Thursday, July 9, 2009

Thought I killed it!

I thought I killed Baby Bobby.

I decided to make a sourdough bread and it took all but about 12 grams of Baby Bobby. Not only that, but I'd decided to clean Baby Bobby's crock, so what little I had to go into a clean, fresh container. That was the smallest amount of reserve I'd ever had. It was scary.

I added 20 grams each of flour and water, and let it work for a while. That evening, without discarding, I added 50 grams more each of water and flour, then refrigerated as usual.

When I checked it the next day, it didn't look so good. And instead of its usual clean, sour smell, it smelled like old gym socks.

I decided Baby Bobby needed to be placed in sourdough ICU. I brought it out on the counter and fed it twice daily. The kitchen, for a change, was fairly warm. Then I got REALLY worried when it made lots of fine little bubbles (like soap suds) instead of its usual big bubbles that stay in the sourdough instead of floating on top. It was much more liquid than usual--not billowy marshmellowy like usual.

I thought it must be infected, and considered abandoning it in favor of my dried or frozen insurance starters. How could I have Baby Bobby's bread blog without the "real" Baby Bobby????

Fortunately, the people on The Fresh Loaf encouraged me to stick with Baby Bobby. And I'm glad I did! I kept feeding and it started to smell better. Gradually, I began to realize that Baby Bobby was simply being more active than I'd ever seen before, perhaps because of the warmer temperatures and the fact that it is no longer a baby starter. It was doubling quicker and rising higher.

Baby Bobby has become a teenager.

Now I understand the gym sock smell!

Next thing you know he'll want me to call im Bob and ask to borrow the car!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Traveling Baker

DMIL (Dear Mother-In-Law) just moved into assisted living from her home of 40 years, so we trekked down to San Diego to see her new digs. We stayed at the home of my husband's sister and her family.

Instead of treating them to a dinner out that we can't really afford right now, I made a pizza dinner for our hosts. I took my dough bucket, dough whisk, scale, oil sprayer, and some yeast with us and we bought the other ingredients there. I used this recipe to make the dough, making two batches. This yielded 7 individual pizzas, 6" wide, that each person could "decorate" with toppings before baking. The kids enjoyed this part the most.

I made the dough the night before, and probably should have given it more time to come to room temperature. It was a little "tight" rolling out. I usually like this recipe because the fresh dough is very easy to roll out, but once it's cold it's more difficult. I didn't have my pizza stone, so I transferred each pizza (on parchment) to a pre-heated pizza pan left in the oven. The bottoms didn't crisp up much and tended to "sweat" a bit. I was also trying to figure out my SIL's convection oven, so that may have had an effect as well. The pizzas were still good, and my SIL's picky kids even ate more than a bite.

I also took a freshly baked loaf of kalamata olive bread down as a gift when we arrived. That got devoured at a family dinner party the next day.

On Friday we had some down time because our plan to go to the beach was rained/June Gloomed out. I decided we needed challah for Friday night dinner, so I whipped up some dough. I made one challah, and used the remaining dough to make cinnamon rolls for the next day's breakfast. YUM!!!!!!! Both were well received and enjoyed by our hosts, though my nephew was put out that I'd sprinkled poppy seeds on the challah.

It's always a challenge baking in someone else's kitchen, but having some of my most essential tools and yeast helped. My SIL has a big, beautiful kitchen, so that helped, too. She has tile countertops, but there was a generously sized plastic cutting board for kneading. It slipped around until I anchored it with a dampened towel.

The internet was another invaluable tool, because I didn't have to schlep recipes down with me. I did have the pizza recipe and challah on my PDA, but I needed to look up how to make frosting for the cinnamon rolls.

I was happy to have a chance to bake and to share something nice with our hosts. For others this would be work, but for me it was relaxation, and a perfect part of a lovely vacation.

I fed Baby Bobby just before we left and as soon as we arrived back. He seems to be just fine. He'll have some nice bakes this coming weekend.

I was thinking of making sourdough pancakes for Wine Guy for Father's Day, but I've decided to do the blueberry lemon curd ring from AB in 5 instead. Mmmmmm, can't wait to try it!

Parchment Love

Buying hundreds or thousands of sheets of pre-cut parchment from KA or some other source is not in the budget right now, so I'm stuck with what I can find locally for a few dollars at a time.

At Whole Foods (fondly known as "Whole Paycheck" in our family) I found a roll of parchment I like better than the supermarket brand (Reynolds) AND it's more economical.

It's called "If You Care" Silicone Parchment Baking Paper.

What I like:

It's unbleached.

