another sourdough day

It’s a random Wednesday morning in March and I’ve just pulled my starter out of the fridge. The lovely box of yeasty goodness will celebrate it’s fourth birthday next month and my daughter is keen to break out the sourdough recipe book and try some recipes that are not bread.

In the meantime, I’ve been writing quite a bit in my daily thread this past month and a half about my sourdough and it felt like a good day to combine, mix, fold and proof those words into a proper post here.

Set oven to hot and…

sourdough loaves

I’ve stopped counting how many loaves of bread I’ve made with my starter. It passed the three hundred mark about six months ago, and I ran out of room for tick marks on the lid of the container where I keep the magic.

I made two more last night, sandwich loaves in little cast iron loaf pans, crispy on the outside and fluffy and delicious on the interior.

This morning (February 13th) there are about one and a quarter loaves left. That’s what happens when four adult (or at least three adults and one not-quite-but-eats-like-an-adult) lives in your house. Fresh bread does not last long.

sourdough first day

I sometimes tell people who ask about my bread that sourdough isn’t difficult. It’s just twenty minutes of work spread across two full days.

On day one I start in the morning and take my starter out of the fridge. Some people will tell you that you need to keep in on the counter, feed it every day, and care for it as if it were a child. My starter will be four years old next month and he comes out of the fridge for about 12 hours at a time, just long enough to prime for action… then fed, watered, and right back to bed.

My starter comes out of the fridge at about 7am, before I head out to work, and by the time I get home it’s warm and bubbly and active.

I mix my dough, and while I’ve got the flour out on the counter, I replace the half of the starter I used with two parts flour and one part water and double him back up to his regular size with a good mix.

The starter goes back in the fridge. The dough has some countertop time and some folds over the next couple hours, and it joins the starter.

Ten tough minutes of work, spread across that first day and I’ve got a fed starter and a bowl of dough resting for tomorrow.

sourdough second day

The dough spent the night in the fridge and this morning, shortly after I got up and while I was bustling around the kitchen to feed the dog and make coffee and wake up, I put the covered bowl onto the counter to warm up a bit.

It was still cool an hour later when I weighed, cut, kneaded and rolled the dough into a pair of loaf blanks and dropped them into my parchment-lined cast iron loaf pans.

Those two loaves will rest and proof on the counter, out of the way from disturbance, covered and quiet and warm at room temperature until later today. Maybe it will take ten hours, twelve hours or even fourteen — it all depends on the mood of my yeast this week. (But I’m guessing 12 hours.)

When those loaves rise up over the lip of the pan and start to look and feel ready, I’ll heat the oven up to 450F and put them inside for a thirty minute bake.

When the timer chimes, I’ll pull them out onto a cooling rack and savour the smell of fresh baked bread through the house while it lasts. It only lasts a while, sadly.

Ten more minutes of work, spread across the second day and I’ve got two loaves of fresh sourdough ready to enjoy for breakfast in the morning.

sour flour power

The flour makes all the difference to the end product… at least according to my daughter, who will devour a half loaf of bread in a sitting when I use 100% white bread flour to make my weekly breads versus a slice here and there when I substitute even as little as 10% for rye, whole wheat or some other blend into the mix.

I prefer the grainy breads and the darker results.

But there is something captivatingly powerful to the teenage mind for white bread, it seems.

This is doubly strange when one considers that we never buy white bread. Not that we buy bread much (or ever really) now anyhow but back when loaves of sliced bread were still on our shopping list we would always go for the grainy, wheat-ish, non-white bread every time.

Hamburger and hot dog buns, sure. White bread.

But sliced loaves? Never.

So, all this means that I’ve had to limit my flour experimenting to alternate bakes, white one week, blend the next, repeat, to surrender to the allure and power of white bread flour.

dough, soured

The thing about sourdough is that there is an advantage to a long proof.

