By Bread Alone

Been a little tied up, but more “serious” posting is to come. Right now, thought I should share a bit about some of the baking I’ve been doing. Pretty sure I’ve talked about this a bit before, but am really enjoying the baking. Friday’s have become my baking day, which also means it is laundry, cleaning, etc. day given that doing all the preparatory mixing, stretching, folding, spindling, mutilating, and such ends up taking about eight hours since I do everything by hand right now.

This morning, I tried my hand at making sourdough English muffins. Turned out pretty good if I do say so myself.

Ended up eating a good bit more than normal, but boy howdy was it good. I also do sourdough pancakes, biscuits, and am hoping to try some other new things here soon. Not only tasty, but none of the additive junk that is in pretty much all commercial baking these days. Also, less salt, sugar, etc. as I rarely use any sweetener and when I do tend towards maple syrup or honey.

I am very much a novice and just getting started. A lot of what I do are experiments as I try recipes and production methods to see if and how they work. I’m standing on the shoulders of giants, and give huge thanks to my friend Snarksalot for her guidance, suggestions, and encouragement. Between her and Lauren Gruel, I was enticed into culturing a starter from scratch and it’s gone from there.

Right now, I have two starters working. The first is Audrey, and yes she is named for the Little Shop of Horrors as while culturing her I could have sworn I heard a little girl voice going “Feed Me!” Rachel started as a clone of Audrey but it is interesting how each now behaves and tastes differently. Teasing both of them of sleeping on the job as the discard jar has been going gangbusters and I’ve even used it for some of the bread. Which is something to point out: your discard jar from feeding the cultures makes excellent pancakes, biscuits, English muffins, pizza crusts, etc. My goal is to eliminate pretty much all store-bought commercial bread and related from my life.

So, to share, I thought I would give a couple of basic recipes with you. The bread has become my basic for specialty loaves, with the only thing changing is either adding items like chilis, cheese, olives, etc.; or, changing out some of the AP flour for rye or other specialty flours at need. This recipe came from Lauren, and works well overall:

950g AP flour

650g warm (distilled) water (note below)

200g active starter (I tend to use a bit more, in fact up to 20g more)

20g salt (I use a mix of half smoked salt and half PHSS most of the time, otherwise sea salt)

Mix flour and water and let it rest for 30 minutes. Then, add starter and salt, and combine for five minutes. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes. Then do three sets of stretch and folds 15 minutes apart, then do three sets of stretch and folds 30 minutes apart. After the last, cover and put in a warm place (our oven has a bread proofing setting) until it doubles. The recipe says 1.5 hours, I find 3 works better for me in our temperature/humidity/etc. conditions. Lay dough out and cut in half, work both halves into balls and then let rest on the counter for 20 minutes. Then use a bench scraper, keep rounding the balls and building tension. Place into banneton baskets sticky side up, cover, and put into the refrigerator overnight. Next morning, preheat oven with dutch ovens in them (empty) to 500 degrees. Flip dough out of the baskets and onto parchment paper. Place a bit of flour on the ball, score, decorate as you like, then put into the dutch ovens and bake for 20 minutes with the lid on. At that point, take the lids off and bake for 15 minutes at 475 (if you remember to drop the temp, sigh, stupid lightning) or until you get the color on the crust you desire. Remove from oven, and cool on a wire rack for two hours (or longer).

Now, a few notes. Above you can see one of the enameled dutch ovens (blue) I use for baking (and general cooking too). I have two of them and want more. They do come in handy for so many things, and am also wanting to add just a plain cast iron dutch oven to the mix for camping and other delights. One where the lid is designed to have coals up on it.

I use distilled water for almost everything these days, especially the baking. City water has lots of chemicals, some of which don’t play nice with sourdough yeast (or other living things); and, well water around here tends to be a semi-fluid state of limestone. I may miss a few minerals here or there, but what I don’t get makes distilled well worth using (pun intended).

The amount of salt is low, and you really can’t take it too much lower and have edible bread. As it is, with the two loaves, it is well within most dietary guidelines including most cardio guidelines. I use a mix of smoked and PHSS most of the time, as it adds flavor and complexity. When making specialty breads (olive, chili-cheese, etc.) I may vary the ratio and will also use salts smoked with different woods. It is fun to play with it, so have fun!

Yes, I do use the rattan baskets, and want to get a stone for the oven so I can do loaves here soon as well as the rounds. Really want to do a marbled bread here soon, especially if I do more homemade pastrami.

Today’s English muffins were an experiment, and combines a couple of recipes.

100g starter (I went between 120g and 130g since using discard)

20g maple syrup

240g distilled water

360g AP flour

5g sea salt

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix by hand until combined. Cover with a thin (tea) towel and let rest for one hour. Dump the bowl onto a floured board and knead for five minutes. Return the dough to the bowl, cover, and let sit out on a counter or other secure location (darn cats) overnight. Next morning, turn out onto floured board and press out to .5′ to .75′ thick. Dust with flour as needed to eliminate sticky parts. Cut into rounds with 3″ cutter or pint glass (what I used today), and put into cast iron or non-stick pan that has been heating on low, cover, and cook four minutes a side. If being precise, use an instant read thermometer to get 200F in the center.

Now, I used water instead of milk as I want to be able to eat these on fasting days, and it avoids other dietary issues. I did put a little oil/grease on the bottom of the pan, but did not need to do so. Leave some space between the rounds as they are going to expand — which is why I prefer the .5″ thickness to the 1″ thickness that one recipe recommended. Find what works for you, but the thicker you go the more likely you may have to finish them in the oven to ensure they are cooked all the way through. Oh, and the maple syrup I used came from a monastery in Michigan, and is delicious. Again, about half and half smoked salt and PHSS.

If I get the chance, I will try to add some links to some videos I’ve found helpful as I explore.

If ya’ll are interested, I will post more recipes like this with notes here soon. If I can get someone to help me with the video, might even do a video or two. Let me know in comments if interested.

Getting hit by lightning is not fun! If you would like to help me in my recovery efforts, which include moving once we have medical issues cleared up, feel free to hit the fundraiser at A New Life on GiveSendGo, use the options in the Tip Jar in the upper right, or drop me a line to discuss other methods. It is thanks to your gifts and prayers that I am still going. Thank you.

2 thoughts on “By Bread Alone”

  1. Reading this, following your journey, has filled and embiggened my heart so much. I will give your English muffin recipe a go; in all these years I haven’t found one that’s entirely satisfying but seeing the crumb on yours gives me hope. A fun thing you may want to look at is discard crackers. I love them, and they can go in the oven right after the bread comes out. Plus…I know you’re trying to avoid sweets, but…sourdough discard chocolate cake is amazing. Then there’s pretzels.

    Are you familiar with Fr. Dominic, aka: The Bread Monk? He doesn’t do sourdough, but he’s awesome in every other baking way. Website/blog not too active, but there are lots of recipes, & he has FB. I have all his books. Autographed. Good stuff.

    Be well. Keep baking. Be blessed.

    1. Bless you my friend! I am going to have to try the crackers, and the cake. 🙂 I need to check out the Bread Monk. Thank you for all your help, support, and encouragement!

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