It's rated to 450 degrees F and doesn't get as "crispy" as the Reynolds brand (which is rated to only 420 degrees). This means 1) i can reuse the sheets a few times, and 2) it's not being noticeably aerosolized so less chance I'm breathing in microparticles of the paper.

It's not as wide as the Reynolds, so there is less wasted paper when I only want a small square to go under a boule or oval shaped loaf. While there are fewer square feet of paper in this package than the Reynolds, there is more length and less width. I'll get more useable parchment than the wider roll. The box claims you will get 50 to 70 sheets. Not bad for around $3.50 a roll.

It can be recycled.

Works great!

What I don't like:

The cardboard box is flimsy and lacks a cutter. The box is already falling apart and it's hard to tear sheets off.

The box states that silicone used in this paper is non-toxic (still not sure about BREATHING it) but Quillon, used in some other parchment papers, contains the heavy metal chromium which is somewhat toxic when incinerated (baked at too high temps?). I was thinking of splurging on a box of precut Quillon sheets and I'm glad I didn't do that.

Even though we jokingly call the store "Whole Paycheck", I actually find some frugal bargains for bread baking there. They have flours, grains, seeds, and nuts in bulk so that I can buy just what I need and it's quite fresh. Their store brand flour is priced competitively with national supermarket brands.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Baby Bobby's Busy Weekend

Baby Bobby and I had a busy weekend!

Bobby came out of the fridge on Friday night so he could go to work on the weekend. While I was waiting for him to wake up, I made the dough for Honeyed Challah.

Usually, I add the full three cups of flour for this recipe so that I can braid the challahs. But this time I wanted to practice my "stretch and fold" technique, so I used only two cups of flour and did the stretch and fold as suggested. Instead of 5 to 7 stretch and folds right at the beginning, I did them during bulk fermentation, 2 stretch and folds every 15 minutes for a total of 7. It was a challenge to stretch and fold this soft and somewhat sticky dough. While it did improve the structure, there was no way that this soft dough was going to braid. So I made four small free form boules.

I did some experimental slashing. The left side back challah was meant to have a "Chai" symbol but I slipped with the poppy seeds and you can't see the slash well. The others are a free form wave.

After Baby Bobby woke up, I used 100 g of discard for my usual multi-grain loaf.

I was measuring ingredients into the mixing bowl when Wine Guy came home from Trader Joe's with a loaf of Milton's. Grrrrr! The whole idea here is to save money by NOT buying commercial bread! He said he thought I was busy with other breads and wouldn't have time to make his bread.

So the freshly made multi-grain was sliced and went into the freezer when I was done. I freeze two slices separated by a square of waxed paper in sandwich sized zipper bags. It's easy to grab a bag and either defrost it for the sandwich or just take along the frozen bread and make the sandwich later. The bread tastes just as good as freshly made this way.

Then it was time for the big project.

I was just going to add some roasted garlic cloves to olive oil Artisan Bread in Five dough, but when I was googling around to see how best to prepare the cloves I stumbled on this recipe. That bread was gorgeous!

When I read that the recipe was from Della Fattoria, described as "a small northern California bakery ". I looked up where it was. I was thrilled to find it was in Petaluma, just a few miles from my hometown, and--even better--I had business in Petaluma last Friday. So I made sure there was time to stop there for a loaf (which I'm NOT counting as "commercial bread"!).

It was a lovely "field trip". Della Fattoria is in an old building in the heart of downtown Petaluma. They sell their incredible bread, and there are tables for pastries and sandwiches that sound divine (but alas, not in the budget right now). I bought a loaf of "heaven" for $6. Lemon Rosemary bread. This loaf is topped with coarse salt that really helps bring out the flavor of the bread.

I returned to the office around two with a small salad and some cheese to eat with my bread. Unfortunately, the small edge slice I took didn't get the full flavor with the salt on top. I left the bread for the other people in the office to enjoy, thinking it was so late in the day that not too many would eat the bread and I'd have a healthy portion to take home. WRONG

I should have known when a steady stream of people stopped by my office to tell me how wonderful the bread was. When I went back to the kitchen, only a small edge piece remained. Darn! But it was still great inspiration for my weekend bake

The roasted garlic bread was no easy project. Just 22 grams of Baby Bobby were used in the long, slow process of making two loaves. I started late Saturday night with the levain.

Wine guy says it looks like a brain!

I also put in a bit of time peeling two large cloves of garlic, pan roasting, and then mashing them on Saturday night. No vampires will be coming to our house!

I was surprised (never having made a levain) how dry it was. I was a bit worried it would not mix well in my dough the next day, but it did.

