So, I have this sourdough starter that began its productive life almost three years ago, when I took what turned out to be, for me, an incredibly valuable artisan breads class. The starter lives, most of the time, in our basement fridge and occasionally emerges to get a little air and enjoy a snack, as all starters like do to from time to time. It's really pungent whenever I open up its container, really sour and sharp. I've made some of the best bread of my life with that stuff, and I hope it never gives up the ghost. Why I've never done a blog post highlighting the loaves of bread I've produced with it, I can't adequately explain. I'm talking about the kind of sourdough bread that has to proof for a long, long, long time, and which is then baked on a stone in a very hot oven enhanced with steam. This sort of bread has the most glorious, indescribable crust. I guess I just don't know how to explain how to reliably reproduce that kind of bread, probably because I'm not sure I even know myself. It's a bit unpredictable, temperamental. It has a mind of its own.
Anyway, suffice it to say that some sourdough starters can help you produce bread that is excruciatingly good. They assert themselves in finished loaves in a provocative way. They love attention. They positively bask in the glow.
But, then again, there are also some perfectly respectable sourdough starters out there that are kind of shy. In a finished loaf, their flavor tends to hang back. They're mild-mannered wallflowers, yet they're reliable and tasty, and--really--what would the world of bread be without them? That's the kind of starter that appears in today's recipe. It won't knock you off your feet with it's sourness. It'll just nudge you gently. I bought the beginnings of this shy starter just before Christmas from King Arthur Flour (KAF), and have used it three or four times thus far. Its pedigree is distinguished, to say the least. According to KAF, the ancestor of the starter I purchased came into existence well over two hundred years ago. Amazing, isn't it? I couldn't resist ordering it when I read that.
History has shown that a well-cared-for starter can thrive for ages. Literally. And, much as I will always love that very-sour starter in my basement fridge (whose ancestors hailed from a bona fide San Francisco sourdough), I really wanted to try one that was old as Methuselah, just to see what it was like. So when this shy guy arrived several weeks ago, I was excited. I brought it in the house the moment the package hit my porch. It was practically weightless, packed into a small plastic jar. I opened it, sniffed it, and quickly fed it according to the accompanying directions. (KAF actually urges you to name your sourdough, as if it's a baby they've given up for adoption.) I peered at it anxiously over the next couple of days, reassured by increasingly obvious signs of life. It woke up beautifully, bubbling right on cue. Now, it's pretty much a member of the family.
About this recipe . . .
Gently adapted from this very easy formula on the KAF website, I altered the recipe by doubling it; using a simple mixture of sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, poppy seeds, and flax meal in place of their "Harvest Grains Blend" (something I have never tried, but that can be found here); and by rewording the formula to reflect exactly how I assembled it. (You can use fed or unfed starter; I used fed.) I did most of the kneading by hand, and didn't have a dough that was nearly as sticky as the original recipe warns. This is a well-textured loaf that will stay fresh and soft longer than many leaner breads. I used olive oil in it, and that flavor clearly comes through; if you aren't crazy about olive oil, be sure and use a vegetable oil instead. The sourness from the KAF starter was indeed very mild. I think maybe as my new starter matures, it'll take on more character, especially when used in long-proofing bread. It should be interesting to see how it evolves over the next few years/decades/centuries. Stay tuned!
Full Disclosure: Hey, in case you're wondering, I'm just naturally a big fan of King Arthur Flour products and recipes. I was not compensated in any way to wax rhapsodic about their stuff, nor have I ever gotten anything free from them (like, ever). I confess that I just love KAF. Heck, I wish the company was headquartered in Michigan so I could camp on their doorstep, dough-whisk in hand, an unrepentant and flour-dusted bread-groupie.
1 and 1/2 cup liquid sourdough starter, fed or unfed (I used fed; this recipe uses the starter more as a flavoring than as a leavener [it also includes commercial yeast for leavening], so it's okay if you use unfed. This type of liquid starter is the consistency of thick, stretchy, sticky pancake batter; it is not a solid starter. Here's a link from King Arthur Flour that will show you how to make a starter from scratch, in case you have never tried it; note that making one from scratch takes at least several days. It's worth the trouble. Once you've got your own starter up and running, the sky's the limit!)
1 and 1/3 (up to 1 and 1/2 cups) lukewarm water
2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil (I used olive oil, which definitely adds a distinct flavor.)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 and 1/2 teaspoons salt (I used coarse kosher salt.)
