Chad Robertson’s Sourdough Bread

In little over a month, my sourdough starter turns one year old. For much of the past year, it has slept in the back of my refrigerator. I don’t eat bread often. When I make it, I usually expects dinner guests.  Having mastered the famous No-Knead Bread, which I first started making about five or more years ago, I grew bored with making it and found it sometimes boring to eat.

In the past few months, every two weeks or so, I wake up my starter and feed it for a few days until it’s fully woke, as those who support taking a knee try to be. Anticipating a 3-day process, I begin by making the leaven and then putting 200 grams of it through the grueling process of becoming the bread that the Tartine owner-baker, Chad Robertson, makes. The Basic Country Bread recipe in Tartine Bread take practice, but it is well worth it. In all the times I’ve made the bread, I’ve learned that the quality of the flour, good spring water, and a healthy leaven count just as much as the technique.

Fortunately, Robertson gives a very detailed explanation of the process. He offers options for immediate or deferred baking. Now that I’ve tried both ways a few times, I am now resigned to the Deferred Method. It’s nearly a three-day process. A tricky part was calculating when I’ll actually get to bake. But once it’s out of the pan, the crust is hard, the crumb is moist and full of air holes, and the taste is decidedly but pleasantly sour. This bread is definitely superior to the No-Knead version.

In making the bread, I introduced one key innovation. I bake the bread on my Weber gas grill. I live in northern California, where heating an oven to the max is not comfortable. What’s more, I have a small (24″ wide) wall oven. Manipulating scorching hot cast iron within such small space is hard and dangerous. So, to make bread, I had to take it out to my little patio, where the propane and the charcoal grills live. I have one more challenge to perfect the process. Baking the bread in the cast-iron pot had resulted in the bottom of the bread charring, as you can see below.

I have tried many different ways — adjusting the heat, turning down or off the middle of the three burners, moving the loaf to a cooler tile once it’s jumped, not preheating the base of the cast-iron pot — no matter what I do there is always some char. It’s never enough that it ruins the loaf (I cut off the char, slice up the loaf, and either save it for toast or shred it for croutons). But it’s annoying.

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I’m still not sure what other options I have. However, the crumb is consistently excellent. I use Anson Mills Mediterranean White Bread Flour and mix in a modest amount of King Arthur’s Whole Wheat Flour. I know, the carbon foot print. But it makes a difference.

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This is just a sampler of an experiment I will explore in the next post, which will be a breakdown of Robertson’s rustic bread recipe. I also plan to experiment with my new Instant Pot. Two experiments have already pleased me. Stay tuned. Feedback appreciated.

Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart’s Basic Southern Biscuits

from Southern Biscuits, pp. 56-57.

IMG_1098When Nathalie Dupree and Cynathia Graubart come to town, suddenly good food pops up everywhere. My friend and neighbor, Elaine Corn, a NPR food reporter, threw a book launch party for Dupree and Graubart’s magisterial new volume, Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking, across the street from me. The hostess was Allison Coudert, who put the ladies in her two spare bedrooms, hired Roxanne O’Brien and her students to cater, stocked the house with wine and champagne, and opened the doors to nearly fifty food lovers here in Sacramento. Lots of restaurant folk turned out. As usual, Roxanne’s food nearly stole the show. A book launch party from 4 to 7 pm turned into a lively, flat-out party until midnight. No one wanted to leave. Nathalie and Cynthia were gracious, good sports, who must have been far more tired than they looked. Their energy did not flag.

Next day, after the ladies flew off to another city on their book tour, I started to think about biscuits. I wondered if I had ever had a light biscuit. I couldn’t be sure. I’ve choked on so many. So, I plopped on the couch and read Southern Biscuits. The tricks, I learned, involve using self-rising flour (light, low-protein), a wooden bowl wider than it was deep, flavorful fat, and a willingness to get my hands sticky, messy, and busy. The results were worth it. Now I now what a light biscuit tastes like. And I also learned that biscuits should be as easy and fast as no-knead bread. You should be able to throw biscuits together in a snap. However, this is a deep book. Lots to work on. The variety of biscuit recipes and uses is astonishing. But this is a well-written recipe. What I experienced fell right in line with their directions.

So, here we go. Let’s make a batch of biscuits…

2 1/4 cups commercial or homemade self-rising flour, divided

Shadowcook: King Arthur makes an organic self-rising flour that has less protein (the key to lightness) than the White Lily brand most commonly used in the south.

1/4 cup chilled shortening, lard, and/or butter, roughly cut into 1/4 inch pieces

AND

1/4 cup chilled shortening, lard, and/or butter, roughly cut into 1/2 inch pieces

Shadowcook: I used 1/4 cup of lard and a 1/4 cup of butter. The fat ratio is one feature of this recipe that demands experimentation.

1 cup milk or buttermilk, divided

Butter, softened or melted, for finishing

Preheat oven to 425.

Select the baking pan by determining if a soft or crisp exterior is desired. For a soft exterior, use an 8- or 9-inch cake pan, pizza pan, or ovenproof skillet where the biscuits will nestle together snugly, creating the soft exterior while baking. for a crisp exterior, select a baking sheet or other baking pan where the biscuits can be placed wider apart, allowing air to circulate and creating a crisper exterior, and brush the pan with butter.

Fork sift or whisk 2 cups of flour in a large bowl, preferably wider than it is deep, and set aside the remaining 1/4 cup. Scatter the 1/4-inch-size pieces of chilled fat over the flour and work in by rubbing fingers with the fat and flour as if snapping thumb and fingers together (or use two forks or knives, or a pastry cutter) until the mixture looks like well-crumbled feta cheese.

