Sourdough for a cold kitchen

Remember when I started baking sourdough, earlier on in covidtide? Yeah, me too. It was enjoyable for a while, but I started running into frustrations: having to keep a large amount of starter alive, bakes that didn’t rise like they should, gummy centres. I didn’t like how much mental space it took up as I tried to figure out and execute the perfect timing for each step. It stopped feeling like it was worth it.

But last week, I came across the post in the sourdough subreddit that changed things for me. The author made the point that baking sourdough is something that’s been happening for thousands of years — long before thermometers, fancy le crueset bakeware, or well-calibrated electric ovens. It’s supposed to be easy. She outlined a method where you just mix everything in one step, plop it on the counter for a long rise, and then bake it.

Freaking. Brilliant. After all those months of practicing and experimenting and nit-picking… what finally gave me the perfect rise and crumb was keeping things dead simple, with a tiny amount of starter and a good long rise. It also means that I was able to get rid of my huge tub of starter; now it lives in the fridge in a tiny jelly jar and I only feed it once a week.

I also realised that my kitchen is cold. During the fall and winter, we keep the house at 68F, which does not kill the yeast but definitely slows it down considerably. I had been trying to make sourdough after letting my dough rise on the counter for about six hours. As it turns out, I needed to triple that number. So here is my method for a long, slow rise in a chilly kitchen.

Ingredients:

  • 500 grams flour
  • 20 grams unfed starter (yes: a teeny amount and straight from the fridge!)
  • 10 grams sea salt
  • 355 grams tepid filtered water

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Mix with your hands until there are no dry spots left.

Do four sets of stretches and folds, spaced 15-30 minutes apart. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise on the counter for 18 hours (I start the process at noon to bake a little after 6 am the next morning).

In the morning, your dough should have at least doubled. Place your baking vessel and lid (I used a casserole dish) in the oven and preheat to 500F.

30 minutes after the oven turns on, preshape your dough on the counter and let it rest.

15 minutes after preshape, do your final shape and pop it into the baking vessel — don’t forget your oven mitts! Turn the oven down to 450 F.

Bake 25 minutes, then remove lid of baking vessel. Bake an additional 25-30 minutes until your crust reaches the desired colour. Turn oven off, and leave bread in the oven with the door cracked for about an hour.

Remove to cooling rack and let finish cooling completely before slicing — this may take a few hours but it will be worth it. Then slice and enjoy!

Weekend Reading: this one’s just a mish-mash

Weekend Reading is a collation of 3-5 articles that have caught my attention, published on Saturday mornings. Previous editions can be found here.

1. The State of Jell-O Salad in America (HuffPo)

Wyman believes that part of the appeal of Jell-O salad is that it takes the curse off of eating vegetables. “I actually think Jell-O today might do well to advertise simple Jell-O salad recipes to young moms who are trying to get their kids to eat more veggies made with Sugar-Free Jell-O,” Wyman writes. “That’s what Michelle Obama would be talking about if she really wanted to make a dent in childhood obesity and get kids to eat all those veggies she’s growing at the White House.”

2. In a rural Wisconsin village, the doctor makes house calls — and sees some of the rarest diseases on Earth (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

He was 28 years old with a bad car, a growing family and $30,000 in unpaid student loans. The average salary for a family doctor in America was then around $80,000, enough to settle down and begin paying off his debt. 

But the people of La Farge wanted De Line — needed him. Their offer: $20,000.

That would have to cover DeLine’s annual salary, the salary of an assistant to answer the phones and handle billing, plus all the clinic equipment and expenses. “The clinic” itself was an empty, dilapidated building with orange carpeting on some of the walls and a couch that looked like it had been sitting in someone’s garage.

DeLine took the offer.

3. 27 Days in Tokyo Bay: What Happened on the Diamond Princess (Wired)

Arma had spent more than 25 years at sea. Just five months earlier, in these same waters, he had faced his most arduous trial yet, white-knuckling the Diamond‘s helm against Typhoon Faxai. He had held the bow straight into 100-mph winds, lest they catch the cruise liner’s massive flank and fling it around like a toy boat in a Jacuzzi. He accepted the sea’s hierarchy—“You can’t beat Mother Nature, but you can come to a compromise”—so all night he negotiated, gunning the engines and thrusters to keep the 115,875-ton behemoth in place, the nautical version of running on a treadmill. You didn’t hear about a Princess cruise ship slamming into a cargo vessel or capsizing last September, because he succeeded.

“We got through Faxai. We’ll get through this,” a staff captain told Arma upon hearing of the virus aboard the ship. Arma preferred Faxai. This new coronavirus wasn’t something he knew how to navigate.

4. The Last Days of Target (Canadian Business)

The magnitude of what was at stake began weighing on some of those senior officials. “I remember wanting to vomit,” recalls one participant. Nobody disagreed with the negative assessment—everyone was well aware of Target’s operational problems—but there was still a strong sense of optimism among the leaders, many of whom were U.S. expats. The mentality, according to one former employee, was, “If there’s any team in retail that can turn this thing around, it’s us.” The group was riding a wave of momentum, in fact. They had overcome seemingly endless hurdles and worked gruelling hours to get to this point, and they knew there were costs to delaying. The former employee says the meeting ultimately concerned much more than when to open the first few stores; it was about the entirety of Target’s Canadian launch. Postponement would mean pushing back even more store openings. Everyone else in attendance expressed confidence in sticking to the schedule, and by the time the meeting concluded, it was clear the doors would open as promised. “That was the biggest mistake we could have made,” says the former employee.

The blanket so nice I made it twice

Remember the twelve-pointed star blanket I finished a couple of weeks ago? It seems like everything’s coming up babies around here, so I made it again. Same pattern, same yarn, but this time I reversed the colours by working from the outside of the skein instead of the centre.

Once again, this is Red Heart It’s a Wrap Rainbow in the colourway “foggy”, with a G/6 hook. I wish there were a way to let people touch yarn through the computer — it is very fine and soft, and with a larger hook like I used (larger relative to the yarn weight, I mean) it has an incredible drape. It would be a lovely choice for something like a miniature version of the Trio Blanket — which is definitely on my crochet bucket list.

Of the two star blankets, I prefer this version; I find the dark centre and lighter edge more pleasing to the eye than the reverse. But I’m pretty sure that part of my preference has to do with how much quicker and easier the second run through a pattern always is. I’ll be able to make these in my sleep soon.

This blanket is for Sammy, who lives next door and is very small and precious.

The joy of apple cake

We went to the orchard today! Well, not “the” orchard — there are plenty of those around here — but to the one that we’ve now gone to twice, thus giving it default status in my brain. You know how it is. It was a lovely warm fall day, and after some picking and some playing on the playground and hay bales, we came home with a good 15 lbs or so of apples: mostly Empire, some Mutsu.

And what do we do with that many apples? We make cake. I tweaked the recipe I used a fair bit, so here is my variation of “Roman Apple Cake” from an old copy of the More-with-Less Cookbook.

Autumn Apple Cake

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup plus 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla
  • 3 large apples, peeled and chopped

Mix dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl, lightly beat oil, egg, milk, and vanilla. Add wet ingredients to dry, and stir until well combined. Fold in chopped apples.

Scrape batter into a greased 9″ cake pan. Bake at 350F for 35 minutes or until a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean. Serve warm with applesauce or ice cream.

Enjoy!