Friday, June 26, 2020

Mana a Mano: Pandemic Baking

Melinda Palacio

Sourdough Olive Loaf

I have joined the pandemic sourdough brigade, the group of people who choose to bake their own bread. Only weeks ago, I didn't really eat bread due to Steve following a low carb diet, no carbs and no bread. However, three weeks ago, a friend offered some sourdough bread that she made. I ate more than my fair share with little thought to carbs or whether I would be feeling the bloat that sometimes accompanies too much bread. It turns out my body can safely enjoy sourdough bread in moderation. Sourdough is more nutritious and easier to digest and less likely to spike your blood sugar levels. It uses starter instead of yeast. Starter is the gift that keeps on giving because you have to discard some in order to feed it. Months ago, when everyone toilet paper was scarce, so was yeast and bread flour. Now, it's easier to find specialty flours like bread flour or stone ground wheat flour (which I prefer, along with a little rye. My friend gifted me starter and she named it Seymour. It's like having a pet. Maybe, that's why people who are into sourdough are passionate about the process.

Seymour, my sourdough starter

Before actually trashing the sourdough discard, you can do some pretty cool things with it, like give it to a friend or make crackers out of the discard. I must admit, I like the crackers better than the actual bread. Although, don't get me wrong, I love the sourdough bread I make, especially the fact that you can flavor the dough any way you'd like: add cherries and chocolate for a sweeter bread or olives and extra salt for a savory bread or plain for making french toast the next morning. But first, the crackers.

Crackers with Fresh Herbs and Cajun spices

The discard crackers are better than the bread IMO.
Of course, everything starts with the starter. You can make your own or simply put out a call on social media or the phone tree (if you are of a certain age) to find someone with extra starter. Don't throw your discard away. Heat your oven to 350, mix salt, one cup of flour, one cup of starter, and a quarter cup of olive oil, add your seasoning, extra salt, pepper, spices, roll out on parchment paper to thin, cracker leaf, bake about 20 minutes, then brake up the thin sheet and eat. Easy, fun, and you will never want to buy another prepackaged box of crackers.

Serious bread makers use a dutch oven inside your regular oven. I used a deep cast iron pot with a lid. Steam is important. 
I don't like my crust too dark so I put a cookie sheet at the bottom and line the dutch oven with a layer of tin foil for good measure. Heat your oven to 500 degrees and heat your dutch oven or pan. 
The Bread.
I have made a total of three sourdough loafs and already feel as if I'm an expert. Each time I make bread, I also make crackers. I can't bring myself to throwout the discard and many of my friends already have starter or don't want to join the bread cult. The first time I ventured into bread making, I followed the bon appetit recipe that my friend gave me. I was super careful to get out a scale and measure the amount of flour and water I added to the dough. By my second loaf, I had ditched the scale and accuracy and eyeballed it. Roughly, a half cup of starter, one cup of water, 2 Tablespoons of good olive oil, two to three cups of bread flour (substitute wheat, a little rye), 2 teaspoons of salt and olive oil for greasing. In order for the nooks and crannies to form, the dough needs to be slapped and pulled, allowed to rise in a warm place, then shocked into a cold fridge for 8 to 18 hours, then baked.

Scoring the bread before you bake it ensures that it won't break bad. 
Sourdough bread is art.

Cherry Chocolate chip loaf

Apparently, if you don't score the bread, make fun designs with a knife, your bread will break open on its own and it won't be as pretty. I had fun carving into the dough. I don't know if I had beginner's luck or a special touch, but each loaf I made was a slice of heaven. Most websites recommend more consistency and accuracy with measuring the ingredients, I winged it. I also bake the loaf at about 450, my oven's thermometer doesn't work well. I used to live in San Francisco and I was impressed that my bread loaves held up to bread I had at some of my favorite bakeries. I can add bread baking and sewing to my list of positive pandemic outcomes. I also learned how to make sugar free cherry jam to go with the break and crackers. Two cups of cherries, a quarter cup of water, three tablespoons or less of chia seeds and sugar free cherry jam. Add cherry jam and strawberry ice cream to my growing pandemic skillset.

homemade sugar free cherry jam

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