feeding (the activation process feels a little bit wasteful sometimes – I went through more than 3 pounds of flour in the activation & first loaf baking process!) .

one starter with its next meal

one starter with its next meal

I started the activation on Saturday afternoon and the cultures were active by Monday evening. I took one jar our of the fridge on Friday night, gave it another feeding, and awoke early Saturday morning to find it happily bubbling away, overflowing its jar. I was so excited that I forgot to take a picture of the overflowing crock, but here’s the culture I measured out to start my Pane Cafone recipe:

active sourdough culture, ready to make bread

active sourdough culture, ready to make bread

I added 1 cup water and about 400 grams of the 500g called for in the recipe:

starter, water, and flour - mixing is getting tough!

starter, water, and flour - mixing is getting tough!

Then I put the last 100g of flour on my kneading mat and worked it into the dough. After round one of kneading, the dough looked like this:

pane cafone dough, after kneading

pane cafone dough, after kneading

Now, there wasn’t actually supposed to be a second round of kneading, but at that point I thought: “hmmm, it’s a little weird that I didn’t put any salt in the bread…what does the recipe say?

the recipe...oh, look! salt.

the recipe...oh, look! salt.

Ooops! Two teaspoons salt…I guess I should add that.” And so I sprinkled two teaspoons of salt on the mat and kneaded the bread for another five minutes until the salt was pretty well incorporated. It looked mostly the same as after kneading round one, except with some spots of color because I used pink-speckled mineral salt.

The dough was supposed to rise for at least five hours in the initial proofing stage, and by the time we came home from lunch and shopping it had been about seven hours. As soon as we got home I punched it down:

punched-down after first proofing

punched-down after first proofing

And shaped it into a loaf on a flour and cornmeal covered peel.

start of second proofing

start of second proofing

I would have been far smarter to put it on parchment instead of flour, since it was quite sticky and I needed Chuck’s help to get the loaf into the oven. After another three hour rise, it went into the oven as a much larger (and slightly misshapen) loaf:

just after going in the oven

just after going in the oven

After about ten minutes, the oven spring was, as noted in the recipe booklet, amazing:

spring!

spring!

After an hour, I took it out of the oven, beautifully brown and gigantic, with a nice hard crust:

pane cafone, after baking

pane cafone, after baking

A few hours later, we sliced it open and enjoyed some delicious sourdough:

crisp crust, springy crumb

crisp crust, springy crumb

This is definitely some of the best bread I’ve ever made – the crust is wonderfully crisp, the interior is moist and springy, and it has a subtly sour flavor. Since the bread isn’t slashed before baking (an explicit instruction in the recipe), there is a separation of bread and crust from a large air pocket in the thicker part of my loaf, but otherwise I’m incredibly happy with the way this one turned out.

Next week’s sourdough adventures will feature sourdough pizza – apparently pizza dough was one of Chuck’s main motivators in buying me sourdough cultures from Italy!

 

 
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