3 cups (or slightly less) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup plain potato flakes or 1/2 cup potato flour (I used unflavored potato flakes, the dehydrated stuff you can buy to make mashed potatoes.)
1 cup white whole wheat flour or whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat.)
2/3 cup (total) combined mixture of sunflower seeds, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, and flax meal
4 teaspoons of instant yeast
In the large bowl of your mixer (or, if you prefer, do this by hand), combine all of the dry ingredients and gently mix them together using the paddle attachment on the lowest speed. Add in the sourdough starter, water, and oil. Mix for a couple of minutes until a nice sticky dough has started to form. At this point, if you want to stick with the mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on low speed for about four more minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic; if you want to knead the dough by hand, dust a clean work surface with a small handful of all-purpose flour, and knead the dough until it's smooth and elastic (this took me about seven minutes by hand).
Put the dough into a bowl that's been greased, oiled, or sprayed with vegetable spray (I did the latter). Cover the bowl with a piece of greased, oiled, etc. plastic wrap, and then cover that with a lightweight dish towel. Let the dough rise in a draft-free spot for up to about two hours, until it's doubled or almost doubled (mine was doubled at 90 minutes; that's it below, looking nice and puffy).
Lightly grease two standard-size loaf pans (I always use a pastry brush to coat bread pans with vegetable shortening). When the dough has risen sufficiently, dump it out onto a barely flour-dusted work surface (the less flour added at this point the better) and gently deflate the dough. With a bench knife or sharp chef's knife cut it into two equal pieces. Round each piece with your hands, pulling slightly downward on the tops to create surface tension. Let them rest, covered with the greased plastic wrap, for about 12 minutes.
Uncover the pieces and form them into loaves, being careful to tightly pinch closed all seams; place the pieces, seam-side down, into their pans.
Lightly cover the pans with the greased plastic wrap, and cover that with the dishtowel. Place the pans in a draft-free spot that is a little warmer than room temperature.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Let the loaves proof (have their final rise) until the dough rises at least 1" over the top of the pan. Carefully uncover the risen loaves. Mist them with water (use a squirt bottle; if you don't have one, wet your hands and very gently pat the tops of the loaves) right before you put them in the oven. Place them in the preheated oven on the middle rack, and quickly squirt your mister into the oven to create a quick burst of steam (be careful not to aim for the lightbulb).
Bake for about 20 minutes and then check to see if the bread is browning too quickly; if so, lightly tent the loaves with foil. They should be done in about 30-35 minutes (total time), when the crust is dark golden, and the internal temperature is at least 190 degrees inside. You can check by poking an instant-read thermometer into the bottom of each loaf. (I very often do this, just to be on the safe side. You'll know it's under-baked bread if the inside is kind of gummy/heavy even after it's cooled.) Take the finished loaves out of their pans and set them on a rack. Melt one or two tablespoons of unsalted butter and use a pastry brush to lightly coat the tops of the loaves while they're still warm. Let them cool almost completely before you slice them.
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Jane's Sweets & Baking Journalwas born of my ever increasing desire to learn more about the baking and pastry arts, and of my love for anything and everything related to baking. Just as food is meant to be shared, so is knowledge among bakers and among those who enjoy delicious foods prepared from scratch. So, please partake, and feel free to share your thoughts and comments. I'd love to hear from you.
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Visit the PBS site to reminisce about 2013's best food trends. They've assembled an entertaining look at what we foodies focused on--what we ate, cooked, read, watched, and blogged about--throughout the year. Click here!
Interesting article in the Los Angeles Timeson the resurgence in demand for the skills of professional pastry chefs. (It seems we still need them after all . . .but you and I have always known that, haven't we?)
The IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) announced winners of its 2013 IACP Food Writing Awards. Have a look at the list. (No surprise that the gorgeous Bouchon Bakery cookbook won for photography and styling; took about a dream of a book! It's gorgeous.)
Food journalist and cookbook reviewer T. Susan Chang, writing for Publisher's Weekly, shared her thoughts in the article "10 Things Every Cookbook Publisher Should Know." Chang clarifies, in a nutshell, what differentiates a great cookbook from an awful dud. I found myself nodding in agreement with every point she made.
An interesting variation on cherries jubilee . . .
. . . made with Grand Marnier, sweet black cherries, pomegranate juice, and homemade vanilla ice cream.
Dutch apple cake . . .
. . . it's divine!
What We Talk About . . .
. . . When We Talk About Banana Cake!
