Sourdough Bread

I was never a fan of “sourdough” bread, although Peg loves it. Always up for a challenge (and nice guy that I am) I tried to make some.

Retired as I am, I have plenty of time to watch videos on YouTube, hundreds, if not thousands of which are on the subject of baking sourdough bread. The YT channel that most resonated with me was ChainBaker, a bloke named Charlie who taught me how to make the starter from just water and flour, to making some pretty good bread.

I don’t try to get the bread really sour, per se, rather I use the wild yeast to do the leavening. And I am still learning how to control how the bread comes out.

Bread. Yeah, bread.

I just realized I have a pending post from at least a year or so ago (this is 1 SEP 2022), so I’ll post it and continue…

I have been doing a bit of baking during the pandemic, and I’ve been a little experimental while I tried to settle in on a “standard” recipe. I am very close.

Being an engineer warps me a little bit, and watching British baking shows hasn’t helped normalize me, so I tend to make my recipes in milliliters and grams, especially for bread recipes. Flour absorbs water, and that changes it’s weight-to-volume ratio, making it difficult to properly measure flour with a measuring cup. So I use a kitchen scale. I got it at Walmart for about $11. It weighs in grams and lbs:oz, so it’s quite handy.

The provided weights are approximate. If you end up with 53 grams of honey, nothing bad happens. 12 grams of yeast? OK. 510 g of flour? No problem.

The recipe is relatively straightforward, though I do use bread flour and honey, as well as canola oil. You can used all-purpose flour, sugar, and any other oil you have on hand. Bread flour has a bit more protein than AP flour, so makes a bit nicer, chewier bread.

I have been specifically using Bob’s Red Mill Artisanal Bread Flour, and Fleischmann’s Active Dry Yeast. I bought a pound package of yeast in October 2020, and it’s still in use seven months later, though I did get another package the other day. I use active dry yeast because I’m used to it – and – it shows in the proofing stage that it’s still alive. No guessing.

The other really weird thing about this recipe is that I start it in a cold oven. I use the oven for proofing and raising, then just start baking when that is done. Stay tuned for instructions.

Recipe:

275 ml tap water
50 g honey
10 g yeast
10 g Kosher salt
20 g canola oil
500 g bread flour

Grease a standard bread loaf pan. I tend to use bacon grease for this part of the job. It’s what my mother-in-law Evelyn used when Peg was growing up, and the smell of bread with bacon grease makes Peg smile. My job is to make Peg smile, so I use bacon grease. (I also coat the loaf in bacon grease after baking to keep the top supple.)

Measure out the water. Place the measuring cup on the scale and zero (tare) it. Add 50 grams of honey. I microwave the the cup for 50 seconds to get 110-120F water in the cup. Mix in the yeast and set it aside.

In your (one – count ’em – one) mixing bowl, weigh out 10 grams of salt, 20 grams of canola oil, and 500 grams or so of flour. By now the yeast mixture should be active, with a layer of foam over the top. If not, your yeast is dead and you need to make a trip to the store.

Otherwise, mix in the yeast. I just fold it in with a scraper until it’s mostly incorporated, then turn the whole thing out onto a clean surface. Scrape the bowl clean – we’ll be using it for proofing in a few minutes.

Incorporate all loose flour into the dough, and knead the dough for five to seven minutes, until the dough is relatively smooth. The dough should be not quite sticky.

Gather the dough and form into a ball – it should be slightly larger than a softball at this point. Cut a deep (1″) cross in the top of the dough ball (it’s to make the rise more uniform), place it in the bowl, and cover with a clean tea towel or cloth. Put the bowl in a cold oven, and place a pan of hot water (1 quart/1 liter) in the oven next to the bowl. Let this proof for 30 minutes.

Once the dough has doubled in size, turn it out on the counter and flatten it out into a rectangle. Roll the rectangle into a loaf shape. Make the loaf pretty and place in the greased bread pan.

