Sunday, September 5, 2010

While mother in law is away Berryblondeboys will play!

My mother in law will say, "food is food" or "I don't care about food". Well, right... she's probably the pickiest person I know, but won't admit it. Basically, she likes her food, the food she grew up with in her home, prepared by her grandmother, her mother, and then finally what she prepared for herself. She doesn't like eating at other people's houses and doesn't particularly like how the prepare food. She doesn't like to eat at restaurants because she doesn't know how to know what's good and she is confused by menus. She doesn't like ethnic cuisines and doesn't like spicy. She isn't fond of pizza or pasta, and so on.

But, my mother in law is gone for 5 weeks and the day she left, I read up on about different cuisines I've been wanting to try my hand at cooking: Thai, Indian and Middle Eastern. After spending a couple hours searching, I checked with our library and they have three of the five books I'm most interested in, and had a couple more to try. So, while my mother in law is gone, I will be trying my hand at those cuisines. I cannot wait! The first book is already in. The one on middle eastern cuisine. My mouth is already watering. Yum! Yum!

But first I have a picnic for Labor Day tomorrow and then I'll be running to the international store for the spices, foods I can't usually find in the run of the mill grocery store. Hmm... I'll have to take some pictures while there. So many food that are ordinary in parts of the world and I'm clueless on how to prepare them. Have you all ever seen a jackfruit? That thing is the size of large watermelon with brown prickly spines all over. I've read about it, but I imagined it the size of a cantelope or something, but it's enormous! Stuff like that.

So, time to play in the kitchen - and clean the garage and mudroom and so on. With all that 'crap' I have to do - fun time in the kitchen will be a treat!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Making Knedl - time to catch up little by little

Where does the time go?  It's been so busy here with my mother in law having a guest for a couple days, then my son's birthday, school starting for my kindergartener and freshman in high school, and my mother in law leaving for five weeks - huge whirlwind 10 days or so, BUT I did a lot of baking until a few days ago when we got into the upper 90s again - yuck!!!

So, I'll try to catch up - I'll post one baking adventure per day. This was the most recent. Now is plum season, and with that in our family, it means it's time to make knedl. Knedl has many names and many versions throughout much of Europe, but basically what they are is a plum dumpling.

Sven's family's tradition is to make a regular flour dough knedl, with very little bread crumbs, and served with powdered sugar. Sonja's grandmother was so proud of her recipe, for making it a new way and easier way, but sad to say, I found it bland and bordering on awful. It felt like eating soggy dough around a juicy plum. Now part of it could be my mother in law's execution (she didn't have much interest and practice in the kitchen when her mother and grandmother were cooking), but something wasn't quite right with the recipe.

About 10 years ago I found several traditional recipes which uses boiled potatoes. In many ways it's like wrapping a gnocchi dough around a plum. This was much better, so we started making them this way.

Then a few years ago while visiting Sven's cousin's we made knedl  with their family using Omi's recipe which uses farmer's cheese and WOW! Now it was great! AND it was more like a meal instead of a dessert and a meal is what we make of it now too.

The ingredients for the dough are simple: 16 ounces (I had 15 ounces) fresh farmer's cheese (the stuff that soft - similar in cosistency to ricotta cheese, or if you strained cottage cheese and broke down the clumps to make it smooth). 2/3s a stick of unsalted butter, 2 eggs, and 2-3 cups of all-purpose flour - that's it for the dough. You mix all those together, knead it a few minutes to work the gluten, adding enough flour to not make it sticky, but keeping it soft and supple. Then chill for 1-2 hours.

The plums it works with best are either Italian plums or prune plums or, when they aren't outrageously expensive, apricots. I've also seen recipes using cherries too. Basically, a small, firm, fleshy fruit. Wash them and then pat them dry. Having them dry is important as it helps with making the dough work around the plum the best.

About 15 minutes before you pull the dough from the fridge to start rolling, fill a LARGE wide pot to boil the knedl. If you do not have a very large pot, use several pots or do them in batches. Ideally, your knedl should fill the bottom of the pan, but not stack on top of each other.

Take the dough out of the fridge, separate the dough into 3-4 pieces and then roll out the dough one section at a time to about 1/3 of an inch - kind of like fondant or a thicker pie crust, just don't go too thin. For this recipe, I was able to get 31 plum dumplings.

After you roll the dough, I like to set a plum in place and guesstimate how much dough I need. And then cut off that section. Like this:



I don't use circular cutters or anything that will make too many scraps because the more this dough is worked, the tougher it gets and the more likely you will get ripped dumplings.

After you've cut out your piece, wrap it around the plum something like this. If you find you have way too much, pinch a bit off and set it aside to use later. If you find it's a bit too little, you will probably be fine. It's important to work the dough evenly around the plum so that there aren't thick spots and thin spots. The dough is supple, so just work it in your hands until all seams are sealed and it feels fairly even.  (This is why the reason the plum should be dry. Wet plums, don't grab the dough, which makes it very difficult to even out the dough).


And here it is all nicely pinched.


And here are several waiting to go into the pot:


I have a humongous put that could fit 27-28 of them without stacking, so I did throw a few in on top:


Once you have them all in a pot, take a slotted spoon and very, very gently scrape the bottom of the pot to unstick the knedl from the bottom. They may start to float immediately, but they are not done. Just trust the clock as I haven't found a visual cue to when they are done more reliably than the clock. Boil for 20-25 minutes.

In the meantime, take a stick of unsalted butter and melt it slowly in a pan (don't burn it). Then add unseasoned bread crumbs. I always eyeball it and always take too much, but I freeze and reuse for next time. I would say about 2-3 cups. Toss and toast them a bit, then set aside. 

After the 20-25 minutes are up, with tongs, take the knedl out one by one to drain. You can drain in a collander, on a cloth towel, or whatever, but one by one and fairly quickly. There will be some breaks and leaks of the dough around the plums while cooking and while moving them around, but this happens to everyone. Nothing is ruined, just continue on.

Here are mine drained... Looks very unappetizing, but wait!


Here they are being rolled in the buttered bread crumbs:


All done - see the broken ones? Tastes the same - just not as pretty:



Serve when warm/hot with a spoon of cinnamon sugar on the side, or sprinkled over the top when it's cut open.

To eat is simple, you cut it in quarters or smaller, take out the pit, dip it in the sugar and eat. My family typically eats 6-8 per person.

Looks like this:


If you have extras, store them in the fridge and reheat in the oven at 350 degrees for about 10-15 minutes the next day. This recipe that uses cheese reheats the best of all, but served fresh the day of is definitely the best.


