Monday, November 1, 2010

World's BEST Sourdough Waffles

My folks were here this weekend and we treated them to our favorite waffles for breakfast. Ymmmmm! I wish I could send the aroma over the Internet, because they make the house smell warm and delicious.

Another bonus of this recipe is that it makes great use of your increased starter on those weeks when you just don't have time to bake. Not that anyone ever has weeks like that, right? If you're going to be feeding a crowd, you might want to increase your starter twice.

This recipe is a variation of Jon's Sourdough Waffles that I found on Breadtopia. They are the quintessential waffle--light as a feather, crisp, golden...with tangy undertones of sourdough. The key to Jon's recipe is to add baking soda immediately before pouring the batter onto a hot waffle iron. I found the technique in the recipe to be a little fiddly, so I tweaked the procedure a bit to simplify the cooking. It works beautifully!

Serve with a touch of butter and warmed Vermont maple syrup or homecooked fruit sauce and enjoy!

World's BEST Sourdough Waffles

      2    (or more) cups of starter
      1    Tbs. sugar
      1    egg
    1/2 tsp salt.
      2    Tbs. veg. oil
   1/4 tsp baking soda, dissolved in 2 Tbl. water

Preheat waffle iron. While iron is heating, mix everything together except baking soda-water, set aside.
From this batter, spoon out what you need for a single waffle (1/2 - 3/4 c.) into a pourable measuring cup. Gently fold in 1 tsp. baking soda-water immediately before pouring batter onto preheated waffle iron. [Note: if your waffle iron is larger than ours and you need more batter for a waffle, you might need to use more than a tsp of soda-water. Don't overdo it, though, or your waffles may take on a bitter taste.]
Repeat the addition of 1 tsp soda-water mixture for each waffle immediately prior to pouring onto hot iron.
Serve with pure maple syrup or seasonal fruit topping.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Cranberry-Orange Sourdough Scones

Perfect for a lazy Sunday morning with hot coffee...mmmmmm. My husband said these beat Starbuck's scones hands down. I'll tell you, THAT made my head swell! Since happy sourdough starter gets used and increased at least once a week, it's a great way to keep that starter content without having to go through the extended process of making a crusty loaf.  

Cranberry-Orange Sourdough Scones

2 1/2 c bread flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp grated orange rind (fresh or dried)
1/2 c sugar
6 Tbl cold butter
1 c dried cranberries
1 1/4 c sourdough starter
2 tbsp milk (if needed)
  coarse sugar, for garnish (optional)

1.Preheat an oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2.Mix together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and orange rind in a mixing bowl. Cut in butter with a knife or pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the cranberries and sourdough starter and mix by hand to form a soft dough. Add milk, 1 Tbl at a time, as needed if dough is too dry.
3.Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide it half. Pat each piece of dough into a 1/2-inch thick circle. Cut circle into 8 wedge-shaped pieces and place the scones on the prepared baking sheet 1 inch apart. Brush tops with milk and sprinkle with coarse sugar, if desired.
4.Bake until scones start to turn golden, 12 to 15 minutes.

Feel free to swap out flavorings: substitute 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice for the orange peel, swap out a different dried fruit for the cranberries (oooooh, how about dried cherries with cinnamon? Or dried apricots with a scant 1/2 tsp of nutmeg--a strong spice I find best to use in tiny amounts). What about chocolate chips? Or coconut? Chopped nuts? If you come up with a winning combination, I would love to hear it!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Classic Sourdough Bread--Day Four, The pièce de résistance!

Are you ready? Today we're baking our bread. Yippee!


Allow 2 3/4 hours for warming (1 hr), baking (42 min) and cooling (1 hr) before you dig into your wonderful loaves.

1)  Bring your loaves to room temp 1 hour prior to baking. Preheat oven and steam pan to 475*. A steam pan is a 9 X 13" pan or a cast iron skillet that can take high heat in the oven. It is placed on the oven rack below the rack that you'll set your loaf sheet on. I have a 9 X 13" pan delegated to this purpose, as the mineral deposits on the pan left from the water boiling out make it rather unappetizing to think about baking in.

2) Uncover and score the loaves. I use a serrated knife, slashing 3 rows about 1/2 an inch deep. Don't worry if the dough deflates a bit; it will bounce back while it bakes.

3) Spritz oven and loaves with mist, pour 1 c. water in steam pan. In 2 min., repeat spritzing and lower temp to 450*. Bake 30 min, turning pan halfway through. If you find your bread browns too much, try this tip from our friend Barb and cover the loaves with tin foil the last 10 minutes of baking. Turn off oven, let rest inside 10 min. Cool on racks 1 hour (waiting is the hardest part of the whole four days!).

