Easy Sourdough Starter

Front Matter

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Introduction

Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, the ensuing panic-buying and run on flour and yeast, our family finally thought that making our own sourdough starter made sense. We couldn’t get (unbleached) flour or yeast readily; I always wanted to be a “food artisan”; we were sick of our store-bought whole-wheat bread (especially our toddler); plus a quick google search brought us to http://castlevalleymill.com/, which was great because we wanted to support local businesses and get great ingredients at an affordable cost and delivered–for free, if you buy 3 items and over $30, I think. Yeast was become a precious commodity much like toilet paper. You get the picture. Plus, yeast is free and everywhere, so why not make it work for its rent?

The following tutorial is a simple one that worked for me–I also will use the Dutch oven method to bake the bread, as I don’t have a steam-injected oven. Also, did you know The Butter Book, from the founders of Chicago’s French Pastry School (never heard of them before, until I got an email about this free trial from a ThermoWorks email) is offering a free 60-day trial if you want more legitimate teaching and videos.

Sourdough Starter

I had taken notes from America’s Test Kitchen on their sourdough recipe. But (1) it was too complicated and (2) I never liked throwing out or discarding edible stuff I paid good money for. So another google search led me to this website: https://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-your-own-sourdough-starter-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-47337. Now I still had to “discard” some of the starter, so I had to use it to make pancakes, which gave me a sense of accomplishment, but eventually my toddler didn’t love it, so…too bad! You can google that yourself. Point is, no need to throw out the flour if you don’t want. But basically, my summary is as follows:

Items needed

  • Large bowl (glass preferable)
  • Clingwrap or Cheesecloth/Reusable Food Wrap
  • Kitchen scale
  • Flour (preferably whole wheat for complex flavor and nutrition)
  • Water (preferably filtered, to help the wild yeast do its work)
  • Sourdough Journal/Diary (optional)

Steps

  1. Add equal amounts flour and water (usually 4 oz or 100g) into a large bowl
  2. Mix then cover
  3. Repeat by adding the same amount of water or flour each day until mature (doubles in size in 8-12 hours at room temp)
  4. Optional: name starter – you have to feed it, and it’s alive, so why not come up with something endearing

Tips

  • We’ve found that 63°F was okay overnight (our downstairs temp), but our starter, Serena (from “Sour-rena”), enjoyed rooming in our bedroom overnight at a comfortable 67-68°F
  • Need more info? Check the link above, or if I know you and we’re on good terms :P, contact me with questions
  • Also, do what’s easy and works–confession: my starter didn’t get to the point of doubling in size in 8-12 hours
  • After 5 days or so, you can refrigerate and feed roughly weekly – when baking, allow to wake up the night before for best results

Making the Dough

This is best done the night before or at least quite a few hours before you want bread. My recipe uses roughly 700g flour, but this is scalable (using the ratio as a rough guide). 700g flour initially roughly makes a 10″ boule (round bread) that fits well with my 6.5 Qt. Dutch Oven

Items needed

  • (KitchenAid) Stand mixer w/ dough hook (optional)
  • Work surface
  • Bench or dough scraper or spatula (as needed)
  • Additional flour for work surface
  • Starter, (white) (bread) flour, filtered water, salt
  • Honey or sweetener (or additional mix-ins like seeds, nuts, dried fruit) (optional)
    • For honey, I used 2 “globs” or Tbsp – it’s whatever you want, however much you want – molasses, brown sugar, agave, whatever you have on hand
  • Large bowl, cling-wrap, oil (extra virgin olive oil optional)
  • Parchment paper
  • Calculator or pen/paper (optional)

Steps

  1. Prep and measure ingredients using the baker’s ratio as a guideline (but adjust according to dough and ambient humidity): 100:60:2 (flour:water:salt)
    1. Example for ~10″ round bread (700g flour, 420g filtered water, 14g salt):
      1. Roughly 660g flour, 380g filtered water, 80g starter, 14g salt
        1. Weigh starter after mixing it – adjust starter amount as desired
        2. This assumes roughly 50:50 of flour/water in starter
  2. Pour flour, water, starter, and salt into KitchenAid Stand mixer bowl
  3. Attach dough hook and mix on lowest setting (Stir) for 3-5 minutes until incorporated
    1. May need intermittent scraping down – don’t worry, minimal gluten development
  4. Once it is incorporated, mix on medium speed (setting 5, for example) for 12-15 min or more, until you can poke it and it springs back
    1. Add mix-ins and sweetener toward the end of this time once gluten network develops (gluten is the protein that can strengthen the dough and hold the gases from dough fermentation – helps with rise)
  5. Recommended that you continue to knead by hand: flour work surface and knead
    1. You can stretch it out and fold over itself like a fat, sloppy pretzel and knead
    2. When dough is strong, and can be gently pulled until translucent (windowpane test – see this Youtube video as needed)
  6. Form into a ball and place into a large, well-oiled bowl – glass can help you gawk at your beautiful lump of pre-bread, then cover with cloth or clingwrap
  7. Let it double in size at room temperature (or in a warmer place) around 70°F; refrigerate if you wish to let it rise overnight (unless you use a little bit of starter, in which case it might take a long time anyway at room temp)
  8. (If refrigerated, check and potentially take out a few hours before you wish to bake. Be prepared to wait much longer, as this is not commercial yeast, which is okay, because this may taste way better.)
  9. Once doubled in size (or if you press into it, it does not spring back), take out of bowl and beat down again for reshape into a round shape and place on a piece of parchment paper.
  10. Rest it for at least 10-30 minutes (more if still chilled from refrigerator) covered (I just invert the bowl over the dough on parchment paper. Can move on to preheating the oven (below) if desired.
  11. Sprinkle flour on top (purely decorational) if desired.