Knedl Recipe:

30 Italian plums, prune plums or small apricots

For the dough:

16 ounces fresh farmer's cheese
2 whole eggs
2/3s of a cup of softened unsalted butter
2-3 cups of all-purpose flour

For the toppings:

1 stick unsalted butter
2-3 cups unseasoned bread crumbs
Bowl of cinnamon sugar (1 cup sugar, 2-3 tablespoons ground cinnamon mixed together)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Life has been busy for blogging and baking, but I'm back!!!

The weather is cooling down, school openings are in a few days and life is already getting chaotic!

I've done some baking and will be posting later today, but I'm not history! Just busy!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Maybe Challah today and talking baking versus store bought

Baking plans for today. The high today is only supposed to get to 73, so it's a perfect day to bake. My mother in law and my oldest son are having digestion issues. I think it must be some virus. Sonja thinks it's something they ate. Since they didn't eat almost anything in kind, symptoms have been for two days, and we ate what Adrian ate and Sven and I are fine, I think it's a bug... So... mild white bread is what I should make - maybe a challah? We'll see.

But, I'm also thinking about the price of baked goods like breads, biscotti and cookies in stores. Cookies especially are outrageously expensive. Maybe everything is so marked up, but we don't realize it because we don't make our own and we never figure costs for making things versus buying? But with breads, especially those we typically buy - plain whole wheat, or simple sourdough, they cost like 50 cents or less to make for ingredients, and about 25 cents for the oven to run and with equipment costs added in for me, about another $1. So, when everything is figured in, I spend about $1.75 a loaf to bake (that price will come down the more I do it as the cost of equipment will be spread out for more uses). Yet, in the store they cost $4 to $6 a loaf to buy.

The equipment cost is one thing bakers oftentimes overlook (that and electricity). Electricity is cheap, so that's not much to figure in, but there are some costs involved in pans, and if you're lazy like me, a nice mixer, but the more you bake, the cheaper it costs to bake your own. I've owned my mixer for 5 years (maybe a bit longer) and a very conservative estimate is that I've used it once a week during that time. (There have been months I haven't used it, and months I used it every other day). That means I've used it about 210 times - that's a $0.92 per use (so far). If I use it for one more year, that's $0.76 cents per use. And that's with using it just ONCE a week.

So, I need to remember to add about $1.25 for every loaf of bread I make for electricity and equipment (for now). Eventually, as I have a good machine and good quality pans, the cost per loaf will be down. In ten years if electricity costs remain the same, cost per loaf will be $0.75 if I still only bake on average once a week.

I ran into the 'not thinking about cost' a lot on a cake forum. People would price their cakes for $15 or $20. They totally didn't factor into their pricing the $300 they invested in a nice mixer, the $200 in baking tools (or more). They would only factor in the cost of ingredients - flour, sugar, vanilla, butter, etc and packing materials (foil, box, etc). I factored in the cost of my organic ingredients, equipment (for over 10 years per use charge), and realized my cakes cost me about $20 to make. MOST of that in ingredients/box alone. That means I would be working for free and making no money if I sold for $20. A cake, start to finish - including clean up (another time factor bakers tend to overlook) takes about 4 hours. So, when I sold a cake for $50, I was basically earning $7.50 an hour - minimum wage.

So, on to a conversation this morning I mentioned to Sven that I should try to make biscotti. The Mandelbread was so easy to make and so inexpensive. Sonja loves biscotti and she'll buy one box for $4-$5 at the grocery store for 8 individually wrapped pieces. He agreed, I should try to make it. Sonja however said, "yes, but you aren't counting the cost of running the oven or mixer." Ah... but I am. There's the other problem. People over estimate costs of running equipment and buying equipment. She though that running the oven for an hour cost about $2. Um, no, it costs about 30 cents. The mixer for ten minutes (and that's a long time for a mixer), a few pennies."  So, about 50 pieces of biscotti with almonds would cost about $5 to make (counting electricity and equipment). Store cost is 50 cents each. Homemade cost is 12 cents each (and probably tastes better). Yes, of course, you can order through or go to costcos to get a gazillion boxes. I saw one for $21 for 96 pieces. But that's still 21 cents each and that doesn't including shipping or taxes.

The biggest factors of baking versus buying is convenience and start up costs. For convenience, I think we have all gotten so used to just picking it up at the grocery store, that we don't even think of it as something we could make quite easily and enjoyably. I started looking at the breakdown of what I spent at the grocery store and I started to realize how much of it went to snack foods and bread (and dairy). I can't do much about the dairy (except venturing into making yogurt), but I can control costs and quality of breads and snack foods.

Equipment cost is another expense and it would be expensive if you got everything at once, but many of us already have the tools we need - we have bread pans and cookie sheets and rubber spatulas and measuring spoons. It's only when you get into the heavy duty mixers and fancy equipment that the costs can really take off, but they aren't necessary either.

Of course, I'm also saying this as a stay at home mom, and not as a working mom, but my hope is that I'll get into these habits now, it will be easy to continue once I start working. And with good equipment, I have incentive to use them too.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I got some toys for the kitchen yesterday!

I did a very, very quick run to the Leesburg outlets yesterday. I would have loved to have stuck around for more, but, Oh well. However, I am happy with the haul I got yesterday.

First, I was able to find, still in stock at the Crate and Barrel Outlet, the melamine dishes I had picked up over a year ago, right before we learned we were moving. Then we bought 4 place settings to use outside or for gatherings we need to bring our own dishes. Well, now my family has five people and the gathering where people bring dishes to serve a table, needs 6 place settings to sponsor a table. So, I bought another 4 place settings. They are made with recycled materials and can be dressed up or down and are seasonless. We aren't into pictures and designs on our dinnerware (we like to showcase the food on the plate, not the plate itself), so these bring back some retro memories while still remaining 'true' to the keep it simple design (meaning they will never truly go out of style). zak confetti dinnerware

Then, I went to the Pottery Barn Outlet. Since I was there last, they have made it mostly furniture. I didn't find anything interesting, but it was nice to look around. Then I went to the Williams Sonoma Outlet. Now that store rocks. You truly get bargains there. For instance, they are currently selling the all-clad electric griddle for $150. Everywhere I see online sells it for $300. all-clad griddle I didn't get this, but it's a good example. All Le Creuset and Staub are 30% off too. Ah, what a store to have fun in! But I was good!