JANE'S FAVORITE BAKING BOOKS
About Professional Baking: The Essentials, by Gail Sokol. This is a textbook, but not one that's intimidating. It contains lots of useful info, including interesting personal profiles of professional chefs.
All-American Cookie Book, by Nancy Baggett. Another winner of the IACP award. Loads of good looking cookie recipes with lots of very appetizing photos. (Don't you love cookbooks with tons of pictures? I do.)
All-American Dessert Book, by Nancy Baggett. Wonderfully detailed, with very reliable recipes, Baggett does it again in this valuable cookbook. Definitely worth your time!
Art & Soul of Baking, by Cindy Mushet. This large Gourmet Cook Book Club Selection is a feast for the eyes. I love the page layout, the photos, and the author's reassuring tone. Recipes range from the quotidian ("classic sugar cookies") to the ridiculous ("Moroccan-spiced sweet-potato tiropetes") to the absolute sublime ("duo-tone chocolate pots de creme"). Worth acquiring.
Baking and Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft, by the Culinary Institute of America. This is a heavy duty textbook, not for the faint of heart. Intimidating, sure, but also kind of fascinating if you're an obsessive bake-a-holic like me.
Baking with Julia, written by Dorie Greenspan and based on the PBS series hosted by Julia Child. Yet another hefty and dazzling coffee-table-worthy cookbook. Wonderful to have around. (My copy was autographed by Julia herself!)
Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook, published in 1950 and available in a facsimile edition, holds a special place in my heart. This is the book my mom primarily used, or so it seemed, when I was a kid. The photos are such period pieces, and the little notations that accompany recipes are pricelessly cute and corny. I have an ancient copy that I still use. Every girl needs a copy of this in her house, for good karma if nothing else.
Bitter Sweet -- Recipes and Tales From a Life in Chocolate, by Alice Medrich. Much more than just a cookbook with a focus on fine dark chocolate, this is also a memoir of sorts from a legendary chocolate-dessert creator. Medrich is often credited with awakening American tastes to the finest aspects of superior chocolate. Very interesting read!
Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes,by Jeffrey Hamelman. An indispensable book for anyone who is seriously interested in learning to make fine yeast breads, Hamelman shares far more than just technical knowledge. Like fellow bread guru Peter Reinhart, his warmth of spirit and deep love for the tradition of bread baking shines through on every page.
Breakfast Book, by Marion Cunningham. Not to be confused with the character of the mom on Happy Days, the real Marion Cunningham has a long list of writing accomplishments, the most well known being that she completely revised The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. A contemporary of the late James Beard's, she is still held in high esteem.
Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Rose is really into the science of baking, which can be helpful in some respects and off-putting in others. Like gardeners who talk mostly about soil components without conveying their joy in the plants themselves. Maybe I'm too sensitive? Probably so, as many consider this to be an invaluable classic. Despite my reservations, I wouldn't part with my copy. One of several highly detailed books by Rose. Her latest book, Heavenly Cakes, is much more down to earth, loaded with photos, and truly beautiful.
Cake Book, by Tish Boyle. I've called it a treasure trove before and please allow me to say it again here. This book is jam packed with wonderful stuff that's well explained. I used the Sacher-torte recipe in the fall of '09 for a culinary school project and it didn't let me down. I can endorse this book without reservation. I love it.
Complete Book of Pastry Sweet & Savory, by Bernard Clayton, Jr. When this book appeared in 1981, famed food editor Craig Claiborne praised it in the NYT as "one of the most important cookbooks of this year, if not of this decade." No photos, but don't let that dissuade you.
Craft of Baking, by Karen DeMasco & Mindy Fox. In 2009, some great new cookbooks were published and this was one of them. Down to earth, straightforward without being condescending, this smart guide offers creative and simple twists on dozens of diverse and well-proven "cakes, cookies, and other sweets."
Dessert University, by Roland Mesnier. As the White House executive pastry chef for over two decades, Mesnier has a lot of wisdom to impart. He does so well in this book, which is designed specifically for home bakers. A good book!
Grand Central Baking Book, by Piper Davis and Ellen Jackson. Readers are welcomed into these pages with a tone of warmth and familiarity. The photos alone will have you scribbling a grocery list. Try the berry kuchen recipe--simple and scrumptious.
Hershey's Chocolate Treasury, published in 1984 by Hershey Foods and chock full of old reliables. The recipe for Black Magic cake is one I've used again and again--invaluable!
How to Bake, by Nick Malgieri. The writing style is matter of fact and fairly informal. That's one of my favorite things about Malgieri's books.