The loaf pan is covered with the tea towel and placed in the oven with new hot water, and allowed to proof until it’s just about 1-1.5″ above the pan rim. Remove the hot water, remove the towel, and make decorative and functional cuts into the bread’s crust if desired. A single 0.5″ deep cut down the center lets the bread rise nicely while baking.

Turn on the oven to 350F, and set a 40 minute timer. Assuming your oven is like mine (it’s within 5F), the bread will be done at that point. Remove from the oven, remove from the pan, and cool on a rack. When still warm but cool enough to handle, brush the top of the loaf with butter (or bacon grease 🙂 ).

Let cool completely before cutting into it.

Bananas were harmed in the making of this Banana Bread.

Banana Bread – Straight-up Betty Crocker recipe from the 1976 version of the Betty Crocker Cookbook. There doesn’t appear to be a publishing mark in the book, but this is the cookbook I bought for Peggy in Christmas of 1976, the year we were married. My mother had a Betty Crocker cookbook, and by gum, Peggy would have one, too. This is one well-used cookbook!

I thought I had a better photo…
  • 2 1/2 C All-purpose flour
  • 1 C granulated sugar
  • 3 1/2 t baking POWDER (that’s 1 T, 1/2 t for those keeping score at home)
  • 1 t salt
  • 3 T salad oil (I used canola)
  • 3/4 C milk
  • 3 bananas, mashed up (about 1 C) [1]
  • 1 egg
  • 1 C chopped nuts (I used pecan)

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour two small loaf pans (or one large loaf pan).

Let the mixer mash the bananas. Mixing slowly, add in the oil, egg, and milk. Add the sugar, nuts, and salt. Mix in the flour and baking powder, combining all well.

Divide batter evenly between the two pans. If you’re an annoying geek like me, you’ll use a kitchen scale to get the weights equal. To within 1/10 of an ounce. :).

Bake for 50 – 60 minutes, until a skewer or knife inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Please. Let it rest for a few minutes.

Enjoy!

[1] While the original recipe calls for 1 cup of mashed banana (about 2-3 medium), I find that there is no such thing as a medium banana. Also, as an engineer (and a damned Yankee), I don’t like waste, so I use three bananas. It’s about a cup. I know. Betty Crocker is rolling in her fictional grave.

Dinner Rolls for Thanksgiving

Ordinarily I’d just get some brown-n-serve rolls at the market, but to mix things up, I decided to make rolls from scratch.

There are only the two of us this year, so I’ve shot for a dozen rolls, which is severe overkill. My research involved nothing more than pulling down our trusty Betty Crocker cookbook from 1976. The recipe for their brown-n-serve rolls was halved and slightly modified, ending up with a yeast-rich dough:

  • one packet yeast (Red Star instant today)
  • 3/4 C tepid water – just warm – definitely not hot – shoot for about 100F
  • 2 T fat – I used bacon fat today, because – bacon
  • 2 T sugar
  • 1 t salt
  • 2 1/4 C bread flour

The original recipe calls for all-purpose flour, shortening, and half milk-half water mixture.

The mixing for this can be done by hand, but when one has a KitchenAide with a dough hook…

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water with the sugar and let it sit for a few minutes. If the yeast is alive it will start to foam, and the bread will rise. That’s important. If it doesn’t, get new yeast. Don’t waste your time.

Add the salt, fat, and about half of the flour to the mixing bowl and mix until a smooth batter is achieved. Gradually add most of the remaining flour until a soft dough is formed.

Flour a surface and turn the dough out onto the flour. Knead for five minutes, adding more flour if the dough is still sticky. Place dough in a greased bowl and cover with a damp tea towel. Place in a relatively warm, draft-free area, and let the dough rise until it’s about twice its volume, about 1-2 hours.

Punch the dough down to release the gas that’s built up, and divide the dough into twelve equal portions. Form each portion into a ball, stretching the dough to the bottom, pinching the dough sealed there to form a smooth roll surface. Place rolls in a muffin tin. Cover with the tea towel again, and let the rolls rise again, until about doubled.

Brush rolls with melted butter ( or bacon fat, because – bacon), and bake at 375F for about 15 minutes.