What I did get though was great! I have been looking and looking for a mulling spice ball. I use them to put herbs for soups in them so that I don't have to go dig out garlic chunks, parsley or peppercorns and bayleaves from soups. Mine, after 5 years of weekly winter use, broke a year ago and I haven't been able to find a replacement. They had the exact same one I had before, but I found one I like even better: mulling spice ball Got that for $7 something.

But the jewel of the trip? I got a sparkling water maker! Right there in the store, they were selling for 30% off (starting price was already cheaper than what I could get elsewhere) the SodaStream Genesis sparkling Water Maker - with starter flavor set. Elsewhere I would pay  $100 plus shipping up to $140. I paid $75. Woot! Here's what I got: Sodastream Genesis starter kit  This means that within 2 months, 3 months tops, it will have paid for itself and is much more environmental friendly. I have really, really missed sparkling water. I gave it up due to plastic waste and being tired of hauling tons of water home every week.

I saw a lot more things I would love to have, but my budget spent and my time gone, I went home happy. Now I can make sparkling water at home and buy refillable carbonators when I need them.

I was trying to find a couple more baking pans, but they were out of the ones I wanted and only had smaller ones left. Next time! But their prices for baking pans was cheaper than Target, so I'll just hold on for another trip out there.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The temps came down and baking resumed!

We were able to turn off the air conditioning Saturday and Sunday - so nice! I really do hate having the house all closed up all the time. Lower outside temps, also meant I could bake.

I seriously needed to make regular bread and some snack breads for the boys. First, I made the banana blueberry bread again as it was an instant hit. Again, turned out great:

Then, I made a bread called a hearty white bread. it's made with white flour, but with added wheat germ, eggs and powdered milk. It turned out OK, but not a favorite recipe. Has a bit of a sweet taste, which is not what we were looking for, but the loaves turned out great. I got great oven spring (probably a bit too much as I probably underproofed a bit) and I was able to get a good slash on it - yay!


Then on Sunday, I made with my two strawberry blonde boys, mandelbread. It's a Jewish style biscotti. The recipe is from a friend. She had made it once and we got the leftovers. I just recently got the recipe (again - after misplacing it the first time). Henry measured all the ingredients and helped crack the eggs and Adrian mixed all the ingredients and helped me roll the dough into logs. I then baked, sliced, and rebaked.

Here is the progress - rolls just after cooking (and I had some SERIOUS doubts as it looked like the dough was melting in the oven, but eventually, as the dough got hot in the interior, it did puff back up instead of turning into a bar cookie). 


And then slicing. I first tried to slice it when it was immediately out of the oven, but that wasn't working as it was smushing and falling apart. I waited a minute or two and then sliced, which worked much better:


Then, we rebaked it to make it crisp and then sprinkled a bit of cinnamon sugar on top. This wasn't in the recipe we got, but noticed it was pretty standard from other recipes, and who doesn't like cinnamon sugar?


We were thrilled! We bought these from a kosher bakery a couple weeks ago and they were $4 for 8 pieces. This entire recipe probably cost $5 to make and it made about 60 pieces:


Best part was making it with the boys. It's so easy and keeps for a long time. I'm sure this will become a family favorite. Next time I'll have to try it with nuts (almonds).

Friday, August 13, 2010

Going to my favorite outlet tomorrow

Tomorrow I am escaping home. I have to run an errand in Virginia - an errand I have delayed as long as I can. I thought about going today, but with the rain and dealing with traffic, or trying to avoid traffic, I just don't want to deal with it. Plus, if I wait a day, I can be alone.

Anyone ever get that way? I don't want a timeline guiding me - just to go and be... eating when I want to eat, stopping when I want to stop and just enjoying window shopping and a casual day.

I hope to find a couple things - I have a cheap dinnerware set that is missing pieces, I can pick those up at the outlet still. I need a couple cookie sheets as we ditched some awful ones with moving, and maybe I'll find something fun for baking. I have a little list of 'wants' that aren't so expensive and would give me the 'pampered' feeling while still being useful. I'm not one to get a manicure or pedicure or massage. (I'm 40 years old and never had any of that). I always feel that's a waste of money (for me).], but if it's something that would make my life easier, but isn't a necessity, that always makes me happy.

My 'cheap stuff' wish list for baking/kitchen items are:

larger banneton
slashing tool for baking/lame
couche linen for baking
silicone lids for bowls
yogurt maker (not one with small cups, but a larger 1-2 quart capacity)

Of course, I have a much more expensive wish list too for the kitchen. I especially want a sparkling water maker.

I am loving the sparkling water maker. Have you seen it? SodaStream Sparkling Water Maker   I love sparkling water. You know, the kind that is just flavored carbonated water? No calories, but fizzy and refreshing? They only cost 69 cents a bottle at the grocery store for the cheap stuff. But two things keep me from buying. 1. they are heavy and inconvenient to bring home. 2. and most importantly, I hate buying plastic water bottles. Yes, I can recycle, but it's still a HUGE waste. I'm trying to figure out costs here a bit. If you buy the pure (plastic BPA free bottles versus glass bottles), and with kids - I'm still going plastic, cost for the unit and 3 carbonators is $190... makes 180 liters. If you take out the cost of the machine, it's $45 for the carbonation to make 180 liters. Which is 25 cents a bottle. It would take about 340 liters of water to pay for the machine. And, in our family, that would mean drinking about one liter of sparkling water a day for a  bit under a year, or 2 liters of sparkling water a day for about 5 months. That latter is much more likely and it's even more likely we would drink even more.  I want one SO BAD... but will try to be good and wait for my anniversary or birthday when I can justify it. Sigh.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

It's been too hot to bake, so musings

Even with AC, some days are just too hot to bake. Now, if I didn't care about jacking up my electrical bill or harming the environment, I would bake, but I do care about those things, so... the oven has remained off (mostly).

Now I should try my hand at baking bread on the grill, but either I'm too lazy or too uneasy about a bread failure, I can't decide which to call it. Even with machines, a lot of time is invested into making a loaf of bread, so having to throw a loaf away is not something I'm up for.

So, I bought a loaf from the grocery store yesterday. It's a nice seeded bread and about the only halfway decent bread I can get in either Safeway or Giant (the grocery stores near us). Normally the bread is $3.99, but was on sale for $2.99. I also always buy a loaf of potato bread for Henry as that's the bread he likes for his peanut butter sandwiches. That is just a bunch of fluff and costs $3.19. The markup on bread is incredible, which is why we make it, however, the price of flour is about to go up for consumers.

