A Short Introduction to Sourdough and Pre-ferments

bread dough

Artisanal sourdough breads are all the hype, and rightly so. In fact, it might seem like if you’re even a wee bit serious about your bread, sourdough is the only way to go.

Utilizing sourdough starters and preferments will no doubt take your game to the next level: the complexity, the depth of flavor, the better texture a starter gives your bread simply can not be compared with anything else. Even the shelf life will be increased!

Starters do require time and commitment though. They are the challenge to top all challenges, and therefore can be a little intimidating at first. I am quite new to the art myself, but I thought it would be a good idea to share the basics in a not-too-scientific way to help you decide whether baking bread with starters is for you.

Let’s talk about yeast first!

Before commercial baker’s yeast was developed in Vienna, Austria in the 19th century (with Hungarian high milled grains, no less!), bakers had been using old-dough leavens to bake bread.

These are based on propagating wild yeast. Wild yeast refers to the natural yeasts and bacteria found in our surroundings: they float in the air and stick to the surface of objects. Basically when making a sourdough starter, you provide an environment sufficient for cultivating wild yeast. (The sour taste is the result of acetic and lactic acids produced by fermenting sugar.)

Believe me, this is completely achievable!  All that is required is flour, water and time, the yeast is already there around you, wherever you live.

Mix 50% bread flour and 50% water into a batter in a non-reactive, see-through container (note that the volume will double), place in a cool environment with no direct sunlight.

24 to 72 hours later your sourdough should be bubbling due to CO2 gas produced. At this point, the yeast population is still small and weak, not really ready for baking. From now on, every day (preferably at the same time) you’ll need to take out half of the starter and discard, then replace the pulled out amount with 1:1 fresh flour and water. This is called ‘feeding’ the sourdough.

In 7 to 10 days, you’ll have a batch that’s strong enough and ready to bake with. If you’re not sure about the strength of your sourdough, the float test will help: put a small amount in water; if it floats, you’re good to go.

As I said, it’s a commitment with constant monitoring and maintenance, but you’ll get the most out of a loaf. And you only really have to do this once, after the first 7-day period, one feeding is enough weekly to maintain the sourdough.

Still not sure if you’re ready to take on the challenge? That’s totally fine! The next best thing is using preferments. This also needs some forethought, but it’s ready in 12-16 hours at room temperature without the feeding process, and the bread will still have a wonderful aroma to it.

Preferments are flour, water and yeast mixtures, allowed an initial fermentation. Commercial yeasts (used when making wine, beer and bread) are quicker acting, take shorter to propagate, and leaven your bread quicker compared to wild yeast.

There are three main types of preferments. When mixing equal parts flour and water with 0,2 to 1% yeast, you’ll get a 100% hydration poolish-style starter.

The old dough method is more convenient when baking the same recipe on a regular basis: about 1/3 of the bread dough is reserved to levin the next batch. This old dough can be stored 8-12 hours at room temperature, or up to 3 days refrigerated. It can also be frozen for up to 6 months, in which case it will need to thaw fully before using.

Last but not least, the method that makes for results closest to sourdough: a stiff, bread dough like, low hydration biga. This Italian-style starter is more stable, contains more acid, and takes 16-24 hours to ferment. Made of flour, 60% water, and 2% yeast, once it has expanded by about double its original volume, biga can be incorporated into your bread dough. It stays fresh in the fridge for 3-5 days, and can be frozen as well (again, it needs to thaw completely to be active).

Biga is what I use mostly. I make batches with 500 g bread flour, 300 ml water and 10 g fresh yeast. When it’s ready, I divide the dough into 200 g portions, put them in ziplock bags and freeze. This amount makes enough starter for 4 loaves.

Ready to dive headlong into sourdough, or play it safe with biga? I’d love to hear your opinion! Also, share any experiences you have with starters!

Love,

Fruzsi

Photo by Sanda Vuckovic Pagaimo

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Friday Finds

I was averse to beetroot until recently because I’ve only experienced them pickled. I had no idea you could prepare beets in so many delicious ways! Today I brought you some of my new fav beet dishes.

Sweets & Beets with Thyme-Scented Pink Salt by Gretchen of Kumquat:

beet chips

Ricotta and Sage Filled Beet Ravioli by Karen of Sunday Suppers:

beet ravioli

Ricotta Fritters with Beetroot Relish and Crème Fraîche by Angelica of Table Twenty Eight:

fritters with beet relish

Beetroot Risotto via Mowielicious:

beet risotto

Beetroot, Honey and Walnut Whole Wheat Bread by Preeti of Jopreetskitchen:

beetroot bread

Happy weekend!