Magical Art of Cake Decorating, by Carole Collier. Sometimes at a used book sale you find an old gem like this. Published in '84, I found it very encouraging when I first began decorating cakes. The recipes are rock solid reliable.
Maida Heatter's Book of Great Chocolate Desserts, by Maida Heatter. Famed baker (apparently her "Palm Beach Brownies" are known far and wide), whose work has centered on wondrous chocolate desserts, Heatter received a James Beard award for this book, one of many she's published over several active decades.
Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook, by Martha Stewart. Beautiful photos, but I must admit I've come to have reservations about the reliability of some of the recipes. Is it just me? Though I love flipping through the book for ideas, I'm a bit on the fence with this one when it comes to actual usage.
Martha Stewart's Wedding Cakes by Martha Stewart. Talk about a stunning and inspiring book! Chances are you may never decide to actually make one of the cakes from this glorious volume, but it's enough just to page through the gorgeous pictures and interesting recipes. Expensive? For sure, but worth it.
Passion for Baking, A by Marcy Goldman. If you're curious about how professional bakers manage to make things come out nicely every time, you'll appreciate this book. Goldman, in her highly approachable style, divulges many of their simple--but enormously helpful--tricks and techniques, and shows readers how to implement them throughout the wondrous array of down-to-earth recipes that pack this great book. Loads of enticing photos, too! I love this book!
Perfect Cakes, by Nick Malgieri. Can't say enough about Malgieri's books. Absolutely worth using, versus just reading! The white and dark chocolate cheesecake is to die for; I've made it a few times, along with many other recipes from this book, and it is superb.
Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Everyday, by Peter Reinhart. This book is a revelation for anyone who approaches yeast recipes like a vampire approaches the dawn. Talk about down to earth, encouraging, and flexible! This guy knows how to talk to rookie breadmakers. Well worth reading, and using, this volume will find a comfy place in your cookbook collection--a worthwhile purchase, undoubtedly!
Professional Cake Decorating, by Toba Garrett. I get the impression that this book is perceived as the most thorough and comprehensive text available for serious students of cake decorating. This is the text that we used for my culinary school Beginning Cake Decorarting class (which means I finally own my own copy!).
Sarabeth's Bakery: From My Hands to Yours, by Sarabeth Levine. Almost too pretty to use, but use it anyway! This big book is so appealing, and the photos so remarkably enticing, you'll want to pick it up like a sandwich and bite right into it. Fine recipes for updated classics, well explained, from the famous Manhattan bakery. Worth buying. (You'll love it!)
Secrets of Baking, by Sherry Yard. A must have, bakers! This cookbook's forte is the way it's organized; master recipes are presented with full explanations of how they can be used, and related recipes follow, section by section. An exceptional manual to refer to. Get your own copy!
Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes, by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne. Huntsman is the professional pastry chef behind this beautiful book, filled with many tempting recipes, all designed specifically and scaled perfectly for three layers. I've made the Devil's food cake thus far, and it was exceptional--it rose well, was very moist, and had great depth of flavor. I'll be using this book more in the future, without a doubt. Love the photos also!
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. . . to never endorse a product of any kind on Jane's Sweets & Baking Journal that I do not believe in. I've never done so thus far, and I vow never to do so. If I tell you I think something is great, or that I think it is worth spending real money on, then I mean it, rest assured. I promise. And, if I ever talk about a product that I've been given to review or try out, I will disclose that in the post.
I'm a mom with two great sons (one in high school and one in college), and a really nice husband. I left a long editorial career in reference publishing a few years ago and I've had nary a regret. I recently finished (after four part-time years!) a Baking & Pastry Arts Certificate program in the Culinary Studies Institute at a local community college. It was a lot of fun, a lot of work, and I am so glad I did it. These days, I do freelance editorial work, something that I also really enjoy.
"Jane's Sweets" was the name of a very small baking enterprise that I started in late 2007. It bloomed a bit, for a little while, with encouragement from my husband, my aunt, and my first cake decorating teacher, Cindy. Because my Aunt Lydia was my most ardent female supporter in this baking endeavor (she was a lifelong independent business owner herself), this blog is dedicated to her memory. If heaven is real, then I know she's there with my mom, baking up a storm. Like Lydia said one day, just before her 80th birthday, while she and my mom and I were baking in my mom's kitchen, "It's been a fun ride. I'd do it all over again!"
If my house were on fire, I'd grab my family, then I'd grab my KitchenAid mixer.
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