Archive for June, 2009
A reader (“Q”) left a question on my How To Make Light Sourdough post. As her dough didn’t double in size, should she have added some fresh yeast?
My answer was so long it turned into this post.
I don’t advise boosting the sourdough starter with commercial yeast. That’s because I’m a sourdough snob. Commercial bakers sometimes add fresh yeast in order to schedule rising and baking times predictably, but for the home baker, the whole idea is to use the time-proven sourdough method to create a delicious loaf in her/his own kitchen.
My feeling is, if there’s commercial yeast, it’s not real sourdough. But like I said, I’m a snob. Who cares if it’s “real” or not except for yourself? For me, using sourdough is like having captured the soul of the wheat. But people eating the bread just want it to be satisfying and taste good.
There are several streams of thought. Some home bakers just want bread with that sourdough tang and don’t mind mixing yeasts. (I also make certain breads using “old leaven” or a “chef” – a small ball of dough from a previous baking that’s been left to mature and sour.) Some must cater to someone who’s allergic to fresh yeast but tolerates sourdough. Some seek the satisfaction of mastering a basic wild ingredient and getting great natural flavor, texture, and digestibility. There is so much beautiful bread to make – my best advice is to go with what seems appetizing to you, master that technique, and go on to the next intriguing recipe.
But returning to “Q”‘s problem with a non-riser.
Was your starter recently refreshed and active? And did the sponge become light and spongey? If the answer is no to either question, there might not have been enough yeast to make the dough rise. An inactive starter might look impressive because there’s a lot of it, but it won’t do its job if most of the yeast cells in it are dead.
An alternative reason for a sad dough might might be insufficient flour to keep the yeast fermenting. If the dough was too sloppy to handle, you did the right thing in adding flour. If you’re outside of Israel, your flour will have a different quality than mine, and your recipe will need to be adjusted. In other words, from country to country, flours differ in ability to absorb water. There are other differences too, but that’s outside the scope of this post. Like every living thing, wild yeasts need nutrients: the sugars in the flour, and oxygen. So with a very loose dough, you could either allow more time for it to rise – hard to say how long, but it could be several more hours – or sprinkle in more flour till you have a pliable, responsive dough.
Where was your dough rising – in a warm environment or a cool one? Too cold an environment will retard the fermentation of the dough, which can be desirable sometimes (allowing it to rise overnight in the fridge) – or not, if you’ve set a schedule.
It does take practice to create a good sourdough loaf. If you haven’t grown up watching Mom or Big Sis handle sourdough, you’ll need to acquire the feeling for the right temperatures, rising times, feel of the dough – by practice. Here’s a tip, though: the way you can tell if your dough will rise is by judging its feel under your hands. A good dough will feel tender yet firm, keeping its shape and even springing back a little under fingertip pressure, right from the beginning. A “loser” stretches out in broad ribbons and just flops back into the bowl; it feels heavy and dead.
If you’re unsure, add fresh yeast, I guess…but don’t put any into your sourdough starter, for it will “fight” with the natural yeasts and beneficial bacteria, spoiling it.
Jam, clafoutis, ice cream, pie…visions of home made delicacies crammed with cherries floated through my mind as I searched my cookbooks for recipes. While I hesitated, the cherries sat in a bowl looking plump and juicy and radiating crimson sweetness. Everyone passing through the kitchen just had to pop a few of them into their mouths. Before they disappeared altogether, I pitted some for a cobbler.
My cobblers are usually a rich biscuit dough covered with hot fruit, but this recipe calls for batter spooned over the quickly-stewed fruit. We liked it. It was just enough buttery, lightly sweet crust to offset the rich, juicy cherries. And being cobbler, it’s easy to make, quick to bake.
The original recipe called for 1 1/2 cups of sugar. I could tell it would be too sweet for us. But if your cherries are tart or you just like your desserts very sweet, use the whole amount. These Bing cherries were sweet so I halved the sugar, and the cobbler was very delicious.
4 cups of pitted cherries
3/4 cup sugar
3 Tblsp. corn starch
1 cup flour
1 Tblsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3 tablespoons margarine or butter
1/2 cup milk
1. Preheat the oven to 400° F – 200° C.
2. Cook the filling : in a medium pan, blend the sugar, corn starch, and cherries. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until the mixture releases liquid, thickens, and starts to boil. Allow it to boil 1 minute, stirring constantly to prevent scorching.
