Wednesday, January 16, 2019

no-knead sourdough bread

When we were in Pennsylvania last week, my aunt served fresh loaves of her homemade sourdough. Nutty with whole wheat, they were gorgeously rustic, and the bread itself was light and chewy. When I inquired after it, she straightaway launched into a passionate saga, the gist of which was this:


Her method is basic. Simply mix up the ingredients and then every couple hours or so, fold the dough over a few times. Before bed, shape the dough into loaves and refrigerate. The next morning, bake. I had more questions, but since I wasn’t talking much (no voice, remember), I couldn’t ask them.

Back home, I switched to a chain of emails, interspering my questions — all the why’s, how’s, and what for’s — with play-by-play details of my baking experiments. The first batch was inedible — even the steers had trouble — but it went uphill from there.

It’s amazing, really, how forgiving bread is. All the things I once thought were in stone — never tear the dough! keep the salt separate from the yeast! don’t bump risen dough! knead for a long time to develop the gluten! — have been, at one time or another, challenged. Bottom line: When it comes to bread, you can get away with an awful lot. As long as it turns out good, you can pretty much do whatever you want.

Note: With sourdough, even with the no-knead version, there is a learning curve. (This is what I keep telling my mother who finally, after fifteen years of watching me make sourdough, has decided to give it a go herself.) Plan on a full week of baking, just to understand the process and become familiar with the the dough — it’s a living, breathing thing, remember, and, as with any relationship, it takes time to develop trust and form a connection. Be patient and persistent, and more attentive than feels proper. In no time at all, you should — fingers crossed — be consistently knocking it out of the park.

No-Knead Sourdough Bread
Adapted from my aunt Valerie’s recipe and method.

Don’t have any starter? No worries! Your options are as follows:
a) Go to the best bakery in your area and ask if they’ll sell you some. (Here's one — except, guess where they got their first starter? That's right: ME! 'Course, I have no idea if the original starter is still the one they are using....)
b) Order it online (though since I’ve never done that myself, I can’t vouch for the product).
c) If you live close, ask me for some!
d) Make your own.

400 grams (1¾ cups) starter
1000 grams (8 cups) of bread flour, about three cups of which is whole wheat pastry flour
20 grams (4½ teaspoons) salt, Morton’s Kosher, coarse
575 grams (2½ cups) cool water

Measure the starter into a mixing bowl. Add the flour. Scoop some of the measured flour into a separate bowl, add the salt, and mix well. Return the flour and salt to the mixing bowl and lightly toss with the flour to combine. Measure in the water.

With a sturdy spoon, stir the dough until it is coming together, but still shaggy. There should be no rifts of dry flour lingering on the bottom and sides of the bowl, but the dough itself will look dry and powdery with streaks of sourdough showing through in places. Cover with a plastic and let set at room temperature.

After about four hours, the dough should be noticeably puffy. Taking a firm spatula, fold the dough into the center of the mound, working your way around the bowl and making a smooth-ish ball in the center. There will still be rough, scabby patches of dry flour in the dough — ignore them. They will eventually get eaten by the rest of the dough. Cover the bowl with the plastic and let sit at room temp.

Every couple hours or so, repeat the folding process. As the day wears on, the dough will rebound more quickly after each folding, rising faster. The dry bits will disappear and the dough will become amazingly supple and stretchy.

After supper, fold the dough once more and let it rest for about an hour, just until it’s beginning to puff. Carefully, gently, so as to knock out as little of the air as possible, cut the dough in half and gently smooth into a ball and set into a smaller, well-buttered bowl with the rough side facing up. Cover each of the smaller bowls with plastic and let rest at room temperature until nicely risen. Transfer the bowls to the fridge to proof overnight.

In the morning, remove the dough from the fridge about 30-45 minutes before baking, just long enough to take the chill off.

There are many ways to bake the bread (regular loaf pans, baking stone, cast-iron skillet with an inverted stainless steel mixing bowl for a lid), but I've been using my cast-iron Dutch oven.

I set it in the oven on a low rack, turn the oven to 450 degrees, and let the whole mess preheat for a good 20-25 minutes. When the iron is hot through and through, I take it from the oven, sprinkle cornmeal in the bottom, and gently turn the dough into the pan, lumpy side down, taking care not to singe my knuckles on the hot sides. I sprinkle the loaf with lots of flour, slash it good, clap the lid on, and then slip it back in the oven.

After the first twenty minutes, I remove the lid and continue baking for another twenty. At that point, I reduce the heat to 375 and bake for another ten. Tumble the loaf onto a cooling rack, and repeat the process for the second loaf.

(Note to self: buy a second Dutch oven.)

This same time, years previous: doing stupid safely, the quotidian (1.16.17), all the way under, on kindness, through the kitchen window, day one, spinach lemon orzo soup, crumbs.

Monday, January 14, 2019

the quotidian (1.14.19)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

Lunch for one.



Cutting up.

Find dead mouse, look like dead mouse.

Who let the dogs in, woof.


Ice water.



Green screen.


Music makers.


The sky that broke Facebook.


This same time, years previous: boys in beds, Scandinavian sweet buns, the quotidian (1.11.16), sourdough crackers, cranberry bread, the quotidian (1.13.14), Guatemala!, sticky toffee pudding, rum raisin shortbread.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

full house

Back in the fall, Rolando called to ask if our guest room would be available in January — he’d be coming to the valley to return Glorianne, his older daughter, to college and to attend the STAR program.