Bread-baking: Dutch-Oven Style

I believe I was introduced to this very helpful baking hack by reading Michael Ruhlman’s The Making of a Chef (1997). Basically, steam is good for bread rise and crust development. You can preheat a skillet or baking sheet in your oven under the main rack for where you will bake your bread and then after you bake you can pour in some water, or you can use a dutch oven to create an oven within an oven and trap the steam inside your dough to get that lift and crust development.

Items needed

  • Oven (move oven rack to bottom third)
  • Oven-safe Dutch Oven (I use a 6.5 Qt round oven, but had to replace the lid knob with a metal one)
  • Sharp knife (for scoring bread/making steam vents)
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Kitchen towel/oven mitts, cooling rack

Steps

  1. Preheat Oven to 420°F (that’s the limit for my parchment paper, but 400-450 is okay, convection preferable)
  2. Score bread with sharp knife for decorative purposes and to help steam escape the bread (and help it rise). Suggested patterns include making a large X in the middle or a pound-sign (#) (hashtag for you younger folk)
  3. Once the oven and dutch oven is preheated, carefully take out hot dutch oven, open lid, plop in the bread with parchment paper (you only get one chance, so don’t miss), shut lid, and return to oven
  4. Bake with lid on for 10-15 min for oven spring/most of the rise.
  5. Take out and remove hot lid carefully and return to oven to bake without lid for browning. You can turn down the oven to 390-400°F if desired
  6. Bake an additional 20-45 minutes or until the top of the bread is browned
    1. You can optionally oil bread with extra virgin olive oil
  7. Remove from oven and set on rack and rest bread for a few hours until cool (very difficult, but this improves texture and taste, according to multiple sources on Google). Then enjoy!

Tips

  • I found convection helps – by moving air around, my home oven would be a bit more consistent, though convection is optional
  • Don’t worry about the bread overbaking. It’s very difficult. Look for good browning. Temperatures don’t have to be exact, but at least 190°F with a thermometer or bread sounds hollow.

Cheat Sheet

Starter

  • Feed each day for at least 5 days in a covered bowl equal amounts (whole-wheat) flour and filtered water (e.g. ~100g or 4oz each) until it doubles in size in 8-12 hours at room temp

Making the Dough

  • Use the general baker’s ratio of 100:60:2 (flour:water:salt)
    • Will need to leave room for starter, but be willing to adjust amounts
  • Mix on low with dough hook until ingredients incorporated (3-5 min), then scrape down, then mix at medium speed (5?) until no longer sticking and dough is done (springy, can stretch until translucent) (12-15 minutes or so?)
    • Toward the end, add some sugar if you like sweetness & flavor & tenderness (who doesn’t)
  • Knead some more by hand (optional)
  • Transfer to (oiled) bowl and cover
  • First Ferment/Rise: Rest until doubled in size – can take a few hours or more – you can refrigerate to extend time (overnight, for example) – I’m told longer rises improve flavor
  • Remove from bowl, beat down, reshape and prep for baking (second ferment/rise)
    • For dutch-oven method, can place on a piece of parchment paper, optionally shaped to the shape of your dutch-oven/bakeware – let rest for at least 10-30 min

Baking the Bread

  • Preheat oven and Dutch Oven to 420°F (convection optional, max to 450°F depending on parchment paper limit – anywhere from 400-450°F is fine too)
  • With a sharp knife, cut steam slits on bread for decorative and steam-release purposes (will aid rise)
    • You can use an X or a #
  • Carefully remove hot dutch oven, open lid, plop in bread, carefully place hot lid back on
  • Place in oven and bake for 10-15 min (thanks to a preheated dutch oven, minimal thermal fluctuations
  • Remove lid for bread browning, return to oven and bake until bread sufficiently browned
    • Can turn down oven to 390-400°F if desired
    • An additional 20-40 min (rough estimate – don’t worry, it’s hard to overbake bread)
  • Let cool for a few hours for best flavor and texture development (yes, it’s hard!)

Resources

How to Create Simple Yet Delicious DIY Salad Dressings

If you buy salad dressing, your shopping experience typically falls into two categories:

  1. You love what you buy. But the dent it leaves in your wallet makes you feel like you cannot be indulgent in applying salad dressing to your salads.
  2. You don’t love what you buy. It may be less expensive, but it may have weird flavors due to cheap ingredients and to other miscellaneous chemical compounds and preservatives, etc.

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Great Caesar Salad Recipe

UPDATE: Check out this new “Master Salad Dressing Builder” post that teaches you the concepts behind a great, easy, and customizable DIY salad dressing. Also, I included some updates on this recipe. YouTube Gordon Ramsey and mayonnaise. I use 3 raw eggs now and a bit of lemon juice or vinegar to ensure that my dressing emulsifies everytime

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Dean’s Taiwan Food Diary

Day 0 (Tuesday January 10)

I flew UA-ANA (All Nippon Airways)-UA

UA (Boeing 757) (Philadelphia-Chicago)
Domestic flight = no food

ANA (Boeing 777) (Chicago-Tokyo/Narita)
[this was my first time on ANA and I loved it. I love ANA. Great service.]
Snack: Rice crackers
Lunch/dinner: Japanese-style fish with rice, sobe noodles, salted fish, miso soup, green tea
Desert: Haagan-Dazs vanilla ice cream (I skipped this one, after feeling in a healthy mood after all that light, Japanese food)
Breakfast: Korean-style Bibimbab

UA (Boeing 777 Premium) (Tokyo/Narita-Taipei/Taoyuan)
Lunch/dinner: Uninspired curry chicken, salad with dressing, triple chocolate brownie. 😦

*remember, Taiwan time is 13 hours ahead during no Daylight Savings Time… Continue reading