Bell Pepper Lovers …

Know them by their fruits! I think it is cute that the number of bumps on the bottom of a sweet bell pepper correspond to its gender … if you think about it, it corresponds to people’s gender parts (sort of) lol!

But actually, it is not true. Check this out.

Makes you kind of wonder about the person at AWM Food who was sitting around contemplating peppers and sex enough to create this false pix haha!

 

Autolyse to the rescue

No, its not a contract for car rental, and is actually pronounced as it if were an automatic bug infestation (lice), but AUTOLYSE is a remarkable, innovative, dare I say … “miraculous” way to achieve the kind of flavor, lift, crust and really open chewy crumb, sourdough bakers all strive for.

Autolyse Sourdough Loaf

It does require time and attention. Want to get that out front at the get go. Not a method you can use quickly, or leave and forget it. But not a lot of “hands on” time. In fact, this is perfect for bakers who do not have the upper body strength or energy for vigorous kneading, nor the ability to safely use heavy dutch ovens required for previous “no knead” recipes.

Autolyse is an ancient term meaning “self digestion.” The term was applied to baking by Raymond Calvel (1913-2005) who taught Julia Child, among others, and developed a profound body of research on various flours and in the process developed the autolyse method of baking. In sourdough baking, it translates to a wet, shaggy dough that is allowed to begin the flour hydration process before the sourdough starter is even added, thereby relaxing the gluten.

In the autolyse method I have adopted, this is followed by several short periods of bulk fermention “bf” punctuated by gentle folding of the dough, not kneading (which incorporates oxygen but dulls flavor), and returning for another bf period. After several such sessions, the dough becomes more manageable, builds flavor, and eventually can be shaped, though it will still be soft and appear to not have much lift at all. That is deceiving. The actual baking method is also critical, because it is here that the lift, crumb and crust all develop. You will be astonished. I am every time I do this.

To begin, you will need a mixer with open paddle attachment (not bread hook), a bench knife, a good ceramic bowl, a clean kitchen towel, unbleached baking parchment, and baking trays (not flat cookie sheets). I have my preferences on all these things but I don’t do ads on my blog so no brand names mentioned here.

First Steps:

  • Start your dough by heating 3 Cups water to 85F-90F (I put in my microwave for 1 minute on high) and to that add 3 Cups White Bread Flour and 1 Cup Whole Wheat Flour (this is suggested ratio, you can play around with amounts and types all you want) and work vigorously in the mixer until you have a shaggy wet dough. Use a spatula to push all the dough down and toward the center, then cover with towel and let rest for 40 minutes to 4 hours, depending on the type of dough you want to achieve. This is your Autolyse.
  • Activate your starter in a clean glass bowl. So easy! Microwave a cup of filtered non-chlorinated water in your bowl for 30 seconds on High. Then add your wild caught sourdough starter (which is usually about a cup if you bake regularly) and a cup of bread flour and use a wire whisk to give it a thorough talking to. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and put in proofing box (I use my microwave — turned off of course). It is ready to use when it develops a top layer of micro-foam. (You will know it when you see it.)
  • Add to the Autolyse: 1 Cup of activated starter (put remainder in clean glass jar in fridge for future use), 4 t salt, 1/4 C water (again, unchlorinated and 85F-90F) and any other additions your recipe calls for such as oils, sugars, honey, citric zests, olives, herbs, nuts, cheese, etc). [The reason you hold off on adding salt until now is that hydrating the flour first in the Autolyse allows enzymes to free up more sugar for the yeast to eat, whereas salt tightens gluten strands.]

