Local Flours Sours: Peace Country Rye (Part Two)

If you read my weekend article about the Peace Country Rye flour blend that set the stage for my sourdough effort, you may recall how much I was anticipating baking a great-tasting rye bread from my sourdough process.

By Sunday evening I had two hot loaves, fresh from the oven.

Then one of these sourdough loaves took a two hour drive southbound shortly after it came out of said oven. It somehow snuck into the arms of my mother-in-law who, having driven up for a Sunday visit, couldn’t escape without some bread from her favourite son-in-law, lucky-for-her timed to come out of the oven just in time for her departure.

Timing is everything with this process, after all.

The split dough proofed on the counter, shaped directly in my pair of loaf pans for nearly twelve hours prior to baking. I was up at 6am to prepare for my run. To give it the best chance for a long day of big rise, 6am is definitely not too early.

Yet twelve hours seemed long, especially considering how warm (in the high twenties Celsius) it has been outdoors this week.

Some insight from the web: I was watching a Youtube video last week about capturing wild yeast for sourdough. (The general topic tends to pop up in my feed with some frequency these days, go figure!) This particular vid had some information (among other topics) about The Science of Sourdough project that has been trying to answer the age-old question: Sourdough? How does that work? Specifically, the project seemed to be digging through an attempt to collect thousands of data points from global participants kicking off a homemade starter with the goal of discovering “how geography and different flours affect microbial growth over time, and how those microbes affect the taste and texture of bread.”

In other words, how does sourdough work, and why does my bread take twelve hours to rise while someone else might have a loaf ready to bake in half that amount of wait time?

The answer might simply be because of the yeast I caught, or the place I live, or the flour I use. Flours, yes. Yeast is everywhere after all. And it grows better in some places than others. I’m feeling that this playing around with locally milled flours may not just result in some new varieties of breads, but give me some insight to my own two-year-old starter and how viable he is. How he reacts to new things. His favourite flours, even.

Of course I kept one loaf for myself, and I can report that despite the long rise (maybe because of it) the Northern Albertan rye flour produced a great loaf with a lovely crumb, a warm hue to the bread, and the expected slightly-nuttier taste I was hoping for from a rye-white blend.

Definitely one of my favourite blends so far.

Worth the work. Worth the wait.

And since I gave one loaf away, probably a blend I’ll be repeating in a day or two. I should probably get started.

twelve hours!

Pan Fried Mushrooms

I keep a cast iron pan near my barbecue for exactly one reason: my wife loves grilled mushrooms on her hamburgers.

I know very well that a well-seasoned pan atop an outdoor gas grill has a whole host of purposes, but when you have a system like this that ain’t broke… why fix it?

We eat barbecued hamburgers at least a few times per month over the summer, and without fail we slice up a couple cups of fresh button mushrooms, toss them into the blazing hot pan with a pat of butter and a clove or two of crushed garlic.

Recipe

2 cups of sliced button mushrooms
1 tablespoon of crushed garlic
1 tablespoon of butter

The fungi heat and sizzle and brown up with a rich, lovely aroma as the burgers grill up nearby, and everything is usually ready to eat just in time, as I swoop the plate full of patties into the house with a steaming hot bowl of grilled mushrooms alongside.

These go great with hamburgers, but I’ve been know to toss grilled mushrooms atop a steak, beside some grilled pork, as part of a veggie medley, or even just to nibble on their own.

Gear: Cast Iron Loaf Pans

The first cast iron loaf pan I bought was an experiment. I didn’t know that I’d use it much, but I’d read online that I might be able to get crispier crusts on my banana bread with a pan that had better heat retention than the aluminum ones I’d been using.

The second cast iron loaf pan I bought was also an experiment. I didn’t know that I’d use it much, but my daughter suggested that I try baking sourdough in a “real bread shape” instead of dome loafs and rather than split my recipe and make less bread, I doubled my pans and tried just cooking two smaller loaves.

A year and a half later, experimenting complete, I can honestly say that these two pans are the most frequently used pieces of cast iron in my collection.

This specific style of pan (the L4LP3 Logic Loaf) comes from Lodge and is no longer manufactured (from what I can tell) having been replaced by an updated design.

