actually my poppies
First: very important: in that last post, I forgot to caption the photo! This matters only because I meant to say it was my neighbor’s garden, not mine. That daisy-and-lupine combination is magical and I’d like to copy it as soon as I can…which may not be for a long while. The vicious pandemic grocery budget has absorbed several other categories of funds at present. Plus I’m still paying off my little skin cancer adventure.
Fortunately, living in my Northeast Portland neighborhood has expanded my take on gardening. My first spring here, I walked around in wonder, dazed, drunk on beauty. The yards all around me astonished me daily with wave after wave of bloom. If you followed me on Instagram in Spring 2018, you saw my enchantment in action—every day, photo after photo of some delightful combination of petal and leaf in a neighbor’s front yard. And, knowing Portland has many dazzling corners, I kept thinking: gotta get to the rhododendron garden, gotta get to the rose garden—but I was still recovering from radiation then (it takes a long while before you feel fully yourself after treatment), and “gotta gets” weren’t in the cards yet. Then one day it struck me: I live in a giant garden. This whole neighborhood. It’s all right here rolling out from my doorstep, free for the drinking-in, and not a morsel of work required on my part.
That realization hushed the gotta-gets right up, and ever since, I walk around this neighborhood (it’s called Roseway, for Pete’s sake) feeling like Mary Lennox. Everything’s wick and wonderful and surprising.
I met the neighbor who owns the lupine garden (oh I wish you could see her entire yard; there’s no lawn (my ideal); it’s all daisies and lupines and poppies, and one big peony in the middle) once last summer, during the hot months, when I was out for a nature walk with Huck and Rilla, and the neighbor (we didn’t exchange names, pity) was out front, weeding. I gushed over her lemon balm, which smelled heavenly, and she immediately grabbed a shovel and dug up a clump for me. Gardeners and sourdough bakers are the most generous folks around, always eager to shove some treasure into your hands. It helps, I suppose, when your treasures are things that multiply abundantly.
Sourdough: of course you know I had to restart my starter this spring, what with 80% of the internet obsessed with baking at the moment. I had a good one going two years ago but never seemed up to baking with it (see above re: low energy for a good long while post radiation) and eventually I let it go. Before that, I had years of sourdough starters on and off in San Diego and Virginia. Again: much more tending of the starter, not so much baking of bread. (Sourdough bread, that is. I baked honey wheat loaves almost daily at some points. Remember when I had a whole bread blog?)
This time around, I’m baking. Yesterday’s loaf wasn’t my best: the cooler weather? A wetter dough? I got a decent oven spring but the crumb was dense, not airy like I aim for. And I thought the loaf was just a tad undercooked. Which made for a hilarious moment when Rose told me this was my best sourdough bread yet: it’s the perfect texture, she said. Rilla emphatically agreed. They like a dense, moist loaf. Which means I can never go wrong! No matter how the bread turns out, someone in the house will think it’s perfect.
Which is how I feel about my neighbors’ gardens, all of them. What you’ve nurtured here: perfection. Any gaps or flaws you may perceive are invisible to me. All I see is your magic. Those purple irises against the lime-green euphorbia: inspired! Your lawn full of tiny blue forget-me-nots: a poem I’m learning by heart.
Hmm, the high educational value of this topic might make it a good post for Lilting House.
Jane and I are exploring the science behind the loaves we’re baking. Found this fun site: The Science of Cooking. An excerpt from the sourdough page:
In addition to flour, water, and yeast, your starter also contains bacteria. When these bacteria feed on the sugars in flour, they produce acidic by-products. This is what gives sourdoughits sour taste.
Actually, all doughs contain at least some bacteria. So why aren’t all breads sour? In doughs made with bakers’ yeast (the kind you buy in the store), the yeast outnumber the bacteria. Since both compete for the same sugars, the yeast win out, and the bacteria don’t have a chance to produce their acidic by-products. In sourdough, yeast and bacteria are more closely balanced, so the bacteria have a chance to add their flavors to the bread.
Sourdoughs and other raised breads also differ from one another because of the eating habits of the yeasts that make them rise. The predominant yeast in sourdough, Saccharomyces exiguus, cannot metabolize maltose, one of the sugars present in flour. Baker’s yeast, on the other hand, has no trouble feeding on this sugar. Since the bacteria that give sourdough its taste need maltose to live, they do much better in the company of sourdough’s yeast because they don’t have to compete for this sugar.
Wikipedia on sourdough
How Stuff Works on sourdough
The history & microbiology of sourdough:
Sourdough culture is a yeast living symbiotically with a friendly
lacto-bacteria. We need to start with enough of the right organisms so
that they can become the dominant culture, food and water and the right
Given the right organisms, the optimum temperature is just
over 80F/27C. Much hotter and the activity of the yeast declines. Above
95F/35C the yeast is effectively dormant or dead. The bacterial
activity peaks at 93F/34C, so some bakers choose to ferment at 90F/32C
to get a sourer bread. At 70F/21C the activity of the yeast has roughly
halved, so the fermentation will take twice as long.