Fruzsi

Operation Save What You Can: Homemade Flavored Salts

homemade flavored salt

If you have a herb garden, chances are this is the last call – they will start wasting away soon as the weather slowly changes. Here’s a great opportunity to save some of the fresh sprigs: make flavored salts with them!

Food enthusiasts like you and me will love these finishing salts because they add a pop of flavor to everything they touch. In this post I’m sharing a way to take your dishes from good to oh my faster than you can say fűszersó (flavored salt). DIY seasoned salts are a tasty and elegant addition to almost any food and considerably more economical to make at home than buying at high-end grocers and specialty spice stores.

And who wouldn’t want to add a layer of complexity to just about any meal and expand the flavors that are already present?

If you are family or a friend of mine, you know you can expect food gifts from me. These would make lovely housewarming presents, wedding favors or holiday sets as well.

homemade flavored salt

Infusing the salt is done by simply mixing it with whatever flavor you choose in a food processor, mortar and pestle, coffee grinder or simply by hand.

What type of salt should be used? It’s up to you! Coarse, flaky salt adds flair when sprinkled over dishes just before serving and is preferable for texture and appearance, while fine salt is more useful in cooking.

As for the herbs and spices to season salt with, the flavor possibilities  are limited only by your imagination. My favorite combinations include pairings like rosemary and lemon, thyme and lavender, dried mushrooms and sage, garlic and black pepper or chilies and lime.

Ingredients may be fresh or dried (a food dehydrator like this from Hamilton Beach is a good investment, you’ll be surprised how versatile an appliance it is). You may leave the sprigs of herbs whole, or chop to small pieces. Citrus rind can be grated or peeled into strips prior to drying, or you could also use slices.

Salt is a natural preserver, so your flavored salts, stored in an airtight container, can be used indefinitely (note that over time intensity of flavor will diminish). To avoid clumping, spread out mixture on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and air dry or dry in the oven at low temperature, stirring occasionally. Once the moisture is gone and salt has cooled, use a fork or your fingers to break up before packing up in a nice container. Ideally, let it sit at least a few days before using.

As a rule of thumb, work with a ratio of 1 teaspoon of flavoring per 1/4 cup salt.

homemade flavored salt

homemade flavored salt

Now let’s hear it from you! What blends do you have in mind, and what are you going to use flavored salt on?

Love,

Fruzsi

*Disclaimer: I like and use the products mentioned in posts on My Chest of Wonders, what I write about such items represent my genuine and unbiased opinion. I am not being compensated through sponsorship or gifts, but this post contains an affiliate link: I may get a commission for purchases made through it. Thank you for helping me earn a little something on the side!*

Friday Finds

I’ve yet to learn knitting. It must be because of today’s unusually fall-ish, gloomy weather that I ended up with these images of fuzzy spools of yarn and twine, but they give me such a warm feeling and I find these textures and soft colors so very lovely!

Via Hus & Hem:

white yarn in basket

Via Tumblr:

twine in silver bowl

Via Olive Manna:

spool of twine

Via Blickwinkel:

wool yarn in basket

Via Valdirose:

twine and dried flowers

Happy weekend!

Fruzsi

Transitioning to Fall With More Baking: Almond Butter Babka

almond butter babka

I am sad that summer is over but at the same time so very excited about fall! Not fully committed to waking up in the dark yet (it’s happening though… downside to being an early bird). Mornings are finally cooler and after the record-braking temps of past months, I actually enjoy putting on sleeves.

I’ve been reluctant to turn on the oven for weeks, but now things are back to normal: bread baking Saturdays are on again, and we started craving other baked goods too.

That’s the short story of my Almond Butter Babka, a really rich and tasty sweet bread we indulge in for breakfast every once in a while. It’s perfect alongside tea or coffee, but it’s by no means limited to morning consumption. Quite difficult to stop at just one slice too (I warned you!).

The history of babka is certainly uncertain, but it’s origins likely lay at distant generations of Eastern European Jews. It’s most consumed and associated with the culture in the Baltics, Ukraine, Russia and Belarus (the initial name was likely baba meaning grandmother in Slavic, later shifting to the diminutive form babka).

The well-known chocolate version seems to be a mid-century American Jewish invention: the dough is spread with cocoa, then rolled up tightly, twisted, folded, and finally baked into the rich loaves we love today.

This time I thought chocolate would be just too decadent though (WTF?), so it got filled with almond butter instead. Beyond being packed with protein, fiber and good fats, almond butter is also loaded with antioxidants, magnesium, iron, and potassium. My sister supplies me with Costco’s store brand Kirkland Signature Creamy Almond Butter which is an all natural, non-GMO, no sugar and no sodium added product. Just roasted almonds, and the price is decent too.