Bulk Fermentations / Folds

  • Begin by removing your dough (a wet shaggy mess at this point) to a floured board) and using your floured bench knife to slide under an edge of the dough, lifting and folding it over toward center. Do this all around several times until the dough is more cohesive but still very soft. You do NOT want to achieve a stiff dough at any point.
  • Put in large ceramic bowl, cover with clean towel and move to the proofing box (i.e. microwave) for the first Bulk Fermentation (bf) of about 30 minutes.
  • Repeat the folding / fermentations up to six times, until dough is still soft, but ready to take shape. At this point you can divide and shape, placing onto unbleached parchment (doesn’t burn at high temps like bleached) on trays. Cover with towel and let rest for 30 minutes.
  • While your loaves are resting, heat oven to 500F.
  • When oven is ready, put the trays at center.
  • Add 1/4 C filtered water to bottom of oven to produce steam (or in pan at bottom of oven) BE CAREFUL as this will produce a hot cloud of steam so you must remove your hand and shut the door very quickly lest you be burned. TURN OVEN DOWN TO 450F and set timer for 30 minutes. [Please note: pouring directly into your oven bottom can risk your oven’s electronics if it doesn’t have a steam clean function, hence use a pan instead.]
  • Repeat the “steam shots” at least once during bake. This is how you achieve the wonderful dark golden crisp crust.
  • Baking times will depend on your recipe and mostly importantly your additives. An olive bread, for example will require up to an hour. A simple ungarnished dough only 35-45 minutes.
  • Your bread is done when the crust color is right and it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool completely on a wire rack before cutting. Using a good sharp serrated bread knife will preserve your loaf. Reserving the heel end to cover the open end will keep your loaf fresh. Use a piece of baker’s twine to keep in place. You do not need to cover if kept in this manner, but you can put in a bread bag or poly bag once it is completely cool though the crisp crust will soften a bit. As with all wild-caught sourdough breads, flavor continues to develop so that your last slice is more flavorful even than the first (which is awesome).

This may seem like an extremely complicated way to bake! It is — the first time you do it. After that, I promise, you will see the simplicity and ease of it and you may find yourself baking bread much more often than you ever have before. Enjoy!

 

 

Sourdough Heaven … Mediterranean Style

 

My Sourdough Olive … a first!

Well, that caption should truthfully say, “my second,” because it took a previous try before I got the recipe right. My first attempt utilized 50-50 white to whole wheat and was just too dense. My chickens loved it though!

This batch utilized a 75-25 ratio of white to whole wheat with a very wet dough that was gently “turned,” not kneaded, multiple times over the course of its bulk fermentation. And to achieve the wonderful crust (which often eludes me) I started with a 500F oven, added the loaves and immediately turned the temp down to 450F and added a half cup of water to the bottom of the oven. I did this periodically throughout its bake. (A word of caution about that … my oven has a steam cleaning option so this can be done. But some oven electronics might suffer with this step. Even a great loaf is not worth ruining your oven.)

Finally!

And the FLAVOR! My first loaf used a different brand of Kalamata olives that were chopped. This time I used a really good salt-brined sliced brand that added tremendous rich flavor. So in addition to the usual health benefits of sourdough, the olives add even more! This is as good as any professional loaf I have ever tasted (so good I had two thick slices slathered in butter), and it is sourdough, so I do feel like I’ve just won the Pulitzer or something … having finally achieved an excellent crusty, open crumb, chewy tasty Sourdough Olive loaf!

Thank you Audrey II!

The Sourdough Schedule

Since I began my Sourdough Life, I have noticed that bakers love to complicate their recipes. Whether it is tweaking the ingredients, measurements, schedule, or interventions, a new Sourdough Baker can get lost in the complexity. So here is a basic schedule for baking Sourdough Bread — once you get the yeast under your wings and can trust your baker’s instincts, this is a handy schedule to print and put on your fridge. Enjoy!

Baking with Wild Caught Sourdough is …

  • MAGICAL because you are capturing these invisible creatures, feeding and caring for them, and then asking them to work for you to make something delicious
  • INSPIRING because it allows your imagination to take flight, creating new and different breads, muffins, biscuits, cookies, pizzas, tamales, noodles, hush puppies, cakes, crackers, pancakes and pie crust
  • HEALTHY because Wild Caught Sourdough Starter is made from natural yeast which requires a long fermentation to rise and this is what creates the immune enhancing, macro-biome promoting, and nutrient rich properties
  • ECONOMICAL because of its long shelf life … it has natural preservative qualities so you don’t waste and don’t need to refrigerate
  • MUCH MORE FLAVORFUL — compared to commercial yeast breads which taste like kleenex tissue, natural sourdough is tangy, rich, deeply delicious and actually becomes more so the longer it sits out
  • MOOD ALTERING — not only because of the different kind of candida that it produces, but also just the slow, rhythmic kneading, the waiting, anticipation and reward that baking with sourdough provides. It can enrich your life!