Each of these two pans are a 10 1/4 inches long by 6 1/8 inches wide by 2 7/8 inches deep rectangular cast iron shell perfect to hold and proof half a batch of my sourdough bread or a full recipe of banana bread batter.

I use these pans so frequently, and in fact rarely even put them back into the cupboard, because almost fifteen months ago having been sent home from the office to “work from home” during the pandemic, I started baking bread on the regular.

Sourdough folks will online often compare photos of their loaves. Big dome loaves with a perfectly formed ear and baked to a perfect golden hue grace social media. These are gorgeous masterpieces of bread art (and they likely taste good too!) But my two modest loaf pans land upon my countertop a pair of neatly shaped sandwich bread loaves hot from the oven and tasting just as amazingly. Where my Dutch Oven is the artisan tool I use to bring forth an occasional sourdough creation, my two loaf pans are my workhorses, functional and simple, getting the job done two or three times per week.

Of course besides sourdough and banana bread, these pans have a list of other uses.

We take them camping and with a blend of meats, veggies, starches and sauce (covered with aluminum foil) make for a one-dish campfire casserole.

In them I’ve cooked pastas, meatloaf, pastries, potatoes, squash and more.

Any recipe that calls for a loaf pan in our house these days defaults to the cast iron while their flimsier cousins collect dust in the cupboard.

I bought these two pans as experiment not knowing if a heavy, sometimes-awkward replacement for our old loaf pans would bring any additional value to my cooking. I would say that after a couple years of experimental data, they definitely do… and I’m not looking back.

Backyard: Fire

In recognition of yet-another-local-lockdown due to the ongoing pandemic, I'm doing a week of feature blog posts about living in the backyard. From May 10th through 16th, my posts will be themed around life outdoors but as close to home as possible, a few steps out the back door.

It’s been about a month since I settled on my backyard firepit solution but I haven’t said much about the pit itself save for posting a few photos of the results of my outdoor cooking efforts.

My upgrade from a simple steel fire bowl was an effort to find a backyard firepit that answered a number of questions:

How much was I willing to spend?

My initial research had led me to a company out East who build custom iron fire pits. I corresponded with their sales guys for about a week back and forth, negotiating a price, but at the end of the day I wasn’t going to be able to get what I wanted AND have it shipped across the country without spending well over a thousand dollars. I’m all for good quality, but knowing that I also needed to spend some money on firewood and other supplies, that was pushing the budget into the neighbourhood of $1500 which was substantially more than I wanted to spend. I landed on something on the slightly-fancy end of the box-store firepit selection.

How much of my yard was I willing to convert to a permanent fire pit?

A couple months ago I was still debating the question of whether or not to install a permanent firepit in the yard. Given fire regulations and safety considerations, there were a couple candidate spots in the middle of my lawn that were possible locations for this… but only a couple. I was really deciding on what was more important out my backdoor: a fire pit or an open lawn. The compromise was a firepit that could be relocated, moved, or even stored. I have the sense that it will stay in roughly the same space for the rest of this summer, but going with the portable solution avoided major landscaping efforts and converting a part of my yard into “the firepit” forever.

Could I cook on it?

I dug around the internet looking for solutions to my cooking dilemma. I found tripods upon which I could hang a camp oven. I read the reviews of wire racks and iron grates. I contemplated the effort to build a stand-alone spit that I could pound into the soil and from which I could suspend my culinary creations. Ultimately, the firepit I discovered was a single unit that was a cylindrical fire bowl with a notched holder for two included demi-circle cast iron grill attachments. One of those grills is a grated grill, while the other one is a solid half circle of smooth cast iron joy. These both provide direct cooking surfaces but also as somewhere to rest a pan or Dutch oven above or near the fire.

A month after bringing home and setting up my new fire pit I’ve stoked at least five backyard cookouts, seasoned my grills, and begun to seriously dabble in open fire cooking… right in my own backyard.

And oh man, are the neighbours ever getting jealous.

Reminder: Blogs are not a replacement for professional advice. Please read my note on safety and safe participation.