3. Make the dough: Blend all the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the marg/butter and the milk. Stir till the fat has incorporated into the dough and you have a sloppy dough.
4. Pour the hot fruit into your pie dish or casserole.
5. Drop big spoonfuls of the dough onto the fruit – 6 spoonfuls is good because then you have 6 servings clearly outlined.
6. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown.
Serve warm, with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, or just plain (which is how we prefer it). Eat it up the same day or at the most by lunchtime the following day, as cobbler doesn’t keep well. If you must keep it overnight, stash it away in the fridge and heat it up next time, covered lightly with tin foil. Cool it down again to just warm, and serve right away.
…another Israeli Kitchen/Baroness Tapuzina adventure.
Picking cherries is so easy. You just slip your fingers between the stems, tug a little, and the dark crimson, heart-shaped fruit separates from the branch. It’s a sensuous delight, compared to say, picking hawthorns. Lots of shade, and all the sweet fruit you can pop into your mouth…better than a candy shop. Baroness Tapuzina, Mr. B.T., The Little One and I decided that we had to do it.
We set off on the long drive to Kibbutz Rosh Tzurim, where their annual cherry-picking festival is taking place. For those interested, there will be two more pick-your-own Fridays on Rosh Tzurim on June 26th and July 3rd. It was a long, dry drive to Gush Etzion, but we were well equipped with picnic fare and lots of water bottles.
Arriving, we found a shady spot and spread our blankets down to picnic first, pick later.
Just ordinary picnic food: the most elaborate dish was a quiche of Swiss chard and mushrooms.
Hunger satisfied, we packed up the remains of our simple picnic and headed down to the orchard, following the crowd.
The trees and paths between them were hung with netting to keep the birds off the cherries. It was a blazingly hot day, and the net covering made you feel stifled at first.
But the pickers were happy. One good thing about the netting was that there were no bird droppings on the fruit, just a little dust. The cutest was how the little kids got so excited over picking real cherries off real trees. Indulgent Moms and Dads hoisted tots onto their shoulders and pulled branches closer; bigger kids scampered around pulling off whatever they could reach. We even caught a rare glimpse of The Nymph in the Glade…
…sometimes also known as Mr. Baroness T.
A lot of English was heard there: British and Americans, and some French families too. It was a peaceful mixed crowd of religious, secular, Israeli, foreign – all intent on the cherries. We stopped at the trees bearing Bing cherries. Other pickers ventured further into the netted orchard and emerged with boxes full of Rainiers. There’s no comparison to the taste of fruit popped into the mouth seconds after picking and their taste after being boxed, shipped, and bought a day or three later. So fresh, so sweet and yet slightly tart, so delicious.
Our baskets filled up very quickly, standing as we were under a couple of loaded trees. But it really was hot under the netting – although possibly it would have been hotter under the full sun. We took our treasure back up to the festival grounds and browsed the stands of local artists and food suppliers.
There were framed photographs…
…books, as it’s Hebrew Book Month…
…one of those inflated castles for the kids to jump around on – what are they called?…
…necklaces containing a grain of rice with your name engraved on it…The Little One couldn’t rest until she had one…
…a truck taking folks on a tour of the kibbutz…
But what delighted me was the band, who were playing a smooth, flowing run of Cole Porter songs overlaid with a Jazz/Latin flavor. I embarrassed The Little One to death by singing along as we wandered over the grounds – don’t know if she’ll ever willingly hear “Night and Day” again. But hey, the Bossa Nova riff in the middle of that old song was really good. Very easy to improvise vocal variations and scat over it. Good thing I’m still too modest to climb up on stage and take the microphone; that would have killed her.
It was delightful. Cherries and kids. Live music and food.
We left, saying we’d be back next week – well, maybe. I’m not really sure what to do with all the luscious cherries I have on hand now. I have a feeling that my next few posts will feature them.
Driving away, we saw an entire hillside shrouded in netting:
Baroness and Mr. B. took us home and stopped in for a cup of coffee. They had done the driving and the guiding and were in need of caffeine to finish their Shabbat cooking. I also rushed to pop a chicken in the oven, heat up soup and a potato kugel, wash the lettuce…but that night, all my dreams were of cherries.