So, when you mix your dough on Wednesday night, say, and intend to rest in the refrigerator overnight and then countertop proof it the next day so that, say, you can bake it on Thursday evening… but you forget and go to work instead and leave the dough in the fridge…


You can countertop proof it on Friday and bake it up Friday evening (instead of Thursday as you had intended) and not only is the final bread fine, it is arguably better for the longer rest in the fridge. Better flavour. Better rise. Better all round.


This may have definitely been a true story.

bread journaling.

Do you keep a baking journal.

I know, if you’re not a hardcore baker or sour-bread-head, then maybe that sounds a little nutty.

But after nearly four years of baking sourdough from my little kitchen and having a few of photos and plenty of tasty memories, I realize I haven’t kept great notes on what I made, how I made it, or when or why or how or whatever…

I blogged a bit, and you can find it here.

I made lots of tick marks on my starter-ware to denote a baking event.

But I couldn’t tell you the specifics.

Specifics and details and notes are how you learn and get better.

My bread is pretty good, but it could always be better, right?

So. Maybe a journal isn’t a terrible idea.

How do you keep a bread journal and what kinds of things do you write in it?

Preconceptions of Eats

December 2 of 31 December-ish posts

I’ve been dabbling in making pizza as of late.


Except having just been in New York City and now having a trip to Chicago planned for later next year, defining what exactly kind of pizza in which I’ve been dabbling is not so clear.

Pizza is bread with stuff, right?

After watching a dozen videos online with titles something like “ranking styles of pizza” or “why is New York pizza better than Detroit pizza” my brain has been aflutter with the actual definition of the food I’ve been trying to create, let alone setting down a strict approach that would serve me for the long term.

I have this preconception of pizza, and it comes from the fact that I grew up eating a very specific variety of medium-crusted disc with a slab of various meaty toppings sluiced between a layer of sauce and a top layer of cheese. I also worked for a summer in a pizza chain (formerly) called ‘Panagopolous Pizza’ (but now and since rebranded to ‘Panago’ likely because they got tired of people trying to order Greek food, as what happened to us numerous times over that summer in the mid-90s.)

All that is to say: pizza, at least the mental picture of pizza in my head, is something very, very specific and yet, open to interpretation.

Who or what are you leaving behind in 2022?

Preconceptions of eats.

I mean, that’s the goal, at least.

I’ve been dabbling in pizza-making lately, and none of that pizza I’ve made recently fits neatly into my former preconceptions of what my mid-90s self would have considered pizza made so-called correctly.

Up until the aforementioned “lately” I’ve long strove to make good pizza at home. I added a cast iron pizza pan to my collection about five years ago, and that fourteen inch circle of seasoned iron was the latest (and one of the greatest) additions to my pizza-making toolkit. Amazing crusts, for one. But alas, still merely another kitchen gadget geared at my goal of matching that mental image of the perfect pie.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that approach.

Not that seeing the thing in your mind that you want to create and striving to replicate it is at all a bad approach. Arguably, it is the foundation of understanding and education. By many measures, it is the core of becoming better at that thing you are trying to get better at. Practice by immitation.

I can’t say we ever really managed it tho.

That is, I can’t say that trying to create the pizza that existed in my mind’s eye was a goal that I ever really reached. We made great dough and in the last year our sourdough crusts have been tasty and devine. We’ve dabbled in ingredients and cheeses and sauces and temperatures. The thing is that homemade pizza in a standard home oven probably cannot ever compete with what any local pizza joint can crank out every five minutes with high-heat pizza ovens. Our idealized pizza was restaurant pizza and I don’t live in a commercial kitchen.

Preconceptions fall hard.

New York pizza is a style of pizza that seems to be as much religion as it is culinary art form.

Sitting in a little shop a couple blocks from the 5th Avenue branch of the Public Library, I don’t know if we found the best pizza in NYC, but we certainly found a great example of it. Three burly guys-guys behind the counter asked us to pick our slice and then they heated it up in a big slot of an oven before serving it on a paper disc and a checkerboard sheet of parchment. We folded it in half and bit into it and sat facing out onto the sidewalk where folks strolled by.

