Recipe: Cast Iron Breakfast Hashbrowns

I’ve eaten breakfast in many places around the world, and its fair to say that anywhere you wake up to a meal that place probaby has it’s own style of morning eats that defines it as a culture.

At home, I tend to spread a little jam on some toasted slices of sourdough bread and munch on that while I sip my fresh brewed coffee.

But I wouldn’t exactly call my toast a ”Canadian Style” breakfast.

I’ve long had an affinity for breakfast as a meal. In my previous job my boss liked to host Friday morning meetings at the local greasy spoon diner with a plate of runny-yolk eggs. Our running crew is affectionately named the “Breakfast Run Club” because we often meet outside a breakfast place for a run followed by a morning meal. I’ll be the first to wake while camping specifically to get a start on a hearty skillet-fried breakfast. And lacking a better option for another meal of the day, I’m happy to repeat breakfast for lunch, dinner, supper, or even an evening snack.

But what defines a ”Canadian Breakfast” is tough to say.

The local fast food chain A&W, famous for their root beer and hamburgers, jumped with both feet into the breakfast market about a decade or so ago and differentiated themselves from the ‘egg on a muffin’ chains by serving a fresh, plated, ”Canadian” breakfast, probably based off of any of those greasy spoon places I mentioned previously. I’ve indulged more times than I care to admit, and it’s probably as close as I can come to appropriately pinning down a breakfast that defines the country culturally.

What’s on that plate?

A pair of eggs (any style), two slices of toast, some crispy bacon strips, a duo of breakfast sausages, a pair of fresh tomato slices, and a patty of hashbrown.

Any of those items listed are foods I’d claim a confident level of skill to make… except one.

The hashbrown, as much as it’s just fried potato is finicky to get right at 7am.

the ingredients

1 or 2 medium potatoes, grated
half a small onion, chopped or grated
1 egg
15ml vegetable oil
salt and pepper to taste

the make

The grated potato needs to be washed (to rinse out a lot of the starch) in cold water and then patted dry on a towel. The egg and oil need to be beaten lightly together. Then all the ingredients can be mixed in a bowl until a thick and even potato slurry of a sort is ready to cook.

On a hot cast iron grill, I like to use my large flat top plancha, spread the mixture into a large flat slab, no thicker than a pancake.

When the edges of the beast start to brown and crisp, you can portion it into more managable chunks with the edge of your metal spatula, then flip and grill the other side until both sides are crisp and the interior is cooked to your desired doneness.

The result is kind of fried mat of potato. It’s not much of anything like the industrially shaped discs of deep fried starch madness that one would get at a local fast food place, but it’s very much like the hash served at some of my favourite greasy spoons.

Tho as much as I can cook eggs to nearly any style and have master techniques for near-perfect bacon (and shouldn’t even need to mention the almost flawless sourdough loaves I’ve been baking lately) the perfect hashbrown is still not quite on my list of confident culinary skills. I suppose if I want to be a Canadian breakfast master, I’d better fix that.

Sourdough Muffins

What are English Muffins called in England?

Muffins? Breakfast muffins? Half a Benny?

As I grilled these doughy disks on my cast iron skillet this morning with my daughter lingering over my shoulder hoping she could nab one for her breakfast, I wasn’t really pondering such things.

As 2022 progresses and I recall back to my sourdough goals for this year — in other words, baking with my starter by branching out beyond breads and sandwich loaves — I warmed up and fed my starter yesterday with the intention of attempting to make some English Muffins.

The recipe and process turned out to be much quicker and much simpler than I’d expected.

Unlike the bagels I’d baked about a month ago, the full cycle for this recipe was short and took only about fourteen hours, from idea to tray of hot bready goodness including the twelve hour overnight proof on the counter.

The dough was essentially a wetter, sweeter version of my basic bread, including the addition of liquid sugar (I chose maple syrup, because yes, we just have jugs of maple syrup in the cupboard, ohhhh Canada!) and replacing the water with milk.

the recipe

360g bread flour
240g milk
100g active sourdough starter
20g maple syrup (or honey)
8g salt
cornmeal for dusting

I combined the ingredients (minus the cornmeal) into a fully hydrated dough ball. This took about an hour of resting and folding and resting and folding. My timing here was the critical part, as this needed a twelve-hour counter-top rise. I had this ready to proof for about 7pm so that it would do it’s thing while I slept.

The next morning, the dough ball having easily doubled (or more) in size, I patted it out on a floured surface with my fingertips until it was about 2cm thick. This got cut with a “biscuit cutter” into rounds about 10cm across. (My biscuit cutter was a drinking glass.) I dusted the eight rounds with cornmeal and set them onto a cookie sheet to rest and rise for about one more hour.

I set my cast iron skillet over a medium-low heat. The key here is getting the muffins hot enough to cook evenly through to about 200F, while not over-cooking the outside. Low and slow. We’ve bought enough English Muffins over the years that I have a pretty good eye for what a finished product should look like, but I still used my digital thermometer to make sure they were cooked through. This was mostly me setting the kitchen timer for four minute intervals and flipping only on the beeps. It’s tempting to flip-flip-flip, but I think these benefit from minimal fussing.

For my next attempt (some day in the future) there are some minor adjustments I will make, specifically around the cook time and temperatures, but the only advice I can offer here is that you need to get to know your equipment and work along with it for this recipe. I’m still learning too, but my final product turned out pretty good for a first attempt.

The biggest surprise was the timing. I was expecting this to take much longer. Sure, fourteen hours is not a last minute meal idea, but in the world of sourdough it’s essentially instant fast food, and the type of thing I could see putting together the night before needing to make a family breakfast with unexpected company.

Fresh egg sandwiches everyone?

Baking Sourdough Bagels

Now that we’re a few solid days into February it seemed appropriate that I acknowledge the fine dusting of flour on the floor, walls and furniture that is my loosely stated New Year’s resolutions.

I had been lamenting the lack of variation in my sourdough adventures and looking forward to a year of bread-based experimentation in the form of baked goods like doughnuts, English muffins and bagels.

So, it’s good that I can report I’ve checked at least one of those items off my list: bagels.

My initial attempt at making bagels — not just sourdough bagels, but bagels, period — full stop was based on a blurry-lined recipe I found online that was dancing between a New York style versus a Montreal-style bagel.

Sweetened, dry dough. Slow rise. Thick and chewy exterior.

The Ingredients

200g active sourdough starter
360g warm tap water
635g bread flour
30ml honey
12g salt
60g granulated sugar
10ml baking soda
1 egg white, whisked
sesame seeds, to taste

The flour, water, salt, starter, and honey went together just as I would have usually put together a basic bread dough. Blend. Hydrate. Fold. Rest. Fold. Repeat. And finally into the fridge for about 16 hours.

Things changed up on the back end, when after I let the dough warm back up for about an hour, I weighed out twelve equal(ish) portions and shaped into rings. The dough being fairly dry, this was a tough thing to do, at least in as much as I was hoping for smooth, beautiful loops. I wound up with scraggly rings that evened out a bit as they rose but even after twelve hours on the counter still bore my (trademark?) handmade look.

A pot of boiling water to which the granulated sugar and baking soda joined in to make a sweet alkaline broth gave each of the bagels, two at a time in my medium pot, a thirty-second-per-side bath before landing on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

A quick egg white wash on the top and a generous sprinkle of sesame seeds, and the dozen bagels were into the 450F oven for a solid 20 minutes before extraction.

They definitely had a homemade look, but the kid — a bagel aficionado already at age fourteen — scarfed two and declared them worthy. I guess I’m going to need to keep that recipe handy for another batch soon.

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.