Unfortunately none of this is making your babka any healthier. At all. Plus, I sprinkled it with sugar too. Oh well 🙂 On the plus side, almond butter adds some serious sophistication – a deep, earthy flavor, while the sugar caramelises for a slightly crunchy sensation.

almond butter babka

The dough is the same egg and butter enriched brioche like the one I shared earlier in the post on braided challah, so I won’t repeat myself. At first, making the sliced braid might seem tricky, but it’s actually easier done than said. Practice makes perfect, and oh boy you’ll want to try this again and again!

The steps:

  1. Roll dough into a 1 cm (around 1/3”) thick rectangle.
  2. Spread with almond butter and sprinkle with packed dark brown sugar, leaving about an inch bare around the border.
  3. Starting on the long side, roll up tightly into a log.
  4. With a sharp knife, cut log in half lengthwise. It might get a bit messy, but don’t worry if the filling starts oozing out a bit. Just hold together the best you can, it’s still going to be delicious.
  5. Now you have two strips of filled dough. Pinch two ends together, and twist the logs around each other cut side up 2-3 times. Pinch ends together too.
  6. Place in a loaf pan, let rise, then bake as directed. Enjoy!

almond butter babka

almond butter babka

Love,

Fruzsi

*Disclaimer: I like and use the products mentioned in posts on My Chest of Wonders, what I write about such items represent my genuine and unbiased opinion. I am not being compensated through sponsorship or gifts, but this post contains an affiliate link: I may get a commission for purchases made through it. Thank you for helping me earn a little something on the side!*

Friday Finds

Say hello to the new season! 1st day of September got me thinking of things like…

This Eggplant Involtini by Ayşegül of Foolproof Living:

eggplant involtini

This Wild Mushroom Chowder with Bacon and Leeks by Natalie and Holly of The Modern Proper:

wild mushroom chowder

This Quince Crumble by Sascha of Sweet Gastronomy:

quince crumble

These Beet, Goat Cheese and Thyme Pies by Ditte of The Food CLub:

beet goat cheese pies

These Chai Pached Pears with Cinnamon Whipped Cream by Kiersten of Oh My Veggies:

chai poached pears

Happy weekend!

Fruzsi

Illegally Delicious Plum Preserves Infused with Tonka Bean

plums in paper bag

I was raving about plums almost exactly a year ago and guess what, I’m still a huge fan of this slightly overlooked stone fruit. Since they are in season, you can get them on the cheap now and that’s exactly what I did.

The result: a new addition to my rapidly expanding jam collection. This time, it’s a thick plum preserve with no added sugar and an extra layer of flavor thanks to shavings of a firm, dark brown and somewhat wrinkly seed resembling a woody raisin: the tonka bean.

I haven’t even heard about this spice until my mother-in-law gave me a few pieces recently. Have you? This is what I’ve found out since:

This haute cuisine ingredient is actually the seed of the cumaru or kumaru tree, a plant native to Central America and Northern South America.

tonka beans

Tonka beans have been banned by the FDA for sale in the U.S. as a food item because they contain coumarin, a chemical that is believed to cause liver problems. In extreme concentrations, that is: at least 30 entire tonka beans would need to be eaten to approach levels reported as toxic, when a single bean is enough to flavor 50 servings of food.

Coumarin has since been found to occur naturally in cinnamon, lavender, licorice and other commonly eaten plants too by the way, which are, to my knowledge, still freely available. Seems to me as a rather overreaching ban, no?

“Dreaded” coumarin is responsible for the seed’s unique, complex and very pleasant odor coveted by the perfume industry for centuries: a rich, heady, fruity aroma somewhat similar to vanilla. Just the twist my humble plums needed! Lucky it’s legal here.

I wanted this jam to be not sweet. I’d like to try it with meat (duck and game come to mind instantly) and use it in desserts that call for some tartness. When you don’t add sugar, you need to increase the cooking time a great deal to ensure your jam won’t spoil. And that’s where a crock pot comes into play: the low and slow temps and the nonstick pan allows you not to stand next to the batch all day.

It’s hard to tell the exact time it takes for the plums to break down completely and thicken, but be advised it’s not a quick process. I turned the slow cooker on early on a Saturday morning, and it was already getting dark outside when I sealed the jars. It’s time intensive, but not labour intensive in return.

The washed, pitted and halved plums go in, the machine is set on low with the lid on. Every now and then you check on it to make sure it’s simmering slowly and not catching. As the preserve starts to thicken, you need to stir more frequently. Approaching the end of cooking time, grate a tonka bean with a microplane, as you would with nutmeg, to infuse the jam with the exotic notes. After preserves reach desired consistency, transfer to sterile jars and seal.