Each time I bake with my wonderful Sourdough Starter which I named Audrey II (after the insatiable plant in Little Shop of Horrors) it is an adventure. There are so many things I can do with it. This past week I made a delicious pizza. This weekend I will be baking Challah for my Church’s Fellowship Hour. I’ll be baking two loaves — just as is done for Shabbat, representing the double portion of mannah given to the Israelites in the wilderness so they would not have to forage on Shabbat. The braided form which we now associate with Challah, was not used until Medievil Times. Challah made with Wild Caught Sourdough Starter seems to me somehow more traditional, as it is natural yeast, as opposed to commercial yeast, which wasn’t available until the 20th Century. The recipes and form vary, but always incorporate eggs, giving the bread full flavor, fine grain and a golden hue.

New Year’s Challah with 6 Braids

Nature’s Pharmacy … Turmeric

turmeric

I recently went face down on some wet leaves chasing my dogs. Not fun for a 67 year old. I was actually very lucky – nothing broken. But I was in tremendous pain in my face, shoulders, knees, ankles — basically everywhere. I was concerned about inflammation so my friend and neighbor who is a nurse gave me an aspirin (haven’t had any in the house for over ten years). Turns out I don’t tolerate aspirin – it gave me tremendous gerd all night long (oh yeah, that’s why I stopped having it in the house). So I turned to my spice cabinet.

Turmeric, which is the leading spice in curry (which I love and eat lots of) is a pain and inflammation reducer. So, in addition to my beloved curries, I am now including turmeric in everything I can, even if only an insignificant dash that doesn’t add to the flavor. In so doing, I am building up the curcumin (the active component) in my system.

Just a few delicious ways you can easily incorporate turmeric in your diet (aside from yummy curries):

  • Toasted/grilled cheese on bread with turmeric sprinkled on top
  • Squash or carrot soup with a healthy (literally) dose of turmeric
  • Scrambled eggs with turmeric
  • Dips for vegetable crudites
  • Smoothies and lattes (recipes abound on the Internet)
  • Yogurt based sauces for vegetables, fish, chicken, beef and pork
  • Cooked rice of any type is improved with turmeric added
  • Marinades or rubs for meats
  • Salad dressings
  • Add to cooked/roasted vegetables such as cauliflower, carrots, potatoes
  • Add to the spice brine for homemade pickles

I encourage you to start incorporating this incredible spice in your diet on a daily basis. Also research for yourself the many peer-reviewed studies of its effects on cancer, diabetes, depression and many other illnesses and be amazed. And if you have a special way to use turmeric, let me know!

Regional Comfort Foods — Boston Baked Beans

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Boston Baked Beans From Scratch

Boston Baked Beans are iconic with their namesake, but their origins are actually Native American. Those indigenous peoples schooled the Pilgrims on survival and the wonders of baking beans, teaching the intricacies of such recipes back in the early 1600s! When Boston became a trade exporter of rum (made by the distillation of molasses), molasses were added to the beans and left to cook in brick ovens overnight on Saturdays. Barley and corn were combined to make the traditional Boston Brown Bread which was served after Church with the beans. By the way, this also earned Boston the nickname of “Bean Town.”

I have a full cast iron Dutch oven of beans cooking in the oven right now. They have been there since around 11:30 am (it is now 2:40) and I hope to have them for supper tonight. It is really such an easy recipe, I am amazed that more people don’t cook this from scratch. But like Sourdough Bread, because it takes a lot of time, folks think it takes a lot of effort — which it does not.

If you have a ham hock (like that leftover from your Thanksgiving ham) or a piece of salt pork, 2 bags of Navy beans, and various condiments, you can whip up the makings and put them to work for you in a few minutes and then enjoy them baking in your oven for 7 hours. (Yes, that’s how long it takes). But the aromas are divine, and season your Saturday, while you do things like raking leaves and cleaning out the chicken coop!

Here’s the very simple recipe:

Prep 2 bags of Navy Beans by one of two methods (or something in between)

Method 1: Put beans in large pot with LOTS of water to cover and let sit overnight. Okay, you’re not going to do that one.

Method 2: Boil the beans in water and apple cider for a few minutes and then let sit covered off heat for an hour. That’s a winner.

