Saturday, April 30, 2011

Why Sourdough?

You probably know by now that I'm slightly addicted to baking bread. I love shaping warm dough in my hands, pulling a crusty loaf out of the oven, and biting into a chewy slice. Over the years, I've gathered favorite recipes from my mom, friends, and various cookbooks.  Whether I was looking for a dinner roll, bagel or whole wheat loaf, I usually had a good recipe.

Why then, if I could make a decent bread, did I choose to make sourdough? There are numerous reasons stated but here is a few.

  • Since no yeast is needed, sourdough is cheap. A basic loaf needs nothing but flour, water and salt.
  • How can anyone read the "Little House" books and not want to be Ma with her pot of sourdough bubbling on the back of the stove. From the cowboy cooks in the chuck wagons to the forty-niners with their precious sourdough amongst their prospecting tools, sourdough has a wide history that enthralled me as a child.
  • By some reports, sourdough is a healthier way to eat grains. It is certainly the traditional form that civilizations used for centuries to prepare bread. Some people find sourdough  easier to digest than typical whole grain bread. Others say that sourdough bread allows the nutrients in the flour to be better assimilated. If you've read Nourishing Traditions you've heard of the benefits of soaking grains. I haven't had much success with soaking flour. I can make edible bread but not wonderful. I've had better success with sourdough which apparently has the same benefits. When going to the bother of making homemade bread from freshly ground flour, getting the maximum benefit just made sense. There is much written online about the benefits of sourdough, here is one article.
  • I was surprised at how quickly we preferred the sourdough flavor. Typical yeast bread tasted bland in comparison. Even if it wasn't cheaper or healthier, the flavor would have encouraged me to continue my quest for perfect sourdough bread.  
  • Sourdough is just plain fun. Okay, now you know I'm off my rocker. Maybe a mom cooped in a house with four littles comes up with weird ideas of entertainment! But I've read of bakers with years of experience in baking and in very different stages of life then I, and they appear to get a kick out of watching flour and water turn into a bubbling growing pot of sourdough, too. So I think I have company in saying that sourdough baking is simply enjoyable!

Probably the history of sourdough bread first caught my interest. The health benefits propelled me to give it a try. But the flavor is what has kept me baking sourdough. When my husband walks out to the kitchen in the morning, takes a deep breath and sighs in anticipation for his sourdough waffles, I know I have something good going!

If you make sourdough bread, I'd love to hear what got you started and why you continue!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

What Is Sourdough?

For those new to sourdough, maybe we should start at the beginning.

What is sourdough?

Sourdough usually refers to the baking of bread or other baked goods with wild yeast, sometimes called natural leaven. The term sourdough may be slightly misleading but here in the US, it is the most familiar term for wild or natural yeast.

Yeast spores are all around us, including in flour, and with a little encouragement, yeast can be encouraged to grow in a mixture of flour and water. This mixture of flour and water with growing yeast is called a "sourdough starter". The starter is added to other ingredients to make bread or other baked goods like pancakes or biscuits.

Commercial yeast is yeast spores that have been carefully gathered, grown, and dried. Companies have made it simple to make a quick yeast rising bread by selecting specific strands of yeast with the same standard qualities to make it very reliable.

Sourdough, on the other hand, varies widely from the area the wild yeast is captured, the season of the year, what it is fed and how often it is fed. The variables of sourdough can make it more difficult to standardize a recipe but add to the artistic feel of baking bread.

If you have never baked bread, I'd recommend starting with standard commercial yeast bread. You can learn the basics of bread mixing, shaping and baking before stepping into sourdough baking. Sourdough baking is not difficult, but the experience of baking yeast bread will benefit your sourdough baking.

Is sourdough really sour? 

A sour dough starter also contains bacteria called lactobacillus which add flavor to the bread. Sourdough bread may have a characteristic "sour" tang or be very mild. In some cultures, the sour flavor is thought to be unappealing and to be avoided. Here in the US, many bakers search for ways to bring out the maximal flavor in the dough.