The next surprise was how WET the final dough was. The recipe promises that it becomes more easy to handle after the stretch and folds at 30, 60, and 90 minutes, but "easy" is a relative term. That dough wobbled around like a bowl full of jello!

The bulk fermentation is 4 hours, but you are kept busy the first 90 minutes with stretching and folding every 30 minutes. Kind of ties up your schedule. Fortunately, I didn't have anything else going on, except for cleaning house.

Wine Guy and the kids went to a music performance, but I stayed home with Baby Bobby (and had more fun). Truthfully, during the 1 1/2 hour rest after the stretch and folds I snuck out and went to the library where I scored with The Bread Baker's Apprentice. I plan to pick out 5 recipes to do allong with the BBA challenge people--I don't think I would make it through the whole book this year (and I've already missed about 4, anyway).

After 4 hours of bulk fermentation, it was time to shape my roasted garlic loaves. That was a challenge with the soft, wet dough, but not too different from handling AB in 5 dough. I did use lots of flour to help.

Loaves proofing in Bannetons

Four hours of proofing in the bannetons. The oval shaped loaf was a bit of a challenge. It was so soft that when I picked it up to put it in the banneton it twisted a bit. That's why I'm only showing the final product on the round loaf:

TA DAAAA!!!!!!!!

OK, so it's not as beautiful as the original, but I'm OK with it for a first effort.

The crumb was awesome! ;o)

The crust--not so much :o(

It was tough and chewy instead of tender and crisp. I'm not sure why--I followed the directions. The round loaf went in my clay baker, and the oval on the stone, covered with my enamel roasting pan. I wasn't impressed with the rise or the oven spring, either.

The flavor bread was "intense" --to put it nicely--with the layer of roasted garlic instead of chunks dispersed throughout.

A lot of work with a fair result. I think it will be just as happy (perhaps more) with chunks of garlic dispersed in some AB in 5 dough.

That's the next experiment . . .

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Baby Bobby works!

So I brought Baby Bobby into this world to lighten up my multi-grain loaf (well, actually, it's King Arthur's multi-grain loaf--with a little variation of my own) and extend its shelf life.  

My first SUCCESSFUL bake of this bread with Baby Bobby (we don't have to mention the unsuccessful one, do we???) was this past Saturday.  

Sidenote:  It was not Baby Bobby's first successful bake, only his first success with multi-grain.  Baby Bobby made his debut in Sourdough English Muffins (recipe here: ) which are amazingly wonderful and I'd already made twice.  

I knew as I pulled the loaf out of the oven that it was light and lovely.  It smelled divine.  But it had to cool, and I had to go to bed.  The next morning we tasted it--light (for a whole grain bread), soft, moist--delicious.  Especially good with Trader Joe's Blackberry Jam.  Mmmmmmm.  Sunday evening it was still soft and moist.  Monday night I thought about slicing and freezing it before it got stale, but the texture was still perfect.  Tonight I planned to slice and freeze the remainder, but it is still very moist and lovely.  Perhaps tomorrow.  

Baby Bobby is certainly doing his job!

In other bread news, I got quite a bit of baking done these past 4 or 5 days, knowing that the weather is warming up and it will be too hot to enjoy baking for a while (no air conditioning!).

  On Friday I made two AB in 5 olive oil dough boules with kalamata olives.  They were lovely--the crumb was amazing and I almost had a smellgasm when I took them out of the oven.  I'd glazed them with a cornstarch wash--I don't know what it is about that cornstarch wash, but it really enhances the aroma of savory breads.  I stood listening to them sing (crackling crust) and trying to inhale them when they came out of the oven.  

Yesterday  I made's basic pizza for dinner.  The teenager had ranch dressing, grilled chicken and tomatoes on hers.  The rest of us had ranch dressing and tons of veggies (mushrooms, onions, olives, garlic, artichoke hearts, spinach, and tomatoes.  Yummy!  A veritable garden on your pizza.  

While I was letting the dough for the pizza proof, I made a batch of Alton Brown's pretzel dough.  When making pretzels I discovered what a great dough it is and I use it all the time for a white bread sandwich loaf.    

I'm not sure what it is about that dough, but it really gets those yeastie beasties going and it is a FAST bread even though I use active dry yeast instead of the instant called for in the recipe.  It doubles in less than an hour and I could barely contain it in the loaf pan while I baked the pizzas--I even put it in the fridge to slow it down to no avail.  And it practically sprang right out of the pan in the oven.  It nearly doubled it's PROOFED size!  Yowsa!  

Tonight I sliced it up into even slices thanks to my slicing guide.  I left a few slices out and froze the rest, two to a zipper sandwich baggie with waxed paper in between.  My little one takes out one or two slices to make her sandwiches in the morning.  Sometimes the teenager will even deign to eat it.  