With everything burning in Russia, their fields have burned down, which means the demand for American flour will and has gone up. Bakeries are already feeling it quite a bit as wholesale prices have jetted up. For now, since markup is so high on breads, the big companies have just soaked up the cost of the flour, keeping bread prices the same, but smaller artisan bakeries might not be able to do that and I have no idea what it will do to flour sold at grocery stores. King Arthur flour is already $4.85 for 5 lbs, so I'm curious where it will go.

Another musing. My mother in law made an apple strudel for the party we had last weekend. Henry was so happy to see it, he ate 4 pieces. Adrian loves it too, so he had 3. Sonja, seeing how much her grandsons love the strudel, made some more last night.

Now Sonja doesn't make anything that is difficult and her apple strudel is no exception, which is nice as it is good to have some easy snacks/baked goods too. I've watched her make it a couple times and some of the things she does doesn't seem to make sense to me, so, being the curious person I am, I looked up some strudel recipes.

Of course, like so many traditional foods, there are a ton of recipes out there as people didn't use cookbooks - they just did what their grandmothers did.

While searching, I found some great sources. I did find the easy way that Sonja does with phyllo dough and grated apples, but also the traditional way too. I found this you tube video. Subtitles in German, but you can get the idea of how to do it:
For some reason, watching it being made in a German/Austrian home makes it feel more authentic.

But, since I'm an American, and like more detailed instructions, this is a great resource too. Happens to be the exact food processor I have (and this video must be a little old as that food processor is now 14 years old):  Watching the dough stretch is amazing. I've never, ever attempted anything like it, but now I'm intrigued... kind feel challenged to see if I can adopt this skill or not. I have to laugh though, because the sex ed teacher in me thinks, "That dough is thin like a condom". I'm probably the only person who would think like that! LOL

Then, I got excited when I saw this blog with a recipe from the book I ownKaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers:  Applestrudel

Now I really need to try it... But I'll try it while Sonja is in Croatia as I don't want to step on her 'strudel' toes. But, if I get the hang of it, I'll show her when she comes back as she has stories of her grandmother stretching the dough on the table, but then all of a sudden she couldn't do it any more with the thought that maybe the flour changed. She might get a kick out of seeing it done again - that is, if I can get the hang of it.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

How the best of plans can get derailed!

Last weekend I was planning on making a bread common to Croatia and Bosnia. It's typically served with čevapčići (roughly pronounced chey-vop-chee-chee). The ensemble would have looked something like this:


We were planning a party on Saturday evening for my husband's colleagues to come over. All was going well. The house was mostly cleaned up and ready, the food and drinks were bought. All I needed to do was to roll the cevapcici (skinless sausage). Well.... about 20 minutes into doing that, we lost power - at night. I was in a completely lightless kitchen. Sven, my husband, came down to my rescue with a lantern like flashlight and I continued rolling the sausages. We called the electric company hotline for loss of power and found out it wasn't going to come back on until around 3 am.

Well, now we were worried. I was making 300 cevapcicis! I was working with raw, ground meat! I couldn't just put it in the fridge, so Sven went out to the store and got me ice so I could store the meat containers in coolers (which, thank goodness, we already had in the kitchen, cleaned and ready to hold the drinks for the party - and yes, I rewashed them the next day).

It's one thing rolling finger-like sausages by flashlight. It's quite another trying to make bread. So, the idea was scrapped. This bread is a thrice risen dough. I now had no time to do it. Instead we bought some naan and pita. Both of which were subpar, but hey, want can you do!

We were just happy the electricity finally came back on, but it was at 9 am - we were without power for almost 12 hours! Fortunately, it was a cool night and we have a good, new, well-insulated fridge. NOTHING started to melt or rise in temp in either the fridge or the freezer (we have thermometers). In the morning we checked the temps of the meat in the coolers with an insta-read thermometer and phew... they were a cool 42 degrees. SAFE!!!

Party went well too! Our new house is really great for entertaining. Which I hope means we'll do it more often.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Attempt #3 for the Pain de campagne honfleur bread

Today has been a weird day. I feel a bit crappy, but I had this fermented starter in the fridge that was begging to be used before it went bad, so I got my butt in gear and made the bread.

That I didn't feel well, made me rush things, but also it's an experiment of sorts. Since my winging it recipe turned out great, I decided to kind of do that again. I had the starter, which I used in its entirety, and then I added the recommended water and salt. From there I added a bit of bread flour and a bit of white whole wheat flour until the dough had the right consistency. I let that sit for an hour in which time it doubled in size.  I got my brotform, floured it and then let the dough rise again.

What's a brotform (also called a banneton or proofing  basket)? It's a basket for proofing dough. Looks like these in this link: Brotforms (I didn't buy from here, but they show good pictures).There are a couple reasons to use them. The most useful, is that they help keep the dough ball shape/round. Second reason, is that if you use them without a couche, (flour soaked linen), you get interesting designs on your bread. I've had these brotforms for years, but the only time I tried it, my dough got stuck to it, even though it was well floured, and ruined it. I had to punch down and let it rise again. Since then I was afraid to use them. But, as always, there's a trick to keep things from sticking and that is to dust/flour them with rice flour. Rice flour is like teflon, the bread slides right out.

Back to the story. Well, I have two brotforms, but for some reason, I decided to just make one big loaf and put all the dough in one basket. Probably not a good idea as in an unrisen state, it filled the basket about 3/4s. But, I forged ahead anyway. I started the oven, and 30 minutes later, I put the dough in.

I know this is too soon, but my dough was already getting over the top of the brotform. I wasn't feeling well, and the last time I let it rise longer, it became overproofed. So, I got a piece of parchment paper (reused it from last time), placed it over the basket, got my epicurean pizza peel, placed it over the brotform, grabbed the basket from below while still holding the peel, and flipped it all over. I removed the basket, and like magic, it slid out - phew!

Now, to score the loaf. Again, no problem. I can see the loaf is very quickly sliding outwards as it's a really wet dough, but everything is ready, so I quickly get to the oven, slide the bread and parchment paper onto the baking stone, pour one glass of water until the cookie pan below and closed it up to see how it would go.

This is how it looked when I put it in the oven:

Ten minutes later:


And then done:



It looks great, but... I'm a bit worried. This is supposed to make a HUGE loaf - like 12" wide. Mine is 9". This one loaf normally two loaves. It's maybe one and a half times bigger, but it could be only one and a third bigger.

Again the moment of truth is waiting for me - how is the inside? Will I get a brick? Sure hope not! I'll update the results later. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

I was at first convinced it was going to be a brick. Even slicing in, it seemed a bit dense, which it probably is a bit, but it's very tasty and has a very nice texture. The kids devoured a couple slices and my mother in law gave a stamp of approval, so I am getting better with each loaf.