I have found to minimize the "sour" flavor, especially when using whole wheat flour, a little honey can sweeten the flavor without resorting to a bland bread. I also discovered, in recipes such as waffles where baking soda is used, the result is a less "sour" sourdough.

As in describing hot sauces, one person taste for "sour" will be another person's "mild". I tend to prefer a robust bread for panini or serving with soup but a milder flavored dough for something like cinnamon rolls.

But why go to the trouble of making sourdough bread, when commercial yeast bread is available? We'll answer that question next!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Favorite Picture Books for Girls

Sometimes I think it is harder to find nice books for girls than boys. There is lots of great books with trains, trucks, cowboys, and farm animals. Of course, my girls have enjoyed those books as much as my boys.

But nice books for girls that show good sibling relationships and a homemaking mother are rare. It may be that I'm too picky. But children absorb everything around them. I just can't tolerate reading books where the children are nasty and whiny and the mom is grumpy. We have far too much of those attitudes at our house in real life.

But there are some truly excellent pictures books and here are a few of our favorite.

Just Like Mama
Just Like Mama - This sweet story of an Amish family was a baby gift for our first daughter and continues to be enjoyed. The siblings in this book are a wee bit unkind, but the wonderful way the book directs the focus back to the Lord makes it worth while.

Rosie's Babies
Rosie's Babies - Not your typical "jealous of the new baby" book. The interaction of the mother and big sister is so sweet as the sister describes her care for her "babies". There is a (discreet) picture of the mother nursing the baby.

We Help Mommy
We Help Mommy - I love Eloise Wilkins illustrations. This book and her others such as Baby Dear are classics that have been read and reread at our house.

My Mommy, My Teacher
My Mommy, My Teacher - A sweet book written and illustrated by a homeschooler. My daughter said this was her favorite book. Maybe because it was a birthday gift from grandparents.

Helping Mother - The Little Jewels books are not flashy but sweet and always a God honoring view of families.

Flicka, Ricka, Dicka and the Big Red Hen
Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka - I loved the stories of these three sisters as a girl and I'm so glad they are being reprinted.

Okay, now it is your turn. What are your favorite books for girls - especially ones that encourage homemaking?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sourdough - Step By Step

I've been playing with sourdough for several years. My first attempts were total failures and I thought that sourdough was a mystery beyond my comprehension. When I could make a wonderful loaf of whole wheat bread, it was hard to experience the failure of inedible sourdough bricks.

I had so many botched loaves of bread that I started using the failures for bread cubes in stuffing. My dear husband, who loves turkey and stuffing, now says that sourdough bread makes the best stuffing - and I think he is serious!

But I'm known for being stubborn, and I was determined to learn from my mistakes and ultimately succeed in sourdough baking. For over a year, I've baked regularly with sourdough. I've probably tried dozens of recipes by now. Most were barely tolerable, whether from a poor recipe or my inexperience. But a few recipes have stood out as excellent. Over the months, I've continued to adjust and perfect our favorites.

I've hesitated to share my sourdough directions and recipes because I am still learning. But I continue to receive questions about sourdough baking. So in the next few weeks, I plan to share how to utilize sourdough in baking.

Let's face it. Sourdough can be intimidating. It isn't like baking cookies. You are purposely growing yeast and bacteria in your kitchen!

But if the Gold Rushers could keep alive a pot of sourdough in some rustic shack in the California gold fields, surely it can't be that complicated.

In my reading about sourdough, there is a variety of methods and recipes. While the basics were the same, the lack of standard direction drove me crazy. I'd read one thing somewhere but another place would insist on just the opposite. I just wanted someone to tell me the one right way to do it!

Sourdough has been described as more art then science. The sheer magnitude of cookbooks in print should let me know there will never be a "one final recipe" in cooking anything. I learned much from reading cookbooks and websites. By now I can't remember what I learned from where but I do want to give credit to Peter Reinhart, Northwest Sourdough, and Sourdough Home. Some of these writers have posted dozens of recipes, detailed tutorials, and even videos that are extremely helpful.

