Lotsa Bread

I’ve been thinking about bread a lot more than I’ve been writing about it here.

Eating it too.

I crossed yet another sourdough milestone this past weekend when I extracted from my hot oven a pair of pandemic bread loaves, loaves numbered two-hundred-and-forty-nine and two-hundred-and-fifty.

Yes, I keep track.

And yes, I’ve baked 250 loaves of sandwich bread in the last two years since that fateful day when I got sent home from the office to work in my cold basement.

My starter, which turns three next month, is mature and active and beautiful. I pulled it from the fridge that same afternoon to warm up on the counter, prepping my plans for bread baking even before setting up my laptop for work.

Two years of bread. Three years of sourdough. Two hundred and fifty sandwich loaves and so many other random baking experiments that had I not kept careful record of I might not even believe it myself.

In that time…

My flour collection has rotated through all purpose bags, to generic supply-chain shortage stocks, to small mill local flours, to artisan bakery bags, and grocery store best for bread varieties.

I’ve played with beers replacing water.

I’ve dabbled in mix-ins and spices and cheeses and sweetness levels.

I’ve made bagels and pizza dough and buns and pan bread.

It’s been two years of hundreds of hours of baking that has taught me so much about bread yet has only just whet my appetite to learn more. And there is lots more to learn.

I go back to the office (at least part time) in a couple weeks and the mid-day bread baking breaks will shift to accommodate that new life.

It’s a little sad, but then again, when I started this and was only a couple dozen loaves in I joked with my daughter that someday she would inherit the “pandemic bread starter” that bit of flour and water and yeast that helped sustain us through a weird time in history.

And it really did.

Cheesy Garlic Pan Bread

Back in December I was going through my end-of-the-year questions and spent a post lamenting the fact that despite baking up a lot of sourdough, I hadn’t spent much time exploring the potential of my starter as a starter for other recipes besides bread.

A goal for 2022 was to branch out, and the suggestions I gave myself in that post were to try some variety of recipes such as doughnuts, bagels or english muffins.

Instead, as inspiration would have it, I started instead with a crusty pan bread.

The Youtube algorithm tends to show me a lot of baking content these days, and my playlist offered up a recipe for a thick crust pan pizza. I skipped the pizza part and instead used some of the pizza advice and a half a recipe of my sourdough bread to whip up a tasty cheese bread that complimented our evening meal of beef stew.

cheesy garlic pan bread

500g bread flour
350g water
12g salt
250g active sourdough starter
250g hard cheese
3 garlic cloves
60ml olive oil
10g finishing salt

I made my basic sourdough recipe using the flour, water, salt and starter. This went through the typical hydration and folding cycle and then got covered and popped into the fridge overnight. Technically, I only used half of this to make the pan bread and used the other half to bake some simple sourdough rolls, but I’m sure any innovative baker can figure out something clever to do with half a recipe of ready-to-rise sourdough dough.

I oiled up my ten inch cast iron pan (using half the oil) and halving the dough from above, I balled and then flattened it, shaping it into a thick disk that sat about an inch from all sides of the pan. It was about 8am when I did this, and I wouldn’t go onto the next step until nearly 5pm when the dough disk had risen to a lovely volume that was closer to being ready to bake.

My folks had given us a huge wedge of gouda cheese as part of a Christmas basket, so I grated down a bunch of that. I also crushed the garlic in the remaining oil. Just like one might do with a loaf of foccacia I dimpled the surface of my dough disk with my finger tips then spread the garlic oil roughly over the surface.

Here’s the first trick I learned from that Youtube video. I took about half the grated cheese and made a thick edge right up against the edge of the disk and touching the cast iron. The point here is that as is melts it drips along the crack and gets all fried and crusty making a crispy cheesy edge.

The point is, you want the cheese (and quite a bit of it) right up to the edge of the dough.

With a saltier cheese I may have skipped this extra finishing salt sprinkled atop this whole creation. I like salty garlic bread, probably an artifact of growing up on garlic bread made from buttered toast sprinkled with garlic salt not real garlic, but it really does bring an added dimension to the finished product.