Finally, tonight I decided to make pita bread.  It will be hot tomorrow and we will have a cold supper of salads, fruit, vegies, and hummus along with my pita.  I didn't want to heat up the kitchen too much so instead of the oven I made them on the griddle on my stove.  They bubbled nicely, but they did not make pockets, so they are more of a khoubz (I think that's what it's called) instead of a pita.  But they taste pretty good.  Hopefully the teenager won't complain too much (it is finals week and she is not in a pretty mood).  There was a bit of burning flour on the griddle, so I'm wheezing a bit.  

I like the house to be as cool as possible before the weather warms up.  That way it takes longer for the heat to "penetrate our defenses" and make us miserable.  Our house can stay cool a long while thanks to two factors  1) no direct sunlight except a small amount in the kitchen window in the morning and 2)  Two solar powered attic fans that suck the hot air up and out.  But if it starts out warm in the first place, it's miserable.  

Now a few days without baking while we wait for the North Bay air conditioning (the cool, foggy marine layer that keeps us comfortable most of the time)  to kick back in.  Hurry back, fog.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Who is Baby Bobby?

Baby Bobby is neither a baby nor a person. Baby Bobby is my wild yeast sourdough culture.

I know what you're thinking. Only weird and totally obsessed people name their sourdough starter. And write a blog about baking bread.

Yes, that would be me.

Welcome to my blog.

Baby Bobby is about a month old. Two months ago, I was rekindling my bread baking hobby after many years in hiatus (attending post graduate school while working two jobs and having kids--one born in the middle of grad school--will slow down your hobbies, you know?). If you told me two months ago that I would be making a sourdough starter from scratch and lavishing more attention on it than I do on my kids (according to them), I'd have laughed. I don't even like sourdough except on very rare occasions.

But one of my goals in baking bread was to save money and stop putting out maybe $35 or more dollars per month on the various breads my family eats. Wine guy likes multi-grain bread for sandwiches & healthy english muffins for weekend breakfasts. Our kids like fluffy white nutritional disaster bread for toast and sandwiches. I'm not a big bread eater, but I enjoy an artisan style loaf with certain dinner menus. On Friday nights we have challah, which has climbed to almost $5 a loaf these days--if you want a good one.

So I set about making the breads my family eats. The artisan style breads were actually the easiest because Artisan Bread in Five Minutes per day was the catalyst that touched off my reunion with breadbaking. And I'm an experienced and skilled challah baker.

Next, I tackled the multi-grain bread my husband prefers. I thought that would be the hardest to duplicate, but to my surprise, it wasn't too hard. I tasted his Milton's Multi-grain bread to see what it was like (way too sweet for my tastes!). I searched around and found a recipe that seemed close on King Arthur's Recipe site: . BINGO! It was delicious and even Wine Guy agreed it was better than the commercial bread.

The day after I baked it, I noticed it was pretty dry and stale already. I learned why when I picked up the loaf in it's plastic storage bag the next day and it fell naked to the floor--a big hole in the bag.

But the next loaf I baked staled pretty quickly, too. I sliced the third loaf and froze the individual slices to reduce that problem, but it just seemed very solid and dry after cooling on the counter overnight.


I started researching. Was it the way I was storing the loaves? Was there something I could add or subtract from the recipe?

My reading led me to two theories that are supposed to help. First, the longer it takes to develop the dough, the longer the finished bread lasts. Second, adding sourdough starter to dough lightens the crumb and lengthens the life of the finished bread--even when the sourdough starter is not used for flavor or leavening.

OK, so I guess I needed a starter.

I followed the excellent directions here:
It was cold in our house, so it took a full 10 days, but eventually what is now known as Little Baby Bobby was born. A 2 oz. bubbling baby starter.

Why Baby Bobby? My kids have an obsession with the name "Bob". When a deer hit my husband's car and almost killed him (yes, the deer hit his car, not the other way around), my kids named the deer "Bob". And when they don't know the name of a male, it's always "Bob". So when I asked for suggestions for a name for my starter, of course, the suggestion was "Bob".

But this is a baby, and Bob didn't seem to fit. Maybe the starter will grow into that name, but not now. What stuck in my head was the name of the title character from one of my little one's books--Little Baby Bobby:

It's a great, bubbly, and rhythmic story about Little Baby Bobby in a runaway buggy running through the town. And when the breads don't work out, I can use one of my favorite expressions in the book. "Oopsa, oopsa."

So far, no oopsa, oopsa. It works beautifully (after some recipe tweaking).

That's Little Baby Bobby.