Shadowcook: Oh, go on. Get your hands doughy. You know you want to. Work quickly, so just stick your hands in there.

Scatter the 1/2-inch-size pieces of chilled fat over the flour mixture and continue snapping thumb and fingers together until no pieces remain larger than a pea. Shake the bowl occasionally to allow the larger pieces of fat to bounce to the top of the flour, revealing the largest lumps that still need rubbing. If this method took longer than 5 minutes [Shadowcook: and it will…], place the bowl in the refrigerator for 5 minutes to rechill the fat.

Make a deep hollow in the center of the flour with the back of your hand. Pour 3/4 cup of the milk into the hollow, reserving 1/4 cup milk, and stir with a rubber spatula or large metal spoon, using broad circular strokes to quickly pull the flour into the milk. Mix just until the dry ingredients are moistened and the sticky dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. If there is some flour remaining on the bottom and sides of the bowl, stir in 1 to 4 tablespoons of reserved milk, just enough to incorporate the remaining flour into the shaggy wettish dough. If the dough is too wet, use more flour when shaping.

Shadowcook: At this point, I noticed that the dough looked very shaggy, pretty wet, and rather on the unincorporated side. I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt and wrap up the gathering process quickly. Glad I trusted them.

Lightly sprinkle a board or other clean surface using some of the reserved flour. turn the dough out onto the board and sprinkle the top lightly with flour. With floured hands, fold the dough in half, and pat dough out into a 1/3- to 1/2-inch thick round, using a little additional flour only if needed. Flour again if necessary, and fold the dough in half a second time. If the dough is still clumpy, pat and fold a third time. Pat dough out into a 1/2-inch thick round for a normal biscuit, 3/4-inch thick for a tall biscuit, and 1-inch thick for a giant biscuit. Brush off any visible flour from the top. for each biscuit, dip a 2 1/2-inch biscuit cutter into the reserved flour and cut out the biscuits, starting at the outside edge and cutting very close together, being careful not to twist the cutter.

Shadowcook: I used a 1 3/4-inch round cutter and cut out nearly 24 biscuits.

The scraps may be combined to make additional biscuits, although these scraps make tougher biscuits. [Shadowcook: not that I noticed!]

Using a metal spatula if necessary, move the biscuits to the pan or baking sheet. Bake the biscuits on the top rack of the oven for a total of 10 to 14 minutes until light golden brown.

Shadowcook: My oven required a total of 16 mins. You have to know your oven. Watch the biscuits carefully the first time.

After 6 minutes, rotate the pan in the oven so that the front of the pan is now turned to the back, and check to see if the bottoms are browning too quickly. If so, slide another baking pan underneath the add insulation and retard browning. Continue baking another 4 to 8 minutes until the biscuits are light golden brown. When the biscuits are done, remove from the oevn and lightly brush the tops with butter. Turn the biscuits out upside down on a plate to cool slightly. Serve hot, right side up.

IMG_1099I decided to use my first batch of biscuits as the base of a savory hors d’oeuvres. I bought really really good fig jam and a chunk of blue d’Avergne, split the biscuits open, and slathered on the jam and cheese. When I get to the party, I intend to ask Roxanne what I could have added to give it a little cool crunch. Candied pecan? Something green? Got any ideas?

Susannah Blake: Carrot and Cardamom Cupcakes

from Cupcake Heaven, p. 21.

Lately, I’ve been looking for cupcake recipe books that range outside the parameters of children’s bake sales and birthday parties. Was there, I wondered, an adult cupcake cookbook? It didn’t take me long to find a few that have interesting cupcakes, including savory ones. This book, in particular, looked promising. It contains recipes for Lavender cupcakes, Orange and Poppyseed Cupcakes, Rosewater Cupcakes, Maple and Pecan Cupcakes, as well as the usual holiday sorts of confections.

This carrot and cardamom version appealed to me. It had all the appeal of carrot cake plus the promise of cardamom. However, I had to make a significant change to the recipe. I refused to buy self-rising flour. So, I substituted all-purpose flour and 1 teaspoon of baking powder for it. I couldn’t detect a difference. All in all, the cupcake tasted a little bland. Next time, more cardamom, a pinch of sea salt? The mascarpone worked very well.

Makes 12 regular sized cupcakes or 24 or more mini cupcakes

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

2/3 cup sunflower oil

2 eggs

grated peel of 1 unwaxed orange

seeds from 5 cardamom pods, crushed

Shadowcook: Next time, I’m going to increase the cardamom to 6 or 7 pods. And once again I used the Kohn Rikon ratchet mill to excellent effect.

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1 1/2 cups self-rising flour

Shadowcook: I used instead 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour and 1 teaspoon of baking powder.

2 carrots, grated

Shadowcook: Use the small-holed side of the grater.

1/2 cup shelled walnuts or pecans, roughly chopped

to decorate:

2/3 cup mascarpone

finely grated peel of 1 unwaxed orange

1 1/2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/3 cup confestioners’ sugar, sifted

a 12-cup cupcake pan, lined with paper liners

Preheat oven to 350.

Put the sugar in a bowl and break up using the back of a fork, then beat in the oil and eggs. Stir in the orange peel, crushed caradmom seeds, and ginger, then sift the flour into the mixture and fold in, followed by the carrot and nuts.

Spoon the mixture into the paper liners or silicone molds and bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes until risen and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

To decorate, beat the mascarpone, orange peel, lemon juice, and sugar together in a bowl spread over the cupcakes.