Eventually, I came up with my own way of using sourdough that was probably a cross of all the sourdough information I've ever read. I'm going to share what I do, what has worked for me in an (hopefully) easy to understand step-by-step format but you may take these directions and adjust them as you wish. I won't say that I have the final word, or even that I'll be doing this the same way next year.

Because my goal was 100% wild yeast 100% whole wheat bread, the recipes I share will reflect those goals.I will share some recipes that use white and wheat flour. And of course, you can always substitute white flour for the whole wheat flour.

I'm especially thankful to several Home Joys readers and some sister-in-laws who have tested these recipes for the last couple months. They have found mistakes and helped make these recipes better.

If you bake with sourdough, I hope you will share your own techniques and recipes so that we can learn together.

Monday, April 25, 2011

New Skills

This week at the home addition...

Ed was struggling this week with a major case of allergies. I'm not sure when I've seen him so sick. But he still went out a few evenings and worked on some insulating and small odd jobs.

On Friday, Ed had off work. My brother and a friend spent the day building concrete forms.

They also sealed up around the fireplace.

In the late afternoon, the truck came and made the rain spouting. By this time, it had started to rain and I was too soft to go out and get photos. But these guys worked on the roof, in the cold rain, putting up the largest stretch of rain spouting.  Since we needed spouting for the addition, we went ahead and replaced all the spouting on the house.

A truck also delivered the brick, sand and mortar.

On Saturday afternoon, the sun finally came out. Our next door neighbor, a mason, taught Ed how to lay brick.

Do-it-yourself projects like this wouldn't be for everyone but Ed insists he enjoys the challenge of learning a new skill. And we are very blessed to have willing teachers who lend us tools!

Friday, April 22, 2011

How Do You Find Time To Bake Bread? - Part Two

One of the reasons I shared my baking day this week is to share some practical ways that I do fit bread baking into my routine. Yesterday I shared the need to keep proper priorities. Bread baking is not going to be in every woman's goal list. If you do desire to bake bread and become more efficient in it - this is some of random things that have worked for me.
  • Practice - I've baked bread for years. Mixing up several different recipes and keeping them all moving smoothly, especially with the help of several little ones licking the spoons, AND not lose your mind, only comes with practice.  Like any skill, such as bicycle riding, time and effort are the only way to consistent success.
  • Tools - Don't even try to mix up a double batch of bread with a normal mixer. My Bosch mixer is like another set of hands and allows me to mix much larger batches than I'd ever be able to knead by hand. But it is expensive, and is certainly not necessary to make good bread.
  • Home - I am home all day, almost every day with my children. Baking bread takes time. Though much of the time is not hands on, it still takes frequent attention for several hours. I can care and teach my children throughout the day and give a few minutes occasionally to the bread. 
  • Techniques - With practice comes learning techniques, such as an overnight rise, that will make baking easier, more fun, and more tasty.  I've tried to share some of these tips through this bread baking series but I fear I probably overwhelmed most of you with too much information.
  • Time of Life - Right now I don't have any tiny ones at my house. There has been many days the last seven years that I could have never pulled off a baking day like this week. Frequent stops to nurse a baby, or to rest tired pregnant legs cut into a day's work. But what work is God really calling me to, caring for a little one, or whatever task is on "my" goal list? Or you may be in another stage of life that I can't imagine, a quiet house - and no one to eat all the food you have time to bake.
Is it Amy Carmichael who says "In acceptance lieth peace"?  I constantly need to remember that God has given me all I need, the time, the resources, the tools, and yes, the children. I can chaff against His boundaries and I have. I can long for more time, and I will. But accepting His provision and His limits, whether of time or energy, money or skills, big kitchen or tiny, or any of the other variations in this world, is the only way to joy.

And that is worth far more than freshly baked bread.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

How do you find time to bake bread?