I could almost certainly find a recipe for that, a million recipes for everyone else’s attempt to replicate that, but there is more to it than making the dough just right or finding a spice that fits the right New York jive to call what I created New York style pie. As much as sitting on a wobbly stool overlooking a bustling street with sirens wailing in the distance, I just don’t have the tools in my house to do what they do in that Big ol’ Apple.

So what’s my point? That I can’t make good pizza as I imagine it? That good New York style is out of reach? That probably the same barriers hold true for Chicago, Detroit, Neapolitan, whatever. Just why bother?

My point is that pizza is all of those things and more. Pizza is a set of tasty food whose definition is broader than the narrow subset of examples that I happen to hold in my own personal mind. Pizza is bigger than my preconceptions of pizza.

I’ve been dabbling in making pizza lately and it looks nothing like any other pizza that I’ve ever made.

There’s probably a style, a name, a geography that belongs to whatever the pizza I’m accidentally making now most closely resembles. I’ve been making pizza that works with the tools I own. And it’s turning out really well.

Thick, hearty crusts that more closely resemble focaccia than pizza crust. Salty cheese blends. Spicy thick tomato sauce that doesn’t turn watery in my lower-temp oven. Cured meats and pickled peppers and even more cheese mostly on top, but loose along the edges of the big cast iron frying pan in which I cook it. I cook it in stages. I cook it to a crusty, crunchy dark brown. I cook it so that those cheese bits fall down the edges and fry on the sides of the pan. I cook it until the meat is curling and the cheese is bubbling and the crust is crisp and cracks when you take a bite.

If I could go back to the mid-90s and serve it to myself I’d probably like it, but I may look sidelong at my time travelling doppelganger and tell him it wasn’t exactly pizza.

So, who or what are you leaving behind in 2022?

I’m officially leaving that guy behind. I mean, I think I left him behind a long time ago. But I’m leaving him behind for reals and for good, I think.

Pizza is more than what’s in my head. Just like bread or doughnuts or cookies or other kinds of amazing food that I’ve been striving in mediocrity to replicate precisely at the cost of actual good flavours. Preconceptions of eats have been holding me back, I think, and next year, both overthinking it and completely ignoring my own brain.

I’m going to try to change that. Not just for pizza, but for a lot of things. Bring on 2023.

Sourdough Bagels, New York Style

It’s been a couple weeks since we got back from our trip to Manhattan. While my daughter loved Broadway, I really got into the food, in particular hunting down a couple good bagel bakeries and sampling their authentic wares.

Of course, this left me yearning for some New York back home, and wondering if I could replicate them in my own kitchen. And, this particular recipe seemed to do the trick:

New York Style Sourdough Bagels

200g active sourdough starter (stiff)
430g cold water (less for looser starter)
30g maple syrup
750g all-purpose flour
10g salt
15g baking soda (for boiling)
15g brown sugar (for boiling)
150g toppings, eg sesame seeds

First, you should know that I use a fairly stiff starter with about 70% hydration. If you have a looser, wetter starter, your measures should calculate for less water. Bagels tend to target a stiffer dough with a hydration of around 60% so definitely account for that in your water percentage or else you’ll make breadier, lighter, maybe-not-bagels. For example, with a wet starter, say 90% hydration, you probably need about 100g less water.

Otherwise, you’re going to mix up these ingredients — starter, water, syrup, salt and flour –into a nice stiff dough that you can rest for a few hours to a couple days. Longer rests are going to develop the flavours better, of course, but work with the time you have.

After you’ve rested the dough, divide into eight (8) equal pieces, rolling these into balls that you can rest for another ten minutes or so. These balls eventually need to get shaped into the bagels which is an effort that involves rolling out a log that is 20-25cm long and then looping and pressing the ends together into that familiar bagel shape.

