On cold days and sourdough

Hello winter, I like your chickadees and tiny snowflakes. The trees are all dark criss-crossing lines now, as though all colour was whisked away in the night.

Friday seemed like the sort of day for falling asleep on the couch with a pile of books. I will admit to feeling a little trapped by snow falling on slippery sidewalks.

A modest, buttery proposal: let’s have a cookie party. Gingersnaps, tassies, shortbread… get in touch with me if you want to help bake and put away much more than I can consume and make my house smell good.

Now let’s talk art vs. craft. While it may seem like an age old debate, I believe it was, like so much today that is concerning, propelled by the industrial revolution. The shift from individual craftspeople making our every day objects to a mechanized, cheapened process not only gave us more uniformity and sometimes lower quality products, but created a shadow that still looms over craft today. We expect our utilitarian goods to be cheap, because after all, we can get them cheap. Art on the other hand, is just art for art’s sake so it’s okay if it’s expensive. I agree that artists should get paid for what they do, but this vast canyon of separation between art for the wall and art that say lives in your kitchen and gets used every day (craft), that’s just silly. Thanks.

This week I learned something new about sewing machine needles. Maybe everyone already knows, but I guess it didn’t seem important to me until my machine started skipping stitches like crazy. There are three main types of needles: sharp, universal and ball-point, and then all the specialty needles. Sharp is designed for woven fabric and is particularly good for straight lines. Ball-point is for knit fabrics and universal is a combination of sharp and ball-point that will work on both knit and woven but not as ideally as sharp or ball-point. I’ve been sewing a lot of straight lines on woven fabric using universal needles; it’s time to switch to sharp needles.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: does anyone, anyone at all in the Kootenay area want some rye sourdough starter? It’s very nice; I started it myself last summer but can’t quite keep up with it. Most recently, some of it went into a 66% sourdough rye bread with caraway, that very sadly got overbaked by about 15 minutes. The bread is good, but requires a strong hand with the bread knife. Next time I will check on it sooner… In the meantime, stollen with homemade marzipan should redeem the sourdough and my baking reputation quite nicely.

Outside on Saturday, the snow was melting off the roof in great slumps and dripping wildly in a way that could make spectacular icicles. The sun was shining in full force after illuminating pockets of snowy mountain, trees and glacier surrounded by heavy mist in the morning. I’ve been hoping for a clear, cold snowy day to photograph my newest teatowls on the clothesline before we move. Today could be such a day; it is beautiful out. Yes, we’re moving in December and there are collections of empty boxes scattered around the house. I’ve agreed to try an alternative packing technique this time round, of packing all the important stuff first and sorting through what’s left, culling. We have a few weeks crossover in both our houses so we can afford to do this, but the important things are still in use and I really can’t bring myself to put anything in a box just yet. Hopefully I’ll come around later this afternoon and at least pack the wineglasses and some dishes.

Yesterday morning, my boyfriend walked in the door with a KitchenAid mixer! Love, love, love him! Oooh there will be a lot of baking happening for him to sample.

66% Sourdough Rye

adapted from Jeffrey Hamelman’s book “Bread”

Plan on this bread happening the day after you begin…

First, the starter (this requires a ripe sour)

3 1/2 cups (12.8 oz) medium rye flour (I used whole rye flour)

1 1/4 cups (10.2 oz) water

2 tbsp (0.6 oz) mature sourdough culture

Mix these and cover. Let sit to ripen for 14 to 16 hours at room temperature or 70° F. It will be a stiff dough. If you need to add more water, only add enough to hold it all together.

Then, the final dough

1 1/8 cups (8.3 oz) medium rye flour (again, I used whole rye flour)

2 1/2 cups (10.9 oz) high-gluten flour (I used white spelt, but certainly a bread flour helps with volume and structure)

1 3/4 cups (13.8 oz) water (not cold, maybe a coolish lukewarm, warmer if your house or your flour is cold)

1 tbsp (0.6 oz) salt

1 tsp (o.1 oz) instant dry yeast (this is different and superior to the little packets of active dry yeast, and contains about 2/3 more live cells so if you’re using active dry then you’ll want to use up to 3 times more and do that warm water thing. The instant can be added directly.)

1 lb 7 oz sourdough (all of above minus 2 tbsp)  (The 2 tbsp is for your ongoing sourdough culture to keep it going, though if you’ve already fed it then I think it’s optional.)

Mix with a dough hook or knead… Maybe 2 1/2 minutes on 1st speed and 4-5 minutes on 2nd? I kneaded it by hand for at least ten minutes. When the dough is tugged, you should be able to feel a bit of gluten strength from the white flour, but the overall dough strength will not be much.

Cover, possibly in a clean, oiled bowl and let rest for 30 to 45 minutes.

Divide and shape into 2 loaves, then cover these and let ferment 50 to 60 minutes at 80° F.

Bake at 460°F for 15 minutes with normal steam (can be created by pouring cold water onto a hot pan on bottom rack, and/or mist the walls of the oven), then lower the oven temp. to 440°F (removing the steam pan at this point) and bake 30 to 40 minutes more.

Ideally, the baked bread should rest for up to 24 hours before slicing to improve its eating quality. (Sourdough rye bread is one of those things that, to a point, improves with time.)

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