Thursday, April 24, 2014

Wanna see a magic trick?

I can do magic.  I can - and it is no trick.

And it is EASY!

Let me preface this: I have discovered I have a pretty major character flaw that I am sure drives my family crazy. When I find something that I truly love, that makes life easier, more wonderful, happier, etc. I like to share it with EVERYONE. You see, I think that if I love it there is a good chance you may love it too - and if you do then it makes my world. Because I got to share something wonderful with someone. If you don't like it, that is ok too. I don't get offended. I am just glad you tried it.

But some people don't like that...they don't like people sharing. That makes no sense to me.  Some truly strange people actually get offended if you offer them something that could make their lives happier. So....if that is you then ignore this. In fact, I'm pretty sure you will hate it anyway. So no magic for you!

I may be in a bit of a snarky mood, just ignore me. It is better that way...

Ok - so here is how the magic works.

Making your Starter:

Take a half a cup of warm water and a half a cup of flour. Mix it well. put it in a clean, glass jar and cover it with a damp cloth.

Then wait.....

The next day, add another 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 cup warm water.  Stir it again really well.

Wait again....

The third day is when the magic usually starts.  It's alive! There should be bubbles that have started to form. "Feed" it again with more flour and water and the moment you are done stirring you should see the bubbles rise to the surface again.  Magic!  It is growing.

On the forth day you will likely notice that your house has taken on a bit of a sour/musty smell - centered around your magic jar.  Don't worry, that will settle down some. The jar itself should be alive and kicking now! Lots of bubbles, lots of nice smelly sourness. It's almost ready!

Day 5 is about the soonest I would recommend using your starter.  Lets call her Bertha. All starters need names, they truly are as individual as their homes and have so much personality! Day five (Or longer if your house is cold or if you have a small-ish amount of wild yeast in the air. Some can take as long as 10-15 days. If you see mold, throw it out and try again.) take out a cup of Bertha (don't worry, she likes it. Now she has room to grow), put her in a clean bowl and then feed Big Bertha again (1/2 cup  water, 1/2 cup flour).

OR - if you don't want to go through that whole process and you don't live to far away from me or another magic enthusiast - borrow a bit of starter.  A cup is a good starting point.  Then skip down to the "Caring for Bertha" section to see how to make your starter your friend.  I would recommend feeding a borrowed starter for 2-3 days before you use it to make bread - just to bulk up your amount so you don't use it all. 
Now back to that bowl with your cup of starter (Little Bertha). This is where it REALLY gets good!


Sourdough Bread

1 cup of Bertha
3.5 cups of flour
1 cup of warm water
2 tsp. salt

Kneed it until it is sticky, but smooth.  Takes about 4 minutes in my kitchen-aid. Probably closer to
8-9 minutes by hand. Add a little flour if it feels too sticky - but be careful not to make it too dry. It should stick to your hand if you touch it, but the hand should come away clean.

Now roll it into a nice plump ball, roll it in olive oil, set it in a bowl and cover the bowl with  plastic wrap.

Now, Little Bertha needs to rest and work her magic.  You can let her rest all night long if you like. But make sure it is at LEAST 2 hours.  If you are going for the 2 hour mark I would recommend putting the loaf into the oven (remember it needs to be covered with plastic) and turning the light on.  This creates nice consistent warmth without accidentally baking. 

Isn't she pretty?

After rest time is done, it is time to take out your iron dutch oven.  A regular cookie sheet will work too, but I FAR prefer how the loaf turns out when I use the dutch oven.

Sprinkle just a bit of corn meal on the bottom of your dutch oven and set it in your actual oven - pre-heat the oven (and the pot) to 400.

Now Bertha needs to stretch her legs a little. So gather up the dough, put it on a lightly floured surface and kneed it about 5-6 times. Add a little more oil to coat (don't want her to stick to the bowl) and put her back.

The pot should heat for about 15-20 minutes.  Make sure it is good and hot! Bertha is happy to rest as long as you will leave her, so don't sweat if it happens to be longer (I find she is happiest with another 30-45 minutes. So if you decide you want to give her that extra time, wait to pre-heat your oven.)

Now, CAREFULLY place Bertha into the very hot iron pot. And CAREFULLY slice the top of the loaf.  I like to make a "hot cross buns" style of cut, but just a few slashes across the top will work just as well. (Ignore my "well seasoned" pot there.)

Put the lid on top and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the lid, and bake for another 20 minutes.

If you are using a cookie sheet, you can do the full 40 minutes all together.

Enjoy how with the smell of baking bread, all your cares slip away and your house feels like a wonderful, magical island of peace. It's true, best perfume on the planet! 

Now this is the hardest part - after you take the loaf out of the oven you have to let it cool.  I know, torture! But it REALLY needs at least 15-20 minutes to cool off. An hour is even better. But once it has cooled off, you get to slice into the perfect loaf, ice it with butter - you heard me right. Don't skimp on the butter people!

And enjoy the magic!

Caring for Bertha

Now, Bertha is a feisty beast. She likes to eat. A lot. And she likes to continually collect wild yeast, so never seal your jar. I find cheese-cloth to work best at keeping out bugs and kids fingers, while still letting in lots of good live air. You can also use coffee filters or a loose weave cotton rag.

Standard feeding:

Take about a cup of starter out of your jar first (this is what you will use to create masterful works of art - or you can give it to a friend that wants to learn all about the magic Bertha can offer - but don't feel bad if you are just tossing it - remember, more will grow.). If I am trying to build up my stash I will skip that part and just feed her - but eventually you need to take some out or Bertha will literally burst her britches.

Then mix 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 cup warm (not hot) water into your jar.  You should see it start to bubble right away.  Some people prefer to feed twice a day (just cut the amount in half) totally up to you.

That's it! Easy right? 

If you are baking bread (brownies, pancakes, biscuits - there are LOTS of amazing sourdough recipes!) at least every 2 days (like me) I recommend keeping Bertha on the counter. But remember you HAVE to feed her at least once a day or she will quickly die, skip a day and you will notice that she is already angry with you. If you don't bake as often as that, then you can keep her in the frig.  I still recommend feeding her once a week (though she can go longer while in the frig.) Take her out the night before you plan on using her, feed her with equal parts flour and warm water, mix well and let her sit out all night to "wake up."  She will be ready to perform her most jar-dropping magic the next morning!

The liquid that forms on the top of the jar is called hooch and is completely normal.  It can be clear or brownish in color depending on your own unique bacteria.  Some people just say to mix it back in, but I like to pour it off. It can have a higher concentration of alcohol, and especially if you are reviving a neglected jar, it should be tossed to preserve the happy healthy yeast beneath.

Bertha also likes to be clean.  At least once a week I usually switch her to a clean jar. The splashes on the sides of the jar that occur while mixing can mold, and that is not good for our ladies health.  So make sure she stays clean and fed and Bertha will perform spectacularly!

There you have it - Now you can do magic too!

Feel free to share your favorite sourdough recipes, I am always looking for new good ones. For now,I am off to have a lovely large slice of pure heaven!

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