Because this is sourdough, you’re in for another 6-8 hours or rise time on your freshly shaped bagels, but when they have risen (which because of the stiffness of the dough is going to seem a bit less than you might get with bread) you can set up your cooking assembly line: a pot of boiling water with the baking soda and sugar dissolved, a plate or shallow dish with your toppings, and a cooking sheet with some parchment.

Boil the rings for about 20 seconds on each side, then as you pull them from the water dip or sprinkle on the toppings and set them onto the baking sheet with a little room to rise (so they don’t stick together!)

Bake at 450F for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

My results on the first try were fairly authentic from my week in New York. Tasty. Fresh. Firm on the exterior and chewy-soft on the inside. They cut and toasted beautifully.

My biggest problem is that I’m gonna need to go find myself a vat of whipped cream cheese to schmear atop them.

Local Flours Sours: GroundUp Coffee Flour

I was feeling adventurous when I bought a wee bag of local-ish upcycled coffee flour from a local food market.

For what it purported to be, coffee flour turned out to be little more than milled used coffee grounds, cleaned, dried and packaged as a gluten-free additive for bread or other baking needs.

When I opened the bag for the first time the colour and odor lived up to it’s claim. It looked and smelled like discarded espresso grounds. Admittedly, not very appetizing.

My first batch of bread was as per recommended by the blurb of text on the packaging. I substituted 20% of the bread flour by weight (100g of coffee flour to my 400g of bread flour) to my standard sourdough recipe.

The resulting dough was as black as mud but had a terrific elasticity and smoothness. It still smelled — reeked — of spent coffee, but I was hopeful that the baking process would mellow some of that out.

Honestly, it didn’t.

Those first two loaves could have been mistaken for a couple of over-baked and well-burnt bread. It had the colour of char, for all the world looked like I had forgotten them in the oven for twice their normal baking time. After my standard thirty minutes, the bread was cooked.

First, food that has the colour of burnt is generally not always appetizing. If the first first bite is with the eyes, this bread recipe was a wincing, reluctant bite on colour alone.

Second, though I am a dedicated coffee lover, I couldn’t get over the overwhelming spent coffee scent. A lot of the smell did mellow, but 20% is just too much for this flour. I remarked to my wife (who does not like coffee at all) that they’d do just as well to upcycle cigarette butts into a baking additive for some earthy, tobacco, ashtray aroma.

I ate one slice. Got a stomach ache. (No, really.) And for the first time in a long time in my bread baking career, tossed two loaves into the compost bin.

But I am anything if not forgiving and adventurous, and I tried again. (Not to mention a kilogram of this stuff was the same price as five kilos of bread flour.) This time, however, I substituted at a much lower ratio. Five percent. I used a mere 25g of coffee flour to my 475g of bread flour.

The dough was still grey by the end of the fold cycle, and had a bit of “cookies and cream” appearance, as if little bits of black specks were mixed in with the off-white of the dough.

And instead of two sandwich loaves, I stuck to my single dome loaf for the second attempt.


I think so.

Note: The third photo, above, is my second attempt loaf, and the main top photo, the first in the post, is the sliced view of the “successful” dome loaf pictured.

It’s not my favourite additive, but the 5% blend does give the bread a very rich colour and a strong nutty-coffee-ish flavour whose odor was mellowed significantly during baking. It was almost a savoury bread, as it tasted pretty decent with a bit of butter but as my morning toast with peanut butter and honey, there was something lacking in the pairing that had me thinking I’ll be sticking to oatmeal until I can bake up a new batch without the coffee flour.

I feel bad that I didn’t really like this, though. Conceptually, it’s awesome. Upscaling food “waste” into reusable food additives or substitutes is a noble goal. And it’s from a company that is just a couple hours down the highway and supporting local business is also something of a noble goal. This would have been a twofer on ethical baking.

At 5% substitution, this little bag of flour will last me for another thirty-five batches, tho. And, to be honest, I can’t see myself making another thirty five batches of this strong-flavoured bread. I’m glad I made it a couple times, but even I only like coffee so much.

Maybe I’ll make some cookies… or biscotti!