This spent 28 minutes in a 425F oven, but I was watching it carefully for the last five.

The second trick I learned from that Youtube video came right at the end. I checked the browning on the crust of the bread after I pulled it out of the oven to make sure it wasn’t too brown (it wasn’t) and then lit up the stovetop where I continued frying the bread right there in the cast iron pan for another 3 minutes. That crust just browned up a little more and it popped out of the pan glorious and crusty and cheesy as I expected.

My biggest problem was making sure there was some left over for tomorrow.

It was delicious, fresh and steaming hot from the oven, and I’ll be adding this to my regular rotation for family meals or perhaps even to share with friends some day again.

Sourdough But Not Bread

It’s been a long twenty-one months of pandemic craziness, but I’ve kept myself a little more sane by baking a lot of sourdough bread.

A few loaves per week. A regular diet of sourdough toast for breakfast. A healthy source of bread for the family.

But in all that time I haven’t explored much further into the sourdough family than experimenting with basic flour blends and a bit of beer hydration. I haven’t explored all the possibilities that a fine-tuned sourdough starter has to offer.

What’s something you
should have cooked in 2021,
but didn’t?

In the coming year I’d like to try at least three new sourdough recipes.

I don’t yet have these recipes, but I’ve encountered them in the past, online, and I know with just the right search words I’ll likely be able to find something that lines up neatly and to my satisfaction.

First up, bagels.

Bagels? You know the dense and chewy bready rings popular in different styles around the world, Montreal-style or a’la New York. A bit of cream cheese with some smoked lox from nearby British Columbia seems like it would suit a sourdough experiment just fine by me. I’ve seen a few Youtubers spinning up a delicious bagel recipe with a sourdough base and I’ve never had the nerve to follow all the extra steps to get that job done, but in 2022 I think this is something in my cooking queue.

Second, english muffins.

We’ve been buying only one type of bread with any consistency since the pandemic started and my adventures with supplying the household with sourdough loaves began. English muffins are the classic ingredient in a hearty breakfast sandwich, which also happens to be one of my daughter’s self-sufficiency foods: she cooks herself a breakfast sandwich for lunch on the weekends or whenever a teenage hollow-leg syndrome strikes. A fried egg, a slice of ham, a bit of cheese all squeezed between a toasted english muffin is also an ideal thing to prep on a cast iron griddle, but I think I can go one step further in 2022 and try making my own english muffins using my sourdough starter.

Finally, doughnuts.

Like our neighbours to the south, we Canadians can be fiends for our doughnuts. In the past I’ve used my big dutch oven to deep fry multiple batches of yeast doughnuts. My daughter loves this because not only do they turn out delicious but she enjoys decorating them with chocolate, sprinkles, or all sorts of other toppings. Like bagels and english muffins I’ve come to appreciate that store bought yeast has nothing on bready treats that start with a bit of mother dough instead. I’d like to put this theory to the test.

Next year, it seems, is going to be one where I explore the tasty potential of my sourdough starter. And who knows, I might even find a new specialty. If nothing else, you’ll be reading about it here.

Thirty one topics. Thirty one posts. Not exactly a list… but close. In December I like to look back on the year that was. My daily posts in December-ish are themed-ish and may contain spoilers set against the backdrop of some year-end-ish personal exposition.

Friday Yeast Fail

I banked my evening post on some cast iron skillet focaccia bread. The plan was to bake a zesty round of generously seasoned pan bread, a twelve inch disc of leavened goodness, baked to perfection in the oven and sliced up for some Friday night snacking.

I followed a simple recipe: some flour, yeast, olive oil, spices, salt, water… you know how this goes.

Mixed, I set it all aside to rise.

I waited.

I watched.

I put it into the proofing drawer of my oven.

I waited some more.

I think my failing was relying on store bought yeast. I would have gone the sourdough starter route, but I dreamed up this plan in the afternoon and was hoping for a Friday treat.

The darned thing never rose.

I turned into a cold, wet, oily ball of dough with so little going for it that six hours later I’m pretty much resigned to cooking it up and seeing what happens.

And whatever happens will definitely not be focaccia.