And the crumb as they call it. It's like a memory foam mattress - you squish it, and it bounces right back in a very pleasing way. Though I think it must taste better than memory foam!


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What got into me? Totally winged it!

Yesterday I was supposed to start working on organizing our basement. It has to be done and I know that. The storage area of the basement (about 1/4) the space has only 1/3 the boxes in it right now. Also, when we remodeled our kitchen and bathroom on the main level, we had them save part of the kitchen and the butler's pantry cabinet. They were in the basement, but weren't placed and of course, are empty. That's a big job. Add to that, we have about 8 boxes of tiles left over from the three tiling jobs (two bathrooms and the kitchen) in the way of putting said cabinets in place AND the entire basement is just FILTHY because when they redid the kitchen and hallway, the had to lift up the entire subfloor (down to the beams)  which meant, all that dust and wood debris just fell on top of everything in the basement. Here's a picture to give an idea of what kind of mess was created down below:


But what does this have to do with baking? A lot. I was procrastinating. I needed to start another bread as we are already out of all the bread I made on Saturday, so I started the preferment/sourdough for the pain de campagne honfleur. Well, that only takes a few minutes to do, so I got another idea. Earlier in the day, I saw a recipe for a banana coconut yeasted bread. So, I grabbed a couple of my bread books to see if there was something similar. In the Bernard Clayton's book there was a Hawaiian bread, but it didn't have bananas and didn't use buttermilk. The recipe I had seen earlier did, but I thought, "Well, maybe I'll try to combine the two recipes". And that's when it started to unravel.

I didn't have the other recipe on hand, but remembered it had buttermilk, nuts, coconut and bananas. I grabbed the buttermilk which I needed to use up before it went bad. I poured it into a measuring cup and saw it's about double what I need, but thought, "Oh well!". I nuked it for a minute to get it warmer. I threw it in the mixer. I tossed in the yeast needed for making 2 loaves of bread (that's pretty standard) and then added a bit of white whole wheat flour and bread flour. I scoured the kitchen. I found the coconut flakes. They needed to be used soon too, so I put in the whole bag, mixed it in. I grabbed two eggs as I remembered the hawaiian recipe calls for eggs. Then I remembered, "Oh yes, I need to add bananas. Huh.. this is going to be bigger than two loaves with all that liquid. Better add some more yeast for three loaves." So, I mashed the four bananas, added them to the mix and then added a bit more yeast, mixed it up, and then added salt for three loaves.

Well, I only had a wee bit of flour in that glop of mess so far, I just grabbed the bags of flour, alternating between the two with the mixer running until it got to a good consistency. I stopped about halfway through to let the coconut absorb some liquid, and then continued until I had a soft dough. Seen here:


At this point, I was thinking to myself, "What are you doing???? You didn't measure anything but yeast and salt? How do I know it's for three loaves or more? Will this even rise?" I waited a couple minutes to see if I could see any 'growth' of this dough and sure enough, I saw it start to puff up. OK, I took it out and rolled in the diced walnuts. I decided to give this a go.

I let it rise for one hour (and yes, I started on the basement) and this is how it looked when I came up:


It looked promising!

I took it out of the mixing bowl and divided it for three pans. I decided to use pans because I have no idea how this will behave in the final rise. I did the nice tight roll I've learned to make to tighten the top, set it aside under wax paper, preheated the oven to 400 and went back to work downstairs.

I came back upstairs and it looked fantastic. My next thought was, "Ok should I try to slash them? My track record isn't too good! But these loaves still might deflate or be mush or a brick... why not try?" I grabbed the razor blade and just like that, I had three slashes on each loaf of bread - so easy, like never before! Go figure!

Alright, into the oven they go. I turned on the oven light to watch and before my eyes I saw oven spring. I snapped this photo after they had risen already a bit. The next photo  you can see even more oven spring growth:



Wow! I had managed to slash loaves and I'm getting great oven spring? On a dough I just pulled out of my butt? What???

I turned down the oven temperature and baked until they reached 205 degrees inside. I pulled them out and this is what I got:



I let them cool while I worked more in the basement - hauled hundreds of pounds of tile, lifted heavy cabinets, unpacked 8 boxes, cleaned tons of dust and assembled storage shelves. And then finally, when I was worn out and it was 10:30 pm, I came upstairs for the moment of truth. How did it look? How did it taste?



Yep, it's fantastic! Unbelievable. Of course, I owe the inspiration to someone else, but I couldn't give you a recipe in detail if I wanted to - I just don't know the measurements! Wow! So what does that mean? My winging it recipe was the most successful I've ever made? I think what it means is that I need to pay more attention to the feel of the dough than what the recipe says - recipes are a guide, but the feel of the dough is the authority.

Wish I could share this bread with everyone today. I've never tasted anything like it and it's divine, truly divine. Hope I can replicate it enough to do it again. Hmmm... maybe I should write down what I think I did approximately, huh?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Time to make the donuts, um scratch that! Time to make the bread!

So, on Saturday, I made 2 loaves of bread, but they werent ready to eat until Sunday. Guess what? They'll be gone after lunch today (Tuesday).

I also made FOUR loaves of banana blueberry bread and guess what? That's gone already! Now, I did give one loaf away, but that's one a day that was eaten! Wow!!!

Now I have to decide, do I make the same daily bread to get it better? Or do I try something new? I think I'm going to give this Pain de Campagne Honfleur one more shot this time around as I've learned so much each time.

For a sweet bread, I think I'm going to make a coconut banana bread, yeasted. Sounds intriguing and it's whole grain bread too. AND another round of the blueberry banana bread as we need to give another bread as a gift for a thank you.  Of course, I'll have my little helper too! He loves it when I'm baking.

I am also going to do an experiment with my scale. Weighing ingredients is way more accurate, and about half my baking books use weights and all my European style books do. However, I learned today that either my scale is 'off' or that my salt is wet. I guess I shouldn't be surprised if my salts are heavy as we were without AC for over a month, and I had the AC off for 3 days with the cooler weather the last few days. Salt especially absorbs moisture. But now I'm trying to figure out how to deal with that in regard to recipes.

Here's the dilemma: let's say a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of table salt. That typically weighs 18 grams. Well, I weighed my salt by tablespoon 5 times this morning to get an average. First time I got 26 grams, second time 28, third time 32, fourth time 30, and fifth time 28 grams. Which averages out to be 29 grams per tablespoon. That's not just a little variation. That is a huge difference. If it's that my salt is just wet from humidity, then when a recipe calls for 12 grams of salt or 2 teaspoons, if I were to go by weights, that's only a 1 teaspoon and 1/3 of a teaspoon. That much of a difference could make it taste a little salty.