Love,

Fruzsi

Plums in paper bag hoto by Katrín Björk

Tonka beans photo by Rebecka G. Sendroiu

Friday Finds

Totally not ready to say farewell to Summer ’17, also really excited about the new season. It’s here though, the end of August has come.

Photo by Nicolas Fuentes via Flickr:

field and sunset

Photo by Larry Nienkark via Flickr:

road and sunset

Via Pinterest:

seas sunset birds

Photo by Maria Kaimaki via 500px:

sea sunset

Photo by Daniel Kordan via 500px:

tuscany sunset

Happy weekend!

Fruzsi

Roasted Heirloom Tomato Soup, a Salute to Summer

roasted heirloom tomato soup

When I told him I’m writing a post on tomato soup, the Husband pointed out I once said  – in front of an audience to make matters worse – that I quote despise unquote said meal. In so many words, yes. Anything I said about tomato soup, I meant and I stand by.

Mind you, the conversation was about the Hungarian variety and I’m sorry to say this, but it’s really, truly appalling. Sweet (like, really sweet), thickened with plain flour and often further aggravated with overcooked alphabet pasta. A fond school cafeteria memory for some, a dreadful flashback for me. I never made it, and my mother gave up on it long ago as well.

Then I’ve learnt about this rustic, Italian approach and I was immediately smitten. This soup is not in heavy rotation at my house, merely because I’m only willing to make it with in-season, sun-ripened produce, nothing less: heirloom tomatoes, yellow onions and garlic from my parents’ garden. A celebration of the wonderful flavors of summer.

(I understand not everyone’s as lucky as I am to have a personal farmers’ market in the form of a childhood home. Your next best option is buying fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables directly from the source.)

Roasting makes all the difference in this soup, so do not omit this step! Going the little extra really isn’t any trouble, it’s just time the tomatoes spend on a sheet pan in the oven while you carry on with whatever household chore you’re choosing to entertain yourself with. The added flavor is just incomparable! Close your eyes and imagine your ingredients going soft, caramelized and sweetened naturally with their own juices… that’s right!

After they come out the oven, you’re just minutes away from the best tomato soup of your life. Everything goes into a pot to simmer some more, then in the blender to be pureed to smooth greatness. (It can be blitzed with a stick blender instead, no worries.)

On a sidenote, let me tell you a story about me and blenders: after two broken cheap-ass units (one of which flooded my kitchen with raspberries and plastic shrapnel at stupid o’ clock in the morning while prepping a post-workout smoothie), I finally invested in a high-power one.

Should’ve done it way earlier – my Philips ProBlend 6 is a workhorse. So far it tackled everything I’ve thrown in the durable glass jar: hot, cold, raw, cooked, frozen, fruits, vegetables, even ice. I use it to make smoothies, soups, purees, frozen drinks, even dutch babies. It’s multi-speed function will blend, crush or cut to the consistency you want. It has an easy clean option, and the parts are machine washable too, bless their little souls.

Back to the soup, it’s best served warm, garnished with a few drops of extra virgin olive oil and a splash of cream, scattered with more basil. Some crunchy croutons, or a cheesy-garlicky toast might be in order too.

Go dip in!

Roasted Heirloom Tomato Soup

  • Difficulty: easy
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A hearty, creamy soup bursting with the best of summer’s flavors. Serves 6.

Ingredients

1 kg (2 lbs) sun-ripened tomatoes

2 medium yellow onions

1 head of garlic

¼ cup olive oil

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

salt, black pepper

handful of fresh basil, chopped

2 bay leaves

1 l (1 quart) chicken or vegetable stock

200 ml (3/4 cup) cooking cream

1 tbsp sugar, if needed

 

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 230°C/450°F
  2. Wash and cut tomatoes in half, peel and quarter onions. Peel most of the paper off the garlic, trim the top off the head to expose tops of cloves.
  3. Spread tomatoes, onions and garlic onto a baking tray in 1 layer, season with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
  4. Roast for 30-40 min until caramelized, remove from oven.
  5. Press on the bottom of the garlic cloves to push them out of the paper (careful, hot!). Including the liquid in the tray, transfer vegetables to a pot.
  6. Add stock and bay leaves. Simmer for 15 min or until liquid has reduced by a third, discard bay leaves.
  7. Transfer soup to a blender and puree until smooth. Pour back to pot, add cream and basil, bring to a boil. Taste to adjust flavors (if tomatoes were too acidic, add a tbsp of sugar). Turn heat off.
  8. Serve warm. Enjoy!

Love,

Fruzsi

*Disclaimer: I like and use the products mentioned in posts on My Chest of Wonders, what I write about such items represent my genuine and unbiased opinion. I am not being compensated through sponsorship or gifts, but this post contains an affiliate link: I may get a commission for purchases made through it. Thank you for helping me earn a little something on the side!*