I recently found some elderberry jelly at a folksy roadside stand, and boy do these play well… oh, yeah, we had to test some of the rolls.

N.B. These rolls were not done in muffin tins. Nor were they created under the most auspicious conditions for yeast bread. They were half through the second rise when we had an unexpected trip to the Emergency Department in Boston, so they suffered an interrupted rise. The crumb was not as good, the texture was just OK, but they sure do taste good.

I’ll check back in after Thanksgiving…

I didn’t take many pictures on Thanksgiving. I think I was busy. I need an entourage… But this time, I used the muffin tin, and they turned out beautifully, but no photo, no proof. I didn’t get a picture of the turkey, either, and it should have been a turkey pin-up, it was so pretty.

I had a bear of a time with the other two packets of Red Star yeast. Neither of them rose! I ended up at the market with the choice of Pizza Yeast or a pound (a pound) of proper yeast. I know the shelves are rather sparse, but that choice was asinine.

I found in subsequent batches that using about 2 C of the 2 1/4 C of flour in the initial mixing is just about right. The other quarter cup can be kneaded in as necessary to get the right dough texture.

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Spatchcocked Chicken

SO easy. SO good. SO moist.

I was at the market doing the weekly shopping and saw a “spatchcock” chicken on display, all ready to go. For $18. Right next to it was a chicken likely out of the same hatch, unmolested, for $9. Hey, I’ve got scissors.

It’s rather a pain to remove the chicken’s backbone, but a decent pair of kitchen shears makes it an easy task. One day I’ll buy some. I used a pair of blister-pack Walmart scissors to pretty good effect. Just cut down either side of the backbone and remove it. Then place the chicken breast side up and give it a good whack with the heel of your hand ( or a rolling pin!) to flatten it.

I marinated the bird in Ken’s “House Italian” dressing (also touted as a marinade) for about an hour in a gallon plastic bag, in the ‘fridge.

I fired up the big Weber as the tiny one is, well, just tiny. The chicken was grilled skin-side down for about ten minutes, and turned. After another ten minutes, it was flipped again. I continued to turn it at five minute intervals until the breast measured about 160F.

I’m gonna have to get a photo booth…

Chocolate Bread Pudding

When I was a kid, and we had stale bread (rare to have any bread with all those mouths…), Mom would whip up a batch of chocolate bread pudding. In fact, it wasn’t until after Peg and I married that I found out about bread pudding that didn’t have chocolate! Protected life, I guess. (And I strongly suspect Dad arbitrarily declared bread as “stale” whenever he wanted some pudding…).

For some reason I never got the recipe for that. My sisters are going to come back with “well I have it”, but I’ve come up with a recipe that I think comes close. It leans very heavily on a recipe I found online:

This was excellent, but I increased the chocolate by 25%, the bread by about 30%, and subtly added butter by heavily buttering the baking dish. The original recipe also called for white bread with crusts removed (far too posh), while I opted for a 50 cent day-old loaf of Italian bread, crusts and all. Far more character, especially with that cornmeal from the baking peel.

Here is my version:

Preheat oven to 350F.

  • 2.5 ounces semi sweet chocolate (Baker’s this time)
  • 1/2 C half and half
  • 2/3 C sugar
  • 1/2 C milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 t vanilla extract (simply Organic is just lovely)
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 4 C bread cubes
  • 1 T salted butter

Melt the chocolate in the microwave or a double boiler.
In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, milk, egg, salt, and vanilla extract.

When the chocolate is well melted, stir in the half and half, then combine the chocolate mixture with the milk mixture. Stir in the bread cubes, and let them rest to fully absorb the liquid.

Heavily butter a one quart baking dish (stoneware or glass), leaving the excess in the bottom of the dish. (Subtle, right?)

Bake for 30-40 minutes. A knife in the center should come out nearly clean.

Let it rest for as long as you can stand. Serve with ice cream, whipped cream, or creme Anglaise. Or all of them.