Now, I don't have these issues with liquid measurements or flour measurements. So, now I need to figure out if this is a wetness problem or perhaps my scale isn't sensitive enough at very low weights? (though it had a plate on the scale too). Hmmm...

But, enough experimenting and chitter chatter. I have breads to start and a basement to sort and clean. My oldest is going to just love me today.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The weekend quick breads and French Country loaves

The computer got stuck during importing the pictures, so good thing I had imported some pictures to facebook before uploading to the computer, or else all evidence of baking would be erased!

First, I made 4 loaves of blueberry banana quickbread.

It's a great recipe from "The Sweeter Side of Amy's Breads" which I have checked out from the library. It uses fresh blueberries (can substitute frozen, but would need to add more flour to soak up the juices) and bananas of course, as well as oatmeal and then the usual fare - eggs, oil (not too much),  salt, baking powder, sugar and flour.

It's a really nice quickbread and one loaf was devoured by midafternoon Saturday, one given to a neighbor for their housewarming party. Third loaf eaten on Sunday and now the 4th loaf is being cut into today, Monday.


Saturday morning I started the preferment for the Pain de Campagne (French Country Loaf) for round 2. Maybe this time I could make it better with some tricks that had been mentioned on the bread forum. First, I didn't use hot water, but warm water to mix with the yeast. Second, I didn't let it ferment as long because we had turned off the air conditioning and my kitchen was a warm 80 degrees.

The first rise is stated to be 3-4 hours to double. I let it rise 2 hours (busy making dinner, eating, getting that somloi galuska dessert ready and then eating that!) I looked, and it had TRIPLED in size in those 2 hours. Oops!

I punched it down and shaped it. The next rise was supposed to be 2-3 hours. After 1.5 hours, I decided they should go in. I did the poke test and it seemed right, but when I went to score/slash the tops of the first loaf, I deflated it. Man, I had overproofed AGAIN. So, this time, I punched it down, reshaped it, and let it re-rise again. However, without slashing, I put the other loaf in the oven. After only 20 or 30 minutes of rising, I put the other in the oven too - really afraid it would be a brick.

Surprising to me, I got oven spring - which means my loaf grew in the oven. I haven't had that before... Hmm... interesting. And that loaf didn't lose it's shape. Wow! But was it a brick.

I pulled the loafs out of the oven as they were done and set them out to cool. I would cut into them in the morning to see what we got.

This is how it looked... big difference:


Next day, we cut into both and did a visual inspection, a taste inspection and a texture inspection. Both were good, but we all agreed the rounder one (the one that had been punched down a second time) had a better taste, a slightly better texture, and the shape was great). Made for great sandwiches for lunch:


Even my youngest couldn't put it down (and he's the pickiest eater on the planet):


Those loaves got cut into on Sunday morning, and by Monday morning, one loaf is gone and the other is a 1/3 gone. Which means, I'll be baking again by Tuesday.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The cakes

PhotobucketLast night we ate the Sachertorte. It was delicious. A bit rich for me as I'm not a big chocoholic, but it was good. The cake portion had the right density, the filling was flavorful and the glaze was good. The glaze though is what I would change the next I make it (if I make it again). It was exactly how this recipe (and pictures) showed it should be, but it's not true to how it should look/feel. But, that's probably the easiest thing to fix - just need a different recipe!


And, because my mother in law is the way she is, said while eating my sacher torte what I predicted she would say, "The best sacher torte I ever ate was..." Ah... I know her well. She was a killjoy last night though. Something came over her at dinner that spoiled everything, but oh well. We enjoyed despite her mood.

Then there is the making of the somloi galuska. I looked and looked at the recipe I have, and it didn't feel right and since I already saw that the recipe for sachertorte (at least the glaze part) wasn't close to authentic, I decided I should go with my gut. I looked online for other recipes and 95% of what was out there was the recipe from the book copied word for word. Then, I found a recipe (same one on several sites) which appears to be more true to the construction of other European cakes I know, so I went with that - I just following the book recipe for the construction, cream and other stuff. Oh, and another thing I didn't like about the book recipe is that it said it assumed most cooks wouldn't have 3 9x13 pans, so they made the cake recipes three separate recipes, where traditionally it's one base recipe, divided and then each prepared and cooked at the same time. It would have been nice if they would have said how to do it for all three OR all three separately. So, I just figured out how to make the base on my own, and then baked them at once instead of using the same pan for three separate batches.

This cake has a lot of components. I noticed on a couple of sites that it's rated as hard a 5 on a scale of 1-5, 5 being hardest. I think part of it is that American cooks aren't used to making cakes like this, but the other part is just how many parts there are! This picture shows 'most' of it:


Left to right: top left is the apricot preserves (boiled), bottom left is a rum syrup with lemon and orange zest (zests taken out for assembly), center left in the bowl is finely diced walnuts and raisins, then the three pans of very thin cake layers - one plain, one walnut, one chocolate, then in the far right, half visible, is the cream filling (in a ice water bath). This is everything that needed to be done to assemble the cake with the exception of cocoa powder which is sprinkled on top.

Assembly is first layer: walnut cake, syrup, apricot preserves, cream, nuts/raisins, Next layer is: chocolate cake, syrup, apricot preserves, cream, nuts/raisins. Top layer is: plain cake, syrup and then cream, then dusted with cocoa powder.

When assembled it looks like this:


It needs to chill at least 7 hours to get the flavors to blend, then, when it's time to serve, you take a 2.5 inch ice cream scoop and scoop 2-3 pieces per serving. You will also need to make a chocolate rum sauce and sweetened whipped cream to serve. That means, there are 10 components to assemble this dessert. Uses LOTS of dishes. When we serve it tonight, I will add a picture of the assembled and served dessert.

Few days later and I finally get a chance to use the computer! (Can't wait till our laptop is working again). Not much to look at, but there are the three dumplings, topped with freshly whipped cream and warm rum chocolate sauce.