If there is one question I'm asked more than any other it is how I find time to bake bread. (Or read? Or garden? Or homeschool? Or any any other variation of the query.)

Sorry to disappoint you but I have no secret method of adding an extra hour in my day. Time can't be "found", or saved, or bought. You, me, President Obama and every other person in the world is given 24 hours every day.  Our health, energy level, and skills may vary. We may own more time "saving" devices. Or have assistants to help us. But the same number of minutes pass through our hands beyond our control.

What we do control is our priorities. We will find the time to do what is the priority of our heart.

Every time I'm asked how I find time to bake bread, I get nervous. Should I be finding time to bake bread?  Is it wrong that I'm finding time to bake bread? Is this the best use of my time? Am I neglecting something more important because I'm baking bread?

When bring my questions to Ed and ask him if I'm using my time wisely or if he wants me to adjust my priorities, he usually makes some sort of wise crack about how he really thinks I don't make enough bread!

I know he is joking but that is one reason why bread is a priority to me. I enjoy baking bread. I believe the bread I bake is healthier, cheaper and definitely tastes better than anything I can purchase. But knowing Ed loves my bread allows me to put it on the priority list on my schedule. I often say that we eat simple meals but when it comes to bread we are food snobs!

This week my freezer is well stocked with some great breads. But you can write your name on the dust on our dining room cupboard. I'm choosing to ignore some dirt and dust knowing that it is only going to get worse until this remodeling project is done. But if I knew that the dust was driving Ed crazy, I would put cleaning higher on the priority list.

When I write about baking bread, or gardening, or books I've read, I hope you never add them to the list of things that you must do. Each of us will have different goals in life. You probably do something much better than I. I definitely don't "do it all". I could give you a whole list of things that I don't "find time" to do. Please don't compare yourself to me, or any other woman you may meet.

God has given you 24 hours in a day. It is exactly enough time for you to do everything that the Lord wants you to do. If you don't have time to bake bread then it is not God's will for you to bake bread at this time of your life.  Remember "his divine power has given us all things that pertain unto life and godliness." (2 Peter 1:3) It isn't more godly to bake your own bread - or whatever other item you wish to do yet seems out of reach.

You won't believe how freeing that thought is to me. Instead of facing frustration in all that I have not done, I can rest in knowing that God has given me all the time I need to do His will for ME. Of course, God could be asking me to rearrange my priorities (get off the computer, for example) so that I have time for other priorities (like baking bread for my husband). But if I'm a good steward of the time He has given me, I don't need to worry about what I have left undone.

This is getting long enough, so I'll share more tomorrow.

I'd love to hear how you discern proper priorities for your home and life.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sourdough Baking Day

It has been a while since I've had a big baking day - and even longer that I've shared about one. Though I bake often, I haven't had a planned day to do a large amount of baking. Now I remember why I love baking this way. I was able to get so much more accomplished with a little planning.

Since I mostly  bake with sourdough now, I actually started on Monday to get my starter active and growing.

I jotted down some notes of times and activities throughout the day. I'll share what I was doing with the bread and some of our other activities of the day so that you can get an idea of what a baking day looks like with four children.

Monday 8:30 a.m.
Grind Prairie Gold wheat flour. This is the flour I plan to use for all my baking.

My sourdough starter was in the fridge and didn't look very alive.

I stirred in 2 cups of flour and 1 1/2 cups water and transferred it to a larger container.

In a few hours it had grown and expanded.

Monday 3:00 p.m.
Stirred the starter and added 4 cups of flour and 3 cups water and transferred to an even larger bowl.

Monday 8:30 p.m.
The sourdough starter was now good and bubbly.

I did some premixes of flour, liquid (either milk or water) and starter for muffins, chocolate cake, cinnamon rolls, and English muffins. It only took a few minutes but I knew it would save tons of time in the morning, plus it would give time for the starter to feed on the flour and be full of good yeasties!

I was careful to place the recipe with each bowl because at this point - they all look alike.