I’ve been meaning to put together a post containing the various links helpful people have sent me since Jane and I began this blog. I really appreciate all the great advice you folks have sent my way—thanks so much!
Someone (sadly, I cannot remember who) recommended this site: The Fresh Loaf, a vast collection of articles and links about all aspects of bread-baking. The site also includes a discussion forum where newbies can post questions for more seasoned bakers to answer.
Some articles on this site that particularly caught my eye:
Wild Yeast Sourdough Starter (how to make your own starter using flour and pineapple juice).
Getting a Sourer Sourdough
Deluxe Sourdough Bread recipe
Why Yeasts Attack (background info on sourdough baking; good walkthrough with pictures)
More About Sourdough (part two of the above)
Lesson Two (step by step instructions for yeast bread, not sourdough)
Domenico Bettinelli left a link to a much-discussed NYT article about a slow-rise, no-knead method of breadbaking. You need an NYT account to access the article, but there is a video demonstration here.
I continue to spend a lot of time on Teresa’s Northwest Sourdough site and blog. I really appreciate her detailed walk-throughs with pictures. (And I can now testify as to the scrumptiousness of bread made with her NW Sourdough starter!)
January 21, 2007 @ 10:06 am | Filed under: Sourdough
…in baking a really fine loaf of sourdough bread.
It isn’t a perfect loaf, but it’s a vast improvement upon our first two attempts with sourdough, and it tastes really, really good. The crust has a nutty flavor so delicious we can’t stop breaking off little bits for "just one more" taste.
The recipe we used calls for a starter at 166% hydration, which is to say: maintained with one part flour, two parts water. We had to figure out how to adjust it for a 100% hydration starter (maintained with equal parts flour and water) because—and I know this is a little silly but we don’t care—it is such fun to have a nice thick starter bubbling in the crock a little too vigorously so there’s always that danger it will overflow. For the same reason, I don’t want to keep the crock in the fridge even though we aren’t yet baking enough to justify feeding a starter daily. We don’t care. Flour is cheap. We’re having fun.
Jane says she still likes baking yeast breads best, because there is so much more kneading. We’re going to shoot for one sourdough baking and one yeast bread baking each week. I’m so grateful to JoVE, whose post inspired us to start!
Things we need to figure out:
• The recipe said to proof the dough in a bowl lined with a proofing cloth sprinkled with flour. No problem there, but how do you then transfer the dough to your baking stone without deflating it? Ours was a pretty oozy dough (don’t know the right terminology)—not firm like our honey wheat yeast bread dough has been—and by the time I got it onto the stone, it was a big flat blob and I was sure it was going to be a complete flop. It did rise more in the oven, though, so we wound up with a nice big round loaf, a little dense but not a bad texture at all. But still, there has got to be a better way to make the switch. I wish I could watch a real baker do it. I have no technique.
• The slashing! Why can’t I get this right? I even got the special bread slashing tool. I’m too timid with my cuts. I don’t go deep enough. Again, I think it would help to see someone do it. But I guess I just need to cut deeper, with less hesitation.
January 13, 2007 @ 9:40 am | Filed under: Sourdough
We did it! Baked our first successful sourdough.
The crumb was a little dense, perhaps, not as holey as sourdough is supposed to be. But we’re getting there. It tasted great and the texture was nice, just more like a regular yeast bread than sourdough, moist rather than chewy.
This was our second attempt at sourdough baking. The first attempt was a huge flop. We produced our first bricks. The sponge didn’t expand much, and I should have just started over at that stage.
This time around, the sponge doubled in two hours, and we were so excited. We’re getting better at reading our starter.
Here is one of the finished loaves:
As you can see, I need to improve my slashing technique. I’m too timid. Gotta get bolder with the blade!
December 30, 2006 @ 8:44 pm | Filed under: Sourdough
A colony of microscopic organisms have taken up residence in a crock on our counter…and we’re very happy about it.
The crock was a gift from my Secret Santa, aka Hooly. Isn’t it lovely? Fits in perfectly with my windowsill flowerpots.
The starter is just about ready to bake with. Maybe we’ll have pancakes for breakfast tomorrow? I’m hoping to try a loaf of bread with it on Monday. We’ll see how it goes…
Great site for recipes and advice: Northwest Sourdough. The "First Loaf" tutorial is thorough and extremely helpful. I like this biscuit recipe too.
December 4, 2006 @ 3:25 pm | Filed under: Sourdough
A step-by-step look at making desem bread as described in Laurel’s Kitchen. Includes many helpful photos. (This is several steps beyond us, though. File under: Someday. I would really love to taste a desem bread…wonder if there are any bakeries around here that make it?)
Q for Jane: Can you figure out what the author means when she talks about the "crumb" of the bread?