It really is a heavenly dessert. it melts in your mouth and the flavors are divine. Hungary knows how to make great desserts. And this dessert make one very happy mother in law. I even got a kiss and thank you - which is BIG.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Baking into the wee hours of the morning

I didn't get to baking until 10 pm and I totally didn't realize that the sachertorte cake would take until 2:00 to finish! Wowzers. I was too tired and out of steam (plus dealing with other stuff) to try to tackle two cakes. The cake turned out according to the book's directions and picture. Yet, when my mother in law saw it this morning, she informed me that the original (as she's had it directly from the source in Vienna) is taller and the icing is not shiny. And that comment just had me chuckle because it was so predictable. I have yet to make anything that she has had or has made better than how she remembers it. It will always start out, "this is good, but..." or, "This isn't x because..." and so on. But that's OK, it's just how she is. The rest of my family enjoys and everyone I cook for at gatherings enjoy what I create. That's just her quirk, and since it's so predictable, it makes me laugh (after years of banging my head against the wall trying to get approval).

Yesterday for my mother in law's birthday we went around to different European (really Russian) delis and groceries and a couple Kosher bakeries. There I saw mandelbread, and one similar to a recipe a good friend of mine makes. Later, she gave me the recipe (again). Woohoo! So, I plan to make that today.

Then, last night, while at the grocery store getting cake ingredients, bananas were 19 cents a pound and ripe, so I bought a bunch and will make some quick breads with that. This weekend is supposed to cool off, so it's a perfect time to bake. I still have to figure out which yeasted bread I'm going to try this time. I think I might go for a super easy, in a loaf pan, bread while I work on a starter. Or I might get brave and try the Pain de Campagne Honfleur again... we'll see how brave I am.

Ugh, speaking of starters. Last night at the grocery store, I bought the rye flour for the starter, but forgot the pineapple juice!  But then, I also forgot my son's favorite bread which he insists upon for peanut butter sandwiches (He is on the autism spectrum and has food quirks). Hmmm... though this morning he allowed the bakery challah bread as a substitute. Challah anyone?

Lastly, I've only been blogging a few days and someone has already offered to send me a dried starter. How cool is that?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Today is my mother in law's 75th birthday and it's time to make a cake (or two)

For those of you who don't know. My mother in law lives with us. In December of this last year, we joined forces when we moved for my husband's job. I suppose it's going about as well as can be expected, but it's difficult, really difficult. As my mother in law is a very difficult personality and has been alone most of her life.

Another thing is that my husband (and therefore my mother in law) are not from the United States. They are from Croatia. My husband came here to study a year before the Yugoslav war broke out. My mother in law, Sonja came here to live permanently when Adrian (my oldest son) was a bit over a year old because she wanted to be near her only child and grandchild.  Just try to imagine moving to a new country when you're 62 years old. (So, I do have empathy.)

What does this all have to do with cake? Well, it means that I really have to do something for her as I live with her. Second, it means she doesn't really care for (actually she really dislikes) American style of cake. So the cake I need to make is a European style cake which taste fantastic, but aren't the showy pieces most Americans are used to seeing and eating for birthdays.

The first cake I plan to make is the Sachertorta. When Sonja was back home a couple years ago, her best friend made it and when she came back, all my mother in law could talk about was how wonderful this cake was - the best she had ever eaten. Her best friend had given her the recipe, so last year for her birthday, Sonja tried to make it. Problem is, my mother in law really doesn't know how to cook. Growing up, her mother cooked or her grandmother cooked. Sonja didn't ever cook, until she was over 40 years old and even then, she only knows a handful of recipes and that's it. What's worse, is that because her mother and grandmother never used cookbooks, she feels that she doesn't need to either. She doesn't quite grasp that if you don't know a recipe, you need a guide. Her mother and grandmother (and I don't for many things either) need a cookbook. Many things come from the head because you know how things combine, or it's memorized. For special things, typically, a recipe card of simple instructions is enough, because you know how it's constructed, so you don't need details that say, "separate the eggs", or "cream the butter".  This last part is important.

It's one of those things we laugh about now, but my mother in law was quite heartbroken last year on her birthday when she tried to make her best friend's recipe of Sachertorta. The recipe, like many recipes I've seen from Croatia, are not like recipes we are used to in the states. We are used to details - what temperature to bake, how long, and most important, details of how to prepare it. The recipe Sonja got was like this: list of ingredients. Then: melt chocolate, mix egg yolks with butter and then with sugar, mix egg whites, mix chocolate into sugar and eggs, add flour, add in egg whites. Bake until done, cut in half, spread apricot jam in middle and around sides, cover with chocolate glaze, serve with whipped cream. Ok everyone - now JUMP and go make this cake right now! What??? You don't know what to do? Well, neither did my mother in law. That recipe was given to her with the thought that she knew how to make a typical Croatian cake - that she would know from years of doing or watching what to do. The recipe was a guide, but the rest, was assumed, she already knew. But, she didn't know as she didn't bake or watch her family bake.

My mother in law, not knowing better and not thinking to maybe look up other sachertorta recipes for a better guide, jumped in. She melted the chocolate, melted the butter and then mixed all of it together with the sugar and eggs (while the chocolate was still hot), added the flour, and then whipped the eggs whites, and then mixed that with the rest. She put it in the oven at 350 degrees, and then just watched it to be done. When it was deemed done, she had a dense, lumpy brownie (it's supposed to be a cake). Not being detered, she sliced it, spread jam all over it, made a really lumpy glaze of her own recipe, and then served it later with whipped cream. What she had was a very, very dense brownie (some almost so overcooked it was crunchy firm) and it looked like a mess on the plate. She took one bite and that was that... she was never going to try again. We all had a good laugh, and then, I asked to look at the recipe. I went home and looked up sachertorta in my European cookbook. Oh my goodness... how many ways can a recipe go wrong?

So, it's a year later and I would like to make her friend's recipe for her birthday. However, I'll use my cookbook as a better guide. Little things, like you need to let the chocolate cool, the butter and sugar need to be creamed until light, and then the yolks added one by one, gently stir in the flour, and then gently (just combining) the stiff beaten egg whites (all fluff comes from eggs in most european cake recipes - they don't use baking powder, baking soda, or yeast). I've made about 30 or so European cakes, so I know now how to do it - but my first attempts were a sweet egg baked omelette disk instead of cake too!

If I can get that cake correctly, I'll be a hero!

Then yesterday, while we were looking up recipes, Sonja noticed the cookbook I was refering to is called:  Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague. She gets curious and says, "I wonder if they the recipe for shclomigrashka" (or at least that's how it sounded to me.) "I had this when I went to Budapest when Sven was 10 years old." (My husband is now 43, btw, so she's remembering this from 33 years ago.) She continues, "I once asked for it at a Hungarian restaurant, but they didn't know what I was trying to say."