Tuesday 6:40 a.m.
I'm not an early bird but my children are. I'm learning the benefits of early rising. I mixed up and baked the muffins for breakfast. I added some chocolate chips to the batter which made me a popular mommy this morning!

7:00 a.m.
While the muffins baked, I mixed up the chocolate cake and had it ready to put in the oven when the muffins were done. Two recipes done already!

After breakfast, I helped the children get dressed and started washing the breakfast dishes. I was interrupted with helping my daughter with her math. Math has been a struggle all year. We've wasted a lot of tears (hers) and frustration (mine) on first grade math. But the last few days she has discovered that if she tackles the hated subject right away in the morning, she can forget it for the day.  She is actually very good at it and it takes a very short time if she is motivated. I hope the new trend is permanent! And it is a good reminder to me to tackle my disliked tasks instead of complaining about them!

The dishes are still not done but I mixed up a double batch of honey wheat sourdough bread so that it could begin raising.

Mixed up sourdough cinnamon rolls.

I'll give a confession - I let the children play a phonics game on the computer. We allow our children very little screen time. We'd much rather them playing outside or more creatively. But with the rain (again) and the excellent way they tackled their school work without even being asked, I thought they deserved a reward. And it would allow me uninterrupted kitchen time!

Mixed up and cut out English muffins and allowed to raise.

Kneaded the cinnamon roll dough and set in bowl to raise.

Tackled the dishes again. One thing I love about a baking day is how many utensils and bowls can be used again and again before washing. But eventually they need washed. I don't have a large enough kitchen to let everything just pile up.

Began baking English muffins. These are baked right on the stove top.

While I watched them, I finished up the dishes. Now I have a clean kitchen, three recipes completed and two more rising. All the mixing is finished. The children have been extraordinarily good but they now need some mother attention and help with the school work they couldn't do alone.

Shaped the honey wheat bread into loaves then sampled the English muffins for lunch. This was the first time I tried this particular recipe and I think they were the best yet. And, yes,  I plan to share some of my favorite sourdough recipes, hopefully beginning next week.

1:15 p.m.
Shaped the cinnamon rolls. I wanted to get to it earlier but my two year old had a complete melt down (lest you think we are perfect) which earned her an early nap.

One reason I like sourdough baking is the flexibility. If the bread is risen but I don't get to it for another hour, it doesn't flop. The way my life is now, I can't be ruled by a bread's schedule. And the dough rose beautifully today. Maybe it like the rainy weather!

3:00 p.m.
Baked honey wheat bread.

3:30 p.m.
Baked cinnamon rolls.

4:00 p.m.
I overbaked the cinnamon rolls a little. Think anyone will notice if I add a glaze?

And that was the baking for the day. Most of the work was done in the before 10:00. The rest of the day the bread dough only took a few minutes here and there for some checking, shaping and baking. Hopefully now we'll have a little extra to put in the freezer.

Do you ever do a large amount of baking? Any hints to share?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Some days it's the little things

Little things drive me crazy - like the bickering over who picked up the most toys. Or the crumbs that permanently reside under the table no matter how often I vacuum. Or the (not so little) laundry pile.

But today I'm thanking God for the little things that my children give me that I would never notice otherwise.

Maybe I'd take the time to go out and cut a flower for the vase by the kitchen sink. But I doubt it. But my children make sure there is always a blossom to cheer the dishwasher.

My children make me slow down and notice the first robin, watch the honeybees playing in the crocus and laugh at the bumps on the toad.

Because of my children I get to snuggle on the couch and relish another reading of the The Secret Garden. Then pretend to be Mary, Dickon and Colin as we dig in the flower bed.

I love the outdoors, but my children get me out more often and keep me out longer then I would ever stay alone. With them, it is easy to forget the cobwebs, crumbs, and the empty cookie jar and just enjoy the rare spring sunshine.

I'm not pretending that some days mothering appears an endless unappreciated drudgery. But I'm so glad that God sprinkles in enough of the little blessings in a day to carry me through.

I just pray for eyes to see it.


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