Sometimes I want a loaf that has only a little tang, one that’s much lighter than the typical sourdough loaf. I get a SD bread that’s positively fluffy following these five steps:
1. Refresh your starter before making the dough. In other words, remove about half of the starter in your jar, and refresh it. Let it grow light and frothy. How long this takes varies on the kitchen temperature. In the summer, it takes about 1 1/2 hours for me.
Note: if your starter has been ignored in the fridge for a long time, it’s well to refresh it twice. That is, once the starter shows plenty of activity, throw out half again and start over. I hate dumping all that water and flour down the sink, but the results are a healthy, active starter with an aroma that’s only a little sour. Of course you have to figure in the extra time when you refresh twice. Better to refresh your starter routinely so you don’t have to do this.
2. Remove 1 full cup from the refreshed starter and put it in your mixing bowl (and refresh the stuff in the original jar so you don’t run out next time). Most recipes calls for 1/2 cup of starter, but I think the full cup of sweet, active starter does the trick.
3. Make a sponge of the cupful of starter, 2 cups of water, and 3 cups of flour. Nothing else. Cover it with plastic and let it rise till very light and bubbly: around 8 hours. Basically what you’re doing is creating a big batch of new starter. It isn’t dough yet.
4. Then stir it down and add the rest of the flour and other ingredients. Knead or stretch and fold, shape into boules. Now you have dough.
5. Let it rise again till light – maybe 3 hours – and bake in a preheated 350° F – 180° C.
So that’s what I did.
Sourdough Walnut Herb Bread.
2 round loaves
At step 4, I added:
3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 Tblsp. olive oil
1 Tblsp. salt
1/2 Tblsp. sugar
A few grinds of black pepper. If shaking pepper out of a jar, add 1/4 tsp.
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried, crumbled oregano
1 large, finely-chopped scallion: about 3 Tblsp. You can substitute onion or 1 large clove minced garlic.
- and stretched and folded till everything was incorporated. I added maybe another 1/2 cup of flour,
sprinkling along till the dough was just firm enough to manipulate. Shaped my boules.
At step 5 I brushed the boules with an egg mixed with 1 Tblsp. cold water and sprinkled coarse salt all over them. Then I carefully slid them into the hot oven and waited.
The loaves were so light that they took only about 25 minutes to bake.
Tender crumb, delicate herb/onion flavor, and the salty crust…well, it was all very delicious. In fact, irresistible. Especially eaten while still warm, with a film of good butter over each slice. I had some creamy goat’s cheese that was quite, er, aromatic - also very good. Of course the flavors develop as the bread cools and it’s better to eat it cold…but who could wait?
I had only vague guidelines to make this salad as Adir gave them to me. The lentils I had in the freezer were a different kind, too – smaller and browner. What the heck, I made the salad. And while it had to be different from the one I tasted in Rosh Pina, it was pretty good. The citrusy herbal dressing softly offset the earthiness of the lentils, and sautéed onions added a pleasant texture and taste. I’d serve it as part of a mezze or make a summer meal out of it with hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes and cucumbers on the side. Pitta, too, of course. Cheese, if you please.
Apart from tasty, the salad is packed with protein and fiber and is free eating for vegetarians, lactose-intolerant folks, or those who must eat gluten-free.
1 cup dried lentils
2 cups water
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. salt and more to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Juice of 1/2 orange
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 cup chopped cilantro or parsley
1/4 cup chopped mint
1 large clove garlic
1. Pick over and rinse the lentils. Put them in a medium pan with the water and the bay leaf.
2. Simmer till the lentils are tender, but don’t overcook and let them lose their shape. Depending on the age and variety, this may take from 1/2 – 1 hour. Add salt only when they’re just underdone – cooked, but not quite done. Stir.
3. When tasting proves that the lentils are cooked through, drain them of excess water and allow them to cool. Remove the bay leaf.
4. While the lentils are cooling, chop the onion and sauté it till translucent in a little olive oil. Set aside.
5. Blend all the dressing ingredients in a blender. Pour the dressing over the cooled lentils; stir the onions in.
6. Cover and put aside for 1 hour before serving. Even better, leave it in the fridge overnight and serve the next day.
Filling, nutritious, and tasty. Hard to improve on.