Ok I have to segway away from the story for a second here for a side note about my mother in law again. My mother in law insists she doesn't care about food. That food is food. She just eats it because she needs to and then she's done. This is partially true. For the food she prepares for herself, it's mostly just to feed her body. But part of that was she was cooking for one and eating alone. But...she remembers every special cake, or special ice cream or special meal she has eaten in her lifetime (up until probably age 60). I'll make something and she'll say, "This is good, but Oh, the way Maka made it was unbelievable." Or, "When I was in Sicily, we stopped in this little, little place and it was the best Pasta Frijole I've ever had. Oh, it was delicious." (while she's eating mine). She loves good food, she just won't admit it.

Anyway, the cookbook has this recipe for Somlói Galuska I looked up the recipe and it has everything she loves - rum, cream, apricot jam, walnuts, chocolate and a light fluffy cake. It looks easy enough to make, so I'll make that too. Pictures will follow later today or tomorrow. And maybe a story or two if they don't turn out as well as I expect. We aren't eating them until Thursday when Sven comes back from his trip (Sonja's idea). Plus, with most European cakes (unlike American cakes) it's better the next day.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Let's talk baking cookbooks and starters

While I'm not baking these days, I'm thumbing through all my baking books. I have a few as it is a passion of mine. As I mentioned in another post, I have "The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book". I love this book as it's a lot of whole grain goodness, easy to follow directions and healthy. One of my kid's favorites from it is a blueberry muffin recipe which I have converted into a mini chocolate chip muffin recipe. It's like a healthy cookie - each one is made with zero fat (except what's in the chocolate and egg), wheat germ and whole wheat and it's delicious (also is good as the blueberry muffin recipe too). From that book I also make my whole wheat Christmas stollen which everyone loves. There are also some great recipes for yeasted breads, but here is where it gets tricky. They specialize in making a desem - a type of wild yeast starter.

I remember reading through the book when I got it 16 years ago and feeling like, "Whoa, you can do that?" and "How and why?"

Later I added some other baking books which are quite good, King Arthur's Whole Grain Baking, Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads, some cake books, Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads, a few coffee table bread books which look pretty, but are mainly fluff, and then recently checking out from the library Amy's Breads. I have a list of others I want to check out too.

The more you get into breads and the more you read REAL baking books, the more you realize, you need a starter for those bakery tasting breads, but every time I read about them, I get confused and intimidated. They go by all different sorts of names and I'm sure some are the same while others are different - soakers, bigas, Poolish, desem. From what I gather (could be wrong) starters and desems are captured wild yeasts (instead of using commercial yeast) and soakers, bigas and a Poolish are different forms of prefermented starters using commercial yeast. Have I lost you yet?

Anyway, I have now read about 5 different ways to make a starter, I've looked at pictures online, I've read blogs on their development, yet I am completely intimidated. All this talk about hydration, different bacteria taking over at different times, etc. ACK!!! Brain overload. Yet... I'm itching to start one. I really want to be able to say, "I can create my own starter from scratch and make artisan tasting breads!" and how cool is it to say, "This mother starter is 10 years old (or more)."

Of course, I need to decide which one to do. I could go with Peter Reinhart's way of doing it, but there's something conceited about him that turns me off (Plus he borrowed the pineapple starter idea). Add to that, in the book I have, it's quite obvious the book deal came first and then he was scrambling to get his recipe right while working on the book... doesn't inspire confidence. In the book I'm reading right now, Amy's Bread, the make a simple flour and water starter, but I've heard those can get moldy quite easily. And then a bread forum favorite starter is the Debra Wink starter which started out from trying to figure out why so many people were having the same problems with Peter Reinhart's starter recipe in "The Baker's Apprentice". She is/was a perfect person to figure this all out - she's an avid baker AND a microbiologist - BINGO! I like her! (What's with me and smart people?)

If you like to know WHY things happen, you simple must read these articles. I've linted to article one, but at the bottom of that page it links to part two which also includes her formula.

So, that's the formula I'm going to follow. She designed the formula after figuring out what's happening at all stages of the fermentation at the microscopic level - totally cool!

Monday, July 26, 2010

While the English Muffins were failing

Since we are having a heat wave, I try to do everything in the mornings or late in the evenings. So, while I was making the English muffins, I had a starter going in the mixer beside me.

One of my favorite breads of all times is the Pain de Campagne which I can get at the farmer's market at Burke or at Whole Foods. It's such a big loaf, that you buy a section of it, not the whole thing and it's always expensive, which means, I rarely buy it. It's something like $6 for a section at Whole Foods.

Finding a recipe (several actually), I decide to give it a whirl. I know that breads with starters or bigas or pools lavains, or desems (so clueless what that all means still) have more flavor, last longer, get better air bubbles, and nicer crusts. Almost all artisan breads starts from one of these aforementioned 'blobs'. This particular starter is just an overnight (or minimum 4 hours) fermentation. Cool! I can try that!

So, beside me on the counter while making English muffins I had this yeast mixture growing (and man did it grow!). Come morning, I started the recipe - to the T. I first tried to convert the volume measurements to weight, but then realized, "Wait a minute, how do I know that MY weight measurements are the correct weights?" and they must not have been, because I was mixing a wet mess. I think I added about 1/2 cup more whole wheat and 1/2 cup more white to get it a still very wet, but more manageable dough.

The recipe then states to let it rise for 3-4 hours - until it doubles. Which is what I did (top photo is after this rise). It need not quite 3 hours.

Then the tricky part - this is a wet dough - wetter than any I've ever worked with, how will I shape this blob of goo (kind of like the consistency of slime, just sticky). I get it out of the bowl and place it on a well floured counter and work it. Surprisingly, the dough with a little flour is quite manageable. I try to do the shaping of a boule technique:

Now it says to let it rise 2-3 hours until it triple is size. Ah, here's where I really worry. Will it rise? Will it stay round? And, like all previous attempts, it spreads out - not up or staying roundish, but spreads outwards.

After two hours, I decide I should bake it. I try to slash one, but, again, as usual, I fail. I had a brand new razor blade, but it got stuck in the dough, didn't really slice it and made it deflate a bit - ARGH! Now it's even more flat! OK, fine, I'll just leave the other loaf as is and hope for the best.

In the oven they go and I watch and wait for a nice oven spring (more growth) and nope... again, as usual, not much happening. it bakes for 40 minutes on 425 degrees, I take it out and have a flattish bread. Let it cool and while it looks 'ok' and tastes good, it's still not quite right.

I go to get help from the bread forum and consensus is that I overproofed the loaves. Which, leaves me perplexed because how can I know? Which just shows me even more - I have so, so much to learn. Maybe I'll make a sweet quick bread tonight to give the yeast tries a rest. But, I'm also itching to start a try starter!