But of course, we said.

Before Christmas, he called again to say that Kathy, his younger daughter, would be also coming, just for fun. Great! we said. And then last Wednesday he called yet again to say that now Glorimar, his wife, would be joining them. "Aaaand," I could hear the laughter in his voice, "my sister and her husband are going to come, too."

"Awesome!" I said, and then I paused. "But, um, where will they sleep?"

"In the guest room with us, of course," Rolando said, as though that were the most obvious thing in the world.

People, our guest room is plenty serviceable, but big it most definitely not. However, these were Puerto Ricans we were dealing with, and if Puerto Ricans have a superpower, it’s flexibility. So taking my cues from them, I went with it.

When they pulled in Sunday evening, they came bearing sacks of groceries — juice, lunch meats, avocados and bananas, bread, butter, frozen pizzas, cheeses, salad mix, iced tea, chips, and on and on and on — and a double bed air mattress.

The two couples set up camp in the guest room, and the two sisters in my younger daughter’s closet-sized bedroom, sharing a twin.

Funny story: Rolando did not tell his wife that Johanna and Eliot, who live in Florida, would be joining them, so Glorimar was thrilled when they showed up in the Orlando airport to, she thought, just say hi. But then Elliot produced their plane tickets and Joanna announced that they’d be joining them in Virginia — SURPRISE.

The week has been amazingly relaxing. Rolando attended his classes, the rest of his family often joining him for lunch and then spending the afternoon in town and the evening at home with us.

before supper

after supper

hugs: just for anyhow, and often

Mornings I wrote, as usual, and towards the end of the week, after my cough subsided and I regained my voice, I started running again.

Afternoons, I cooked.

karate pie
photo credit and title: Rolando

Since they are so easy to please and over-the-top appreciative, cooking for our guests — or extended family, really — has been gratifying. I'm milking it for all it's worth: taco salad, meatloaf, sourdough bread, apple pies, Farmer Boy pancakes, lentil sausage soup, hot buttered rolls, granola, homemade pappardelle and ragu, roasted veggies, sweet rolls, chocolate chip cookies, baked oatmeal.

A couple days after they arrived, the weather turned cold.

On Friday afternoon, the kids went skiing and snowboarding, and then yesterday a storm swept in. Glorimar and I went for a snowy walk to my parents’ house last evening (we each hit the ground at least once).

Now this morning, I’m sitting on the sofa, listening to all the reactions as people wake up: lots of squeals and yips and happy dances, video phone calls to folks back home and photos, tentative excursions out into the bright whiteness.

Fresh snow is always exciting, but add a half dozen Puerto Ricans to the mix and it's pure magic.

This same time, years previous: just for sparkles, marching, homemade lard, our little dustbunnies, breaking the fruitcake barrier, what it means, date nut bread, roll and twist.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

the Baer Family Gathering of 2019

I rallied in time for our trip to Pennsylvania for our Annual Baer Family Reunion. Our family went up a day early — we wanted to visit my grandparents before heading to our host home — so I was relieved to be feeling so much better. I sure didn’t want to be guilty of contaminating the elderly.

But then on the trip up, my older daughter came down with a fever.

So much for good intentions.

See? Too sick to even smile straight.

Then that night, just when I thought I was home free, I developed a cough. Between my coughing and my husband’s hacking (he’d already been smitten), sleep was nearly impossible.

At our host home — my cousin-slash-girlfriend’s enormous old farmhouse that all my children 
are deeply enchanted with — celebrating her oldest child’s thirteenth birthday.

Answer me this: Why is it that it’s exactly when one is ill, when the body most needs to sleep, that it can’t? It makes no sense!

Then halfway through the next day, smack-dab in the middle of our noonday reunion feast, I lost my voice.

I felt fine, but there I was, stuck in a crowd of people unable to ask questions and respond — an extrovert’s version of hell. Whenever I did try to speak, it was like I’d created a black hole: everyone stopped talking while straining to catch my whispered wisps of words. The first person to understand would triumphantly repeat what I’d said, and once again the room would be bubbling with chatter and noise.

Even with my ailments, the weekend was loads of fun.

There was the Baer Foot Race complete with lots of slipping, thanks to the buckets of rain they’d been having.

My odd child jumped in the creek again.

Without a thick layer of ice, it wasn’t nearly as dramatic, but he claims the water felt even colder than last year since the outside temps were warmer.

The food was tremendous, as usual: incredible sourdough bread (that I am trying to replicate), ham, cheeses and meats, pies, jams from Mavis, and so on.

There were babies to hold...

...and games to play...

challenge: to see who can pick up the longest line of blocks 

...and heights to measure...

... and conversations to just listen to, gah.

And then we drove home, arriving just in time to unpack and get showers before our Puerto Rican friends arrived, kicking off a nine-day vacay.

The end!

Our chauffeur for the entire weekend. 
Now that he has contacts, he's super excited to once again wear sunglasses.

This same time, years previous: high-stakes hiking, Christmas cheese, high on the hog, how we kicked of 2016, 5-grain porridge with apples, when cars dance, the quotidian (1.6.14), headless chickens, cranberry sauce, buckwheat apple pancakes.