Then put the beans and liquid in a Cast Iron Dutch Oven with about a cup of black strap (non-sulphured) molasses, and appropriate (to taste) additions of Apple Cider (and/or Balsamic) Vinegar, real maple syrup, brown sugar, mustard, Worchestershiire Sauce, salt. Add a meaty ham hock and an onion studded with 6-8 cloves. Put in a 350 oven for about an hour until its bubbling, then turn heat down to 250 and check/stir/taste/adjust seasonings every hour for an additional 6 hours (7 hours total). Before serving, remove the ham bone and return any meat still on it to the pot. Similarly, remove the onion and chop up and return to the pan.

You can freeze in small portions and enjoy every time the snow falls, contemplating the harrows that our forefathers endured in those Bostons winters, and if you have the energy, make some brown bread to enjoy with it!

If you have any hacks on this traditional recipe, I’d love to hear them!

Regional Comfort Foods … The Cornish Pasty

My paternal great grandfather hails from Cornwall England near St Austell according to one relative — an area full of tin, copper and china clay mines. Cornwall is known as the home of a recognized distinct ancient tribal peoples called “The Cornish.” My great grandfather was a miner, and his son (my grandfather) became a mining engineer when he emigrated (as part of the great Cornish diaspora) to the great open pit Iron Ore mines of Northern Minnesota.

cornwallmine

We were taught as children (and I presume it to be true) that a traditional lunch prepared for miners by their wives was the Cornish Pasty (rhymes with nasty, though it is anything but) carving their husband’s initials in the half moon pastries so that they would not be confused with others’.

The traditional pasty that we grew up eating and baking consists of a pie circle, filled with chopped beef, suet (which I now have to beg the butcher for), onion,potatoes and — most importantly — rutabaga (called turnips in Cornwall but milder in flavor). But many iterations contain other meats (like pork) and vegetables (like carrots). Folded in half and crimped on the unfolded side, these are baked for about 45 minutes at 350 F and are delicious! You can brush the tops with egg wash or milk.

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Preparing for the bake …

I have a hard time finding rutabagas here in NC and when I do they tend to be so large as to be difficult to chop, so I recently substituted purple top turnips, which have a somewhat sharper flavor but are tender and smaller, and the pasties are still delicious! In our family, we always ate them warm, with ketchup on the side. But the ketchup is not mandatory. In fact, I have met folks who eat these with mustard as they do tend to be a little on the dry side undressed. But there are any manner of things you could dress them with if you do not like ketchup.

pasty

If you have a special family comfort food that you can trace to ancient times, please let me know!

 

Just Treats … No High Fructose Corn Syrup

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Chocolate Peanut Butter & Pumpkin Spice Cookies

Ever since an isolated incident back in the early 70’s gave us all a fright, the commercial candy industry has been aggressively persuading us not to give out apples, popcorn balls or other home made treats on Halloween. So for years, especially when I had a young son, I dutifully purchased commercial candies in miniature form each year (and ate a fair share of them myself). However, I have long questioned this practice.

I live in a small community with a very high incidence of diabetes and obesity … even among children. So for the past few years I have resisted giving out candy, choosing instead to buy expensive organic cheese crackers in little boxes from Annie’s, which the kids have loved. But since I get 100 or more Trick Or Treaters each year, this adds up! Then there came this report from the Cornucopia Institute … detailing the problem with most treats passed out this time of year and suggesting solutions. As a professional baker (at least for dogs) I decided to go the cookie route instead. It is an economical way to put a little love in each colorful treat bag (bought on ebay for just a few dollars).

I started out with some vintage cookie cutters of a bat and a scaredy cat (tail straight up). This quickly became unworkable with the tender cookie dough. So I switched forms to Acorns and Pumpkins. I added easy decorations of chocolate sprinkles on the acorn caps and chocolate covered dots to make jack-o-lanterns of the pumpkins. Each bag gets two large cookies, one of each kind, and is tied with a string of raffia (also from ebay, also very inexpensive). The cookies are delicious! Here are the recipes, in case anyone wants to try them.