Now you are ready to slice your bread into nice thick slices and serve plain or with butter. We enjoyed ours tonight with a fresh chef salad, but a steaming bowl of thick soup would be great on a cold evening. Yummmmm....


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Classic Sourdough Bread--Day Three, Making the dough

Today starts the really fun part, making and proofing the dough! Roll up your sleeves (literally; you won't be able to get them out of your way once you get started) and jump in!


You'll work with your dough a couple of times through the day today. Plan to start at least 8-9 hours before you need to go to bed.

For the dough, you'll need:

            Firm starter at room temperature, torn in 3-4 pieces
            3 c. bread flour
            1 ½ tsp. salt
            1 tsp sugar
            1 c. cool water (70*)

Mix together and knead 5-6 min. in mixer with a dough hook or 8-10 min. by hand till gluten has developed and reaches 77-80* on a probe thermometer. You can also do what I prefer most, which is to mix the ingredients with the dough hook until they are uniform and then turn it out on a floured countertop to knead by hand. There is just something mesmerizingly satisfying about kneading. It also gives you continuous feedback about the gluten development and moisture balance, which you can correct with minute additions of flour or sprinkles of water. If you can't read the dough the first few times you knead, don't worry; it will come with time and practice.

Dough is perfectly kneaded when it is soft and no longer sticks to the countertop. It springs back when you twist a small pinch. If you stretch a bit of dough between the thumb and fingers of each hand, it should stretch into a thin skin, ideally thin enough to let light through.

Place dough in clean bowl, cover, let sit at room temperature 4 hours. May not rise much (or it may!); regardless, allow it to sit 4 hours to develop flavor.

Divide in half with a sharp knife and shape into loaves. When shaping, be gentle and allow the gases in the dough to remain. Do not knead; rather, gently pat into a rectangle (mine were about 6 x 9"), fold in thirds, and pinch the seams closed. Place onto parchment dusted with corn meal, mist tops with Pam cooking spray and cover with plastic wrap.

Allow to sit at room temperature 4+ hours or till 1½ times volume. Refrigerate overnight.

These loaves sat out 3 hours and have doubled, so I put them in the refrigerator. I'm not photographing the inside of my fridge; some things just don't need to be shared on the Internet!

Tomorrow we'll be baking our loaves and get to eat the fruits of our labors. Yummmmm...


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Classic Sourdough Bread--Day Two, On to the firm starter...

Are you ready?

Yesterday we increased our regular sourdough starter. If you have been following the practice of adding less water than flour with each increase, your starter will be fairly thick. This is good. You have probably noticed that it is a very different texture than just flour mixed with water...those little yeasties have been busy at work!


Today we are going to form the base of our dough, the firm starter. The principle is similar to a "sponge," but this is firmer than a traditional sponge. It will take 6-8 hours of time to develop and some resting time in the fridge overnight.

Mix together:

1 c sourdough starter at room temperature
1 c all-purpose flour
Room-temperature water as needed to form a soft ball (70-72*F)

Knead these together by hand or in a heavy-duty stand mixer until they form a soft ball, adding water as needed. The amount of water depends on several factors, including the water content in your starter and the humidity in the air and the flour. Your dough ball should be soft and smooth and even a bit sticky. Remember that the yeasties need a moist environment to work their magic, so err on the side of stickiness if you have any doubts. If your lump is dry now, you will end with a dry lump--literally--later.

Place the ball of firm starter in a clean bowl, cover with a layer of plastic wrap and let it sit out at room temperature until doubled. Doubling time varies with the vigor of your starter, the temperature of the room, the mood of the yeasties on that day, you name it. Refrigerate overnight, covered.

Ready to rise...

4 hours later...think I'll put this in the fridge

There are several things to note:

--a good probe thermometer is going to be more accurate than your wrist at determining "room temperature." I trust the thermometer much more than my own wrist.

--"sticky" dough will be tacky to the touch. You can lift it off the countertop but it doesn't want to sit there very long in one place or it will stick. Dough that it too sticky makes a mess of your hands and immediately latches like a limpet on the the surface of the counter. It can be corrected by kneading in a wee bit more flour. Dough that is too dry does not feel tacky and can sit on the counter without adhering. Naughty dough.