Cornstarch Pudding

Peggy dredged this up from an ancient text (her recipe book when we were newly wed), and it strikes a chord with me. My grandfather Earle was a chemical engineer, and in one of his early jobs worked for Royal Pudding, developing the specific recipe or “formula” used to make Royal chocolate pudding, or so I was told. I think I know what went into the package…

Combine in saucepan:

For chocolate…

  • 2/3 C sugar
  • 3 T cocoa powder

For vanilla…

  • 1/3 C sugar

For all…

  • 1/4 C cornstarch
  • 1/8 t salt

Whisk dry ingredients together, then whisk in

  • 2 3/4 C milk

Stirring constantly, bring this mixture to a boil. Boil about a minute, until pudding thickens. Let pudding cool slightly, then whisk in:

  • 1 T vanilla extract
  • 2 T butter

Serve warm or cold. Pudding can be covered with plastic wrap to prevent the formation of a skin.

The original recipe page

I haven’t made this in years, but it’s a damned inexpensive treat for poor newlyweds!

Evelyn’s Rice Meatballs (Porcupines)

The original recipe card. Sis (Evelyn) typed that up on Peg’s typewriter.

Another recipe dredged from the annals of history. Along with my grandmother’s recipe for doughnuts, this old favorite was found as Peg was rifling through one of her old recipe books. It’s one of very few recipes her mother, Evelyn, ever wrote down.

  • 1 C Minute Rice
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 2 t grated onion
  • 2 t salt
  • 2 1/2 C tomato juice, divided
  • 1/2 t sugar
  • 1/4 t pepper

Reserve 2 C of tomato juice and sugar. Combine other ingredients. Form into 18 equal-sized meatballs. Place meatballs in a skillet. Mix the sugar and remaining tomato juice, and pour over meatballs.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Simmer covered for 15 minutes, basting occasionally.

Grandma Rose’s Doughnuts

Oh, I remember these from my youth. I never got to meet my maternal grandmother, but Mom used to make these all the time for Dad. I was thinking about them a couple of weeks ago, wondering whether any of my sisters had the recipe. Unfortunately, all three of my sisters have recently moved residence. If they are like me (I suspect as much) the recipe books are hidden away in boxes that won’t be found until the next millennium…

Peg just happened to be thumbing through an old recipe book of hers. Lo and behold, this recipe showed up, along with several other treats from the past, like her mother’s recipe for “rice meatballs”, also known as “porcupine” meatballs. I just call that good karma…

But, for the doughnuts…

Mix together:

  • 1 egg
  • 1 C sugar
  • 1 C sour milk
  • 1 1/2 T shortening

Add:

  • 4 C flour
  • 1 3/4 t baking soda
  • 1 3/4 t cream of tartar
  • 1 1/2 t nutmeg

For glaze, mix 1/3 C boiling water to 1 C confectioners sugar.

Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/2 inch thick. Use doughnut cutter to cut doughnuts (and hole!). Re-roll scraps to make more donuts, and the final scraps can be fried as-is odd shapes.

Heat several inches of shortening in a deep skillet or fryer to 350F. Fry doughnuts until golden brown on one side, the flip and fry the other side.

Drain on rack over paper towels. Glaze when cool.

The original – but whose handwriting is that?

Simple Chocolate Sauce

When we were kids, Mom used to make a chocolate sauce for ice cream. I couldn’t remember the recipe so I poked around the web for a bit, found a recipe at https://barefeetinthekitchen.com. Of course I modified it (butter!).

  • 1C granulated sugar
  • 1/2 C cocoa powder ( I used Droste)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 C cold water
  • 1T vanilla extract
  • 1T butter

Combine the sugar, cocoa and salt in a small saucepan. Whisk the dry ingredients until all lumps break up. Sift if you lean toward fussy. Stir in the cold water and mix well before applying heat.

Gentle bring to a boil, then simmer for five minutes.

Let cool for a few minutes, then stir in butter and vanilla.

Great over ice cream.

Yield is about two cups, and if you have leftovers, it can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

I made a second batch with half of the sugar replaced with corn syrup (just Karo light), hoping to avoid cold crystallization of the sugar. I’ll report back, perhaps with a modified or alternate recipe.