Triple Threat Chocolate Peanut Butter Cut Out Cookies (makes 2-4 dozen cookies, depending on size)

Preheat oven to 400F

  • 1 Cup Unsalted Butter (softened to room temp)
  • 1 Cup Light Brown Sugar (packed)
  • 1/2 Cup Peanut Butter (smooth)
  • 1/4 Cup Melted and Cooled Chocolate (I used chocolate chips with 60% Cocoa)
  • 2 T Dark Cocoa Powder
  • 1 Egg
  • 3 Cups Unbleached All Purpose Flour
  • 1 t Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2 t Baking Powder (Double Acting)
  • 1 t Salt
  1. Cream the butter & sugar together until light and fluffy.
  2. Add Peanut Butter and Chocolate
  3. Add Egg and Vanilla
  4. Add Flour, Baking Powder and Salt
  5. Keep dough cold while not working, but no need to pre-chill before rolling
  6. Roll out between parchment to 1/4″ thickness and cut shapes.
  7. Decorate
  8. Bake on parchment, keeping 1″ or more between cookies, about 12 minutes.
  9. Remove to wire racks to cook completely. You can store in zip locks until packaging in treat bags.

Pumpkin Spice Cut Out Cookies

Preheat oven to 350F

  • 3/4 Cups Unsalted Butter (softened to room temp)
  • 1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup Light Brown Sugar (packed)
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/2 Cup Pumpkin Puree
  • 1 T Vanilla Extract
  • 3 Cups Unbleached All Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 t Double Acting Baking Powder
  • 1 t Salt
  • 1-1/2 t Cinnamon
  • 3/4 t Ground Ginger
  • 1/4 t Ground or Grated Nutmeg
  • 1/4 t Ground Allspice
  • 1/8 t Ground Cloves
  1. Cream Butter and Sugars together until light and fluffy
  2. Add Pumpkin, Vanilla and Egg
  3. Add dry ingredients
  4. Chill dough for 15 – 20 minutes before rolling
  5. Roll out between parchment to 1/4″ thick and cut shapes
  6. Decorate and put on parchment to bake
  7. Bake 12 minutes
  8. Transfer to wire rack to cool completely before packing in treat bags
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Cut shapes close together & then remove xtra before lifting shapes with spatula

Enjoy! And have a safe and Happy Halloween!

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Give Us This Day …

Our daily bread!

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It is actually true, that bread — at least healthy fermented bread — comes pretty close to supplying what we need on a daily basis to live.

But bread has come under fire from dieters and dieticians alike ever since the bastardization of the baking art in the mid-20th Century. Done to achieve shorter baking times, long shelf life and enhance profits, commercially made bread relied on wheat stripped of all nutrition. When that created a nation of sick people (true), companies like Wonder Bread began adding the “health” back into the bread and using that as an advertising tool. But in reality, even with nutrients added, the process and ingredients of most commercial breads to this day do nothing to promote your health, and may in fact be unhealthy. The type of flour used, additives (some of which are known carcinogens, un-fermented gluten and commercial yeast have produced many celiac disease sufferers, but also many more who react to the lack of fermentation, experiencing bloating and other gut problems. Lack of fermentation in bread has also contributed to an epidemic of diabetes and may be responsible for the spike in Candida diseases and allergic reactions that may contribute to cancer. Fermentation actually pre-digests those elements of the bread that produce such discomforts. It releases nutrients in the bread so that your body can absorb them. It helps control candida albicans, where commercial yeast encourages it. And it contributes to a healthy microbiome, slowly recreating the friendly lactobacillus digestive bacteria in your gastrointestinal system, which in turn boosts your immune system.

In generations past, bread fermentation was the ONLY way bread was made. But it took time (at least overnight and sometimes days) to produce delicious healthy loaves. Now, however, the pendulum has begun to swing back. Consumers are starting to realize the health benefits of fermented sourdough bread. Now, please don’t run out and buy a loaf of sourdough bread from your local grocer. It is likely to have no fermentation in it and may not even have any real sourdough in it … just vinegar to produce a “sour” flavor. Real sourdough bread is so easy to make. Even making your own wild caught sourdough starter is easy. And the flavor … I can never go back to store bought bread again.

I bake bread a couple of times a week. I live alone so 2 loaves a week is usually all I need unless I have company. What I don’t eat before it begins to go stale goes to the chickens (who love it) or I make croutons or bread crumbs with it. So there is no waste. Just deliciousness.

I encourage everyone to read my previous posts how to make a sourdough starter, and various approaches and recipes for creating healthy bread. Again, they are not difficult and require little hands-on time, mostly just waiting for the magic to happen.