--kneading times can vary somewhat. For this step, you want the dough to be pliable and spring back into shape when pinched. But don't overknead. I am guilty of this and it's not a good thing. While dough has to be kneaded long enough to develop long strands of gluten protein, overkneading breaks the strands down into little pieces that can't hold the structure of the bread. If you are using a mixer with a dough hook, watch for the dough to climb the hook and clean off the sides of the bowl. It's easy to overknead with a mixer, so watch closely. It is also quite possible to overknead when kneading by hand (take flattery from the fact that you are so strong!), so be alert to that stage where the dough springs back.

--you'll notice that I use a steel bowl for mixing and raising. Yes, there are purists who say your sourdough should never touch metal, but I've never had a lick of trouble using metal bowls for this. To be perfectly honest, I haven't owned a glass mixing bowl to try instead, but this way has never failed me.

Tomorrow we get to make our loaves. Such fun! I hope you'll join me.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Classic sourdough bread, Day One--Let's get started!


Can't you just smell the warm tanginess of this sourdough bread? The crust is thick and crisp and crackles just right when you bite down; the center is moist and chewy. I'd love to offer you a piece. 

But since bread doesn't pass well through the Internet, we can walk through the process together so you can bake up your own pair of loaves. This takes a small bit of time over the course of four days (possibly just 3 1/2), so we'll tackle it one day at a time. I offer you my spin on Peter Reinhart's sourdough process from Crust and Crumb (Tenspeed Press, 2006). If you want the full run-down of his winning technique, treat yourself to a copy or put it on your Christmas wish list. Peter is masterful; I only hope I can do justice to what he has taught me in his book.

DAY ONE (or NIGHT ONE, as the case may be):

Increase your starter (see yesterday's post on increasing starter). Tomorrow you'll be using a cup of completed starter (unless you plan to make a double batch, so plan accordingly).

Today is a great day to make sure you have the ingredients and supplies on hand for the rest of the recipe. This makes 2 small loaves; double for 3 large loaves. But be warned--if you double the recipe, you will need to buy pants with a larger waistband. You will need:

unbleached all-purpose flour (1 c)
bread flour (3 c)
corn meal

* * * * * * *
parchment paper
large baking sheet
9 x 13 baking pan OR cast iron skillet
probe thermometer (optional, but helpful when you are learning)
That's all there is. No commercial yeast required. If your recently fed starter is bubbling with enthusiasm, you can trust it to make your bread raise quite well.


Monday, October 4, 2010

Keeping your sourdough starter healthy and happy

Here's a picture of a good healthy starter in action. This starter is vigorous and robust, bubbling and expanding with exhuberance. Often the dough I make from it raises in half the time suggested by recipes. It's beginning to take on a good tangy aroma, although the flavor is still a bit tentative. Since the starter is only about five months old, I have faith the taste will sour as it ages.

Caring for mature sourdough starter is pretty simple, but it takes some committment to keep your starter happy.* Each week, you need to use a cup or two (you could also give some away or--sacrilege!--toss some out) and replace it with 1 cup flour and 3/4 c water. Stir it up, allow it to percolate at room temperature all day or overnight, and then store it in the fridge until the next week when you repeat the use-and-increase. That isn't too hard now, is it?

Infant starter, just like a human baby, is a bit more demanding in its early days. It needs to be fed small amounts often until it is strong, at which point it can be stored in the refrigerator and fed once a week. Refer to my post on developing new starter.

There are some want to store it in glass, ideally, with a loose-fitting lid. Avoid metal containers. Base the size of your crock on the amount of starter you want to keep on hand. Since I use about 3 c of starter a week (and add more than 1 c flour and 3/4 c water to replinish it), I want at least a 2-quart crock to be able to have room for 6 c starter plus 2 c headroom. Did I mention that it bubbles a lot? It needs that room to keep from spilling over the rim. Some folks avoid metal spoons but my starter has never seemed bothered by them. Sometimes a clear gold liquid will separate out and settle on the top; this alcohol layer would be the old gold miners' "hootch." You can pour it off or stir it in. I stirred it in with my first starter but now I pour it down the drain. Since my new starter behaves more joyfully than the old, my recommendation would be to pour it off. Perhaps the wild yeasties in my are a teetotalling strain? If your hootch rises up with a grayish color, it should be discarded.

If anyone stumbles across a great 2-quart crock in your shopping, please let me know where you find it. I'd love to get back some room in my fridge. My refrigerator and I thank you.

*If you can't keep up with the schedule, or if you want to take a summer vacation from baking, you can freeze or dry your starter. I'll talk about that in another post.